Our Trip Begins
We charged the night before our trip home, so that we were fully charged upon leaving. After driving for about ½ of an hour, I realized that I had forgotten to put my computer in the car! We needed to return to our RV in storage to get it. I knew there was a quick charge location in the town where the RV was stored so I thought, let’s get some experience fast charging and given that we not that far from fully charged it would only take a short time to top up. The charger was a single unit capable of charging one EV and it was located at an Exxon Station, just off the Interstate. As it turned out, it would not connect to our car due to a charger technical fault. Every station has a tollfree number printed somewhere on the station hardware or shown on the display screen. After calling and trying to restore the charger to operation we had to leave without charging. Lesson learned: Not every station will be operating or available when you arrive. Don’t deplete your battery to the point where you do not have alternatives just in case there is no charging available.
We travelled to the planned first charging station which was an Electrify America one, located in a Walmart parking lot. It had 8-10 station stalls and was easily to connect to. While we used our credit card to pay for this charge (and some others) we learned that with the App and some options available, we could set up to charge easier and at a lower rate. The trade-off was there was a monthly fee charged. The beauty of this approach is it is simpler to connect and pay, and the usage can be monitored better with tracking of all charges. The other benefit is that one can change plans within the App in a few simple steps and you can monitor the charging from the app as well as view the level of charge on the station screen.
Since this charging station was at a Walmart, we did what we often do when staying at a Walmart in our RV: Shopping! When we came back to the car, we learned that the car was virtually fully charged at 79%, so that within minutes we were ready to drive again. This experience was repeated at two more charging stations later that same day. Each station was somewhat off our planned direct route, but not too far that we would not travel to it. We had to be flexible in the exact route we chose to drive which was a change from our normal route, however the alternative was that if we missed these stations, we would not get the needed charge.
Good Customer Support is Critical
While at each station, we needed to contact the company using the Customer Support telephone number to get assistance to get the system to function, or for some other technical issue. At one, we had to move to another charger at that station. The beauty of that call is that the Company Representative had real time data on which unit was functioning, so that we could be directed to a charger that would charge immediately after we connected and activated it. Choosing a station that has multiple chargers with compatible connectors, made this a relatively simple process. (We are all familiar with the ‘bag over the pump nozzle’ when pulling our I.C.E vehicle into a fuel station to inform us that the pump we are approaching is not operating). In an ideal world this would not happen, however there will be some technological hurdles to overcome to get a charging station to communicate with each brand and type of EV and then charge its battery. This is all part of the learning process.
Know your EV’s Range
The critical factor in making a decision to select a particular charging location along or near our route is: How far can our EV go on its current charge? Is the selected station within the remaining range? While the use of Air Conditioning or Heating affects the range, the travel speed and terrain are also considerations. Most EV’s have controls that can turn off or select economy settings to maximize distance. As the weather changes to cooler temperatures, range will decline, since the ideal temperatures for the batteries to produce their maximum power and optimize their recharging capabilities is 15°C to 25°C (60°F to 77°F). On the trip back to our home, another consideration was finding a charging location at or near a suitable motel/hotel. We were traveling with our small dog and needed to find a place where she could stay with us. The Apps are improving, however their information about neighbouring facilities is still weak. Thus, the hope of finding a place to stay and charge overnight faded in our list of priorities. As it turned out, the City where we chose to spend the night had a major event happening there. Rooms were scarce. Eventually we located a motel with a room and it also had a standard wall outlet designed to supply power to a regular traveller’s cooler truck that required the truck to be plugged in each night. It was not expected the night we were there, so we benefited from using that plug for our Level 1 charger. It takes a lot longer than overnight to fully charge however we had selected that location since it was near enough to a charging station for us to go to it the next morning. The temperatures dropped significantly overnight however the charger was able to supply enough of a charge to keep our range where it was when we stopped, thus compensating for the falling temperatures. Without charging our range would have dropped as the temperatures fell.
A Route Adjustment was Required
The next morning, we drove to the next charging station, which was off our route, along a toll route, for which we had a Toll transponder. This is an example of adjusting the trip route to find a suitable charging station along the projected route, then adjusting the trip route to fit the location of the chargers into our planned route. It is noteworthy that our EV came with a Navigation system loaded with data on a computer chip which contained the latest charging locations on it. However even though it was new for the model year, it was outdated and did not have that specific charging station on it. If we had depended upon the car’s Navigation System for a suitable charging location, it would have made the trip route far more complex. The App we used (Electrify America) was current, although the chargers were just opened within the two weeks before we arrived. Interestingly, the station was at a Service Center on an Interstate (a Toll Road). The large highway Billboard sign that informs travellers about what services are available at the approaching Service Plaza had an EV charging icon, which was obviously newly installed. This was the only time on our travels, that we noticed a sign advertising an EV charging station. We charged there and based on the range available had enough charge to get across the Border, back into Canada where we had planned our last charging stop.
This last one was located off the highway at a nearby Tim Horton’s donut shop which had partnered with the charger supplier to install a single charger at many of its restaurants. We connected; however we could not get a charge. The nearest high-speed charger was 90 km (55 miles) away and we had 50 km (30 miles) of range left. Another solution had to be found. Fortunately, the customer service representative told me that they had some chargers at some City owned parking lots which were not occupied. We drove there and discovered that this charger was a Level 2 charger, which would take many hours to fully charge the battery. I calculated the time needed to get to the next fast charge station, along our trip home and determined that about 1.5 hours would be enough. We ate our lunch and waited the remainder of the time.
Patience is Required
After a day and one half of driving and being 200 km (120 miles) from home, it was aggravating to not be able to get there in a couple of hours as had been planned. However, we did not have any alternative. We charged to the level, I thought was needed, then drove to the next fast charge station. At this station, we needed to make a telephone call to get the charger operating however once there, we only needed enough to get home. This charger station had a number of charging stalls and it was one of the first installed by the fuel supplier, Petro Canada, which has made a commitment to set up a cross-Canada charging network at their fuel stations. This was the first, having been open just a couple of weeks. With that charge, we had a range of about 25 km remaining, when we arrived at our home. There, we were able to fully charge, which gave us a range that was lower than it had been two weeks earlier when we left on our trip. The temperature had dropped to the single digits (around 5°C or under 41°F) which was down by 10°C or 18°F from the weeks before.
As you can see from our experience, charging locations are available and the infrastructure is being built out in real time. Flexibility in trip planning is necessary and some patience is required to make that trip in a non-Tesla vehicle. Tesla has the unique advantage that they not only make the vehicles, they supply and install the charging stations. They have developed their charging network over many years and are backfilling the locations where they have determined there is still demand. In addition, since they only need to have charging stations compatible with their vehicles, they can develop ever larger battery systems and higher voltage DC Fast chargers, making the charging stop shorter. All of their stations have multiple chargers which are monitored in real time and the Tesla Driver knows in advance whether and which charger will be available based on their expected arrival time. (Using their internet connected Navigation and GPS system with trip destination is required to get this information). Having this information in real time system has advantages to their owners. As the non-Tesla infrastructure is built and updated, the services needed for other brands will come online.
Towing Requirements Had to be Central to our EV Decision
In our case, we required a towable EV, and there are no Tesla’s that can be flat or dolly towed. A full trailer is required to tow any of their vehicles. We have concluded that for the two times a year that we need to use Level 3, Fast DC Charging, the extra effort and time is worth it. We recognize that we are at the beginning of the wave to adoption of EV vehicles and that each year, the charging infrastructure will improve. In Canada, in addition to Petro Canada, Canadian Tire has made a significant commitment to blanket the country with a network of charging stations at their stores. Others are in the planning process and this is replicated both in Canada and the USA.
The advantages of having an EV to drive throughout the year, far outweighs the slight aggravation that the changes required for the two trips we make when we must fast charge. Hotels and motels along major Interstates are beginning to recognize the benefit of offering overnight EV charging and they benefit from this charging being priced at the lowest overnight energy rates. Donut shops such as Dunkin Donuts in the US, Tim Horton’s in Canada, along with fuel stations are planning to roll out significant charging infrastructure to allow their customers to charge while visiting. Many large shopping malls along with major retailers such as Walmart and Meier are installing multiple stations on their large lots.
Driving an EV on a Lengthy Trip: You are an Explorer!I refer to buying and driving an EV as being Christopher Columbus or Captain Cook as they explored and found North America. They did not know what they would find on their travels however they were convinced that they were onto something big. For the vast majority of EV owners and drivers, the infrastructure can be installed at their home. For those that live in rental, condominium/strata title properties with garages away from their unit, it will only be short time before they will have access to suitable infrastructure at their homes or places of work. This will make their driving far safer, easier and enjoyable, as the EV’s are loaded with state-of-the-art safety features. Range anxiety will fade from their owner’s thinking. As you can see from my story here, it is possible to drive 600-700 km (375-435 miles) per day in an EV. Go EVing & Stay Charged!