Good News for EV Owners with Less Than 125 Miles of Range

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Mar 2, 2018
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Good News for EV Owners with Less Than 125 Miles of Range

It is possible to make long range trips with low-range EVs if you have patience and like a little adventure. This is true in the northeast US and most likely in many other parts.

I drove my 2015 BMW i3 (EPA range 81 miles) from Maryland to Hartford, Connecticut to Westford, Massachusetts to Cape Cod and back to Hartford over a five day period recently. This was a trip of 873 miles and 16 stops to DC fast charge along the way and two sessions of level 1 charging at my brothers and sisters homes.

The range limitations of EVs are quickly being solved by new models that have over 200 miles of range and charge much faster. You don’t have to buy a Tesla now to drive across the country. The Chevy Bolt (EPA range 238 miles) and Hyundai Kona Electric (EPA range 258 miles) are just two examples among many of fine, long range EVs.

If you own a “low-range” EV you will be happy to know that there are now enough DC fast chargers in many parts of the country to make long range trips feasible if not quick. The original Nissan Leaf from 2011 did not even have a DC fast charge port but starting in 2012 it became available. Most EV models sold in the last few years have come standard with a DC fast charge port (CCS or CHAdeMO).

The first thing to do (Step 1) is to check to make sure your model (or the EV you plan on buying) has a DC fast charge port. If it has CCS (Combined Charging System) it will look like this. (Insert photo of CCS port)

My car is a 2015 BMW i3 and it comes standard with a CCS port that can charge at a maximum of 50 kilowatts (kW). I don’t have the range extender version of the i3, my little rocket ship is a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV). CCS is sometimes called “Combo” charging and it uses a “Combo” connector (also called combo plug).

If you have a Nissan Leaf or Mitsubishi i MiEV or one of a few other models it may come with a CHAdeMO port for DC fast charging. It will look like this. (Insert photo of Chademo port)

Please note that this article is not written for Tesla owners. They live in EV heaven and don’t need my advice.

If your model does not have DC fast charge capability, you can still make long range trips but you will need the patience of Job, a Zen-like attitude towards life, and lots of free time. There are tons of level 2 chargers throughout the country and many of them are free. Please let me know of your adventures. This article is for folks with DC fast charge capability.

Step 2: Determine your effective range.
For those of us more fortunate that have CCS or CHAdeMO, we need to know the range of our EV. The easiest way to find this is to Google “EPA range for year/make/model”. Subtract 10% from this number since most of your driving will likely be highway and we want a conservative figure to avoid getting stuck.
My 2015 BMW i3 BEV has an EPA range of 81 miles so I get a figure of 73 miles after subtracting 10%. Now, since we we might find the charger is broke or not available when we get there, subtract another 10 miles from that figure so we can get to an alternate charger if need be. For me, I have an effective range of just 63 miles (73 - 10 = 63 miles).

Step 3: Download and get familiar with the PlugShare app.
This app shows (almost) all the EV chargers in the US and has a peachy-keen trip planning function. Be sure to specify your make, model, and year when you register because the app will need this to calculate which charging stations are within range of your car.
Go to the map in the PlugShare app and tap on the icon so it can locate your current position. Now zoom out so you can see all the charging stations within a radius of about 100 miles. You should see many green icons (level 2 chargers) and a lot fewer orange icons (DC fast chargers). For now we are not going to bother with the level 2 chargers so tap on the horn-shaped icon and deselect everything except your type of DC fast charging plug (CCS/SAE or CHAdeMO). Leave all of the networks (EVgo, ChargePoint, Electrify America, etc.) selected, you don’t want to get stuck somewhere because you missed an available charger. Look for DC fast chargers about 60 miles or so from home.

Step 4: Select your destination.
My advice is to keep your first trip short. You want a fun day trip that is less than your effective range. Avoid making this trip in cold weather because that will significantly reduce battery capacity and range. Hills and mountains are always scenic but be aware that will reduce range too. Pick a DC fast charger that is within your effective range. If possible, pick a station that has two or more of your type of DC fast charger. This will greatly increase the odds of getting a charger that is available and not broke.
My example: I want to get to the Chesapeake House on I-95 with six free DC fast chargers. It is 60 miles from home and I have a 63 mile effective range.

Step 5: Find an alternative charger within 10 miles of your destination.
Preferably this will be another DC fast charger but a level 2 charger is okay.
Center the map on your destination and click on the horn-shaped icon. Select J-1772 and you will see both the orange icons (DC fast chargers) and green icons (level 2 chargers). Write down the address of this alternate charger.
For me, I see there is a 50 kW CCS charger just six miles away at a Royal Farms. If that’s not available, there is a J-1772 (Level 2) charger at the Cecil County Public Library. Something to do while I wait two or three hours.

Step 6: Prepare like a Boy Scout.
Make sure you bring your occasional use charger (sometimes called trickle charger, it comes with your vehicle). Sometimes you just have to depend on the kindness of strangers. Remember, this is an adventure. Maybe a gas station will let you use an outlet in a pinch.
Bring your smart phone and it’s car charger. You already know that but I just want to be thorough here.
If you don’t already have them, get the charge cards for the charger companies in your area. You can create the accounts online and provide your credit card info. They will mail you the RFID card.
I have EVgo, ChargePoint, and all the other ones in my area. The Electrify America stations are fantastic but few in number now. They take credit cards.
Make sure you have a full charge prior to departure (dah).

Step 7: The technique.
Before you depart, enter the destination in your car navigation system (GPS).
Make sure it is less than your effective range.
Let’s call this range Distance to Destination (DTD). Of course it will decrease as you drive along.
Check your EV remaining range indicator. Most of us call it the Guess-O-Meter so let’s call it the GOM here. You will have a full charge so it should be close to the EPA range. It will also decrease as you drive along but it will be constantly guessing your remaining range based on how fast you drive and other factors.

Subtract the DTD from the GOM. Let’s just call this delta.
For my example, the GOM says 78 miles and my destination is 60 miles (I want to get to the Chesapeake House on I-95 with six free DC fast chargers) so the difference or delta is 18 miles.
Start driving, have fun, enjoy the scenery but keep your eye on DTD and GOM.
Every 10 minutes or so mentally calculate GOM minus DTD. Come on, I know you can do it, we EV drivers are mentally superior to those that chuff along in horseless carriages.
If the delta steadily drops as you drive along you will want to slow down and put your car in a more efficient mode. If the delta drops below 10 miles you might not be able to get to your alternate charger if need be.

For me, I always start in Eco Pro mode and go to Eco Pro Plus if my delta drops much below 10 miles. The Eco Pro mode is more efficient than the Comfort mode but I hardly notice the decreased acceleration and I can drive at 70 mph if I like. Eco Pro Plus will turn off heating and AC and limit the car to 56 mph. I try to avoid that situation. This is for the BMW i3, the Nissan Leaf also has an ECO mode. There are always ways to conserve range; slow down to 60 or 55 mph if needed.

Turning off heat or AC helps. Seat heaters use less electricity than the car heater.
In the worst case situation, your EV might get down to zero miles of range or the GOM might just display some dashes “- - -“. You should look into “turtle mode” for your particular model. For the Nissan Leaf, the GOM will display dashes rather than remaining range at about 8 miles left. After about 8 more miles of driving, a turtle icon will appear on the dash and the top speed of the vehicle will be limited to about 30 mph. You might have about two more miles of range left in turtle mode, I’m not sure. For the BMW i3, the GOM displays dashes at about 2% SOC and the top speed is limited at about 1% SOC although no turtle icon appears. I didn’t test how much further it can be driven after that. Since the GOM really is a guess-o-meter, you should consider this as, “your mileage may vary”.

Step 8: At your destination.
Connect to the DC fast charger, use your card for payment and take some photos as the charging process progresses. The charger will start slow and increase the charge rate within a few minutes. If it’s a 50 kW charger you might see it charging at about 40 or 45 kW. This is pretty good as chargers go.
If it is a 25 kW charger it will take twice as long, you might see it charging at 20 or 22 kW.

If the charger only shows voltage and current just multiply them together to get the power in watts.
For example, here is an EVgo 50 kW charger charging my i3 at 392 Volts DC and 117 Amperes. 392 VDC x 117 A = 45,862 Watts or about 46 kW. Pretty good and it should be less than 20 minutes to get my i3 up to about 80% State of Charge (SOC). (Insert Photo)

You normally don’t want to charge much past 80% SOC. The charge rate drops steadily after 80% and most of these chargers bill by the minute. But you might need a few extra miles and be willing to wait. Some chargers automatically disconnect at 90% SOC and other chargers bill you an “idle fee” for every minute after they finish charging. This is okay with me, most EV owners are courteous and free up the charger as soon as they can but not everyone is an angel.
For my i3, the BMW Connected app will show me the state of charge if I’m getting a coffee and some of the charging companies will send you a text when you get to 80% SOC.

Step 9: Go home.
Don’t push your luck. You should make a few of these relatively short trips before you try to get the mule over the mountain. I’d like to get through the Rockies but I don’t have enough experience yet. I could just buy a Tesla but this is more fun. I get to talk to the other pioneers and have had some wonderful insights on these trips.

Mike Bronsdon

[email protected]
Post Script:
Whither goest thou America, in thy shiny electric vehicle in the night? (Misquote of Jack Kerouac)