Figure 1: A municipal airport provided Tesla Level 2 EV chargers for our return trip. The low-level charging units provided about 80 miles in a two-hour session. (Source: Author)
I doubt that American explorers Lewis and Clark worried about range anxiety. But I'm sure they, too, would've been anxious if they had to navigate an electric vehicle (EV) through an EV charger wilderness.
First off, let me introduce myself and my wife, Brigitte, as proud owners of a 2019 Tesla Model 3. We've fully consumed the Kool-Aid on all that's Tesla. We’re Elon Musk fanboys, and we realize the disdain that comes with that claim. Nine months into ownership, our Tesla has lived up to its hype. We've had no complaints.
But we just endured the biggest adventure of our Tesla commitment ... a long-distance journey, an 853km (530-mile) roundtrip in an EV equipped with a 50kW battery that has a 362km (225-mile) range between full charges. Maybe not Lewis and Clark challenging, but a challenge nonetheless.
We had heard all about range anxiety. We learned exactly how it truly relates to EV owners who must navigate areas where the EV charging infrastructure hasn't caught up with demand. It's a thing.
Oh, we'd taken our Tesla on 483km (300-mile) roundtrips within Texas, but a Level 3 Tesla Supercharger station was midway and on both ends of the trip. No sweat.
Typically at a Tesla Supercharger station in urban settings, it’s like an oasis. You'll find owners stepping away while their cars charge to also connect socially. As we’re known to do, Tesla owners will passively brag about their cars and move along with their full charge within 30 minutes.
A few times, however, I'd heard their accounts of range anxiety, about how they had to drastically alter their trip just to reach a specific charging station.
In plotting our trip through a bordering state, the itinerary listed only one Tesla Supercharger station (480VDC). From there, well, good luck.
Other Level 3 charging stations (not specific to Tesla vehicles) were available in small towns along the way, but the financial or time commitment at these stops or whether they even work were unknown factors during the planning stage (Figure 2). Other variables included tire pressure, weather, landscape, and speed limits. We even solicited tips via Tesla owner groups on social media.
We were in for an experience.
Figure 2: Many charge stations feature the CHAdeMO nozzle, but Tesla drivers should remember to make sure a nozzle adapter is available. (Source: Kevin McGovern/Shutterstock.com)
To our surprise, the trip wasn't overly problematic, but we encountered bouts of range anxiety. Before we left, we charged overnight on our home charger and the next day topped off the charge at a Tesla Supercharger station in a suburb about 64km (40-miles) away. This full charge would take us more than half the distance, ideally all the way. But the range reading on our Tesla dash indicated that we would need additional power to complete the trip. So we stopped off in a small town where a taxi service had a fleet of EVs and made its charging stations available to the general public. Trouble was, we hadn't counted on needing a CHAdeMO charging adapter. We had a set of Tesla charging adapters, but none that accommodated the CHAdeMO (short for CHArge de MOve) nozzle, which was available for purchase. This was faulty research on our part. Luckily, the business loaned its adapter to us. We downloaded the appropriate app and were able to get a charge just enough to reach our destination. We later found out that this loan was crucial to our trip, otherwise, we would've had to wait for hours using mere Level 1 NEMA outlets (standard 120VAC outlet with a NEMA rating).
As for the return, our pre-trip research found that our hotel had charging stations. In our favor, they were similar to the ones where we used earlier in the trip. But, we soon realized the adapters we had did not fit the chargers’ nozzles and, because these chargers were free-standing, that meant there was no friendly business owner available to loan us the appropriate adapter. (Cue the range anxiety.) A quick internet search found free-standing Tesla Wall Connectors at a nearby municipal airport, which took us along pothole-marred rural roads. The chargers, however life-saving, offered a maximum power of 40 amps, which meant 40km (25 miles) of range for every hour of charging. It was our last resort. (Range anxiety is on high). We spent two hours accumulating enough juice to get us back to the taxi service that offered loaner adapters with its charging stations. We limped to that station with 25km (16 miles) of range left, which our car let us know ahead of time. There, we again borrowed the CHAdeMO adapter and got a full charge in about two hours, enough to get us back to the same suburban power units where we topped off the day before. The final cost: $21.32 (US dollars) for the Level 2 chargers and $9.62 (US dollars) for the Tesla chargers. So, a $30.94 (US dollars) power cost for an 853km (530-mile) roundtrip, not counting home charging. Ordinarily, the trip would’ve required about 75 liters (20 gallons) of gasoline for an internal combustion engine. So, we counted some savings to compensate ourselves for the range anxiety.
The personal takeaway: Be prepared with proper adapters. Tesla provides an adapter kit with various connectors, but none that interfaces with a CHAdeMO adapter.
The overall takeaway: The EV charging infrastructure has blind spots. We knew that. But in this case, and going forward, we don't expect that to last long. Already, ChargePoint and the National Association of Truck Stop Operators announced a $1 billion (US dollars) charging collaborative to drive the expansion of EV charging stations along highways and in rural communities. On our particular trip, the roadways still give way to passing motorists and commercial truckers who will be driving more EVs between major cities. For us, the trip was an adventure, but we were glad it was over, perhaps like Lewis and Clark were relieved that their exploration was complete.
Tommy Cummings is a senior technical content specialist at Mouser Electronics in Mansfield, Texas. Tommy joined Mouser in 2018 after a journalism career that included The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, San Francisco Chronicle and others. Tommy covered the dot-com boom in Silicon Valley and has been a digital content and audience engagement editor at news outlets. At one time, he was actually a Heisman Trophy voter. He can be followed on Twitter at @tommycummings or on LinkedIn.
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