The Touchstone Energy Honor Flight took place September 17th. It left from and arrived back to the Blue Grass Airport in Lexington.
As I was volunteering to help with the 4am set up/registration shift, I chose to spend the night in Lexington to avoid driving in the middle of the night (not an EV-specific concern).
As noted in a previous post, planning is key if taking an EV on a “road trip” away from your home area. One of the issues that I encountered as I was planning was the surprisingly few hotels that had an EV charger available. Below is the map of chargers in the Lexington area on Plugshare:
The green points indicated above are the EV chargers marked at any location (golf courses, auto dealerships, city lots, etc). Of these, there are only 3 at a hotel within a 30 minute drive of the Lexington airport. I found that one hotel was completely booked and one was listed as a “resort” (out of my price range) – luckily, the third was a Homewood Inn and Suites which was in my price range, available and within 15 minutes of the airport.
I left the Nolin office with 100% charge and an estimate range of 278 miles on the 16th. The weather was mild and I did not experience any traffic issues. I arrived at the hotel with 65% charge and a range 174 miles. The EV charger was located around the back of the hotel and when I found it, there was one J-1772 level 2 charger installed (this is the one required for the Mach-E) and one Tesla charger (a Mach-E cannot use this kind of charger). There was already a small EV plugged into one side of the J-1772 charger so I pulled into the spot beside it and plugged in my car.
Above is the charger at the hotel. Notice there is no place to pay. This charger was free to hotel guests – though with no discernable monitoring system, it was free for anyone who happened to know it was back there.
I came out of the hotel about an hour later and found another EV owner pulling in nearby. When he got out of his car, I asked if he needed to use the charger then (since I didn’t technically need the charge to get home) and he said he would return in about an hour to plug up. I told him I would move my car then so he could use the charger. An interesting note here, he had a Tesla but the Tesla charger wasn’t compatible with his car. I’ll explore the topic of chargers & compatibility in a future post.
An hour later, I returned and noticed another Mach-E had parked nearby, presumably waiting to plug in as well. I moved my car and the Tesla owner pulled in to begin charging.
A few observations from my experience and why this blog post is called the “honor system.”
- First-come, first-served seems fair until the person who is using the charger stays plugged in after they reach the desired charge. I cannot confirm the level of charge reached by the BMW that was plugged in when I arrived, but it was still there the next morning when I left. Even accounting for a full charge from “empty,” it seems the car was on charge longer than necessary and taking up one space that someone could have used.
- It may be possible that a person may not need a charge at all and are using the charger (like me) “to be safe.” I was willing to unplug and did so after a short time, but that is not required of anyone using the charger. Further, if I had not returned to that part of the parking lot when I did, I would not have known anyone was waiting to use the charger (or been able to contact them if I had noticed another EV).
- Free chargers meant for hotel guests (for example) can be used by anyone (at least in this instance) which means that anyone who is staying in that hotel for that purpose and the charger is being used, the person who planned their trip has potentially wasted the effort of researching/planning. The presence of the charger could have been a factor in choosing that hotel over another even if it cost more, was less convenient, etc. And what if the charger was out of order?
- All chargers are not the same. In my limited experience, level 2 chargers have added 25-30 miles per hour to the range of Nolin’s EV. In contrast, I was plugged up for 2 hours and it only added 36 miles to the range. I can see the difficulty that this causes for planning, especially with limited charging options or the need to keep a tight schedule.
- My options were very limited if I needed to charge and did not reach the charger first. With no nearby public chargers, no fast chargers to speak of in the Lexington area and a set schedule, I would have found it difficult to find an appropriate place to charge in the time I had available.
- What if the hotel or parts of the city lost power?
This experience has given me a lot to think about in terms of the need for a more robust charging infrastructure, especially if EVs become more common than they are now as is expected. If a city the size of Lexington that brings in hundreds of thousands of visitors each year with U of K, horse tourism, etc has so few resources for EV users, how will the addition of EVs on the road add to the strain? And even with the best planning, it currently comes down to relying on your fellow EV owner to abide by an honor system for sharing chargers – that doesn’t seem like a sustainable approach.
It is worth noting here that federal dollars are being earmarked to address the issue of EV charging infrastructure (more on that in a later post). I am interested to see how that plays out in the coming months/years and what impact that makes on the adoption and use of EVs.
A more “positive” note from the trip – as I was driving to the airport at 3:45am, I realized that was thankful that I didn’t need to stop at a sparsely populated gas station (as I had many times before) to fuel up. Being able to “fuel up” on electricity overnight at home/hotel or while I’m eating dinner, etc is very convenient.