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Motor Mouth articles 2011

Electric highway leads to the future

Soon to be a familiar sight on Britain’s motorways – plug-in zones for electric cars

AN Electric Highway around Britain could bring an end to a condition known as ‘range anxiety’ and unclog the impasse that has been delaying a mass switchover to electric cars.

Deadlock has stymied the industry for some time – people are reluctant to buy electric cars because of the shortage of charging points while companies have been loath to build charging points because of the slow take-up of electric cars.

It is the classic vicious circle but the stalemate could well be broken by green power pioneers Ecotricity, who are the people behind the Electric Highway. They have installed charging points at Welcome Break services on five motorways, all powered by green electricity from Ecotricity’s 53 windmills and solar farm.

And as of last month, electric cars can drive between Exeter and Bristol without fear of running out of power after Ecotricity opened a new charging point on the M5 as part of what they are calling the world’s first national charging network.

This breakthrough in electric car infrastructure removes one of the main barriers for people wanting to buy into the concept because of concerns they would be restricted to driving within their own town and afraid to drive between cities for fear of conking out.

Six motorway top-up zones have now been installed at Welcome Break motorway services: Sedgemoor on the M5, Hopwood Park services on the M42, Membury on the M4, South Mimms on the M25, Michaelwood on the M5 and Oxford on the M40. There is also a sixth top-up zone located at the base of an Ecotricity windmill at Green Park on the M4 near Reading.

A total of 12 top-up-zones will complete the first phase of the network. Each will be sited outside the main entrance of a Welcome Break, with two sockets that can be accessed by registering for a free swipe-card. Within 18 months, all 27 Welcome Break motorway services across Britain will have charging points.

Electric cars using rapid recharge points can top up in around 20 minutes or fully charge in two hours, while those using the slower 13 amp supply will be able to recharge fully if staying overnight at Days Inn motorway service hotels.

Ecotricity founder Dale Vince says: “People have asked why we are building this Electric Highway when there are only about 2,000 electric cars on the road today. We’re creating the infrastructure to get Britain’s electric car revolution moving.”

With world oil prices going through the roof, you’ll soon be able to get around Britain using only the power of the wind. Ecotricity reckon it costs just over 1p a mile for electric vehicles, compared to 15p in a petrol car at today’s prices.

The UK consumes 23 million tonnes of oil to do the 250 billion miles we drive every year. But we could power all that with 12,000 of today’s windmills, or just 6,000 of tomorrow’s.

There are currently around 2,000 pure electric vehicles in the UK, plus a few hundred plug-in electric hybrids. There are around 30,000 petrol hybrids fitted with batteries whose charge either comes from the petrol engine or from stored energy.

The Government is predicting that by 2015 there will be tens of thousands of plug-in vehicles on UK roads. Most car charging would happen overnight, when grid demand is traditionally lowest.

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