Spoiler alert: this part should really be called A Tale of Broken Chargers.
The plan was simple. Travel from Düsseldorf, Germany to Oxford, UK in a single day, in our all-electric Renault Zoe. To throw in a little curve ball, we were also going to stop in the south of the Netherlands to pack the Zoe with as much of my wife’s belongings (in storage since her move) as we could fit.
We’d had a pretty eventful trip there (see part 2) but decided on a slightly different route back, going past Brussels instead of north via Antwerp. The slightly more direct route would save some time, and allow us to try some different charger options on the way back.
We left Düsseldorf on a full charge, obeying my First Rule of EV Road Tripping. Not too early though, as we also needed to feed the wife a full breakfast. This was going to be a long day, and she could get grumpy on the best of days if left unfed. Good job me.
Back into the Netherlands (and charger heaven) pretty soon, stopped for a short charge (outside a school!) and then on to the storage facility, where we spent a few hours packing and re-packing. Thanks to the granny charger, we could charge (albeit slowly) while we worked. Still, every bit helps, hey!
granny charging at the storage spot
This being the Netherlands, there was a faster charger less than a km away, and also an opportunity to have a snack after all that heavy lifting. Zoe was packed solid now, back seat folded down and every bit of space taken up. The extra weight was sure to affect consumption on the way back, but how much we’d have to wait to see.
As we were taking a new route back, and had a pretty busy morning already, we didn’t really have a planned route with charger stops, instead adopting a one-hop-at-a-time plan, using the time at each charge stop to figure out the next hop. Following my Third Rule of EV Road Tripping, this also meant always ensuring we had a backup charger option still within range if our first choice charger was not working or unavailable.
On this busier route passing Brussels, there seems to be more rapid chargers available, so these would be our first choice – if anything like the Ecotricity chargers in the UK (they seemed to use similar charging kit) it would take under an hour where a normal charge would take three. Clearly this would make a considerable difference to our travel time. The two networks running these rapid chargers were at the Delhaize supermarkets in Belgium and at certain Total services stations (yes, the petrol dudes).
First stop was at a Delhaize along the E40 to Brussels – a tester of these rapid chargers without betting the house on it, as we would have plenty of charge to continue should there be an issue. Good thing we gave ourselves options, as it was out of order. No biggie, we’d head off to the next rapid charger “cluster” in Leuven, just north of Brussels. This was pushing our range to the limit, but there were a good few options close together there, so we had backup upon backup.
Arrived at the Delhaize and this one was offline too. I was starting to get slightly miffed with Delhaize.
Next stop, a the Total rapid charger nearby. This time, we didn’t even bother getting out the car – the red lights and the “Buiten Dienst” sign were easy enough to understand, even with my limited language skills.
OK, enough with the rapid chargers, that’s three broken now. Off to a Blue Corner regular 32Amp option close by. This time, the charger works, and we’re in for a 2 hour wait while we charged from almost empty. Happier now, and time for a meal at the Thai you see behind.
A good chow, and time to plot our next stop. This time onwards to Ghent (we would pass to the south of the ring road) where the beCharged guys had good presence. Late by now, after 9pm as we pulled into the dark parking lot of a closed Carrefour supermarket and made our way to the welcoming green LED glow of the charge point.
Plugged in, and the charger goes an angry red. Plugged in on the other side, and that goes an angry red too! WTF dudes ?
Next stop, Ikea in Ghent, were there are supposed to be a few more chargers. The Ikea was closed, and most of the parking gates were down, but we did find one open that some service vehicles were using and managed to get to the chargers in the underground parking – with the worry that Ikea may just lock up shop and head home soon, and we’d be unable to get out. We needn’t have worried, we weren’t there long. This one was broken too 😦
So that’s 5 broken of the last 6 chargers we tried!
We had enough charge to take a shot for Brugge – where the train station to the south of the city had chargers. Got there just before 11pm, and success!
Pretty full charge in an hour, then on to Koksidje for a charge a the MacDonalds there, for what would hopefully be our last before the Eurotunnel. Alas the MacDonalds charger wasn’t playing ball either – going from welcoming blue glow to angry red as soon as I tried charging.
So, down to what was now our last charging option if we were to make it, a lone charger in De Panne, right on the Belgium/France border. We had no charging options in France (it was after midnight, we didn’t have the Renault dealerships option), so had to charge enough here to make it onto the Eurotunnel AND get to our first charging stop once UK-side.
De Panne delivered! A single charger on a lonely beach-side road took some finding, but worked 100% providing the requisite juice for us to fully charge by about 1:30am, and get to Calais in time to make the 3:25am Eurotunnel crossing (the next one would be 5:29am, a long wait we would not have enjoyed!). Even Grumpy my ever-sceptical co-pilot was thrilled!
Once back on UK soil, charging was easy with Ecotricity stops all the way back (now that we knew AC charging was working at M25 Westerham, despite the map showing it offline).
A rather uneventful drive back to Oxford – although we did meet one Nissan Leaf driver arriving on the back of a flat-bed truck, having run out of charge somewhere in London. Needless to say, he was a little embarrassed at his logistics faux pas when I told him we’d just driven from Germany 🙂
Arrived at home in the 5am dawn somewhat euphoric, resulting in this rather soppy Facebook status…