Five ways to solve UK’s electric car ‘charging conundrum’

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Almost 9m electric vehicles will one day have to be charged away from home because 43 per cent of British households do not have access to off-street parking, according to estimates by National Grid, operator of the country’s electricity system.
How to solve this problem will be one of the key challenges facing policymakers as the UK works towards a ban in 2040 on sales of new petrol and diesel cars (hybrid vehicles are not affected by the move). The Scottish government has set an earlier date of 2032 for the ban.
Several companies are working on possible solutions to the charging conundrum.
1. Lampposts
One of the most obvious solutions is public chargers installed on pavements, of which there are an increasing number in the UK. Yet there may be limits to how much extra “pavement furniture” local authorities will allow. To overcome this problem, German company Ubitricity is converting lampposts in some London boroughs, such as Kensington and Chelsea, so that they double as chargers for electric cars.
The process is relatively straightforward with the correct permissions, says Knut Hechtfischer, Ubitricity’s founder. 
But there are limitations. The lamppost needs to be close to the kerb, or the chargers will create a trip hazard. Older “heritage” lampposts cannot be converted. Lampposts are also unable to accommodate fast chargers. The idea is to top up batteries “while you are working or while you are sleeping”, says Mr Hechtfischer.
Similar to home chargers, if too many drivers try to plug into the power network at peak times — such as after work — then it could lead to local electricity shortages, and network reinforcements will therefore be required. Network operators have warned this year most chargers will need to be “smart” so they only start powering up batteries when the infrastructure can cope.
2. Induction pads
Another possibility is induction charging, in which an electric car can power up its battery from a pad under the vehicle. This pad would be connected to the electricity network, and could potentially be located on the street.
BMW and Daimler are both developing induction pads that charge a battery through the bottom of the vehicle in a conventional garage.
Renault has gone a step further, demonstrating under-road charging for car batteries on a 100-metre test strip in France. Pressure points in the road detect a vehicle’s presence, and electricity passes upwards into the car, charging it as it moves.
Gilles Normand, head of electric cars at Renault, says the charging technology can be effective at a distance of 4cm from the vehicle, compared to half a centimetre when the company began testing the arrangements three years ago. 
3. Battery swapping
One unconventional idea is to replace a flat battery with an entirely new, fully-charged one. The old battery can then be recharged at leisure and reused in other vehicles.
This solution is potentially quicker than waiting for a vehicle to charge, allowing motorists to pull up to a swap site and drive off with another battery within minutes.
This concept has been floated by Elon Musk, chief executive of electric carmaker Tesla. The practicalities of such a scheme, including large costs to create a network of swap stations complete with full batteries, have prevented the idea from coming to fruition.
But it has not gone away. Nio, the Chinese electric vehicle start-up backed by technology groups Baidu and Tencent, plans to use battery swapping as a key selling point when the company launches its electric sport utility vehicle in Beijing.
Building a limited number of swap stations initially, rather than embarking on a nationwide rollout, will allow Nio to keep costs down.
4. Petrol stations
Energy companies such as Royal Dutch Shell are already installing rapid chargers for electric car batteries at petrol stations. Some carmakers, such as Tesla, have also made fast chargersavailable at service stations and airports. Supermarkets are also expected to become charging hotspots.
Shell will have fitted chargers at 10 of its UK service stations by the end of this year. These can power up a flat battery to 80 per cent of its capacity in about 30 minutes.
The downside is availability: Shell is starting off with one charger per filling station in the UK. It cannot be reserved, although drivers can check if it is free via a smartphone app.
As electric vehicles become more prevalent, National Grid is considering how hundreds of cars could be rebooted simultaneously without causing problems for the local electricity networks. It has suggested a fleet of superfast charging points could be installed at service stations that are connected directly to the high voltage transmission network, avoiding the risk of local power shortages.
5. At work
Plugging in electric cars during office hours is a no-brainer, says Juliet Davenport, chief executive of Good Energy, an electricity supplier. “Charging en route can be tricky to plan and time-consuming while in general, our cars are parked at work for up to eight hours,” she points out. 
But there are cost implications for employers. Good Energy is running a trial where employees pay for a parking space at work in return for the ability to power up their batteries for free. “The opportunity is hugely exciting, but it is essential that costs are carefully considered,” says Ms Davenport. 

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