Are today’s EVs fit for long trips?

Yesterday I took a trip from my home in Saltash, Cornwall to Whitchurch, Hampshire, near Andover. The trip was to meet up with Robert Sharpe to talk about the various things we are doing in the EV world. It was an electric car related trip and so I decided to go in the Nissan Leaf… Boy! I wish I hadn’t!
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Planned Route via A303
Using the EV Zone Route Planner the trip looked simple enough…
  • Saltash to Exeter, 46 miles – – rapid charge to 90%
  • Exeter to Wincanton, 58 miles – rapid charge at FJ Chalke Nissan to 80%
  • Wincanton to The Bell Inn, Whitchurch, 53 miles
Great. All planned using the planner and a note taken of the times – 4:29 including 2 x 45 min stops. I allow 45 mins for each stop to allow for a bit of queuing or for FJ Chalke (OCM – http://openchargemap.org/site/poi/details/4142) to clear cars from their charging bay.

This is where things started to go wrong for me…

This is where things started to go wrong for me… I planned the trip the night before and was clearly tired because I did the maths wrong… I wanted to arrive at 12 midday and with a trip of 4:29 mins I should have left at 7:30am. However, for some unexplained reason I reckoned I should leave at 8:30. My bad! I realised when I got to Exeter and recalculated. I was going to arrive an hour late! OK, never mind, we will just have an hour less to chat because my return required me to get back to FJ Chalke in time to charge before they closed at 6pm.

I would only be able to charge at 10A but that was fine as I expected to get 20 miles or so of range while we had lunch

I arrived at The Bell Inn, Whitchurch (OCM – http://openchargemap.org/site/poi/details/6971). We chose this location as they have a 16A blue “Commando” socket for EV charging. I would only be able to charge at 10A but that was fine as I expected to get 20 miles or so of range while we had lunch – enough to get me to the Winchester M3 Services where I could rapid charge using the Ecotricity Electric Highway.
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Revised Return Route via M4/M5
Lunch was pretty good. The Bell Inn does a mean sausage and mash and Robert and I put the EV world to rights while we ate. Also, we chatted about my return trip and as there was a rapid charger in Basingstoke (OCM – http://openchargemap.org/site/poi/details/41063) I decided to charge there and to route home via the M4/M5. It is a long route home but it meant that I was not restricted by time as I now didn’t need to use the Nissan dealer. We finished our lunch and I returned to the car expecting to have about an extra 20 miles or so added to my range (2+ hrs of 10A)… instead I had just 10 miles added. This has happened to me before. If the voltage is low then the power is reduced and clearly this is what had happened. I had just enough to get me to Basingstoke but it could have been worse if I need to go any further. A careful 14 miles got me to the new CYC-operated rapid charger in the Central Car Park, Basingstoke. Great… charge to 85% while I nip off to the town centre and grab some food for the journey home. I prefer to buy cheap in a town centre than use the pricey vendors in motorway services.

I plugged in and tried to start the charge but my card was not being recognised

I plugged in and tried to start the charge but my card was not being recognised. Tried several times but then I noticed that the display showed that the communications was down between the charger and the CYC control centre. No comms – no charge. I called their helpline and to be fair they were very good: answered immediately, recognised my problem, was helpful and sympathetic… but they couldn’t remotely start the charger (not surprising – the comms were down!). I had resigned myself to the fact that I would need a flatbed recovery to Chieveley (OCM – http://openchargemap.org/site/poi/details/20769). In a small way I was in luck because Chieveley had just been repaired that very afternoon otherwise it would have been a major issue for me. The nearest charger I could use to get me home would have been Leigh Delamare (OCM – http://openchargemap.org/site/poi/details/20784), some 60 miles, and the free Nissan recovery that comes with my new Leaf would only cover me for recovery 30 miles. I might have had to pay! I sat in the car and whilst I was looking up the Nissan recovery telephone number I received a call from the CYC control centre… they had noticed that the charger had come back online and so would I like to try to start the charge again? Yes please! It worked! A huge sigh of relief and a big “thank you” to Peter at CYC for having the initiative to keep trying for me even after we had decided there was no hope. He saved me a lot of hassle and perhaps a lot of money. I got my charge, topped up with trip food and set out for Leigh Delamere. The rest of the trip went smoothly with no further hiccups stopping at Sedgemoor (OCM – http://openchargemap.org/site/poi/details/20774) and Exeter (OCM – http://openchargemap.org/site/poi/details/20770). However, what with all the hassles and combined with going home the long way, I didn’t get home until 12:15am. What a day!

Conclusions

I have done a lot of long trips in my Nissan Leaf most of which have gone without any kind of incident. I know that most EV owners that do long trips do not have these kinds of issues all the time. However, the issues I encountered today are indicative of the kinds of things EV owners must accept if they want to do long trips today. None of these issues would have been encountered if I had taken my Nissan Qashqai. OK, it was a long trip regardless of what car I chose to do it in, but it is not that unusual for me to do a trip of this length in a day (300 miles) and many people do the same.

… had I done the trip in my Qashqai it would have taken me about 5 hrs of easy, relaxed travel time

However, had I done the trip in my Qashqai it would have taken me about 5 hrs of easy, relaxed travel time (2:30 each way) with no worries, no hassles and no delays. In the Nissan Leaf it took over 13:00 hrs with concerns about whether I’d reach Basingstoke, the issues charging at the pub and at Basingstoke and a 60 mile longer return trip. In the Qashqai I would have been home by 6pm… in the Nissan Leaf I arrived home after midnight! It is worth saying again that not every long trip in an EV results in this degree of hassle but these are the kinds of issues we have to deal with when doing long trips today. I can summarise the issues like this:
  • Although the new route planner makes planning trips easier than before it is still necessary to plan and this introduces a step in the process that we can get wrong. Planning in this way wasn’t really necessary in the Qashqai. It was 150 miles so estimate 2:30hrs… easy. In the Leaf I had to allow for charging stops and I just calculated my departure time incorrectly.
    EVs will not be a serious contender for the general public until we don’t need special route planning like this. Most people just want to drive from A to B and know they will be able to stop when they want to and to take the route they want to take at a speed they want to drive at. Doing trips like this in an EV of today and with the charging infrastructure of today is hard work – even with the new planner!
     
  • I arrived at the pub late but I was still there for over 2 hrs. Charging on 10A I would expect to top up at about 8-10 miles per hour. This did not happen.
    Charging an EV is not an exact science. The rate of charge depends on the voltage and current available and it is not uncommon to have the grid voltage lower than the nominal 230V. This will result in slower charging and we should allow for this when calculating how long we might need. This can happen on faster chargers and even rapids too (for various different reasons) so bear that in mind when route planning.
     
  • The charger at Basingstoke is a new one operated by CYC yet it clearly has communication issues and so cannot be relied upon to work.
    There is only a single charger at Basingstoke. It is in a town centre car park. If it fails there are no other options available – the nearest rapid charge options in Chieveley or Winchester… over 20 miles away. This is one of the biggest issues as I see it today with using an EV for long trips – poor charger reliability and lack of redundancy. Having more than one charger at a site helps and so I would say that unless there is another rapid charge option close by (under 5 miles) they should only be installed if there can be a minimum of two units.
The only reason I did the trip in the Leaf was because it was an EV-related journey. Would I  normally choose to do a 300 mile round trip in an EV today? Definitely not, and I cannot see many people other than us “early adopters” accepting that degree of hassle and delay. I think that this trip shows that although EVs are superb for everyday use they are a major challenge to use for long trips. Yes, you can do long trips, of course, as yesterday shows – I did the trip. Yes, it is cheaper… yesterday was completely free but this is short-lived as it won’t be free once the network operators start to charge a fee. But the trip took 13 hrs instead of 5 hrs and caused me a load of grief. It would have cost me about £30 in the Qashqai. Is it worth £30 to me to have a simple, hassle-free trip of 5 hrs instead of this kind of hassle and 13 hrs, and to have an extra evening at home with my family? You bet – and I suspect that most of the general public might feel the same.

Unless of course you have the time and want the challenge – then it can be fun… but only when everything works!

Of course, at this time in the evolution of EV with the short-range batteries and with the limited deployment of charging infrastructure there is an alternative if you still want the benefits of having an EV for local trips and the hassle-free motoring on longer trips and that is a Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) or EV with a range extender. Cars like the Vauxhall Ampera, Chevrolet Volt, BMW i3 (REX) and the Mitsubishi Outlander allow you to have the benefit of an EV without the hassle on long trips. With those cars it is an EV for the shorter trips and a petrol car for the longer ones. In my opinion, PHEVs will mean people can have the EV dream now without the hassle and without having to wait for the battery tech to develop to allow 250 mile range, without needed ultra-fast rapid charging and without needing to plan in advance of where to charge. All of this will gradually improve but for now long trips are best done in a petrol/diesel car or PHEV. Unless of course you have the time and want the challenge – then it can be fun… but only when everything works! EDIT: I typed the extra mileage I needed for the return trip. I said 100 miles… it is 60 miles. You can see that this is just a typo from the planner screen shots. Apologies. No misdirection intended. This error has made no difference to the any of the points of the article. Thx to Leafquester on Speak EV for pointing this out although it is a pity that it takes me or Sally to read a forum to find this out. The more helpful thing for him to have done was to post it here so I could correct it sooner. What do I have to do to get people to discuss things directly with me instead of always through a forum and third-hand.

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