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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  • Ad van der Meer

    I suspect those Model Su00b4ses will disappear as soon as more Superchargers are installed.nI face the same problem with my Renault Zoe at 22 kW chargers. Not seldom I see Outlanders and V60 PHEVu00b4s nipping at a 3,7 kW pace. At some places 3,7 kW chargers are present as well, but not all PHEV drivers are aware of their behaviour and in which way this effects my charging time.

    • Matt Beard

      Actually, looking at the proposed locations, I think there will still be a lot of Teslas wanting to stop for a charge in places where they won’t find superchargers.

  • vdiv

    Pencil this one into the “rants” bucket. It would make EVChels proud ;)nnYou get what you pay for. At least the charger wasn’t MICED.

  • Grant Thomas

    FYI Family was shopping in IKEA; had Mr Tesla not returned by their return; west way nissan Southampton was the next option

  • Esl1999 .

    Los Angeles doesn’t seem to have this problem. Tesla owners charge at home or use the Superchargers. It, probably, would be embarrassing for them to use those antiquated public charging stations. Tesla has got the charging thing right. The rest are charging in the dark ages.

  • Espen Hugaas Andersen

    You can hardly fault the Tesla owner, as he was using the charger in the intended way. Ikea and others really should install more 11 and 22 kW charging points, though. These are really cheap, and are great for destination charging.nnThe same issue will however pop up for CHAdeMO once the CHAdeMO adapter for the Model S hits the market in Europe. (Currently it’s in final stages of testing.) When Model S owners start camping out at CMAdeMO chargers for up to two hours, I can imagine there being peeved Leaf owners standing around waiting.nnBut what are you going to do? If they need the charge and there’s nothing else that’s nearby, Model S owners are completely entitled to use the charge points.

  • nitters

    Its not just British EV owners 🙂 Had the same situation at IKEA Lille (France), where a Dutch Tesla was plugged in on my arrival with the LEAF.nnWith the Tesla owner present, we were surprised to find out you cannot use both AC and DC simultaneously. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t work at a reduced rate when using both (the AC side really doesn’t ‘use’ the charger). The new eVolt or ABB chargers do this.nnIn my case the Tesla owner very kingly interrupted his charge to let me charge, as he had more than 3hrs to go still. They’re not all bad ;-)nnUnfortunately the DC charger then malfunctioned… Ground Fault… So had to go somewhere else after all…nThe joys of long distance travel in an (not Tesla) EV 🙂

  • Alan Larson

    The solution is fairly simple. Tax electric charging like fuel is taxed, but make it in terms of connect time to the charger. Three pounds per hour might be about riight.

  • Mel Acquistapace Catchpole

    Oh boy. Wish I knew what I was in for before my car broke down and I put my Xinling 1500w moped back on the road. Stop laughing….I have a job I’m a good person. Oh ya…..its hot pink. Why it was so cheap?
    I digress…..I work in southampton, need a normal 3 pin plug/slow (I do mean SLOW!) to have enough charge to get back home. Where the heck can I charge this thing? I’m guessing shop mobility West quay won’t charge it as it’s not a wheelchair?? I’m guessing the slow charge would upset other EV owners. What do I do?