In a way Ecotricity has been one of the biggest supporters of electric cars in the UK. They committed to installing an “Electric Highway”, a network of rapid chargers sited mainly at motorway service areas and without their network driving electric cars for long trips in the UK would be difficult or near on impossible! However, in their enthusiasm to expand their network a worrying development is taking place and it could have negative consequences for the take up of EVs.
For those that are unfamiliar with the different types of electric car charging here is a quick overview. The terminology I use here (rapid, fast, slow) is not a standard but it seems to be the popular meaning so I shall stick to it… from slowest to fastest…
- Slow – under 3.6kw – This is the fastest you can charge from a 13A domestic 3-pin socket. This is still on a lot of public charging stations but will probably be phased out in favour of fast sockets. Typically adds about 10 miles per hour of charge. This charging is mainly used at home or where there is no dedicated EV charging or as a backup to the others.
Slow charging is fine as a back up but it is so slow that it is really only of any use when charging overnight (such as at home) or at locations where you are stopping for 8 hours+
- Fast – over 3.6kw to 43kw – These are becoming the main-stay of charging posts now in the UK. Most of the street posts have this level of charging now as do most of the POLAR stations. They mainly use type 2 sockets and you need to supply your own cable for your car. There is often a fast and a slow socket at each station so you often have the choice. Typically adds 15 miles (16A) or 30 miles (32A) per hour.
Fast charging is ideal where you are stopping for at least a couple of hours such as at a restaurant, shopping, leisure locations or perhaps at work. They allow you to park and charge and are ideal in car parks as you will be parked up for several hours anyway.
Fast charging is too slow for charging on long trips unless you are stopping over night.
- Rapid – over 43kw – Rapid charge systems are not available on all models of car. There are several different types such as CHAdeMO (Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-Miev), 43kw AC (Renault Zoe), CCS (BMW i3). Rapid charging allows quick charging, typically 30-45 mins, and it is rapid charging that is particularly useful when on a long trip when you need to charge en-route. At the moment there is really only two national rapid charge networks… the Ecotricity Electric Highway and the Nissan dealer network. Others though are on the way (BMW CCS and Tesla). The great thing about rapid charging is that you can charge up in the time it takes to get a coffee and use the little room and be on your way again but they are expensive to install and so roll out has been slow.
Rapid charging is really ideal for charging on long trips and so is best located on main routes and in motorway service areas. They are also ideal at locations where you do not park for long periods as charging is often complete in under 30 minutes and so to park up for longer would block the charger for other users.
So what is the big deal? Surely we want charging everywhere and as fast
as possible don’t we? So we should not be too critical of the lovely
people at Ecotricity and others installing charging infrastructure
lest we be seen as anti-EV or ungrateful of their efforts?
Well I want to make it quite clear now that I am grateful of their efforts. Without the likes of Ecotricity and POLAR, not to mention Nissan, Welcome Break, Zero Carbon World and the Plugged-in-Places schemes, we would not have any EV charging in the UK at all. They have my full support.
However, in the early days it was great to have any kind of charging anywhere and so no one was too critical of what happened… as long as it happened in some way. All charging was good. Now though I think things are moving on sufficiently for us to be thinking more strategically and sensibly with regard to where charging is installed and what type and that is really the focus of this post.
Is it a problem if the wrong type of charging is installed at a particular location? I believe that if the wrong type of charging is installed then rather than helping EV drivers and encouraging the take-up of EVs it hinders and frustrates everyone and is highly counter-productive.
A good example of the wrong type of charging being installed is the recent installations of rapid chargers at IKEA stores by Ecotricity. It sounds like a great idea to install charging at this popular shopping location and it is but look at what they have done – they have installed rapid charging. This is a location where people will park up and typically be there for several hours while they browse the IKEA store and other stores nearby. If an EV driver wants to use the rapid charger they have the choice to stay by the charger until the charge is complete (usually 30 mins or less) and then move the car to a normal parking bay to free up the charger for someone else or more likely, they will plug in and go shopping. Their car will complete its charge in 30 mins and then it will block the charger preventing others from charging until they return.
This will frustrate and annoy electric car drivers and it will eventually be the case that this charger is never available as it is nearly always occupied by an EV that has completed its charge. This is nearly as bad as a non-EV car parking in the bay and that is bad enough without EV drivers doing effectively the same.
Most people will not need rapid charging when shopping and a shopping location such as inside a busy store car park is not the right location. Fast charging? Sure, I would advocate lots of fast charging everywhere for shopping locations and also ensure they are not used by non-EVs, but to put rapid charging there is just wrong in my opinion.
So I would like to make 2 appeals – one to Ecotricity and other charging infrastructure companies and another to EV drivers.
To the charging network operators (Ecotricity et al) I would ask that they only install the right charging solution for the location. Please don’t install rapid charging where people park up for ages. Please don’t install fast charging unless people park up for ages and please never install slow charging anywhere!
To the EV drivers I would ask that you don’t block up rapid chargers anywhere. If you want to charge at a rapid charger then make sure you move your car once it is charged to a normal bay before you go off shopping and don’t block up the charger for others. If this is not possible then leave your mobile number on the dash and be prepared to return to your car to move it if the charger is needed by someone else.
Well done to Ecotricity and to IKEA for even thinking about installing any kind of charging but I just feel that installing rapid charging in IKEA car parks is not the best option for EV drivers and owners.
These are just my personal opinions and views. Disagree? Great! Please comment below 🙂