Since November the use of EV Fast chargers around the country is no longer free. Is this a welcome move or simply another disincentive to increased uptake of electric cars, asks Geraldine Herbert
Despite wildly ambitious targets for a million EVs on our roads by 2030, it seems the Government’s grand plan may flounder on something as simple as refuelling.
There are currently almost 1,100 ESB-maintained public charging points around Ireland, including more than 300 in Northern Ireland. The vast majority of these provide a standard charge, which means an electric car will take several hours to recharge, there are approximately 70 “fast charge” points in the Republic, which can provide an 80pc charge in less than 30 minutes. The time difference is stark between both types of chargers; the fast charger takes around the same time as drinking a cup of coffee while the other, the more plentiful, is akin to an overnight stay.
Given that there are about 12,000 electric cars on our roads, the ratio of chargers to EVs may seem impressive but the reality is quite different. The infrequency of fast chargers, where charging points are located and their general reliability are all problematic.
From tomorrow these fast chargers, the one cup of coffee solution, will no longer be free and instead EV drivers who want to avail of them will have a choice of two payment plans. They can either opt to pay 33c per kilowatt hour on a simple pay-as-you go basis. Or they can sign up to pay a €5 per month membership fee which will entitle them to a reduced charge of 29c per unit used. The new charges work out roughly three times more expensive than charging an electric car at home on the ESB night rate.
Access to a reliable and efficient charging network is a significant consideration when buying an electric car and while price and range are also key factors, before many buyers will take the plunge they need to see charging points along their regular routes.
Like many electric vehicle owners, Laurence Veale charges his car at home but his daily commuting distance of 190km means he is reliant on the public network to charge his Hyundai Ioniq.
“For the distances we do, ‘range anxiety’ is very real,” says Veale. “Specifically, this means delays, sometimes of up to an hour in getting home. This is mainly down to the infrastructure. A very typical and frequent scenario is arriving at a public charger off the M1 to find it out of order. This means heading back down, away from home to get to the nearest charger. This can happen once or twice a week.
“Another is to find a queue of people ahead of you, with only one charger to share between all of you. With 15-20 bays for petrol and diesel and only one for electric – it seems we’ve reached a tipping point, particularly at core commuting times where the infrastructure is insufficient.”
Finding a convenient charging station is a particular challenge outside Dublin. Based in the small village of Lisryan in Longford, Mark Tobin loves driving his 2016 Nissan Leaf but he would welcome more public charging locations and believes they could boost the popularity of electric vehicles.
“Our public infrastructure is a mess,” says Tobin. “I did do a few runs to Dublin and back but this became too stressful and took far too long due to the fact that I’d have to find a rapid charger, more often than not wait for it to become free and then spend 40 minutes charging – in which time had I taken my wife’s Nissan Juke I would practically be half-way home.
“If the Government wants more people to switch to EVs then money has to be spent. If you think about it, this year EV sales are far outstripping last year but there hasn’t been a single new rapid charger in Dublin for years, the stress of the system is at breaking point, and even the chargers that are there are picking up far too many issues that aren’t being fixed quickly enough,” Tobin insists.
Tara Choules drives a 2014 Nissan Leaf and goes daily from Meath to Eastpoint business park in Dublin and back.
“When you buy an electric car you need to understand there is an etiquette to using the chargers,” says Choules. “There are fast chargers that take about 30-45 minutes to full charge and these need to be shared. People parking at the chargers not realising that EV drivers use an app to get to the closest charge point. It won’t show that it is occupied unless another EV is plugged in. This is stressful when you need to charge. It would be like someone parking at the only petrol pump for miles. People staying plugged in when charged. Again not understanding that the chargers are scarce.”
Away from urban areas the unreliability of the infrastructure would strike fear into the heart of any would-be electric car driver. But despite the difficulties with charging, for EVs drivers the benefits considerably outweigh the issues.
Thomas McGuire, a civil servant who lives in Wexford bought a Nissan Leaf in 2016 and has covered an annual distance of 40,000km since.
“I drive the Leaf everywhere over the past three and a half years and 136,000km later I have experienced nothing which would make me reconsider,” says Maguire. “Since then, there’s now a greater selection of vehicles, range has more than doubled, and the number of charge points has steadily increased with three new private entrants (Ionity, Tesla, EasyGo) installing multiple fast chargers at locations, and more on the way.”
Electric cars will play a key role if Ireland is to reach its emission targets. The recent announcement by the Government to invest €20 million in the charging network is unlikely to be anywhere near the investment that it requires.
Since November EV drivers have pay to use the 70 fast chargers around the country and, while a considerable proportion of the charging network will remain free, the time it takes to gain any significant charge from the standard 22kW chargers makes them virtually redundant. A consequence of a substantial increase in electric car sales will be a greater reliance on alternative charging facilities. It’s also not simply a numbers game. The current system needs to be thoroughly audited to determine how it is being used and where new fast charging hubs could be best deployed.
If the government is to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2030, it’ll need to support an efficient infrastructure with nationwide coverage for Ireland’s new EV users.
Three golden rules to using public charging points.
1. Don’t hog the charger, move along
2. Put everything back when you are done
3. Don’t charge to 100pc
13th January 2020