‘As we become more reliant on electricity, rationing it might be necessary’

Mike Rutherford does not believe the UK Power Network will be able to cope with the demands of EV drivers

Opinion - EV charging

When I talk here of Electric Six, I refer not to my favourite disco-punk-garage band. No, the Electric Six I have in mind are the half dozen electric car-related issues that occasionally haunt me.

They are: power outages; prohibitively high retail prices for EVs; range and range anxiety; woeful under-investment in charging infrastructure; the often ignored (though not by Auto Express) human, environmental and production costs of EV tech and dead batteries; and WLTP testing procedures and quoted ranges that can still be wide of the mark.

The first of my Electric Six concerns – the increasingly common power cut – is in some respects the one to worry about least, because such outages don’t bother users of leccy on a daily basis. Or at least that’s what I thought before my working week beginning Monday, 14 June. I was in my home-office studio for one of my regular (I’ve been doing ’em since 1985) BBC radio slots from noon to 1pm. Most callers had questions about EVs and the joys, frustrations, plus all-in costs of driving and charging one. Mid-sentence and mid-programme I was brutally cut-off. The reason? A power outage, which the culprit – UK Power Networks – coldly and unapologetically assured me by text was “unplanned” and “unexpected”. UKPN said it “didn’t know this was going to happen so providing prior notice was not possible”.

That’s all right, then; think nothing of it. No need for words of regret, apology or compensation, either. Let’s just forget about it and move on.

So that’s what I tried to do, but on Thursday of the same week, at the same office/studio, I suffered another “unplanned” power outage, and received the same heartless excuses from UKPN. By the Friday, when I planned to watch my first full football match of the year – the England vs Scotland game – I’d moved to a building many miles away, where I surely wouldn’t be on the receiving end of my third power cut in five days. But, you’ve guessed it, as the match reached the crescendo we craved, the TV and every other electric appliance died – and were not predicted to be resuscitated until the next day.

EV users of today and tomorrow have to think deeply about all this. The irrefutable truth is that I and countless individuals and businesses around me suffered an outage, on average, every other day for a week in mid-summer 2021 when there was comparatively little demand for electricity. So how’s it going to be when most, then all of us are collectively expected to buy millions of EVs that’ll need regular recharging? Do I believe UK Power Networks will cope with the skyrocketing demands to be placed on it by EV drivers, in addition to millions of additional consumers forced to dump their gas boilers and wood-burning stoves in favour of electric heating devices? In a word, no.

And in a further and final word on the Electric Six, I predict the following when unprecedented demand massively and inevitably outstrips iffy supplies in a Britain soon to be almost totally reliant on electricity: rationing the stuff might be necessary.

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Precisely two weeks after those frequent power outages that ruined three days out of five for me in mid-June, power cuts in the same area of South East England continued. 

To ‘solve’ the serious and ongoing crisis, giant, noisy diesel-powered generators have been hauled in by HGVs to provide LOCAL residents and businesses with the electricity they need to power their electric cars and other plug-in appliances. What an irony - ‘dirty diesel’ fuel being used to recharge ‘clean and green’ EVs on the outskirts of London. How’s that for progress?

Do you agree with Mike? Let us know in the comments section below...

Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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