Lack of joined-up thinking

As I have mentioned before, there are three main types of charging available for electric cars:

A) Slow – 2.5kW (3-pin plug) – this takes 10-12 hours to charge a Nissan LEAF from empty to full.

B) Fast – 3-7kW (typically “Type 2” Mennekes Plug) – this takes 4-8 hours to fully charge an empty LEAF.

C) Rapid – 50kW (Chademo/CCS) – this charges a LEAF to 80% in around 30 minutes

UQC-Face-3-FR-+-pictos-recoupé-257x300The type of charger you install needs to be suitable for the location.

Now for Motorway services, clearly the Rapid chargers are the ideal solution, as they enable cars to charge and go in a short space of time, but for other locations, they are probably just too expensive to install (typically around £20k+).

All Ikea stores have Rapid chargers installed, however this is really a mistake. Since the units are so expensive to install, and require a lot of electricity to supply them, the stores only have 1 or 2 units, which means that they can only charge one or two cars at a time. This means that the customer has either got to hot-foot it around the store and make all their purchases within 30 minutes (pretty much impossible, given the store layout, and the queues at the tills), or they will end up blocking a charger for an extended period of time which means that someone else can’t charge.

There’s also the fact that typically, people will not be driving 80 miles or so to get to their nearest Ikea, and therefore won’t actually have an empty battery when they get to the store. This means that they probably won’t need a full charge in order to get back home. They would probably be better off installing several Fast chargers (which can charge a car from empty to full in 4 hours, and therefore may only need two hours to charge a typical Ikea customer), and allowing lots of cars to charge during the day, as customers, rather than people rushing in and out.

The same is true of other shopping centres and public car parks – where cars are likely to be left whilst charging, and therefore it is more important to have a number of chargers available, rather than zap-and-go rapids which require the owner to stay with the vehicle and then move it for the next person to use.

If you have a venue where vehicles are likely to be parked for the whole day, or overnight (such as hotels, train stations, park-and-ride car parks etc), then you can get away with installing 3-pin sockets which take much longer to charge the vehicle, which reduces the cost for the site owner considerably.

Whatever you choose to install though, it needs to be available for the public to access. It is also true that if you want people to use them, then the spaces in front of the chargers need to be reserved exclusively for electric vehicles. This prevents the awkward situation when an electric car that needs to charge, cannot physically get close enough to the chargepoint to use it, as it’s blocked by a non-EV (known as ICE-ing, where ICE stands for Internal Combustion Engine).

Some car parks locally in Preston have been marked very clearly, and this means that there is a good chance that only a complete idiot would park in them without realising they were designed for Electric Vehicles.

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St George’s Shopping Centre, Preston

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Avenham Car Park, Preston

However, just as non-disabled people sometimes park in disabled-only spaces, it is quite common sadly to find non-ev’s parked in front of chargers.

iced by rr

Money doesn’t necessarily pay for good eyesight

However, half the battle is won if people at least know that they shouldn’t park there unless they are charging an EV.

For the past few years, councils around the UK have been able to apply for grants from the government to install electric vehicle charge points for public use.

Some have used this money quite wisely, creating reliable charging networks within cities or counties which are in places which people would like to (or need to) visit, without major barriers to their use (such as exorbitant costs, or propriety network access cards).

Others appear to have used the grants purely as a way of obtaining a photo opportunity with a cheerful looking Councillor next to a newly installed charge-point, ticking a box for low-carbon transport methods, and then forgetting that the whole point of the charger is that people may want/need to use it.

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This means that sometimes the chargers are not installed with the three key factors (suitability, availability, location) in mind.

Recently I had the opportunity to take my wife to the theatre in Leeds, a fairly rare occurrence (certainly less than an annual event), and since I would be finishing work in Preston at 5pm, collecting her from Skipton around 6.15pm, and getting into Leeds for a 7.30pm show, there would be no time for a detour to a charger en-route, and with a total journey length of over 90 miles, I would need a little top-up to get back home again after the show or drive like a saint.

No problem, I thought. Leeds is a major city in the North of England, we keep being told that it is one of the major hubs outside of London, so therefore there should be plenty of places where I can park and charge my e-NV200 Combi.

A quick check of zap-maps made me less sure.

Only two locations within walking distance of the town centre.

Only two locations within walking distance of the town centre.

There are in fact, two car parks with charging points in Leeds City Centre. One is the Merrion Centre / First Direct Arena multi-storey car park. This apparently has 13x Type2, 7kW sockets. However, the car park has a height restriction of 1.83m, and my Combi is 1.86m high, so I didn’t fancy making the first convertible e-NV200 by trying to squeeze in.

The second car park is the council-owned Woodhouse Lane Car Park, a multi-storey, but with 2m headroom (so I can fit!) which was only 8 mins walk from the theatre. However, the instructions on zap-map suggest that in order to use the ten chargers, you need to email someone at the council the day before you wish to charge in order to secure your space. I decided to call the council parking services, and see what the score was.

“Hi, I’m visiting Leeds later this evening, and I’m hoping I can use one of the chargers at Woodhouse Lane?”

“Hi, yes we do have chargers there, when are you wanting to arrive?”

“About 7ish… will that be ok?”

“Yes, I’ll get someone to put a cone in the space for you.”

“A cone?”

“Yes, that’s how we reserve the spaces”

So, long story short, the car park has 10 charge points fitted, but the spaces are not marked as EV only, they are just normal bays like all the others. This means that if people in diesel or petrol cars come into the car park, they are free to park in front of the chargers. I questioned this, and was told that the chargers were installed for the council to charge their fleet electric vehicles overnight when the car park tends to be quieter, and that they didn’t reserve the bays exclusively for electric cars since they couldn’t afford the loss of revenue by potentially having the spaces empty.

This is similar to saying “we have 1250 spaces in our car park, of which, 24 are designated for disabled customers, but we don’t bother marking them as disabled only, because we can’t afford for some of them to be empty when we have lots of able-bodied people who want to park there”.

So they use a cone to block a space at roughly the time you request.

Luckily, at 7.30pm on a Friday evening it is fairly quiet in the car park, so even if I hadn’t called in advance, I would have been able to get a space.

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10 Chargepoints, but no signs, no bay markings… so how would you know they are there?

Not sure I’d have had the same sort of luck at lunchtime though.

Incidentally, Manchester has a lot more charge point locations, maybe it’s time for Leeds to invest a bit more effort?

Manchester fairs a lot better for charge points

Manchester fairs a lot better for charge points in the city centre

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