Peter's Blog

A Shock of EVs

Written by Peter Johnston on .

A shock of evs

I've been pondering what the collective noun should be for a group of electric vehicles. I quite like the idea of a shock of evs. Today I travelled down to Edinburgh for a meeting as part of the Electric Vehicle Association Scotland meeting with representatives from one of the main manufacturers of charging stations, APT Controls Ltd. A very high proportion of the charging points being installed by local councils in Scotland are APT eVolt machines.

After some research that I did on the charging rates of these machines, we realised something was not quite right with the rapid chargers, plus there have been some installation problems that we wanted to properly understand. So, I trekked down from Aberdeen, Doug (pictured above) came down from Perth and Adrian came around the corner, but all three of our cars gathered to charge while we met with the folks from APT.

I have to say, the journey down to Edinburgh and back was very straightforward. I spent a little more than an hour charging each way in addition to the travelling time to cover around 260 miles. The breakdown is beneath the jump.

On the way down I charged for 35 minutes in Dundee to bring the battery from 15% to 57% using one of APTs rapid chargers to add 10kWh of energy (a rate of around 18kW - way below what would be expected, but now we know the reason why... more later), which gave me plenty of range to skip over to Kinross to use one of the new Ecotricity rapid chargers. Here I charged from 19% to 98% in 36 minutes (so it must have been charging around 40kW for the bulk of the charge - exactly what I would expect). This was enough time for two good conversations with people around the charger wanting to know more, then to meet up with Doug and Shona Robertson in their Nissan Leaf. We had a coffee and by the time we came back out the car was at 98%, perfect.

I followed Doug and Shona into Edinburgh where we then plugged in at charging points available at the University. This is the ideal scenario for this kind of trip. While you are working, the car is charging. When we returned I was at 100% with a range of 82 miles. Doug and Shona had a bit less range, but planned to stop at Kinross on their way back northwards. I, on the other hand went straight in one hop back to Dundee, then spent an hour at the same Heathfield Car Park charger to add 17kWh over 65 minutes, going from 27% to 99%. That charge then saw me back home the final 65 miles with plenty to spare. ZOE is charging at Duthie Park's newly fixed charger at this moment! It is good to have that charger back working. Not having it work properly for a couple of weeks has been a right pest.

So what is going on with the APT rapid chargers?

We finally got to the bottom of why the APT rapid chargers are underperforming so much. They are set at a much lower output (for the AC side that I use it is 27A (x3 for the three phase)) prior to commissioning so that when the chargers are being installed and first tested in the installed location that nothing untoward happens with the electricity supply. Once this has been checked, the output is increased up to the level that is available from the electricity supply. This is a considerable current, as both the AC and DC sides of the charger are capable of operating at full capacity at the same time if the available current allows. The problem is that the councils that are installing the rapid chargers are not always following the guidelines on required supply, with the result that the supply is lower than optimum and as the chargers can only provide an output within the scope of the supply provided the end result is a lower rate for confused EV drivers wondering why the box labelled as Rapid is slower than some of the other charging points that are rated at half the capacity.

For the local chargers in Aberdeen this would not seem to be the problem, the issue is rather one of delayed paperwork, and once that is sorted, the chargers should be able to have their output increased. That is good news.

What is not good news is that the chargers that are arguably more crucial, i.e. the chargers that are on main trunk routes, such as the chargers in Laurencekirk, Dundee and in Perth simply do not have enough electricity being supplied to them to be able to operate at full capacity. It has to be recognised that it is no simple task to get such a large power supply in place, but that being said, other councils have managed it. It seems rather bizarre to me that large amounts of money are spent installing these hulking big rapid chargers and then you fail to provide the energy supply required for them to work properly. If I were more cynical, I might suggest that the sparkly illuminated boxes look great on council brochures about how they are protecting the environment, and we'll save a few pounds by crippling them from working properly for the people that need them with insufficient energy supply. Most councils install the chargers themselves, rather than having APT install them. It saves money to do so, but the results are not quite what one might expect.

It seems to me that both Transport Scotland and the councils involved need to wise up and sort this out. It is a nonsense.

The reason, I assume, that the Ecotricity chargers are not affected in the same way is because they will be organising the machine, installation and electricity supply all together, following the requirements of the charger to the letter, rather than having a number of different involved bodies, which inevitably leads to complications and confusion. That this is a relatively new industry does not help, no doubt, but we saw the guidelines produced by APT and they are pretty clear.

Another issue we raised with APT was over installations. There are no problems in Aberdeen, but the Perth Broxden roundabout rapid chargers have been a disgrace. They were not properly installed by the council according to the guidelines given by APT, and as a result one of them was pulled over last year. From what I hear, it had not even been bolted down, but was just sitting there reliant on its considerable bulk to keep it in place, with just the supply cable below it acting as a tether. Truly incredibly shoddy work by Perth and Kinross Council.

So, we will see how things develop. Personally, I am hoping for more of the Ecotricity rapid chargers to make their way northwards. One more between the current Stirling and Kinross chargers and Aberdeen would make life much easier, and much faster. Though I do hope APT and Transport Scotland can push on the councils to get the chargers they are installing with our money to work properly.

It is hotting up...

ZOE Dashboard

One thing I have noticed is that as the weather warms up, I am starting to see a very noticeable improvement in range. Alas it has turned cold again over the last few days, but during the warmer weather around 14C a week or so ago, I managed over 90 miles between charges. After topping up the battery the range-o-meter showed the improved range. Indeed, for one of the charges I think I could have just about got to 100 miles, but I had to charge up prior to getting there as I needed a full battery for the following day. I think when it gets a bit warmer  that will be readily possible - it is my automotive challenge at the moment! The increased range was helped by some rural runs and some careful driving in ECO mode. Alas motorways and high speeds are a real energy sap. Nonetheless, it is a good sign for the coming months.

On a downside, wind is a killer! And not that kind of wind... Last Friday I headed down to Perth for the meeting with APT to find that there had been a mixup over dates. So it was an aborted journey, and I turned around to head home. After my good successes with driving over 90 miles on a charge, I thought I would go straight down from Aberdeen to Perth cutting across country at Forfar to miss out Dundee. It is about 80 miles. No problems. However, it was much colder, and I was fighting against a strong head wind as I went South. This makes a huge difference. There was no way I was going to make it to Perth. My average was around 3 miles per kWh going South. But, when I turned around and headed North that figure went up to 3.7 miles per kWh, so I must have been getting more like 4 as that average was for the total journey. The car is pretty aerodynamically designed, but that strong headwind really makes the difference. When you are travelling at higher speeds, wind resistance is the biggest source of energy drain and that journey really clarified that for me.

So, travelling with the wind to your back is not just for sailing, it also is great for stretching that EV range!

On a very positive note, I am doing far more miles than I expected in the wee ZOE. This is clearly good news for the environment, as the more miles we are doing in the Renault over the diesel Citroën is all to the good. In the ten weeks that I have had ZOE I have already covered 2,500 miles. As a result, I have had to up the mileage allowance on the lease for the battery pack! These longer journeys are part of the reason, but longer journeys in an EV are so incredibly cheap (make that £0 for today's journey) that even though it is a bit slower than taking a diesel car, the trade off is one worth making.

That's enough EV news for the week. Vive la revolution!