I've been driving a fully electric vehicle for almost 3 years now and in that time they have become more and more common. Here are my experiences of driving an EV and a few tips and information I've picked up along the way!
The Nissan Leaf
The Nissan Leaf was the first viable Electric Vehicle (EV) that I looked at and was mostly a financial decision for me. With a commute of ~72 miles a day just to the office, I was spending a fair amount on fuel, upwards of £300/month with personal use, and the almost zero cost of electricity by comparison was quite attractive. Although the LEAF, which stands for Leading Environmentally-friendly Affordable Family car, which we won't be mentioning again, is largely sold and thought of as a 'green' form of transport, this was probably one of the lowest motivating factors for me. Alongside the financial motivation for me to switch, there was also the totally different driving experience of an EV.
Trying an EV
To test out the concept of an EV I decided to pick up a cheaper, second hand car to get started. The generation 1 Leaf, commonly referred to as a 'Gen 1', was a good way to see what driving an EV was like day to day without spending big before I was totally sure it'd work out. Nissan kept production simple for the first model and the only real option you could choose was the colour, so they were all pretty much the same! Mine is the silver one in this picture.
Very quickly some of the worries I had about driving an EV were relieved, the most notable of which was 'range anxiety'. Range anxiety is the term given to the fear of having a typically shorter than usual range in your car. Most ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) cars typically have a range in the hundreds of miles but a fully charged Gen 1 Leaf is only going to give you 60-70 miles. With the average driver doing far less than this in a typical day, I never fully understood the concern, but I was going to be pushing the boundaries of the range each day. This turned out not to be a problem. Like any car, you soon get used to what it's capable of and gauging just how much 'low fuel' really means! I'd get home, put the car on charge and it was quite nice coming out to a fully charged car in the morning and having a full tank without having to get fuel on the way out of town.
It's also really handy to charge it up at shopping centres, when I go snowboarding or even when I pop to IKEA for a few things!
This is known as destination charging and provides an opportunity for you to top up the vehicle, or fully recharge it depending on the charger, whilst you're spending time at a single location. This is a great way of extending the range of your vehicle throughout the day as you're using it.
A totally different drive
One of the things that I quickly grew to like about driving an EV was how responsive the throttle was. With the only delay to applying power being the time it takes the electrons to zip from the battery to the motor, which is basically instant, they can be quite nippy cars to drive. With 110bhp and 210 ft-lb of torque it's not exactly the fastest car in the world but it can deliver 100% power and torque at 0rpm, which conventional ICE cars just can't do. This does make them quite fun to drive, especially off the line. To check just how accurate those figures from Nissan were, I decided I'd put it on a rolling road, just for fun.
The guy at the dyno shop was quite amused as he'd never done anything like this before. None of the typical things like giant cooling fans at the front were needed, nor were there any exhaust gasses to extract. It was also completely silent so no one needed any ear defenders that you'd typically have during a dyno run. The Leaf did quite well and we did several runs with a combination of manual and controlled launches because, well, why not?!
Charging the car
There are several different types of charger that you can use to recharge an EV and I will cover the ones that apply specifically to the Leaf. The easiest option, and the one that I use overnight most nights, is charging it from a standard electrical outlet. Just like you'd plug your laptop or phone charger in to, you can also plug your car in and charge it from a 3 pin plug, or your local equivalent.
Whilst this is the slowest of the charging options at ~2kW it's the easiest to get up and going as these socket can be purchased for around £15 and fitted very easily. The next option is using a dedicated EV charger. These are small devices that you can fit to your external wall and provide a faster charging option for your car. For the Leaf this is either a 3.3kW or 6.6kW charger depending on if the car has the optional fast charging upgrade.
The last option for charging is a rapid charger. For the Leaf these will deliver 55kW of power, 400v at ~140A, which is a serious amount of juice and can give you an 80% boost in battery in as little as 20-30 minutes. You can see my car connected to one of these at IKEA above and they are quite large units, generally not for home use!
The charging times for each of the chargers above varies but here is a rough guide.
|Type of charger||Power||Time for 100% charge|
|Domestic socket||~2kW||~10 hours|
|Home Charger||3.3kW||6.5 hours|
|Home Charger||6.6kW||3.2 hours|
|Rapid Charger||55kW||~40 mins|
The different types of chargers are useful for different scenarios and you will typically see up to 6.6kW used for home and destination charging, like those at shopping centres, and rapid chargers are typically only seen in motorway service areas where people stop for a very short period and need a quick boost.
The Gen 2
After having my Gen 1 Leaf for a mere 10 months I'd put over 28,000 miles on it and I'd more than decided it was time to upgrade. The Gen 1 was a cheap option to try out EV driving before I made a more expensive purchase of a car I'd keep for a longer period. The Gen 2 Leaf did come with various spec options and I went for the Tekna, the top option. It comes with a full, black leather interior, Bose audio with an amp in the boot, nice alloys, 360 degree cameras and heated seats. Also, even though the battery pack was the same size, it came with a nice improvement in range thanks to some efficiency savings in the new model, taking the range into the 70-80 mile bracket.
This is my current car which I picked up with only a few hundred miles on the clock and is now pushing towards 30,000 miles in the 18 months I've owned it. Driving an EV isn't as hard as you might think but there are a couple of things to consider.
What do I need to worry about?
The first thing that I'd advise anyone looking at purchasing an EV to consider is where you will charge it. Those with access to private parking who can fit a socket or a charger will be in the most ideal situation. You simply arrive home at night and plug the cable in so you can come out to a fully charged car in the morning. Beyond that, there really isn't much else to think about. Obviously you need to make sure they're suitable to your driving habits so those who frequently do long distance driving are out, but all vehicles have their limitations and intended use cases. That said, it is becoming easier to do longer distance drives than your maximum range.
If you do need to do longer drives it's becoming easier and easier to do them thanks to an ever growing network of charging points up and down the country. In the UK we have quite a few network providers that offer public charging solutions.
The largest and probably most notable network in the UK is the Ecotricity Electric Highway. This is also the network that had a small problem with their smartphone app that I wrote about, One password reset to rule them all, but other than that small hiccup, everything looks good. This network covers pretty much every single motorway service area in the UK and various other locations on major routes with rapid chargers. With a quick pit stop for a toilet break or a fresh coffee you can be comfortably looking at a +50% boost in your battery capacity. They're really handy if you're looking to step outside the maximum range of your car and need a quick boost.
After Ecotricity we have another large network provider here in the UK called ChargeYourCar. They offer their own network of rapid chargers but are much more focused on destination chargers at places like cinemas, supermarkets, shopping centres and hotels.
As you can see in the image below the CYC network is pretty big. They have almost total coverage of the entire country and so many chargers that the UK has disappeared behind all of the pins on the map!
Whilst Ecotricity and ChargeYourCar represent what are probably the 2 largest networks in the UK, there are many other network providers too! Far too many to list and talk about, so I'm going to show you a 3rd party map called Zap-Map that tries to list all known charging points in the country.
When people tell me that the infrastructure for EVs "just isn't there yet", this is why I'm always really puzzled...
Our country is just littered with charge points and remember, you only use these ones when you're out and about. The vast majority of your charging will take place either at home or at work. Workplace charging by the way is the absolute best thing that can happen! If you can get your employer to fit a charger for you at work you've hit the sweet spot where you won't likely ever have to worry about charging again. If you're looking for chargers near you check out other networks including SourceLondon, Polar Network, Charge Point Genie, Rapid Charge Network and even most Nissan dealerships have fast or rapid charging available on site for owners of a Leaf to use!
The smartphone app
Of course, like all new cars these days, the Leaf has a smartphone app to control various features remotely. For regular readers you will remember that this app did have some issues earlier this year that allowed Troy Hunt to remotely control the features of my car using a vulnerable web API. Those problems aside, the app is quite useful but one feature in particular really comes in handy, especially where I live in the UK. The UK isn't known for it's warm weather and I live in the North of England in a fairly remote area too. This means that we often see the mercury plunge well below 0 and as I sit and write this blog at 8am in early November, it's still -3 degrees outside! This means I quite often look out of my window to views like this.
Although snow is fairly common, one thing that I do get a lot more is a completely frozen car that resembles a giant ice cube. For us British folk these mornings typically entail us going outside, wrapped up in a thick coat with a hot cup of tea in hand, and either scraping the ice off our car or standing guard while we run the engine to warm it up and de-ice the windows. With the Leaf, no more! One of the best features of the app is the ability to turn on the climate control remotely.
This simple button will turn on the climate control system in the car and with it being an EV, it doesn't need to start an engine. If you left the heated seats and/or heated steering wheel on when you turned the car off, it will also turn those on for you too. What this means is that I can stand at my bedroom window and be rather smug while I watch my car defrost itself alongside my neighbours who are positively annoyed at the entire thing. Here is my car defrosting itself in -11 degrees as I stand watching, still in my pyjamas.
For those of you reading that might be rather smug about living in a climate that is the opposite of ours here (hi Troy!), this feature is also just as much of a life saver when the car has been parked in the sun all day. You can turn on the air conditioning remotely and cool the car down from the temperature of a nuclear furnace to something that you can actually get in to when you arrive at the car. This is equally amazing when you've been in the office all day and you're wearing a suit!
Is it for me?
I come up against a lot of resistance for EV ownership and even for owning an EV myself. People are often quick to voice their opinion on various aspects of EVs even though they have never even driven one, let alone owned one. From my own experience owning an EV is a lot easier than most think and the average driver wouldn't ever need to be concerned about things like the range. The Gen 3 Leaf is available now and with the larger battery pack they are giving a comfortable 100 mile range. Charged up at home overnight, how many people can say they frequently drive more than 100 miles per day? Even if you do, with charging at work or the variety of public charging points, you can keep the car topped up as you go. If you want to give it a try Nissan will give you a Leaf for up to 5 days in the UK to really test it out properly, I'd recommend giving it a try, what do you have to lose?