EV charging challenges

by Ingrid Robeyns on April 30, 2022

About a year ago, the old second-hand car that my husband and I bought in 2007 was nearing its end. It had served us very well, but our car mechanic had been warning us for some years that it wouldn’t last for much longer. So we were contemplating what to do; we thought seriously about car-sharing combined with public transport, but for various reasons (the pandemic being one, having a child with special needs another), we decided to buy another car. We gathered information and decided to buy an electric car. The new car has been wonderful – I’ve never really liked driving a car but driving an EV is much more pleasant. And in Utrecht, the city where we live, the local authorities put new electric chargers in the streets at the same pace that new EVs are registered. So, at home we’ve never encountered any noteworthy difficulties with charging.

Until last week, I think we only had positive things to say about our experiences with driving an EV. But then we decided to go to France for a week.

We rented a house about 70 km South of Paris. From home, that should require us to recharge twice, which is fine. In our experience from driving the car longer-distance in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, we’d need two stops of about half an hour to recharge, which is not much longer than the time needed for the entire family to visit the toilet, stretch our legs, buy coffee, and have a bite.

We soon discovered that the EV-infrastructure on our route was very patchy: the electric chargers along the motorways we took in France were few and with large distances in between, and on two occasions we (as well as other drivers) were unable to connect for some unclear technical reason. Eventually we had to drive to some town off the motorway and use a slow (22kW) charger for an hour in order to at least be able to get to our destination. In the village we were staying, there were two chargers ideally situated next to the railway station – but both of them broken down.

Today, on our way back home, we decided to play it safe and planned to recharge when the battery was still around 60%; recharging at that point should allow us to get to Belgium, where there are more charging points along the motorways. At the first stop, there were four chargers, one broken down, three charging, and another 6 cars before us in the queue (mostly with grumpy drivers). One driver was desperately trying to connect her car, but encountered technical issues, that were not solved when we drove away five minutes later. We decided to take the next one – where we found one charger, and 3 cars in the queue. We decided to drive still further, though realizing we now really needed to get close to recharging. We found a place on an industrial site about half a kilometer from the highway (read: no toilets and no coffee), with four functional chargers, all four occupied, but no queue before us. All drivers were chatting to each other – something we’ve seen many times among EV-drivers recharging their cars.

Obviously, these are first-world problems. And for us they are manageable because our kids no longer stress so much if a trip takes much longer and they don’t mind if they need to pee against a tree because there is no toilet. But since about all scenarios for deep decarbonization include moving from gas vehicles to EVs that should drive on renewable energy, the infrastructure should not lag behind. I have no knowledge on how we can expect this infrastructure to develop in the near future. Yet it’s clear that for driving longer-distance in Europe, with each country having its own electrification-strategies and -policies, progress will be as strong as the weakest link in the network.

{ 1 trackback }

Reading Lounge | Evocatively Ambiguous
05.01.22 at 7:42 am



hix 04.30.22 at 8:45 pm

Chargers should work, no question. The optimum number is a less obvious topic. The anounced politcial goal in German is to have one charger for 10 vehicles on the long run just like now. After that anouncement, operators started to increase prices steaply, usually to rates far above household electrictiy prices, as they previously considered the current car:charger ratio a non permanent situation. It seems to me it´s either lines, during the holidays in particular at long distance routes or high to sky high for those very fast chargers, or heavy subsidies. The strictly rational solution would probably to just keep up with lines, considering how rarely most people actually drive long distances and how high the capital costs are.

(a high number of owners without household charger would change that calculation and the price hikes might also have all kinds of other reasons, the cost calculation that one can´t keep up those high ratios without steep prices still looks very plausible)


Bob 05.01.22 at 2:52 am

I don’t think that this is that big a deal. Electric cars are the future; you were just experiencing some problems with early adoption. As more people buy electric cars, the infrastructure will improve.


Ingrid Robeyns 05.01.22 at 8:14 am

Thanks Bob – part of me agrees with you, but part of me also thinks: ‘early adoption’? For how long have we had electric cars on the roads? And the differences between countries are striking – which suggests that it is policy (legal, institutional, etc.) differences that also must play a role in explaining the differences between countries. Given that climate change is one of our most important problems (in my view next to violent conflicts and global poverty the most important), we don’t want people to be put off from swapping to electric cars because the infrastructure is found wanting. So for these reasons the other part in me rejects the view that it’s not that big a deal, because time has been running out fast for a while now. We can’t wait for infrastructure to improve at the pace that companies choose to opt for (and my experience suggests that supply is not catching up quickly enough with demand here).


Matt 05.01.22 at 11:03 am

The strictly rational solution would probably to just keep up with lines, considering how rarely most people actually drive long distances and how high the capital costs are.

A very large % of my driving is “long distance” enough (to go whitewater kayaking, or hiking, or things like that) that it would be a very significant negative for me. If I had the choice, at this point I’d have a small and less expensive EV for “around town” and a hybrid for longer/outdoor activities, but I can only barely afford one vehicle now. I do expect that the charging infrastructure will get much better (and hopefully faster). I’d think it would have to when states like California ban the sell of gas powered cars w/in the next several years. Of course, somewhat similar issues come up already with gas cars, in some places. It’s not at all uncommon for the fuel stations in small towns in Australia to close at 5 or 6pm, and to not allow you to “pay at the pump”, so if you don’t have enough fuel, you might have to spend the night. There have been a few times when I’ve had to make uncomfortable calculations like that.


David Morrice 05.01.22 at 11:36 am

“Deep decarbonization” could be achieved if people gave up private cars and used public transport or just travelled less.


mw 05.01.22 at 12:02 pm

Perhaps the idea pattern will be ‘urban first’. EVs are already ideal for private commuter cars and taxis/ride-sharing and soon will be for city buses, and local delivery trucks (when range is sufficient for a full day’s use). And slower off-peak charging overnight is a good fit for the electric grid. Also, the vast majority of vehicle miles occur in urban areas (and these have the worst fuel-efficiency for gas-powered vehicles due to frequent stops and congestion). So urban areas are where EVs are best suited and where the vast majority of the benefits from the transition (~80-90%) would be realized.

But long trips are going to remain a problem for some time due to the long charging times (relative to refilling a fuel tank). Not because of the inconvenience of waiting half an hour for recharge but because that amount of time means that the cars-per-hour capacity of each charger is quite low relative to a single fuel pump. Which, in turn, means queues and waits much longer than half an hour. And the long recharging time along with shorter range, means that far more chargers are needed than fuel pumps for a given size fleet of vehicles.

But none of that prevents the urban switchover. How about an initial goal of encouraging all two-car families (which is typical in the U.S.) to make one them electric? And for one-car families, encourage them to switch to EVs and then rent a gas-powered vehicle for the rare long road-trip. I can also imagine informal car sharing happening where you’d loan a friend your EV to use while you’re borrowing their gas-powered car for a trip. And maybe something like Turo will provide this kind of trading/sharing? Plug-in hybrids may play an important role, too. With 50-100 miles of range, owners would rarely need to start the gasoline engine for local driving.

In any case, I think we have to plan for a decades-long transition. In the US, the median aged car is over 12 years, so the typical car on the road here in 2035 will a 2023 model rolling off the assembly lines this year.


craig fritch 05.01.22 at 3:35 pm

I live in a small northern town. Our nearest major shopping is an 8 hour drive. There is no way that most of Canada can switch to EV.


Chris Bertram 05.01.22 at 3:47 pm

The only really long drives we do are through France, north to south, so this is useful, if dispiriting, information. The main obstacle I can see to electric cars in the UK is that so many of us do not live in detached houses with parking but in terraces (row housing) or flats with on-street parking, so you can’t easily recharge overnight from your domestic supply. In Paris I saw long banks of chargers on-street near the Gare de l’Est, but I can well believe that elsewhere things are trickier.


B Snowden 05.01.22 at 7:06 pm

You are obviously right that electric vehicles are impractical for many in the north. But Canadians have a bad habit of invoking their vast empty spaces to turn ‘I don’t want to’ into ‘we can never’. What, for instance, does ‘most of Canada’ mean? Sure, most of Canada by volume is inaccessible to electric cars; for that matter, most of Canada by volume is inaccessible by road of any kind. But next to nobody lives in all that space. Most of Canada by weight is much more concentrated. Notoriously, almost half of Canadians live in a narrow stripe between Windsor and Quebec City. The settlement density in this corridor is certainly high enough to support electric vehicles. The reality is most Canadians do not live an eight-hour drive from a shopping mall, and most of them don’t really need an internal combustion engine any more than they really need a pickup truck. What’s more, I’m willing to bet there’s already electrical power running beside the road all or nearly all of the way from your place to the shopping centre. That’s the thing: the hard part of the infrastructure buildout is already done. Give the chargers a few generations, and you’ll start to see them creep northward.


hix 05.01.22 at 10:07 pm

A longer distance autobahn family trip during the holiday seasons sounds like the worst case scenario for an electric car in comparision to a conventional one. Don´t think that one will be resolved to convenience levels of conventional cars anytime soon. Again, that does not excuse non working chargers, or a collection of chargers with no toilet for that matter.

There was an early susbidy program for charger infrastructure in some rural Bavariann region some years back. The municipalities started to build more for them free chargers than there where electric cars. Not that it made the charging network particular comfortable, since they were buildt almost exclusivily next to townhalls. Think most where also free of charge. Even the odd people who already had electric cars saw no use for a charger at that location, expect saving on the charging price compared to charging at home that is. Think most of the chargers where removed after the end of the subsidy program. Sometimes, stupidity also helps to cause charger problems.

Electric cars are not that new anymore – the fight about chargeing infrastructure still is at current usage rates. You got competing alliances or solo plays of car companies, grid owners, govenments, all playing some angle. That is all highly dysfunctional and it would be much better if governments would just have a quasi monopoly with a unified standard, both for chargeing and payment pre negotiated at least at an EU level. Those games also involve lots of subsidies and a willingness to lose money at the moment, which makes me doubt the non dysfunctional solution would be that much more comfortable.

At least for the German luxury car makers and Tesla long distance Autobahn trips are a core question of marketing, precisly because they are the worst case scenario for electric cars, no matter how rare those trips are for most car owners empirically speaking.

Showing that if you are willing to pay 150k+, sure even that kind of driving can be made pretty much indistinguishable from a gas car, including loading times, especially if you chose their particular model – which will be either completly excluded from the competitions ultra fast charger network, or the price will be 1Euro per kw/h…. Not that it will matter for 90% of electric car owners in the first place because they reasonably lack the necessary equipment on the cars side.

Next: The Tesla, (Porsche, Mercedes) lounge, similar to those for first class passengers at airports next to the super fast charger, exclusive for all buyers of expensive models from those companies. Probably no other place with a toilet. With some luck, there is a line on the super fast charger, so one even has time to enjoy the exclusive facilities before it is time to make sure one´s electrictiy consumption is at least twice as high as necessary by enjoying the lack of a speed limit with a tank like monstrosity.


Ingrid Robeyns 05.02.22 at 5:58 am

Chris, I don’t think you need to charge from our home. We never charge from our home; it would be extremely impractical since we also live in a “row house” and I’ve even heard it is legally forbidden (pedestrians would have to walk over the cable between the house and the car, and if they fall, there would be no insurance coverage). But there are 6 chargers within 2 minutes walking and another 10 within 5 minutes walking (then, there are many of electric cars in our neighbourhood). So if you have good policy – like the one in our city where every X times an electric car is registered the city council (or whoever is responsible) builds another charger, then you don’t need to charge from home. Good policy seems absolutely key to make this transition going.


TM 05.02.22 at 9:32 am

Never had a problem with suplying my electric bike. For long distance trips, I use the big electric vehicles running on tracks.

Electric cars are not, physically cannot be the future of transport. Not in a sustainable way, not at the current level of car ownership in rich countries and certainly not for long distance travel. Sorry folks. The physics doesn’t work out.


Doug K 05.02.22 at 5:20 pm

Interesting, thank you Ingrid.. I am amazed to read about how sensible the Netherlands approach is.
As you say policy choices are the driver here, not the technology itself.

Electric works great for the majority of car trips. For longer trips I share TM’s gloom..

My local examples:
1. over the hill from Denver to the west slope, where we have a yurt. It’s 4 hrs by gas car. By Tesla it’s 6-8 hours. Now the trip doesn’t make sense for a weekend.
2. to college in MN to see son’s orchestra, swim meets, etc. By gas car it’s 12 hrs, drivable in a long day. I timed it out using Tesla’s estimator, which is a best case scenario – fast Tesla chargers and good availability. Now it’s 17 hours, which means two days and an overnight somewhere, four days in all. Not practical for a long weekend even.

Another problem in the US is getting ICEd. Getting ICEd means some internal combustion engine car is deliberately parked to block the charging station. This happens a lot in Lauren Boebert country over on the West slope of Colorado.

The other things I use my ICE for are various back country canoe/fish/backpack trips, most of which end up 50-100 miles from the nearest charging station. None of these trips is currently or foreseeably possible with an electric car.
Of course all that is purely recreational, I do have a hard time justifying it. On the other hand all that also keeps me within hailing distance of sane, close enough to be not entirely useless during the work week..


Ingrid Robeyns 05.02.22 at 5:53 pm

Doug @13 – I am puzzled what the “getting ICEd” is about. Is this a protest? A political action? If I understand it correctly (but I’m really perlexed if is what I think it is), it seems to be solvable with a simply policy, though – namely very heavy fines and towing away, just like when someone parks their car in front of a private garage door. But perhaps I totally misunderstood?

TM – can I ask you to clarify? – is your view that we should just do away with all cars (except perhaps limited car sharing) and limit what we do to what we can do by (electric) bike and trains? I am all in favour for much better public transport (and for daily commute, grocery shopping etc we always use bikes), but it would mean that all what, for example, Dough K wants to do becomes impossible or very difficult (I know more people who have a cabin that simply cannot be reached by public transport, not at all).


TM 05.03.22 at 7:27 am

The individual car should be a fallback for special needs, not the standard mode of transport. Car sharing, yes. Everybody owns a car, that is and remains unsustainable whether electric or not.


Trader Joe 05.03.22 at 11:19 am

I think frankly most EV drivers are so desperate in reaching for a green solution they have chosen to ignore the significant limitations inherent in the current technology. Your problem in managing medium to long distances and geographic differences in acceptance and infrastructure are two among several.

Perhaps more important, in many geographies where there is still limited adoption of renewable energy there is little evidence that EVs actually produce any net carbon savings after production factors and the mining of rare elements are taken into account.

This isn’t a necessarily a reason not to choose an EV, doing something is better than nothing, but it shouldn’t be imagined a lot of difference is being made at this point. Instead its better to view the experience as being a pioneer and willingly enduring a bit of hardship so that infrastructure, policy and even better technology can be developed that actually will make a difference.


Jeff R. 05.03.22 at 4:28 pm

I did buy an electric car in the fall of 2019 (Chevy Bolt). It’s our second car and intended to mostly using it for commuting. We still had a second car for longer trips. Commuting is a pretty good use case for it: short trips, availability of chargers on both ends, lots of stop and go traffic to do regenerative braking. One charging issue I found is that in the US, household voltage is only 120 volts. Using the standard voltage it only charges about 4 miles an hour. To get a 240 charger, you’d need to hire an electrician to run a 240 line for you and possibly run another 100 amp line from the street. That can run several hundred dollars. I just didn’t think it was worth it. I could charge all weekend to top it off. And for a while, I could use the free chargers at the electric company office that shared the parking lot at work (until they figured out non-electric company employees were using them and the made the waiting list private). Then COVID happened and I didn’t commute for nearly two years.


Nathan Lillie 05.03.22 at 9:31 pm

Trader Joe, it is really the ICE car drivers that are so desperate to continue pumping poison gas in the air, that they ignore the limitations on their current technology. EVs driver better, are cheaper to run and are 99% of the time more convenient to refuel. It is that remaining 1% of the time – on certain long road trips – that is the problem. Mostly, charging is just a problem for non-Tesla EV drivers, but in Europe there is a significant number of non-Tesla EVs. The real limitation, and only reason EVs haven’t taken over yet, is at the moment there is limited global battery production capacity, which means only a limited number of EVs can be produced. However, Tesla and the Chinese brands like BYD are expanding their production rapidly, and over the next few years, we will see the ICE market share dwindle dramatically.

Comments on this entry are closed.