Analysis: What happens to stranded EVs?

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Words: Nile Bijoux
11 Jul 2019

You may have seen an image floating around the web of a stricken EV somewhere in Europe being recharged thanks to a road side rescue van delivering a 'mobile EVSE charger' on a trailer. While it’s ironic that an EV has to be rescued by a vehicle with an internal-combustion engine, it got us thinking - what would happen here in New Zealand if an EV ran out of juice?

One solution is being tested now by the RAC over in Britain, which is called EV Boost. It’s similar to the Facebook image but the generator is loaded into the back of a Ford Transit Custom patrol van. The RAC has converted six vans and intends to progress to a large-scale roll-out over the coming years.

The EV Boost system comprises an electrical generator mated to the patrol van’s 1.9-litre diesel engine and sends power through an inverter to the recharge the stranded EV. The RAC says the charging device is compatible with all Type 1 and 2 connections, accounting for the vast majority of EVs on UK roads.

Stranded EVs usually have to be transported by flatbed truck, making recovery a slower, more expensive process. With its new charging device, the RAC aims to get the battery in an EV charged as quickly as possible, in order to minimise traffic disruption.

Chris Millward, head of roadside rescue at the RAC, said: “With nothing like it on the market, the real challenge was to develop a mobile EV-charger system which is compact and light enough to fit into our normal patrol vehicles.”

To find out about the local state of roadside assistance, we talked to Murray Berkett and Dave Comp from First Assistance, which provides a roadside rescue service to dozens of cars daily.

They said that, as of the time of writing, there had been no ‘flat EV’ callouts to First Assistance. But, in that event, a tow truck would actually be preferable at the moment. In fact, in New Zealand, it’s the only option. That’s because emergency rechargers like the EV Boost system haven’t shown how fast they can recharge a variety of EVs yet, nor how much juice a certain amount of charging gives.

We know that ten litres of fuel will give the average car just enough juice to get to the nearest petrol station but ten minutes of charging may not give every EV enough power to get to a charge point, depending on how potent the mobile charger is and what sort of charging standards the car supports.

Essentially, there needs to be proof a mobile recharger works for a wide range of cars before companies like First Assistance will invest. That said, First Assistance is looking into emergency rechargers in the event a towtruck can’t make it to a car.

Advances in battery technology to solid-state batteries and beyond should come with massive decreases in charge times as well as increases to battery density and space efficiency, which could open up a battery exchange system. However, this will require carmakers to work together to establish an architecture for batteries and charge systems, something the big Japanese motorbike manufacturers are looking into.

In the meantime, Kiwi EV drivers caught without enough juice to get to a charge point will need to find a place a towtruck can access, or at least a 4G signal to call an Uber.

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