Solar Powered Forecourts – This Electric Car Thing Is Going To Cost A Fortune, Isn’t It?

As you will know the official stance on climate change around here is the one that’s unpopular with absolutely everyone. Sure, let’s do something about it but let’s not do what the screaming mob seems to desire. That is, we’ve, at worst, a minor technological problem that can be solved with minor adjustments to incentives, globalised capitalism can not just continue but is the solution – that actually being what the IPCC reports themselves tell us – but it is also worth our doing something along the lines of a carbon tax. As I say, managing to piss off everyone in the debate.

This doesn’t stop me noting when people are offering to do damn fool things about it all. Nor noting when things aren’t being mentioned. Take these electric cars for example. We’ve a law stating that all new cars should be electric by 2030, maybe 2040, whatever it is they said it should be. They’ve deliberately ruled out hybrids, which would be the cheap way to get to 80 to 90% of the emissions gains. Which is a pity because all electric cars are going to be fearsomely expensive:

Ultra-fast electric vehicle forecourts will accelerate across UK motorways this year with the start of a billion-pound project to build 100 solar-powered sites. Taxis, buses and delivery vehicles will be able to charge up in under 30 minutes at forecourts equipped with their own solar panels and battery packs. Meanwhile passenger vehicles will be able to recharge in less than 10 minutes. The developer, Gridserve, plans to build around 24 charging bays at each forecourt, which will also come equipped with facilities including supermarkets and coffee shops so drivers can make the most of their time.

That’s going to be an interesting technical trick, juicing up 300 miles in a car battery in 10 minutes. But allow that they’ll be able to do this and think about costs. It’s £10 million a forecourt to be able to charge 24 cars. £400,000 per charging space that is.

Which is rather a lot, isn’t it? That cost having to come from somewhere and in the end it’ll come from the only place it can, an addition to the cost of the electricity being pumped into those batteries. This being a cost which isn’t currently in anyone’s spreadsheets of how much it’s going to cost to run an electric car. Meaning that all those spreadsheets are wrong.

But then that’s long been true of most of this talk about renewables and ‘leccie powered this and that. The calculations we’re presented with just aren’t including the price of the infrastructure necessary to deliver it. Say the cars all get charged at home – what’s the cost of upgrading the entire electrical grid to allow this? Even, the usual calculations of windmill prices don’t include the prices needed to connect them to any part of the grid.

There being only one way to ensure that all such costs are included of course. Which is to have the system driven by prices. Thus all the costs of any particular action are included in the sticker price that people must pay. One argument against this is that these technologies will be so expensive, seen to be what they are, in this manner that no one will use them. But then if that’s true then people shouldn’t be using them either.

You see, there is actually a disturbing truth at the bottom of all this. It’s possible – no, I don’t think it is but it’s possible – that averting climate change is so expensive that we really should be boiling Flipper in that last melting ice floe in 50 years time. That being what maximises human utility, the aim of the game. And the only way we can possibly find out whether this is true or not is to get prices right and let the market do its work.

Thus hang the bureaucrats and have a carbon tax. But then the first part of that is always the right answer, the second the correct one to this particular problem.

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The Mole
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The Mole

Its the throughput that is going to be the killer. A typical motorway forecourt has what 12 pumps, with an average transaction time of maybe 3 minutes? That’s 240 cars an hour (and actually the number of pumps is selected to balance investment vs queues, adding new pumps is presumably relatively easy as long as the tanks can be kept topped up). 24 charging bays with 10 minutes charges would be 144 an hour, except the passengers have wandered off to have a coffee, do shopping etc so there will be times when they occupy the space for longer. Adding… Read more »

thammond
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thammond

And the 10 minutes is pure fantasy. To get 100-200 miles range it will always take an hour at the very, very least. So to do the sums slightly differently, if we say 12 pumps, five minutes at a time to get 300 miles range, then now in each hour you can get 144 cars with 300 miles fuel added. So if we need to match that throughout, and we allow one hour per EV to get say 200 miles of range added you need 21 times as many equivalent service stations (144/12*300/200) as we have now. And that’s if… Read more »

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

Back of the envelope time. My PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) gets just over 3 miles per kWh (quite a typical number for any EV). So 300 miles needs 100kWh of electricity. Delivering this in 20 minutes needs a 300kW supply. Charging 24 such vehicles simultaneously needs 7.2MW. 200W/m² is bloody good going for a solar panel in direct, bright sunshine, so we will need an absolute minimum of 36,000m² of solar panels – that’s 9 acres. And if it’s night, or just a cloudy day in February …

Matt
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Matt

If Gridserve are happy to spend their investors’ money on doing this without demanding subsidies from taxpayers (via Govt) or ‘leccy bill payers (via National Grid) then they should do it. You never know, it might work. Nobody* made profit out of building railways in the 19th Century, but lots made profit by owning and developing land near stations; maybe the rent on the coffee shop next to the charging station will be a source of income, maybe it can’t. Why don’t we do this free market thing and find out? Of course, if nobody other than government is willing… Read more »