The traditional filling station finally has a rival and there's not a petrol pump in sight. Evoasis, a US company, will later this year introduce its first charging station in a bid to revolutionise the electric car industry, and Abu Dhabi residents may soon get a chance to experience it first hand. As it stands, there are too few plug-ins globally for electric cars to be truly viable, and it can take up to seven hours to charge a car Not any more.
Traditionally, the only plug-ins available have offered a meagre 220 volts. Evoasis' charging stations will have the capacity for up to 500 volts at its 24-hour stations. And instead of drivers having to wait hours for their cars to charge up, they can be fully charged in just 20 minutes. And while they wait, they can use facilities similar to regular service stations. Angus Clark, the company's CEO, is in talks with governments and companies around the world about the scheme. He is also planning to visit Abu Dhabi soon to talk with the organisers of Masdar City. He is interested in building a station at the Abu Dhabi International Airport, as well.
"I'm not quite sure what will happen in the Emirates just yet," says Clark. "We'd love to have a charge station in Masdar City, another at the airport and then possibly something between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It's not decided what route they're going to take with regards to the electric cars, but they'll need the infrastructure we can offer. Masdar City is particularly exciting for us." However, it is London that holds the key, acting as the test area for the system. At least one filling station is expected to be built there this year to service 24 cars at a time on the high-voltage setting and more look likely to follow in the capital in the immediate future.
Clark explains, "London is the perfect guinea pig. There's the issue of the congestion charge, which doesn't apply to electric cars, and massive road tax relief plus far cheaper parking. As a city, it's a little bit more mature about electric cars than other places. It's perfect for us as there are incentives for electric cars and it's making big steps towards being a much greener city." A host of sites have been earmarked, most of which will be housed in railway stations, in part to aid commuters but also to tap into the high-voltage power required.
The centres will have more than 100 different cables to charge the various cars, which Clark admits is a pitfall but not necessarily a major problem. "The cables thing is an issue as we'll need to house all those cables but it's a bit like having different mobile phone chargers, really," he says. "It's a difficulty but only initially. It'll be very easy for attendants to change them and it won't be a problem."
The other issue is that the driving distance of electric cars is still not great compared with their petrol-powered rivals. However, Evoasis is working on the premise that battery power is on the verge of a major overhaul. "The next generation of batteries will be on the market come 2012," says Clark, "and car manufacturers know they need to improve the longevity of batteries to take electric cars to the masses. And I'm confident that will take off in a big way."
As for the cost to customers, they will be charged at the London site about £2 (Dh11) per visit for charging up their cars. Should London work, as Clark confidently expects it to, other sites will follow globally. And he insists the company's model is likely to be followed by others, a move he would welcome. "We'd hope other companies would do the same thing," he says. "We can't do this globally ourselves and we'd hope there will be competitors. We don't want to alienate anyone - we want to be able to include 99.9 per cent of the population."