Electric vehicles have a more extensive history than many people realise. Today, we see electric cars as a very modern innovation but the first electric vehicle was actually developed two centuries ago in the 1830s. Since then, EVs and electric car charging stations have evolved considerably.
An increase in the number of EV models available, as well as the volume of EV drivers on the road, has forced a rethink of electric car charging points. There is now a distinct focus on how to make them more accessible and how to meet the needs of the consumer.
As of 2017, the UK had over 14,000 public charge points and electric vehicle charging stations in more than 5,000 locations around the country. Estimates predict that there will be around 200,000 electric cars on UK roads by the end of this year and the number of sales is rising. According to EVObsession.com (2016) there are around 500,000 electric vehicles on the road now in Europe and this amount keeps on rising. With growing demand for car charging points, the need to develop and improve the electric car charger infrastructure in the UK has sound basis. So, how did we get to this point?
The earliest EV did not have particularly innovative charging technology to support them. In fact, they were often passion projects taken on by auto enthusiasts, such as pioneer Henry Ford. Ford initially purchased an EV for his wife and then used it for his own experiments. From the 1830s onwards there were electric cars on the roads (albeit running at 14 miles an hour only) but the convenience and lower cost of the combustion engine soon gave petrol cars the advantage.
Between the 1830s and the 1950s, EV charger technology didn’t make much progress. Then, in the 1950s, the advances in technology that came as a result of ventures in space travel began to improve the options with respect to batteries and charging choices. However, at this stage, range was still very limited and electric car charging at home was the only option. At that time there were no public charging points and nothing in the way of countrywide charging station infrastructure.
The next key moment in the development of EV charging stations was the launch of the Toyota Prius in 1997. Until then, work on EV batteries and electric charging stations had taken place in the background and the idea of an EV car, properly supported by a chargepoint infrastructure, was just a fantasy. However, the Toyota Prius was incredibly popular and people began to get used to the idea of a non-petrol vehicle. The Prius was followed in 2006 by a luxury EV from Tesla that could travel up to 200 miles on a single charge. This was a revolutionary moment for the evolution of EV charging points because it made the electric vehicle a reality and charging points a necessity rather than a “nice to have.”
Since 2006, interest in hybrid and electric vehicles has soared. As a result there has been a lot more investment by big auto brands in developing their own hybrid and electric vehicles to meet customer demand. As a result of innovation, there has been a reduction in the cost of this technology, something that was always cited as the main barrier to mass use of EVs. In fact, electric cars are forecast to reach price parity with petrol cars by 2025 . As EVs have become a viable market, the need for a more extensive charging infrastructure has grown considerably. NewMotion is now covering 70,000 charging stations across Europe and in Japan there are now more EV charging stations than there are petrol stations. Developing existing EV infrastructure is on the list for every major nation, including developing economies. In China, for example, the target is to reach 4.3 million private chargers and 500,000 public chargers by 2030. In France this figure is seven million.
Today, EV chargers are far more simplistic and efficient, from the home electric car charging point , which is easy to install and use, to workplace premises options. The speed of charging has been a considerable focus for the evolution of the charging station. As such, there are now multiple different charging options that weren’t previously available: a slower (up to 3 kW) 6-8 hours overnight charge, a fast (7-22 kW) charge in 3-4 hours and Rapid AC and DC (43-50 kW) options, which aim for an 80% charge in around half an hour.
The evolution of charging stations has taken us from home charging only, to a broad and constantly growing infrastructure, the development of which is high on the global agenda as the demand and mindset about charging continue to shift. Given the impact of innovation and technology, charging options can only become more effective, faster and easier to use as EVs replace petrol cars in the years to come.