When Rapid Charging Isn’t Rapid: Why There’s Frustration Brewing Among British EV Owners

With a positive explosion of rapid DC and AC quick charging locations across the UK, there’s never been a better time to own an electric car. Capable of providing an 80 percent charge from empty in around 30 minutes to any appropriately quick-charge-equipped car like the Nissan LEAF, Volkswagen e-Golf, Renault Zoe and BMW i3 to name a few, quick charging stations are transforming the way we use electric cars.

These two charging stations have a total of five cables attached. How many cars can they charge in one go?

These two charging stations have a total of five cables attached. How many cars can they charge in one go?

Yet with a confusing array of different connectors — not to mention backward compatibility with non quick-charging standards and connectors — more and more quick charging stations are being inappropriately used by unwitting owners to slow-charge cars like the Tesla Model S and non-fast-charge Type2-compatible cars.

In some cases, electric car owners aren’t even aware they’re causing others any inconvenience, either believing that there’s alternative provision for others to use, or believing that their car is rapid charging when it isn’t.

Two-hour encampment

The latest case of this comes from LEAF owner and EV advocate Grant Thomas, who arrived at his local IKEA store in Southampton to find a Tesla Model S plugged in to the dual-head CHAdeMO/Type 2 rapid charging station.

Capable of providing a Nissan LEAF, Nissan e-NV200, Mitsubishi i-Miev or Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV with an 80 percent charge from empty in around 30 minutes, the Ecotricity rapid charging station in question — which currently offers charging for free — also has a 43 kW type 2 AC connector for rapid charging the Renault Zoe EV from empty to 80 percent full in a similar amount of time.

The problem however, is that the Type 2 charging connector used to rapid charge the Zoe is identical to the Type 2 charging cable used on other electric vehicles to charge at anything from 3 kW single phase all the way to 22 kW, three phase.

Are charging stations confusing?

Are charging stations confusing?

Worse still, a modified, mechanically-identical version of the Type 2 is the chosen connector used by Tesla on its European-market Model S sedan. Even though the Model S will supercharge at more than 120 kW at a Tesla Supercharger, the same car will max out at a lowly 22 kW from an ordinary, three-phase Type 2 charging station.

As a consequence, the rapid charging Type 2 cable plugs into any production electric car fitted with a Type 2 charging socket, and will charge the car at the maximum rate the car is capable of sustaining, as we demonstrated in our review of the VW e-Up recently.

The result? Even those with slow-charging cars can use the rapid charging stations, even if their car doesn’t support rapid charging, provided the connector fits.

It’s a situation which leaves other electric car owners frustrated, as Grant Thomas explained on UK EV forum SpeakEV.

“Pulled into Ikea Southampton to find a Tesla Model S 85 plugged in and abandoned. No contact details on screen. Called@Ecotricity they confirmed it had been plugged in an hour but did not know who it was (until they finish charging) and we’re not allowed to disconnect.”

Two hours later, the Model S was still plugged in and charging — and a lack of on-screen AC timer meant he had no idea of how long the car had been plugged in.

When a rapid charging station isn't rapid: should there be a time limit on rapid charging sessions?

When a rapid charging station isn’t rapid: should there be a time limit on rapid charging sessions? Photo: G Thomas.

At a Supercharger station, the Model S would be full from empty in just over 70 minutes. At the 22 kW it was pulling from the rapid charging station, a full charge would be measured in hours, not minutes.

Mixed messages, misunderstanding

While Grant says the Model S owner — someone from mainland Europe visiting the UK who was unfamiliar with the Ecotricity network — eventually returned to their car and was apologetic about the length of time their car was charging , it appears confusion about how the charging station worked may be to blame rather than the owner themselves.

That’s because the dual-head DC/AC units operated by Ecotricity — like most other rapid charging stations in the UK — operate on a strict either/or policy. In other words, you can plug in with either charging connector and start a charging session successfully, but you can’t charge two cars at the same time. One a car has started charging from one socket, the other one can’t be used until the first has finished.

Should there be a priority at quick charging stations?

Should there be a priority at quick charging stations?

Other charging stations, like the triple-head quick charging stations operated by UK-based Charge Your Car and operated throughout Europe by other charging providers allow for more than one car to be plugged in at once.

It’s conceivable the Model S owner — like many other EV owners we’ve encountered recently — assumed that two cables means two cars can charge at once. In fact, we’d go as far as to suggest they probably assumed the other side of the charging station could be used even if they were plugged in and using the first.

The problem is something that providers like Ecotricity are working hard to resolve with the installation of additional rapid charging units at each location. In these locations, the additional charging stations not only help provide redundancy in the event of a hardware failure with one unit but also ensure queues for quick charging are kept to a minimum.

Sadly, not every location has more than one rapid charger yet.

Better education, better policy

Over at the SpeakEV forum, you’ll find a healthy discussion over the ins and outs of the aforementioned incident, including asking who is to blame for the unfortunate incident.

Ultimately, the Ecotricity charging stations — currently free — are an attractive proposition to any electric car owner, regardless of the type of charging connection or battery pack size they have. It’s no surprise then, that we’ve even covered this topic before to some degree.

There’s also a strong argument that charging providers need to make it absolutely clear at each and every site how each particular charging station works and how owners are expected to use them.

In fact if we didn’t know better, we think we’d confuse double parking spaces and double-connectors as an indication the charging station had twice the capacity it really did, especially if we were visiting from abroad.

Should sites offering quick charging of electric cars be more specific about usage?

Should sites offering quick charging of electric cars be more specific about usage?

But there’s also a part to be played by salespeople when it comes to explaining to owners exactly how their cars charge and where they can charge. In the past few months, we’ve encountered plenty of electric car owners who were misinformed or completely uninformed about the operation of rapid charging stations. Worse still, we’ve met dealers who maintain that cars like the BMW i3 can rapid charge from a regular type 2 charging socket rather than the specially-designed CCS DC quick charge socket available as an optional extra on the i3.

The Wil Wheaton law

However, we think the best piece of advice we can offer electric car owners making use of public charging stations is one coined by Actor and all-round good guy Wil Wheaton.

As Wheaton puts its, the law is simple: “don’t be a dick.”

Put into less direct language and a set of rules you can use when on the road, that translates to making sure you’re never parked in a charging space for an extended period of time if there’s only one charging pedestal; making sure you return to check on your car regularly; and leaving some way for other users to contact you in an emergency.

Moreover, if you’re the person who arrives to find a charging station in use by someone else, it’s always worth remembering that there are often alternatives nearby. In Grant’s case, there are three other DC quick charging stations within a six mile radius.

Have you found an abandoned electric car at a rapid charging station? Are some electric car owners worse than others when it comes to inconsiderate behaviour at the charging point? And do you think there should be a time limit on all quick-charge-equipped charging stations?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

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