Ecotricity has unveiled plans to install green-energy-powered electric vehicle (EV) charging points at selected motorway service stations running up the UK's automotive backbone. Aiming to help ease range anxiety and speed up the adoption of EVs in Britain, the national network of charging posts will be rolled out to every Welcome Break service station, as well as other key locations, in the UK by the end of the year. Each charging post will receive its power from the company's wind and solar parks across the country, and one of the first three to go live is directly connected to the resident wind turbine at Reading's Green Park business park - offering electric motorists true zero emission driving.

Ecotricity's Electric Highway support structure for EV owners in the UK began with the installation of double-socket charging posts at Welcome Break's South Mimms services (at the Junction of the M1 and M25), Michaelwood Services on the M5 and the Green Park Business Park in Reading. The green energy company will add another nine by the end of September and follow this with installations at all of the remaining Welcome Break motorway services in the UK by the end of the year.

The new network aims to break away from the concentration of charging facilities available in cities like London (which is home to around 250 of the nation's 400 charging points) and expand availability across the length and breadth of the country. The charging points will currently serve the estimated two thousand EV motorists now on Britain's roads and be ready for future adopters.

Each charging post features two power sockets. Drivers will be able to use the 7-pin 400v/32A supply to top up in 20 minutes or leave the vehicle for a couple of hours to fully charge the batteries. There's also a slower 3-pin 220v/13A supply for a more leisurely top-up of two hours, or for those motorists looking to charge overnight while staying at motorway services hotels.

"It's worth saying that all the practical usage to date shows that people charge their cars like their charge their mobile phones - little and often," Ecotricity's Mike Cheshire told us. "So it's about a change of thinking too from the old petrol tank approach of running it down to red on the needle, then filling up to the brim. Instead, people will charge them wherever is convenient - at home, at work, at the supermarket and - like these - on the road."

Use of the charging posts is currently free-of-charge. "Ecotricity genuinely has no plans to charge for topping up in the near future," says Cheshire. "We may charge a one-time GBP10 (US$16.50) for a swipe card in the future, but right now there's no plans to do that either."

The company says that a typical electric car can do 5,000 miles (8,046 km) on one MW h of electricity and quotes Transport Direct, calculating that a driver traveling an average year's mileage of 8,500 miles (13,679 km) could save almost GBP1,200 (US$1979) in petrol costs at today's prices.

The charging point at South Oak Way, Green Park, Reading - Junction 11 of the M4 motorway - represents the first charging post to receive power directly from a wind turbine. As other Ecotricity wind turbines are located in remote areas, the Green Park installation is also likely to remain unique for some time to come. The turbine - which has an 85 meter hub height and a 70 meter rotor diameter - has been turning since 2005 and is said to generate some 3.5 million electricity units per annum. Energy flows directly from the wind turbine to the charge post, after being converted to the correct amperage en route.

"The Green Park top-up point is connected to the windmill side of the substation, so all the power for it genuinely comes straight from the Green Park windmill as it turns at that moment," says Cheshire. "It's also topped up with a solar panel on the top of the post. On the rare occasions that the windmill isn't turning at all, the energy needed will be made at our wind/solar parks elsewhere on a 'like for like' basis, so will still come from Ecotricity's own green sources."

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