Our First Electric Car — Adventures in Charging

The next in the series of posts covering our experience as a family of switching from a single diesel car to a single Nissan LEAF car.

Previous posts:
* The Decision Process and Purchasing
* Real world range & charging.

Home Charge Point Installation

Last week we finally got our home charging point installed. We had to delay the install until I got back from Apple’s WWDC conference, so we had the LEAF for about 1 month before being able to charge at home. This was fine thanks to the InstaVolt rapid chargers in our local town.

A photo of the oak post on our driveway, with the Rolec charging point on it and the cable running to our LEAF as it charges.

The install only took one person about half a day. I helped out a little running the armoured cable from the house approximately 30m to the driveway. Interestingly they chose to fit a new small consumer unit (fuse box) inside our meter box which is on the outside of the house, rather than mess around trying to connect to the main consumer unit which is further inside the house. We were lucky we had space in the meter box to do this.

The cost of the electrical work was around £1000 including the Rolex charging point, but after the EV installation grant it only cost us about £450.

Now we can charge whenever we like at home, and basically every day we’re at 100%. Yay. In reality we only need to charge once every couple of days. People like to point out that you shouldn’t charge to more than 80% for best battery health, but it seems this is not relevant any more, and seems frankly ridiculous given that Nissan used to but no longer provide a way to have the car stop charging automatically at 80%.

Surprised by range

Last week, we lost our first “bar” of “battery health”. There are 12 bars on the right of the LEAF dashboard, next to the range indicator. As a battery ages, it loses the ability to maintain maximum charge and this indicates roughly how much of that maximum is now available. When we bought the car it had all 12 despite being three years old. Of course going from 12 to 11 feels like a huge change, but it is to be expected, and it is probably the change from 93% to 92.95% of the maximum charge compared to a new battery.

As with so many of the “digital” stats in these cars it can cause unwarranted anxiety. It also makes you wonder if rapid charging it ~10 times since we got it contributed to this, but it seems this is unlikely. Many LEAFs have hundreds or thousands of rapid charges.

Today we did our first run of the long journey to visit family that I wanted to make sure was not a problem for the LEAF’s range so that we could charge just at the other end before returning, instead of stopping on the way.

I’m pleased to say we made this journey starting on 100% charge and ended at the destination on 34% — for a journey of approximately 57 miles through mixed non-motorway roads in the British countryside; winding, hilly parts, a mix of 60mph, 50mph, 40mph and 30mph roads.

This was without any especially careful driving, and trying to drive at or slightly above the limit of each section — with Climate Control on because it was actually a hot day here in the UK. Compared to the experience of 70mph motorway travel covered in a previous post, this was seemingly much more efficient.

Relatively speaking there is a charge point wilderness in Wiltshire between Swindon and Salisbury, so I’m glad this worked out. At the Salisbury end we got to charge at the Type 7kW chargers at the local Leisure Centre which has 8 (!) bays run by Polar. One of the 4 posts was not working. As I write, after about 2 hours we should be close to 100% again for the journey back later this evening.

There’s only one rapid charger in Salisbury which seems crazy for such a populous town. We used to live in this town and one of the reasons we moved to a house near to Stroud instead was that we struggled to find anybody in Salisbury who cared at all about environmental issues. So this comes as no great surprise — diesel Land Rovers, Range Rovers and large Mercedes don’t need EV chargers.

In terms of estimating range without mental hijinx, my initial rule of thumb still holds – on average 1% of battery charge relates to just under 1 mile of range, and this journey bears that out pretty well.

Type 2 Connectors… the standard from hell

You may have read in a previous post my comments about the complexity of charging connecters.

To recap, Type 2 connectors are typically used for AC fast charging (fast not being as fast as rapid which uses DC, but the only practical charging level for the home). To add spice to this, the LEAF has a Type 1 socket in it — and to fast charge you have to use a cable that is Type 2 at one end and Type 1 at the car end.

There’s also another confounding user experience factor — Tesla also use Type 2 connectors for DC charging. However it turns out there’s even more complexity than I understood

A LEAF can fast charge at 7kW. Some cars like the Renault Zoe can fast charge at up to 22kW. So there are public Type 2 charging points which support up to 7kW and some up to 22kW — and a LEAF can charge at either of those, but will only ever draw 7kW.

There are however seemingly many Type 2 charge points that support up to 43kW. It turns out a LEAF cannot use these, because the Type 2 cable is tethered to the charge point, which means you cannot use your own Type 2 to Type 1 converter cable as you do with all the other Type 2 charging points.

Trying to explain this to someone is incredibly painful. Apps like Zap-Map are too complicated partly as a result of this, and trying to find a charger you can actually use is still way too complicated.

About

Marc Palmer (@marcpalmerdev) is a consultant and software engineer specialising in Apple platforms. He created the Flint open source framework. He writes native apps like the music practice app Soundproof for iOS devices for his company Montana Floss Co.. He can also do a pretty good job of designing products. Don't ask him to draw anything, because that's just embarrassing. You can find out more about him here.

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