Electric Car Charging Networks 1: Ecotricity’s Electric Highway

A row of electric cars at a rapid charger station (Image: Ecotricity)

A row of electric cars at a rapid charger station (Image: Ecotricity)

I have previously covered the ins-and-outs of charging your electric car at home using a charge point or a 13 Amp cable:

If you want to charge your car away from home, and can’t get by with a 13 Amp ‘granny cable’, then you will need to join one or more of the national charging networks. That gives you access to the public charging points available around town centres and on the motorway and trunk road systems.

In an occasional series I will cover the biggest networks: Electric Highway, Polar Network, POD Point and so on. Here we begin with Ecotricity’s Electric Highway.

 

Electric Highway

Website: For The Road
Operated by: Ecotricity
Online Map: Charge Point Map
Smartphone App: Electric Highway App

Operator’s Description

“The Electric Highway is the most comprehensive electric vehicle charging network in Europe. We have around  300 electricity pumps across Britain, covering the motorway network and beyond.

The Electric Highway enables electric vehicle drivers to travel the length and breadth of Britain – completely emissions free. It’s easy to use – all you need to do to access and use our entire network of electricity pumps is to  download the Electric Highway app.

We have a simple pricing structure too – it costs just 17p per unit of energy you use, alongside a £3 connection fee for each charge. You can charge up to a maximum of 45 minutes – and you’ll only pay for the energy you’ve used.

There is no connection fee for Ecotricity energy customers – and if you’re with Ecotricity, you’ll also get a discount on your energy bill just for driving an electric car. You can  switch to Ecotricity here. If you’re new to EVs, we have some helpful advice on how to charge, along with some comprehensive FAQs. Or you can find your nearest electricity pump on  our charge point map.”

Our BMW i3 on charge at Corley Services (Image: T. Larkum)

My BMW i3 on charge on an Ecotricity DBT rapid charger at Corley Services (Image: T. Larkum)

Our View

If you join just one network it probably has to be Ecotricity’s Electric Highway (EH) as they have a virtual monopoly on charging at motorway service areas (the exception being Tesla with their Superchargers). The good news is that the majority of services now have at least one Ecotricity rapid charger, an increasing number have two and some have even more. So for long distance driving with your electric car you can pretty much get around most of England by charging at motorway services. Coverage outside England (in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and particularly in Wales) is however poor.

The reliability of EH charge points has historically been quite poor; although it has improved in the last year or so it is worthwhile to have a backup plan in case the first (or even second) EH rapid charger that you visit is offline or already in use.

Curiously, apart from at motorway services the majority of EH rapid chargers are in the car parks of IKEA superstores (due to a partnership deal between them – see IKEA Electric Vehicle Charging).

The majority of EH rapid chargers are large white units manufactured by DBT-CEV. These provide DC charging at 50kW for CCS (BMW i3 etc.) and Chademo (e.g. Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi Outlander) connectors, and AC charging at 43kW (Renault ZOE). Typically the first ones installed were ‘single headed’ with just Chademo cables for the Leaf. Later they were ‘double headed’ with the addition of a Type 2 cable for the ZOE. Current installs are ‘triple headed’ with the addition of a CCS cable for the i3 and Hyundai IONIQ.

My Renault ZOE charging at an Ecotricity 22kW medium-fast charger (Image: T. Larkum)

My Renault ZOE charging at an Ecotricity 22kW medium-fast charger (Image: T. Larkum)

Note that most EVs with a Type 2 connector (not the Leaf or Outlander) can be charged with any Ecotricity rapid through the Type 2 cable but only the ZOE can use it at full power (43kW or 22kW). Some can use it at reduced power (e.g. the i3 can use 11kW) but most will drop down to 7kW, like charging at home. You should use the CCS or Chademo connector for rapid charging, and only use the Type 2 if these aren’t working (it will be much slower).

Before using DBT rapids Ecotricity installed a small number of ‘medium’ chargers providing 22kW. Some of these are still in place and can be seen alongside the DBT ones; again, you should make sure that you understand which charger and cable/connector is most appropriate for your circumstances.

Ecotricity’s rapids are operated using a smartphone app – see the link above. I have previously described the process in detail: Rapid Charging with an Ecotricity Charge Point.

The medium chargers, however, still use an RFID ‘swipe’ card (much like a credit card). If you need one of these you will have to apply for it directly from Ecotricity: AC Medium Registration Form.

 

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