The delicate matter of recharging electric cars


TTAKE IT wheel of an electric vehicle (VE) and prepare to be amazed. Smooth, instant acceleration of battery power makes driving easy and exciting. The latest technology is here, with tablet-like screens instead of old-fashioned switches. Add lower prices that make owning and operating many VEIt’s as cheap as alternatives to fossil fuels, and the open road beckons.

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Except when you look under those sleek exteriors. The tangle of cables in the trunk reminds us of the need to plug in and charge the cars approximately every 400 km. And when you find a public charging station, sometimes it is damaged or inaccessible. No wonder one of the top reasons drivers give for not buying a VE is “scope anxiety”.

A societal shift from hydrocarbons to electrons is needed if the world is to have any chance of meeting its net zero emissions goals. However as VEs become more frequent, the charging problem will become more serious. Today’s richest homeowners can often plug in their VE at home or at work. But many less well off VE drivers will not have passage in front of their homes or space in the management car park.

By 2040, around 60% of all recharging will have to take place outside the home, which will require a large public network of charging stations. At the end of 2020, the world had only 1.3 million of these public chargers. By some estimates, reaching the net zero emissions targets by 2050 will require 200 million things.

Who could install them? Drivers will need a mix of fast ‘long distance’ chargers installed near freeways that can quickly add hundreds of miles to battery range and slower ‘rechargeable’ chargers available on sidewalks or in parking lots. shopping centers, restaurants, etc. . The private sector, sensing an opportunity to make money from the boom VE property, is already showing interest. Dedicated charging companies and car manufacturers are investing in infrastructure. Oil companies, led by Shell, are installing chargers at service stations and buying out charging companies. Utilities, which have a lot of electricity to sell, are also starting to smell.

However, the charging sector suffers from big problems. One is how to coordinate between the owners of charging points, the owners of the sites where they will be installed, the planning authorities and the network companies. Another is the cost. According to one estimate, the bill for chargers needed to reach net zero by 2050 will be $ 1.6 billion. For starters, profits can be elusive because networks will not be under heavy strain at first. A related risk is that there are gaps in the coverage. California is a great place to install chargers, but is anyone looking to invest in Nebraska? And then there is the issue of competing networks. Drivers should be able to switch from one to the other without having to register at all.

What to do? Governments are experimenting. In addition to subsidizing VE sales, many throw money on public chargers. The US Infrastructure Act sets aside $ 7.5 billion to create 500,000 public stations by 2030. Britain plans to require new buildings to install chargers. Yet the sums are meager and the problems of coordination, coverage and convenience will remain.

Governments should learn from telecommunications. Most countries auction or issue a limited number of spectrum licenses or rights to companies to operate regional and national mobile networks. In turn, companies must build networks on a schedule, offer universal coverage, and compete with each other. Regulators set rules to allow roaming between them.

This approach has its flaws. Poorly designed auctions in Europe have left companies in debt, and competition has become less intense in America. But over the past two decades, the world has mobilized more than $ 4 billion in telecommunications infrastructure spending. And the cell phone has gone from being a shiny object for the rich to something in everyone’s pocket. The bright sparks of climate policy should take note. â– 

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This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the title “Plugging the gap”


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