The Journey of my Electric Car
When I was offered a job in a small midlands town, there were so many thoughts flying through my head - do I want to be away from my friends? Or the city? Does the town have good transportation? How would I get around?
Location being where it was, there was no escaping the fact that I was going to need a car to manage everyday tasks and retain a sense of freedom, as well as to get out to the office.
However this presented me with a moral dilemma.
After everything I had learned through studying an environmental degree and being involved in the Divestment & Fossil Free campaigns at University, not to mention the transport sector being responsible for the majority of UK greenhouse gas emissions, I could not bring myself to consider a vehicle run on fossil fuels.
So I wanted an electric car. Now, there are some that argue that electric cars, when not powered by electricity generated from hydro, wind or solar facilities are not cleaner than conventional vehicles. This article in The Guardian debunked that. And this article in DW as well, including debunking the urban myth that electric cars are more environmentally unfriendly when production of the car is taken into account.
Despite the obvious choice being a brand new Tesla, I was limited by a graduate salary, so I began some much needed research to see what options were realistically available to me.
Not knowing the first thing about cars I relied heavily on reviews, blogs and googling "best electric cars", and after a lot of consideration I narrowed my choices down to two lower-cost options: The Nissan Leaf and the Renault Zoe. I found the general consensus was both cars were strikingly similar in terms of style and mile range, but with one main difference - the price. My final decision was swayed by one single comment on a review site about how there were no differences significant enough to justify the slightly higher price of the Nissan Leaf at the time.
I booked an appointment that week to test drive the Renault Zoe at my local dealership. At the time I had not driven a car since I passed my test 5 years prior and was admittedly a little nervous being responsible for both myself and the salesperson that came with me. After a few minutes of driving the Zoe my nerves calmed and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to drive - an automatic car equipped with a reversing camera and sensors, that also beeped if I went 2 mph over the speed limit - these features allowed me to focus all my attention on the road, other cars and the enjoyment of the drive.
Upon returning to the dealership I made a decision to lease the car on finance for 2 years - this seemed to be the best option as I could hand the car back at the end of the lease, or choose to pay a lump sum and keep it. I am now over a year into my lease and I have never looked back.
People tend to be very curious when they learn I drive a fully electric and I typically get asked a combination of the same questions. I’m hoping that this piece, along with answering some FAQs, might shed some light for readers considering their next (or first) car who may be confused as to where to start with electric vehicles - or those with an electric car looking for further hints and tips.
"How many miles will you get?”
Perhaps one of the most important considerations for an electric car is the battery range. It is important to note that the advertised range is not always truly representative of the actual driving miles you may get out of the car. For example, my car can ~technically~ take me over 100 miles without needing to charge, however this is assuming I was going 30 mph in eco mode the entire way with limited use of the heat/cooling etc.
In reality, for a journey that involves driving 70 mph down the M1, I will need to stop and charge every 60 miles or so. Of course the battery range will vary in different weather conditions and will also depend heavily on your driving style. Good news though, there have been major developments since then and battery ranges have continued to increase.
"Where can you charge? How long does it take? How much does it cost?"
The million dollar question(s).
One of the main concerns and biggest issue preventing the uptake of electric vehicles is "range anxiety" - not being able to reach your destination without charging and the possibility that you may run out of juice. Good news though, from your home and work to train stations and city centres, there are plenty of options out there!
When I signed for my electric car, I was eligible for a free Chargemaster Homecharge Unit, part funded by Chargemaster and part funded by the government. Although I was moving away to a rented property, it was worthwhile having one installed at my family home for visits (and it also increases the value of your property!)
When out and about, Zap-Map is the go-to site to find charging points across the country, showing charging locations, networks, connections and availability. Users can leave comments to inform other drivers if a charging point is working, faulty or if there are restrictions.
How to charge and what you'll need
The main network I would recommend signing up to is the Polar/Chargemaster network. These were the most common charging points around the town I lived in and cities I visit. You can now enjoy 3 months free membership, at a cost of £7.85 per month membership fee thereafter. Connections can be activated using your Polar card or the app. Some charging points are then free to use with a membership, others cost very little, typically around 0.7p per KwH. These points are a combination of standard and rapid chargers, varying between 45 minutes -3(ish) hours for a full charge. When you charge with Polar you accumulate points, which can be redeemed for 'Experiences' driving your choice of electric cars - 150 polar points allows you to drive the Tesla X for a week.
Pod-point are also a handy network to sign up to - membership is free and most charging stations are too! Anyone can charge for 15 minutes here but for a longer charge you must have the card and/or the mobile app when connecting to a Pod-point though so be sure to download! The app is also handy for letting you know which connections are in use before you arrive. POD points can take up to a few hours to charge fully but I have found they are typically located in areas you are likely to spend some time, for example shopping complexes or walking routes.
The absolute must-download for any road trip is the Ecotricity app. Powered by 100% wind and solar energy, Ecotricity rapid charging stations can be found at most service stations across the country (and IKEAs!). The payment terms vary over time and by station - at IKEA they are either free, or if you do have to pay and keep your receipt, you can claim the charge back off your shopping bill. At most service stations there is a £3 connection charge, and a cost of 0.17p per KwH thereafter (however if you're lucky you can show up and just choose your connection - free of charge!). These rapid chargers can pretty much fill my battery in 45 minutes, or can provide a substantial top up in the 20 minutes it takes to grab a coffee and stretch your legs.
Although each charging mission was an adventure at first, it seemed that life would be a lot easier if I had a consistent source of fuel for my car. I advocated for charging points to be installed at my workplace even though I was the only employee at the time driving an electric vehicle. If you would like further information on workplace charging and the government grants available, Chargemaster have outlined their options here and POD-point's are here. We thought a little further outside the box and ended up with a low-cost alternative: an outside socket specifically for electric vehicle charging. This means I can fill up whilst there for the day and I also have my own parking spot!
“Do you regret not going for a hybrid or a ‘normal’ car?”
On more occasions than I care to remember I have been sitting waiting either for a charging point to become available, or for my car to charge. There were times in the winter of 2016 when I wouldn't be able to charge in the evening and would have to wake up early and sit in the cold to top-up before work. The journey to my family's home is also extended by over an hour due to pit-stops.
However, these are all learning experiences - lessons in patience, organisation and planning ahead with journeys and charges. I also did not give up advocating for an electric charging point at my workplace which has made life significantly easier.
As well as feeling positive that my vehicle is not contributing towards the immediate health impacts associated with vehicle pollutants, the 'zero emissions' means that there is zero road tax to pay. When leasing or buying a new electric vehicle, there are also grants available up to £5,000, designed to encourage uptake of low emission vehicles.
A major perk I wish I had known earlier is that many places offer free parking to drivers of electric vehicles. The key places for me were city centres and train stations. Drivers of hybrid cars are also eligible for certain low-emission or 'green' permits that allow for cheap or free parking, and also almost always guaranteeing you a parking spot. This isn't widely known so it is worth checking out green permits for your local town, city and train station!
Overall I don't typically spend more than around £12 per month on fuel and I rarely pay for parking. Although there are questions to be raised about the materials used to make the car battery, and the electricity sources used to charge, I find comfort that my car does not contribute to toxic nitrogen dioxide poisoning the air in our cities.
To answer the final but probably the most 'frequently asked question,' I don't regret my Zoe for a second. It has certainly been an adventure to say the least, but I would do it all over again given the chance. If you're in the market for a new vehicle, I would whole-heartedly recommend considering an electric vehicle (unless you frequently drive long distances, in which case a hybrid may be better suited). My lease is up for renewal later this year and I already know that I will be looking for options for fully electric vehicles.
If you would like to dig a little deeper into choices available What Car have rated the Best and Worst Electric Cars and Business Insider show the Electric Cars that will be available by 2025. It is worth taking a test drive of any current models that may take your fancy and ask any questions specific to your requirements. The future is electric and it's a hell of a ride.