My Urban Car

Myth busting EV Day trips versus public charging – London to Anglesey and back

EV day trips

There are some very common but really inaccurate misconceptions about driving electric cars that are still widely believed. One is that you can’t do high mileages or long trips in an electric car and that it takes hours to charge an EV.

So we’re doing some #EVDayTrips to bust some these myths and show what electric cars trips are really like. These extremely long trips in the UK to show you can do it in an EV. Our first trip was Putney to Padstow and back in a day.
The second was Putney to Tenby return while the third took it up a notch…London to Scotland and back in a day!

Including this trip to Anglesey the 4 EV day trips to date add up to 2,289 miles or around 3,691km. To get an idea, that’s the same distance as driving one way from Oslo in Norway to Tangier in Morocco on the northern tip of Africa. The four return EV day trips averaged 572 miles each, a little further than a one way journey from London to Inverness.

So why choose these destinations apart from proving you can driving vast distances in an electric car? Well with the uncertainties of international travel since the pandemic and driving an EV that makes long trips relaxing and easy it really is the perfect time to explore beautiful parts of the UK that you haven’t had a chance to see before. For me it had been over a decade since I’d last been to Cornwall or the Lake District (which I drove through on the way back from Scotland), I’d never been to beautiful Tenby in south west Wales or Anglesey or on its northwest tip. All the destinations have had stunning scenery with dramatic coastlines and mountains to walk while there.

There really is no reason and no excuse to buy another premium brand oversized diesel SUV or saloon for £35,000 or more just because you do a trips to Cornwall, Wales, Scotland Norfolk, Gloucestershire etc. or do high mileage driving for work.

What’s an EV day trip like using only public not Tesla chargers though?

In a Tesla using “Superchargers” the first 3 EV day trips were a doddle. If I’d wanted to spend more time driving and less at the destination I could have easily travelled further per day. The trouble is although the Tesla Model 3 is the current best selling electric car in the UK it doesn’t reflect what it’s like to travel longer distances in other EV’s using public chargers. If journalists are to be believed these are a hotchpotch of unreliable chargers that are impossible to use and as rare as hens teeth. Perfect for a challenging EV day trip then!

London to Holyhead in Anglesey on the north west tip of Wales .. and back again in a day

The omens seemed good for heading to Wales as I’d attended a very rousing Welsh themed evening featuring “Only Men Aloud” and Huw Edwards the BBC news host at the opening of my son’s school the night before. So Wales it was then. From home in SW London the distance to the South Stack lighthouse of the west coast is 298 miles each way according to google maps. In fact Holyhead is much closer to Dublin, roughly a 70 mile ferry ride. A 600 mile roundtrip in a day is certainly a stern test of the public charging network.

The trip

The stats

  • I left London with the battery around 82% charged
  • This equated to 245 miles standard Tesla range which is based on 4 miles per kWh
  • The temperature was a benign 18C
  • The round trip ended up being 611.3 miles and used 162kWh
  • Efficiency was 266 Watt hours/ mile which is 3.76 miles per kWh
Driving62%
Sightseeing24%
Charging14%
Time spent

Verdict

I won’t beat about the bush – the mission was to do the entire trip without using a Tesla Supercharger and it failed.. just.

In the end on this 611 mile round trip I managed to travel 85% of the distance or 523 miles on public chargers.

Of this

  • 230 miles were from the Ubitricity lamp posts that charged my car before departure
  • 362 miles were added on public chargers
  • 160 miles were added at the Tesla Supercharger at Warwick which got me home with 108 miles range left

Essentially by the end of the journey the combination of slower charger speeds and horrendous blockages on the M6 meant I had to switch to a Tesla Supercharger but only after 523 miles which is a substantial success for the public charger network.

What could have made the biggest difference?

  • New charger installations are still predominantly 50kW in the UK. This needs to switch to a majority in the 100kW to 250kW range that can keep up with what modern EV’s are capable of. This doesn’t just mean faster charging but also more EV’s being able to be charged by each charger. The 50kW units are actually pretty fast if you’re after a quick charge while at the supermarket. Where they fail is they are currently also having to serve EVs on an international trunk road.
  • In regions like this stretch of north wales a single big EV hub on the A55 between ideally between Conwy and Holyhead with 8x 150k-350kW chargers would buy time for local 50kW locations to be upgraded by diverting away the fastest charging and biggest battery EVs and those travelling to and from the Dublin ferry.

Public charging – What went right

  • Out of 6 public chargers visited from Instavolt, Gridserve, Geniepoint, Ubitricity and Osprey all 6 were working
  • 3 out of 6 just needed a tap with a debit card (Instavolt Gridserve & Osprey)
  • Instavolt was quickest from arrival to charge, then Osprey (which may have been a card issuer delay) then Gridserve (which was charging within 3-4 minutes but first time delayed a message saying “Charging is delayed until power is available!)

Out of time -3 reasons why we ended up with needing a Tesla Supercharger

1 Charging Infrastructure in North Wales

  • North Wales from Chester west all the way to Holyhead via Bangor is underserved in number and speed of chargers. Other than the Tesla superchargers at Flint the fastest chargers are 50kW
  • The slow speed means larger battery cars sit at the chargers for long periods and this is further exacerbated the second issue which is they are all single units with a single CCS connector apart from the Osprey units that can charge 2 cars
  • As a result both Pod Point units at Lidl stores were working but taken when I arrived and it could have been a long wait
  • Even a single 8 unit charging hub with 8 x 150kW between Conwy & Holyhead offering charging over 125kW or more would transform the experience for those in the region and coming to or from the Dublin ferry

2 Public charging speed delivered less than rated!

There was a second issue which was that several of the chargers delivered well below the rated power. Details are below but on a warmish 18-20C day

  • Instavolt – rated 125kW delivered 61kW on a 52% battery SOC.
  • Gridserve Stafford Northbound (upgraded units) – rated 120kW delivered 46kW on 44% SOC
  • Geniepoint Holyhead rated 50kW delivered 44kW
  • Osprey rated 50kW delivered 48kW

So in order of charging stops the chargers delivered 48%, 37.5% 88% and 96% of their rated speeds. The most disappointing are the at 2 faster chargers. At Instavolt on 52% SOC a Tesla Model 3 Performance should be able to take 115 to 125kW at 18C. Most disappointing on the day was the Gridserve who may have an expectation management issue on their hands. My understanding is while their charging units are 120kW ready, many, if not all, locations are waiting for power supply upgrades. Until they happen people are likely to be very underwhelmed with charging speeds delivered especially when another EV is also charging on the shared power supply. If this is the case I think they do need to get information out to indicate “typical” charge speeds delivered which can be updated when power supply upgrades happen. Like realistic broadband speeds rather than “up to”.

There is however a second suspect in the mystery of the slow charging speeds and it’s my Tesla. So why would a Tesla capable of 250kW not manage full speed on much slower public chargers? While a Tesla preconditions its battery temperature for optimal charging speed when going to a Tesla Supercharger but doesn’t precondition for a public charger. This may explain why the Tesla started very slowly on the public chargers but then got a bit quicker as it charged and warmed up. Frankly until Tesla list all UK public chargers on their car navigation the easy solution would be for Tesla to provide a 20 minute timer button pressed by the driver to manually begin a precondition. This would be a godsend for Tesla owners and anyone waiting for them to finish a charge.

There are of course workarounds. One being if there is a Tesla Supercharger nearby you can tell the car to head there instead. The flaw in this approach is of course you’re much more likely to need or want a public charger when you don’t have a Tesla one nearby. Either way I would appreciate feedback on my Twitter account @rivergecko about whether owners of other EV brands are typically getting close to charging rated speeds on public chargers of 100kW or more. I will do some testing myself

3 The M6

The final nail in the coffin for mission success was the M6 motorway. Road works with 50mph limits are no problem but on this trip we got one bridge replacement outbound and two on the return journey along with a major traffic accident. In all 4 cases the entire motorway was squeezed into a single lane of traffic with miles of queues beforehand even at 11pm at night. This was compounded by a complete lack of accurate roadside traffic information about what was effectively a motorway closure in all but name even when of these could have been avoided easily using the M6 toll. It’s hard to know the exact effect of these as each massive blockage is followed by an empty motorway on the other side but combined they added at least an hour mainly at the end of the journey on roads that otherwise would have been clear.

Lessons learned? When the car says go via Chester and Telford not the motorway there may be a reason.. and I think I future I will default to the M6 toll road even late in the evening!

Outbound charging stops

Charge stop 1 at 77.2 miles – Instavolt Banbury

13%
  • Arrived with 157 miles range remaining
  • Tesla range added – 62 miles in 15 mins
  • the charger reckoned I was at a 75% charge on departure – Based on the car stats I reckon 70%
  • Cost £7.10
  • 20 KWh used to this point

I didn’t need to stop here but Instavolt have a good reputation for easy to use, reliable if slightly pricey 40p per kWh charging and Banbury has 8 of their fastest 125kW units next to the M40.

As expected starting the charge was super easy – just plug in and tap the contactless card. Although the charge speed started at only 38kW it did end up delivering around 61kW which is slow but adequate for a 52% state of charge.

Charge stop 2 at 159.9 miles – M6 Gridserve Stafford Northbound

26%
  • Arrived with 131 miles range remaining
  • Tesla range added 57 miles in 23 minutes
  • Charge started at 37kW and ended at a speed of 46kW
  • Cost £5.03
  • 41kWh used to this point

This is one of the brand new upgraded Gridserve 120kW chargers so roughly capable of the same speed as the Instavolt but even slower in practice. We will discuss this later.

Charge stop 3 at 301.2 miles – GeniePoint at Morrisons in Holyhead, Anglesey

49%
  • Arrived with 50 miles range remaining
  • Tesla range added 76 miles in 30 mins so departed with 126 miles range
  • Charge started at 33kW and ended at 44kW
  • Cost £7.48
  • 73 kWh used to this point

I really needed this Geniepoint charger to work and it did. Although I did have to use the app Geniepoint now just bill you for power you use – not in £10 increments! They also charge 35p per kWh which at the moment is less than Instavolt and Osprey.

Holyhead was the destination so it’s worth doing a quick summary of the outbound journey. I

Outbound trip summary

  • 195 miles “Tesla range” added on the Instavolt, Gridserve and Geniepoint chargers at 40p, 30p and 35p per kWh respectively
  • Total charge time 68 minutes
  • Efficiency outbound was an excellent 243 Wh/mile which is 4.11 miles per kWh
  • Travelled 301.2 miles with 126 miles range after the Geniepoint top up

Exploring Anglesey

By definition exploring a destination in a day trip limits has time constraints so I headed to the Lighthouse on the tiny island of South Stack on the west coast of Anglesey just beyond Holyhead. Parking at the RSPB cafe I bought the lighthouse tickets and headed down the massive staircase down the cliff and across the bridge to the lighthouse. My phone says I climbed the equivalent of a 58 story building on the way back up!

On the way round the I learnt that the still operational mechanism still sits on a pool of mercury (used to reduce the friction of the turning lenses). This produced mercury fumes that were toxic just as the exhausts of diesel engine vehicles are in our towns and cities are toxic today with one difference. The poisonous mercury fumes were linked to madness, also associated with another trade and the phrase “mad as a hatter”

I also stopped in Menai to see the famous suspension bridge which was completed in 1826 finally joining Anglesey to the Welsh mainland. It was the first major suspension bridge in the world and was a priority because of the treacherous waters in the Menai straight and the need to speed up journeys to Dublin via Holyhead.

The tiny part of Anglesey I have seen has definitely encouraged me to think about a longer stay perhaps to combine with a return to Portmeirion which I first visited with my parents over 50 years ago!

Return Charging stops

On the way to Menai bridge before leaving Anglesey I did stop hoping to charge at the podpoint 50kW chargers at Lidl Llangefni and again at Lidl Llandudno junction near Conwy. Both these have only one CCS port and both were already charging an EV.

Charge stop 4 at 369.3 miles – Osprey at the Talardy hotel and restaurant in St Asaph

60%
  • Arrived with 46 miles range remaining
  • Tesla range added 194 miles in 57 mins so departed with 239 miles range
  • Charge started at 34kW and ended at 48kW
  • Cost £16.47
  • 90 kWh used to this point

Charge stop 5 at 523.1 miles – Tesla Supercharger Warwick Services M40

86%
  • Arrived with 42 miles range remaining Tesla range
  • added 172 miles in 27 mins so departed with 214 miles range
  • Charge started at 119kW and ended at 72kW
  • Cost £16.65
  • 137 kWh used to this point

Return trip summary

  • 1 hr 24 mins charging
  • 366 Tesla miles added

Long Distance EV background information

This EV day trip was still a long way off the distance record for a Model 3 electric car in 24 hours
Quentin Wilson and his excellent vid on driving to France

Choosing an EV for longer trips – battery size and charging speed

People do long trips in all sorts of EV’s but 2 factors make it much much easier. An official range of between 200 and 350 miles helps a lot but the ability to charge to 80% in half an hour or less on DC rapid charging is crucial. To achieve this look for electric cars whose charging in kW at least double the size of their battery in kW/h.

A kilowatt-hour (kWh) is a measure of the amount of energy stored in your battery and the charging speed in kW is the amount that would be added in one hour. So if a car charged a 50kWh battery at a steady 50kW then 0-100% would take an hour while a slow AC charger at 10kW speed would take 5 hours. In reality charging speed slows from around 50% battery charge and becomes very slow beyond 80%. Luckily most owners will have at least 10% battery left when they start a charge and will unplug before 80% which keeps the times roughly in line.

When less well informed journalists or others refer to charging times in hours they are referring only to slow AC charging (or even 3 pin plugs!) that you would use for top ups or overnight charging at home usually at a maximum speed of 7kW to 11kW. Most EVs (except Renault Zoe’s that depend on 25kW AC) can switch to fast DC CCS charging when on a trip to charge at between a pedestrian 50kW and a super fast 350kW. It’s DC charging speed that matters if you want to charge in 30 mins or under on a trip.

The best way to charge EV’s on a long trip is usually more short charge stops of 15 to 25 mins rather than a long single charge stop. Charging from 10% to around 60% is much much faster than charging all the way to 100% and let you stretch your legs and have a tea and toilet stop.

David Nicholson

David Nicholson Is the founder of Rivergecko Ltd & MyUrbanCar which provide consultancy and advice for drivers and fleets to speed the transition from dirty fossil fuel transport to clean vehicles powered by renewable energy on land water and air.

The @MyUrbanCar twitter feed is a source of news & reviews of electric & plugin cars and vans in the UK.
The @rivergecko twitter feed & www.myurbancar.com websites bring news and opinion on cleantech transport including cars, vans, buses, trucks, shipping, rail & aviation as well as autonomous vehicles & renewable energy, air pollution & motor industry news.

David Nicholson has worked as an underwriter at Lloyd's of London since the 1980's. His interest in technology goes back many years including interactive mapping, apps, green tech, boats, solar and cars.

1 comment