First Longer Journey

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So far I have found the day to day use of the Leaf to be really straightforward, enjoyable and without any real problems. This is due to three factors, that I have a place where I can easily and safely charge the car – my garage, that I am able to charge it at work meaning I am not limited to just work and back but can make a journey after work and that my journey to work is around 18 miles. These things mean that you do not get the dreaded “range anxiety” and you do not feel limited by the way the car operates.

However today I have moved into the realm of the longer journey. This throws up some new challenges.

My journey was from Bristol, where I live, to Newbury 60 miles down the M4. I charged last night to 100% (usually 80% is used for battery longevity) and set off this morning headed east. The temperature was 9 deg C. On the dash is a readout which estimates the range remaining with the current battery charge and power consumption, it is affectionately called the GOM or Guess-o-meter. The reason for the humour is similar to the “microsoft minutes” that are estimated when copying files in windows – it just isn’t possible to be totally accurate. My GOM read 60 miles, as I left Bristol for my 60 mile trip to Newbury, with my partner and our 4 month old baby on board!

Deciding that it is much less energy intensive to travel at 55-60mph rather than 70-80mph I set my cruise control and the journey began. It was all going smoothly until we passed Swindon and the GOM was reading 20 miles range with 18 actual miles left to travel. Feeling nervous about this I decided to stop at Membury services where an Ecotricity charging station is located. These are the rapid chargers which charge to 80% in 30 minutes from 0%. However I did not know where such chargers are normally located, having never attempted to charge an EV at a motorway services before. I presumed they would be near the petrol station and having decided not to pull into the car parking area realised that at Membury services there is no facility to go back from the petrol station area to the car park, all roads being one-way. So I had to head back out onto the motorway believing I had insufficient range to reach my destination. This is where the range anxiety begins coupled irritatingly with knowing you’ve ended up in this situation by being ignorant.

However armed with this knowledge that the chargers are, predictably, in the car park near the entrance where they usually are (I originally thought this was for eco-prestige reasons but now realise that as with most things it’s actually for the entirely unglamorous reason of keeping the cable run to the charger short – to save money and reduce voltage-drop) I was confident that at the next services, Chievely, there would be no such repeat. And indeed there was not, we located the charger which was unoccupied and plugged in and got a 15% boost (enough to get us into and out of nearby Newbury) within just 10 minutes.

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After that we went to Newbury came back to the same charger, filled it up to 86% (can’t quite let go of the old terminology like filling up!) which gave us time to go into the services, use the loo, buy some snacks and change the baby. Which took almost exactly the 26 minutes it took to charge. This is reassuring, it really does not take long to charge. Also these chargers are free! On the second charge I parked next to an identical red Nissan Leaf, curiously despite EV’s being a few years old now people still come over and have a look including practically a coach-load of older persons who fancied a gander. I actually quite like this, having driven some odd cars before it is not unfamiliar and it’s nice that people take an interest.

We headed back onto the motorway and again ran into the issue of having fewer miles remaining on the GOM than we needed to travel so another quick 5 minutes boost charge at Leigh Delamere services and we got home with 20 miles left on the GOM.

So all in all there are quite a few stops involved at least with my car and in colder weather with lights/wipers/heaters on, and it is clear that the Leaf seems to go further for a given charge level in an urban or country-lane situation than on the motorway. In this regard EV’s are definitely rather different to internal combustion engined cars, which always seem much more efficient and suited to motorway-type driving. This due to the electric motor being equally efficient at any rpm, whilst the ICE has a narrow range of revs which are efficient, the rest of the rev-range being far less efficient. Most ICE cars are geared so that motorway driving sits nicely in the efficient rev range, provided your speed is 55-70mph.

So what’s really going on here and I accept that my viewing angle of this issue has evolved today, is that electric cars just use more power the faster you go in a quite linear fashion, whereas ICE cars are inefficient at slow, varying speeds and only become more efficient with steady, constant speed driving such as motorways.

I think this will encourage me to take the more interesting route rather than the motorway, or use my other car for longer journeys. This seems like a defeat, but at present I’d say the Leaf needs more range to make longer journeys easy rather than slightly stressful. However massive respect goes to Ecotricity for installing this excellent network of chargers and for encouraging EV’s by not charging for using them (you do need a card which is readily available). I accept that this is a learning curve and familiarity with planning and undertaking longer journeys will mean they become more pleasurable.

In other (non)-news:

  • Lithium (lead acid replacement) battery – working perfectly!
  • Wheels – nothing to add.
  • Insurance for broken spoiler – no change.
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