The reality of using an EV for long journeys
Is the UK’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure ready to handle long distance journeys? - By Tristan Young
A version of this article was first published on YesAuto UK.
I am pathologically afraid of turning up late to anything. Apart from this winding up the rest of my family when we visit friends or go on trips, it also means I always include a safety margin for any journey to a business meeting.
In a diesel or petrol car, I’ll typically add in anything up to an hour spare for a journey over two hours such is UK road network just so I can be 100% sure of arriving on time even with terrible traffic. And if the journey’s going well, I can stop for a coffee and catch-up on emails/work.
Now I’m running an EV, the question arises; what alterations should I do for my journey planning?
Take this week’s trip to a meeting in Crewe, 169 miles from my base near Woking. The car’s app claims I have a range of 178 miles with 100% charge. I’ve already messaged the venue about charging there, but they don’t have any facilities, so that’s not an option – even if I was feeling brave enough to believe the 178-mile range.
Instead, I’ll have to charge on the way to and back from the meeting.
Well that’s simple, isn’t it?
There are plenty of charge points on the UK’s motorway network now aren’t there? And yes, there are, but I’d quite like to minimise my recharge time.
The EV I’m in has a useable battery capacity of 64kw. So if I arrived at a charge point with about 10% battery left and then charged to about 80%, it would take a 50kw point approximately an hour. But if I found a 120kw-plus charger it would take just 20 mins (roughly) – assuming they run near full speed and the car ‘wants’ to charge at full speed.
The maximum charging speed for this EV is 120kw, but what the car actually takes will depend on the state of remaining capacity and other factors which we won’t worry about here.
But this takes me back to my safety margin planning.
What if the chargers I’ve identified for the trip there and back aren’t working, or are busy, or have been ICE’d (where a non-EV parks to block an EV from charging)?
If everything goes to plan, then there’s the perfect 150kw charger 130 miles into my outbound trip, just at the point where I’d normally take a break and it’s as close to the motorway as you could hope for.
However, if that’s not available, there aren’t any other 150kw (or even 100kw) chargers nearby. Mt best back-up is a 50kw point 6 miles down the road. So, do I leave my usual hour spare plus 20 minutes for charging or do I leave two hours spare, just in case I have to use the 50kw point?
In reality I don’t fancy leaving the house at 6am for an 11am meeting, so I’ll probably use some of my safety margin for traffic for charging.
So how did it go? Overall, pretty good but not perfect.
I did indeed leave the house just after 6:30am and arrived at the planned 150kw charger at about 8:50am having been very gentle on the throttle and kept the car in ‘eco’ mode all the way.
The Eon charge point I aimed for was easy to find and just as close to the motorway as a ‘full on’ service station would have been. Located at an Esso forecourt with a Spar mini-supermarket (including Starbucks and Sbarro pizzeria), the first job was to hook up the car get some charge.
Accepting that EV ownership will be a steep learning curve, the first difficulty was the (short) length of the charging cable. But a bit of manoeuvering and lot of solid-tone from the parking sensors mean it was just about physically possible to connect.
Next came activating (and paying for) the charge. I was hoping to be able to just tap-to-pay with my credit card, but after three tries it clearly wasn’t working so I moved to the Eon app. Sign-up was simple but it insists on not only taking payment details, but actual payment in advance. The starting amount is £15. This done, electricity started flowing.
Checking the car, the recharge was impressively fast with the range clicking up rapidly. Sums afterward show it averaged 94kw for the 30mins I was hooked up.
While charging went fine, there was an unexpected issue. My planned comfort break wasn’t possible because the single toilet in the Spar was out of order. Fortunately, I wasn’t yet at ‘crossed legs’ so things were fine – the only impact was that I decided not to have a coffee while I waited for the charge.
That initial boost of electricity was plenty to get me both to my meeting and back to the same charge point for the return leg. And this went even more smoothly. First-time-right parking helped and knowing the app was the way forward meant I started charging more quickly. So even though the electricity flowed in more slowly second time around – at about 76kw – I was stopped for about the same length of time. And I didn’t need the loo – so no stress there either.
Now at a stage where I was trusting the car’s range indicator and knowing there was a home charge point waiting, on the final leg of the journey I was able to relax even more and for the final back-lane run home able to use ‘dynamic’ mode (and have full aircon).
The main take away is that once you’ve completed your first longer journey with on-route charging, my confidence levels for going further afield are now much improved because not only do I trust the car’s indicated range, but also the UK’s charging network. Just not the UK’s filling station facilities!