In further pursuit of my exploration of the practicalities of electric motoring I drove the 14 miles to Petersfield yesterday to try out the chargepoint which has been installed there by the local authority.This is the first of a number to be rolled out under the Hampshire County Council energy policy.
This picture shows me soon after arrival, connected up in one of the two bays in the car park in front of the Festival Hall, Heath Street, GU31 4EA
The first thing to understand is that this is a commercial enterprise. The chargepoint is installed and run by the energy
company SSE and you can’t use it at all unless you have their particular kind of smart card with you. I had prepared myself by obtaining this online from http://www.chargepointgenie.com for the payment of £20. (Oddly enough, their emailed confirmation stated $20 – i.e. twenty dollars – but my credit card statement confirmed it was, indeed, 20 pounds sterling.) This standing charge has to be paid each year.
But that is not all – before you can use the card you have to pre-load it with credits, with a minimum payment of £10, enough to pay for two and a half visits to one of their charging stations. Each time you have a charge £4 is debited from your card , whether you are connected for one minute or for the maximum of four hours, and whether or not a rapid charger is available, which it wasn’t in Petersfield.
Anyway, in the selfless pursuit of my researches I had topped up my card before leaving home (total outlay now £30). As the SSE account includes my credit card details I imagine I could have done this at the site by smartphone
Another point to bear in mind is that the SSE network is only one of several, each of which requires its own card. None of them accept payment by credit card like a petrol station. The Ecotricity card is the other network I have subscribed to, but they provide their card free and charging at their stations, which are mainly on major routes and include rapid chargers, is also free.
So, this SSE chargepoint at Petersfield had only one kind of connector – the universal Type 2 connector (illustrated), one for each of the two bays. And you need to bring your own connecting cable.
Instructions on the little screen tell you to wave your card near it and wait while it checks your credentials. After about a minute is says you are OK and tells you to connect the cable. After that the charging starts automatically. All this works well and I was pleased to find that I could unlock the car (interrupting the charging) in order to get things I had forgotten and the process resumed without problem when I locked up again. I tested this thoroughly by coming back several times before walking into town for lunch and a bit of shopping.
The standard Hampshire County Council notice (see illustration) over the chargepoint told me that I might not have to buy a normal parking ticket but as the lady on reception in the Festival Hall didn’t know the answer I bought one anyway to be on the safe side, bringing my total expenditure up to £34.60. The town centre was an easy walk away and by the time I returned to the car 52 minutes had elapsed. The instructions told me to wave the card again to cancel the charging and when I had done that the charging cable released and I was able to disconnect it. When I unlocked the car that end was released in the usual way and I stowed the cable away in the boot.
Back inside the car I was a little surprised to find the car not yet fully charged and that my £4 and 52 minutes had increased the indicated range of the car by only eight miles (65 miles from the 57 when I left it). I know from experience that that means about seven miles on the road and that so works out at 57p for each mile. Then you have to add the standing charges…
In comparison, our diesel Skoda does more than 400 miles on a £70 fill-up – which equates to 17p per mile. And when I charge the electric car at home it gains eight miles range per hour and provided our solar panels are producing more than the 2kW it draws, which they easily do for more than half the year, it costs me (and the planet) nothing at all.
Another comparison is with the SSE chargepoint at the Rapids Leisure Centre in Romsey, also provided under the Hampshire County Council Scheme.
This point does have a full range of connectors, including both kinds of rapid charger, which should charge the battery up to 80% in 15 to 20 minutes, using the same SSE card and the same £4 fee. That might occasionally be convenient but it would still be ludicrously expensive.
When I first plugged in to the Petersfield charge point a couple of passers-by told me they lived next door and that I was the first person to use it. They were friendly, interested and positive, and full of the advantages of electric cars and how they were the future. But I am not surprised that I was the first to use it.
We changed from SSE for our domestic electricity and gas a year ago because of the extreme reluctance with which they administered the feed-in tariff for our PV roof array. In contrast Ecotricity, to whom we changed,seems wholeheartedly committed to making the system work. I came away from the new Petersfield charge point feeling I had been duped. I would almost go as far as to say that I think Hampshire County Council and East Hants District Council have been duped as well. I passionately believe in electric cars, but I hope the responsible officers will get the message that this is most certainly not the right way to arrange for charging them and that they will not make the same mistakes at other sites. For, reluctant as I am to say it my bottom line is this: even if you didn’t have to pay £30 in advance to use it at all, I honestly can’t think of any circumstances in which this chargepoint would be useful to anybody.