Glastonbury Festival founder Michael Eavis became the first driver to use Bristol's free solar-powered electric vehicle charging point on Saturday, as more such points are being opened around the country.

Eavis was opening the charge point, which has been installed by renewable energy provider Solarsense at its headquarters in Brockley near Bristol, and he spoke positively about electric cars.

“Electric cars are a wonderful opportunity for somewhere like Bristol which has a problem with air quality – the quickest way to improve air quality is to switch to electric cars," he said.

“I like driving my electric car because it’s so quiet I can hear my wife talking and the birds singing, and I can charge it with the free electricity generated by our solar photovoltaic system on the farm.”

The open day saw a wide range of electric vehicles from leading manufacturers on display. Amongst them were electric bicycles, scooters and even miniature cars for children.

Also on show was the first electric Smart car in Bristol that is effectively powered by the sun, owned by an independent candidate for Mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, who charges it from solar panels installed on the roof of the city’s Tobacco Factory shopping centre.

Solarsense operates a small fleet of hybrid cars, and is buying some all-electric vehicles. It has also installed a facility for charging solar powered electric bikes to encourage its staff to ride them to work.

Sales of electric vehicles have been relatively low so far because of fears by potential owners that there will not be enough charge points and they may run out of power during their journey. But this is changing.

Nationwide, the UK government is supporting the rollout of a network of charging points through its ‘Plugged-In Places’ programme, by offering match-funding to consortia of businesses and public sector partners for the cost of the installation of electric vehicle recharging infrastructure.

Market leaders who are jumping in to secure an advantage in this emerging marketplace include Chargemaster, whose subdivision, Polar network, is hoping to set up 40 charging bays in each of 100 towns and cities by 2013.

Ecotricity is partnering with Welcome Break to install free charging from renewable electricity at many of their motorway service stations. Drivers can top-up in just 20 minutes using rapid 32A recharge points, or fully charge in two hours; while those using the slower 13A supply will be able to recharge fully if staying overnight in adjoining hotels.

Companies in the EV charger space globally include corporations like ABB, Schneider Electric, Siemens, Eaton, Nissan, Fuji Electric, Aker Wade and Tokyo Electric Power Co. This is the utility that developed the standard fast-charging technology known as CHAdeMO that’s now in use in almost all D.C. fast-charging systems.

ABB also makes 120-volt and 240-volt chargers for garage or office car park use, and last March launched a 20kW D.C. charger, the Terra Smart Connect, that can charge an EV battery in about an hour.

One of its projects is to cover the whole of Estonia with 100 D.C.-A.C. fast charge points at filling stations, and 500 chargers in office and government car parks. Led by the country’s Ministry of Economic Affairs, Estonia wants to create the world’s first complete, nationwide EV charging infrastructure.

Back in the UK, French charging point manufacturer DBT has partnered with UK-based ChargePoint Services to distribute its 'Quick Charger' technology. The DBT Rapid Charge unit uses ChargePoint's management system to provide monitoring and data analysis for billing and cost purposes.

DBT also has a partnership agreement with Nissan Europe and Gateshead College in the North East of England to launch a business to improve the supply chain around the electric vehicle market.

Over the next 12 months, many auto companies are bringing out new electric vehicle models. While prices have remained high and out of the reach of the pockets of all but early adopters, this may be about to change.

Simon Crowfoot, MD of Ecotricity's Electric Highway programme, believes the launch of the Renault Zoe will be significant. "Due out in 2013, it could well be a game changer for EVs," he says. “It's been designed as an EV from the ground up, it's a great looking car and its £13,000, perfectly targetted at the second car market who don’t need to drive long distances."

The price includes the government's £5,000 Plug-In Car Grant, and it could certainly be a winner.

Electric cars will only really help tackle climate change if the electricity is created renewably. That's why initiatives like Ecotricity's and Solarsense's are important.

Steve Barrett of Solarsense said: “As a company we’re committed to helping people reduce their energy bills and carbon emissions using renewable energy while minimising our own carbon footprint, and the solar carport will help us do that and enable anybody to charge their own electric vehicle for free.”

Story: David Thorpe, News Editor