To celebrate National Drive Electric week, September 8 – 16, 2018, I decided to experiment with driving my electric vehicle (EV) from Marshall, NC to Mt Washington, NH. Although a veteran to long distance trips in a conventional gas-mobile, I was a little daunted about taking my new 2018 Chevy Bolt. But I love visiting the country by car so I had to get into my EV saddle sooner or later, no better time to begin than during a nationally recognized week. Locally I was consistently getting greater than 250 miles estimated driving range on a full battery charge, but a 1,200 mile trip would necessitate careful planning to maximize my time efficiency, minimize my cost and not stretch my wits too thin.Sarah Gilliam | October 31, 2018
To celebrate National Drive Electric week, September 8 – 16, 2018, I decided to experiment with driving my electric vehicle (EV) from Marshall, NC to Mt Washington, NH. Although a veteran to long distance trips in a conventional gas-mobile, I was a little daunted about taking my new 2018 Chevy Bolt. But I love visiting the country by car so I had to get into my EV saddle sooner or later, no better time to begin than during a nationally recognized week. Locally I was consistently getting greater than 250 miles estimated driving range on a full battery charge, but a 1,200 mile trip would necessitate careful planning to maximize my time efficiency, minimize my cost and not stretch my wits too thin.
Planning I did, hours of it, draft after draft tossed into the recycle bin. I got really good at using PlugShare on my phone to find the chargers along with google maps and Rand McNally. There were so many variables of the puzzle. The only part of my trip plan that I actually followed was for the first leg, mainly because I was going to be visiting friends and had to commit to being at a specific place at a specific time. The one-stop-at-a-time planning worked fine for finding chargers for the rest of the trip, but I did waste a lot of time planning and then throwing out the plan when “surprise” circumstances appeared or when I changed my mind.
To cut to the chase, here’s my list of variables I was juggling to decide where I’d charge next:
Kilowatts in the battery, Miles/kilowatt, miles gone & to go, hours passed & to go, charger ETA & ETD, hunger, elimination needs, exhaustion, can I sleep where I’m charging, rate of charger, rate my batteries will accept the charge, distance between chargers, find-ability, visibility, darkness, rain, traffic, non-existent signage, congestion, charger availability, does it work, charger cost, which state (price varies according to state), how far out of the way, rush hour… OMG that isn’t even a complete list! If I drive a little slower I can go a little farther. If I drive a little faster I’ll get there sooner, but need to charge longer. Where is the break-even point? I didn’t figure it all out, but I got a few answers to my multitude of questions.
On my first leg north I decided to stop at free level 2 chargers that I could coordinate a rendezvous with friends. This worked well. I got to spend the night with a friend while my car charged. I got to stop for a long lunch and conversation while my car charged. It was relaxing. 3 days elapsed to complete 887 miles: day 1: half day in the afternoon, day 2: very long full day, day 3 half day in the morning. Then at my friend’s house in Connecticut I spent the weekend recharging to full on 110 volts.
The next leg of 345 miles involved meeting friends so the charging was done during a long lunch, and another meal. The total trip was only a little more than the full battery range. This distance was simple to accomplish; an easy day drive that didn’t kill me.
The cherry on top of my trip was the drive up the Mt Washington Auto Road. It was my covert reason to do this trip: to earn the bumper sticker “This Car Climbed Mt Washington”. I got my worse efficiency on the ascent: barely 1 mile/Kwhr. The good news was I regenerating over half of my climbing expenditure on the descent and I did not touch the brakes once the whole way down. This summit assault averaged a fairly poor 3.7 kilowatts/mile. However the road took me above the rain and clouds, giving me the pleasure of the sunshine and breezy warm temperatures. It was worth every electron shuffled back and forth.
The 323 mile return leg to Connecticut was much of the same, an evening drive, charging overnight and completing the journey in the morning.
Then came the challenge: can I make the 867 mile trip back with only one over-nighter? In a day and a half? In retrospect the answer is no, but I fanaticized it could be do-able.
Shrinking my travel time by a day meant I would have to stop at all DC fast chargers. Although I carried cards for 4 major EV charging station companies, I stopped only at EVgo and Greenlots, both able to crank out up to 50 kw. Alas, my Bolt can only handle a maximum of 36 kw, which was six times faster than the level 2 chargers I’d been using thus far, but not the full blast only Tesla can handle. Then there’s another twist, once my batteries get 70% full my car restricts the amperage and I start losing the benefit of the super-fast speed charging. In this case it’s more time efficient to keep my batteries on the empty side and quit charging when they are 83% at the time it would drop down to 16 kw – one quarter of its initial speed. At over 90% full the car drops it’s charging rate to the same rate as a level 2 charger. At this rate and cost per minute, it’s not worth the time or money to bother topping the battery off.
Okay, no big deal you think, but yes, it starts to be a big deal when the DC fast chargers aren’t available exactly every 180 miles just for my personal needs; plus I’m trying to run my batteries low to utilize the faster recharging rates which keeps you on the edge of your driver seat wondering, “Will I make it?” Ah, about now I pull my hair out and re-plan where my next stop will be. New Jersey and Pennsylvania EVgo charges $0.21/minute, Maryland charges $0.18/minute, can I get to Maryland, if I drive a little slower, economizing my power?
Nope. Harrisburg, PA, rush-hour, construction detour and torrential rain is where my batteries decided they couldn’t make Maryland. An hour in mostly stop and not much go traffic I got to the charger. Could I have gone to the free level 2 on my route and spent the hour charging instead of burning it up in traffic and still make it to Maryland with the same ETA and still some miles left in my batteries? It’s a crap shoot.
I found using the DC fast chargers were much faster at charging, BUT – and a very big but – I had to stop more often. Each time you stop and wander off your route, you’re not getting closer to your destination and the clock keeps ticking. Did I lose less time than I gained? I think I did, but it was a wearisome tribulation that I wasn’t sure was worth it.
Everything takes longer and costs more too. Did Einstein say that? It’s definitely an axiom involving driving an EV a long way in a short time. By the time I got to Roanoke, which is the maximum distance I can make it home on a full battery charge, it was 2am. My batteries needed 10 hours at level two charging. The charger was for business only, meaning I needed to leave at 8am. Not a full charge, but at least a short night’s rest. There are no DC fast chargers between Roanoke and home, and by arriving late I missed my overnight window for a full recharge. Time for plan Z. Oh, well, I’ll just have to stop again before getting home.
Driving an EV on a long distance trip is not for the inflexible, the control freak or an auto-pilot. It’s a way of being rather than a means of getting from point A to point B. It’s a step back in time to the days of the horse carriage when you stopped at every inn to water the horses, have a meal, rest up for the next leg of the journey. It’s not a better or worse means of transportation; it’s just a different way to travel. It’s no different than the tortoise and the hare.