You asked for feedback, so here it is.
But first, a big THANK YOU
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of this article, I’d like to say a huge Thank You to all those of you who have kindly subscribed to Electric Touring.
I’d also like to thank Chris from the superb website Electric Towcars for linking to this newsletter from his website. If you’ve not checked out the Electric Towcars website, do head on over and have a browse. It’s incredibly informative and well-researched.
My grateful thanks also go to those of you who gave up your time at the recent Motorhome and Caravan Show at the NEC to come and listen to my talks on stage about Electric Touring. Having given this talk every day for six days, I’m pleased to say that I was only heckled once, so I call that a win!
What I enjoyed the most was meeting other caravanners and campers who also tow with EVs. It appears there are more of us than some people might think. Which leads me on to the focus of this piece, and that is the huge charging provider, Gridserve.
I tried, but I couldn’t get through
Back in August 2022, I wrote to Gridserve’s PR Agency asking if I could start a dialogue with the company about the needs and wants of the UK’s Electric Touring Community. My requests never seemed to penetrate the barrier of PR execs, so my only remaining option is to go public, and bring you all with me.
Who is Gridserve?
At the centre of Gridserve’s business model is the generation and promotion of sustainable energy, primarily for its nationwide charging network (the Electric Highway, which it inherited from Ecotricity) and its own Electric Forecourts. In the words of its CEO Toddington Harper:
Our EV charging infrastructure, which includes our award-winning Electric Forecourts®, completely reimagines the EV charging experience.
What’s an Electric Forecourt® when it’s at home?
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Gridserve’s Electric Forecourt in Braintree twice; in August and again in September this year.
Imagine a combination of a state-of-the-art fuel station but where the petrol pumps are chargers, plus a business centre and a car showroom.
If you’re an EV driver, pulling up at an Electric Forecourt is like arriving at Charger Heaven. However, if you’re towing a caravan or camping trailer, it’s a case of Nice try, but no banana.
The first time I used the Electric Forecourt, it was a positive experience. There was an Ultra-Rapid Charger free in a place where I could use it without detaching the caravan.
The next time I visited, again with the caravan in tow, the experience was anything but seamless.
Gridserve leases EVs and hosts events on behalf of manufacturers. I get that - they have bills to pay like the rest of us. This particular day, they were hosting Renault who was showcasing the latest Electric Megane.
In the excitement of hosting Renault, Gridserve forgot about the needs of its bread-and-butter — the ordinary EV driver who goes there to top up the car while they themselves nip into Costa and top up their caffeine intake.
Instead of taking up one half of each of the two islands where the chargers are located, the Powers that Were appeared to have suffered a common sense-bypass and decided to close off one whole island.
This meant that if you wanted an Ultra-Rapid charge and your charger inlet was on the right side of your car, you would need to do a three point turn and face backwards in order to access the charger. Not the easiest thing to do with a caravan in tow. I had no option but to exit, drive around the building, detach and park the caravan, then head back into the forecourt, do a three-point turn, and then plug in.
My intention was to grab a coffee and do a bit of work, but the frantic atmosphere induced anything but a serene state of mind.
But wait - there’s good news!
At the end of October 2022, Gridserve unveiled its new Long Load Charger Bay at Braintree. You can read all about it here.
Make no mistake, Gridserve is to be applauded for making a step in the right direction. But.
There are a few Buts:
This is a trial, commencing late autumn. Fine for work vans towing trailers, but how many caravans and camping trailers are on the road over the winter compared with the summer? I hope this is taken into account.
Braintree. Not exactly on the M1 or the M5, is it? How many caravanners/campers head through Braintree on the way to/from their hols? Surely this wonderful facility would have been far better trialled at a site like Rugby, or somewhere between the Midlands and Cornwall on the M5.
They’ve installed a 360kW charger (hurrah!) yet the Press Release image shows a Ford Transit that can only pull 115kW (naw!).
So if you turn up with your Kia EV6 or Hyundai Ioniq 5 towing a caravan, and someone in an EV with a smaller capacitor - like a Ford Transit - just beats you to it, you’ll be enjoying a 35 minute wait if they’re charging from 15-80%, and much longer if that driver isn’t polite enough to stop charging at 80%.
Meanwhile, your Kia/Hyundai can charge in less than half the time. If you didn’t want to wait and with no other pull-through charger available, your only option would be, you guessed it, detach the caravan and use one of the other 12 Ultra-Rapid chargers.
Where Gridserve got it wrong - and FastNed got it so, so right
Gridserve is planning a new Electric Forecourt in Hartlepool (lucky locals) and is asking for feedback.
Here, Gridserve, is my feedback.
Take a look at how the 24 chargers are arranged in Braintree, on wide islands offering Rapid charging on one side, and Ultra-Rapid on the other. There is a one-way system through the islands (except when they’re hosting Renault, but I’ve let that go).
Therefore, if your charger connector is on the right side of your car, you can only access 50% of the available 24 chargers: six rapid, six ultra-rapid.
If you’re towing a caravan or camping trailer, you can only access one (count them, ONE) Ultra-Rapid and one Rapid charger. That’s two out of 24 chargers - or 8%.
Now take a look at this simple, no-frills charging station in the Netherlands from FastNed.
Notice the narrow islands and longer cables on the chargers, allowing access to rapid and ultra-rapid on BOTH SIDES, thereby halving the real-estate needed for this facility. Notice too, that there is an vehicle entrance on both sides of this bidirectional facility. This means that no matter which side the charger connector on your car, you have access to 100% of the chargers on offer.
Even better, if you’re towing a caravan, you still have the option to use two out of the four chargers, as you can approach the island from either direction. Just as with the Gridserve Electric Forecourt, this would depend on the end charger being free. But instead of only 8% of the chargers being available to you, you now have 50%. That’s pretty impressive, yet so simple to implement.
So is Gridserve following this example in the design of Hartlepool? Of course not. We look at the plans, and while it’s wonderful to see what appears to be three pull-through chargers (hurray!), we also see over 30 parking-bay style chargers (ugh!).
So what would we like to see?
Gridserve is to be warmly applauded for finally considering vans and EVs towing trailers when planning its new facilities. As the company continues to update The Electric Highway at Motorway Service Areas throughout the UK, let’s hope we see some pull-through chargers installed here as well.
In the meantime, there are some really, really simple and low-cost measures they could introduce to make our lives so much easier.
These are my suggestions:
See that end charger I’m using in Braintree? How about signs on all these end chargers saying Priority for towing vehicles - please use another charger if available. If someone who is not towing sees this sign and there is a free charger further down the island, they might be encouraged to leave the end charger free for those who need it.
In other locations, such as the renewed facility at Moto Wetherby, how about a couple of super-sized parking bays directly opposite or adjacent to the chargers, hatched off with a sign Trailer drop for EVs Only. At least then you’d be able to drop the caravan by the charger and not 150 metres away. This is especially important at Motorway Service Areas where a one-way system would not allow you to access the charger after dropping off the caravan in the Caravan Parking Area.
When planning new facilities or improving existing set-ups, some simple common sense like imitating the design of the FastNed facility, priority signage, and reserved trailer drops would go a long way, and might even eradicate the need for pull-through chargers.
To Sum Up
Gridserve’s trial at Braintree is one of the most encouraging developments we have seen in the Electric Touring world. It shows that we as campers, caravanners, and campervanners with Electric Vehicles are finally on the radar.
Chris at Electric Towcars is an advocate for installing chargers at Commercial Vehicle parking areas. Again, these would make the units available to all traffic, despite the distinctive -er - fragrance that often comes with this territory.
What about you? What do you think the charging networks can do to improve our experience?
Over to you. Am I making sense or dreaming of Unicorns (and not the Bailey kind)? I have plenty more to say about the overall state of the UK charging network (haven’t we all?) but for now, please share your own wish list for how charging providers could improve the life of Electric Tourers.
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About the author
Andrew Ditton is an award-winning videographer and leisure vehicle journalist with over 20 years experience. His audience is one of the largest and most engaged in the sector (source - Semrush) and his YouTube channel has over 73,000 Subscribers (November 2022).