I HAVE a friend who lives in an expensive road in coastal Cornwall. Half the houses have gardens that go down to the shore. Over the years these homes have changed hands and the new owners have upgraded them. This usually involves demolishing a house bought for £800,000 and putting up a new one. Of course, the house sizes usually increase – the street now contains some spectacular properties – but at the same time the insulation levels have improved vastly, so energy use may well not have risen. Electrical loads down the street have probably not increased either, as more energy-efficient appliances have become the norm.
All the owners are very aware of climate concerns. Two of the houses recently upgraded have fitted heat pumps, and one has a fast charger for his electric car (EV). There are lots of EVs in the area, but as most owners have a petrol car too, charging them can generally be done slowly, overnight, with a standard 13-amp plug.
Now comes the problem. Another owner, perhaps keen to be rid of his petrol car, has applied to install a fast charger, only the second in a street of maybe 15 houses. The electricity company has turned him down because there is insufficient capacity on the local transformer. Because an upgrade would cost them tens of thousands of pounds, there is little likelihood that they will ever be willing to foot the bill.
All these owners are clever people. They believe they are doing the right thing for the planet. It has been a shock to them to find that no one has thought through the issues of expanding EV use. They will not be the last to learn this lesson. It is still very early days for the electric car, but already many such problems are surfacing. It’s not just transformers, but wiring inside and outside the home, and a range of other problems. To most environmentalists, saving the planet seems so easy, but many are about to find out that dull engineering questions still need to be answered. Engineering, like science, has to take precedence over public relations. Nature really cannot be fooled.