LEAF – The Totally Tropical Taste?

On my recent family holiday to the Caribbean, we had only been in Barbados for less than an hour when we saw our first Nissan LEAF. Over the course of the next week, we saw plenty more, and eNV200’s too.

Barbados is reliant on imported fuel for both road vehicles, and also to generate electricity, but a company called Megapower has introduced both solar-energy-generating car ports, and also the world’s best selling EV – the Nissan LEAF – to the island as a way of reducing this gasoline dependency.

In many ways, the LEAF is an ideal car for the island – it has a range of around 200km, which is no problem since the island is only 34km long and 23km wide – a day’s driving can be completed very easily with plenty of range to spare. Solar power is also very suited to the island – typically there are 12 hours of sunshine daily throughout the year, with temperatures always around 20 and 30 °C.

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Together, the two technologies could be about to change the face of transport in Barbados. Megapower has sold over 120 Nissan LEAF on the island in the past couple of years, with increasing awareness and well placed social-media messages spreading the word. Megapower also supplies the solar-charging car ports, as well as the wall-mounted chargers for conventional grid installations. There is a developing network of public “quick” charge points, and plans to introduce rapid chargers within the next couple of months.

They are also now making inroads to other Caribbean islands, with Grenada, St Lucia, and Aruba all ready to jump on the EV-bandwagon.

Sadly, my hire car on the island was a conventional 1.2 litre Petrol Automatic Hyundai i10 – a fair drop in performance, size, and comfort compared to my LEAF Tekna back in Blighty. But surely it can’t be too long before we get a zero emission option from the car rental firms on the islands – because the LEAF has much lower servicing costs, better reliability, and a much improved driving experience than the cars they’re currently offering!

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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.

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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

Taxi’s the way, aha aha, I like it, aha aha

We have received the first batch of seven seat e-NV200 Combi’s for Premier Cabs of Blackpool.

Premier Cabs are leading the way with their fleet of electric taxi’s, currently made up of 22 LEAFs, and soon to be joined by ten of the e-NV200 electric people carriers.

The e-NV200’s share their DNA with the LEAF, which means that they benefit from the same low running costs, and high specification (including climate control, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, sat nav, cruise control etc). Truly, these are the taxi cabs of the future.

For the love of tea, I need a charge point!

At my old house, I had a home charging point fitted by British Gas (back in the days when you could get one for free just by mentioning that you were interested in EVs). This has been extremely useful – quickly plugging in when I get back from work, and unplugging in the morning has meant that I always leave the house with a full charge.

However, my new house doesn’t have a charge point fitted yet, so I need a new charging solution.

For the past week, the solution has involved opening the kitchen window, and plugging the 3-pin EVSE cable in. The problems with this are:

  1. The window won’t close (due to the cable), so it’s like a big cat flap inviting burglers to take a look
  2. The charge rate on a 3-pin cable is 10A, which means it can take a lot longer to charge the vehicle (up to 12 hours from empty)
  3. I have to unplug the kettle in order to plug in the car (socket nearest to the kitchen window)… therefore it severely limits my tea-drinking habit.

Clearly, this situation cannot continue for long. I can sort of live with the slower charge time, and the area where I live has very low crime figures… but the restriction on hot beverages is untenable. I’m sure, dear reader, that you can sympathise with me on this!

The government has cut back on the home charger grant, so you now need to pay towards the installation. It’s still heavily subsidised, but OLEV will only pay up to 70% of the cost, so typically it can cost the homeowner around £200-300+ for a fully fitted charge point.

abl_sursum_emh1_2So I have looked into the various options for charge point supplier (Chargemaster, Rolec, PodPoint, etc), and found a local company who install chargers (as well as Solar PV, Heat Pumps etc). They are called The Phoenix Works, and the unit they fit is by a German manufacturer called ABL.

The charger itself is a 32Amp Type-2 socket, which can recharge a LEAF/e-NV200 (with the 6.6kW charger option) in as little as 4 hours. It’s also compatible with the standard LEAF/e-NV200 with the 3kW charger, but due to the lower rated on-board charger, it will take 8 hours. I decided to go for the 32 Amp charge point, as it means that I will always have the best charge rate available, regardless of whether I replace my vehicle in the future.

The installation date is set for Friday 28th August – I’ll report back once it is fitted, and share some pictures showing the work done.