Bright Spark

The bigger picture

Mass market electric cars have been with us for about a decade now, and for all of that time, the popular Fully Charged YouTube channel has been on hand to explain to anyone who is interested in the subject what’s going on. Since 2018, though, Fully Charged has not just been an online presence but a series of live events as well. During its short successful life, Fully Charged Live has migrated from its original UK base at Silverstone to the expansive halls and open outdoor spaces of the Farnborough International Exhibition and Conference Centre. That’s part of the Farnborough Airport complex, a site that’s already seen more than its fair share of innovative technology over the years as the historic former home of the Royal Aircraft Establishment. While the original UK show has grown enormously, there are now also international off-shoots, with a full calendar of events taking places as diverse as Amsterdam, San Diego and Sydney.

In that time, of course, electric cars have improved, with bigger and better battery packs offering ever increasing range, and there is a far wider choice of models as well. Even as recently as 2018, when the first Fully Charged Live was held, electric cars were still very much a minority pursuit, but now they have entered the mainstream – and that’s perhaps best demonstrated by the enormous numbers thronging the latest incarnation of the show.

But it’s never just been about the cars. Electric vehicles are part of a wider system, and they will only deliver on climate change and clean air if electricity generation is clean as well. When a petrol or diesel car leaves the factory, it’s probably as clean as it’s ever going to be in terms of emissions, but an electric car gets cleaner and cleaner over the course of its life if the electricity it consumes gets greener. A big part of that, of course, is the greening of electricity supplied to the grid, as coal, oil, and gas fired power stations are phased out in favour of wind, solar, hydro and – more controversially – nuclear. But an increasingly important part of the picture is how electric cars integrate with the electrification of the home, as technologies such as heat pumps and solar power take over from gas.

So while an electric car is a compelling product in its own right, its greater importance is as part of this wider system and the electrification of the economy as a whole. And that wider picture is increasingly represented at Fully Charged Live. The Youtube channel and the event itself have always featured plenty of these other aspects of electrification, especially clean house technology, but a tour of the halls of the exhibition section this year really brought home their importance. Dozens of suppliers of home and public charging points, solar technology, heat pumps, electric boilers and electric radiators showed their wares, alongside suppliers of apps and smart technologies for managing your clean home or your EV charging. Suppliers of public and workplace charging technology were well represented too.

So if you’re pondering whether to switch to an electric car, choosing which one to buy will probably be one of the more straightforward decisions you will need to make. That’s just the start of it. Which home charger are you going to buy – assuming you have off-street parking in the first place? Which electricity tariff are you going to choose in order to charge your car as cheaply, or as cleanly as you can? Is it worth going for solar, rather than relying on the grid? If you want solar, how many panels do you need? Do you need a storage battery? If you need a storage battery, what is the optimum size for your system? What are the apps or other smart technologies that you can use to manage all of these disparate elements so that you can judge when and from which source to charge your car? Can your car do vehicle-to-grid reverse charging, and if it can, will it ever be worth using this technology?

I’ve already spent a great deal of time grappling with these questions. I haven’t yet worked out the answers to some of them, so I’m not yet ready to press the button on an expensive wholesale electrification of my home. But my understanding of these subjects has been enhanced considerably over the years by the hours I have spent pacing the halls of the exhibition section of Fully Charged Live.

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