‘Rapid charging? Try glacial’: An EV tour across Scotland
In a valiant attempt to demonstrate UK EV excellence, the Electric Vehicle Rally of Scotland, or EVROS, is an electric vehicle tour that’s 1,200 miles long and takes in every corner of the country, alongside many of Scotland’s most iconic landscapes.
The five-day drive started and ended in Glasgow, coinciding with the end of COP26 at the weekend, where electric vehicles were a key talking point.
The idea? To highlight just how easy it is for drivers to make the switch to greener and more affordable electric-powered motoring and to demonstrate what modern electric cars can offer and deliver in terms of range.
We joined the fun, sitting in the driving seat of a Polestar 2 saloon, to experience Caledonia’s charging infrastructure and the latest in clean automotive technology.
Would we grind to a halt? Would we have to sleep in the car? Read on to find out.
Our five-day EV marathon comprised 30 checkpoints, making for a circuitous route across the Lowlands, up the west coast, around the Highlands and down the east coast, absorbing stirring landscapes, high-tech hubs and notable landmarks along the way. The mileage meant our cars’ range and ChargePlace, Scotland’s network, were put to the ultimate test.
From Glasgow, we drove east to the Forth Bridge and then south-west through the Scottish Borders and up to Troon, looking across the Firth of Clyde, to our hotel.
On day two we pushed north, brushing by Loch Lomond, and stayed the night in the shadow of Ben Nevis. The following day we visited the Isle of Skye and much of the North Coast 500, which comprises some of Europe’s most beguiling asphalt. Factoring in charging, the 320 miles we recorded on this stretch resulted in over 12 hours being spent behind the wheel. Without a co-driver, this was a pretty tough stint in the seat.
Day four saw us drive south along the North Sea coast from John O’Groats, visiting Loch Ness and calling it a night at Aberdeen. On the final day, we popped by the V&A in Dundee and the Falkirk Wheel before crossing the finish line in Glasgow as the United Nations signed their climate agreement.
Vehicles on the drive included the new Kia EV6, VW’s ID.3, the Fiat 500e and the Vauxhall Mokka-e, as well as commercial vans. I drove the mid-size Polestar 2 saloon, boasting a real-world range of about 240 miles — superior to everything else on the rally.
Throw in the top-spec dual-motor option, meaning all-wheel-drive and more than 400bhp, intuitive cabin features and premium build quality, all for £45,900, and you’re looking at a beast of a machine.
Tips for conserving energy
While not keeping the throttle pinned at more than 70mph is obvious, the Polestar team’s main advice was to wear an extra jumper. Heating and A/C are two of the biggest drains on battery power. A more effective way of keeping yourself warm is to use the heated seats and steering wheel, toasting yourself rather than the car. This uses much less energy and is standard equipment. Aero efficiency is also key, which means keeping your windows up as much as possible.
This EV has regenerative braking. You can play with the settings but you very quickly get used to smoothly lifting off the throttle, which would slow the car without having to use the ‘friction’ brake pedal.
The charging reality
Scotland has more EV chargers per capita than the rest of the UK. There always seemed to be a public charging spot within 25 miles, even in the most isolated spots.
However, what some energy providers describe as ‘rapid’ is what others would call glacial. The best we could find were 50kW chargers that required two hours just to half-charge the Polestar. Hubs often only comprise one or two chargers, which made for some frustrating queues when fellow EVOS-rally drivers rolled up. If you have an EV, you’d better get used to other motorists pitching up within seconds of you plugging in, asking how long you’ll be and scoffing if they see you’ve got more than 50 miles of range already.
One gets used to the various different plugs and apps and providers but the system is disorganised — and this is far from a Scottish issue. Most hair-tearingly, it’s unreliable. Often chargers have issues. Sometimes you need to go through the process of tapping your card and plugging in and waiting for the system to connect with your car five times before it works. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all.
Sometimes the chargers aren’t where they’re supposed to be, and one is in the dark about how much it’s costing to fill up your car or how long it might take. What’s needed are signs beside the road, like a petrol station’s, which point out where the chargers are, how fast, how much and whether there’s a slot available.
A Transport Scotland report states that another 30,000 public charging stations will be needed by the end of the decade to meet expected demand. Britain as a whole currently boasts just over 25,000 and, according to the Competition and Markets Authority, will need ten times that by 2030, when sales of internal combustion engine vehicles will cease.
Based on our experience, not only are more chargers needed but more regulation when it comes to pricing and reliability (some places I visited charged more for electricity than petrol). Critically, it needs to be much faster. The bulk of the chargers need to be 150kW+. One doesn’t mind getting a coffee and waiting half an hour but you don’t want to be kicking around a car park for three hours while you’re missing a job interview, your kids are loitering on their school steps or your dinner’s getting cold.
The EVROS rally demonstrated that you can do long road trips through remote areas and find adequate charging points without too much worry. It’s just that they wouldn’t be quite so long if the car ran on ‘dinosaur juice’.
However, the upside of zero carbon emissions is too great to ignore. In some ways, the cart has been put before the horse. Car manufacturers have been lightning quick in developing excellent fully electric cars.
Now the charging infrastructure needs to catch up. It’ll happen, because it has to.
Ask the car doctor: What is regenerative breaking?
Automotive writer Freda Lewis-Stempel says: Regenerative braking would make your school physics teacher proud. It’s a feature of electric and hybrid cars (and some petrol and diesel models) that makes them more efficient. It does this by converting the energy created when your car slows down into an electrical charge that can be used to power an electric motor or components. When you apply the brakes or ease off the accelerator, regenerative braking kicks in. In a petrol or diesel car you might not even notice it but in a hybrid or pure electric car it feels more pronounced because the motor reverses the direction it spins, slowing the car down while acting as a generator.