Electric vans are made for the city, but can the charging infrastructure be relied upon? James Dallas investigates.
Range anxiety is the bane of life for the manufacturers of electric vans striving to convince customers they really should plug into the zeitgeist and switch from diesel to battery power.
OK, electric propulsion is not suitable for all applications, which, to their credit, is a fact electric vehicle manufacturers have been keen to make operators aware of.
Education is vital for the market to gain a good understanding of where the technology should be used. A business that relies on running vans between London and Manchester, for example, should not be choosing electric ones, but for urban operators the choice to go electric should be compelling. The Plug-in Van Grant eases the upfront cost burden, they are exempt from low-emission zone charges and, if following predictable routes, should remain comfortably within the vans’ battery ranges.
For organisations that can recharge fleets of plug-in vans at chargers installed at their premises the transition to battery power should be anxiety-free – take, for example, UK Power Networks, an electricity distribution network operator, which has installed 27 charge points across six London locations to keep a recently acquired fleet of Kangoo Z.E.s on the road.
But for owner-driver traders moving to electric may not be so easy.
Cities are the natural habitat for EVs, but streets of Victorian terraced houses facing directly onto the pavement without driveways – let alone garages – or blocks of high-storey residential flats are not compatible with home charging, so you have to rely on an infrastructure that may be growing but remains fragmented.
I’ve been running my Kangoo Maxi Z.E. within London and the M25 belt where there are several charging point suppliers – Pod Point, Polar, Zero Net and Source London, to name but a few.
Each of these requires its own card or app to activate charging. A Pod Point Twin open point installed at What Van?’s office has facilitated my commute by enabling me to recharge the Maxi Z.E. while I’m at work.
Once downloaded onto your smartphone the service is free to use, but the charge must be confirmed on the app within 15 minutes of plugging in or it will cut out. The app can tell you where Pod Point stations are located and also whether they are free (open points) or require a tariff.
When not travelling to and from work but covering varied and less predictable routes, I have relied upon other networks, with Source London being the one most common in south-east London in my experience. Placing your card onto a touchscreen before connecting your charging cable activates these points. The Source London station I’ve most frequently used has its own cable included, but it does not fit the Maxi Z.E. so I have used the electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) one Renault supplied.
A problem with these on-street charging points is that they are often already occupied and online services such as Zap Map, which purport to locate chargers and indicate whether they are in use, are not foolproof. I have driven to a charging station that was out of order and, judging by its state of disrepair, had been for a considerable time.
Commendably, Renault’s R-Link multimedia system enables you to programme the satnav to find charging stations – however, when I tried it, it informed me I had arrived at a charge point where one was not to be found. Considering Zap Map lists a charging station in the same spot it has either been removed or is elswhere – either way it’s not much use if you turn up with an empty battery.
Report Card: Range/Charging = 3/5
The extended range of the Z.E. 33 keeps anxiety at bay but there is room for improvement in the fragmented recharging network.
Renault Kangoo Maxi Z.E. 33 Crew Van
Official range 170 miles (NEDC)
Our average consumption 3.5mi/kWh
Price Range (ex VAT, inc. PiVG) £14,194-£16,778*
Price (ex VAT) (inc PiVG) £15,334*
Service intervals 2yrs/36,000mls
Load length 1,361mm
Load width (min/max) 1,145/1,219mm
Load bay height 1,129mm
Load volume 2.4m3
Gross payload 539kg
Engine power 60hp
Gearbox 1-spd auto
* Plus battery rent from £49 pcm
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