The Pain of Public Charging 3

Dead charge point at Weston-on-the-Green (Image: T. Larkum)
Dead charge point at Weston-on-the-Green (Image: T. Larkum)

I have written a number of times recently of the issues I’ve encountered when trying to use public charging points (e.g. Excellent Adventure, Bogus Journey, ZOE Promises 100, Pain of Public Charging 2) but the pain continues. Last Sunday I took the family for the first time in the ZOE to visit the in-laws. They live in Kidlington near Oxford and the distance is about 45 miles each way.

Even though the ZOE can manage 100+ miles when coaxed, its range is nearer 70 miles at speed and therefore a charge en route was the prudent approach. As usual for a new route I investigated the options available using Open Charge Map and Zap-Map. I came up with Plan A being the Ecotricity 43kW fast charger at Peartree roundabout, with Plan B (in case the Plan A charger was out of action) being the charger at the Nissan dealer in Kidlington, and Plan C being the 7kW charger at Weston-on-the-Green Little Chef just outside Kidlington.

Since the Plan C location was on the way, on the A34, we actually called in there first. We found a charge point looking neglected in the car park and parked up. It didn’t take long to realise it wasn’t powered up. I went into the restaurant to talk to the staff. Although the lady at reception seemed more interesting in offering me a restaurant booking than answering my questions about the charge point, she did tell me that the charge point was due to be removed as the restaurant had undergone a change of management to become the ‘Eat & Go’. Not a very encouraging attitude.

After delivering the family to Kidlington I headed out to Peartree. To cut a long story short, I found the Ecotricity fast charger with no problem near the main services building. It worked fine and recharged the car in about 40 minutes, during which I looked around the services shops and sat and read. In fact I came out of the shops just in time to see a Nissan LEAF pull away from the other side of the charger – I hadn’t noticed it before so I wonder if it had just parked there without charging. We exchanged waves!

Fast charging at Peartree (Image: T. Larkum)
Fast charging at Peartree (Image: T. Larkum)

Towards the end of the charge the ZOE spent about 10 minutes showing 99% charge so eventually I got impatient and disconnected from the charger. That caused an error on the charger and I had to reswipe my access card to reset it, but no harm done.

Now fully charged and feeling more confident I decided to investigate the Plan B charger just out of interest. I found the Nissan garage fine, with its large Chademo charger and two low power chargers. They were all blocked in by LEAFs that were plugged in to charge. By this time on Sunday afternoon the garage was closed so I couldn’t have accessed the chargers; however, I imagine in office hours the staff would have been co-operative.

LEAFs charging at Nissan Kidlington (Image: T. Larkum)
LEAFs charging at Nissan Kidlington (Image: T. Larkum)

I was interested to find a Renault garage with charger opposite the Nissan one. This seemed odd as the Nissan one shows on charge maps but not the Renault one. Perhaps it just indicates that the Renault one is newer.

Renault Kidlington with charger at left (Image: T. Larkum)
Renault Kidlington with charger at left (Image: T. Larkum)

Our experiences of the Weston charger (showing on charge maps but not working) and the Renault charger (working but not showing on charge maps) seem to be typical of the patchy state of the charger infrastructure in the UK at present. We have a remarkably broad and dense network of chargers across the country given the current low uptake of EVs. It compares well with the US, for example, which has far poorer provision of public chargers yet much greater sales of EVs.

However the potential of the UK charger point network is severely blunted by the support it receives – charge points are often not working, and there are many instances of chargers not being shown on public maps, or being shown on public maps but not yet having been actually installed. It’s the usual muddle-through approach – politicians want to be seen to be supporting EVs but they don’t follow-through. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised since politicians never actually seem to drive EVs themselves, a typical case of ‘do as I say not as I do’.