A less-than-negative lateral flow test had brought bad news for Wayne. “It’s the only positive thing about him,” said Wayne’s colleague to another man with a toolbox and a test meter. Both were peering at our fusebox, located in a tiny room that houses our downstairs loo. Why? Well, they and Wayne are National Power engineers, who have all been kept busy thanks to the explosion in demand for domestic electric vehicle (EV) charging points. Homes fitted with them now include mine.
I don’t own an electric vehicle, but since I write about cars, having a domestic means of charging an EV on my drive seemed sensible. This turned out to be a protracted process because a lot of people with off-street parking have had the same idea.
According to the Department for Transport, by October 2021 the Government’s now-defunct Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme accounted for nearly 190,000 installations, with 61,339 devices installed last year – up 50 per cent on 2020. Unless your wiring is very old, fitting one of these chargers requires a suite of electrical upgrades rather than a full domestic re-wire.
If you live in a flat without dedicated parking, this probably isn’t for you, but some private car charger owners are renting them out to neighbours, using websites such as co-charger.com. Driveless homeowners with on-street parking could potentially install units, but will need to cover any cable that runs along a public pavement between charger and vehicle, or risk meeting litigious pedestrians if they trip over it.
My unit was supplied by Hive, costing a grant-free £949, with use of the Hive smartphone app that controls it provided free for three years, then incurring a monthly 99p charge to keep all its functions, such as automatically charging during cheaper tariff periods and providing weekly and monthly spending history. Currently the app doesn’t have a remote locking security function, so if I was out anyone could swan up my drive and recharge their car at my expense. An app lock is allegedly coming at the end of June; until then I’d have to turn off the charger’s trip switch to make it theft-proof.
Hive is affiliated to British Gas, and to fit my 7.4kw Alfen Eve Single charger I had to jump through various practical hoops and electrical upgrades that involved both companies, energy supplier OVO and National Power. Wayne’s colleagues had appeared to replace our old 60amp main fuse with a beefed up 80amp job. They arrived in the middle of a five-hour time slot, refused tea and were gone in about half an hour. Understandably they had to turn off the power, which meant resetting all the clocks (except the one by our bedside, which died from the shock).
The process that led to their arrival had started about five weeks before, filling in some online forms from Hive. I had expected to get hives doing so, but the process was surprisingly painless.
Next, I was contacted by Reece from British Gas who wanted to check our wiring, along with other bits, because the Hive system can also do things like control your heating and remotely turn on your lights. Reece had the voice of Top Gear presenter Paddy McGuinness and the patience of a saint. Could I send him photos or videos of our water stopcock, gas meter, fusebox and ancillary fuses in the garage and summerhouse, together with bits of the house’s exterior from where the fuse box was located to where I wanted the charger? My wife was baking and became annoyed as I scrabbled about in the kitchen, took pictures and cursed when the phone signal died and Reece vanished.
Yet three calls later and we were all done. On the plus side, this process took half an hour rather than the 60 minutes predicted, and we had discovered I would need a new trip switch and the aforementioned beefier fuse.
It also turned out that some of my “tails” were too thin. These are cables that connect the fusebox to a house’s wiring and mine needed to be fatter to cope with the power drawn by an electric car’s on-board charger.
It was OVO’s job to fit the isolator switch and tails, and I spent a fruitless hour and 20 minutes on hold listening to 1980s pop songs on a loop, gave up, but got through the following day almost instantly. There was a lead time of about three weeks for an engineer, who arrived about 48 hours after the National Power duo and made friends with the dog. His job took 20 minutes. “I’m doing one of these a day,” he said.
This perhaps explains why for several weeks British Gas couldn’t fix a date to fit the charger itself, but I received several calls from a real person apologising for the delay, and eventually a time was confirmed.
Meanwhile yet another British Gas engineer arrived with a Hive router, “smart bulbs” and plugs, showed my wife and I how to download the Hive app, and soon had us remotely controlling our heating and turning lights on and off with our antique iPhones. He also found that one of our carbon monoxide alarms was dead and said the immersion heater pump was ailing.
When the day of our installation rolled around, my wife was at home engaged in wall-to-wall Zoom meetings. “They’ll be drilling and turning off the power,” she said through clenched teeth. Two British Gas fitters – Dusan, originally from Slovakia, and Gavin from London – duly appeared at 9am. Negotiations about when they would shut down the power ensued and they agreed to do this at the end of the installation rather than the start.
For people drilling holes through brickwork they were surprisingly discreet as they ran a very long cable around the back of the house and attached it to a white plastic charging box. The predicted two-hour power shutdown turned into an hour, and they remained unfazed even when the window cleaner turned up and planted his ladder in the middle of the electrical organised chaos. Five and a half hours later, Dusan and Gavin helped me pair the app and the charger and we bid them a genuinely fond farewell.
All this involved dealing with four organisations over three and a half months (and expending about four hours of my time), but at the end of it I managed to successfully navigate the process, and recently spent £10.76 to fully charge a Vauxhall Mokka, which has a theoretical range of 201 miles. As I write this, I am apparently succeeding in charging a neighbour’s MG5 electric car, too.
If an ageing, analogue-brained car hack like me can make this stuff work, this is a good sign – but the acid test will be whether that’s still true in six months’ time.
For electric car reviews, advice and features, visit telegraph.co.uk/electric-cars
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