I believe that everyone has a personal responsibility to live a sustainable lifestyle. As part of my own reflection on how I can adjust my own lifestyle to be sustainable, I’ve been thinking about what impact the way I travel has on the environment.
Sidenote: My definition of living sustainably, is living a lifestyle that if everyone on Earth were to live too, would result in a rate of resource use that is within the Earth’s regenerative capacity.
As a family, we typically take several short haul European flights each year, mainly to visit my partners family in Poznan. As you’ll probably already be aware, travelling by plane is by far the most environmentally damaging way to travel.
In order to reduce our environmental impact, we’ve set out to cut down the amount of flying we do. As part of that we looked into the possibility of driving to Poznan in our Nissan LEAF instead of flying.
As of right now (March 2016), getting from Leeds to Poznan in a LEAF isn’t particularly realistic due to the lack of CHAdeMO rapid chargers in Germany/Poland (although there are plans in place to sort that out soon).
But seeing as there are a good amount of LEAF compatible rapid chargers in France/Belgium/Netherlands, we thought we would see what it’s like to take a long international trip in an electric car, so that if the opportunity to go to Poznan using the LEAF comes up, we’ll know what to expect.
It took quite a bit of planning and research to make this trip as easy as possible, so in order to save anyone else planning something similar from having to go through the same preparation that I did, i’m sharing it all here, as well as a summary of the trip. Enjoy.
Things You’ll Need
These are the things you’ll need to have in order to comply with European driving regulations.
- A red warning triangle.
- A high visibility jacket.
- GB sticker / reg number sticker.
- Headlamp light converters.
Charging Network Access Cards
You’ll also need to make sure you have the right RFID (contactless) cards that will allow you to access the charging points.
Here we used a card from KiWhi. This card will allow you access to all of the rapid chargers located at Auchan supermarkets in France. They now have a page on their website with full instructions on how UK drivers can order a access card. We also looked into getting hold of a card for the new Corri-door network of rapid chargers, but we didn’t manage to get one before our trip.
For Belgium, it’s handy to have a card from The New Motion that will give you access to the majority of charging points (plus many in The Netherlands and Germany too). We didn’t actually have one of these cards with us on this trip, mainly because when preparing we thought that due to the roaming agreement between Charge Your Car and The New Motion, that we wouldn’t need to bother ordering a The New Motion card.
As it turns out, a Charge Your Car card will only enable you to recharge on chargers installed by The New Motion themselves, and not the other charger points that are part of the The New Motion network, but owned by other providers (such as Blue Corner, Allego etc). Luckily this didn’t affect our journey as the chargers we were using were operated by a ThePluginCompany (more on them in a second), Nissan dealerships (where no access card was needed) and at the Interparking car park in Brussels where the attendant at the garage activated the charger for us.
A large part of the preparation for this trip was trying to figure out how I could use the rapid chargers operated by ThePluginCompany in Belgium. We had real trouble with figuring out how to get hold of a access card from them. We tried email the address on their website, but got no reply. Their Facebook and Twitter profiles also haven’t been updated since 2012. Also, the page on their website showing their network of chargers has been removed.
It wasn’t looking good until I came across a blog post from fellow EV driver Michael Koch who had been able to get in touch with someone from ThePluginCompany who had been kind enough to remotely start the chargers he needed. I got in touch with Michael via Twitter, and he kindly gave me the contact details for the chap at ThePluginCompany who assured me that he would be able to remote start the charger for me too!
- PlugShare and ChargeMap are really useful for identifying the location of charging points, and assessing how reliable they are too (judging from the check-ins and comments of other EV drivers).
Other Pre Trip Stuff To Do
- Get a foreign SIM card / roaming bundle. We went with Vodafone EuroTraveller (100MB of data per day for £3).
- Check you have breakdown cover in place with European coverage (all LEAF’s less than 3 years old get this for free via AXA, this cover is extended by a year each time you get your LEAF serviced at a Nissan dealership).
- Conduct a vehicle check (tyres etc).
- Remember to bring your passport, driving license, vehicle registration (V5C) and certificate of insurance.
- It’s also worth having some € on hand in cash. We found that you had to pay to use the toilets at some of the services in Belgium, so having some change comes in handy if you need to spend a penny so to speak.
- It’s worth giving the car a good clean and vacuum before setting off (we were lazy and took ours down to local hand car wash).
Tibshelf Services (UK)
We set off from Cleckheaton at around 9am, with Tibshelf being our first charge of the trip. We ‘double hit’ the charger here (putting the car back on charge once it stopped charging at 90%, in order to max our range by charging until 98%).
Watford Gap Services (UK)
After another 63 miles of driving, we stopped off at Watford Gap to recharge. Again, we ‘double hit’ the charger here.
South Mimms Services (UK)
After another 63 miles, we stopped here for another refill. Again, as no-one was queueing behind us to use the charger, we topped up to almost 100%.
IKEA Lakeside (UK)
In terms of range, we didn’t really need to stop here. We could have made the 64 mile trip from South Mimms right to Maidstone, but we decided to stop off as we were doing OK for time and fancied some dinner at the IKEA restaurant.
Maidstone Services (UK)
This was our fifth and and final charge on the first day of our trip. It gave us enough charge to get to our hotel in Folkestone, and to reach the Folkestone EuroTunnel terminal the next day.
EuroTunnel Folkestone (UK)
We opted for an early train (7.50am) to make the most of the EuroTunnel overnight ticket. Our Charge Your Car card gave us access to the charging points here, but you can also borrow a access card from the help desk at the terminal if you don’t have one yourself.
Auchan Calais (France)
We got off the train in Calais with pretty much a full battery from our charge at the EuroTunnel terminal in Folkestone. Given that we would be relying on these French rapid chargers for the next few days, we drove straight to the Auchan supermarket in Calais (just a few miles from the EuroTunnel terminal) to make sure they worked OK. Unfortunately, we didn’t actually manage to charge up here, as the Zoe pictured was hogging the charging point. Rather than waiting around for the owner of the Zoe to turn up, we pushed on to the next closest rapid charger.
Auchan Dunkerque (France)
A short drive from the Calais EuroTunnel terminal (25 miles) we managed our first rapid charge on European soil. The rapid chargers located at Auchan are operated with the KiWhi card.
Nissan Brackx Ostend (Belgium)
62 miles from Calais and 40 miles from our last charge at Auchan Dunkerque, we arrived at our first rapid charger in Belgium. We contacted this Nissan dealership ahead of our trip just to make sure they were OK with letting us use their rapid charger. They said it would be absolutely fine and true enough we charged here with no problems at all.
Drongen Services (Belgium)
35 miles later we stopped at the services just outside Ghent on the E40 highway towards Brussels. As mentioned in the pre trip prep notes, for this charger we had arranged for someone at ThePluginCompany to remotely start the charger for us. We plugged in, sent a iMessage to our contact, and within a few minutes he had got back to us and started the charger!
Interparking Botanique Brussels (Belgium)
38 miles further along the E40, we arrived in Brussels. After navigating some city centre traffic, we found our overnight parking spot at Interparking Bontanique. Unfortunately, when we arrived the charging point was already in use, so we parked up in a normal parking bay and came back later in the evening to see if the other EV had finished using the charger. Luckily when we came back the other car had gone, and we moved ours in it’s place. The staff at the car park were super helpful in getting the charging point activated after we had a bit of trouble with the charger stopping the charging session prematurely on the first attempt.
Ibis Aalst (Belgium)
The following morning, after a little walking tour of Brussels, we started to make our way back towards Calais. As with the rapid charge on the way into Brussels at Drongen services, this ThePlugInCompany charger in Aalst required us to get in touch with our contact to remote start the charger. With this being a Saturday, our contact was a little slower at getting back to us.While waiting, we discovered that the receptionist at the hotel had a RFID card that activated the charger, so we used that instead.
Opel / Izuzu Garage (Belgium)
As with the Nissan dealership is Ostend, we contacted this dealership in advance of the trip by email to confirm that it was OK for us to use the rapid charger which they were fine with. Once again, we had no problems. Just plug in and charge.
Auchan Roncq (France)
After crossing back into France, we stopped off at another Auchan to top up the battery and grab some food. As with every other rapid charger on the trip, everything was working beautifully.
IKEA Lille (France)
After several laps of the IKEA car park, we eventually found the rapid charger. It was behind some barriers, so given that we we already nearly fully charged from our previous stop, we decided not to bother topping up here, but the charger seemed to be working fine.
This stop is where things took a more perilous turn (for the first time on the trip). We couldn’t actually locate this charger at all. After a few laps of the car park where the charger was supposed to be, we decided that our limited remaining battery could get us to an Auchan with a rapid charger that was on our route back to Calais.
Auchan St. Omer (France)
We arrived in St. Omer with a few miles left on the dashboard, very pleased to see the screen of the rapid charger lit up and ready to go. We recharged here to give us enough range to get us back to Calais for our crossing back to the UK.
EuroTunnel Calais (France)
The EuroTunnel terminal in Calais was our final charging station on our trip. Although 1 of the units was showing an error, the second unit worked fine. Because the missing charger in Hazelbrook had delayed us, we could only manage a quick 15 minute charger here before the final call for our train was announced, but it gave us enough range to get to our next charging stop in the UK the following morning.
My most significant reflection of the trip was just how easy it was. Having read a few horror stories of EV road trips in Europe, I was expecting to come up against at least a couple of issues (faulty chargers etc), but other than not being able to find the charger in Hazelbrook, everything worked perfectly.
Looking back on the trip it seems as if 65 miles is roughly about the kind of range you can comfortably get from a Mk1 LEAF between rapid chargers when travelling on a highway (at around 56mph). When we next do a trip like this, now that we are confident in the reliability of the rapid charge network in Europe, it’s going to be easier to plan a route with out quite as many stops.
If you have any feedback about this post, or if there is any extra information you would like know, please feel free to leave a comment or get in touch with me on Twitter @nathanjmassey.