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Europe EV Road Trip part 3 (Getting Back)

this is part 3, first you’ll want part 1 (The Plan) and then part 2 (Getting There)

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.

Route

return on a different route

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!

PackCharge

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.

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the miffed look

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.

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Buiten Dienst is not good

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.

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fourth time lucky!

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 ?

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Why so angry ? Chill, Winston.

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 😦

23-Broken3too

More angry red ? Getting a complex here!

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!

24-Working

Hello Brugge!

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.

McDonalds

Why Mickie D, why ?

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.

dePanne

Last chance, De Panne

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!

grumpy

Super 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…

fb

 

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Europe EV Road Trip part 2 (Getting There)

This is Part 2, you’ll want to read part 1 (The Plan) first.

We prepared for this electric road trip across five countries in a day in the way all ambitious electric road trippers should – by painting the bathroom late into the night before we set off. To be fair, there was some method to this madness, in that the paint fumes should have dissipated while we were away. Still, I probably moaned just a little bit.

The plan was to set off pretty early (4am) as we needed to get to Belgium during office hours in order to pick up both the beCharged  (in Ghent) and Blue Corner (in Antwerp) charger network cards. Our channel crossing on the Eurostar was booked for 10am, but we needed to fit in 2 charges on the 140 mile trip to Folkestone – both at slow Polar charging points (2ish hours each) as the only fast charger on the route (Ecotricity on the M25 Westerham) was showing as offline on the live map. We also needed to fit in a full charge in Folkestone before crossing over to France, as we didn’t have a clue what the charging situation would be like in France.

So, 4am and off we went. Rather uneventful and yawn-ey first leg to the Royal Horticultural Society in Wisley, arriving there to the welcoming charger LED glow shortly before dawn broke.

1-RHSGuilford.jpg

the welcoming glow of a working charging point

Some minor drama getting the charge started – my Polar card didn’t work for some reason unbeknownst to me. Then tried the Polar Instant iPhone app as backup – but of course  I had no signal for the app to connect, even with various creative poses arms akimbo in the cold, dark morning. Finally tried the Source London card, and it graciously popped open a charge point for me to plug in to. Success (eventually)!

My grumpy co-pilot had a nap in the back seat while we charged for an hour or so, while I got to take in the sunrise while working out the finer details for the rest of our route.

2-TrishSleep.jpg

Back on the M25 fully charged, and heading for Folkestone. Despite the Ecotricity live map showing the M25 Westerham services fast charger was offline, we needed to stop there anyway for my squirrel-bladdered co-pilot. Pulled up to the charger on a whim, and lo and behold the darn thing is working! Quick tweet to let Ecotricity know.

Sneaked in a pee-and-coffee-long fast charge there before heading for the Renault dealership in Folkestone, for what was to be our final fullish charge UK-side before crossing the Channel.

Alas, ’twas not meant to be. Despite ZapMap and the Renault live map (since discontinued?) showing an active charge point at the dealership there, we were met with blank expressions when we arrived… DOH! @RenaultUK tweet confirmed this was a map error :/

Pretty low on charge now, but no other practical charging options – so off to the Tunnel, we’d have to figure this out in Franceland. We did manage to get the requisite Europe emergency kit at Renault though – the hi-viz jacket, GB sticker, emergency breakdown pack that you need to keep in arm’s reach when travelling through Europe.

Arriving at the Eurotunnel earlier than scheduled does offer some flexibility, as the check in system offers an earlier departure if possible. Thank you very much, don’t mind if we do! More time to sort things out on the other end. Onto the train then!

7-EuroTunnel3

yeah, it’s upside down, but I like it

A mere 35 minutes under the sea, and Zoe is in France. I like road tripping, and I like trains. Combined, this is doubly delightful!

First stop was the Cité Europe mall parking in the Coquelles district of Calais – ChargeMap.com, a sort-of crowd-sourced user-curated charger map indicated charging points here, without sufficient info for us to figure out whether these would be compatible chargers (ie. if they were Mennekes Type 2 connectors). Got there to discover these charging points were literally just normal Euorpean plug points in the parking lot. :/

8-FrenchPlugs

No help there then. We didn’t have a normal wall outlet charger, sometimes called a granny-charger (ie. the charger you can use on those occasions when you go visit your granny – just plug in to the normal wall outlet, slow charge). These weren’t available in the UK yet, though rumour had it that you could buy them in Europe.

Next stop, off to the Renault dealership in Calais, a mile or so away. With our poor French and the Frenchies’ aversion to speaking English, we battled through convincing the Renault chaps to both lend us their charger RFID card, and to lend us a cable from one of their demo Zoe’s so we could get charged. Between us, the wife and I are pretty fluent in German, Dutch, Spanish and English (of that list, I contribute only English 😉 ). Still, none of these were of any help with the French :/

The reason we needed to hassle a cable off the Frenchies was that the French use an entirely different plug type to the rest of Europe – so our “standard” Mennekes Type 2 cable was useless for their charging infrastructure. Apparently some old French law required that all public electrical sockets need to have a cover over them, to prevent electrocution from people touching the charge points (despite electric circuitry having long since solved this problem in a more elegant and reliable fashion). So the French insisted on using the Type 3 connector, more specifically an “EV Alliance Type 3C” connector.

Type2vsType3

Mennekes Type 2 on the left, EV Alliance Type 3C on the right

This meant we would have to beg, borrow or steal charging cables in France, until we got to Belgium where sanity and the Type 2 connectors prevailed again.

Update: since this trip, the EU Commission has standardised on the Mennekes Type 2 connectors across the EU, so France is (hopefully) now using the common standard too.

Having finally pried a cable and a RFID card from the Renault chaps, we head outside to their charger and try to get started. More problems: charging starts briefly, then stops. Blinkey lights on the charger for a while. Try a few more times, same (failed) result. Eventually got a few Renault technicians outside, all scratching heads rather Frenchily…

The situation is now rather bleak, we don’t have enough range to get to the next charging location, and this one seems poked. The techies figure its a fault on the charger, and they’ll have someone look at it the following week – of course no help to us. Even worse, these delays here mean we won’t make it to the two Belgian companies to pick up our charge cards for before the Easter weekend starts, so that kills all further charging possibilities in Europe… “Eish” is an appropriate South African term for such a situation.

During all of this, my somewhat sceptical wife has been observing the going-ons from an appropriate vantage point, with the gravity of the situation slowly settling in. Right about this moment of realised hopelessness, she kicks into gear, stomping over muttering something along the lines of “.. it’s just a stupid computer…”. The Renault techies and I cautiously back away. She gets up to the charger and starts poking at prodding at its 2 or 3 button interface, still muttering. We cringe, I think we might have even huddled together in our collective failure, quaking…

Then, as if circuitry and electronics could cower and submit before the wrath of the woman scorned…  VIOLA!!! the darn thing starts charging! Disaster averted!!

Celebrations all round, the Frenchies wander off, regaling each other with tales of their near miss. While waiting for the charge (2 hours) we grab some lunch nearby, and importantly manage to buy a granny charger (also called a Flexi Charger) from the Renault spares shop (another mission, they didn’t know what I was talking about, and then didn’t know they had one). The granny charger was an all-important acquisition, as it now meant we could charge at any domestic socket (albeit incredibly slowly, at around 16 hours for a fullish charge).

Charged, fed, and equipped with a new means to charge, spirits were up as we left Calais, on our way to Dunkirk, and another Renault dealer there – for a last charge in France before making a bee-line for Ghent, Belgium where we were to pick up the first of our charge cards.

Friendlier folk at Renault Dunkirk were much more helpful with the charge – success despite being ICE’d (charging spot occupied by an Internal Combustion Engine vehicle) rather uniquely by a CRANE.

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errr… a rather serious ICEr

It was time to get a jiggle on, the Calais shenanigans had cost valuable time, and we needed to make the Belgian meetings to pick up cards before they closed for Easter weekend. I contacted the Ghent-based beCharged to apologise for the delay, and a friendly developer there was prepared to wait for us, and agreed to let us charge at their test points there, meaning we could skip a planned charge point in between. Sweet!

Dunkirk to Ghent was uneventful (and a nice part of the drive) and we made it to beCharged on time. Simon the friendly developer greeted us there with the charge card which would allow us to charge at their locations in Belgium. We hooked up to their test charge infrastructure, hoping to do a fast charge – but alas it was not meant to be. The Zoe was pretty new back then, and the Chameleon charger worked a bit differently to previous tech – so Simon did some live debugging to collect the info he needed while we charged.

10-BeCharged

beCharged debugging fast charge issues

We now ended up with one of those quandaries every EV driver will face when charging in a hurry: we needed to charge enough to get to our next destination in time – charge too long, and we’d be late and miss the opportunity to pick up the important roaming RFID charge card from Blue Corner. But charge too short, and we risk not making it to our destination at all. To complicate the delicate calculations further, if we were rushing to get there and driving faster, we consume power at a greater rate… higher consumption meaning lower range, and the risk again of not making it to destination.

Having run the calculations factoring in expected travel time (accounting for traffic), distance (range required), estimated consumption rate and current rate of charge  we settled on the sweet spot, the perfect cut off time to give us the best chance of making our destination on time with sufficient range. Bang on the calculated minute we stopped the charge, thanked helpful Simon and legged it in the direction of Antwerp.

Now, when travelling at speed on the motorway, most of the energy consumption goes to just overcoming air resistance – energy required to punch the vehicle through the air. So where possible, I’ve tried slipstreaming larger vehicles to minimise drag, in the hopes that this ekes out some additional range. Of course riding up the butt of a tanker truck did tend to make the co-pilot somewhat nervous, so this technique had to be used sparingly.

IMG_2957

slipsteam

It became clear as we barrelled towards Antwerp that we weren’t going to make it. We were consuming power at a greater rate than anticipated, perhaps a headwind, slight climb, the cooler temperature, or the slowing and speeding up in traffic – whatever it was, we were going to be a few miles short… and there were no known charging points between us and our (now unreachable) destination.

Time to test this granny charger then! We had to give up on making our Antwerp appointment with Blue Corner, and instead stop at a motorway services, right on the outskirts of Antwerp – hoping for a slow granny charge. Fortunately the services ladies were charmed by my winning smile 🙂 and they let us park right outside the door and charge there.

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motorway services granny charge

The granny charger is painfully slow – it was going to take almost 2 hours just to add the few miles we needed to get to the centre of Antwerp. Time aplenty for some motorway services dinner, and to contact the Blue Corner folk to let them know we were not going to make it. Fortunately, they were quite understanding, and agreed to pop the charger RFID card in an envelope at a nearby services convenience store for us to pick up that night (I had already paid for it from the UK).

Eventually got in just enough charge to make the chargers at Antwerp train station in the city centre, and headed off. A bit of trouble finding the chargers in a massive carpark, and finally limped to the chargers with a fully depleted battery…

12-AntwerpCharge

zero miles to go

It was almost 10:30pm by then, and even though we were just one hop from our final destination in the Netherlands, it would take over 2 hours to charge enough to make it there. Being the wise man I am, I knew better than to suggest to my sceptical co-pilot that we soldier on after midnight… actually, no… I think I may have been dumbass enough to suggest it – but that turned out to be a very short conversation.

So we decided to call it a day, checked in at a hotel nearby and gave up on the do-it-all-in-a-day idea. It was time for a Very Large Vodka Indeed.

The rest of the journey was positively pleasant without the time pressure. Starting off fully charged from Antwerp, our first charge spot was at the super interesting Kamp C, a government funded centre for sustainable living where we were able to check out some eco-builds and be impressed with how progressive the Belgians were about practical support for citizens wanting to build and live greener.

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you can just about make out Zoe charging on the right edge

Once over the border to the Netherlands, charging was a breeze. The Blue Corner card we got in Belgium allowed roaming in the Netherlands, and the Dutchies were totally sorted with EV charging. The Netherlands (then already) had TWICE the number of EV charging points than the UK, with only a QUARTER of the population. Pretty much everywhere we went we had charging opportunities, even the tiniest out of the way villages.

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charge and cheese ?

Onwards to Germany – where we only ever experienced one charger at our hotel in Düsseldorf (chosen for it’s charger availability) – but this didn’t even require an RFID card. If memory serves, this might have been quite widespread in Germany, free charging without an account or RFID card.

The next day, we were going to try to get back to Oxford – across 5 countries. But that’s a story for part 3 – first an afternoon of German beer and an evening out to see what Düsseldorf had to offer.

 

 

Europe EV Road Trip part 1 (The Plan)

The wife and I were in the midst of some logistical planning a few days before Easter 2014, amongst which we needed to arrange for her stuff (currently in storage in the Netherlands) to be shipped to our home in the UK. We’d been married barely two months by then, and her move over from the Netherlands included the sum total of everything we could carry between the two of us on the Eurostar (including her wedding dress!). Suffice to say, she was rather keen on getting a few more key items of her belongings over post-haste!

There were a few other travel balls in the air over the next month making the logistics decision a bit more complicated – but I’ll spare you the details.

A few glasses of wine in, the wife hits me with this brainwave for the Easter weekend – why don’t we drive the (electric) Zoe to the Netherlands ?

Eh ?

Now, we’d done a few little road trips (a few = 2) in the Zoe already, a difficult ride to Stansted, and a slightly more pleasurable one to Wales, but you’d have to be barking mad to want to take an EV to continental Europe, and all the way to the south of the Netherlands, surely ? That’s travelling across the UK, France, Belgium and then the Netherlands…

There were all sorts of considerations, how would we charge, how would we even find charging spots (given that charge maps even within the UK were unreliable or incomplete), how would we get access to the RFID cards that would allow us to charge in each of these countries, etc. etc. There were more questions than answers, far too many for this trip to be a plausible at such short notice…

Barking mad or not, the wife is seldom constrained by the realities of reason, sense or plausibility. A glass more red wine to dampen my own logic circuits, and she had me convinced – EV Road Trip to Europetown was ON! 🙂

So, with the wife having done her part conjuring up this grandiose idea she flittered off to decide what colour to make me paint the bathroom (as the wife is wont to do), and left it to me to now make this a reality 😐

Research started immediately. There was only a day before we planned on leaving, so options were limited – in particular, there was no time to allow for delivery of a charging RFID card (needed to initiate charging) from any of the European charging networks – we’d have to take a chance on picking these up Europe-side.

Our route was going to be something like:

Route

So we’d need charging options in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

Wait a minute… Germany ? Where did that come from, thought we were going to pick some stuff up from the Netherlands. Did I forget to mention that wifey came past mid-research and added a fifth country ? Just to pop in for some family history. As you do, you know. Sigh, such is life…

Anyway, best I summarise this road trip charging research sharpish, this post is turning into more of a moany-moany about the wife than road tripping…

UK – pretty well established and tested options with Ecotricity fast chargers and the Polar network, some decent options getting to Folkstone to take the Eurotunnel. Would have to get the timings right though, as you generally book a specific train crossing, can’t be late.

France – charging network information was scarce online (or in French!) – although I did flag some Renault dealerships that had chargers, figuring Renault would be friendly to a fellow Renault Zoe, albeit English. We’re not in France for that long anyway, so on to…

Belgium – the country that we’re traversing the most of. And the one in the middle. Need to get this one right. And fortunately Belgium seemed *very* switched on with electric vehicles, impressive. With a number of different charging networks, I settled on two potentials – BeCharged and Blue Corner – both had pretty decent Belgian coverage and from what I could make out had info on roaming in other European countries. So popped a quick email off to each of them, requesting a charge card that I could pick up at their offices in Ghent and Antwerpen respectively.

Netherlands – the Dutch have great EV uptake, and the country is literally covered in chargers. Didn’t spend much more time on this, as I expected we’d manage – even if we didn’t get a Belgian charge card that could roam in the Netherlands, it was at least a known destination we could figure out when we got there.

Germany – ditto for Germany, was late in the night by then, no time to dig into Germany – if we sorted out the Netherlands, Germany wouldn’t be much trouble. He said optimistically.

zzzzzzzz… time for bed.

Road Trip to Wales

The time is mid-March. Been away for a while, and somewhat manic with pesky stuff like getting married and such, so high time for another road trip!

This time, the destination is the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales, which should be just over 300 miles round trip. I’ve managed to get a home charger installed since the last (November) road trip I posted, so now able to follow my first rule of electric road tripping – starting off with a full charge 🙂 The install itself was a bit of a debacle – sparing the queasy reader the gory details, the exercise included  dealing with existing cabling too thin to carry a fast-charge load, an incorrect charging unit installed the first time, a few blown fuses, and repeated tripping of the circuit. It took a few weeks but we got there in the end…

Background
We’d bought a paper calendar early in the year to try to do some tactile travel planning – we chose a British National Parks calendar, and decided it would be a good idea to visit as many of them as possible this year. One Friday night in mid-March (there might have been wine involved) we decided to hit the first of them, Brecon Beacons in Wales that weekend.

Day 1 – getting there
The start on Saturday was slightly late (blame the wine) – we quickly booked the closest hotel to the park that had a charging point (and an all-important spa) – the Best Western Parkway Hotel in Cwmbran, and then we were off!

First charge was 60-something miles and an hour and a quarter away, at the Ecotricity point at the M4 motoway services in Leigh Delamere – a 43kW 63Amp rapid charge. If memory serves (and it usually does) there were also some 7kW 32A Mennekes Type 2 points as backup – but I stuck to the rapid chargers. The 45-ish minutes to charge to full was just about right for us to grab a quick late lunch and a pee-stop, before heading on.

No need for another stop, straight on to the hotel then, with a beautiful crossing of the Severn Bridge and a gorgeous sunset to follow.

Severn crossing

Severn crossing

Welcome to Wales sunset

Welcome to Wales sunset

Arrived at the hotel in the last light of dusk, and easily found the ZeroNet charging point (from Zero Carbon World) out the front of the hotel. As with all chargers on this network, no RFID card is needed, simply plug in to charge. Worked a dandy! The charger was almost ICEd but my cable could reach from the next parking bay down – ace!

The rest of the very pleasant stay involved no activities relevant to the electric vehicle aficionado…

Day 2 – the park and journey back
Some quick pre-breakfast research the next morning revealed that the charging point options in and around Brecon Beacon park consisted of either ZeroNet sites within the park itself (an impressive 10 or 11 of them too!) or Chargemaster points installed at a number of Asdas south of the park (didn’t really look north, as we weren’t heading there).

Leaving the hotel fully charged the next morning meant our first stop at The Hall Farm in Llangenny was more exploratory than necessary. A beautiful rural location, one would hardly expect to find a charging station here!

Hall Farm barn

Hall Farm barn

Charging at Hall Farm

Charging at Hall Farm

The charger worked just fine, but as there was no need for a charge and there was a lot more of the park to see, we trekked on further west.

After a good 40-ish miles of meandering through the park, much of which was narrow, windy single-track roads, steep climbs and drops (all range-chewing), we started tending towards our next charge stop, another ZeroNet location, a National Trust workbase deep in the park. The plan was to leave the car charging while we did a bit of a hike through the beautiful surrounds.

It seemed this wasn’t exactly a tourist or oft-visited location (as “workbase” might imply) but we did eventually find it – and that’s where we hit upon a few snags…

Firstly, the workbase is at the end of a road denoted as “no vehicles” – ok, let’s respect that for a bit, and do an on-foot reccie (reconnaissance mission for the civilians out there) to check out the situ. We find the charge point easily enough – located prominently on the wall outside the building – but it’s behind a locked gate – so even if we did drive down the “no vehicles” road, there was no way of getting the car close enough for a charge. Doh! Guess it wasn’t a great idea visiting a workbase on a Sunday!

With limited range (but enough to reach some cunningly planned backup charge locations) we limped slowly out the park to gingerly make the 16 miles to Asda in Merthyr Tydfil, home to a Chargemaster/Polar charge point. This would put us firmly outside the park, and as I was now contending with an ever-hungrier wife, it was time to find some grub.

The Asda superstore was located in a predictably industrial area, with not much nearby. Most of the EV charging bays were ICEd, but thankfully a single glorious bay remained empty for us.

Asda ICEd

Asda ICEd

 

Charge started, it was off to feed the co-pilot.
I had never heard Asda’s in-house food acclaimed in the culinary circles, but as our only option in the industrial estate while we charged, now was as good a time as any to give it a try. It was 30 minutes before closing time, so pickings were slim, but adequate enough to sate the now-ravenous beast.

The Polar charger was a Chargemaster standard 7kW 32Amp, so a full charge was going to take over 3 hours – not a pleasant option. My general strategy on longer trips is to only charge enough to get to the next level-up charger – given that a rapid (43kW) charge is over 3 times faster than a fast (7kW) charge (no, don’t just divide kW), it is a huge time saving to just hop far enough to the next rapid charger.

For us, this was another Ecotricity spot at the Welcome Break near Cardiff, where a Starbucks coffee and cake was enough to get a full charge of the rapid charger there, and back on our way.

Another dusky crossing of the Severn Bridge, a last rapid charge at the Ecotricity point in Leigh Delamere, and we were home without further incident!

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300-odd miles, 7 charging points, only one of which wasn’t usable – an 85% success ratio, and a big improvement over last time all things considered!

 

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.

 

Electric Car vs Jaffa Cakes

A few weeks back I made the wager in a light-hearted Facebook discussion that my electric car was cheaper on a 15 mile round trip than jogging that same distance powered by Jaffa Cakes. (The discussion made more sense if you were there.)

Why Jaffa Cakes ? Well, ‘cos my fine, feathered Irish friend happens to be obsessed with them. Go figure.

So here are the maths, proving once and for all that Electric Car > Jaffa Cakes.

I’ve done over 1,500 electric miles in my Zoe now, and have settled into an average consumption of 3.8 mpkWh (miles per kilowatt-hour). This is a combination of Eco-mode careful driving and foot-down enjoying-electric-torque screw-the-range-anxiety driving.

My current electricity provider charges £0.0809 per kilowatt-hour (8.09p) at the night-rate tariff (when I normally charge). I am considering moving over to green energy company Ecotricity with an even lower night tariff of 6.53p, with the added benefit of all electricity being generated from wind, sun and sea – but for the purposes of this calc, we’ll stick with the 8.09p tariff.

This gives us a very easy calculation for the 15 mile round trip:

15 miles / 3.8 mpkWh * 8.09p = 32p

Easy peasy – it cost me £0.32 for the trip in my electric Renault Zoe, at mid-market prices without even using the cheapest green electricity provider available. The round trip (with pickup stop) took me 26 minutes.

So, how much to do this powered by Jaffa Cakes ?

Let’s work on a rather leisurely pace to accommodate my Jaffa-cake-munching mate, giving him a whole 3 hours to complete the trip, at around 12 minutes per mile. Using the RunnersWorld calories burned calculator, this 15 mile jog over 3 hours should elicit a calorie burn rate of 126.71 calories per mile, for a total calorie cost of 1,901 calories.

Jaffa Cakes’ UK site kindly informs us that each Jaffa Cake munched will provide a wholesome 46 calories per cake (in addition to the standard delicious, taste-bud-tickling goodness). Our nutritionally minded friends at Tescos concur.

So, we would need 1,901 / 46 = 41.32 Jaffa Cakes to complete the arduous journey on foot (assuming a 100% efficient digestive system and no energy consumed by actually consuming the Jaffa Cakes – chew slowly mate).

Said Irish Jaffa Cake fanatic also runs a Jaffa Cake price tracking site (I kid you not), providing a handy reference to the live Jaffa Cake market price. At the time of writing, the best deal (per-cake pricing) on Jaffa Cakes would be the Twin Pack (24 cake) deal at Asda, going for the princely sum of £1.00 per twin pack.

Our cost of the trip powered by Jaffa Cakes would therefore be:

(£1.00/24) * 41.32 = £1.72

So there you have it. A mere £0.32 and 26 minutes in an electric car, and a wallet-busting £1.72 and 3 hours on Irish legs powered by Jaffa Cakes.

Clearly, electric cars are 5.39 times better than Jaffa Cakes.

I rest my case.

Renault Zoe Public Charging 101

150 miles later, and I am *really* enjoying my Zoe. The electric ride without a clunky, noisy ICE rattling beneath the hood is smooth and silent, and the tech on this little gem is great (keyless entry FTW!). Decent build quality and no evident compromise in practicality (we’ll address range later!) makes it clear that Renault is on a good wicket to make this the first electric car to find widespread adoption. There is little doubt that electric is the future of motoring, resistance is futile!

However, before we dash off to the future –  my home EV charger hasn’t been installed yet, and I naively discovered that one does not simply drive up to a public charge point and plug in… apparently an RFID card of sorts is required. Now call me a dumbass for not checking this out better before picking up my car (ok, don’t), but this still left me with just 50 miles of juice left and no way of charging. This electric car malarkey will start to get expensive if I simply discard each car at the side of the road when it’s run flat!

Thus begins my crash course in EV public charging…

Turns out there are a few different charging networks in the UK, typically working in the same way – they issue you a RFID card, and you wave this at one of *their* public charging points which will pop open a teensy magic door giving you access to the electric goodness your car thirsts for. Easy enough… except most networks run independently of the others and there is no sharing of RFID cards – you need the right card for the right network for the public charging point you happen to be at… or no juice for joo, señor :/

There are also a few different sites that try to aggregate the charging maps of these independent charging networks, and inevitably there are discrepancies in the accuracy and types of information they present… Early days I guess, things are a bit in flux and will be a matter of time before standards and/or integration and/or clear leaders emerge.

So, corroborate some info from the different maps, and I find that the Chargemaster/Polar network seems to have the points most appropriate for me (Zoe uses Mennekes Type 2 connector, with preference for 32A or above – oh, did I mention that there are a number of different EV plug/socket types, and you need to match your car to a charging point with an appropriate socket, NOT just the closest point ?).

Chargemaster it is then – I give them a call to figure out this RFID charging jol, and a very nice lady on the phone is very understanding about my dumbass charger-less situation, and offers to send me my RFID card by next-day delivery (registration on the web site, and £10 payment for the RFID card).

Schwweet, my card arrives as promised Saturday morning, and off I pop to the nearest compatible Chargemaster point at a Waitrose parking lot nearby. The RFID card pops open the preferred (32A Mennekes) door, and we’re charging baby!

Charge1  Charge2

After the first quick test (and then getting on with my day) I got back for a full charge from about 20% in under 3 hours, while I popped off for a pint (of shandy!) and some food at some of the local pubs.

Since then, I’ve also registered with Ecotricity who are creating an “electric highway” across the UK at Welcome Break service stations on major routes. RFID card arrived relatively quickly (4 days) and I tried their fast charge 43kW charger in Oxford (Peartree) charging from 24% to 98% in 50 minutes (a bite at KFC, some household shopping at the Waitrose, and time for an espresso at the Starbucks).

Ecotricity1

Also registered with Source London, Boris Johnson-backed scheme with 1300+ charging points around London, and yet to try out one of these points.

I guess Renault foresaw this charger-network-card-collection situation, and stuck a handy little cardholder slot in the centre console of the Zoe.. three cards and counting!

cardholder