Electric vehicles need to be charged. This goes without saying. Most people wonder about this inadvertently when they hear about the move towards electric vehicles. I have been lucky to travel around Europe to see how this is transforming the landscape. There are three types of charging that I observe linked to three types of chargers.
Mobile Electric Vehicle charging
Electric cars typically come with a charger, much like a cell phone or any rechargeable device for that matter. This is the charger that most people with a garage would use most because it is convenient. You get home, you plug your car in and that is it. It typically just plugs into a wall socket and has a capacity of about 3 kW. I pack it in when I do long distance travelling to charge it wherever I am staying / overnighting.
These appear on an ever-increasing basis next to the national highways to provide fast charging for long distance travel.
Next to a highway the need is different; time availability is limited, and the location needs to be super convenient.
Amenities like toilets, cafeteria and shops are typically available. I have noticed that all the big fuel stops in France has fast chargers. All the amenities are already there, and it seems that over time charging stations are simply going to be increased and fuel pumps decreased. It is super convenient and over time the charging will just get faster. It also seems that the fuel companies have either partnered with companies specialising in building charging infrastructure or started a branch which fulfils that role or bought out someone doing that.
The other type of charging that is vital is what I am going to call destination chargers. These are not fast chargers, but they are faster than home chargers. These are popping up everywhere and will become more prevalent as governments and local councils realise the reality of and encourage the use of electric vehicles. Smart retail businesses also install them because it gives them an advantage and convenience to their customers. Employers install them for their employees. I have seen destination chargers at a friend’s employer. Parking is a big issue in Europe and my friend simply leaves his car at work (where he gets free charging) and walks to work (10 minutes). I have also seen these chargers in front of restaurants (like the idea of mooring of boats in front of restaurants next to the sea. “You can charge here but then you must eat and drink here”). The same is true at hotels and lodges. More and more parking spaces in parking garages have charging facilities. Sometimes destination chargers are found in street parking, next to other parking spaces as well as at open parking lots (i.e., not under cover).
This latter development is extremely important for the general adoption of the electric vehicle. Most of us drive in an urban environment most of the time and the electric vehicle is eminently suited for this being much more efficient, super easy to drive, does not make a noise and reduces inner city pollution. Many city dwellers though do not have a garage or a power point close to their parking spot. It is very important to have access to a power point or points during their normal commute.
Billing is also an interesting facet
There are many companies involved with these charging stations and different solutions are offered. Sometimes it is free, sometimes it is linked to a specific card provided by the charging station provider, sometimes it is paid via credit card or even your employee card. In the case of Tesla, it is linked to the car. The car and station communicate with each other, and the car (owner) is billed automatically. We had a meeting with a friend in Belgium at a hotel which he proposed because there were Tesla chargers, and it was a beautiful Sunday drive for him. He could charge for free since he bought his Model S in 2016 (it came with lifetime free charging) but he was very aware of the fact that he had to move his vehicle away from the charging station when the car was fully charged lest he gets penalised for ‘hogging’ the charging station. You see this situation in South Africa as well. I make use of chargers at the Waterfront or in Belville, at the BMW dealerships (for free) or at malls in George or Worcester (at a fee) or at wines farms like Vrede and Lust or Spier (for free). The same happens in Europe but at a far bigger and more visible scale.
Electric motorbikes and scooters
The other trend that can be observed in Europe is the rise of electric motorbikes and scooters (full size Vespa type). This is over and above the proliferation of electric bicycles and little kick scooters – which is very prevalent in most cities these days. These can be bought in supermarkets for as low as 300 euro. Cities like Barcelona and Rome is packed with motorbikes and scooters and the move to electric versions are noticeable. I have never seen a bike on charge but with the battery size being much smaller and the range quite good I assume it is less of a problem.
Electric mobility is a reality and SA will follow this trend, maybe with some home-grown solutions like solar power being used for charging which means that load shedding is a non-issue. Electric mobility will become cheaper and is inherently more reliable and cheaper to run which makes it well suited for country like South Africa.
AUTHOR: Theo Calitz
The author driving a Tesla Model Y : )