In case you’re curious, here are some thoughts on living with an EV.
Heather’s Electric Journey What are they key features of a journey? Well, I guess you decide where you want to go, you plan the best route, you get everything you need and then you head off. As you travel, you discover new things and are often surprised by what you find. Sometimes, bad stuff happens. Eventually you arrive somewhere new, and get on with whatever you went there for.
Back in 2014, Jamie and I took a test drive in a Nissan Leaf. We live in rented accommodation and can’t make any changes to the property, so apart from our energy supplier and recycling, we felt there wasn’t much we could do to be more sustainable in our energy use. As we both drove petrol cars we wanted to find out more about EVs. We were let loose with the car for two hours with a full charge. We covered motorway driving , A and B roads, parking, looking at a charger and wondering how to make it work, listening as we drove past each other in near silence, and competing to see who could grow the most little trees on the dashboard, which was the reward the car gave you for economic driving style. Best fun ever and it hadn’t cost us or the air around us, anything! I highly recommend this as a cheap day out.
We knew that we couldn’t get one. There were hardly any rapid chargers where we live and work, my work took me on long journeys a couple of times a week and we wouldn’t have the option of charging at home. But we now knew that this was where we wanted to go. To help us plan our route, we learned as much as we could and kept abreast of new developments.
Years went by. Both of us got new jobs. Jamie travels to work by bus now, and my miles are spread more evenly through the week. We learned more about EVs through Robert Llewyllyn’s Fully Charged show, and much more about air pollution and climate change generally in this period, which cemented our commitment to getting an EV eventually. We also discovered that more rapid chargers were springing up where we live, which was key for us.
This meant that in 2017, when I was offered a chance to ‘upgrade’ my lease car (I was actually offered another petrol car) I could tell Nissan with confidence that my next car would be an electric one . So it was that we took delivery of our first EV at least 4 years earlier than we had expected.
Equipping ourselves for the trip meant amassing more knowledge about the network of public chargers and discovering that this is nowhere as easy as it should or could be, and seems to be one of the main reasons why people are put off owning an EV. They charge the cars at different speeds, are supported by different companies (just like petrol or diesel, at different prices), and use a frustrating amount of payment methods. Sometimes they just don’t work, or have a petrol car parked right in front of them, or even worse, an EV that is not actually charging .
However, sometimes you get a free vend (I used one for 4 months that gave me free fills for all that time), people stop to chat while you’re charging, even at the most expensive pumps it’s still much cheaper than my petrol cars, there is no licence fee to pay, the car is fabulous to drive, I get to leave boy racers at the lights, I can gain free miles by thoughtful driving and I am able to fulfill my goal of being more sustainable. The journey is constantly surprising me.
We have now done several holidays in the car. York, Norfolk, Wales, Cornwall. I travel to Devon (from Bristol) regularly to visit relatives and to Peterborough, Norfolk and Wales to see friends. I go to conferences, mini breaks and to train stations in it. I go shopping in it (and am delighted to find a new (and free) charger at my local Tesco – other supermarkets do also have chargers available!
Of course on a long journey we have to factor in the charging time, but this is generally not much more than the time it takes to have a wee and a coffee anyway, and I usually find the trip is less tiring and more relaxing as a result.
Things don’t always go to plan though. My first trip to Sheringham took 6 hours longer than it should have. I arrived at my planned chargers with around 20% left in my battery, to find that both pumps were being repaired. The engineers thought it might not take long, so I waited for a while. However, they then changed their minds about this so I went on to the nearest rapid, which was also not functioning. My only option then was to get to a slow charger a few miles away. Luckily there was somewhere to wait with a coffee and lunch, but this took me two and a half hours to get enough charge to get to the next rapid, which was off my planned route by some distance. So I needed a massive deviation, more stops than planned and was mighty glad to get to my family’s at 11pm.
At the moment you can’t just head off on a long trip without having a charging plan. This would be unacceptable for some, but I don’t mind it. We have had just one journey in 27000 miles where we have “gone turtle”, which is effectively running on fresh air, but we have never yet (knocking on wood) actually conked out. People often ask what happens if we do run out. Well, the same as with a petrol car – we would get rescued by the knights of the road.
Weirdly, driving this car has given me back an enjoyment in driving and it has become fun again, much like it was when I first got my licence and new-found freedom, and I would go places just to go out I the car.
There are definitely some extra considerations with EVS, but in the two years I have had one, there has been massive change. New chargers are turning up all over the place, and there is now a push to have them all using our normal payment cards, rather than having to subscribe and prepay to various companies. Home charging, if you can do it, is much cheaper, and technology is evolving to let people charge in ways that will support the National Grid rather than depleting it. The variety of EVS is increasing and the prices are coming down. Range is extending and the batteries are proving reliable and long lasting, with many options for recycling them once they are no longer viable for cars, thereby extending their use and reducing the carbon footprint needed to produce them. New models of vehicle use and ownership are developing, with shared car clubs growing across the country.
My EV journey will continue. The lease on my Leaf ends next year, but I am now absolutely committed to driving an EV, and so beginning to work out how I keep this going. We are hoping to stay as a 1 car couple and will have to see what we can afford. Something with a longer range would be nice, as it would reduce the time spent at chargers. We’re fancying an e-Niro. Whatever we do though , it is only going to be easier for us than it has been to date, because it is easier generally now than it has been.
For some reason, EVS can be an emotive subject, with some people dead against them. But at the end of the day, it is just a car, a way to get from A to B. My own feeling is that if I can do that in a more sustainable way, then it has been worth it. If you think you’d like to go on a similar journey, here is my advice, for what it is worth.
Know what your needs are. Consider the mileage you do and the pattern of use. What range would you actually need for the majority of your journeys? Don’t make assumptions about EVS and what they can offer before you find out the facts.
Think about how you would charge a car. Can you charge at home? Where is your car parked? Does your workplace have a charger? Find out where the public chargers in your area are ( use apps- Zapmaps and Plugshare are great and show rapids and fast/slower ones)
Ask questions. EV drivers are often more than happy to answer them ( I am, please do get in touch) . We often know most about the car we drive though, so bear in mind we have limitations.
Learn more from forums, YouTube channels, Facebook pages and people who have made it their business to get properly informed such as Robert Llewelyn’s Fully Charged (find it on YouTube and subscribe, there are hundreds of episodes going back years, on all things renewable, and a show at Silverstone each year). You will get the most sense and real life experience from people who actually live with them and use them daily, rather than from motoring journalists who take one out for a day or two
Take a test drive, find out if you like them
Look out for local events. There are lots of owners clubs that offer days where they meet up and are happy for people to come and chat to them about their experiences.
Next week we are going to Cornwall on holiday. I will do a daily report, letting you know how we get on regarding use of the car. There are very few rapid chargers in that area, and the ones that are there are on a network I haven’t used yet, so I have had to set up an account with that company and preload a tenner into it. That’s annoying. I have been told that the cottage we are staying at has a garage with power so am hoping we can charge ‘at home’ that week. This is normal life for most EV owners but we get ridiculously excited by plugging our car into a wall socket in a garage. That’s what EV ownership can do to you. I may have put you off for life!
If there’s an interest I will happily keep up a regular ‘diary’ if people want to know more about the regular nuts and bolts of it. Let me know when you get bored
I’ll try and add some photos in the comments