Electric cars – where can we charge them (and other problems)?

I’m afraid I have shamelessly lifted this article from a recent Spectator website. It attracted a very high number of interesting comments, which I cannot begin to reproduce.

But the many problems of electric vehicles – including not just the initial cost but also their weight, the environmental impact of the raw materials, their high demands on the electricity network and of course, as mentioned below, the obvious problem of where they can be charged especially in a crowded city – are beginning to dawn on people. True, some houses on Fawnbrake Avenue have been able to convert their front gardens to a parking space, thereby solving one of the problems. But a majority of residents don’t have that option. And lamp-post charging sets off a whole number of other complications.

 

“With their private jets and gas-guzzling mansions, delegates at Cop26 have been widely criticised for an elitist attitude towards the environment. Nothing better demonstrates the gulf between policymakers and ordinary people than over the charging points for electric cars. It is one thing to install a home charging point for your car if you own a large house up a crunchy gravel driveway – indeed, according to the property website Rightmove, owners of such properties have been fitting charging points with great enthusiasm, with a 541 per cent increase in the number of homes being advertised with such a facility over the past year.

But what do you do if you live in one of the 43 per cent of homes which do not have off-street parking? In fact, you don’t necessarily have to be of modest means to live in such a house – there are plenty of city centre homes, in Belgravia and such places to boot, which open straight onto the pavement. Owning a car in a city has not been easy ever since controlled parking and traffic wardens started to appear in the 1960s, but it is just about to get a whole lot more difficult. Even if you can find somewhere to charge an electric car the electricity is likely to be several times more expensive than plugging it in to your home supply.

That said, there have been some trials with on-street recharging points, which may be coming to a street near you soon. Under the Go Ultra Low City Scheme, 1000 on-street charging points were installed in London in 2019 – utilising existing lamp-posts. You are not going to get a rapid charging point from the electricity supply to a lamp-post – they are limited to 3.7 kW – but it is enough for an overnight charge. Reading, too, has been experimenting with fixing sockets to existing lamp-posts.

But there are still many problems to overcome. In Reading, many street lamps proved to be unsuitable because there are installed on the nearside of the pavement, which would have required a cable to be dangled dangerously across the footway. Pedestrians face enough obstructions without having to step over an electric cable every few yards. That problem could be overcome by excavating small channels beneath the pavement so that a cable can be run across without tripping people up. One company, Greenmole, in association with Liverpool John Moores University and the University of Salford has been installing just that: channels which lead from a motorist’s own home to the roadside, to enable charging. It comes at a price – such an installation will cost you around £3000. But there is a bigger problem, too: very few people have a reserved parking place directly outside their home – even where parking permit schemes exist they tend to allow parking on a street-by-street or area-by-area basis, not to individually-designated parking spaces.

As more electric cars come into use, there are going to be intense battles over this. Should homeowners be allowed to claim parking spaces directly outside their homes so they can charge their vehicles more easily – and if so, what should they be charged for the privilege? After all, the public highway is supposed to be a facility for all, not for bits effectively to be privatised for the exclusive benefit of nearby property-owners. In any case, reserving parking spaces outside homes is not going to help everyone. If you have a house, say, divided into three flats, who, if anyone, gets to bag the single streetside parking space?

One thing is for sure, until the problem of charging electric vehicles on the streets is solved, properties with off-street parking are likely to command an even greater premium than they already do. The Battle of Cable Steet is long remembered as the struggle between communists and fascists in the 1930s. The Battle of Street Cabling has yet to come.”

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