What I wish to discuss with this article are the specific charging options that electric tow car owners will have available to them. Now, most of the time, most people will charge their electric tow car at home. Granted, some people don’t have a drive and will have to rely completely on the public charging network. This brings up lots of charging related questions. However, with this article, I want to specifically discuss using fast/rapid chargers during a towing journey which will be needed to make electric towing viable.
In my previous articles on can electric cars tow caravans I discuss the general rule of electric tow cars. That being, when towing you should expect the range of an electric car to reduce by roughly 50% from its normal driving range. Therefore, on a towing journey, you will typically be looking at twice the number of charging stops compared to covering the same distance when not towing.
Introduction To Rapid/Fast Charging
As towing can significantly reduce the range of an electric tow car leading to more frequent charging stops, you will want to get energy back into the battery as quickly as possible. How quickly the electric tow car will be able to charge will be dependant on two key factors:
- What is the electric tow cars maximum rate of charge?
- What is the maximum power of charge provided at the charging station?
I’ve previously written about which electric tow cars charge the fastest, so please check out that article for information on that front. This article is here to discuss the second question about the power/speed of the charger itself and their availability. As with most things in the electric car world, rapid/fast charging stations both in terms of the technology they use and their payments options etc are changing pretty fast. As with all my articles, I’ll do my best to keep this information up to date.
What Classifies As Rapid/Fast Charging?
So as I’ve stated above, this article is primarily to discuss the fastest charging options available. Hence, if you are on a long journey towing a caravan/trailer along the motorway, for instance, rapid/fast charging is what you are going to need. When you’re charging at home, on the street or at a public car park they are commonly Type 2 chargers which will deliver up to a maximum of 22kW of power. Typically, its much less, most home chargers provide a maximum peak output of 7kW. However, for the purposes of this article and discussing rapid/fast chargers we are discussing charging technology which can provide more than 22kW of power, and in some cases much more.
From this point forward when it comes to electric tow cars and rapid/fast charging the CCS plug above is what you’ll be using. Yes, there are competing fast charging alternatives such as CHAdeMO. However, only a few cars such as the Nissan Leaf were fitted with a CHAdeMO plug for fast-charging in the UK, and the Leaf isn’t rated to tow. The Nissan Ariya which is rated to tow (1,500 kg) uses a CCS plug. Tesla does have their own proprietary fast-charging plug which is found on the Model X. However, the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y are fitted with a CCS plug for rapid/fast charging in the UK.
CCS Rapid/Fast Charging At Up To 350kW…
As I’m writing this article the fastest charging rate a CCS charger can provide is up to 350kW. However, even on a CCS charger which can provide up to 350kW of power, it can only provide what the car is designed to accept. Therefore as I’ve stated above, check out my post on which electric tow cars charge the fastest to find out what a specific cars maximum charge rate is. Within that article, I also discuss the very important point that the rate of charge is not linear. In other words, even if the car can support up to 350kW fast/rapid charging it will not charge at that rate for the full duration of the charging session.
As of this moment no electric car which can tow can support up to 350kW fast charging, but they will be coming, and potentially faster rates of charge in the future. The fastest charging electric tow cars are currently the Tesla Model 3, Y and X at up to 250kW. Another advantage that Tesla owners currently have over other electric car owners is access to both public CCS fast-charging stations and Tesla’s own proprietary Supercharger network.
The UK Rapid/Fast Charging Network
So now let’s look at where you can get access to rapid/fast charging in the UK when going on a long journey with an electric tow car. First and foremost what options are there for rapid charging when on motorways/A-roads? There are a couple of reasons why rapid/fast charging while on a motorway/A-road will be important. First, you will likely be covering a significant distance, hence the range reduction while towing will more of a consideration. Secondly, while you’re towing on the motorway/A-road at higher average speeds you will face the impact of aerodynamic drag which in many cases is the main reason for a significant reduction in range while towing with an EV.
GridServe Electric Forecourts
The image I used at the top of this article was part of the plans for the ‘worlds first electric forecourt’ by GridServe. Well, I’m happy to say that GridServe site in Braintree, Essex has gone from plans into reality and is now in operation. However the GridServe project plans to be much larger than a single fast charging forecourt, they hope to build out up to 100 such stations all over the UK. Check out the video below from Fully Charged about this revolutionary moment in UK fast/rapid charging infrastructure.
In terms of the speed of the chargers at the first GridServe electric forecourt shown above, there are twelve CCS fast chargers which can provide up to 90kW and then there are twelve CCS fast chargers which can provide up to 350kW. Currently, all electric tow cars on sale in the UK offer CCS charging speeds over 100kW as you can see from my electric tow car list. Hence, to get the best speed possible with an electric tow car, you’ll want to plug into a 350kW charger if available.
Its likely once the cost of 350kW CCS chargers drop in price future GridServe forecourts are just going to install 350kW CCS chargers. That will avoid potential user conflicts with car’s which can only charge at up to 90kW being plugged into a 350kW charger leading to disputes etc. If all the chargers provide the same maximum charging speed it would avoid those potential disputes, a charger will either be available or not.
At GridServe sites there will also be Tesla Superchargers, however, these can only be used by Tesla owners. Alongside the existing Tesla Supercharger network, further GridServe stations will strengthen Tesla’s position as providing the most practical/convenient electric tow car solutions for many years to come. That is not some ‘Tesla fanboy’ statement, its just a reality which I’ll get into with future articles.
Payment Options, Apps and Towing Charging Bays?
I can happily report that the chargers at GridServe electric forecourts will not force you to download an App to your phone etc. Contactless payment via a debit/credit card is available. Currently, the price is 24p per kW, but that will likely change over time with inflation etc. GridServe is also offering electric car vehicle leasing deals which will include charging. Hence, its likely they will be offering an app/membership card for charging for those customers.
However, I do hope GridServe develop a general smartphone App, not for payment at the charge station but for service updates. For instance, say you are on a journey and you wish to check before you arrive how many chargers are available (and working). That prior information for users before they arrive will help to build confidence in the GridServe network and reduce the number of disappointed users arriving to find out they will have to wait to charge.
Now, you may have noticed from the videos above of the first GridServe electric forecourt anyone towing a trailer/caravan would have to unhitch before they could charge so not to block another charger, hence not ideal by any means. I’m asking GridServe about this and if they will be making available longer charging bays for electric tow cars at future forecourts. I’ll include any details I get back from them here.
Feedback From GridServe
After contacting GridServe about electric tow car/trailer/caravan charging they have confirmed to me that its a charging situation they are fully aware of. Until the adoption of electric vehicles is higher, they are aware of the situation of an electric tow car/trailer/caravan charging would result in blocking another charger.
However, in the future they will have larger/longer charging bays for commercial vehicles and electric tow cars/trailers/caravans to use. This is genuinely excellent news for electric tow car owners, and I look forward to writing about these longer charging bays in the future.
Shell EV Recharge Points
Yes, the well known and historic petrochemical company Shell is jumping on the electric car bandwagon, who would have thunk it? It does appear that Shell is beginning to accept the writing on the wall, and is diversifying into renewable energy technologies. Back in 2017, Robert and Fully Charged went to visit the first Shell charging station.
Originally the first Shell EV chargers were limited to 50kW and at the time they didn’t offer simple contactless payment via a debit/credit card. However, since that point, there are now a considerable number of Shell EV chargers located over large parts of the UK. Furthermore, Shell is now installing 150kW chargers with 350kW chargers coming aswell.
However, Shell is not just looking to add EV chargers into their existing petrol/diesel forecourts. Just like GridServe, Shell is looking to develop their own network of pure EV charging forecourts with shops, food outlets and toilets. The first of such dedicated Shell EV charging forecourts will be completed in Fulham as reported by Autocar.
Now, as with GridServe, currently, I’ve not seen any details on how Shell plans to accommodate electric tow cars with trailers/caravans. I’ll be reaching out to their press team to hopefully find out they are aware of the need for longer charging bays and good/wide access to sites, but we’ll see.
BP Chargemaster / BP Pulse
Who would have thought it, another stalwart of the petrochemical industry BP is going heavy into renewable energy and EV charging solutions!? So a little bit of clarification is needed on this one. Chargemaster is/was a UK manufacturer of EV charging equipment who was bought up by BP in 2018. This then started the rollout of BP Chargemaster points at existing BP forecourts around the UK.
You may have heard of or have even been a user of the Polar EV charging network. Well, the Polar network was part of Chargemaster (stay with me here), so the whole network has now been rebranded under a new name BP Pulse. Interesting branding choice as hearing BP Pulse I would think most people think about blood pressure and heart rates. BP may end up falling foul memes if users experience an issue with their chargers and post various thing on social media about how BP has raised their pulse etc.
As of yet, BP Pulse is yet to announce when they will be introducing chargers providing up to 350kW, but they surely will be coming at some point. BP Pulse chargers do now accept easy contactless payment options. However, that’s not the case with all chargers currently, though it will be eventually. BP Pulse does also operate an app/subscription payment model. In that scenario, at some chargers, they are free to use (for subscription payers). I also believe subscribers pay a reduced rate per kW the rest of the time compared to debit/credit card contactless customers.
Ecotricity Electric Highway
Anyone who has driven through a UK motorway service station since 2011 will have likely seen an Electric Highway fast charger. They were the first available rapid chargers in the UK. Notably, they are to this day the only public EV fast-chargers at many motorway service stations. Though you will see Tesla Superchargers at many UK motorway service stations as well. Now, there was a big legal bust-up with Ecotricity and Tesla (see here) that was resolved in 2015. But basically, in terms of public chargers (Tesla Superchargers are a private network), at many motorway service stations, you will currently only find an Ecotricity Electric Highway charger.
The reason why you only find Ecotricity Electric Highway chargers at many UK motorway service stations is because Ecotricity signed exclusive deals with operators such a Moto, Welcome Break and RoadChef. Some of these deals are up to 10 years. Though as was reported by the Financial Times, RoadChef may be looking to go with alternatives for their public EV fast chargers from the likes of Shell and BP discussed above.
Its fair to say in reference to the 2020 Driver Power survey conducted by Auto Express, the Ecotricity Electric Highway network is not a current favourite of electric car owners. Reliance on an app payment model, charging speeds in many cases limited to 50kW, struggling implementation of CCS chargers and overall reliability problems are concerning. For electric tow car (non-Tesla) owners, a reliance on the Electric Highway for charging while on the motorway is therefore by no means ideal. It may result in electric tow car owners looking to charge off the motorway at dedicated EV charging forecourts from GridServe/Shell etc.
InstaVolt Charging Network
A relatively new player to the UK fast-charging network InstaVolt chargers first appeared in 2016. However, if you check out the link to the 2020 Driver Power survey above, InstaVolt was voted by the public in 2020 to be the best overall public network, just behind Tesla’s private charging network. InstaVolt has signed deals with major fast food outlets such as McDonald’s, KFC and Starbucks, and they can also be found at some hotel car parks such as Premier Inns.
InstaVolt offer 50kW fast charging as a minimum and they are installing and upgrading their network with 350kW chargers. Ease of use (contactless payment) and reliable chargers are building the InstaVolt network a strong reputation. Along with Shell and BP Pulse, expect to see InstaVolt competing to replace or sit alongside Ecotricity Electric Highway chargers at UK motorway service stations in the coming years.
Pod Point Charging Network
The Pod Point business model is very similar to that of InstaVolt, with Pod Point chargers available at various fast food outlets etc. However, you will also now find Pod Point chargers at many UK supermarkets including Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s and Lidl. Currently, the fastest Pod Point chargers offer speeds up to 50kW. However, Pod Point has stated (you can read here) that they are upgrading their network with 150kW charging solutions.
I should note that currently most of the Pod Point chargers found at UK supermarkets for instance are not fast/rapid chargers. Hence, they are providing below 50kW. They typically provide around 7kW of power, hence the same power output as a Pod Point home charger. This could still be useful as a destination charging alternative (more about destination charging in a later post).
However, currently, you would you not be using a supermarket Pod Point charger to get power back into an electric tow car as quickly as possible. There are also potential access/permitted access issues with a caravan/trailer onto a supermarket car park.
IONITY Charging Network
The Ionity charging network is well established in Europe, however, they are now starting their role out within the UK. The Ionity network is backed by the likes of BMW, Mercedes, Audi, VW and Ford. Therefore, the Ionity network is a cooperation between several of the largest traditional automotive manufacturers to offer a charging solution to compete against the Tesla Supercharger Network. With regards to charging speed, the Ionity network is currently the market leader, with all of their chargers capable of up to 350kW in the UK.
Unlike the Tesla Supercharger Network, Ionity is not a private network. Hence, any EV, not just a vehicle from one of the manufacturers funding the project can use an Ionity charger. However, the price difference between Ionity network members and pay as you go users does appear to be significant. For instance, as of writing this article (December 2020) for pay as you go users to use an Ionity charger its 0.69p per kW. For reference, most other fast-charging networks are around half that price per kW.
Therefore, while the Ionity network is a public and not private charging network its clear that the automotive brands backing Ionity want to try and keep their chargers as clear as possible for their members. So for anyone who doesn’t own an EV from BMW, Mercedes, Audi, VW or Ford, an Ionity charger will unlikely be your first option for an affordable rapid charging session. Though, its useful that any EV can use an Ionity charger if you need an emergency rapid charge.
UK Tesla Supercharger Network
I’ve already stated this above, but its very important to note, so I’m going to state it again. Only Tesla owners can charge at a Tesla Supercharger. The Tesla charging network is one of the most widely available fast/rapid charging solutions around the UK. Therefore, as a Tesla owner has access to the Tesla Supercharger network and any of the other public charging alternatives above, it currently makes a Tesla one of the most practical/viable electric tow cars.
Currently, most Tesla Superchargers are rated as V2 (up to 150kW) though the role out of V3 (up to 250kW) Superchargers is ongoing. There are also rumours of V4 Tesla Superchargers rated up to 350kW coming at some point. However, as I discuss in my article on which electric tow cars can charge the fastest, even with a Tesla 3, Y or X rated for a V3 Supercharger, it will not charge at 250kW during the entire charging session. The video below from the Tesla Torque YouTube channel explains this well.
This up and down charging rate is not specific to Tesla, every current electric car does it to some degree as its necessary to maintain battery health. Though as new battery technology develops electric cars will be able to take advantage of the peak power of a charger more of the time. As that becomes a reality, the charging times of electric cars will significantly reduce at fast/rapid chargers. Making electric tow cars, intern, more viable and practical.
As yet, Tesla does not offer dedicated electric tow car charging bays to accommodate a caravan/trailer. However, as Tesla is promoting the towing capabilities of their Cybertruck pretty heavily, electric tow car charging bays must be a facility they are looking into.
Zap-Map – Charge Station Locator
As you can see above, there is a growing myriad of charging networks. The question then becomes, what’s the quickest/easiest way to find a rapid charger? Well, most modern EV’s have a smart screen interface where it will show you available rapid chargers. However, its not the best idea to depend purely on the car itself to show you rapid charging stations for a couple of reasons. First, is the charging station information within the car frequently updated with new information on new chargers or if existing chargers are working properly?
The charge station information provided by the EV may also be limited to a charging network associated with the EV manufacturer. Hence, in that scenario, the car may not potentially tell you about other rapid chargers available to you etc. Therefore, as an alternative to downloading the individual app from each charging network, a better solution is to use Zap-Map.com
Zap-Map brings together location data from each of the rapid charging network operators, as well as information on slower destination chargers. The other additional benefit is Zap-Map displays data from users who successfully last used a charger, so you know if its working correctly or not. I believe in the future Zap-Map hopes to expand the functionality of their service to include a universal payment option. Hence, payments for various networks would be processed through a Zap-Map account. I also believe they are working on other functionality such as live data on charger availability/capacity which would be very handy.
At some point, I want to get around to contacting Zap-Map about adding a search feature for rapid charging stations which provide spaces large enough to accept electric tow cars with caravans/trailers etc. It would be very handy to be able to quickly see which of the new EV charging forecourts referenced above can properly accommodate electric tow cars.
Conclusions On Rapid Charging An Electric Tow Car
So as I first discussed in my article on can electrics cars tow, they can, however, the 50% range reduction means rapid charging is important. How fast can electric tow car charge first depends on the hardware fitted within the vehicle its self, then on the charger its plugged into. As can be seen above, some rapid chargers are more rapid than others. Also, as I’ve briefly touched on above, the price you will pay to rapid charge does vary, and I’ll be discussing that more in future articles.
I’ll also be writing a future article about destination charging with an electric tow car. As a caravan site owner myself destination charging is a subject I think about a lot. Therefore I want to discuss the opportunities and challenges that destination charging generates. However, for now, I hope the above information on rapid charging options has made the need for proper route planning with access to a rapid charger with an electric tow car clear. Please also check out my Guide To Destination Charging.