Electric cars charging ahead?

Published: 06 Dec 2012

Very soon London’s East End could be an electric car hotspot, if the latest research by Experian for British Gas is anything to go by.

The research, using Mosaic consumer data, identified the highest concentrations of those most likely to buy an electric vehicle (EV), and found them not just within the sound of Bow bells, but in other parts of London, as well as Glasgow, Edinburgh, Epsom and Brighton.

With some experts predicting that in just seven years ten per cent of all cars sold in the UK will be EVs, are we set for the charge of the electric brigade?


But identifying concentrations of these potential early adopters is one thing. How many of them will actually put their hand in their pocket and take the plunge into electric car ownership?

By 2020, will 1.2 million households really have one sitting outside their home?
While few will disagree with the role that electric vehicles could play in creating a more sustainable future, won’t the day-to-day practical challenges of electric driving put off many potential purchasers? How many will prefer to stick with their economical petrol run-around, or just get on their bike, rather than have to contend with sub-optimal battery life and long recharging times?

Companies in the electric car market are only too aware of these obstacles, and realise that if there’s to be a wider uptake in ownership, such issues have to be addressed. That’s why wireless technology firm Qualcomm is taking inspiration from electric toothbrushes … or more particularly, the induction charging technology that keeps them powered up.

Using the same principle, Qualcomm has put an induction loop into the floor of an electric car and installed another in the road surface. When one is above the other, a magnetic field is created that’s sufficient to generate an electric current that can be used to recharge the battery.

Although the system has no impact on charging time, and only a little on efficiency, Qualcomm do seem to have come up with a viable alternative to the tethered charging connection that normally brings power to the vehicle. So now, with the Qualcomm system, drivers can effectively just park over a charging point and avoid the inconvenience of having to ‘plug in’.

This technology ultimately creates the vision of a road network where this technology is embedded in the surface and charging takes place on the move. A vision, however, that is currently hampered by regulation and the cost of installing such an infrastructure.

Not to be outdone, Chargemaster, who already operate several conventional tethered charging points in London, is also implementing wireless charging at six sites, with a view to rolling it out to nearly 4,000 others in a similar bid to encourage electric vehicle use.

But while this technology undoubtedly delivers some extra convenience, is it sufficient to counter-balance all the other challenges surrounding electric cars, such as limited operating range, lengthy charging times that force you to plan recharging stops (no splash and dash petrol stop convenience here), and a potential reluctance to build costly charging infrastructure outside of major cities or towns?

For their part, British Gas is looking to make electric cars more accessible by providing home charging points and is already the preferred supplier for Nissan, Renault, Toyota, Vauxhall, Mitsubishi and Hitachi’s electric vehicles. That makes it the largest supplier of domestic car charging points in the UK.

Maybe with their weight helping to build momentum in the marketplace, we may yet be set for an electric car boom.


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