*excludes Tesla superchargers
When I got my first EV in 2016, a used Leaf, I wanted to rapid charge it straight away. Way back then the Electric Highway was free! Plugging in an EV at Membury west was awesome, I felt the future was literally here. As I understand it, the EH chargers were originally part-funded by Renault and Nissan. Ecotricity, the company behind EH, recently said that the utilisation is a mere 4% and that the business isn’t yet profitable. I think I can guess why.
Later in 2016 EH went from a RFID card to a phone app model, and started charging money for the electricity. It was, and is, clunky – why it can’t remember your payment details and use GPS to detect your location I’ll never know. EH added WiFi modules to the pumps and that seemed to help, but it made the process an even longer drawn-out nuisance. To add insult to injury the chargers only ever gave 41kW when the Leaf could take 50kW, at least up to a certain state of charge.
Now in late 2018, we’ve surely come a long way. There’s lots of well funded companies vying for your rapid charging business; Instavolt, Polar, NewMotion, PodPoint, Alfa and so on. According to ZapMap there are chargers at over 6500 locations, of which 1900 or so are “Rapid chargers” with over 4000 connectors. Of course your car can only accept one (or maybe two) types of the 4 different types available.
Hang on – you might think – four types of plug? That’s right – within the rapid charging universe alone there’s Chademo, CCS, AC and Tesla, and all are incompatible. It’s a bit like Diesel, Unleaded 95, Super unleaded and LPG. CCS is the EU standard, and new cars are quickly adopting it.
So what have the Electric Highway done in response? Nothing. No new chargers that I’ve seen. They seem to have a monopoly position at Motorway Service Areas yet their chargers are the same DBT units, up to 6 years old. Their implementation of CCS doesn’t seem to work at all well with Hyundai cars, I’ve had all sorts of errors. The Ioniq only gets 35kW at most from them too, when it can take not 50kW but 70kW of charging power!!
Chargemaster-Polar are one company who have invested heavily in chargers, that they make themselves. They are often sited close to main routes (well it’s obvious, I guess) and I happen to have one at a Holiday Inn close to home. Payment is akin to a mobile phone, you can Pay-As-You-Go, or take a subscription. If you take out a Polar plus subscription you get an RFID card which makes starting a charge really easy; and the cost is modest too- 10.8p/kWh, after the £7.85 subscription (first 3 months free). In my opinion if you have a CCS car and need public charging (not everyone does) then this not only essential, it is good value- an annual subscription for less than 2 tanks of diesel, then 2p per mile! Put another way, compared to the alternative providers who charge around 30p/kWh, you’re saving 19p. So you only need to use 41kWh each month to break even. That’s not even 2 charges for an Ioniq.
Other rapid charging operators of note are Instavolt, who I’ve written about before, and PodPoint, who have installed many chargers at Lidl stores (both of these are currently free to use by the way).
So how’s the Electric Highway in late 2018? I tried two chargers this week. No luck on any occasion. A mixture of errors, one claiming an emergency stop; the other charger simply “Offline” for CCS. I tried phoning on one occasion – they didn’t pick up. I gave it a few days and tried again. Same “Offline” message at the Membury charger. No wonder this business isn’t profitable.
In my personal opinion, for chargers in such privileged locations, this is a very poor performance from EH and can only suppress the take-up of EVs.
“Where do you charge your car?”
“Either at home or public chargers, but, you know, not on the motorway.”
“Eh? Why not?”
“Well, it’s complicated…”
Thank goodness for Polar, Instavolt and the others.
*And as for Tesla? Well they have the benefit of their own network of Tesla-specific connectors, at up to 120kW charging power. That’s one benefit of spending up to £100k on your car I guess.