September 21, 2022 by Nolin Manager-Engineering Devon Woosley
While I had driven Nolin’s Electric Vehicle around town for short distances a couple of times, I had not driven it on longer trip road trips. I consider myself to be a new EV driver, and in all honesty I do still have a bit of range anxiety with the fear of “running out of gas.” For my first road trip with the EV, some of our engineering employees including myself decided to drive it to a one day training event in Lexington.
I will say, driving an EV does require a lot more planning than a combustion engine. The day before the training, we had to charge the EV here at our office to ensure it was fully charged for the trip. When charging an EV, which can take several hours depending on the type of charger you’re using, you have to allow plenty of time for charging to ensure you have a sufficient charge by the time you intend to depart. It certainly takes more time than just the quick fill up at the fuel station.
I thought we could make the complete round trip on a full charge, without needing to charge in Lexington. While it was only approximately 90 miles between our office and the location of the training in Lexington, I was a little nervous how the range might be affected by the extra weight of three adults in the car. Also, knowing that it would be hot summer day and we would be using the air conditioning, I wasn’t sure how much effect that would have on the range. Also, what if we got stuck in traffic somewhere? These are all considerations that EV drivers may face.
I had used the PlugShare app and identified that there was an EV charger located at the same facility as our training, in the event we needed to charge before the return home. Again, driving an EV requires some advance planning in this regard. For those that may not be familiar with PlugShare, it is essentially a crowdsourced map for EV charger locations. Also, users can check in and report the status of chargers that may not be functional so that other EV drivers are aware. In terms of how the information is crowdsourced PlugShare is similar to navigation apps like Waze, where drivers report road hazards and other concerns for other drivers in the area. With that said, there was still some uncertainty as to the availability of the charger at our training location. What if it didn’t work? Since there was only one charger port with the standard J1772 plug we needed for our EV, what if someone else was using it?
We started our trip early in the morning at 99% charged with an estimated 265 miles of range. We arrived at the location of our training in Lexington at 60% charged and an estimated 148 miles of remaining range. Essentially, the estimate range had dropped 117 miles during the 90 mile trip. While we had an estimated 148 miles remaining, I expected the trip home in the hot afternoon with the air conditioning on continuously would require more capacity than the trip early that morning. So, it would definitely be a good idea to try to charge before we returned home. Fortunately, the charger at the training location was available!
We charged our EV during the training for approximately four hours, and I checked on the car during lunch. Also, since there was only one charger available, I wanted to be sure that I was courteous to other EV drivers who might need it. After the four hour charge, our car had only added 23% of charge and an estimated 63 miles of range. Fortunately, this additional range was enough that I could be confident we would have sufficient charge to return home. I mention this because it again speaks to the importance of planning, and knowing what type of chargers are available and how long it might take to charge your vehicle. This particular level 2 charger charged our car much slower than the level 2 chargers we had used before, and could have resulted in unexpected delays or the need to locate another charger before returning home if our trip home had been further. While some gas pumps seem to be slower than others, they certainly don’t have as much variation as EV chargers. Level 2 EV chargers can range in power output from 2.5 to 19.2 kW, so charging times can vary tremendously.
We arrived back at our office and the estimated mileage had dropped 95 miles during the return trip and we had 46% charge remaining. I was a little surprised that the return trip only used 37% of our capacity whereas the trip to Lexington had used 39%. As mentioned, I expected the constant air conditioning load in the hot afternoon would’ve had more of an effect than it did. The outside temperature had been around 70 degrees that morning compared to 90 degrees that afternoon, and I knew the air conditioning would work harder during the return trip. According to the car’s display on the return trip, it appeared that air conditioning was a relatively small percentage of the energy consumption though. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was only around 4-5% while driving was around 93%. Another variable was that we switched drivers for the return trip, and I’m sure the driving habits of different drivers will have some effect.
While I’m not quite comfortable enough to take an EV across the country on a long road trip, I felt we at least had a positive experience for my first EV trip outside of E-town. With a combustion engine that “runs out of gas” on the highway, you can always have someone bring you enough fuel to get you to the next fuel station. With an EV, you would likely be forced to call a tow truck. Certainly a lot to consider there, and it will be interesting to see if there is a solution to that in the future. As the availability of EV chargers increases, including the level 3 fast chargers, EV drivers will likely gain confidence and comfort for those long road trips.