Trips beyond the range of my Nissan Leaf’s battery, say 90 miles, imply battery charging on the way. How realistic is this in the UK in 2016?
I took my Leaf for a trip of over 200 miles in a day, and learned a few things. A lot of factors affect the range of the Leaf, from weather to driving style. But if you’re going over 90 or so miles, even in high summer, then you’ll have to charge somewhere. In England we have Ecotricity Rapid Chargers at motorway and some A-road services. Often there’s two posts, sometimes only one. Each post has a DC part for Chademo cars (of which the Leaf is one), and an AC part for cars such as the Zoe. Yup – it could be simpler! Now that Ecotricity charge for charging (they used to be free) they’re rarely occupied in my experience. Charging at these takes 30 minutes per session, which probably won’t mean 100% charge. As the battery charge increases, the charging rate slows down noticeably.
To start a charge you generally use an app from your phone. Plug in the car, select the charger you’re using and press a button. That’s it. 30 minutes later, unplug and drive away. It really is analogous to charging your phone.
I had a warm September day, around 24°C. Very little wind, so pretty much ideal Leaf weather you could say. To start with I had 100 percent charge, after an overnight on Economy 7 cheap-rate electricity. The Leaf was showing 90 miles range. I travelled 74 miles to the first stop, enough to trigger “low Battery Warning” on the way, which is around 19% charge left. Actually I think it triggers at a set voltage, so this can vary. 16% left on arrival at the charger. To start with the experience of an alarm on an open motorway is quite…alarming! But all part of the early adopter EV experience. This leg got 5.5 miles per kWh which is about as good as it gets. That’s hundreds of mpg equivalent, and on renewable energy to boot.
The next leg was to my destination, and then back to the same services to charge, only 56 miles. On this charge the battery temperature rose to 7 “bars”. Rapid charging results in significant battery heating. The UK Leaf has only passive cooling, no fans or heaters of any kind. The battery is pretty massive and so takes some time to heat or cool. Definitely some scope here for hackers 🙂
Finally 68 miles to home, which would be easy with a 100% charge. But as I mentioned, rapids won’t get you to 100%! I can only recommend charging for the full 30 minute session, you may regret unplugging early as I did. I think I left the charger at 77%. I arrived home at 6% charge left, showing “—” range and while that’s OK, if I’d had the option for another charge on this leg, of any sort, I’d have taken it! So my guideline figure for summer long distance driving is legs of 60-70 miles max. Less in winter of course.
So yes, you have to stop to charge, and as long as the chargers are working and you have something else to do, it works. I took some papers for my meeting and read them. It’s just a different way of working, and planning is essential. There are some websites that help, such as ZapMap to show the chargers on your route. Unfortunately with different companies running the chargers and different electrical standards, it’s not yet as simple as filling with petrol, but it is a whole lot more pleasant! This will inevitably change. The UK government is funding this area and major car manufacturers are now collaborating on future (very) rapid charging systems.
Ecotricity are to be applauded for putting in the current Rapid network, without this we’d all be limited by the car’s range. However since this summer trip, I have been prevented from using my Leaf – because the charging networks do not provide support over the Christmas and New Year holiday period (or weekends, come to that). In theory this isn’t a problem as the chargers should “just work” but in practise I have had to phone up to start and stop a charge.
It’s worth mentioning that there is a community network of individuals happy to lend their private charge facility out to desperate drivers. You can access these via the “Plugshare” website. To date I haven’t had to use this but it could be useful in the many charging black spots that exist.
So- plan ahead, assume 60-70 mile legs on long trips (at least for 24kWh battery Leafs), and have a Plan B in case the charger you’re intending to use has problems.