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Giles Coren on EV charging in London
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Hello and welcome back to The Fast Charge, a weekly British EV newsletter.
In this morning’s edition… I hear from TV presenter and columnist Giles Coren about his experience living with an EV without off-street parking in London.
Elsewhere, BMW’s boss cautions on EV rollout pace, Tesla scales back customer offers, and I find Shell selling engine oil at its charging hub.
As ever, if you have any questions or comments, please do drop me a line (firstname.lastname@example.org) or simply reply to this email.
Giles Coren on living with an EV in London
“You never know if you’re going to be able to charge or not.” This is how Giles Coren, the TV presenter and columnist, sums up his feelings about owning an EV in London without off-street parking.
Although Giles is perhaps most famous as being a restaurant critic, since 2020 he’s also been one of the UK’s early adopters of electric cars. At his home in Kentish Town, Giles owns a Jaguar I-Pace – a car famously stolen twice last year before it was retrieved in both cases – and I was keen to hear how Giles has found dealing with the country’s infrastructure without owning a driveway. This is an area of increasing importance and one the government recently said will impact 10 million cars and vans by 2050.
During my chat with Giles, he talked through the ‘pathetic’ charging options on his street, gave both barrels to Source London, revealed he trails a cable over his pavement, and said that despite all his EV struggles will be ‘sticking with it’.
Living with no driveway
Giles lives with his family in the dominion of Camden, where his EV is a key part of daily life taking his children to school and often driving to work. Camden has been taking strides to build out its charging network in recent years. Though it’s certainly not the best, it’s definitely not the worse – the area has 307 chargepoints. However, Giles feels the choices are lacklustre.
“As long as the electric vehicle is this thing that you can only have if you’ve got off-street parking, then it’s never going to be any good for anybody,” says Giles, insisting we need to reduce “pollution in cities.”
“My options are an Ubitricity lamp post you can never park at, then there’s an Ubitricity lamp post you can park at about 1 in 10 times, my house – if I'm lucky enough that it's free – or there's Source London which costs the same as petrol,” he explains. “It's pathetic."
Re-purposing lamp posts as EV chargers has been popular in the past year and is often held up as being the main solution for on-street charging demand. The leader in this area is Ubitricity, owned by Shell, which is now the largest public network in the UK. However, Giles pointed out that the two on his doorstep were “pointless” as they don’t have a set EV box around them. This means people “park their gas guzzlers” in the spaces making the charger inaccessible to EVs. For one of the chargers, Giles says he’s “never, ever, ever, ever been able to use it” in two years due to this problem.
Giles quite rightly makes the point that while it takes thousands of pounds to build these chargers, it costs “pennies to paint a box.” It seems daft, so I asked Ubitricity why. Their UK Strategy & Commercial Director, Poppy Mills, said in response that they “understand the frustration” of not being able to access their chargers due to a lack of dedicated EV parking bays. “Particularly as more EVs come on the road, we think dedicated bays are important to ensure EV drivers have accessible and reliable charging,” she said adding, “the decision to implement a dedicated bay ultimately sits with the local authority.”
It seems that bureaucracy is therefore to blame, though Ubitricity did point out that as “part of the government’s recently released EV strategy, the traffic regulation order (TRO) process is being looked into.” This is something Ubitricity believes “will help make it easier to implement dedicated bays in the future.”
Until those changes come in, Giles often must rely on other options to charge up. This includes using a network he’s not especially fond of… Source London.
Amongst EV owners, Source London is much disliked due to its expensive and vague pricing. Only in December, some users formed a ‘Customer Action Group’ to petition the company for its poor service. Alas, it appears councils aren’t bothered by such criticism as Source London has remained a popular go-to for boroughs – there are 1,700+ of their chargers across the city.
Giles believes Source London is "up there with Vladimir Putin" in terms of impacting drivers in the UK as they charge “eye-watering” prices and even a fee for parking up and using them. Originally, when Giles purchased his EV, he signed up for their membership that cost £4 a month. However, he quickly realised it was pointless and “like a gym membership” couldn’t cancel it. His only saving grace was his credit card expired, meaning the company were unable to take further payments.
Despite his small victory in escaping the subscription, Giles still has to use Source London, such as recently when he used the points near him to top up with 170 miles.
“It charged me £48,” an outraged Giles explains while also pointing out it costs roughly £1 for three miles. “I don’t see how Source London can get away with it?”
This isn’t just an overreaction from Giles. Currently, Source London’s pay-as-you-go price is 79p per kWh – not including the idle fee to use the chargers – and 89p per kWh in Camden thanks to a central London surcharge they run. This is one of, if not the most expensive public charging rate in the UK – beating many of the nation’s typically more expensive rapid networks by at least 20p.
I contacted Source London (and their owners TotalEnergies) for a response about their pricing but received nothing back. They have previously said the increased prices were because of rising wholesale energy costs – albeit, they have always been at the top end of the market. As Giles later suggested, right now “it’s only the rich being stung” by poor infrastructure. Although, with many more getting into EVs, perhaps not for long.
Over the pavement
Thanks to the unavailability of lamp post chargers on his street, Giles has adopted a strategy increasingly thousands of others use to charge their EVs: trailing a cable from his house.
“I put a cable out of the window, causing a great security breach, run it across the pavement and put mats over it which the dogs p*** on.” According to Giles, using the mains, it takes 48 hours to fully charge his I-Pace. “It’s insane!”.
Under the Highways Act, it’s an offence to create an obstruction on the pavement that could present a hazard to others. In the past, many councils have told residents not to place charging cables over the street as a result.
“I’m not bothered it’s against the law,” says Giles insisting he’d be undeterred by Camden Council pulling him up on it. According to Giles, many others charge this way and use extension cables to make it possible – something that is potentially unsafe. “How the f*** else are you meant to? They don’t make the charging cables long enough,” he asks.
In the recent EV infrastructure strategy, the government acknowledged this situation and suggested one solution to allow residents to build ‘gullies’ from their homes to the street. “It’s definitely a good idea,” says Giles. Though, in the ideal world “really they should put an electric point outside every house.”
Alongside boosting more options on people’s streets, one idea in urban areas the government is backing is the development of ‘charging hubs’. These are local centres of fast chargers near people’s neighbourhoods that drivers might use once a week for 30 minutes.
One such hub has just opened near Giles run by MFG and he recently gave it a go.
“Three of them had people charging and the fourth had a man in a petrol Subaru asleep,” he explained. “I tapped on the window and said ‘are you charging your car?’ and he replied ‘no, I’m getting some kip, f*** off’... I left uncharged.”
Getting ICEd is a common problem for EV drivers and, fortunately, many operators are putting in place ways to police this, such as fines. However, getting to a station and finding it full is less common, though with more people driving EVs that seems destined to change.
Hopes for the future
Despite the current situation, Giles consistently maintained in our chat that he was “happy enough that things will improve” and that he would “stick with it”.
When I ask what he’d like to see happen in the future, Giles suggested the charging networks needed a “one size fits all” approach, saying it’s not fun pulling up to chargers and having to go through the motions of “how do I do this, can I do this, have I got the right thing [app or card].” Giles is also keen to see EV bays appear at his local chargers.
Hopefully, following the government’s recent EV strategy, we will start to see better experiences of charging in the UK. However, evidently, it can’t just be a case of sticking contactless payment readers on chargers and assuming that’s it, simple things like pricing and parking regulations will be crucial too.
Elsewhere in the last week…
OIL HUB: At the start of this year, the oil giant Shell launched its first EV charging hub in Fulham. The location had previously been a petrol station before being transformed to show, according to Shell, “a glimpse into the future of mobility.” Over the weekend, I had reason to go inside the shop. To my surprise, I found that opposite the tills is a whole section containing products for petrol and diesel cars (such as fuel cans and various engine oils). The team there told me that, as it’s still a Shell station, they need to have products available to any type of driver. Maybe fair but it felt slightly at odds with the whole ‘EV hub’ vibe.
USED CARS: Very interesting in-depth article in The Times yesterday about the rising costs of second-hand cars. According to data by Auto Trader, the average price for a used car has risen by 32% in the past year – or an average increase of about £4,400. Auto Trader also shared that people are paying a 15% premium on used EVs (including the Smart forfour, Mercedes EQA and VW ID.3) compared to those that have done no miles. The reason being is likely long-wait times and a lack of supply shortages. It seems that many dealers are cashing in on the ‘once in a lifetime’ moment. As I mentioned about a month ago, lots of sellers jumped on the release of the Model Y earlier this year (there are now 25 on sale – double to a month ago).
PENNY PINCHING: Has Tesla hired a Yorkshireman? Despite being one of the most valuable carmakers in the world, in the past week, the company has started shedding many of its customer discounts and offers. This includes providing owners with a mobile connector, something that seems to have displeased Will Fealey, President of Tesla Owners UK. Presumably, as Tesla grows, they are now preparing for mass adoption.
LIVE PRICES: Last week I pondered if one day soon we’d have a charging network display live pricing, much like petrol stations. That day has come sooner than I expected (see picture below from America land). Spotted via Reilly Brennan.
SLOW DOWN: Speaking of over the pond, last week it was the New York International Auto Show. At the event, it seems BMW’s CEO, Oliver Zipse, urged caution on the move to EVs suggesting that combustion engines still have a role to play - especially as infrastructure is still lacking. This isn’t the first time he’s made slightly critical comments about the push for EVs. On a lighter note, Zipse also confirmed that BMW would “not have job losses due to the transformation” to EVs – despite many economists having previously said electrification will lead to factory losses. Read more.
GOOD VIDEO: The YouTube channel Fully Charged published a fascinating video recently trying out wireless charging and also tested out Nio’s new battery swapping facility. Worth a watch.
CAR WASH: Not massively electric related, though in the latest newsletter by iNews’ Environment writer, Madeleine Cuff, she brought up the topic of washing your car. I hadn’t quite realised how harmful using the various soaps can be in car washing and also potentially wasteful. Madeleine mentioned a couple of interesting ideas to solve, including an Uber-style ‘Dropless’ service for those without a driveway. As a car proud nation, this is an area perhaps we should keep in mind during the current ‘green’ auto revolution. You can sign up for her newsletter on Twitter.
SAVE THE DATE: The latest set of official UK charging statistics are published this week on Thursday 21 April.
By Tom Riley