EV charging challenges

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Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 30/04/2022 - 10:39pm in

About a year ago, the old second-hand car that my husband and I bought in 2007 was nearing its end. It had served us very well, but our car mechanic had been warning us for some years that it wouldn’t last for much longer. So we were contemplating what to do; we thought seriously about car-sharing combined with public transport, but for various reasons (the pandemic being one, having a child with special needs another), we decided to buy another car. We gathered information and decided to buy an electric car. The new car has been wonderful – I’ve never really liked driving a car but driving an EV is much more pleasant. And in Utrecht, the city where we live, the local authorities put new electric chargers in the streets at the same pace that new EVs are registered. So, at home we’ve never encountered any noteworthy difficulties with charging.

Until last week, I think we only had positive things to say about our experiences with driving an EV. But then we decided to go to France for a week.

We rented a house about 70 km South of Paris. From home, that should require us to recharge twice, which is fine. In our experience from driving the car longer-distance in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, we’d need two stops of about half an hour to recharge, which is not much longer than the time needed for the entire family to visit the toilet, stretch our legs, buy coffee, and have a bite.

We soon discovered that the EV-infrastructure on our route was very patchy: the electric chargers along the motorways we took in France were few and with large distances in between, and on two occasions we (as well as other drivers) were unable to connect for some unclear technical reason. Eventually we had to drive to some town off the motorway and use a slow (22kW) charger for an hour in order to at least be able to get to our destination. In the village we were staying, there were two chargers ideally situated next to the railway station – but both of them broken down.

Today, on our way back home, we decided to play it safe and planned to recharge when the battery was still around 60%; recharging at that point should allow us to get to Belgium, where there are more charging points along the motorways. At the first stop, there were four chargers, one broken down, three charging, and another 6 cars before us in the queue (mostly with grumpy drivers). One driver was desperately trying to connect her car, but encountered technical issues, that were not solved when we drove away five minutes later. We decided to take the next one – where we found one charger, and 3 cars in the queue. We decided to drive still further, though realizing we now really needed to get close to recharging. We found a place on an industrial site about half a kilometer from the highway (read: no toilets and no coffee), with four functional chargers, all four occupied, but no queue before us. All drivers were chatting to each other – something we’ve seen many times among EV-drivers recharging their cars.

Obviously, these are first-world problems. And for us they are manageable because our kids no longer stress so much if a trip takes much longer and they don’t mind if they need to pee against a tree because there is no toilet. But since about all scenarios for deep decarbonization include moving from gas vehicles to EVs that should drive on renewable energy, the infrastructure should not lag behind. I have no knowledge on how we can expect this infrastructure to develop in the near future. Yet it’s clear that for driving longer-distance in Europe, with each country having its own electrification-strategies and -policies, progress will be as strong as the weakest link in the network.