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Owning and Running an Electric Car

Some information which might be useful for anyone considering an electric car - our experience as at January 2021.

Buying an electric car

The capital cost of an electric car is still greater than that of a conventional vehicle, but the costs are coming down rapidly, and are expected to be similar to a fossil fuel car within a few years. In Scotland as of January 2021, you can apply for an interest free 6 year loan from the Scottish Government, funded through Transport Scotland. If you time it right, this goes into your bank account before you have to pay for the car.

Leasing an electric car

Another possibility is to lease an electric car. You never own it, and the monthly repayments can be almost as expensive as buying it with the interest free car loan. However, it is a more flexible solution as you might not have to lease it for very long, e.g. 3 years, so it might suit some people.
Octopus Energy offer business leasing, and for domestic customers who lease a Nissan Leaf in south-east England, the Powerloop vehicle to grid system is available on a trial basis.
Powerloop requires you to plug in your leased Nissan Leaf at night before 6pm and at least till 5am. During that time, your car's battery may be used to support the grid during the evening peak, then later recharged when excess power is available in the middle of the night. See Powerloop.

Running Costs

The running costs of an electric car are less than a fossil fuel one, because the electricity costs less than petrol or diesel, and servicing is easier and cheaper. Already, the difference in the total cost of ownership over several years of an electric versus a fossil fuel car is quite small. Electric cars with a decent specification seem to be holding their value well.

We chose a Renault Zoe ZE50 with a rapid charging facility on board because it seemed the best range and the fastest charging for the money. If considering a long journey, it is essential to have rapid charging capability on the car, and for long journeys to be able to use either CCS or CHAdeMO public chargers (the type depends on the type of car - e.g. the Renault Zoe uses CCS and a Nissan leaf uses CHAdeMO). Both types of public charger are commonly available.

Range

The Zoe is supposed to do 238 miles on one charge, according to the WLTP cycle. In the summer when it was at its most economical, it was doing 5 miles per kilowatt hour in town, as you drive slowly and as every time you decelerate, it recovers energy into the battery.
If you multiply 5 by the battery capacity of 52kWhr, you get an calculated summer range of 260 miles, which being more than the WLTP range is over-optimistic, and has come down over tine, depending on the type of driving. In the winter, with the heater on and a cold battery, it is less than 4 miles per kWhr, and the range estimated by the car is about 190 miles if driven gently for local journeys, but almost certainly less on the motorway, probably 160 miles. Because of Covid-19 travel restrictions, we have done almost no motorway driving in the winter as yet, so we can't confirm an exact figure. It helps the range if you pre-heat the car while it is plugged in, then you use the heater less while driving.

Charging at Home

Where possible, charging is done mostly at home using a charging point, in our case in our garage and installed by BP Chargemaster as part of the car purchase. You need a garage or a driveway to install a home charger. Your electricity supplier will probably have a cheap rate in the middle of the night, for example Octopus Energy has the Octopus Go tariff which gives a 4 hour window from 12.30 am to 4.30 am, during which you pay only 4.7 pence per kWhr (other more expensive tariffs are available). You simply program the car to charge during the cheap rate time, plug it in, and leave it to get on with it.

Public Charging

When going on a round trip of more than 200 miles, you will need public charging. You can buy an RFID Card from ChargePlace Scotland, which costs £20, lasts for a year, and gives you access to a large number of mostly free charge points, many of them rapid chargers. To test out public charging for the first time, we went to the Riverside Museum where there is a free ChargePlace Scotland rapid charger, and to the Crowne Plaza to test out what is now called the BP Pulse network. Both worked. There are many different companies which provide public chargers.

The My Renault App

This app is available for Android or Apple smartphones.
Although it has a number of other functions, it is most useful for checking the car's range and percent charged while it is plugged in at a public charger but you are somewhere else, starting or stopping charging remotely at home, or starting the pre-conditioning which warms the car up for you in the winter.

Our Electric adventure to England

We had ordered the car in December 2019. Because its availability had been delayed till July 2020 due to the Covid-19 outbreak, there was plenty of time to research public charging points.
After 3 weeks of ownership, and a relaxation of lockdown restrictions, it was time to visit family in Nottinghamshire and Oxfordshire. We charged up fully overnight at home, and started mid morning in late August with a reported 235 miles of range. The idea was to charge up whenever the range dropped below 100 miles, to allow flexibility for broken or unavailable chargers.

Ecotricity charging point at Gretna services

Ecotricity charging point at Gretna services

By the time we got to Gretna Green, it was time for lunch, so we drove into the service area wondering what the situation would be. We needn't have worried - the Ecotricity chargers were both available, but only one had a CCS rapid charging cable, and the other was too slow to be useful on a long journey. I followed the instructions on the charger screen, started the Ecotricity App on my phone and plugged in the car. After talking to the car, it started charging. The App told us the rate of charging and the cost, and emailed me a receipt when we finished charging - 47 minutes of charging for £5.13, from 162 miles of range to 238 miles. If that hadn't worked, plan B was to try another charger in Gretna village, or the next ones down the road at Todhills rest area, on the A69 in Carlisle, Southwaite Services, or Booths or Morrisons in Penrith, or the Rheged Centre on the A66 outside Penrith.

Then it was down the M6, and across the Pennines on the A66, (being careful to avoid Barnard Castle as my eyes were fine). From Scotch Corner, it was a short hop to Wetherby, where we knew there was a free Engie charger at the Cluster of Nuts car park. After a 10 minute wait while a Nissan Leaf finished charging, we plugged in again and went to Morrison's. The range increased from 99 to 232 miles in just over an hour while we had our tea. If that hadn't worked, there were several other Engie chargers in Yorkshire (free until October 2021), and many others.

The rest of the journey consisted of an overnight stop with relatives in Nottinghamshire, then in the morning it was on down the M1, where after a 15 minute wait (for a Nissan Leaf to finish charging), we charged up from 85 to 212 miles, for £5.88. If that hadn't worked, there are plenty of chargers in Milton Keynes, including at the Milton Keynes Coachway (bus station) just off the M1. We now had enough range to get to near Wallingford in South Oxfordshire, where we were staying.

Engie charging point at the Cluster of Nuts car park, Wetherby

Engie charging point at the Cluster of Nuts car park, Wetherby
PodPoint Charging point at Lidl Wallingford

PodPoint Charging point at Lidl Wallingford

On the way back, we tried the west coast route. After charging up the previous night at a PodPoint charger at Lidl in Wallingford, there was more than enough range to get to Norton Canes on the M6 Toll, where nobody was waiting at the charger and we charged up while having a coffee from 124 miles range to 89% or 210 miles range in 45 minutes, free - thanks Ecotricity!

So it was on to try our luck at Charnock Richard services on the M6. This proved to be the only charger problem encountered - Ecotricity's only rapid charger wasn't working. There was a "fast" charger (i.e. a slow charger!) but we ignored that as we didn't want to waste time and had plenty of range, so we went on to Forton (Lancaster) services, where we charged from 95 to 196 miles in 47 minutes, enough time to eat lunch.

On through the Lake District to the last charging point in England - Todhills just before the Scottish border. Another free charge in 51 minutes from 111 to 200 miles, plenty to get home to Glasgow - thanks again Ecotricity! We arrived home with 89 miles of range.

It had taken a bit longer than it would have in a piston car, but this being our first experience of a long journey in an electric car, we were erring on the side of caution. The big plus is that with the Zoe's range of up to 230 miles, it turned out to be a matter of range planning rather than range anxiety.

The future

The challenge for the country now in trying to increase electric car usage is to increase the number of chargers on motorways, where Ecotricity has more or less a monopoly. They have plans to introduce 350kW chargers, but none has yet appeared. They were in this game early, but their old chargers now look rusty, some don't work, some dispense free electricity when they shouldn't, and there aren't enough of them.

Alternative charging places are available, but you would sometimes have to drive off the motorway to reach them, e.g. slightly off the M40 at Banbury is a cluster of rapid chargers run by Instavolt, with another Instavolt cluster at Booths in Garstang off the M6 between Preston and Lancaster. Lidl are doing a big roll-out of Pod Point chargers at many of their stores, which is a good start, but usually just one charger per store - not ideal, as it means that you cannot rely on it.

In the meantime, many other companies (too many to name) are involved in providing chargers. Most of the rapid chargers can now take credit card payment including contactless, and the number of chargers is increasing by the month. Each company has its own website and/or App with maps to guide you to their chargers, and a payment facility on the website or App. Some companies have RFID cards. There is still no overall system, but I expect the position to become simpler over the next few years, as companies and systems are merged.

At the moment, if you are unlucky, you may experience some inconvenience, and it would be wise to plan a long journey in advance. Fortunately, you can enlist the help of Zap-Map, an App and website which works on a smartphone, tablet or computer, where you can get an overall picture of the tens of thousands of charging facilities which there already are in Britain, and give you almost real-time information about their availability. There is a plan for Zap-Map to be available for Android Auto later in 2021, so you will be able to get it on the your car's infotainment screen.

The ideal public charging model seems to be the electric forecourt which has just opened at Braintree in Essex. This has been constructed by Gridserve, and can take up to 36 electric vehicles at once, mostly on rapid chargers, and has a canopy like a petrol station, and facilities such as Booths supermarket, Costa, WH Smiths, toilets and a lounge where you can wait while your car charges. It is the first of 100 such sites planned to open in Britain in the next 5 years. The next one is near Norwich, so not much use for most Scottish people!

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