Heather's Electric Journey

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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)

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. Take a test drive, find out if you like them

  6. 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 :grinning:

I’ll try and add some photos in the comments

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Pulling in a freebie

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Love the photo! Can I put it at the bottom of your topic?

Diary: Saturday This week Jamie and I are off to Cornwall for a week’s break. We haven’t been there yet in this car, and the charging network is not great, but we try to not let the car stop us doing things. In the past, it has always worked out ok.

Hopefully then, the journal of this week away in an EV will be really boring, with nothing going wrong, but you never know! I’ll try to give an idea of the practical issues.

I charged up fully yesterday (Friday) so we would have one less charge to do on the trip down. The battery can get a bit hot with a lot of rapid charges. This took nearly an hour as the last few cells always take longer to fill up. I don’t usually charge to 100% if I’m waiting with the car for this reason, but I wanted a nice full battery to start my journey with. I used the time to call my dad, check my emails and go for a walk. This was on a charger at my place of work, but is open to the public. It is on the Hubsta network, and you need to have an account with them, you use an RFID card to start and end the charge, and they invoice monthly and take the money by direct debit.

So we started off today with 98% on the dashboard.

We try to use the same route we would take if we didn’t have to worry about charging, so today our first stop was at Tiverton services where we had some lunch while charging to 100%. The chargers were on the Ecotricity network, which I use a lot. Some of their pumps are quite old now and not always reliable, but they also give out free vends regularly. You need their app to access the pumps, and have to have an account set up with them, and payment goes out from your bank in this way.

Then across country to Barnstaple for a quick top up to 90%. This would give us comfortably enough charge when we arrived at Bude, in case the wall socket was not use-able for any reason. This pump was with a newer network called Instavolt. They allow you to pay directly with your bank card and it’s a lot simpler. Like this one, their pumps are often situated on petrol stations. Today, a Tesla driver was charging at one pump, and had completely blocked us from using the parking space for the other pump, so we had to check with the garage that we could then park in a different space which was blocking other users.

The trip included lots of hills, which eat into the battery on the way up, but then regain charge on the way down, especially as we drove in a mode which maximises the regenerative braking. It was filthy weather, and we had all the wipers, lights and heating on, and driving into strong wind too. You’ll see from the stats below how varied the prices are on the networks, and why charging at home is so much cheaper! The variation in times is to do with the speed at which the pumps deliver the charge. All of these are on the ‘rapid’ chargers, which go up to 50kwh, but as you can see, the rates do vary.

Starting mileage: 27644

Fri: Charge 35-97% - 20kwh - 60 mins - £ 4.73 Hubsta 24p p/kwh

Sat: Charge 36-100% - 18kwh - 40 mins - £2.79 Ecotricity 15p p/kwh

Charge 62 -90 %- 9kwh -15 mins - £2.97 Instavolt 35p p/kwh

Arrived with 57% left. Charging now overnight at cottage at 16.5p/kWh (will pay owners for what we use at the end of the week), and put that cost at the end week.

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After a night of wild weather , we woke to sunshine and a fully charged car in the garage. This is the norm for many EV drivers who charge overnight at home and start each day at 100%. It is a novelty for us though.

We had booked Sunday lunch at a nearby pub and took a drive into Bude first for a coffee with the papers, our Sunday morning ritual.

Jamie has a bad foot so I drove. We usually have to negotiate who’s driving these days. He only really has the weekends and holidays to get behind the wheel, and we both love driving the Leaf, so it’s often a bit of a tussle.

One thing that is very noticeable, are the wind turbines and solar farms, and we were encouraged to see these. The house we’re staying in has a couple of solar panels on the roof, so we really are driving on renewable energy this week.

As the foot needs to rest this afternoon, in front of the footie, I will take myself for a wee walk and get in some steps , while the weather is good.

Car is back in the garage charging up for tomorrow, as we used a whopping 21% on our journey today.

View from the window of nearby solar farms, while Leafy guzzles some electrons

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Not much EV action today as the foot is still poorly, restricting movement.
We did manage to hobble out for lunch though, and found a rapid charger in a car park. This is the one we would have been using if we couldn’t have charged at the cottage. As you’ll see, it’s on the Geniepoint network, which needs an RFID card or app to start, and is quite expensive.

You pay £1 just to plug it in and connect, then 30p pkwh. You also have to pay to park while charging, which is cheeky because it’s like paying to park while filling up with petrol.

Still, at least there is a charger to use. However, checking on Plugshare, shows that the last time someone used it in September, it was broken, so to rely on this one would be taking a bit of a risk.

I may use it later in the week, as I want to try out this network and I could update Plugshare if it works. Depends if I feel like spending a couple of pounds extra to do this.

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What a great story! Thanks for sharing :grinning:

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Tuesday: The foot has been feeling better today, so we’ve been able to go further afield and do some walking.

Starting off with a full charge is a lovely feeling and we planned a trip to see a stone circle and Neolithic burial chamber around 40 miles away. We can usually get around 90-120 miles on a charge, so had no problems managing this distance.

We got back with 11% left on the battery, and a gentle but persistent voice telling us that our battery level was low and we might like to find a charger. Usually we need to be heading to a rapid charger somewhere ‘out there’, and there’s always a moment of jeopardy until the pump actually works. However, today we put the foot to the floor and made the last few miles with confidence.

So with no disasters to titillate you with, I will report on something that makes a journey unpredictable, and in this part of the country is particularly pertinent, and that is the effect of hills on the battery usage.

Going up them uses extra power. No different to an ICE car, but with an EV you see your battery level reducing in front of your eyes. It was really worrying the first time it happened. However, now I appreciate that what goes up must come down, and so you get the payback. For example, there is a steep hill not far from where I live. From the top of this hill, I can drive for 5 miles on regenerative braking power. So if I start at 70%, my battery level increases as power is created by driving downhill, and it takes 5 miles to get back to the original 70%.

Our trip today took us up many very steep slopes, and we wondered at one point if we would get back without needing a top up. But the magic of the downhills worked well.

Another thing I love is the ease of driving up steep and winding hills, as there are no gears to faff about with, so you can smoothly slow down or speed up.

So I think it’s one of those things that you don’t think about in an ICE car, but do need to consider in an EV. You need to take account of the weather, terrain and driving style as they’ll all affect your range. Until you get used to this, and understand how to manage it, your ‘range anxiety’ might be triggered.

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Wednesday:

There are some adverts going around at the moment, highlighting the idea that in a few years time, electric cars will just be known as ‘cars’. They will be the norm.

Well today’s adventure highlighted that fact, as the tyre pressure warning light illuminated this morning, and I pumped up the tyre at a local petrol garage.

It then came back on a few hours later, so we had a hairy 15 mile drive in the howling wind and with sleet hitting the windscreen, till we reached the nearest tyre supplier.

With only half an hour to closing time, they found a pretty large nail in our rear tyre, and fitted a replacement tyre straight away. We had been planning on going for the longest lasting tyres we could find when it came to replacement time, so as to reduce the particulates that emit from the tyres.

This one was apparently about 'half worn ’ after 27000 miles (I have no idea if that is good or not), and we just had to go for the best they had without any shopping around. This turned out to be a Michelin , a direct like-for-like for the old one.

So all good intentions came to nought, such is life. And sometimes the car is just a car.

Thursday: The only action down here today is wild, wet and windy. A short trip for coffee and provisions that has been using around 15% of the battery used 22% this morning, and the weather is the only difference.

We have found a DVD set of Live Aid in the cottage, and that is now providing a nostalgic backdrop to an afternoon in.