A Nissan/ Ecotricity rapid charger at South Mimms Welcome Break service station
A NEW generation of rapid charging points along motorways and A-roads is allowing drivers of electric cars to cross the country without having to wait hours for their batteries to be topped up.
According to new figures, there are 435 rapid charge stations in operation — three times the figure of a year ago. They can recharge a standard electric car such as a Nissan Leaf or Renault Zoe to 80% of its capacity in half an hour, providing roughly 70 extra miles of range.
The units are rated at up to 50kW, significantly more powerful than the more common but slower 7kW chargers found in supermarket car parks or at the roadside in cities, which take about four hours to recharge a car to the same level.
Often located at service stations, rapid chargers are in effect electrifying the motorway network, making it possible to drive from Land’s End to John o’ Groats on electric power alone — as long as you don’t mind frequent charging stops.
Industry figures believe the network could finally give the electric car market some impetus, boosting sales of plug-in hybrids such as the Mitsubishi Outlander too, as they will be able to run in electric mode more frequently. “They are a game-changer for electric cars,” said Ben Lane, managing director of Zap-Map, a website that claims to provide the most accurate map of charging points across the country. “This infrastructure will enable people to extend their journeys.”
The growth of rapid chargers is being driven by two factors: the realisation among electric car proponents that drivers are unwilling to wait for hours for a recharge, and increased competition between networks. There are seven national recharging networks (not including smaller regional outfits that usually operate in a single city) all vying to cover as much of the country as possible.
One of the biggest operators of rapid charging points is Ecotricity, which allows drivers to use its facilities free at 122 locations, including 80% of Britain’s motorway services. By the end of the year it plans to have a rapid charger installed at every motorway service area in the country. Other operators, including Chargemaster and Pod Point, are also investing heavily in the technology.
“Rapid chargers are a vital part of the country’s electric vehicle infrastructure…They have a very significant psychological effect.”
“Rapid chargers are a vital part of the country’s electric vehicle infrastructure,” said Erik Fairbairn, chief executive of Pod Point. “They have a very significant psychological effect. When drivers first think about an electric vehicle they want to know what the new version of filling the car up at a petrol station is and the answer is the rapid charger.”
None of the systems is as effective as the Tesla superfast chargers, however. The American upstart is installing ultra-high-speed chargers, rated at 120kW. Last month The Sunday Times revealed that the first of them had arrived in Britain and that work had begun on installing them by the M25. These charge its Model S cars at more than twice the rate of other rapid chargers, providing up to 130 miles of range from a 20-minute charge, but cannot be used on other makes of electric car.