Electric cars are the future. Big manufacturers are stopping investing in diesel and petrol cars (whose UK sales are set to be banned altogether by 2040), the battery technology’s come on leaps and bounds, and (perhaps most importantly) the electricity that they use is increasingly coming from clean sources rather than CO2-intensive coal! They’re also helping at a local level by removing the soot, dirt and nitrous oxides that cause respiratory illnesses, and are exactly what we want to see more of in London. But in a dense Victorian street network with no off street parking, the tricky issue has always been where to charge them.
It’s not as bad as you might think. Wandsworth is one of the most proactive Boroughs in rolling out charging points for electric cars, and we now have quite a range of options, with varying speeds, prices and complexity. We’ve looked at what’s available near Lavender Hill – and if you’ve used any of these local options, or more generally used an electric car in London, we’d be interested in hearing about your experience.
‘Rapid’ chargers (43,000 watts and above)
Let’s start with the fastest. We have two ‘rapid chargers’ – one on Clapham Common Northside, and one just off Battersea Rise, both installed by TfL and managed by ESB. The higher the ‘wattage’ the faster the charge, and these can supply 50,000 watts – which is fast! These chargers are dishing a lot of power so need a thicker and heavier cable than the one that typically lives in the boot of an electric car – which is why they’re attached to the charger in petrol-pump style. Unfortunately the various models of car and charger have not settled on a single design of socket or charging approach, however these rapid chargers provide three different types that should suit almost all makes and models.
This charging station will be able to top up electric taxis and anyone wanting to charge on the go – you’ll probably stay near(ish) to the car while it charges. It accepts contactless payments, and as you’ll see from our photo at the time of writing electricity was being sold for 25 pence per kWh. Importantly (as we’ll see in a moment), there’s a maximum one-hour stay allowed here – which is as long as you’ll need to fully charge most cars from empty (unless you have a Tesla, which has a large battery and which would take two hours).
‘Fast’ chargers (7,000-22,000 watts)
These SourceLondon chargers have a dedicated electricity supply cable and can therefore be more powerful – these ones can handle around 7,000 watts (reasonably fast). There are three in the Lavender Hill area – at the southern ends of Stormont Road, Sisters Avenue and Pountney Road. In principle Government rules mean you’re entitled to use any public charging point on a pay-as-you-go basis, without a contract or subscription – but this doesn’t seem to have been applied to these charging points, and you’ll need to have signed up to the service and got hold of a SourceLondon smart card to use them.
But be warned: you’re not likely to find these fast chargers particularly useful if you have an electric car of your own. The SourceLondon network of charge points was originally developed by TfL, but later sold on to Bollore, a company that also owns BlueCity (which hires electric cars on a similar approach to Zipcar). Because people who hire BlueCity cars have to leave them parked at a SourceLondon charging point, almost all the local charging points seem to be permanently used as ordinary parking spaces for BlueCity cars – most of which finished charging hours or even days earlier. Waiving parking charges without imposing any time limit on how long cars can remain in these parking spaces – and then selling them to a company with a large hire car business – was maybe a mistake. While you can in principle reserve a space in advance (for a £2 fee), yu may struggle to find one that’s not occupied. BlueCity is a good scheme in itself (which we’ll report on in the future), but there’s clearly a slight issue with these charging points being essentially blocked and not delivering the accessible public charging that was originally intended. From a reply by Hackney Council (which has the same issue) we know at least some Councils are trying to find a way forward that works for the electric hire cars while also making these charging points generally available.
As for costs – unless you’re a BlueCity car, charging is billed by the minute, with no pay-as-you-go option (and there’s a minimum time of 10-20 minutes depending on the charge point).
‘Slow’ chargers (less than 7,000 watts)
Having changed the old sodium street lights to low-power LEDs, the Council has a network of decent cables under the roads that aren’t being used to their full capacity. So they’ve started installing SimpleSocket charging plugs in the streets, helped along by a grant they won from the Go Ultra Low Cities Scheme. While the rapid charger is likely to serve those passing through, these less glamorous lamp post sockets are, ultimately, what will probably help Lavender Hill residents with cars to go electric – as none of us have our own driveways or can be confident of a parking space in front of our house / flat.
And the Council has been pretty enthusiastic about the programme, which is delivered in partnership with Ubitricity. Although the long term plan is to install these almost everywhere, at first the Council asked residents with electric cars to get in touch if they wanted a socket on a street light near their homes, and are trying to match demand – which has led to lots of sockets (well over 200) but inevitably created a slightly uneven distribution (these are the yellow pins on the very comprehensive Zap map of electric charge points, which also shows the faster options – there are mysteriously large numbes of sockets on Forthbridge Road & Ilminster Gardens). In Wandsworth these are mostly 5,500-watt chargers, so almost double the charging speed of the 3,000-watts you could just about manage at home without a special socket connected right to your fuseboard – but there’s a limit to how powerful these can be without overloading the underground supply cables; you’ll need to leave it overnight to charge. You’ll also find plenty of these in Lambeth next door.
There’s a trade off between convenience and speed: with these sockets, charging could take 10 hours so you’ll leave the car plugged in to overnight close to home, rather than the quick topup that’s further away. Unlike the fast chargers (which have their own dedicated parking bays) these count as normal parking bays so you can’t use one outside your residents parking zone without paying parking fees! And of course someone else may have already parked near the socket. You can probably get away with parking a little further from the socket if the space next to it is in use, but the long term plan for these lower-cost charge points is to have lots of them so that you’re always more or less within reach of a socket.
Unlike the faster chargers, these don’t have touch screens or card payment devices. To use one, you can either plug in your own cable and use the Ubitricity app (and scan the barcode at the lamp post to start charging), or buy a cable from Ubitricity that will automatically identify your car to the socket (so you can just plug it in and go); and depending on whether you go for pay-as-you-go or an account you can (at the time of writing) pay between 16 and 24 pence per Kwh. You’ll note this is less than the rapid charger – there’s a cost to speed and convenience!
Long extension leads (less than 3,000 watts)
You can of course plug in at home, and we’ve seen a few extension cables draped between kitchens and cars! This is the slowest option of all, and you’ll want to be careful to avoid creating a trip hazard – but it does work on some of the estates that have dedicated parking areas.
Even faster chargers (up to 250,000 watts)
There is one more type of charge point, that’s even faster (and which we don’t have locally) – the Tesla Supercharger, which can supply between 72,000 and 250,000 watts, and which only works with Tesla cars – which integrate charging breaks with their Satnav guidance. There are a few in London but these tend to be on the motorways, to provide mid-journey charging breaks for powerful electric cars on long journeys.