An EV Road Trip (or How to Overcome Range Anxiety and Just Drive)
By Grant Brown, Founder, Happy Eco News
Owning an EV sometimes still seems like a membership to an exclusive club. I’m always on the lookout for other EVs and maybe it’s just me, but I always imagine that the other EV drivers I see are also driving one to help the planet. I kind of feel like there should be a secret handshake or maybe a wave, like motorcyclists or Jeep drivers do when they pass each other. The truth is that there are probably just as many people driving them because of the low cost of ownership, lack of maintenance, and ease of daily use as there are people who drive them for environmental reasons. It’s likely that some of them drive big gas or diesel vehicles for their occupation and enjoy going emissions-free on the weekends.
The one thing I think all of us EV drivers would agree on (especially when you first buy one), is the feeling of range anxiety – the worry that you will run out of battery before getting to another charger. This would not be an issue if there were more rapid chargers available, but as of 2020, I would estimate that only 10% of public chargers are level 3 fast charge. Level 3 charging takes 20 minutes to charge our car and level 2 takes roughly 5 hours to charge. Level 1 is also known as a granny charger and is the one that plugs into a standard wall outlet like a computer or lamp and about 12 hours to fully charge. If more level 3 chargers were available there would be no worry at all, but there just aren’t that many – yet.
Range anxiety is not imaginary, it has been a pretty big issue for the early adopters of EVs. The early ones have smaller batteries and therefore have a limited range when compared to gasoline or diesel vehicles or even modern long-range EVs. The one we have at home is a 2016 Nissan LEAF with a small 30kWh battery. We drive it a lot, much more than our gas car, and so the battery is starting to degrade a little. This means we get a pretty short range of about 145km (90 miles). This is perfectly adequate for almost all of our around-town driving, but what about a road trip?
We decided that due to the pandemic, this summer we’d stay closer to home. We would explore the islands and small communities of the British Columbia coast and we’d do it in the EV. We started by doing some short trips to easy locations that were well within the one-way range of the car. We’d charge the battery as needed while there, then top up the battery before the return trip home. Even with these boundaries and criteria, we still worried about the unknown – would there be enough chargers, where were they located and would they even be functional?
Gradually, we ventured farther and farther into areas that had fewer fast charge locations, sometimes only able to use the portable “granny charger” that we brought along with us. Each time we went we were building confidence, each next trip pushing the limits a little further until we felt ready to take a longer, multi-day road trip to areas with little or no charging infrastructure.
For the road trip, we started at our home near White Rock, drove to the ferry that would take us to Vancouver Island, then boarded another ferry over to Salt Spring Island. We explored the island and found a charging station at a local community center in the main town of Ganges Harbour. A leisurely lunch allowed about a 30% top-up, then some more exploring before checking into our Hotel at Sidney, BC. A quick charge while at dinner followed by a granny charge at the hotel put us at 100% battery capacity for the next day.
The next day was the big driving day. Our next hotel was in a town called Campbell River, about 280km (175 miles) away. We knew we’d need to charge a couple of times at least, and with a quick search on the Plugshare App, we found 3 compatible fast chargers that were approximately 90km apart. Perfect for our needs.
We left in the morning at 9:00 am and by 11:00 we arrived at the first rapid charger, ironically located at a gas station beside the highway and a fast-food restaurant. 20 minutes later we were on our way. All cars use more energy at highway speeds and an EV is no exception. It seems counterintuitive, but an EV gets better miles per kilowatt-hour in town, where it benefits from electrical regeneration while decelerating – the motor reverses and turns into a generator while coasting down hills or baking. Some people estimate city driving gains a 25% increase in range compared to straight highway travel with no stops.
So we took the road less traveled. While the trip did take longer this way, we were able to make several stops and see things that we’d never seen before. Our drive took us along the Eastern coast of Vancouver Island through picturesque towns like Parksville and past Fanny Bay, famous for the oysters farmed there. We got to see places that would normally just be bypassed had we stayed on the freeway. The slower pace forced us to relax and enjoy the drive instead of being focused solely on how fast we could get there. This time we focused on simply enjoying it.
The drive along the coast took a little longer than if we had driven on the freeway, but we arrived at our destination feeling relaxed instead of worn out. We found a nice place for dinner, then checked into our room at Painters Lodge where we enjoyed a walk around the property and a good night’s sleep. Two nights in Campbell River allowed more time to explore (and another recharge) before continuing our journey. The next leg of our trip took us exploring on Quadra Island (a 10-minute ferry ride) and then over to Cortes Island (a 40-minute ferry ride) where my cousin has a small farm. There are no charging stations on either island so the thought of going so far off the beaten track was a little unsettling. There is good power at the farm so we figured the granny charger would be adequate, and it was. We plugged into the log cabin that is located in the back 40 on his property and charged up each night as needed. In all fairness, we didn’t charge very much because we didn’t really use the car; the island is small and we were there to relax, not drive.
The return trip a week later was uneventful and stress-free. The 350km we had done the week before had eliminated any of the range anxiety that we had experienced previously, and we completed the trip home with only 2 fast charge stops along the way.
In summary, I would say that short-range EV’s are ideal for around-town – a city car so to speak. Greater range would be nicer, but there is no reason that you cannot use the existing charging infrastructure to get anywhere you want. With a short-range EV you just need to slow down and plan for more stops. On this trip, we drove more than 700km (435 miles). For this, we paid about $12 for electrons and emitted no pollution.
While it’s pretty obvious that this year has been a complete mess so far, we feel like we are making it a little better by spending time closer to home with our EV. For us, the summer of 2020 is the summer of fuel-free road trips. Our range anxiety is gone and we will never go back. From this car forward we will always have an EV in our family.