I recently completed an article lamenting the deplorable lack of any planning in setting up charging infrastructure in the UK (scheduled to publish this weekend). In that article, I pointed the finger at our Tory government, which sing their song from the neoliberal hymn sheet and are therefore averse to any kind of useful government intervention, unless they are forced into it by the EU.
First 350 kW IONITY Charging Station Opening in UK
IONITY is an organisation set up in 2017 by European automobile manufacturers — including BMW, VW, and Ford of Europe — to provide charging infrastructure based on the combined charging system, or CCS. CCS is the standard connection type for level 3 charging throughout the European Union, and the IONITY members plan to produce a network of charging stations across the whole of Europe. The charging stations will have a number of 350 kW charging units. This first station in the UK will have 4 charging units. It will be located at Junction 8 on the M20 motorway, near Maidstone.
How Good is the Good News?
Any new charging facility is good news for electric vehicle drivers, but it would be better news if this location was in accordance with any kind of national plan, where all desired locations are defined and new charging stations are built in accordance with those plans, and in priority order. If we already have an Ecotricity charging station at that precise location, although a welcome addition, it is hardly a priority, and there are places in the UK with very few charging stations at all. This is what happens when decisions are made by competing organisations within the so-called “free market,” where decisions are made in accordance with what suits those organisations, rather than what is needed by users and consumers.
One thing that can be gleaned from the press release is that, “the Maidstone site is launched in partnership with Motor Fuel Group, the largest independent forecourt operator in the UK”. This suggests that the charging station will be situated at that part of the motorway service area where fuel pumps are currently located. The Ecotricity chargers are located in the car park area of the motorway services. This suggests that kind of fragmented development that I predicted would happen, where there might be up to 3 different locations for charging stations at the same motorway service area, one provided by Ecotricity, one by Tesla, and one by another provider at the fuelling area. This is clearly not in the best interests of electric vehicle drivers.
Charging stations are also planned for Milton Keynes and Gretna Green. Milton Keynes is north of London on the M1 motorway, and Gretna Green, in Scotland, is at the southernmost point on the border with England. In years gone by it was the place where English lovers would elope to take advantage of slightly more lax Scottish marriage laws. This is no longer the case, but Gretna Green is still a popular venue for marriages and has its place in UK romantic mythology. It is situated on the M6 motorway just north of Carlisle. We have Ecotricity charging stations at both Milton Keynes and Gretna Green, so, although any addition is a welcome addition, the new IONITY stations do not represent good planning from a national point of view.
IONITY intends to open 40 charging stations in the UK, each equipped with up to 6 high-power, 350 kW chargers. By 2020, IONITY intends to expand its charging network across Europe to 400 stations, with up to 2,400 charging units. They will be exclusively CCS, which means they will be of little use to the majority of electric vehicle drivers, since most UK electric vehicles use the CHAdeMO standard. There is also no mention of the access and payment methods, but I suspect, from the little information supplied, that they will be accessible with a credit or debit card. Although the number of chargers per station is much more adequate than the current offering of, typically, 2 chargers per station from Ecotricity, their ambition is fairly small compared with over 300 stations provided by Ecotricity. Ecotricity’s Electric Highway is currently the means by which electric vehicle drivers can get around the UK, and all other providers are supplemental.
100% Renewable Energy
For all the stations in the UK, electricity will be supplied by Octopus Energy, a 100% renewable electricity provider. This is good news for electric vehicle drivers, who would not want their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint be undermined by having to charge with electricity produced from fossil fuels. This is one feature of the free market which is beneficial, as charging providers know that electric vehicle drivers demand 100% renewable energy at charging stations.
Who Will Benefit?
One of the remaining items that needs to be discussed is the significance of the 350 kW chargers compared with current 50 kW chargers.
In any interaction between an electric vehicle and a charger, there is a transmission of information from the electric vehicle to the charger. Initially, the electric vehicle identifies what kind of vehicle it is, what kind of battery it has, and what kind of charging voltage and current it requires. Once charging is initiated, those requirements are further monitored and modified accordingly. In this way, the electric vehicle receives the optimum level of charge that suits its particular systems.
For the vast majority of electric vehicles, the increased capacity from 50 kW to 350 kW will make no difference whatsoever. The vast majority of electric vehicles currently on the road have a maximum capacity of 50 kW for charging. Only newer vehicles, designed to accept higher rates of charging, will benefit.
There also needs to be some qualification to the idea of “benefiting” from high charging currents. High charging currents, generally, cause deterioration of the battery. So, those seeking long life from their battery are best served by charging at home or at destination chargers, charging at 3.3 kW or 6.6 kW.
The Future of Battery Tech
However, it is likely that battery technology will continually improve to enable higher levels of charging without detriment to the battery. The battery developed for the Piëch Mark Zero might have a disruptive effect on the entire EV industry, as it claims to have a 500 km range and charge to 80% in only 5 minutes, with very little heating in high charge and discharge rates eliminating the need for liquid cooling. The company has not released any technical details as to how this is achieved, except that it is a Li-ion battery.