The Rough Road to a New Reality. My First EV Long Haul

We have had our car charger at M&O now for a number of months, but today was the first day we had two cars “achargin”.

It was fun to provide the hospitality to one of our friends who came to visit, especially since recently I made my first professional EV foray into the Pinebarrens of remote charging and now felt like a cog in a larger community.

After having driven the Chevy Bolt locally over the last months I decided to take it to Leesburg, New Jersey for a survey instead of the plug in hybrid Pacifica. Leesburg is a lovely little river town deep in South Jersey, but I knew the Bolt would need to pick up a charge on the return trip.

I was not concerned about charging time, since I figured I would start the report while the car was charging and therefore the charging time would, in essence, be chargeable work time too.

While I do not suffer much from range anxiety, I suffer severely from engineer’s embarrassmentĀ  paranoia. As such, I decided to prepare the night before and signed up for the biggest (as advertised) EV charging service. They claimed they had lots of charging stations and I figured I’d be able to find one the next day in South Jersey. I left early in the morning and while heading south on the Parkway, after a few miles, I figured it would make sense to pull into the first rest area where there would undoubtedly be an EV charging station. I could then make a little practice run and, if things worked out, I could go on and, if there was a glitch, I would hightail it back to my house and grab the Pacifica instead.

I pulled into the rest area and in the early morning light found the twin charging stations and pulled up. I got out, opened the charger lid, reached for the plug, and then things became complicated.

It was a different charging station provider. So I downloaded their app and entered my info for that provider too. I went back to the station and then was supposed to be able to wave my phone for access. That did not work, so I started punching things on the display, it seemed like I got a response, but when I plugged the car in it refused to work. I saw there was a help number on the station so I called it. After entering the various digits after the various questions, I got a human on the phone and told her my tale of woe. She tried to help but eventually concluded the unit I was trying to charge from was malfunctioning. She told me I had to find another unit. I asked her: “How about the unit next to this one.” She did not realize there was another unit, so I gave her the unit ID and switched spots. There, after substantial fiddling and customer service, the car started charging, but then it stopped. I called again and was told that since my battery was near full it was rejecting further charging. That made sense, sort of, and it gave me enough confidence to proceed to Leesberg.

I did the job and checked for charging locations supported by the two services that I had now signed up with.

There I discovered that neither services had charging stations in Garden State Parkway rest areas south of exit 100. As a matter of fact, it looked like the southern Garden State Parkway rest areas had no charging stations at all.

After considerable searching I found a station in South Jersey at some utility company and headed for it when I got a message it was occupied. I pulled off (something I hate to do, but force myself to do for safety reasons) and used my phone to locate a charging station behind a brewery about 20 miles away. When I got there I discovered the brewery was closed and there was a Tesla charging at the charging station. I now actually was starting to develop a bit of range anxiety. There was no one in the Tesla, but next to the brewery there was an environmental engineering office and I figured if anyone owned that Tesla they probably were in that office. I walked in and asked about the Tesla and, right away, somebody happily pulled his car out of the charger. He clearly enjoyed helping me out and meeting a like minded soul on the road reminded me of my youth on the Appalachian trail. I waved my phone in front of the charger and it responded, I plugged it in and the car was charging. I was now a charging pro (or lucky).

I was down to less than 20% and I knew I only needed 60% to get home. I took out my computer to write the report and looked up at the dash about 40 or so minutes later and I was almost ready to roll. I made a few quick phone calls, unplugged, and made it home safely.

So let me rate this trip: On the one hand it sucked, and on the other hand it didn’t.

It was painfully obvious that the EV charging infrastructure is much less mature than EV technology. If I don’t have to worry about where I am going to get my gas refill, I certainly should not have to worry where to find my EV refill.

I have discussed this issue with other EV users and they universally agree that finding a charge on the road is a pain in the butt. They have various work arounds. They told me to sign up with every charging service, and sign up with Plugshare, which provides locations for all the services combined. Moreover, Android is apparently running a beta version of Plugshare that will allow you to locate chargers while you are driving. Regardless, right now, looking for chargers is an incredible frustration and waste of time. If you want to long haul in an EV, I suggest you take a friend to be your charger navigator, to share and reduce your level of frustration.

Moreover, the charging for charging by these charging companies right now (note the triple entendre) can only be described as the Wild West. I was charged about $8 for both charging stops. $8 for the 40 percent charge at the brewery (80 or so miles) is steep (basically gasoline prices), but $8 for the tiny charge I got at the rest area was literal highway robbery.

However, once the charging infrastructure has been perfected, the actual time it takes to charge turns out to be no big deal at all. While it seems like a waste of time to stop longer than it takes to fill your tank, it quickly becomes apparent that, once there are enough chargers in interesting locations, you no longer think in terms of three hour full charges. Instead you run down to near empty without anxiety, and only charge as much as you need to get home or to your next interesting location. And while you are charging you can take the opportunity to do productive stuff. Perform billable work, get some food or drink, take a nap, take a walk, do yoga (not me, but it seems like a good fit), or simply ponder the view.

The last option really intrigues me. I wonder if, not too long from now, Plugshare will rate the view at your charging location. I don’t mind looking at a brewery, but let’s install chargers at truly scenic locations. To get a charge and just stare at the ocean or at a nice vista seems like something I could get into. That is my kind of Zen. The possiblities are endless, I might even detour for a special charge on purpose.