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EV charger
Image: Frank Hebbert

Electric cars derailed

Legacy infrastructure remains the key advantage for fossil fuel technologies.  This is true in electricity generation, where pre-existing coal and gas power stations can supply electricity at a cheaper price than can be achieved when renewables and especially nuclear are built from scratch.  The same is true for vehicles.  One of the things that makes petroleum vehicles attractive is that they operate on a road network that is regularly punctuated by well-supplied service stations and filling stations.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are hamstrung because they lack charging infrastructure capacity.  This is a particular problem for vehicles whose range is limited by the weight and size of the batteries.  Whereas a Volkswagen Polo 1.4 diesel car has a range of 820 miles, the very best model of the very best EV – Tesla’s Model S (P100D) – promises less than 300 miles.  Most electric vehicles struggle to go further than 200 miles before needing to recharge.

What this means is that not only do EVs require a charging infrastructure, but that they require a charging infrastructure with even greater capacity than the petroleum infrastructure.  Unfortunately, this raises the awkward question that so many EV and green energy enthusiasts prefer to brush under the carpet: just who is going to build and operate this infrastructure?

According to Haye Kesteloo at Electrek, this question is shaping up to be a real deal-breaker:

“For EV’s to really take off, we need an extensive network of public fast charging stations (DCFC’s). However, the current fee structure of utility companies, especially the additional peak demand charges during hot summer months, can make up a substantial part of the electricity costs of a charging location, forming a significant roadblock for the future of EV’s.”

Put simply, the more demand charging stations place on the system, the higher the rate they pay for electricity becomes.  As a result, they become – in effect – victims of their own success; the more EVs use them, the less profitable they become.  Even companies like Tesla, that operate their own network of fast chargers cannot install and maintain the necessary infrastructure at a profit.

Kesteloo’s solutions are superficially attractive:

  • Time-varying volumetric rates
  • Low fixed charges
  • The opportunity to earn credit for providing grid services
  • Rates that vary by location
  • Limited or no demand charges.

However, these simply pass the cost of building and operating the infrastructure onto someone else.  Either the energy companies themselves will have to take the hit or, more likely, they will add the costs to business and household bills.  At which point we ought to have a serious conversation about whether EVs are a part of our future at all.  In the end, why should already energy-poor households have yet another green energy subsidy tagged onto their already too expensive bills so that a minority of motorists can switch to EVs.  Might we not ask instead whether it would be greener simply to stop driving as far and as often; or even invest in our railways instead?

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