The electric way round – Midlands to Aachen (Part 1)

Journey ahead: 454 miles (726 km) according to Google Maps – 8h sounds a little optimistic!

Ever since ordering my electric vehicle, I have had the desire to not only plan, but actually take my car on a trip from my home in the Midlands, UK, to my home town of Aachen in Germany. Some of my planning and considerations are described here. The actual journey will be reported on later in all its glory.

This is a journey of about 450 miles (720 km). Now, I have read blog posts from plenty of EV drivers, who took their pure electric vehicles on trips of similar distances within the UK. The difference of this trip is obvious: I am leaving the UK, crossing at least France and Belgium, potentially also the Netherlands. I am saying “potentially” because I might have to make a little detour to top up before reaching my destination.

What you have to keep in mind is that despite the recent growth of car charging infrastructure, which happens at an impressive level, EV charging is still very insular and country-dependent when you cross borders. Think mobile phone networks in the 1990s on steroids. I am referring of course not to Tesla’s Supercharger network here, which is free to all current Tesla owners and available anywhere in any country. Since I drive a BMW i3 Range Extender, two aspects are different: 1. my car is not compatible with Tesla chargers. But, 2. I have a little petrol generator (that’s the “Range Extender” bit), which can take me out of sticky situations should I run out of electrons. It basically holds the state of battery charge for an additional 60 miles, on top of the roughly 75 electric miles the i3 with Range Extender can do. However, I want to try and restrict myself to electric-only use for as much as I can and only utilise the Range Extender (or “REx”, as it is usually referred to) in emergencies.

Now, I hear you say: “What’s the point in taking an i3 petrol REx model on such a trip and not using it? It has a 120kg heavy petrol generator with a 9 litre tank, which makes your trip inefficient!” – and you’re probably right. But this is a little electric challenge I’ve set myself. Also, were I to go on this trip with 2 additional passengers, I would easily carry the same 120kg with me. Would you go around and accuse people of creating unnecessary inefficiencies if they take their loved ones from A to B? Precisely! 🙂

For those who will tell me that a Tesla Model S could do the entire trip with 1 recharge: you too are absolutely right. But I chose an i3 as for our daily use an EV with a lower range fitted the bill. Longer distances can be covered by our Diesel family car. In essence, this trip is a little bit of fun and nerdy excitement. (and not buying a Tesla also meant that I spent ca £30k less of our kids’ inheritance).


The planned journey

As the map image further above shows, my planned electric trip is along the british M40/M25 and M20 motorways, then crossing the English Channel via Eurotunnel in Folkestone. From Calais, I’ll make my way along the E40, around Brussels and then towards Aachen. This is a trip I have done numerous times in the past – I could almost do it blindfolded. Difference this time is obviously the fact I’ll be doing the trip in an electric car, aiming to use as many Rapid Chargers as possible. CCS (Combined Charging System) rapids can charge an i3 to 80% in 25 mins, with a full 100% charge taking approximately 45 mins (nb. the i3 onboard charging electronics actively slow down any charging above 80% in order to protect battery life). CCS Rapid chargers are therefore my preference, as I don’t fancy waiting for slower fast chargers, which might take up to 4h for a full recharge from 0%.


The charging networks

As you might imagine, the route is covered with fast chargers in most places, but it’s the rapid chargers that are more thinly spread out – and across multiple charging networks. I’ve therefore spent the last months/weeks contacting and signing up to the following EV charging providers:

Ecotricity (GB) – provides a growing network of CCS Rapid chargers (currently free – see image on the right)

ChargeYourCar (GB) – CYC have links with TheNewMotion in Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, which allow access to foreign chargers (expensive kWh rates, but worthwhile having)

ChargeNow (GB) – BMW’s charging network, provided by Chargemaster. Provided in multiple countries, but my subscription only gives me access to the british network.

ThePluginCompany (B) – TPC operates a network of free (subsidised?) chargers in Belgium, including some CCS in places, which will come in handy. Charge points are enabled by SMS, RFID card or a QR code, through portal login. I have an active signon for TPC, which should be sufficient. A friendly TPC admin also gave me his mobile number, which I can use in an emergency!

TheNewMotion (B) – My TNM subscription will give me access to the same chargers as the ChargeYourCar network card from GB, but I thought it’s better to have one of these just in case.

FastNED (NL) – FN is the cool kid on the rapid charging block, calling a vast array of mushrooming, solar-panelled charging stations throughout the Netherlands their own. Sign-up process is the shnaz: simple and fully mobile enabled, no RFID card needed. You can basically turn up and charge, if you like. Alas, charging rates are currently relatively high (€0.83 / kWh for non-Subscribers, €0.39 / kWh and €12 per month for subscribers on a 30 day rolling subscription).

With so many networks/cards/chargers/etc in the mix, what could possibly go wrong??? 😉

Click here to read “The Electric Way round – Midlands to Aachen (Part 2)”.

The electric way round – Midlands to Aachen (Part 1)

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