Ecotricity Charge Station Report

Yesterday I decided to visit Michaelwood Service Area on the M5 where one of the first charging stations has been opened by Ecotricity. I wanted to see for myself just what these stations were like and to confirm that they were compatible with my Nissan Leaf.

The trip itself was rather eventful and has been covered in a previous blog so I am not covering that here.

On arrival at the services it was obvious that this was a very busy day. That was not really surprising given that it was the final weekend before the schools go back and as parking spaces were at a premium I was fully expecting the charging bays to be occupied by non-electric cars. Much to my surprise they were empty!!! Mind you, I do know that these service areas are patrolled regularly and so perhaps that is why.

So I swung in to the empty bays with several people immediately stopping to look.

The charging station has a small solar panel on the top so that, along with the bright green colour, made it easy to find. The location was right near the services building so it was very convenient. However, the Days Inn hotel was a good 100m away and so if I were staying in the hotel and needed to charge it would mean that I had to leave the car in the busiest part of the main car park all night. Not something I would be that keen to do.

The panel has two flaps at the front. I swiped my card (free from Ecotricity) over one of the flaps and it swung open hinged at the top. This rather caught me by surprise. I didn’t expect it to be powered as all the posts I had used previously the flap unlocked but it was not powered. I looked inside  to see a 13A socket surrounded by a coloured ring of light. The ring indicates the state of the charging port with a code clearly described on the side of the unit. Then, again to my surprise, the flap closed! I hadn’t yet plugged in and so I readied my plug and swiped again. This time I quickly plugged in and let the flap close again. The flap is made of a soft plastic and it simply pushed against the cable which is now dangling out the now closed flap. I plugged in to the car and it started charging. I then noticed that the flap was translucent and I could make out that the coloured ring inside the flap had turned green.

So, the car was feeding and so off I went to feed myself.

On my return there was a small crowd around the car and people were talking amongst themselves about the car. I then spent a good 15 minutes talking to people. It is the first time that my Nissan Leaf has attracted such a crowd and people were generally very interested.

When I had finished charging I swiped the card again and the spooky flap opened again. This time I was prepared and quickly unplugged, the ring changed colour and then almost immediately the flap closed. Job done!

So, that proved that the charging station was fully compatible with the Nissan Leaf using the 13A socket and charging using the Nissan supplied cable at 10A. However, Ecotricity has made a big thing out of the fact that their stations are “rapid” charging stations and so I thought I would check out the other flap. Behind it I was expecting to find an IEC 62196-2 (“Mennekes”) socket able to deliver 32A at single or 3 phase. I swiped the card and the flap opened but instead of the Mennekes socket I found a second 13A. Oh! That sure came as a big surprise.

So, what has happened here? Is this a mistake and as it is one of the very first Ecotricity stations to open is it just an error or are all their stations just 13A? Had I been relying on a 16A or 32A charge I would have been rather disappointed and perhaps a little annoyed. I shall have to contact Ecotricity tomorrow and find out what has happened and I shall report back here when I have some more news.

Finally, I did notice that parking limits still apply and so although the charging and parking is free for the first 2 hours after that there is a charge of £10 for 2-24 hours. This charge is waived if you are staying in the Days inn but as I have already mentioned, given the location of the charging station in the main car park, I wouldn’t be too happy at leaving my car plugged in to the charge station unattended for that long.

I believe that although charging at 10-13A at a motorway service area is better than not having anything it won’t prove to be all that popular nor all that useful. At 10A charging adds just 10 miles/hour and as the free limit is 2 hours so the most it will add is 20 miles and in any case, who wants to sit around a motorway service area unless you have to? If there are any alternatives then I am sure electic car drivers will take them instead.

I can’t help but feel that the Ecotricity Charging Stations are more to do with PR than with providing electric car charging facilities. The first 12 Welcome Break service areas get their Ecotricity Charging Stations before the end of September with all the remaining Welcome Break areas getting them during 2012. Will this be a game-changer? Not yet and not until cars have 3 phase chargers and certainly not while the stations only have 13A sockets. However, it is a move in the right direction and the posts can be upgraded to 32A 3 phase so let’s hope that they upgrade them as new cars get launched with new charging options.

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