Here, by contrast, we see a situation where the ability to top up has been taken categorically out of the motorist’s hands. Local Facebook groups are awash with pleas for up-to-date information on nearby petrol availability, supermarket staff are doubling up as traffic managers and essential journeys risk being cancelled or heavily delayed lest the vehicle grind to a halt before its intended destination. The whole thing will sound very familiar if you’ve tried to run an EV without a reliable charging station nearby or a home charger solution.
I breathed a sigh of relief last week as I bade goodbye to a particularly short-legged electric car that I had been using, only to find three days later that its petrol-fuelled replacement was all but unusable as the fuel gauge was reading red and I didn’t have nine hours to spend queuing at my local BP forecourt. The tables will turn back, of course, but hopefully this brief period of chaos will endure in collective memory long enough to inform how we shape the next generation of motoring.
In a few years, this will all seem hopelessly old-fashioned when we look back, because people will be able – ideally – to charge their cars closer to home, thereby taking some of the panic out of the equation. Plus, the nature of electricity supply means it’s not so vulnerable to human factors, such as a shortage of HGV drivers. Electricity supply can still be massively impacted by external factors, of course, but it doesn’t bear thinking about how this situation might have played out if each car needed at least half an hour at the pump, only half the pumps were working and each charging station were 40 minutes away from the next – which is essentially what our current public EV charging network looks like.
A diversification of the vehicle parc will help (at some point in the next decade, perhaps, we might see a near-equal split between ICE cars, plug-in hybrids, battery-electric cars and hydrogen FCEVs) to reduce over-dependence on one fuel source, but pushing the motoring masses into alternatively fuelled cars before the infrastructure is there to support them risks a repeat of exactly this situation. As we well know, not everyone can charge at home and not everyone lives near a charging station (let alone a hydrogen filling station), so is it any wonder that uptake of such vehicles hasn’t been quicker? The risk of being left stranded – as so many are today – is too great for some to contemplate.