First Road Trip in the Renault Zoe – Oxford to Stansted

(this is quite a delayed post, covering a road trip in Nov 2013, languishing in draft-pyjamas for months now)

Alrighty then, time for a little tester road trip!

Nothing too arduous, a little 200 mile round trip with a sleep-over in between, just to get this party started… Also an opportunity to test out some of these different RFID cards for the various charger networks I had signed up to (so the route/stops favoured different charging networks).

The route was almost all motorway (M roads) so that wasn’t going to be awesome for range – the faster you drive the more energy you consume overcoming drag (air resistance) and since it is downright dangerous (and boring :/) toddling along at 40mph on the motorway I was going to be travelling at speeds that would murder range.

Still no charger at home (but that’s a long story and potentially a different post – when I eventually get it sorted!!) so started off on a paltry low battery. Off to the closest public charging station (on Chargemaster’s Polar network), located at a nearby posh restaurant and hotel, Raymond Blanc’s La Manoir. The ever-helpful suited-and-booted welcoming party come rushing out thinking I was an arriving guest – to my “errr, nope, sorry bud, we’re not checking in… just here to use your electric vehicle charging point.. where might that be ?”

Directed to the part of the carpark where he *thinks* it might be, and more helpful chaps in coat tails come milling around, all quite intrigued as no one had used their charging point *in the year* since it was installed. Fair enough, this spot is out in the sticks, let me be their first. The point is a Chargemaster 32Amp, pretty standard type I’d used before. Wave my RFID card at the thing and ….. nothing. Nada. Zip. Luto. A bit more waving and prodding and poking and still nothing. The group of helpful chaps had grown quite considerably by now, and eventually sensing this wasn’t going to get fixed with their politeness alone, I beat a hasty retreat.
Side Note: I see a few month’s later that Raymond Blanc himself bought a Tesla Model S – and he mentioned this long standing charger in his tweet outside La Manoir.

The next charging point (two actually, also 32Amp Chargemasters) were just off the M40, at the Oxford Belfry, part of a hotel chain. No worries, worked first time, and popped inside to hang in their lounge for a coffee and their wifi. Given that the battery was near empty, this was going to be a bit of a wait…

Hotel parking lot charging station

Hotel parking lot charging station

Status check : just over two hours after setting off from home then, we’ve covered 10.2 miles and finally charged to just about full. Not a great start! Which leads me to the First rule of electric road tripping: always start off fully charged.

The next leg was about 70ish miles (just about the expected Zoe range in winter), to a Best Western hotel which has a charger as part of the Zero Carbon World network (a charity for de-carbonisation), with a pit stop at a the Chalfront and Latimer train station car park with 12 (yes, twelve) charging points on the Source London network. As these are supposedly Rapid (33Amp+) chargers I was looking forward to some fast-charging action (first time testing on Source London net).

Eventually find the train station car park and the poorly lit out-the-way bank of charging points, plug in and pop off to a nearby Italian for dinner – expecting the fast charge to complete in under an hour – nice!

Source London fast charger

Source London fast charger

Now, Renault has a nifty little iPhone app that I could have been using to monitor the car’s charging progress while enjoying dinner – but at the time, I hadn’t got this to work yet (eventually needed me to go through a painstaking over-the-phone activation process with a very helpful Renault ZE team). Had I had said app operational, I would have found out very quickly that the car had stopped charging… instead, we enjoyed a very merry dinner joyous in the expectation that we would return to a fully charged Zoe. Alas, not so.

We get back to a dark, windy and (dare I say) somewhat spooky carpark to find we’d only picked up another percentage point or two of charge, nowhere near enough to get to our destination. Unsure of why, I reset the charge, and join my (by now very grumpy) co-pilot in the (very cold) car waiting to charge. We charge for a minute or three, and the charge cuts out again. Repeat, reset, wait, cut-out. Grumpy levels on the rise, I repeat the process enough times to eke out sufficient charge for the next leg, and we set off again. Source London first impression #fail.

We arrive at The Bell, Epping without incident. The ZCW charger there is located in the carpark to the rear, no RFID card needed, just plug in and it works. A nice change.
Into the hotel for some coffee and desert while we wait. Since there are no convenient chargers near/on the way to Stansted, I need to get enough charge here to make it to Stansted for the over-nighter, then back to a charger closer to the M25 the next morning en-route to Oxford.

Eventually complete the less-than-100-mile trip to Stansted in a very disappointing 7ish hours :/

The next morning I started out with a low charge (no option to charge at/near Stansted Hotel), meaning there would be wasted time charging early on the return.

Which brings me to the Second rule of electric road tripping: always charge while you sleep.

This time I was planning on trying another Source London rapid charger, at Loughton station inside the M25 – hoping that the dodgy experience the night before was just that station. Besides, a rapid (20-50kW) charge would get me to full in an hour, while the standard (7kW) chargers would take over three hours – an obvious choice. Finding the station and the charging points was easy, and I cruise in with just 11 miles of range left…

Loughton Source London

Loughton Source London

Plug in, start charging and a few minutes later I’m cut off – same situation as the previous night. Grrrrr…. getting a wee bit upset, I find that there is a Renault dealership in Enfield about 6 miles away, within driving range AND they have a charger. Ditch this Source London madness, and off I head. The charge at Renault was then enough to get me home, charged without issue so seemed like the problem was to do with the Source London charging points.

Thus forms the Third rule of electric road tripping : always plan a backup charge point within range of your primary charge destination.

It turns out that there might actually have been an issue with the specific type of rapid charger hardware used by the Source London network, and (in short) the charger would freak out at the upper boundary of the Zoe’s power draw, and cut the supply. This has since been rectified, and I’ve been able to successfully charge at a few Source London points (but not those exact ones again).

So, all things considered, not a great first go, but certainly some good experience and valuable lessons for next time! 3 working charge points of the total 6 tried – a pretty dismal 50% success ratio.



2 thoughts on “First Road Trip in the Renault Zoe – Oxford to Stansted

  1. Pingback: Road Trip to Wales | Electric Road Trip

  2. Pingback: Europe EV Road Trip part 1 (The Plan) | Electric Road Trip

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