Electric vehicles – toys of a few for several years, EVs have become main stream with Tesla producing them by the thousands, and many other manufacturers getting ready to join the fun next year. Electric vehicles are in fact incredible (if they work, but I won’t harp on that again…), fun to drive, they make you feel good and they make you the center of attention wherever you go. Infrastructure was an issue at first but more and more charging stations, free and fee-based, are going up around the world making it easier to use your car to go wherever you want to go. Even the charging times are much reduced: a Tesla takes about half an hour at a “super charger” to replenish its battery to over 80%. Few places can afford to ignore the trend these days and preferred parking for EVs is now quite common, at least in the main markets along the West- and East Coast of the USA.
Alas, this picture of a happy family casually strolling back to their electric vehicle after a pleasant shopping experience will soon be history (image: Schneider Electronics). The number of EVs and plug-in hybrids is growing much faster than the number of parking spaces offered. Inevitably, bad manners take over and the once happy community of pioneers sees itself confronted with a growing number of bullies:
- EVs get unplugged by people who feel they need the power more.
- EVs get unplugged by pranksters just because.
- EV parking spaces get taken by EVs and Plug-Ins that aren’t charging (but the spaces are free)
- Drivers of internal combustion engine (ICE) powered cars occupy EV parking spaces and chargers
- Free “customer only” parking spaces get used by non-customers.
These, unfortunately, are symptoms of an idealistic world meeting the reality of daily life and its multi faceted annoyances of egocentricity and envy. Some EV drivers report about incidents in online forums, and the number of occurrences is increasing. They fight valiantly by placing notes (friendly and not) under windshield wipers; they confront perpetrators, report them…. to little avail. Special problems arise for people utilizing airport charging spaces: their cars are fully charged long before their return, after which they are unnecessarily blocking a valuable charger-equipped parking space.
These events may in fact be uncovering a major flaw in any kind of “plug-in” vehicle concept: a divided society, Gas versus Electric. Studies suggest that the transformation to electric will take a very long time. EVs will need another decade to even build a noticeable footprint in the automobile market. The complete transformation, which is inevitable, will take until 2070. Until then, how will the two camps coexist? Without a surplus of EV charging stations consumers will be deterred to make the switch. An increasing number of EV reserved parking spaces will, on the other hand, reduce the available conventional parking spaces. Conflicts are inevitable.
I have a feeling that the only way to resolve this will be to uncouple the process of charging from the “act” of parking. The two are asynchronous and should not be connected. Be it by way of ultra-quick chargers that will allow drivers to “refill” their EVs in the amount of time to refuel a conventional car (i.e. by way of battery-swapping as proposed by Tesla and Better Place), or to abandon the concept of lithium ion batteries altogether in favor of hydrogen fuel cells right away.
Future will tell – I am afraid, though, that this issue will turn out to be a major and unexpected roadblock in the proliferation of EV technology.