The Electric Highway and Green Automotive Technology in Partnership


In June, it was announced that Australia’s “electric highway” has been rolled out. This highway, a three-year project which involved installing charging points for electric vehicles in every populated region of the country, is part of a voluntary initiative run by the Tesla Owners Club of Australia (TOCA) which splits the costs of installation with the Australian Electric Vehicle Association. With more than 10,000km of power gaps just a few ago, today this “electric highway” spans an over 17,000km.  This means that motorists can drive their vehicles anywhere in the country without having to rely on gas or diesel.

In sync with Tesla’s announcement, the Netherlands added Tesla Powerpacks to 20 of its universal charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs) helping cars run on sunlight-generated energy while balancing the electric grid while allowing non-Tesla electric cars to charge as well. With 200 solar panels providing clean energy, this system ensures that the energy sourced is stored at night through a 400kW/800kWh Powerpack system. This means that sunlight can potentially charge all EVs even at night as supercharging is set to be expanded throughout Europe. This latest station marks the tenth anniversary of “Smart Solar Charging” which has resulted in the creation of numerous EV charging stations and the installation of 6,000 solar panels.

In cooperation with Tesla, Renault has supplied a fleet of 150 Renault ZOE electric vehicles. Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, also plans to coincide the accelerated deployment of these solar array with the introduction of the new Supercharger V3, due to be released later this summer.  Tesla has confirmed that it will add solar arrays and Powerpacks to its already existing grid-based charging stations even if this is thus far confined to a few stations. The expectation is that we should prepare for more solar arrays to be thoughtfully installed in urban centers and highways in order to avoid the creation of carbon emissions typical of power plants.

In the U.K., electric vehicles face many more challenges because sunlight is not nearly as abundant as in Australia. In this way, charging EVs can be challenging even in the daylight hours. So the thought of solar array charging stations is not yet a priority in the country. A related disagreement is whether or not Britain has enough charging points for the eventual boom in the EV market. One perspective is that the country is woefully undersupplied with charging points as only 3 per cent of supermarkets have charging points. And the rapid chargers which can fill 85 per cent of an EV battery in 30 minutes are even less common.

On the other side of this argument, a report last year from Transport & Environment states that there are only 20 EVs on sale in Europe as compared to 417 conventional petrol and diesel vehicles, a fact which has slowed down the EV market uptake. This study shows that there are more than enough charging points in Britain (six cars per charging point), with the current EU recommendation being 10 cars per charging point.  The conclusion of this report is that the infrastructure for charging EVs is more than adequate while locating the problem with the EV manufacturers which are dragging their feet in creating more models.

Yet Britain is precisely where Australia was just three years ago in creating its charging infrastructure. The latest estimate is that the entirety of Britain needs 100,000 EV charging points by 2020 and there are companies desperate to be stakeholders in this burgeoning industry such as Swedish energy giant Vattenfall, which has moved quickly into the British EV market.

By creating charging points around the country so that EV drivers will have access to charge their vehicles at work and in public spaces, Vattenfall is breaking with the British trend where drivers must currently charge their vehicles within specific networks where they are a member and have paid a subscription.

There are various EV manufacturers in Britain which are offering viable alternatives to the pricey Tesla which starts at £62,000 and the Jaguar, which come out ust under £60,000. Manufacturers like Nissan, Ford and Bradshaw (for industrial EVs) are hitting the ground running and are pushing the British EV market forward. But the transfer to EVs is not rising in proportion to the ecological urgency at hand, nor is it offering consumers the choices they seek.

Still there are areas of improvement needed in the development of more charging points in the country, especially Wales and Devon where the distance to the nearest charging point is anywhere between 12 and 45 miles respectively. That said, the British government is offering up to £4,500 off zero-emissions cars through its Plug In Car Grant, making the higher purchase price and showroom costs much more bearable for the consumer.  Since the beginning of 2011, more than 144,000 EVs have qualified for this grant but there isn’t the broad range of choices of purely electric vehicles.

Given that Britain is considering banning all non-electric cars  by 2040, we need to start turning our sights towards EVs while encouraging the creation of solar charging stations that will not put pressure on the electric grid as people transition from fossil fuel vehicles towards renewable sources like solar, wind and hydropower.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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