Lifestyle & Culture

Jackie Harding: A journey of a thousand charging stations begins with the purchase of a single electric car

My husband decided last summer that he would splash out on a new car, and with the ongoing climate change concerns, decided to go to a fully electric car. This decision has been quite an eye-opener for us, as individuals, as a couple and on our views of the infrastructure of several countries.

Personal conflict

I have questioned many times since whether a husband having an electric car is maybe grounds for divorce! As a couple, we are no saints when it comes to critiquing each other’s driving skills, but the electric car has caused more disagreements than Brexit!

I have very nearly bitten through my tongue several times as I try my best to stay silent and, I’m sure, I have worn down my teeth grinding them together as we drive around in circles, looking for an EV charger or sit on a highway charging when we are already late for an appointment, trying desperately not to reference the fact that it was not I who bought “the damn car.”

I’ve never noticed other couples arguing whilst “plugged in” so can only assume they are either extremely Zen-like people or have passed the argument phase only to have reached the “let’s just pretend we are enjoying this experience” phase.

‘Range anxiety’ is a thing

Personality does come into car choices apparently. It’s not just about model, car colour choice, two-door or three-door, but petrol or electric is a big decision and one that is different for distinctive characteristics in the driver…. and passenger.

My husband is not patient. I knew that.

He does not enjoy feeling he has no control in certain situations. I knew that too.

What I didn’t know was that “Range Anxiety” is really a thing and that my husband felt it constantly. It spoiled the joy of driving for him and alongside Range Anxiety is what I like to call “Infrastructure Performance Anxiety,” or IPA.

Range Anxiety is, according to blog.evbox.com, the fear of driving an electric car and running out of power, without finding a charging station on time to replenish the battery. Apparently, 50 percent of drivers experience this, dependent on where they live.

Being British expats and having family living there and in Austria, we have experienced a fair amount of Range Anxiety in the 10 months since we bought the car and travelled back and forth between countries from the Netherlands. Our drives to Austria and to the United Kingdom have become a trigger for nightmares and have added hours of travel time to what was once a simple global polluting exercise.

I now always travel with a good book, as I know I’ll be sat for a good 45 minutes somewhere on a highway, and I always have a thermos of coffee with us, as very often the EV charger is at the back of an industrial location, or worse – as in one trip – some very sketchy areas of Antwerp docks.

Whilst sitting there I was unsure if we’d get mugged or arrested!

Our sadder experience was inadvertently driving through the area of the Eifel in Germany that had had catastrophic flooding last summer, as our app took us down what once were roads to an EV charger that had been washed away, as had the town. That’s when you realize an electric car is not that big a problem in comparison to what others face every day.

Autovista 24

IPA … fear, not beer

Infrastructure Performance Anxiety or IPA (something I have often wished was in my thermos) is, unfortunately, out of our control as it speaks to the good and bad infrastructure of different countries. We are lucky to live in the Netherlands where EV chargers apparently flourish like the fields of flowers it is famous for. The Netherlands had in 2020 40,000 public charging stations, and this number continues to grow, along with the insane efficiency of the FastNED highway super-charging stations.

This is a serious problem for us Dutch residents, as we assume other countries are the same … NO! Generally, on our trips to Austria and Germany we don’t have problems on the highway as most service areas have good charging facilities. The problem arises in the countryside as there, the supply of chargers can be spotty.

You’ve only to ask anyone who has been skiing in Austria this winter about the lines of people waiting to charge their electric cars.

Belgium is also a country we dread passing through. Once we looked forward to visits there, planning beer and chocolate tastings. Now our planning is purely where can we find a fast charger without having to stay the night, as the only charger you can find is a slow “you might as well use your emergency phone battery pack” charger.

My one personal observation as a female driver is that some of the chargers seem to be placed in lonely, out-of-the-way locations. As much as I am all for equality, I do think – as a woman – I am more vulnerable sat in my car alone at night, anchored to a machine with a firmly attached electrical umbilical cord, unable to drive away should I feel threatened or unsafe.

The UK has its own challenges

The EU isn’t the only place catching up with technology as our family trips to the UK have proven. Again, highways are fine but once in small towns, we pray to the EV god Ohms. Not only is coverage sparse in places but the companies that supply the chargers don’t seem to realize that in order to download their app, you seem to need a UK iPhone with a UK app store.

As one customer service person said, “Oh! Uhm … I’m not sure what to tell you!” Indeed! At these moments I find myself enviously staring at the huge rank of Tesla chargers, usually with only one car attached, and ungenerously wishing them a huge dose of Range Anxiety with a side of marital conflict!

The UK government has set a target of increasing the number of chargers to 300,000 by 2030. That is reassuring for future car owners, but as we drive from one inoperative charger to the next, I am reminded of all those Brexit promises made by the government, and admit to feeling a little skeptical.

All in all, I am proud that we are doing our bit for the environment, but I look forward to the day when the infrastructure catches up with the technology. Before I can pat myself on the back, my husband and I have a marital counseling appointment to get to … and the damn car needs charging again!!

JACKIE HARDING LOOKING FOR A CHARGING STATION IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE

About the author:

Photographer/writer Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a long-time expat, she lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past 10 years.

Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.

Contributing to Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.

She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.

She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.

You can read more of Jackie’s work for Dispatches here.

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Photographer/writer Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a long-time expat, she lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past 10 years.

Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.

Contributing to Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.

She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.

She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.

You can read more of Jackie’s work for Dispatches here

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