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At 6:30 PM on Wednesday August 4th my 15-year-old daughter and I pulled up the Jaguar I-Pace electric car in front of my 91-year-old Mom’s place in Regina, Saskatchewan. I was tired and achey because I’d just finished driving 1,725km (1,072 miles) across two days to see her for the first time since Covid started. I was happy to see Mom, happy about the first road-trip in a long time, and happy to have tested the hypothesis that, in 2021, a fully-electric vehicle can handle long-haul travel.

Arriving in Regina after driving 1725km in electric car

My Mom, welcoming us to Saskatchewan. Normally she doesn’t look like the queen.

This essay gathers together the data from the trip and tries to draw conclusions. There’s also a real-time Twitter thread with typos and bad pictures.

To my non-metric readers: Sorry, it’s in km. I’ll convert a few of the key numbers.

The experience · It was pretty wonderful, actually. The Jaguar is a comfortable modern car with great seats, good audio, and all the automation you’d expect. It has awesome, overwhelming acceleration power for when you’re in a tricky passing situation. My daughter was excellent company. Cruising along a good road — and a lot of the Trans-Canada highway is — becomes a pretty pleasing experience.

The worst part, by a wide margin, was the wildfire smoke, between us and some of the world’s most fantastic scenery. But that’s a symptom of the onrushing climate crisis, and one of the best things we can do to mitigate the devastation is to stop burning fossil fuels to travel.

Smoky sun in Calgary

Smoky sun while charging in West Hills Mall, Calgary

Of course, this road trip was different from any previous experience, because charging. In a fossil car, you don’t have to think, you just wait for the tank to get a half or three quarters down, then pull over at the next station. Recharging requires planning; fortunately the tools are pretty good; more on that below.

The chargers · One reason I decided this experiment was worth trying was Petro-Canada’s message about their Electric Highway program, and I quote: “We have a charger every 250 km or less from Halifax, N.S. to Victoria, B.C.” There’s one not far from where I live in Vancouver, i tried it, and it worked first time with just a credit-card tap, no fuss no muss.

Trouble is, that quote is kind of a lie. There are gaps, and that’s when all the chargers are working, which fairly regularly they’re not. But my experience is that Petro-Can, while good, is never your only charging option.

Some background is required here. “High-power” Fast DC chargers come at multiple power levels: I saw 50, 100, 200, and 350kW. The difference makes a difference. Our Jag can only really charge at 100kW, but my personal perception is that the higher-power chargers fill up that last 20% much faster. And it feels complicated; for example, in my experience with a Co-op Connect charger, rated at “only” 100kW, it felt faster.

When you use these things, they feel like first-generation tech, pushing the edges of what’s possible (or at least maintainable). In particular, when you plug a 350kW charger into a car with a really low battery, once it’s finished syncing and starts pumping electrons, the sound torques up like a 747 taking off. And the installations include multiple big tall metal boxes (see the picture below). Also, the huge big thick connecting wire gets super hot to the touch.

Charging at a Petro-can in Canmore, Alberta

Charging can be glamorous!

Anyhow, my impression of the Petro-Can network remains mostly positive. The machines work well. It’s annoying that some are 100kW, some 200, and some 350, for no obvious reason. It’s annoying that sometimes they’re stuck into a weird grubby back corner of the lot in a way that makes it hard to get your car in the right position to reach the charging port with the wire. But, good on ’em.

Electrify Canada is another organization that’s promising a national network of fast chargers. They’re a partner of Electrify America, constructed by Volkswagen as part of their settlement over cheating on emissions testing. Anyhow, maybe they’ll be great some day. Once I was far enough into the trip to have Petro-Can fully worked out, I tried to find an Electrify charger in working condition but failed.

If you’re OK with using 50kW chargers there are loads and loads of options. Many smaller-town Visitor Centres and and Chambers of Commerce put one in, as has my own electrical utility, BC Hydro. Once you’ve worked with a higher-power charger though, they’re just not a satisfying experience.

The numbers · Each line in the table below represents one driving leg and includes the charging experience at the beginning of that leg (thus absent on each day’s initial leg). I think the column headings are mostly pretty obvious, except perhaps for:

  1. kWh/h is the amount of juice divided by the driving pause. Often the charger would report less time, which I put down to initialization delay, so I think I’m using the right value. The variation here is a little random, because how fast it goes depends strongly on how empty your battery is.

  2. km/ch stands for “km per charge-hour”, estimating the amount of road range you get per hour of charging. Which I think is a really important number.

  3. Network; “PC” is Petro-Canada, “Flo” isn’t an acronym, and “Co-op” is Co-op Connect.

There are two data sources: The drive-time data is from Jaguar’s trip logging via their Incontrol app; thus the awkwardness caused by non-charge roadside stops. The charge-time data is the output from the various charging sessions along the way. I’m certain that neither is perfect, but the results seem intuitively in the right neighborhood, based on my experience.

Charging, then driving
Start time End time Charge time kWh $ $/kWh kWh/h km/ch Network Start End Drive time km Speed Regen kWh/100km
6:26 8:00 PC Vancouver Hope 1:34 149.5 96 1.6 23.6
8:46 10:32 0:46 28.3 10.37 0.37 36.91 148.94 PC Hope Kamloops 1:46 193.8 112 3.5 26.7
11:26 12:46 0:54 55.8 13.97 0.25 62.00 250.17 PC Kamloops Salmon Arm 1:20 113.8 87 3.3 20.4
13:32 16:25 0:46 27.1 9.53 0.35 35.35 142.63 PC Salmon Arm Golden 2:53 248.8 88 6.9 22.4
17:11 17:25 0:46 48.8 10.70 0.22 63.65 256.83 PC Golden (roadside) 0:14 18.1 69 1.0 33.0
17:25 19:06 (roadside) Canmore 1:41 146.0 89 1.9 21.4
5:49 6:51 60.4 21.20 0.35 PC Canmore Calgary 1:02 101.2 96 1.6 23.9
7:44 9:51 0:53 22.3 13.85 0.62 25.25 101.86 Flo Calgary (roadside) 2:07 221.8 107 2.7 23.1
10:03 10:39 (roadside) Medicine Hat 0:36 64.1 108 0.8 23.9
11:45 13:56 1:06 72.5 21.08 0.29 65.91 265.94 PC Medicine Hat Swift Current 2:11 230.0 107 1.4 25.5
14:50 16:24 0:54 54.0 14.28 0.26 60.00 242.10 PC Swift Current Moose Jaw 1:34 170.7 110 1.1 25.6
16:43 17:27 0:19 23.0 5.54 0.24 72.63 293.07 Co-op Moose Jaw Regina 0:44 67.1 92 0.8 27.9
Total 6:24 392.20 $120.52 0.31 66.18 17:42 1724.9 26.6
Average 0:48 43.6 $13.39 52.7 212.7 1:28 143.74 97.5 24.8

Let’s have a closer look at the numbers that seem interesting to me.

Charge time · 17:42 driving, 6:24 charging (including one evening charge after the day’s drive was finished). Not that great on the face of it. Now, it clearly could have been less; since my confidence that any given charger would Just Work started out weak, I was carefully allowing for failures and not running the battery very low. Later on in the trip as I gained confidence (specifically in the Petro-Canada network) I was willing to take on things like the Calgary-to-Medicine Hat leg, 2:43 and 285.9km, running the battery from 90% down to 11%.

Also my daughter is after all a teen-ager, and perhaps not quite as quick as I moving through cafes and restrooms and so on.

Also note that the legs are kind of short; this car can go 400km on a charge. But not when you’re on a big wide modern Prairie highway with almost no other traffic, blasting along at 110km/h (65mph) or more, continuously. I think you’d find this true of pretty well every electric vehicle.

But, here’s the thing: It didn’t feel excessive. I can only remember a total of maybe fifteen minutes when we were consciously just hanging waiting for charge. Most places, we got a coffee or lunch, hit the bathroom, took a walk around the block for our knees’ sake, and then it was time to unplug and go.

Having said that, this is a 2019 model-year car and the charging technology is improving. If we’d had a Porsche Taycan and nothing but 350kW chargers, the story would have been very different. Will the fast-charging technology make the leap into the mainstream-car price plane? Will 350kW chargers become ubiquitious? I’d like to know.

In this context, there’s another number there that I think is really interesting: The “km/c-h”, how far you can get on an hour’s charge. For this particular car on this selection of chargers, it was over 200km (124 miles) per charge-hour. I think that’s enough? Maybe in the lower regions of enough, but there.

And finally, I suspect every driving-safety professional would beam in approval of a power system that forces you to get out of the car and move around every couple of hundred km.

$$$ · It cost us $120.52 in electricity. Is that a lot or a little? I tentatively think they’re undercharging. While the electricity itself is pretty cheap, the charging infrastructure isn’t. If this is going to work, the charging networks are going to have to make money and I don’t see it at these prices.

Bear in mind that at home with the Level 2 charger in the carport, charging feels close to free. Travel maybe doesn’t need to be as cheap as the networks are currently making it.

Also, charging by the minute seems wrong. I guess having a time-based component makes sense to keep slow chargers from soaking up all the time, but especially at an extra-high-powered charger, a Porsche Taycan is going to get a whole lot more range out of each minute than a five-year-old Nissan Leaf, so why should they pay less for the same amount of range? Hmmmm.

PlugShare · If you’ve got a Tesla there’s less planning, the cars know where the Superchargers are. If you have anything else, you really need PlugShare. There are a few apps in this space, but PlugShare is best at showing you a map with all the chargers on it, and thus helping you route-plan. The reason it works is because it’s social; whenever you hit a charging station you can “Check In” and leave a note saying whether it’s working and how fast it goes. This dramatically reduces the risk of rolling up to a station and finding it broken. I absolutely don’t think this journey would have been possible without it.

Pro tip: When you’re planning a trip on PlugShare, put in all the chargers you might be able to use as you go along. Then when you’re driving, you can look at your remaining range and your upcoming options and most choices become pretty easy. It’s got a limited but decent Android Auto app that I used a lot. (I assume CarPlay too?)

Jaguar and Mustang charging up in Hope, BC

Jaguar I-Pace and Mustang Mach-E charging up in Hope, BC.

Futures · A question: Are there enough chargers, or too many? At the moment, the answer is probably “too many”. One of the things I really worried about was limping into some charging station to find all the chargers occupied and having to wait for an hour before I could even start. The picture above shows the only time I saw other humans; a young couple with a four-day-old Mustang Mach-E, off for a joyride to Kamloops. Otherwise, the chargers we visited showed no signs of life. Somebody spent a lot of money to build an expensive resource that is today largely un-used.

Having said that, anyone with even a shred of optimism about our future has to believe there are going to be a whole lot more battery-electric cars coming. Here in BC at the west edge of Canada we have North America’s highest EV uptake, pushing 10% of new car sales.

When we were charging at the big Petro-Can station in Kamloops, walking from the the two well-positioned chargers to the coffee shop, we went by the gas-sales part, which was massive, at least a dozen pumps and cars lined up for every one.

At some point that picture will flip, and there’ll be occasional vendors that still sell gas, but mostly just slick, fast, chargers. I worry that the process will be kind of painful, but I’m sure it’ll happen. So I hope someone’s planning the transition.

Would you do it again? · Definitely.

And everyone should stop driving fossil vehicles starting now. Because the climate crisis is upon us. We can’t prevent it now, but we can save lives and reduce destruction if we slash carbon output. There’s no excuse not to.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Dennis Doubleday (Aug 06 2021, at 09:07)

We own a Nissan Leaf and love it; we only use it for short trips around town (which is most of our driving).

One thing that keeps bugging me is: how do the millions of people who live in apartments and park on the street participate in the electric car revolution? It is all well and good for me, who can charge overnight in my garage (though some recent stories about houses burning down have me a bit worried about that.)

It seems this would require a huge infrastructure investment to basically make chargers almost like parking meters. Either that, or big inconvenience to people who have to go to designated charging areas 2 or 3 times a week.

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From: Bryant Durrell (Aug 06 2021, at 11:34)

Thank you for an excellent writeup! This closely matches our experiences with our new VW ID.4. We haven't done any road trips this long, but we've stretched out a bit down here in Washington and Oregon, and we have seen the same things with regard to charging. It's a little bit first generation and you have to plan more (PlugShare is great), but once you do that it's a good experience.

Musk has been talking about opening up the Tesla network to standard charger types. That would make a huge difference, although I'll believe it when I see it.

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From: Jarek (Aug 06 2021, at 13:03)

In response to Dennis... charge at whatever your destination is for the drive. If you drive to work, charge at work. If you drive to a store, charge at the store.

This only doesn't work if you almost exclusively drive to destinations that don't have a parking lot. I expect that to be really quite rare in Canada. I would guess driving distances (and thus energy needs) would be quite strongly correlated with availability of parking lots at the destinations.

I think for most people it's going to be similar to worrying about driving 500 km without stopping like you can do with a fossil-fuel vehicle: just not happening frequently, and in the rare case it does, it's not _that_ much big of a deal to wait an hour somewhere.

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From: J David Eisenberg (Aug 06 2021, at 20:40)

Definitely recommend PlugShare - used it to plan a trip from San Jose to Los Angeles and back last week.

Also had no problem finding an available charger; only a couple of times did I find someone else at a charging station.

Electrify America along that route was quite reliable.

But not everywhere: on a trip to the Sacramento area, I spent 25 minutes on the phone with tech support when the charger refused to connect to the car and also refused to allow me to unplug the connector.

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From: Martin Vidner (Aug 06 2021, at 23:02)

Thanks for the detailed data and description, Tim!

What is "Regen"?

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From: Graham (Aug 07 2021, at 00:27)

Dennis: If someone is racking up hundreds of miles a week and doesn’t have time to visit the occasional fast charger then…. shrug.

tbh We shouldn’t be encouraging all day every day driving. Making that kind of driving less convenient is a feature, not a bug. Every sidewalk being a tangle of charging cables is positively dystopian.

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From: Valters (Aug 07 2021, at 01:47)

> Will the fast-charging technology make the leap into the mainstream-car price plane?

It will, it already has. Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6 have the 800V system that Porsche Taycan has, so everybody else will have to fall in line.

"Regen" means regenerative braking - you basically don't need to use brakes at all, the motor takes your kinetic energy and stores it back into the battery while slowing the car down. It's very effective.

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From: Sam (Aug 07 2021, at 03:42)

Martin,

regen is short for regeneration. If you brake lightly in an electric vehicle, the mechanical brakes aren't actually activated, but the car is using the electrical motor as a generator in order to slow down the car.

It's not clear to me what the units of the column are though. I assume it shows regenerated kWhs. Maybe the author can clarify.

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From: Sam Critchley (Aug 07 2021, at 10:02)

Great article, and fascinating to hear how it's going with charging infrastructure in Canada.

In the Netherlands we're blessed with loads of chargers and lots of EVs on the roads ( I don't even own a car but use 4 separate EV-only car-sharing services, depending on needs). However you do still run into chargers which show up as available in the app, but have a car plugged in already when you get there.

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From: Tim (but not THE Tim) (Aug 08 2021, at 21:50)

Interesting article. I don't think I'll ever convince my wife to go to full-on EV, but gas prices and positive write-ups after years of experience by other people may have her accepting a hybrid.

As someone south of the 49th parallel, let me add - please don't do the metric-to-English conversion. It is high time we learned to use the metric system, and time for "tough love" about it.

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From: Robert (Aug 09 2021, at 11:41)

Very cool to see such a detailed log of a non-Tesla EV road trip! I especially appreciate the table with all the data. Quite enlightening!

I do wonder, though, why you didn't use A Better Router Planner for your trip. PlugShare is great, but as far as I know, it doesn't actually offer any route planning. It just shows you where the chargers are, and you have to figure out which ones to pick on your own. ABRP does all that work for you. I definitely recommend giving it a look!

As for your thought that there are too many EV chargers, you've unfortunately got it completely backwards. Fast charger networks have to be built to accommodate the maximum throughout of EV travelers on major travel holidays. You drove this trip in early August, which isn't any sort of holiday, so you saw the "average", or maybe even "below average" (since Aug 4th was a weekday) usage pattern for fast chargers. If you were to have done this trip on, say, June 30th through July 2nd, you'd have had to share the chargers with all the Canada Day travelers, and would have likely needed to wait in line for quite some time before you could even start charging.

This kind of thing is why Tesla builds massive charging plazas with sometimes 50+ plugs. They have enough cars on the roads now that such charging stations are a necessity on major travel corridors. Other carmarkers are going to eventually have as many, and more, EVs on the roads soon, and these fast-chargers will need to become even larger to accommodate that.

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From: Doug K (Aug 13 2021, at 11:20)

I recently took a road trip in a friend’s Tesla X. Not very far, or far out in the woods, from Denver to Grand Junction. It was astonishingly tedious: hunting for open charging stations, getting ICEd, taking a nap for want of anything better to do while waiting for a charge, etc. (Getting ICEd means some internal combustion engine car is deliberately parked to block the charging station. This happens a lot in Lauren Boebert country.)

Amazingly there are chargers in the little town of Palisade CO. The town is slowly gentrifying from farmers to wine country. As such it teeters between redneck and bobos, the latter constituency gets the chargers. One of these chargers is outside the redneck bar and it was always blocked by some rusty pickup truck. These chargers also are slow, miles per hour of 4 or 5. 'miles per hour' is the US equivalent of km/ch, takes a bit of adapting to, then I like it better than km/ch. So it's necessary to take a trip to Grand Junction and wait in line for a fast charger.

Also, you can't get the rated 350 miles when those miles include climbing the thousands of feet of the Rockies, plus the cold at altitude. The trip is only 250 miles, but requires a charging stop in the middle somewhere.

We do this trip for a weekend 4 or 5 times a year. Going electric means another six or eight hours added to travel time, doubling the eight hours of ICE vehicle time. We would do the trip maybe once a year.

Similarly a trip to college for concert weekend, swim meets etc is 12 hours by ICE. I used Tesla's trip planner to estimate 17 hours by electric. A one day drive becomes two days with a hotel stay in the middle, so that's not practical anymore.

The other things I use my ICE for are various back country canoe/hunt/fish trips, most of which end up 50-100 miles from the nearest charging station. None of this is currently or foreseeably possible with an electric car.

Then as Robert mentions - charging infrastructure is going to be a real problem. Take all those gas stations and all those cars at them, increase the average fueling time by a factor of (I guess) 10 at least. What kind of construction will be needed to replace that ?

The future of driving in the Mountain West is not electric. The future is driving much less. I don't know how we are going to get there..

Ideally I'd get a Ford Maverick hybrid for the longer trips (40mpg in a pickup truck) and an electric for town. But there's no money for that. I feel guilty driving my ICE beast in town though the guilt is not productive..

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From: Rob Jaworski (Aug 16 2021, at 16:19)

Sure thing, we need to get off of fossil, but I've been paying attention to what's going on down in Thacker Pass, in NW Nevada. Lithium America is looking to scrape tons of earth from the desert using (presumably) ICE equipment, like bulldozers and other earth movers, to get at the lithium for all the silo'd metal boxes we're addicted to. What we really need to do is get onto electrified rail and visit grandma that way.

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From: Grant (Sep 01 2021, at 12:33)

We took a similar trip right around the same time. We did Victoria to Saskatoon a few days before you but we took the Jasper route. I would have loved to take my Ioniq, but with a 250km range it wasn't feasible so we had to take my wife's ICE SUV. Now that she works from home, we don't need the SUV and I'm looking at replacing the two with a longer range EV. I'm thinking an AWD VW ID.4.

My Ioniq is the most efficient EV on the market. I can get 250km on a 28KWh battery. Considering we only take a long road trip every few years it seems wasteful to pay for a large heavy battery that you don't really need, so I'm still thinking on it.

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From: Patrick Gibson (Sep 02 2021, at 14:21)

In terms of companies bill per minute of charging time, my understanding is that this is largely jurisdictional. In BC, charging per kilowatt hour places one in the classification of an electric utility, and that comes with all sorts of other requirements, etc. Tesla Superchargers in BC charge per minute, and I think they may adjust the rate depending on the output of each station (they range between 72kW-250kW). But in some states in the US, the rules are different, and they can bill for actual energy use.

I imagine other EVs will follow, but an interesting thing Tesla started doing is preconditioning the battery for charging when you set your destination to be a Supercharger. They claim this reduces charge time on average by 25%, and I suspect this is mostly beneficial in colder parts of the year.

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From: Rick (Sep 06 2021, at 11:03)

I'm in the middle of a trip from Nanaimo to Toronto in a 2021 Hyundai Kona EV (+400km range). I pushed things a bit when my efficiency was less than anticipated with the mountains and high speeds. I limped into Kamloops and High River on "turtle mode" with less than 5% in the battery.

In Kamloops, the first PC charger cut out after 10 minutes but it sent me a text so I came back and restarted it. It kept dieing but the 2nd charger worked fine.

On Vancouver Island, I frequently have to share a charger but, like you, I saw no one else on #1.

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August 05, 2021
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