A Tale of Two Journeys

The plan was simple, drive from Morpeth, Northumberland to Buckinghamshire. There one day, back the next. 295 miles each way, via the A1, M18, M1, A43 and M40. We had two choices of vehicles, a petrol-fuelled Honda Civic and a Kia eNiro, being the fully-fledged eco-warriors we are, we opted for the brand new eNiro. What could possibly go wrong!

A route was planned, allowing for a lunch and charging stop at Hellaby, on the M18 and a coffee and charging stop at Watford gap services on the M1. We left Morpeth just after 9am on a cool and sunny morning and proceeded without a hitch, enjoying a trouble-free charging stop at Hellaby via a nice shiny Instavolt system with 100 miles added in 35 minutes. Flash your credit/debit card, and away you go. Maccy Ds for lunch and back on the road without a hitch. Mid-afternoon rolls along, time for a break and charge on the Ecotricity network. Not quite as simple, much faffing around with WiFi and apps, and eventually, a slow charge begins. After that, off we go all the way to High Wycombe, not a care in the world. Journey done in 7 hours, terrific.

On the way home the following day we were looking forward to an enjoyable repeat of Monday. How wrong we were, we should have probably guessed we were heading for trouble as went north on the M40 in torrential rain. Being the brave-hearted fellows we are, we headed towards the sanctuary of Watford Gap, with a predicted 50 miles still in the tank, or battery!! Eventually, we spotted the Ecotricity charger on the far side of the building, and so it began as we tried to plug in and start charging, all to no avail. No matter what we tried, nothing worked. Back into the car, as it was wet and freezing cold, checking our phones and looking at the next option, which was Leicester Forest services, almost 40 miles away. It didn’t leave many spare miles, but it was doable. So off we set, driving cautiously but maintaining motorway speeds. After another search, we found the chargers, from the same manufacturer again, we were concerned, and down to 16 miles range. After much messing around with WiFi, apps and 4G we still couldn’t charge. Tried another charging point, not working, oh dear. By the way, it was now very cold and windy. Time to phone the charger vender, after several more minutes of messing about and getting colder we were told the charger would go to free vend and we could help ourselves. How wrong they were, the chargers failed to work. Our last option was the chargers on Leicester Forest, southbound, a quick drive up to the next junction and back down again, we should be all right, but to make sure we cross over the motorway, via the feeding stations over the traffic. One charger had a Model 3 Tesla on it, so they looked like a good bet. So off we set again, crossing the motorway at the next junction when the car dropped into limp mode on the slip road, not ideal, but we made it to the services with 3 miles left. Fortunately, we knew where the chargers were this time. Unfortunately, once again the same charger provider let us down, no end of phones calls later we are left with no choice but to call a recovery truck. For those of you interested, breakdown cover for EVs counts running out of charge the same as running out of fuel and will only take you to the nearest charger, no matter whose it is or what capacity it can charge at. So off we set, on the back of a big yellow break down truck to the Leicester Marriot Hotel and its two 7kW chargers. Luckily for us the staff there were amazing and let us use their charger for free. So, there we sat, with three hours to kill whilst we crammed in enough charge to recommence our journey north.

Obviously, by this time it was dark and raining again. With no faith whatsoever left with the provider of the chargers we kept encountering, we headed to the centre of Derby and an Instavolt charger. Finally, luck was with us, a flash of the card and charging commenced. The only downside was the filthy fast food restaurant that took 12 minutes to make two hot drinks—not going there again. After 45 minutes we decided we couldn’t stand staying there any longer and headed off back to the Instalvolt charger at Hellaby. Apart from the traffic, this leg of the journey went without a hitch. Once at Hellaby, straight onto the Instavolt charger, more coffee and a doughnut and we had enough charge to finally get home. Or so we thought!

Not long after leaving Hellaby, heading north on the A1 the traffic came to a grinding halt, blue lights and no sign of movement, so we nipped off at a conveniently located slip road and navigated around the accident, via yours truly’s map reading capability. Unfortunately, we were suddenly over our mileage estimate to get home. Back to the phone and more searching for chargers, and again for one last time Instavolt saved our bacon, and we actually had the choice of chargers at either Durham or Bowesfield. Twenty minutes charge later and we headed home, with no further incident, arriving in Morpeth at 11pm, 11.5 hours after we set off.

Lessons learned? For me I’ll stick to my Civic, two don’t use an EV south of Sheffield on the M1 and finally, always aim for an Instavolt, although I’m sure there may be other chargers you can rely on.

Bryan Dixon is the lead for grid related projects at Narec DE. He’s currently working on technical advice to local businesses through the ERDF funded eGrid project as well as delivering consultancy on large scale energy storage, including an 87MW grid balancing battery.

Matt Cocker is an electrical design engineer at Narec DE, and works closely with Bryan on various grid and renewable energy projects. He recently completed work on a project for a local authority including behind the meter batteries with a large photovoltaic array.