Are people forgetting about the EV driver?

Over the past couple of years there have been some great strides in the creation of a national charging network suitable for long distance travel in the UK. There were a few false starts with several start up companies jumping on the bandwagon, or at least trying to, with bold announcements about covering the country with chargers inside a year! They all came to nothing… except for one – Ecotricity.

Ecotricity, a small, green energy supplier, led by its founder Dale Vince, have taken the bull by the horns and delivered on its promises. In partnership with Nissan and Welcome Break Services, they have created a viable rapid charging network at many of the Welcome Break Service Areas and the network is expanding. At this rate, we will be able to drive our electric cars throughout the country just using the Ecotricity Electric Highway and the existing rapid chargers in Nissan Dealers.

Or so we thought! Over the past couple of days there have been increasing reports that some of the Ecotricity rapid chargers, and in fact, some of the dealer rapid chargers, are restricting the charge to 80%

Now, just so there is no confusion about this… CHAdeMO rapid chargers such as these have always been limited to 80% if the starting charge in the car was under 50% but it was always possible to press the charge start button again and then it would charge up to 100%. It seems that this second press adds no additional charge at some of the newer installations.

So why is this so important?

If you look back just a few posts on this blog you will see two trips I did in my Nissan Leaf… one long one to Peterborough and Preston and one shorter one to Seaton. If the rapid chargers were set to only deliver 80% neither of those trips would have been possible. Restricting the rapid chargers to 80% is tantamount to reducing your fuel tank capacity. In other words it will restrict what journeys can be done in an Electric Car and I can see absolutely no benefit to anyone in doing that.

However, things are even worse than that. It seems that this reduction has been done without Nissan or Ecotricity telling anyone. That means that drivers could now turn up to a rapid charge station expecting and needing to be able to charge to 100% to get to their destination or to the next charging point only to find they can only get 80%. This would probably result in a recovery call out and significant expense and loss of time to the owner.

Now it is not yet confirmed that Nissan/Ecotricity have done this deliberately. It might be an error in set up or a misunderstanding in which case they can be set back to 100% and no harm will be done. However, it is also possible that this is as Ecotricity claim, an instruction from Nissan, in which case I would have to seriously consider my options as to whether I could continue to support either Nissan or Ecotricity in their efforts.

I will post again once I know the facts and what the outcome is.

Whether this is a mistake or a policy this does raise an important point that I feel must be made regardless…

It is great that Ecotricity and Nissan have created the Electric Highway. It is great that Nissan have created a network of dealers we can use to charge. It is even better that they are free at the moment and look like remaining so for the foreseeable future. However, in creating this network Ecotricity and Nissan have created something that drivers will now start to rely upon. Drivers will be setting out from their house in the understanding and expectation that there will be a charger they can use, that it will be working and that it will deliver the charge they need. If any of those things is missing then that driver will likely be stranded.

Now I don’t want to be accused of being ungrateful or unsupportive. I have said time and time again that I think they are doing a fantastic job and they have had my full and public support. But I am not entirely convinced that either Ecotricity or Nissan fully understand the reliance that drivers will now be placing on their network working and delivering. The chargers do not seem particularly reliable and they seem to break easily and without a second charger on site drivers could be stranded. Also, several times recently chargers have been taken offline at very short notice, or even no notice, for scheduled maintenance for days. Again how is the poor driver going to cope with turning up to find the charger out of commission?

In my opinion this whole issue of reliance needs to be properly addressed by the network operators. There should be proper information portals, ideally on the web, where the current status of each charger is kept fully up to date… by the hour not day! If a charger becomes faulty or needs to be taken offline then there needs to be ways to notify registered drivers of this… proactively, mail lists would serve this purpose well. Above all, there needs to be a recognition that if a charger is not available then it is a potential big issue for any driver that expects to be able to use it. It isn’t as if we can drive down the road to another petrol station. Our next charging facility might be 20, 40 or even 60 miles away!

Ecotricity is making an effort. They do post to one of the forums and on Twitter when they have information of an outage. However, a lot of people are not members of that forum (me included) and many are not on Twitter and don’t want to join. So this needs to be formalised in house and made available to everyone. There is currently no way for a driver to determine the status of a Nissan dealer charger, or even where they are, and I think that Nissan also needs to address this issue.

I am hoping that this is all just teething trouble whilst the networks get their act together but so far, in spite of the good work from Nissan and Ecotricity, and I include ChargeMaster and POLAR in this too,  there isn’t much recognition that they understand the drivers needs… if chargers are installed they must work and we must be told and have a way to find out if they are offline/broken.

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