I’d driven an electric vehicle before heading out of the Nissan Leaf launch, but one thing I had never done was charge one up.
So halfway around one of the test routes, there was a chance to stop by the side of the road and make use of one of Lisbon’s roadside charging points.
Lisbon’s extensive and already installed network has been set up by a company called Mobi.E, which has an ambitious – but entirely necessary – desire to make all charging points standard across Europe to allow for all kinds of journeys to be undertaken in EVs, not just those confined by the city limits.
How successful they are remains to be seen, but a pan-Portugal network is already up and running with government money and will go private in 2012. No matter what company sets up a charging point, they have to allow access to it to all EV drivers through one of Mobi.E’s cards (pictured). It’ll need to catch on, but as Mobi.E points out, it’s in the interests of all parties for charging points to be standard and accessible to all if EVs are to catch on.
Anyway, charging an electric car is straightforward. Touch your Mobi.E card against the charging point’s sensor, and then inform it you’d like to charge your car. You are then prompted into entering a pin code, at which point a flap on an adjacent point opens to reveal a point you can plug your car’s charger into.
You then get the rather bulky cable out of the boot and plug it in to the point, making sure to click it shut to avoid any third party mischief ruining your charge. You then pull a switch in the cabin that opens your car’s connecting point at the front, you plug in the charger and you’re away. In the Leaf’s instance, you’ll know it’s charged when all three LEDs on the dash stop flashing and turn blue.
Sound straightforward? It is. But entirely flawed in concept at this stage, if you ask me. One: there’s no lock on the Leaf’s charging point so any comedian can come and pull the plug out (but thankfully not plug it into their car as the current is cut as soon as the charger is interrupted). And two: what are you supposed to do while you wait? This was no fast charge system; it could take up to eight hours and there are only so many cups of coffee to be had by Lisbon’s waterfront.
This is not meant to discourage EV ownership. On the contrary, new technology like this is to be embraced. But even if the network is there, it’s a long way from being practical. A crucial part of EVs becoming accepted by the masses will be when charging is as quick as a trip to your local petrol station. I'll be no more than a keen observer until then.