Jim Gowans’ West Hill Watch, Apr 20

Charging the Earth

As lamp post charging points for electric vehicles are installed in our area (although only in West Hill Street and one or two other locations, it seems) the wisdom of subsidising these for use by privately owned electric vehicles must be questioned. It would surely be a far better use of public funds to provide more infrastructures for electric buses and taxis than to spend £300,000 on 200 lamp post charging points rated at a mere 3 or 3.6 kW which the RAC has declared are unsuitable for use as on-street charging points for residents. They are unsuitable mainly because of the time it takes to charge, which will typically be 6 to 12 hours. Other drawbacks such as trailing cables, vandalism and finding the lamp post charger already in use by your neighbour can be envisaged, whilst the other impracticalities of owning an electric vehicle for private use are considerable.

If, for example, you choose to buy a Mini Electric the cost is about £28,000. A £3,500 subsidy from the government (i.e. the rest of us) will perhaps cushion the financial hit to some extent, but then you will be faced with the immediate problems of limited range and of re-charging the battery. The Mini Electric has an approximate range of just 124 miles and, if using a lamp post charger, for every hour of charging you will add just 12 miles of motoring. This means you could have cycled to your destination and back in the two hours it would take to add 24 miles of range to your electric car!

The tiresome drawbacks do not end there, however. In order to re-charge whilst out and about in Brighton and Hove you would need to register with up to 7 different charging network providers. The lamp post charging points are managed by a company called Electric Blue but there are six more providers in the city: Franklin Energy, Charge Your Car, Polar Pod Point, Genie Point and New Motion and across the UK there are about 20 such network providers, so be prepared to ditch the Candy Crush app on your smart phone to make way for the various apps that will allow you to pay for charging when you travel nationwide. Should you want to avoid clocking up air miles on a trip to France you will have to deal with a further number of operators: Lidl, Ionity, Allego, Fastned, Corri-Door to name but some; and don’t imagine that the charging points are all open 24/7: those provided by stores such as Lidl are usually only open during trading hours. Poor maintenance of some networks such as Corri-Door, found especially on French motorways, is another issue which is becoming more widespread as its 227 charging stations show increasing signs of age and reluctance on the part of the provider (EDF-Izvivia) to maintain or replace them.

But there is yet another electric shock which is the realisation that there is a plethora of plugs and connectors: Type 1, Type 2, Commando, CHAdeMO, CCS or Standard (domestic) 3 pin. To this can be added the Tesla connector which works exclusively with zero emissions Tesla vehicles and which has precisely zero charging points in Brighton and Hove. It is true that central government has supported the introduction of electric buses and taxis in the city to some extent and so the latter have been given a grant of £468,000 for the installation of four charging hubs, each with three charging points capable of delivering charge at 50 kW, so about 16 times the rate of the lamp post charging points. With five or six hundred taxis, however, much more can be done to take the polluting diesel taxis off our city roads.

Meanwhile, let us look at the options very carefully and let us not forget that it was not so long ago that diesel engines were themselves being subsidised and promoted as a way of saving the planet.

Jim sent a copy of this article to local councillors and the relevant council officer. These are their replies.

From Pete West, Green Party Councillor for St Peter’s & North Laine

Thanks for the opportunity to comment on your piece.

There are a number of questions raised which are easily answered, but I am copying in Paul Nichols, the council officer leading on the lamp post charger roll-out who I’m sure will be able to offer you a fuller reply.

The Council has been awarded government funding for the chargers, which isn’t available to invest in other things like public transport. We have also won funding for taxi EV charging. Again, limited at this stage but the hope is that building on the first roll-out further funding awards may be made. I believe a bid for 1500 lamp post chargers is being made.There is a limit to the power rating available on the lamp posts but they are good for over-night charging. Rapid chargers are also becoming more available at destinations.

While I think the Council is making solid progress with EV charger roll-out, I don’t think EVs are the answer to our transport carbon footprint. The embodied energy of the vehicles and the carbon that will need to be invested in enhancing the power transmission and charging networks needs to be taken into account. Hydrogen, which is portable, may prove a better alternative, so this makes the dash for electric questionable.

We really need to reduce car dependency, whatever the form of propulsion, if we are to succeed in reaching our target of carbon neutrality by 2030. The best investment we can make is in active travel and public transport. I see a lot of potential in e-bikes, particularly offered through sharing schemes like Brighton Bikes.

There is also a lot of background on EV charging in this report received at committee in October: https://tinyurl.com/tpv4fz4

From Sue Shanks, Green Party Councillor for St Peter’s & North Laine

I just read your piece and my main frustration with electric charging is the plethora of charging companies so you have to register with lots of them; non-electric vehicles parked in charging spaces; and charging places being out of action. Range is also a problem unless you have a very expensive car. Mine is a second-hand early Leaf, which only does about 90 miles on a full charge.

From Paul Nicholls, Parking Strategy and Contracts Manager, BHCC

The Council has been successfully trialling the use of several lamp post chargers in the city for over a year. These chargers have proved popular and reliable and are specifically for electric vehicle drivers with no off-street parking, allowing them to charge overnight or during the day. Some of the trial lamp post chargers have been used on over 85% of days since they were installed. There have been no issues with vandalism and based on average urban driving mileage only one overnight charge per week would be required, depending on the vehicle make. The addition of over 200 lamp post chargers is in response to over 100 requests for them from residents in areas with no off-street parking.

The ‘Electric Blue’ app provides access to the rapidly expanding public network of chargers in the city, including new exclusive electric vehicle recharging bays and lets drivers know which charge points are in use and available and where. For longer distance driving Highways England are building a network of rapid chargers and charge point operators are working to improve interoperability between apps, including internationally.

The public network and most of the private network such as in supermarket car parks, are type 2 chargers. Tesla drivers usually have a type 2 adapter for public charging.

Locally 24 rapid charging bays are being built this year, mainly for taxis but with 8 currently available for public use and capable of fully charging a vehicle within half an hour. All public chargers in the city are powered by 100% renewable electricity. Zero emissions vehicles can play an important part in improving the city’s air quality.

It’s clear however that the council will not meet its ambition of becoming net carbon neutral by 2030 simply through all of the city’s 100,000 diesel and petrol vehicles becoming electric. Increases in active travel, the use of sustainable public transport, electric car clubs etc are more effective ways of reducing individual carbon emissions, as your Whistler article suggests. More information about the roll out of electric charge points can be found on the Council’s website.

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