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Charging away from home — the plugin experience

There is still a war going on in Ukraine and the planet is still warming. For some fellow human beings on this planet, these issues impact daily life significantly. For me, these still cause merely inconvenience. However, they are drivers for moving away from fossil fuels and towards sustainable energy sources as fast as possible. Which seems to be not very fast, unfortunately.

Vättern. Charging mental batteries while the car charges.

We have now been driving a plugin hybrid for one month, a car with both an electric engine and a gasoline engine. Fully charged, it gives an electric range of 50 km. Not much, but that would easily cover all the short daily trips. Which is about half of our total yearly mileage. Great, if only we had a place to charge at home. Which we don’t. Red tape1 is slowing down installation of charging stations where we live. So I’ve been investigating alternatives. 

Long distance

We drive from Stockholm to Copenhagen 6-8 times per year. It’s about 700 km each way, freeway almost the entire distance. Lots of trees on the way, lots of places to stop for refreshments and breaks. So it should be possible to extend the range by charging while we stop anyway, right? I tested out that idea on the recent trips we made. Here is what I’ve learned:

10 apps for parking and charging so far.
  1. Finding a good place to charge isn’t easy. While there are signs on the freeway for where to get coffee, restrooms and fuel, there are no signs for charging stations. You will need an app. Each vendor provides their own app to find their charging stations but as coverage for each vendor is poor, you will need multiple apps. Even Google Maps doesn’t do a great job, it’s several clicks away from the main map and you still need to review the results one by one to decide if the charging point is in the direction you are driving, if there are any charging stations available right now, if it’s free and if it is compatible with exactly your car.
  2. Every charging point is special. Once you have found a place to charge, you need to figure out how charging works in this place. Most places you need to download an app, create an account and enter payment card details. Some cases this even applies when charging is free. There are different apps in Sweden and Denmark. God help you if you run out of battery or internet on your smartphone.
  3. Fast charge does not work for hybrids. The plugin can charge with a maximum of 6A which means it will take minimum 4 hours to fully charge the battery. So charging on the go does not really make much sense: Taking a 10 km detour to get plus 17 km electric range for a 700 km drive?
  4. Good acceleration and good mileage. Hybrid cars charge while braking which gives just enough power for the electric engine to kick in when acceleration is needed, like overtaking and starting after stopping for red. While only short boosts, this improves the mileage of the car so that we can get close to 20 km range per litre gasoline while having great acceleration. 
Ombergs Golf. Charging while going for a walk in the nature reserve nearby. Plenty of space.

So it’s a lot of work for little reward. Going forward, I will not go out of my way to charge, I will probably only charge if I happen to park anyway on a parking lot where I could charge for free. If everyone come to the same conclusion, this unfortunately means there is no incentive to establish charging infrastructure away from home. Unless heavily subsidised.

Short distance

For the trips we make in the local area, I have also explored charging away from home.

Our local shopping center has now established four charging points. I’ve charged there when I got the opportunity so far. Registration is a fuzz, the price is ok, but when the result after 45 minutes shopping is like 8-10 km electric range, it’s of limited value.

Charging at IKEA was a pleasant experience. Once we found the parking lots with charging stations, it was plug-and-shop. No app to download, no registration, no fee for charging. We extended our shopping experience with kids friendly dinner and thus covered the mileage for the return trip. But our yearly trip to IKEA is unlikely to save the planet.

Jönköping. A little while yet before the shopping area next to the freeway is ready to service electric cars.

The best option I have found so far is charging at the commute parking at Hägerstensåsen for the days when we both travel to the city and can take the car closer to the city. You only pay for parking, charging is free, and when you arrive before 9 am, the parking fee is 20 SEK for the day. I usually end up taking the last of the six parking lots with charging at the site. I get a fully charged car when I return to the car after work and I get a more smooth commute.

Charging at the summer house

We have a summer house in Denmark that we use as a base for our visits to family and friends in Denmark and otherwise rent out. As grounded plugs are different in Denmark than in Sweden, I can’t use the granny cable. It would be great with a charging point here both for ourselves and for our guests. So I did some research and signed with OK to have a charging station installed later in the summer.  At least in this case, there is nothing here that can’t be solved by throwing some money after it. So there is hope.

1 Red tape: We happen to live in what is called a “Samfällighet” which was invented in socialist Sweden. Some form of community living with shared responsibilities regulated by legislation invented long before there was something called charging-at-home. At the moment, to establish charging stations, each samfällighet needs to apply individually to update their legal documents for shared areas to include charging stations. The public administration handling this charges time and material to process these with only vague guidelines on estimated cost and timeframe. 

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