So has the charging improved?

I set out with this trip to try to get a feeling as to whether the public charging infrastructure in the UK had improved since I last did long trips in my Nissan Leaf over a year ago. Of course, I know that the Ecotricity Electric Highway has gone in since then so it clearly should be better but until I had actually done a similar trip now to compare I wasn’t convinced.

So, a summary of the trip and some figures:

  • from Saltash, Cornwall to Peterborough and Swaffham, then to Preston then back to Saltash
  • 1040 miles door to door
  • Wednesday late afternoon to Monday morning – 5 days
  • 17 rapid charges
    • Exeter (JFE Nissan) x2
    • Sedgmoor x2
    • Michael Wood x2
    • Oxford
    • Newport Pagnell
    • Peterborough (Smiths Nissan) x2
    • Leicester Forest East
    • Derby
    • Keele x 2
    • Chorley Nissan x 2
    • Hopwood Park
  • 1 fast charge (Swaffham)
  • 2 slow charges
    • Cabot Circus, Bristol
    • Home (before the start!)
  • 1 rapid charger failure at Keele S
  • Cost – NOTHING! OK, not quite true. The very first charge, the night before departure, cost about £1.50
  • 2 nights in our caravan at Highbridge – cost £0
  • 2 nights in Days Inn Peterborough – cost £60 (£30pn!)
  • 1 night in The Pines Hotel nr Preston – cost £70
  • Petrol/diesel used – ZERO

So, total cost about £130

Total petrol/diesel cost if I had used one about £150

Cutting to the chase then… was it better?

This trip was almost as good as I could expect from an electric car with a maximum real-world range of about 80 miles. I say almost because there were a few points that could have been better:

  1. I still had to use 3 Nissan dealers at Exeter, Peterborough and Chorley – all the rest were Ecotricity. These dealer rapid chargers are available only when the dealer is open and although that doesn’t seem too much of a problem it was actually more of a problem then it appears. The restricted opening hours meant that on the first and last day of the trip I had to break the journey when I could easily had carried on. This resulted in 2 nights of stopover that could have been easily avoided had there been 24/7 rapid chargers in those towns.

    I am sure that in due course rapid chargers with 24/7 access will be installed but for now it makes long trips for me in Cornwall more difficult, more time consuming and more expensive.

  2. I tried to charge at a hotel/spa/pub which had a ZeroNet charging station. All bays were occupied by non-EV cars.

    Although EVs have priority, and I could have asked management to see if they could locate the drivers and get the cars moved, I was hungry and didn’t want the delay or hassle. In my opinion, EV bays should be coned off or have a physical barrier to physically prevent non-EVs from using the EV bays. There is no benefit to having EV charging if the bays are not available when an EV turns up and have them without a physical barrier or cones is just paying lip service. If an establishment is serious about wanting to offer EV charging then it should make sure that the bays are only used by EVs. I have done a blog post on this topic.

  3. At Keele services the rapid charger was not working. I reported it to Ecotricity and then I spoke to the manager of the Welcome Break services and requested that I be permitted to use the access road to cross over to use the charger on the other carriageway. She was just excellent and took me across personally even though they are under no obligation to permit this.

    So, no harm done except for a short delay. However, this incident highlighted the fact that undertaking any long-distance journey in an EV right now is a risk. There is usually only one rapid charger at each location and if that fails then you could easily be stuck. At Keele there is a crossover access road and the Welcome Break manager was kind enough to help. However, at many services areas there is no easy option. The service area on the other side may be a drive of many miles and you might not have that range available. Or in the case of Sedgmoor, the other side is run by a different company (Road Chef) and it has no rapid charger at all.

    Every time I set out on one of my legs I was relying on the charger working when I arrived.

I am totally convinced that these issues are only transient while we are in these early days of EV roll out but it does make EV use for long trips much more difficult than they need to be before they become acceptable by the general public for long trips. Let’s not forget though that right now they are still perfect for most people as a second car or in town.

I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Travelling around Britain is now so much easier than a year ago but with these issues still remaining I think we still have a way to go. We need the gaps filling in with rapid chargers with 24/7 access, redundancy in case of failure (more than 1 at each site) and EV charging bays not just signed (though that has to help) but physically coned or barriered off to ensure that the chargers are actually usable when an EV arrives.

Exciting times.

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