Last week I heard that there was a charging point with free parking in Bournemouth and as my nephew is studying at Bournemouth Uni I decided to visit in the Nissan Leaf. This is how I got on.
I live in Saltash, Cornwall and so given the range of about 85 miles of the Leaf my normal route to Bournemouth would be by fast charging at Nissan dealers at Exeter and Wincanton and again at Bournemouth. However, there is a direct route from Exeter to Bournemouth that is about 85 miles but as of now I have ignored this route as there has been no charging on route. However, if driven carefully the Leaf should do 85 miles so yesterday I decided to try the route out and if I didn’t make it then I would have to be relayed on to Bournemouth.
I set out at 7am knowing that I would be tight on time to get there and back and have any time in Bournemouth and I arrived at JFE Nissan, Exeter at 7:45 just as they were opening. Charging on a DC CHAdeMO fast charger is a strange affair. If you plug in and the car has under 50% charge remaining then the charger charges to about 85% and then stops. If when you plug in you have more than 50% remaining then it charges to near 100%. I would need the best part of 100% to get the 84 miles to Bournemouth and so I would need to charge to the 85% initially and then restart the charger to charge to near 100% and this whole process takes about 1 hour 15 mins. So I was away from Exeter at about 9:15am.
The plan was to drive non-stop to Bournemouth but at about half way I saw a Little Chef. I haven’t used Little Chef for a few years and as they will be installing charging points at their restaurants I thought I would reintroduce myself to them. I have heard that they have changed for the better recently and as I might be using them quite a bit for car charging I thought I should at least try them out again. So a breakfast and coffee was in order.
I didn’t expect this restaurant to have any charging but on my way from the car park I saw a Chargemaster charging station! The lights were on and it looked active so on entering the restaurant I asked about it. It was only installed last week and had not been officially commissioned and so they did not have the RFID card yet but they said I would be welcome to use it if I could get Chargemaster to activate it remotely.
I called the 0845 number on the charge point (I do wish they would use a normal phone number – anyone calling this number will be on a mobile and 0845 numbers cost a small fortune!) and was put through to Lee. Lee activated the charge point for me but it took over an hour and several calls and texts between him and me to get it working. Eventually he needed to remotely reconfigure the charge station and reboot it before he could get it to work but eventually I was charging.
I must make it clear that this was not unexpected as it wasn’t yet officially commissioned and to be honest I was surprised that they let me use it at all. The trouble that we had getting it working would not normally happen and so please do not read anything into that in any way. In normal circumstances the restaurant would have an RFID card and I would be charging within minutes.
A couple of interesting things did come from the experience though. Firstly, I received a call from what sounded like a salesperson from POLAR who took my details and tried to get me to sign up to the POLAR network so I would have my own card. I already have a 32A Pod-Point Home Pod so I am not interested in their Home Pod lease but I might be interested in the RFID card if enough networks join forces with them. It might be a solution to having to join multiple card schemes.
So with the charge point at the Little Chef active I could get my breakfast and very welcome it was too as it was only 7 degrees and standing in the car park I had got rather cold.
Breakfast and the service was good and the 45 mins it took allowed me to put on about 7 miles of charge. If I had a Mennekes to J1772 cable I could have used the other slot and charge at 16A instead of 10A and that would have added about 10 miles I expect. Either way, they were welcome miles because the remainder of the trip to Bournemouth was going to take me close to the max range of the car and that extra 7 miles would remove any risk of me running flat. Although I am not a great supporter of slow charging when stopped for just an hour this is a situation where it was invaluable to help me get to a fast charge location.
The Little Chef issues had taken a couple of hours and that was the spare time I needed in Bournemouth so I could not now spend any time in Bournemouth so I fast charged at the Nisssan dealer in preparation for my return trip.
I decided to return via Wincanton instead of the direct route and this turned out to be a bad choice!
The traffic was very busy and that, combined with intermittent fog, meant that I didn’t arrive at Wincanton until 4.30pm. I needed 30 mins to charge and then I had a 62 mile trip to Exeter where I needed to fast charge at the Nissan dealer before they closed at 6pm. I wasn’t going to make it! I called ahead to JFE Nissan and spoke to Markus Jones, the Leaf salesperson, and he said he would be there for a while so I decided to try to get there asap.
The drive went very well and by driving at the legal limit all the way (mostly at 70mph!) I arrived just as Markus was thinking about leaving. Fortunately I didn’t need much charging to get me the 45 miles home but it was only by the goodwill of Markus that I got home at all!
So what was learned from yesterday? Firstly that the Little Chef charge point roll-out is underway and that the Chargemaster service is excellent. Lee was excellent, helpful and enthusiatic to overcome the issues we had getting the charge point working and I think that bodes well for the future. It reinforced the fact that trips like this one really needs fast chargers and with 24/7 access. Without fast chargers it simply takes hours not minutes to add any significant range but had there been a fast charger at that Little Chef, or if the Nissan dealer chargers were available 24/7, the trip would have been trivial and easy.
It was a worthwile day though. I always enjoy being out and about in the Nissan Leaf.