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Those that have traveled to the UK in their EV have probably used an Ecotricity rapid charger at a motorway service station. Almost a year ago Ecotricity introduced 'charging for charging’ on their Electric Highway, after being free to use for five years.

When charging was introduced in the summer of 2016 they chose to go a £6 fee for 30 minutes. A 'one size fits all' approach. This was welcomed by some as it would reduce the likelihood of drivers hogging the charge points or using them if they didn't really need to. Due to the increase in EV numbers in the UK these rapid chargers can often be very busy. Others were angry  as the pricing didn't charge by the Kwh but by time. On a slower charging vehicle, or depending on other factors that affect charge rates, the cost could be calculated at more that running an ICE vehicle. To say the introduction of the charging model divided opinion is an understatement, but it had been free for 5 years while the network grew and it is a commercial charging network that needs to pay for itself.

The £6 for 30 minutes was always a temporary solution and Ecotricity did say they would monitor usage and update their systems so a more sophisticated and flexible charging system could be introduced. The main issue they have to deal with is fixed time period charging and the different amounts of energy that various vehicles can use in that time. The pricing model also needs to reflect the cost of installing and running the infrastructure, not just the cost of energy. They have tried to separate the cost of energy from the cost of providing the service.

From the 26th June 2017 there will be a £3 connection fee for all sessions and energy will be charged at 17p per Kwh (unit), similar to what many people pay on-peak at home and similar to the cost here on the Isle of Man. Ecotricity customers won't pay the connection fee but that obviously doesn't apply to Isle of Man residents.

Ecotricity state that the new model will typically be lower for all makes and models of EV and will reflect the amount of energy used better. They have also increased the maximum charge time to 45 minutes.

Remember that to use the chargers you will need to download the Electric Highway smart phone app (available for Android and iPhone). For more information see EVIOM's Useful Links page. To contact Ecotricity email fortheroad@ecotricity.co.uk or call 01453 761455.

Here's a quick update on Ecotricity and thier rapid chargers at IKEA stores accross the UK. From today (14/11/16) they will no longer be free and will have the same £6 for 30 minute fee as the rest of thier network. IKEA are offering a £6 discount in store by showing your email receipt that same day.

Email from Ecotricity below:

We just wanted to remind you that, from today, our pumps at IKEA stores are no longer free to use.

We’re updating the pumps throughout the morning, after which they’ll be in line with the rest of the network – at £6 for a 30 minute charge.

In order to continue encouraging customers to use sustainable modes of transport, IKEA will be running a promotion for their customers who charge at one of their stores. From today, you can receive a £6 discount on your in store purchase made on the same day as your charge by simply showing your email payment receipt at the IKEA checkout, subject to IKEA terms and conditions.

For more information about this, please visit the IKEA website.

If you’ve any questions, just give us a call on 01453 761455 or simply reply to this email.

Thanks for being with us.

The Electric Highway Team

Source: Ecotricity customer email and http://www.ikea.com/gb/en/ikea/electric-vehicle-charging/

electric-highway-app_largeSome EVIOM readers and subscribers may have in their EVs glove box an Ecotricity RFID card. Since 2011 this card gave you access to Ecotricity's Electric Highway, a network of rapid chargers or "Electricity Pumps" on Britain's motorway network, Ikea car parks and expanding on to A roads. Since 2011 these "pumps" have been free to use as long as you have their RFID which was also posted out to you for free! Not only this but Ecotricity only generate electricity from renewable sources.

This all sounds too good to be true for anyone moving from an expensive and dirty horseless carriage powered by prehistoric hydrocarbons. (Sorry, I'm getting off the point). Ecotricity have built up an impressive network of rapid chargers and I, along with thousands of others, have enjoyed many miles for free driving smug in the knowledge that whatever I've put into my car has been generated without burning any fossil fuels. As EVs and PHEVs gained popularity the charge points became very much in demand and reports of other drivers "ICEing" or EV/PHEV owners leaving their vehicles unattended and blocking others from using them. Early adopters happily created and adhered to an etiquette of not overstaying your welcome, not using the rapid charger if you didn't need to or if someone else's need was greater than yours. It's safe to say that plug-in vehicles have progressed beyond those early adopters and enthusiasts into the mainstream.

The free system is great but it couldn't continue forever and last week Ecotricity emailed Electric Highway card holders to inform them that from Monday 11th July they will begin to upgrade their "pumps" enabling them to begin to charge for a charge. They expect to have the role-out completed by the 5th August.

Although we knew this was coming we didn't know what the cost would be or how it would be charged. The price Ecotricity has decided upon is £5 for a 20 minute charge. Their reasoning for both the price and time limit are detailed in their Charging FAQ. The main points seem to focus around people not monopolising the charge points and pricing to match the cost of petrol/diesel. In my opinion I'm not sure they have struck the right balance. Different EVs charge at different rates and as the battery becomes "full" the charge rate drops off. Charging per KWh would seem a fairer approach but I agree that a time limit does need to be imposed to stop those  charge point hogs. Twenty minutes, however, may not be enough for most people who need as much as possible to get to the next charger or their destination, thirty minutes would seem more appropriate. If we began charging our 24KWh Nissan Leaf when it only has 10% left I think we'd struggle to get passed 60% in 20 minutes, realistically giving us another 40 to 50 miles of motorway driving. The extra 10 minutes would take us to 80% meaning fewer stops. Above 80% a slow charger is as effective as a rapid.

You do have the option of starting another 20 minutes session but this would cost you another £5 and take your total time charging to 40 minutes. I don't know about you  but I had paid for the extra 20 minutes I wouldn't be cutting it short even if there was a queue. Remember that that last 20% will be much slower that the first 80%.

Those that switch their home energy supplier to Ecotricity will continue to get rapid charging for free. This, of course, isn't an option for Isle of Man residents or anyone else visiting the UK. Another issue potentially being a problem for visitors from the Isle of Man is that the new system relies on an app on your smartphone. So you'll need an Apple or Android phone (no Windows phone app), data roaming or a UK SIM.

The Electric Highway is still a great service if you're traveling on the UK's motorways and is slowly expanding into the rest of the roads and I'm sure that as subsidies from the UK government and the EU dry up the network needs to start paying for itself. The increase of plug-in cars on the roads also means the network needs to expand at existing locations and grow to plug (no pun intended) those gaps in the country that are difficult to get to for EV drivers. I just feel the pricing structure is wrong. With the range of modern EVs it does take longer to drive long distances than a petrol or diesel car, if it costs the same too I fear many people will be put off the switch to electric. Longer range cars and faster charging rates are just around the corner but it leaves those drivers with cars manufactured in the last 5 years paying more and stopping more frequently than owners of cars bought in the next two years or so.

Update:
Interview on BBC's You & Yours covering this subject with Ecotricty Electric Highway's Dale Vince: http://bbc.in/29b6Efn. He confirms a change of £6 for a 30 minute charge.

After the problem with the Topaz rapid charger, we decided that the next day we would head into Dublin City Centre using the Luas (tram). Nearby was Red Cow Park & Ride which has 4 EV charging bays. You have to pay for parking but it was fairly cheap and we would have had to pay whether charging or not. After the now common circumnavigation of the car park looking for the chargers I pulled into the first space, the other three were also empty. Unfortunately this one was faulty and wouldn't recognise my cable so I moved the car to another bay. Scanning your ecars RFID card opens the flap allowing you to plug in, then after a few seconds it starts charging (remember to cancel the charge timer on the car).

This wasn't a rapid charger but as we would be parking all day before returning on the Luas the length of time it took to charge was irrelevant. I calculated that the car would be around full by the time we returned. It was a simple process and if you have to pay for parking anyway why not charge at the same time. I wasn't sure of the etiquette if parking all day but I figured that a charger located at a park & ride was intended to be used like this.

Given that we had a few full days planned in the city and a trip to an out-of-town shopping centre, slow charging was the best option. We used the Pay & Display at Hueston Station and one at at the Dundrum Shopping Centre. It struck me as odd in Dundrum that two dual port chargers were installed but each only served one space. The one we parked in had a pillar next to it meaning a second car could never connect to it.


It was back to Rapid charging on our trip north for a couple of days in Belfast, before getting the boat home. We were visiting the neolithic site of Newgrange on the way and there is no charging in the visitors' car park, so we had to have a quick 10 minute top up at a rapid charger near Ashbourne to ensure we could get to the next rapid on our way up the M1 later that day. We arrived at the Castlebellingham services before the "low battery charge" warning sounded, plugged in, had a cuppa and the kids had a play in the soft play area. Incidentally, if anyone comes across a small scruffy looking pink teddy bear at these services let me know! Pinky may have had her final road trip.

Moving north, I calculated we had exactly enough to get us to our hotel in Belfast's Titanic Quarter. As the rain got worse and the headwind took it's toll our indicated range exactly matched our remaining journey distance of 12 miles so we chickened out and pulled into Sprucefield Shopping Centre and hunted down the ecarsNI rapid charger. What was supposed to be a 10 minute "splash and dash" turn into a full charge. I think it had something to do with the giant M&S!

After that full charge we had enough for a run round Belfast to the Ulster Museum (worth a visit by the way, as is the Titanic Exhibition) and our drive home. We didn't charge on the boat as we had enough to get home. Once again the Leaf was faultless and we didn't have any real stress regarding range. If chargers are working, and you can find them, using them is simple. Driving around Dublin the car used very little juice and we managed to achieve an extra 0.5M/KWh than at home despite the extra load of shopping and souvenirs. Given the experience I'd have no worries about planning a trip further around Ireland in the near future.

It's worth noting though that ESB ecars will be introducing a charge for charging in the future but it's unclear how much it will cost. Previous plans had to be scrapped due to overwhelming objections. Ecotricity are also rumoured to be introducing a cost to use their chargers at some point as well. It's one to keep an eye on but as long as it's still cheaper than liquid fuel and it helps to improve and maintain the infrastructure then I'm sure most people won't object. It's a tough balance for ESB and Ecotricty to strike as people have been getting the service for free for so long but users are crying out for better reliability and more charge points.

Despite a very busy and rough crossing to Heysham our drive down to Holyhead went without incident. We had no problem with Ecotricity's rapid chargers. That particular route (M6, A55) is abundant with rapids so I knew we had a backup plan should we come across a faulty one. There was no charging on the Stenaline vessel (but I do believe that one of the Irish Ferries vessels has charging onboard) but we didn't need it as we charged to 94% at Holyhead ferry terminal before boarding.

We've had two days in Dublin so far and the car is down to 45%, 10% of which was driving round looking for a rapid charger at a nearby Topaz petrol station. Unfortunately the charger was faulty (I'm not sure what the problem was as the on-screen error was in French). After calling ESB ecars I worked out that this was an older charger, common in Topaz stations (CHAdeMO only), that they don't have remote access to so couldn't resolved the issue remotely. The guy on the phone did try to direct me to the nearest rapid charger and he was very helpful to be honest. We called it quits as we were late for dinner with our hosts so decided to find a charge the following morning.

The next day we ventured out to do a little bit of bank holiday shopping before visiting family. I realised that we were close to Nissan Ireland headquarters and they have a rapid charger. We charged for 25 minutes which brought us up to 70%. This is the first time I've used an official Nissan charger. The a DBT charger, the same as used by Ecotricity, but it seems to me to be a lot slower than ones I've used before. Maybe this is due to the power available to it I'm not sure.

We've used most of the power gained from this mornings top-up. Due to the flat flowing roads we've been on we seem to have been very efficient with our energy, that coupled with the number of CPs that keep popping up on the SatNav I haven't been worried about range at all. This could have something to do with changing the dash to kilometers so my brain thinks I have more.

Tomorrow is another first. I'm going to try a Park + Ride and take the Luas (tram) into the city. The Park + Ride has 4 SCPs (Slow Charge Points). I'm not sure what the etiquette is here, the car will be parked for the best part of the day but it seems to me that SCPs at this type of location are designed to used in such a way. Assuming I can get into one of the spaces I apologies in advance if any local EV drivers think I'm hogging the space.

On the subject of local EV drivers I advise anyone traveling to Ireland in their EV to check out the Irish EV Owners Facebook group. I've found people on there more than helpful and the group has a very positive and friendly vibe to it.

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