The actual journey started at 4:16 am in the morning, which should really prove my dedication to this nerd adventure, as I am usually not a morning person. I planned for 3 instead of 2 stops in the UK, because of a CCS charger problem that Ecotricity is in the process of fixing with BMW. What appears to happen is that CCS chargers cancel charging sessions if the vehicle is below or close to 20% SOC (state-of-charge) remaining. It sounds as if the charging-station based upgrade is rolled out from next week onwards, pending BMW’s approval, but sadly that’s too late for me and this journey.
1. M40 Welcome Break Oxford Services, 5:15am CCS working fine and no other queuing vehicle (would have surprised me anyway!). Originally I planned to go further to Beaconsfield, but when I heard of CCS problems there (and the 20% issue), I decided to stop earlier along my way and left after 34 mins charge, which got me back to 95% SOC.
2. M25 Cobham Services, 6:50am
I arrived with over 30% SOC left and the CCS charger waited for me in full working order, without any other EVs using it. All good. Left after 20 mins – just a quick top-up to shorten the big charge at Maidstone later and as a buffer in case I get stuck on the M25.
3. M20, Maidstone Services, 8:00am
The M25 was clear this morning and I breezed through. Adding a third stop meant I managed to avoid the charger issues by ensuring there was always more than 20% SOC left. Once again, no other charging cars – I was able to get up to 95% in 35 mins, which should give me plenty of miles left on the other side of the channel.
Apart from the little added complication of a 3rd stop, the charging stations all worked swimmingly well and thanks to an early start I breezed through. When planning this journey, my biggest fears were queues at the chargers, aside from the usual traffic. But this turned out to be no problem at all. Everywhere I turned up this morning, I was the only EV driver.
The crucial test was obviously about to hit me, as I was now heading for Folkestone, where I took ‘Le Shuttle’ to Calais to continue my journey on the european mainland. CCS on the french side is not as developed as I hoped, so I tried and to make it across the border to Belgium and head for another CCS charger on the E40 in Drongen, near Gent.
For those of you who have been checking distances on the map: yes, this charger is over 80 miles away from Calais, which leaves me with a Dilemma. I could stop right after entering Belgium and opt for a (slower) Level 2 charger in De Panne, a coastal town. However I would probably have to spend 45-60 mins charging the car to 60% there to make it to the next rapid CCS charger. This was be the first occasion where my Range Extender will be used to speed me up a little. This journey is quite long and I’ve had an early start this morning, so I think I’ll save myself the Level 2 charger and burn about 6 litres of petrol instead. All I’m trying to say here is that it would have been possible to continue fully-electric at this juncture. Nice to have the option of the REx though.
4. M20, Channel Tunnel Terminal, 9:20am
I arrived here quite a bit earlier than needed, but better safe than sorry, I thought. Check-in for “Le Shuttle” was slow due to a vast number of motorbikes queuing in front of me. I was booked onto the 10:50 train, taking me into Calais for 12:25 local time.
Update (25/9/15):The Channel Tunnel Terminal in Folkestone now also has a Rapid CCS charging unit, which is operated by ChargeYourCar (CYC) and currently is free of charge.
5. Calais, Euro Tunnel Terminal, 12:25pm
I started my journey back with 52 electric miles left on the dash. Just as I expected, I had enough to reach a Type 2 charger behind the Belgian border to top-up to make it to the CCS rapid charger in Drongen, but at this point I had already decided to use the REx generator for 40-50 miles and speed up my journey. A 30 Amps fast charge would have taken me between one and one-and-a-half hours, which I did’t fancy.
6. E40, Texaco Drongen (heading east), 2:40pm
I arrived at Texaco Drongen and found the CCS charger by ThePluginCompany (TPC) immediately, thanks to the clear signs by the slip road. The REx tank was about 2/3 empty and I had about 25% charge left (REx tank wasn’t full when I set off). After some small complications when trying to fire up the charge point via their web app, I gave Jonathan at TPC a call (who is very friendly, by the way!) and he enabled it remotely for me. I actually managed to figure out how to start charging via SMS later on, but at this point that wasn’t necessary anymore. Once the car was set up for charging I fled into the shade – the i3 thermometer showed a dizzying 37.5 deg C, which was also reflected in the incredibly high max mileage in EcoPro+ mode when I set off again with 95% SOC. This Texaco station is nice and clean, with a small supermarket and cafe. There was free Wifi but I couldn’t get it working.
7. N2, Kortenberg, Leuvensesteenweg, next to a VW dealership, 5:15pm
Traffic around Brussels was horrific and it took me over two-and-a-half hours to make it to the other side of the Belgian capital, a journey that was supposed to take half of the time. But it was Friday afternoon and it wasn’t the first time I have been held up in traffic on the Brussels ring road. Exhausted but happy, I arrived in Kortenberg to start the charge point, when a friendly receptionist from the VW dealership came out, waving with a TPC RFID card. I was invited to come in for a coffee and use the internet, which was nice. She also suggested I should have a look at the eGolf and GTE models, but I am happy with my i3, I assured her. After a 95% recharge, I sat back in the car, starting to feel exhausted. I had another 81 miles to go to my Dad’s house, but was keen to try out the FastNED rapid chargers just behind the dutch/belgian border in Eijsden. The temptation to simply skip this last charge, use the REx again and arrive earlier was immense. But I stuck to my original plan.
8. E25, Eijsden, FastNED, 6:50pm
Well, and was this little detour worthwhile or what? If anybody wonders what the future of EV charging should look like, this is it (or at least very close). I arrived at the FastNED charging station in Eijsden without any other cars currently using it. But then it was a Friday early evening after all. I had already signed up for FastNED whilst at home, so using the app and enabling the charge point was a breeze. All they want is some credit card details, which are entered via the app. Each charge station also offers free Wifi, by the way. Once your account has payment info, you’re ready to go. I charged the i3 enough so I could afford some “fun and brisk driving” to my Dad’s. A 25 mins session cost me €8.85 – my first chargeable battery charge of the day, would you believe it. This might sound much, but can be reduced by joining a monthly subscription scheme. As this was a one-off charging session, I paid the standard tariff.
9. Arrival in Aachen at 8:05pm
Exhausted, but happy, I arrived at my Dad’s house near Aachen after a total journey time of almost 14 hours, having driven 432 miles. As mentioned before, I have done this drive many times and my best time is somewhere around 8 hours for an overnight drive, basically avoiding any traffic congestion. 14 hours is probably 1-2 hours above average, but given that I usually take the ferry instead of the tunnel, I’d say charging added about 2 hours to my average travel time.
Surprisingly, the main problems on this journey were not the charge points, but the heat and the traffic on a Friday afternoon. I am glad I used the REx for about 12% of this journey, as it probably shortened my travel time by 60 to 90 minutes.