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Sunday 21 September 2014

Coast to coast in the ZOE: my electric-car drive diary

Published 17/08/2014 | 02:30

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Eddie Cunningham stops to charge the Renault Zoe
The Renault Zoe: five-door electric supermini

I wanted to see what it would be like to drive an electric car from Dublin to Galway - and back. I wanted to experience the coast-to-coast loop on my own, in the real world of charging and range anxiety. So I drove Renault's new ZOE 5dr on an eventful journey. Here's my 'logged' account.

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13.46pm Wednesday. Fully charged, 130km in the batteries. Off we go. I'm doing 105kmh on the M50 and it's down to 110km remaining. I'm anxious as I dip under 100km.

Applegreen, Enfield: 65km. I'm a nervous wreck, fumbling cables, dropping car fob. Range anxiety with 65km in the battery? Yes. Quick charger (30mins) doesn't work for me.

Ring helpline. Nice man Finbarr sorts me. Something to do with different sockets. (ZOE has Chameleon charger which makes it compatible with all power levels up to 43kW). I opt for one-hour charge instead. Success. She's chargin' like the Light Brigade.

Deserve cup of tea and a bun. Return. Look around. No coat hooks on internal handles. Don't like reflection of dash ventilation vents on windscreen. Lovely bright interior, white-on-brown/grey. The central display is nearly idiot proof and clear. What would I do if it was raining? Suggestion ESB: cover these charge points. Topaz, Kilbeggan next. Don't drive as fast. Electric cars should be toll free (€2.90).

Great: three types of charger in Kilbeggan. Ring helpline again. Cormac (twice) sorts me out. You have to wave this access card at a screen (same in Enfield). Doesn't always work. Sorted. Think ahead. Ring Dolan's in Ballinasloe (ecars app excellent for showing charge points along the route). Will I have enough charge to get there? They are helpful and cheery. Give me exact instructions.

Sat Nav thinks Ballinasloe is a city. I'm four hours on the road. I'd do Galway and back in that. Great auld charge at Dolan's - in 30 mins. Getting the hang of this. Still worried if I'll have enough to get me to Barna. Just in case, there's Oranmore. I don't need it.

With speed set at 86kmh on motorway, I'm going to make it. Sat Nav wants to take me to a driveway on Barna Road. Silly yoke. Arrive at The Twelve Hotel. I set up overnight charge in seconds (getting good at this) at my reserved slot (thanks). It's 8pm. I'm six hours on the go and have driven 218.3km.

Warmest of welcomes and dinner awaits. Time for me to recharge. Mmmmm... homemade treacle bread, lamb, salted caramel ice-cream and gorgeous chocolatey stuff. Pot of tea. That'll keep me going. No range anxiety there.

Next morning. Hearty breakfast. The batteries are full too (monitor says 134km). Take old road (fed-up paying tolls). Ballinasloe. Card won't work. Helpline. Nice man remotely 'swipes' the machine. She's charging. It's lunch time. People are watching. I head for the restaurant.

People gather around ZOE (we're on first-name terms now). Great, quick charge: 138km. I'm calculating like mad. If I skip Kilbeggan (and tea in Eileen's), I should have 32km to spare. Worth a go. I go slower, turn down the fan. Save power. Gap widens to 35km. It might take 15 mins longer but I'm saving time by not stopping. Aha! Surge of confidence. Why was I worrying? Silly me; 52km to spare at Enfield.

It's 3.44pm. I just wait for 60km top-up. Total 112km. Half way back I quit Eco mode. I do 100kmh+ for the first time since yesterday. Left The Twelve at 11.35am; arrive Sandyford 5pm. Total coast-to-coast loop time: 11 hours 39 minutes. Oh dear! But yes, I would do it again (and quicker). I'd enjoy it more too.

Different around the city. I noticed how little power it used in Galway city traffic. No real urban range anxiety. When I slowed or braked, energy flowed back to boost the battery.

I got to like ZOE a lot. Small, sturdy, grand to drive, fine boot, great room in the back seats. I like the look and feel of it; small, fresh, minimalist, modern. I learned much about electric-car driving and myself - both have drawbacks. Of course, no one has the sort of time I devoted. Of course, it's an urban vehicle with limited relevance now. But maybe my little odyssey showed what could be possible one day? You never know.

What's the charge? The facts and figures

ESB estimate my total trip cost €15.26 in electricity. I reckon diesel would cost €68. Average electric car power costs 1.5c/km (night charge), 3c/km (day). Petrol/diesel average at 8.4c/km to 10.5c/km. No charge at public points until 'sometime next year'.

Renault claim max 210km range. Realistically: 130km/150km in urban/rural mix. Electric motor: 88bhp.

'Range OptimiZEr' mixes regenerative braking, heat pump, Michelin EnergyTM E-V tyres. Charge: 30 minutes to nine hours, depending on outlet. Charges to 80pc capacity in an hour or so. The lower the battery, the quicker it re-charges. You hire the battery (€49/month).

Multimedia system, Renault R-Link, 7in display, steering wheel remote controls, voice recognition. Price: from €17,490 (after VRT rebate, SEAI grant).

My side of the road

NEVER have I had so many people talking to me about a terror that grips them when they are driving.

It comes every time they see young children on footpaths or near roads, without anyone holding onto them.

I've seen instances of it these past few weeks where, only a few metres from passing cars, toddlers were left to their own devices. Mothers or minders were on their phones or distracted by others in their care.

The frightening thing is that it only takes a second for a child to 'bolt'. Anything can happen after that.

I get the shivers even thinking about it.

To be honest I'm reluctant to even write about it.

But I am appalled at how insensitive to the dangers some people, in positions of responsibility, appear to be. And there is no more responsible a position than minding children in public places.

If there was a slogan I could use, it would be: "Hold onto your children."

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