Range Confidence: Charge Fast, Drive Far, with your Electric Car

By David Herron

The Range Anxiety story which would limit us

Many believe electric cars are only good for driving around town, and that long trips with an electric are impossible. It's a dismissive attitude, not based in reality, that's keeping many away from electric cars.

Supposedly all electric car owners suffer from Range Anxiety. This is the worry of getting stuck at the side of the road after running out of power. Electric car owners look silly, having paid a premium price, for a special kind of car, only to get stuck at the side of the road.

Don't gasoline car drivers get stuck on the side of the road? Isn't that why every gas car driver carries a gas can in the trunk? In other words, those are limiting beliefs, with little reality to show for them, which stop many from buying electric cars.

Yes electric car drivers can (and do) get stuck without power. It's called the Flatbed of Shame. Gasoline car owners can end up in the same situation.

Another fact to ponder is that a 300+ mile range with 5 minute recharge is truly required. Gasoline car drivers have that situation today, and we have 100+ years of gasoline-fueled experience behind that paradigm. We'll see elsewhere in this book that most people don't take that many long trips, and that a shorter range electric car will handle the majority of their driving. That begs a question -- what are our true needs?

The typical driver travels 40 miles or less per day (the USA national average). Even an 80 mile range electric car, that's recharged every day at home, can handle that daily commute, especially if it's charged at the office. A 300+ mile range with 5 minute recharge is way beyond what's required for typical daily driving, so long as the car can be recharged at home.

That idea, that we require a 300+ mile range and 5 minute recharge, is a limiting belief. Most of us don't actually require this, except for the occasional road trip. For that road trip, rent a gas car, or else read on to the rest of this book and learn about taking electric road trips.

The first step of solving a problem is to recognize its shape.

  • The majority of electric car models (late 2015) are rated for an 80-100 mile driving range. In 2017 the affordable 200+ mile range electric cars are starting to be sold.
  • Most electric car owners charge solely at home, and therefore must stay within 40 miles from home
  • Those charge at home and at work have slightly more range of mobility, but that range is still limited to an oval encircling their home and workplace
  • Driving a longer distance is made possible by using public charging stations -- just as gasoline car drivers use public refueling stations to extend their driving range
  • Driving really long distances is more difficult, because of the lack of electric charging stations, but can still be done in some cases

In other words, it's fairly easy to drive an electric car within a short range of home. The further afield you go, the more difficult the trip. That's with the infrastructure we have in 2017. As EV adoption progresses, and charging networks mature, long-range trips will become easier and easier.

While many people are happily charging their electric car solely at home, those electric cars aren't fulfilling their entire potential. The more we drive our electric car, the more benefit (both economically and environmentally) we get.

Tesla electric car owners have the easiest time. Tesla Motors has had the foresight to build the Supercharger network to enable Model S and Model X owners to take proper electric car road trips. Even so, owners of the 100ish mile range electric cars have taken long trips. Some have even taken the Mitsubishi i-MiEV (60ish mile range) on really long range trips, thousands of miles from home, relying on CHAdeMO fast charging. At one time I had a converted 1971 Karmann Ghia (beautiful car) with a 50 mile range, with which I took several 200-mile-a-day trips. I could have gone further in a day if I'd focused on covering distance.

The key to easy electric road trips is a matching fast charging station deployment. Suitable fast charging infrastructure is required to take proper Road Trips, on electric power, as has been proved by the many Tesla Model S and Model X owners who've done so using the Supercharger network.

In the meantime we must confront these limiting beliefs. They're keeping us from fully using our electric cars.

For a car with 80 miles range, the charging stations must be 60 or less miles apart. With a 200+ mile range electric car, the frequency of stopping to charge is be every 170 miles or so. The driver would simply stop at each station to gain enough range to reach the next station. It's feasible, it can be done, and many people have taken long trips that way. Admittedly stopping every 60 miles is suboptimal, and the wife-and-kids may complain and insist on a gasoline car. Stopping every 170 miles is a little more reasonable, that's nearly 3 hours of driving and good health suggests getting out of the car to walk a bit.

Seattle to San Francisco electrically

To prove the point - with the right infrastructure, long range electric car trips are possible - let's consider a very difficult (at this time) trip.

The route between Seattle and San Francisco is over 800 miles long. It crosses multiple mountain ranges, and passes through many largely uninhabited (but beautiful) areas.

Multiple people have taken that trip (and further south) with electric cars. The biggest challenge, as of late 2015, is the lack of charging infrastructure between the Oregon-California border and the Sacramento region.

North of the Oregon-California border, up to Seattle and Vancouver BC is the West Coast Electric Highway. It has CHAdeMO fast charging stations spaced every 50 miles or so along the highways. Travel with a Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-MiEV or Kia Soul EV is very nice. Fast charging stations supporting the Combo Charging System (CCS) cars are being built, but installation is a couple years behind CHAdeMO station installation.

The situation changes dramatically AT the California border. When first proposed, California was to be part of the West Coast Electric Highway, but that vision never became reality, and therefore the WCEH network stops AT the California border. No CHAdeMO or "level 2" stations are available until you reach the Sacramento area. There is a string of lower-powered CCS charging stations, for owners of those cars. Once you reach the Sacramento area, it's easy to reach San Francisco or any place south. Driving into the Sierra Nevada mountains is starting to be possible, thanks to charging station buildouts in early 2017. Driving to Las Vegas is tricky with anything other than a Tesla.

Even so, multiple people have driven through the stretch between the Sacramento area and the Oregon-California border.

How does a car like the Nissan Leaf, with an 80 mile range in optimal conditions, and more like 60-70 through serious mountains, make it from the Oregon-California border to Sacramento? That's over 200 miles, with the first 100 or so miles driving through rugged mountainous terrain around Mt. Shasta.

The trick is to stop at RV parks. Many of them have 240 volt 50 amp power outlets. While they're meant to be used by RV owners, with the right adapters you can carry a portable 6 kiloWatt charging station and refuel your electric car at any RV park.

Lesson If the public charging infrastructure lacks, by picking the right EVSE you can carry your own charging infrastructure.

The second trick is that slowly the situation is changing, with fast charging stations being (slowly) installed in that region. The CCS station's help, even though they're lower power (25 kiloWatt), for owners of those cars, and there have been several promises of CHAdeMO station installations north of Sacramento.

Other areas have even better electric vehicle infrastructure. A look at the East Coast charging station maps in early 2016 shows it's feasible to travel pretty freely throughout the heavily populated corridors along the East Coast, especially between Washington DC and Boston. Europe has its own areas of great charging infrastructure, especially in the Netherlands.

In our modern world electricity is available pretty much anywhere. Unfortunately not all areas have charging stations, at this time. Driving through a No-Charging-Station-Region just means being inventive about finding power outlets, and carrying your own charging station. Over time the charger-less areas have to disappear, of course. See Can you drive an electric car away from charging network coverage areas?

Range Confidence is Copyright © 2016-17 by David Herron

The Range Anxiety story which would limit us

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