Tour

More charging, please

When we launched the Zero Carbon Tour we said it would be a UK first to send a fully electric coach to towns, cities and communities across the UK. While wanting to share great stories about zero carbon progress, we would also highlight areas where we can do better. One of these areas of improvement is the charging infrastructure to help accelerate EV uptake.

Words:
Steve Malkin
Images:
James Street
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After finishing up our first stops in London, this first leg of the Zero Carbon Tour took us 263 miles from London to our partners at the Eden Project in Cornwall in the 100% electric Carbon Battle Bus.

The planning of the Zero Carbon Tour involved mapping our stops with suitable and serviceable charging points for our CCS connector using Zapp Map.

Alongside this, Westway Coaches, the electric coach provider, were well versed in what chargers worked and tested additional chargers including those with Ionity and Ecotricity (now GRIDSERVE) before we mapped our route to the South West. We ensured we were fully prepared and carried out our due diligence before setting off. 

What we found though was the frustration of the charging network. The first charging point we called at should have been compatible with the coach – based on the information provided – on arrival, however; it was not.

This left us with the decision to ‘risk’ moving on to the next charging stop 88 miles away. We were able to successfully make it with 15 miles range left on the charge, but it was nail biting and did not help alleviate the ‘charging anxiety’ that is felt by so many EV owners and drivers across the UK right now.

You can follow the journey we had while finding an operational charging point through our Twitter feed here. 

With the Devon charging point successfully working with the coach, we were able to proceed to our destination in Cornwall but was frustratingly met with the same issues of misinformation and incompatible charging systems. This meant that while we could make it to the Eden Project and deliver workshops and information sessions to encourage and support businesses in the transition to net zero carbon emissions, it meant we did not have enough charge in the coach to attend additional events in Cornwall.

This was a massive blow to our plans for profile raising the Zero Carbon Tour with the world’s media in Cornwall and the G7 leaders and their teams – an opportunity lost.

So, what are the lessons learnt from this part of the journey?

1. Plan ahead. Know your charging needs and engage with charging suppliers ahead of departure. 

2. Charging providers need well qualified customer support staff 24/7. Our calls for assistance were usually met by call centre staff without the knowledge or ability to help resolve our issues or escalate to a wider team.

3. It is critical that suppliers provide better data for customers before arriving to the charging station and part of this is ensuring infrastructure quality and consistency. Clear signage online and at the station about charger types and specifications is needed.

4. Upkeep and maintenance seems neglected. We often found charge points offline or not working. Keep charging points operational or speedily getting them back online is key.  At all charging stations there was no hand sanitiser or gloves, yet the hook ups all needed to be touched and handled which was difficult and not acceptable considering Covid-19 guidance.

5. Charging station design. The range of EV models is ever expanding, it’s no longer a handful of family cars – there are work vans, delivery vans and now electric coaches. The providers need to consider the location of the charging points in the car parks or petrol station forecourts. Charging requirements are different but they are like an afterthought stuck in a far-flung corner of a car park. They should be more accessible and customer friendly. Seats and shade/cover from the elements would help. We’ll come on to that in our next blog about the GRIDSERVE station at Braintree. We also must increase the number of bays at charging stations and the volume of charging stations. The people we met in Cornwall expressed similar frustrations of always being forgotten when it comes to infrastructure.

After an agonisingly slow, power-conserving journey back to Devon, we charged the coach again, at the one compatible station on our route, before returning to London. 

Our final planned events in Cheltenham and Swindon for the first leg of the Tour were unfortunately postponed due to the rise in Covid-19 cases. A difficult decision but one we needed to make to ensure the safety of our guests, hosts and our team.  

To make the best use of the coach and ensure we continued to share the net zero message across the business community, we took advantage of visiting Planet Mark members and highlighting their amazing sustainability achievements.  

You can read about these visits in our next blog post here. You can also see the first part of our journey beginning in London here.