Our EV Experience Test - Charging Around The City

Wednesday 14th October 2015

We promised last week to tell you about our testing of an electric vehicle (EV) - we often post on this blog about innovations to improve EVs, but wanted to reveal real-life experience of driving and running an EV. We chose a Nissan Leaf, the world’s best selling all electric car.

The aim of the test was not to let you know what the Leaf is like, but more about the experience of driving an EV. We wanted to see what innovations are needed, or have been adopted, and how relevant they are likely to be to an EV drivers life.

As regards the Leaf, it is a good car, very ordinary but performs well, it is comfortable and cost little to run thanks to its electric motor. It does what it is supposed to, clean and cheap motoring.

The week we had the car we wanted to try it out over various situations - urban, rural and the longer trip. We got interesting and differing results, but that was down to varying factors that researchers and industry leaders will have an affect on as EV roll-out continues and improves.

This week we will look at the EV urban driving experience. Worldwide this experience would vary as different countries and local authorities are supporting charging and EV take up with differing commitments. We are testing in the UK, not the best in Europe but doing better than others.

Urban areas in the UK have plenty of charging points - although smaller towns need to catch up, leaving rural areas more vulnerable, but that story is for our next post.

Travelling around a city is perfect for an EV, many would say that this is their forte. You are never far from a charging point and you can plug it in while you are at work, shopping, eating or carousing. Plus in the UK at the moment most charging points are free, this will change but it will still be far more economical than using petrol or diesel - let alone the impact not he environment.

In cities most charging points are up to date rapid chargers - the Leaf would charge up to 80% in about 30 minutes. The Leaf also employed regenerative energy harvesting - every time you hit the brakes the generated kinetic energy is fed in to charging the batteries - plus the automatic gear box on the Leaf can be shifted into ‘B’ mode by pushing into Drive for a second time; this provides more engine braking and also more regenerative charging of the batteries - perfect for stop-go urban driving. Producing your own energy via your driving style.

It is also possible to go for an option on many EVs of solar connections of top-ups while the car is parked in a sunny spot and plugging in a transportable panel. It cost more for the connection and then you have to buy your own solar panel as well, but you are saving energy.

Driving at low speeds also suits EVs, and again as we all know urban driving can be very slow.

We drove the Leaf to a sporting event, parked int he charging area in the venues car park, plugged in, and when the game was over we returned to a fully charged car waiting to be navigated through he city streets.

This is what we discovered about driving an EV - planning and timing. Check where a charging point is near to your destination, park up and plug in - a simple task on the Leaf with the supplied cables - get on with what you plan to do and then drive away.

In an urban environment that is not difficult, there is no reason to ever get to the stage where you are worried about where your next charge will come from. If you live locally you can also charge up at home - either from the normal home electrical socket or investing a small amount in a dedicated and faster charge point.

Are we to conclude then that urban EV driving is perfect - not completely. It is fine when it is your city, you soon get to know where charging point exist. When you visit another city, particularly after a longer run to get there, it can become a little fraught to find a charging point. Unlike the highly lit and advertised garage forecourts there are no large signs advertising EV facilities. A simple but powerful innovation would be large signs not only at the charge point but also at the entrance to a site, illuminated by energy saving LEDs and powered by renewable energy,

Also the charging point suppliers need to get into bed with major retailers or mall management companies. If every supermarket or retail park were known to have charging points even the signage mentioned above could be superfluous. Ikea shout about their EV charging point availability, so why don't other major stores follow suit?

The Leaf and most EVs have Sat-Navs, along with the many apps available, that will direct you to charge points - but they are not as reliable as claimed. This is not too much of a problem in the city, but outside of urban areas finding a charge point can be a major challenge as we will explain next week.

Picture of UK charge point © Copyright Gary Rogers and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Categories: General, Renewable, Reviews, Technology

Wednesday 14th October 2015


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