Over the weekend I took a road trip in my Volvo XC40 Recharge, an electric vehicle (EV). I want to share with others the pluses and minuses of doing this trip using public charging infrastructure. The goal was to drive from Los Altos, California to Olympia, Washington for a visit with my son and his wife, and to drop off some heavy (~150 lbs) items they had left behind when they moved up there.
I began by charging my Volvo to 100% at home the night before leaving. My first stop was to charge at an Electrifying America (EA) charging station in Dunnigan, CA, a distance of 127 miles. My first charging experience did not go very smoothly. For starters, I was relying on Google to give me spoken directions. When I got off the freeway, it sent me around in a circle because I did not realize when it said to turn at the next left, that it meant into a restaurant driveway. The charger turned out to be behind the restaurant in the parking lot of a motel. Once I got there it was difficult to position the car the right way because the tall charging machines (towers) here were positioned for cars pulling in forward. My car’s charging port is on the left rear. I gave up on the first tower I tried because its screen faced due south directly into the sun and was unreadable. I moved my car to the one on the other side, backing in, and tried again. I used the EA app but I couldn’t get it started. I called the 888 help number and an EA support person walked me through the process. Much of the delay could have been avoided if I’d been more familiar with the app. I did get the car charged to 85% of capacity in 44 minutes of actual charging time. Call it an hour with the delays. I needed coffee and a bathroom break anyway, so it wasn’t totally wasted time.
The next stop was at a Safeway in Anderson, CA to charge at another EA station. This one was easy to find. I had no trouble positioning the car, but it stuck out a bit into the parking lot aisle. I needed another break. The charger here ran a little slower than most of the other EA chargers. They are rated at either 150 kw or 350 kw. My car can only handle 150 kw, If the battery level is low, it can take 150 kw, but it slows down considerably as the battery gets more “full.” That’s one reason not to charge your car to 100%. The other reason is that it hurts the battery life. This charge took 63 minutes to get 48 kwh (compared to 36 min. for 44kwh at Dunnigan).
One problem I had with all the chargers, regardless of brand, is the difficulty of handling the cable that attaches to the car. It’s heavy, stiff and thick. I have arthritis in my hands and a bad back. I know that many women are not strong enough to wrestle them into position. That’s something to test before undertaking a road trip in your EV or even before buying one. This applies only to the high-speed chargers (Level 3) out on the road. The home units are manageable although there is still a rather hefty cable.
Stop three was at a Walmart in Yreka, CA. The chargers were a little hard to find in the lot. It’s worth taking some time with the app to zoom in and orient yourself with respect to the buildings. You can have the app give you oral directions using Google Maps. They can be confusing though because it just gives a series of lefts and right. It never says how far away you are, even if you’re 20 feet away. They are normally quite visible, but a large truck, building, or trees can block your view. This was the fastest charging station on my trip north: 52 kwh in 39 min. This charge took me to my overnight location in Grants Pass, Oregon. That’s 425 miles in eight and a half hours, including meal and charging stops.
I chose this motel because there was a Walmart with an EA charger nearby. Only “nearby” turned out not to be that close and there was a highway I had to cross on foot. It was windy, cold, and drizzly, too. You don’t need the speed of an EA charger for an overnight stay. In fact, it’s a disadvantage in a way. I went to eat at a nearby restaurant while it charged, and I was getting alarmed to see it nearing full while I was still eating. EA costs you an arm and a leg if you don’t unplug within 10 min. of the end of the charge. I let it charge up to 94% while I finished my meal. The motel was okay, but not great.
The next day my first stop was at the Target in Springfield, Oregon. The first charger plugged in and started up okay, but stopped immediately. My EA app wouldn’t let me start charging again. I had to move my car to another unit. I couldn’t start there, either, so I called for help. The service person got the machine started. It was of average speed (57 kw in 44 min).
Next I made a blunder that cost me a lot of time. I told Google to navigate to the Walmart in Vancouver, WA, which was my next planned stop for an EA charger. What I didn’t know was that there were several Walmarts in Vancouver. I was directed to the wrong one, which did not have a charging station. If you’re relying on Google or Apple, you have to be very specific. Then it got worse. I gave Google the correct address, which was still 20 miles away or so. It started me on my way there. I got nervous with my low state of charge so when I was stopped at a light I pulled up the EA app and asked it to find the nearest EA station. It said there was one 3 miles away. I selected that and asked for Google Maps to direct me there. What I didn’t realize was that didn’t cancel the existing navigation direction. So when I started driving, I was getting conflicting directions in the same Google voice. At one point as I came to a split the voice told me to go left at the split and to go right at the split. I ended up taking some right and some wrong turns and wasted time and energy getting nowhere. It was dangerous. I told the car to cancel all navigation and just headed north on I-5. after a couple of minutes I asked it for directions to next Walmart north of my position. It directed me to one shortly ahead. It wasn’t the one I’d originally intended, but it did have a charging station. Great! I started the charge going and went inside to get a late lunch. There were no restaurants nearby, so I had settle for the awful Subway inside. I was inside for over 20 minutes when I noticed on my EA app that it was charging at a rate of 36 kw. It should have been going at 150 kw or close. I finished my meal quickly and went out to the car. I verified the slow rate and called EA service. The rep there confirmed it was unusually slow and suggested I move to a different tower. I did that and it began charging faster, at around 63 kw, which is still not great. Then another driver pulled into the slot I had left and his car began charging at a rate of 90 kw. Go figure.
This got me to Olympia. I needed to charge up before getting to my son’s house because he did not have a 240V plug accessible to me to charge there. I stopped at the Capital Village Shopping Center to charge. I had real trouble finding the charging units. I learned from my prior experience and asked the app to direct me. Unfortunately, it was the usual problem with a bunch of “next left” or “then right” commands that are confusing since they may mean at the street, or to turn up the next aisle. For these big malls, it’s helpful to find out which store the charger is near. You can usually do that on the EA website before you go, but then you have to remember that when you get there. The store names are not shown on the EA app. In any event, I got there and had dinner at a Red Robin while the car charged. Just as in Grants Pass, I was worried it would charge up fully while I was eating and I’d have to run over there (several hundred yards) to unplug and then come back. This ended up having an overall slow charging rate, but that was mainly because I let it charge all the way to 97% as I ate. The last 5% can take an hour even when the first 50% can take 20 minutes. I finished up and drove to my son’s house.
Obviously some of the difficulties wouldn’t apply if you know the area well and especially if you are familiar with the specific chargers. On my return trip, I used some other chargers. I’ll detail that in my next post.