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Our electric car adventure July 2021

Setting off from Glasgow to visit family in Oxfordshire in July 2021 in our Renault Zoe, we wondered whether, since our last visit to England in summer 2020, the increase in electric cars would be matched by the growing number of charging points. So this journey was an attempt to find out whether the charging situation had improved since summer 2020. Some experimentation therefore led to a slower journey than last year, but especially on the way back, this was to gather information rather than being a necessity.

On the M74, we stopped at Abington Services and saw 6 Teslas at the 6 charging points and one more driving round looking for a charging space - a sign of things to come? Probably not - I think it might have been a Tesla rally! More rapid chargers are being installed by ChargePlace Scotland at the car park in Abington village, but they're not ready yet. Visiting the last two free charging points in Scotland at Crawford, we waited only 5 minutes for a charger to be available.

Having just charged for nothing, we avoided Gretna Services this year and made for the Ecotricity chargers at Southwaite Services, which were busy so we moved on to Penrith, where there are two Instavolt chargers (one of the most reliable charging companies, but not one of the cheapest) at Booths - (a very classy supermarket). One charger was being used while the other was available, so having topped up there, we set off on the A66 across the charging desert of the Pennines, past the reportedly unreliable charger at Scotch Corner, and stopped at Wetherby Services, where Gridserve, who have recently taken over the Electric Highway from Ecotricity, have installed 3 new double 100kW chargers, which after a software upgrade this summer should each allow two cars to charge at once. No other cars were charging. 5 of the outlets are CCS and one CHAdeMO.

After an overnight stop in Bingham, Nottinghamshire, it was on to try out the new M6 Moto Rugby Services, where there are 12 general use Gridserve Electric Highway 350 kW chargers (as well as 12 Tesla chargers which we couldn't use). Amazingly, most of the general chargers were in use but during our visit of about an hour, there were always a few chargers available. It seems that when you build a new charging hub, it attracts electric cars like bees to a honey pot. The new Gridserve Electric Highway chargers are reasonably priced, easy to use and show clearly the rate of charge, but annoyingly (for now) not what it is costing you!

So I headed for the Gridserve website to download a receipt. A week later, still no receipts were forthcoming - more enquiries to be made! On making the enquiries by email later, I had a rapid and good quality response from Gridserve, and found out all the costs. The Wetherby charge turned out to be free!

On to Oxfordshire, and after a few days of local driving around, we topped up at the PodPoint charger at Lidl in Wallingford. It worked fine apart from having to press the emergency stop button (twice) to end the charge, as neither the LCD screen nor the PodPoint app worked to stop the charge.

The next day, it was on to Rustington in Sussex to visit a relative. We planned to stop at Lidl Whiteley (Fareham) which turned out to be fine, and a good break on the way to Rustington and on the way back too. The charger was available and worked faultlessly.

The night before driving back north we charged at Lidl in Wallingford, where from a starting point of 108 miles of range (45%), after half an hour and an 82% charge, giving 192 miles of range the car detected a problem. The charge had to be restarted as there was not enough power available from the charger, but on restarting the charge it charged fine up to 99% or 230 miles of range, more than enough to get quite a long way towards Scotland. PodPoint chargers may not be the most reliable but at 25p per kWh they are the cheapest widespread rapid chargers. They also have excellent app which allows you to keep track of your charging expenditure.

We planned to top up at one of the 8 new Instavolt chargers in Banbury (just to see them really for fun - we didn't need a charge after only 45 miles). We chose Instavolt because of its reputation for reliability and the fact that there are 8 chargers there, so one was likely to be available. In fact, 7 were available, so we just did a splash and dash, then moved on.

We did a full charge at the Gridserve chargers at Norton Canes on the M6 Toll. Gridserve charge 30p per kWh on the Electric Highway, which is a very reasonable price. Gridserve are doing a brilliant job upgrading the Electric Highway in 3 phases:

  • The first is to replace all the 10 year old Ecotricity chargers on the motorway network by the end of this summer, and upgrade their software so that two cars can charge at once from each dual charger.
  • secondly to roll out several charging points at many of the same locations
  • and finally to build a series of electric forecourts, each with dozens of ultra-rapid chargers, a canopy-covered area (like a petrol station), and a facilities building containing a shop, toilets, coffee, snacks and possibly other facilities as well.

Further north, there is a new hub of 8 Swarco e.connect chargers at Shevington Moor off the M6, but having tried two of them, they wouldn't accept my credit card for some reason, so having plenty of charge, we moved on.

Instavolt Penrith again came in handy on the way home. Both chargers were available. At 40p per kWh (in late 2021 increased to 45p), they are not the cheapest, but as they are reliable that's worth paying for! By the time we had enough charge to get to Glasgow, the other charger was occupied, and one car was waiting, so we moved on.

In the end, the journey north took two hours more than normal in a fossil fuel vehicle, partly because of curiosity, and partly because of an enormous traffic jam on the M6 caused by an accident, which made us divert through various Cheshire towns. Not much of the slowness was caused by charging. If you have a long enough range, which allows you to plan it, by the time you have stopped for a drain and refill stop, most of the charge you need has been obtained.

Overall, we covered 1101 miles in two weeks. It cost £53.04 in electricity. Comparing the running costs with a diesel Fiesta which we used to run, and using a generous figure of 70 mpg and diesel at £1.25 per litre, it would have cost £89.37 for the same journey.

However, that's for a long journey using public rapid chargers. You may be able to use cheaper low-powered chargers overnight and reduce your costs, but the main thing is that most people won't do such a long journey very often, so if you can normally charge at home, one kWh costs 5p for up to 4 hours in the middle of the night - a substantial saving on diesel or petrol.

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