Nine hours into a journey that is supposed to take less than six, safe in the knowledge that there are at least two more to go, we pull into our fourth service station of the day. Another minute longer and we’d be stuck on the hard-shoulder, calling the AA. My partner calls her parents and explains the latest delay. I’m quickly realising that I am at the mercy of a lithium battery.
I’ve been interested in buying an electric car for some time now. Climate change is a hot button topic and the government is falling far short of their targets to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, so surely I can do my bit?
I’d driven a couple of models of electric vehicle (EV) over short distances before, but never taken one on a long journey. The timing was perfect: with a summer staycation in the depths of Cornwall planned, my partner and I decided to reject the hefty train fare and make the journey down from London in an EV.
The car we’d be driving was the Volkswagen e-Golf. Aesthetically identical to a regular Golf, the car doesn’t shout about how different it is from its petrol and diesel counterparts with wacky designs like the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model X do. A small blue ‘e’ on the front and back are all that differentiates it.
Not everyone wants to show the world how progressive they are, in fact some of that brashness has probably been a barrier for a lot of people in committing to an EV. They don’t want to stand out, rather quietly blend in and go about their business.
After a conversation with a few electric car owners, I soon realised the first hurdle to overcome is the battery range available. Our journey was around 300 miles. The e-Golf has an advertised range of 180 miles, so I’d only need to make one stop on the journey.“No problem”, I thought, naively.
There are a number of apps you need to download as an EV owner, as most charging points require mobile payment. I downloaded Ecotricity’s ‘Electric Highway’, ChargePoint, ZapMap, PodPoint, Polar, Source London and Charge Your Car. Each required individual account set up, card details, other personal information and EV information. Some require a monthly subscription payment plan… No thanks.
ZapMap brings all the charging station manufacturers into one place and allows you to plan your route, recommending when and where to stop.The app itself is pretty poor. It crashes a lot and is very slow. So I decided to do it manually, committing to one manufacturer, in this case Ecotricity due to their strong network of motorway spots, and plan it out myself using the locations of their charging points.
“Most of the charging stations don’t work” a friend warns me a week before our trip. She now experiences “battery anxiety” whenever she takes her Nissan Leaf on a long journey. Other people tell me the same thing.
For the journey down, the intention was to stop twice – at Bristol and Exeter. That quickly went out the window because we started without a full battery: rookie mistake.
Ecotricity’s charging station at our first stop, Heston services, was patchy. I set up the charge via the app, the electricity began to flow and I assumed we were in business. But the unit cut out after around 10 minutes before refusing to restart again. I was only alerted to this by email so, if I wasn’t a phone-obsessed-millennial it’s very unlikely I’d have been aware of the fault until I’d wasted half an hour in Costa. I plugged the car into the neighbouring station. Bizarrely, there was no interaction with the app for that one, so I have no idea whether I paid or not.
My friend now experiences “battery anxiety” whenever she takes her car on a long journey Ecotricity’s power stations will only charge for 45 minutes, which won’t always get you to full. To add to that, while their network of charging points on motorways appears to be the best, most of them offer just one type of each connector. So if several people are driving the same car – you can expect quite some queue.
Charging an electric car on the road
We were travelling on one of the busiest Fridays of the summer, on a route that took us through the hellish M5 and M4 interchange just north of Bristol. Traffic is frustrating in an EV. At the very point you’re finally out of the worst of it and gearing up to put your foot down, you will probably need to pull into a service station and spend the next hour charging.