Op/Ed

Climate Matters: To Florida and back in our EV!

STEVE MAIER

A well-known saying on bicycle touring trips is, “Drink before you’re thirsty, eat before you’re hungry, and shift before you have to.”

My wife and I discovered something similar while driving and charging our electric vehicle (EV) on our road trip to Florida last month. “Lower your distance expectations, stop to charge well before you have to, and eat and drink while you charge.”

We love our Hyundai Kona EV, and have had zero issues with driving it just about anywhere in Vermont and back again in a day. We charge at night in the garage at lower rates than for other electricity, and the car is ready to go again in the morning. But this was our first long-distance trip, and we learned some things along the way.

Bottom line? We had a great trip and never got close to running out of battery. Did we have to plan our travel days carefully? Yes. Was there some worry along the way? Yes. But in hindsight, the issues were not a big deal, and we’d certainly do it again.

With EV charging there are now four charging speeds: slow (regular home outlet), medium (what we have in our garage), fast and really fast. When you’re traveling away from home and longer distances, it’s the fast and really fast chargers that you want. They will get your battery up to 80% of capacity and on your way in 30 to 60 minutes depending on your car’s battery system, the power levels available at the charger you have chosen, and how low your car’s battery was to start with.

When planning our trip and each day’s travel, we used an independent EV charging app called PlugShare. It does a good job of showing all of the public chargers on a map. You can zoom in and out to figure out which route might be best from an EV charging perspective. The screen can get very busy in some areas, so one thing to do is to use the filtering function to turn off the medium fast chargers to leave only the fastest chargers on the map. There are also some areas with few or even no chargers, so you need to plan ahead. As you would expect, there are more chargers in more populated areas and fewer in more rural or remote places. On our trip, there were fewer chargers in the Poconos, Shenandoah Valley and southcentral South Carolina.

There are numerous EV charging companies, and it’s a little overwhelming at first. Each has its own app that you need to download to your smart phone and use to activate the charger you have selected and make payments. In most cases, you will need to set up an account with a credit card that will be charged as you go. We have five apps downloaded, but we quickly gravitated to Electrify America. Their business model is to provide fast and really fast chargers every 70 miles or so along interstate highways and other major routes. They provide anywhere from four to eight charging stations at each site, which alleviates much of the worry about having one be available when you arrive. We had to wait for 10-20 minutes only twice during our trip. With a few exceptions, other charging companies provide fewer stations at each site (typically 1 to 2) and slower charging speeds.

What about the cost? While charging rates vary across different charging companies and different states (or electric utilities), we typically paid $5 to $8 for 100-150 miles of range added to our battery, which is comparable to what we pay at home. You might multiply that by 3 ($15 to $24) to compare to a gas tank fill-up. Overall, EV’s are relatively inexpensive to “fill up” compared to gasoline.

STEVE MAIER’S HYUNDAI Kona (with our bikes) charges at an Electrify America site in Pennsylvania recently. He saw many different EV cars and trucks along the way (yes, that’s a Rivian pick-up/SUV), and there was a good amount of camaraderie, storytelling and helping out happening.
Photo courtesy of Steve Maier

It turns out that different EVs have different battery systems and can accept different charging speeds. In general, newer EVs have better systems and can be charged at higher speeds. Our 2019 Kona is relatively old for an EV, and will accept charging rates up to only 75 kW. Every vehicle’s battery system regulates the amount of energy it will accept, and newer cars can accept 2-3 times what our Kona can. So it takes less time for more charge in these newer EVs. All EV battery systems slow down the energy coming in as the battery gets closer to fully charged to help protect battery life. In the case of the Kona, it only accepts around 50kW after the battery is 70% full, 35 kW after 75% and 24 kW after 80%. The 24 kW is still more than three times faster than what we get in our garage.

A few concluding notes:

• We stayed in Airbnbs along the way for three to four days at a time and the hosts were happy to have us plug in. So, we would plug in at night into a regular 110V outlet and slowly recharge that way (which might take 24 to 36 hours).

• Every now and then, a charger would not communicate sufficiently with our car, and we would have to call Customer Service (all EV chargers include customer service phone numbers). Our representatives were all helpful and pleasant, and they always got the charge going. Sometimes they would initiate the charge remotely or ask that we try connecting to a different machine.

• Our worst experiences were the first and last days, both in New York state. The chargers were obtuse and hard to use, but even in those cases the nice customer service folks got us going after 15-20 minutes.

• By the way, the EV charging network in Quebec is very good, but you’ll need another app and set up your account ahead of time. We recommend Le Circuit Electrique (Electric Circuit in English), which is a joint venture between several provincial agencies and Hydro-Quebec.

EV charging networks are much better than they were three years ago when we got our Kona. I expect things will get significantly better over the next year or two, in part because there is lots of funding for charging infrastructure in last year’s federal Inflation Reduction Act. There will be more fast and very fast chargers, and the EV battery systems themselves will continue to improve so they can safely accept very fast charging speeds. So, if you’re thinking about getting an EV or taking your EV on a longer trip, go ahead: take the plunge!

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Steve Maier, a former member of the Vermont House, currently serves on the Middlebury Energy Committee and is a founding board member of CEAC, the Climate Economy Action Center.

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