What Have We Learned From The First EV Charging Station?

With electric vehicles getting increasingly popular, one of the biggest challenges is ensuring that the charging infrastructure is in place so new drivers will feel safe in the knowledge that they are not far away from topping up the battery as and when they need it.

This is something that not only requires affordable and easy-to-use charging stations to be made but also electricians with specialist training to implement, and people with those qualifications will hardly find themselves short of work.

It is a critical point in the history of EVs as if there are enough charging points available as well as enough capacity to not require constant changing, EVs will not only be popular amongst an expensive niche but become the standard way to get around for most people.

If not, then the situation could potentially end up as it did in the 20th century, when a fully electrified future looked to be the way in which the nascent car industry was going, but the infrastructure was not there in time to keep up with the versatility of the petrol-powered Model T Ford.

However, it was not as if there were no attempts.

The Electric Hydrant

As it went from impossible to merely very difficult to charge battery packs powerful enough to run an electric motor, the question of how to recharge an electric battery for a car started to rear its head.

In the early days of electric motoring, there were a lot of discussions about the most effective ways to charge vehicles between leaving the car at a dealership and letting them handle it, swapping out the battery for a fully-charged replacement pack, or plugging into a charging station.

Many early electric cars were fleet vehicles such as the Bersey electric cab, and largely recharged via battery swaps at the depot. This was fine for fleets, although it still required a mercury vapour rectifier to make the necessary electrical current conversions

Because they relied on quite dangerous and fragile pieces of equipment, home charging was only theoretically possible.

The first step forward in terms of a more universal charging station located somewhere far more convenient than a single dealership was the Electrant by General Electric in 1914.

Short for “Electric Hydrant”, the idea was similar to a public charging station today, it was an installation that looked similar to a police call box or a TARDIS and dispensed electricity at a rate of 2.5 kilowatt-hours, a similar rate to plugging your EV into a standard mains socket.

Whilst far from adequate today, given the exceptionally limited range of batteries from the time, it was enough to travel around town.

More importantly, the concept added convenience at a time when this was critical for the widespread adoption of the car. Unfortunately, it arrived just after the die had been cast.

As road infrastructures became more than city streets and dirt tracks, range mattered far more than it used to, and unless a charging station was set to be placed every five miles along the road, an electric car of the era would never be able to compete.