Trippin' Road with an EV

A tale in three parts of a road trip with an EV in less than ideal conditions: cold winter weather! Will I be able to get back home? Or will I be stranded on the road with an empty battery?

Trippin' Road with an EV

After a year and a half of waiting, shifting delivery dates due to covid/chip shortage/war/economic crisis/... I've finally received my new car: an electric one! And a while ago I needed to go to Amsterdam (a 370km round trip) for work. Back in the old days, my trusty diesel Volvo v40 could handle that trip twice with a full tank of dino juice, but my new car 'only' has a range of 400km. And that is in perfect conditions. And they were forecasting freezing temperatures, maybe even some snow/rain, which for a battery means: not ideal. What follows is a tale in three parts on how the trip went:

  • Stage 1: Preperation and calculation
  • Stage 2: Road trip! (500 miles on repeat)
  • Stage 3: Blameless Post Mortem and final thoughts
ABRP (A better route planner) says I should be able to make the trip with 38% battery left. We'll see...

Stage 1: Preperation and calculation

When I first found out I had to make a road trip for work, I calculated if I could make it work. Let's do the math:

The trip is 385km (round trip), my car can do 400km according to the manufacturer. But that's taking into account that it's 20C outside, and you're driving like a pro in the WLTP tests.

Charging the battery, the night before

Temperature has a huge effect on the efficiency of a battery. I also ride a speedpedelec (bike that can drive 45km/h) and notice that while in summer I can drive 40km with full support, this drops down to less than 20km when it's freezing outside. A similar effect can be seen with the car, but the car has cooling/heating built into the battery to counteract this efficiency drop a bit, but not fully.

A dino juice car, I mean an ICE is so inefficient in converting fuel to forward motion, that it generates so much heat which can be used 'for free' to heat the cabin/person driving the vehicle. Since an EV is 100% efficient in converting the electric power stored in the battery to forward motion, when it's cold outside, you need to tap into the battery to heat the cabin, thus reducing the range of your EV.

I had winter tires fitted to the car, which causes more friction with the road (which helps when it's raining/snowing/freezing/... to keep your car on the road), but has a negative impact on the range of the car (again).

Taking all of the above in account, I'm thinking I can get about 300km's when fully charged of range. Which should get me to Amsterdam, but I'll have to charge during my stay in Amsterdam (or on the way back).

I reached out to the office at the destination, and they have 32 EV chargers in their parking lot and they'll reserve one for me on the date of my trip. Damn, the Dutch sure are ahead in the road to electric driving. They may call it 'stekkerrijden', which sounds stupid, but they've got it figured out. 32 spots for EVs in a parking lot is something I've never seen in Belgium yet.

Alright, so assuming that the charger I can plug my car into provides the full 11kW my car's onboard AC charger can handle, and I'm staying for about 4 hours, I can pump 55kWh into the battery which (assuming I'm using ~20kWh/100km) should get me about 250km of range. Plenty to make it back!

Just in case of emergency, there's a couple DC fast charging stations I'm passing on the road, so just in case something goes wrong, I'll always be able to top up a little and make it home.

So that's the planning and calculation. Next up: the trip itself!

Stage 2: Road trip! (500 miles on repeat)

It's 6:30 am, it's cold, it's dark. But my interior is pre-heated while my car was still plugged in, so I'm not wasting battery to heat the interior and de-ice the front window . Nice! I've got a coffee mug in my cup holder, I've got my roadtrip Spotify playlist going, and I'm ready to go!

And we drive, and we drive, and then we drive some more. It's actually pretty boring. We arrive at the destination with 42% battery remaining, which my car says is good for about 153km. Meaning that indeed, we won't be able to get back home without recharging. My average consumption was ~20kWh/100km, not bad for a cold winter night.

Average consumption for the trip.
Remaining battery after the trip

So, we arrive in the parking garage. 32 parking spots with an EV charger. Only 1 spot left. A Dutch EV driver and me fighting for the last spot. "You can take it, seems like you need to top up more than I do!" says the friendly Dutch driver. So I take the final spot and plug in my cable. And then: nothing... Nothing happens. The charger says 'charging completed', my car says it gets 0.0kw from the charger. I give it a couple tries and start getting 'laadstress'. How am I going to get back home? I'll need to find a fastcharging station on the way back...

I remember my training. i mean: my preperations. There was a FastNed station not too far on the way back. My car's SatNav system tells me there are 2 more stations further along the road, but I don't want to risk it and decide to pull over to the FastNed station. And lo and behold: unlimited power! I mean, 150kw, to be shared across 2 cars (hence the ~75kw you can see in the below pictures). I top up for 16 minutes, just shy of 20kWh (which costs my company 16,17 EUR), which is just enough to get me back home with around 10% of safety marging.

I drink a coffee and take a little bio-break in the 16 minutes it takes for my car to charge and I drive the rest of the way home. I arrive back home with a 17% charge remaining. I made it! This trip proved to me that I can get everywhere with my EV, I'll never drive an ICE car again.

Stage 3: Blameless Post Mortem and final thoughts

There's a couple things that kept lingering in the back of my head after this trip:

  1. On the Dutch highways, there's a speed limit of 100km/h between 6am and 7pm. Because of this, I ended up saving about 6% of my battery compared to the estimate made by my car (which takes into account driving 130km/h on the Dutch highways, which consumes exponentially more than driving 100km/h). I'm a big fan of implementing this max speed limit in Belgium as well, during all hours. It's safer, it's better for the environment and your battery/wallet while only marginally increasing travel time.
  2. EV charging infrastructure is already there, there's plenty of chargers everywhere and with an app (or a smart enough car) easy enough to find and plan your route along them.
  3. EV charging infrastructure needs a lot more love... I charge 99% of the time at home, but the occasional times I need to charge somewhere else I always encounter problems with the charger, or a broken charger or something else that prevents me from actually getting electricity out of the charger. The charger in the parking garage was broken, the free chargers at Ikea Gent are broken (2 out of the 4 at least). The free ones at Ikea Wilrijk are all broken (all 4), I regularly hear complaints that the Allego charger in my neighbourhood isn't working again, etc. There needs to be an easier way to notify the owner that the charger is broken, and there needs to be an easy way to update chargemap/abrp/any other app that shows you where you can charge your car, similar to how you can report a stopped vehicle on the shoulder of the road in Waze, there needs to be a way to report a broken charger to notify other drivers.
  4. I love my EV, I'm never going back to fuel again. It's so smooth, so quiet, so comfortable. I'm never going back!