Have plug – will travel

Destination Grange-over-Sands to meet with friends. 182 miles – the Zoe claims a range of 245 miles. You would think it would easily do that – but it actually has an effective range of something under 200 miles.

So we planned a stop at Tebay Services – 150 miles and the battery was by then at 20%. All chargers on the south-bound side are Tesla. So we needed to cross to the Northbound side – taking in a No Entry sign en route. The charger worked once I had stepped into the hedge to avoid the bright sunlight which prevented me from reading the app which controls it. But once it started charging, we found that we were rationed to 45 minutes. So we moved on to Kittering Lake to top up. But the chargers weren’t working there.

And then we went to the underground car park at Booths in Kendal and charged to 100%. Success – at the third attempt!

There are no chargers at all in Grange-over-Sands but our hotel had offered us a three pin socket for our ‘granny charger’. We plugged in and went out for the day. But the Zoe soon sent me a message to say that charging had stopped because someone had taken the plug out!

Our journey home was better. Up the M6 to Booths in Penrith where the car park had chargers available 24 hours. We needed an hour to get to 100%. Tap on the window – car park now closes in an hour – but we had just enough time to get our charge completed

We got home from Penrith with a diversion to pick up grandchildren in Strathaven. 19% battery when we got home.

I’m sorry about this saga. The Zoe is as always swift and silent.
But the public charging network is an amateurish disaster. The range of the car matters – if it would do 400 miles we wouldn’t have any of these problems. But until we have EV’s which will do that, we need an effective, well-maintained charging network. And it just doesn’t exist.

EV’s – the real problem?

We drove 90 miles last Monday in our electric Renault Zoe – along the M8 and the M74 to our weekly child-minding commitment. We came home with 53% still in the battery and we’ll run around locally on that for a day or two before charging overnight at 5p per unit.

The Zoe is smooth, silent and swift. But I’m not completely convinced that this is the future. I suspect it’s like the ‘battle of the formats’ when VHS overcame Betamax in the struggle for a single video recording format. People may talk wistfully about hydrogen power and fuel cell technology. But the investment is going into EV’s and that’s how it’s going to be – regardless of the merits of the issue.

Cost and range are the two big issues in the EV world. Cost is a bit challenging – for people like us who have always run second-hand diesels until they would run no more. But there are remarkable cost savings which offset the up-front cost, Range, as you can see, is not a daily concern. The car claims 245 miles but of course never does anything like that particularly In cold weather when temperature greatly reduces the range. The problem comes when you actually want to go somewhere beyond the immediate range of the battery – my sister in Cambridge or Donegal. That sort of trip requires significant advance planning and quite a bit of extra time. First stop is the Zap-Map which tells you where the charging points are, how fast they are, whether or not they are in service and whether they are currently occupied. Even a brief survey presents a dismal picture. Far too many charge points – particularly off the motorways – are out of service.

Which magazine took aim at this in its April edition. People see the problem as being about the range of the cars – but it is actually as much if not more about the viability of the charging network. There is no single plug format or charging speed. There is limited ability simply to arrive and make a contactless payment – you have to sign up to each charging network in advance. Tesla has installed its own charging network which excludes all other makes. And of course there is the problem that too much of the charging network is out of service anyway.

if the government is serious about a general move to EV’s by 2030, this is going to have to be dealt with – as is the challenge of providing access to home chargers for people who do not have a private driveway.

Until then, people will stay away – or will do as we have done which is to run a second car alongside an EV – open to the accusation of ‘virtue signalling’

Can I make a difference

I’m not a climate warrior. But gradually I have been becoming sensitised to the climate emergency. I’ve been reading and reviewing books like Naomi Klein’s ‘This changes everything’ and they have shifted my outlook. I’ve always been a cyclist. Sadly during the last years before I retired my travels around the Anglican Communion meant that I had a terrible carbon footprint. But in Scotland I tried to use train and bus as much as I could.

One of the things which went deep for me was the Volkswagen ‘dieselgate’ scandal. In our extended family, we have had many VW’s – Passat Estates and Golfs – admired their reliability and solidity. My most recent Golf also been one of the most economical and lowest in emissions – until I found that it wasn’t.

One of the changes we have made has been to replace Alison’s 16 year old and 180000 mile Golf with a new Renault Zoe electric car. I’ll write about that in future postings. We felt that it was one of the actions which we could take in the face of the climate challenge.

But the question that troubles me is always the same – about whether any actions which I take as an individual are ever going to make any difference. Will there be fewer wildfires in California and floods in New South Wales? Will the polar bears on their ice floes rise up and salute us? In other words, is this just ‘virtue signalling’ or is it a real contribution?

I’ll write some more about living with an EV, about the shambles which is the charging network [as described in the most recent edition of Which April 2021]. And of course the big question remains about whether the future really is electric ….