Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Road tripping is always easier the second time around, right?



Last week, I blogged about an impromptu 470-mile road trip in my Bolt EV to Pittsburgh, PA that was successful, with a few tense moments of course. The main point of writing about my trip was to show that while road tripping in a 200+ mile all electric car like the Bolt is possible, the public fast charging infrastructure still isn't quite there yet to simply input a destination in your GPS and go. Advanced planning is still required to ensure a successful road trip, but it is possible.

Road tripping...not just for Teslas

As luck would have it, I had another trip to Pittsburgh on deck this past weekend, this time to attend a friend's wedding. As I had just completed a road trip to Pittsburgh not even a week earlier (and learned some things for a return trip), I was quite confident that I had all the knowledge I needed to complete another trip to Pittsburgh and back. And unlike last week, I would be staying at a hotel overnight that had EV charging stations available, so I figured the trip would be much easier this time around. As you will soon find out, life almost never goes according to plan.

I decided to use the same charging strategy I employed last time, which included a quick pit stop at the EVgo fast charging station located at the Hagerstown Premium Outlet mall. About halfway into my 60-mile drive to Hagerstown, I realized the wedding we thought was starting at 7PM actually had a 4:30 PM start time. Crap! Looking at Google Maps, I realized the ~2-hour buffer we thought we had to make it to the wedding venue was pretty much gone (Tip #1 to a successful BEV road trip: double check what time you need to be at your destination). Doing some quick math in my head, I calculated that we had enough time for the Hagerstown EVgo charging pitstop and would also need to charge clothes during the stop. My son had forgotten to pack his dress socks, so I would be able to pick up some socks from the Children's Place located right next to the charging station. 

Pitstop at the trusty Hagertstown, MD EVgo station.

After paying for the socks and walking back to the Bolt, I looked up the actual wedding venue location, as I figured it was very close to the hotel we were staying at. To my horror, the wedding venue I had assumed was minutes away from the hotel was actually 50 minutes away! The hotel and wedding venue both had the name "Shady" in them, so I had assumed they were adjacent properties, or at least very close to each other (Tip #2: always confirm the address to all stops on your road trip). Punching in the wedding venue address added an extra 14 miles to my current drive, and an additional 32 miles on top of that to the hotel. Suddenly I had to drive an extra 46 miles that I had not planned for.  The stress level started to climb.

Knowing that I had arrived at Pittsburgh last time with nearly 40 miles to spare, I knew I had a little buffer to work with. I ended up spending 30 minutes charging in Hagerstown, which was just enough time for everyone to get changed into our wedding attire. We departed with the Bolt's battery being replenished back to 88% state of charge, and 219 miles on the range meter, with 199 miles to go. While the range buffer was not as big as I preferred, I figured it was good enough. I also found out there was a EVgo station 12 miles from the wedding venue I could charge at after the wedding to ensure we had enough range to make it to the hotel, so that put me a little at ease. Back on the road we went!

Our new ETA to our new destination was 4:35PM, 5 minutes past the start of the wedding. No biggie, I thought, weddings never start on time! That's what I was hoping anyways. Knowing that every minute was precious, I could not take it easy like last time driving 5-10 mph under the speed limit, so I ended up driving close to the 70-mph speed limit for the next ~180 miles. I knew I would put the Bolt's efficiency ratings to the test. Observing the elevation climb in my TorquePro app while the range meter decreased at an increasing rate was not the best feeling in the world. To top it off, my wife asked repeatedly "Can't you go any faster?? We're gonna be late!". Hell, I was going as fast as I could go! Being stressed by time, range, and the wife's impatience...fun stuff! Who needs coffee to stay alert?? 

As I approached the 2,500-foot peak of my climb through the Allegany mountains, my range meter reading was 12 miles to the red. I knew I was probably in good shape, with the descent down to Pittsburgh soon upon me. It was then one of my kids piped up "Hey, look at those dark clouds in front of us!". We were about to drive into some wicked thunderstorms that were on a collision course with our Bolt (Tip #3: always check the weather forecast to account for potential range impacting weather). I knew that my efficiency would take a hit driving through the rain (defroster use, windshield wipers, increased road friction due to rain). The stress level notched up one level higher. 

Elevation profile of the drive to Pittsburgh

Fortunately for us, we ended up driving through torrential rains for only 20 minutes or so, and the range hit from the weather ended up being almost nothing. We were soon driving under blue skies again. The last few miles of the drive were fairly uneventful, and we ended up arriving at the wedding venue at 4:47PM. Luckily, the wedding had been delayed till 5PM. Woohoo! When I parked the Bolt, the range meter was down to 22 miles. 

Plenty of range left!

Several hours later, it was time to depart to our hotel. With a massive 22 miles of range left, I made the 12-mile drive to the nearest EVgo fast charging station. We were literally in the middle of nowhere, and the surroundings reminded me of scenes from the movie 'Joy Ride'. I just hoped there were no deranged killer brothers lurking in the shadows. After arriving at the Dunkin Donuts that hosted the charging station, I found a lone station at the back of the parking lot. I had to fight a couple of spiders to activate the charging session (nothing was easy on this trip, it seemed), and after 15 minutes of charging, we were on the way to the hotel. 

Freakin' spiders!

Upon arriving at the hotel, I found a much welcome Bosch L2 charging station waiting for me. I plugged in and made my way to the front office to check it. It turned out that our room was a quarter mile down the road at a sister property, but the staff assured us there was a EV charging station at that location as well. After a short drive to the correct building, I found the charging station: A Tesla-only destination station. And a BMW i8 was occupying the spot unplugged (thanks jerk bimmer owner!). I had forgotten to bring my Tesla to J1772 JDapter Stub, but it wouldn't have mattered anyways due to the rude i8 owner. We brought all our belongings to our room, and then I drove back to the main building and plugged in my Bolt at the Bosch station. On the short walk back to my room, I pondered what I did to piss off Murphy. The next day I woke up to 250 miles of range, and after seeing some sights in Pittsburgh, the drive back was completely stress free. I was impressed by the Bolt's 4.0 miles/kWh figure for the mostly highway drive of 65-70 mph. Not bad for the "aero-brick" Bolt!

Typical self-absorbed bimmer driver blocking a Tesla station
Destination charging FTW!

A welcome sight the next morning

So, another successful road trip completed in the Bolt, with some unexpected twists. As I found out, NEVER assume anything on a long-distance BEV road trip. Surprises are usually not welcome on such trips, and I ran into several that could have been avoided without ASSuming. The main point of my blog entries is to show what real-life road trips are like in the Bolt. No pretending that road trips are pain free and easy as pie, but also to show that the Bolt can in fact be taken on long distance trips with some planning and is not a "city only car" as the Bolt FUD (Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt.) spreaders love to propagate online. As always, your mileage will vary (along with the level of intestinal fortitude. ;) )
  

Stats for the return drive spent mostly at 70-75-mph

Overall trip stats. Pretty "long distance" if you ask me. And look at that efficiency!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Blissful Anniversary Bolt EV Road Trip? Or Fast Lane Back to the Bachelor Life?

This past weekend I embarked on a spontaneous 470 mile roundtrip drive to go to an Ed Sheeran concert in Pittsburgh to celebrate 11 years of marriage to my wife. I initially had suggested a trip to Florida in November as a delayed anniversary gift, but the wife said “Hey, there’s a concert in Pittsburgh today…let’s just go to that!” As I did not want to disappoint the wife, we were soon on the road in our Bolt EV! I was hoping this anniversary trip would not lead to a divorce filing!
  
The distance from Woodstock, MD to Pittsburgh, PA was 230 miles one way, and it included a 177 mile stretch of highway that has exactly *0* CCS fast charging stations (or any charging stations the Bolt could use, for that matter). There were a handful of fast charging options around the Pittsburgh area (including in a parking garage near the concert venue at PNC Park) that I could use to charge, though I had no clue if those stations would actually be available. Eh,  don't sweat the details, right? 

  
Not exactly the most road trip friendly setup.

While the drive to Pittsburgh was around 230 miles, theoretically within the Bolt’s official 238 mile range, there was a significant elevation gain during the drive from near sea level to 2,500 feet. To make matters worse, this elevation gain was smack dab in the middle of the route, so it needed to be traversed regardless of direction of travel. 

Not wanting to roll the dice that I could make it to Pittsburgh on a single charge, after leaving home with a100% charge good for 240 miles according to the Bolt's range meter, I decided to “top off” my Bolt at a fast charging station in Hagerstown, MD 60 miles away for 15 minute pit stop to ensure I had enough battery to make it to Pittsburgh.

Evgo station in Hagerstown, MD.

After putting in about 5 kWh of charge into the battery, the GOM told me I had 205 miles of estimated range to cover 177 miles. I figured that was enough of a buffer. Aware of the elevation gain and being the first time I had ever driven this route, I decided to take it easy, driving 60 mph where the speed limit was 70, as there was plenty of time to get to the concert venue. 

Despite the conservative speeds, I watched my range buffer slowly shrink as the elevation slowly gained. At one point during the drive, my range buffer had been reduced to 4 miles, and if I turned on the HVAC, the estimated miles remaining actually dipped below the 'miles to destination' Google Maps in my center display reported (the Bolt subtracts range if you turn on the HVAC to account for energy usage). Knowing that eventually I would soon start the descent down towards Pittsburgh, I drove on without too much worry.
 
Finally, the elevation stopped climbing and the rate which I was losing estimated miles slowed down too. The nearly non-existent range buffer I had when I had reached the summit of the drive ended up growing to nearly 40 miles by the time we entered Pittsburgh. After finding the parking garage with the only CCS fast charging stations within 20 miles and plugging in (both stations open. Woohoo!) I observed my Bolt had 13% charge and 38 miles of range remaining. The parking garage was nestled right between Heinz Field and PNC Park, which were pretty cool to finally see in person. 

The Gold 1 parking garage has 2 fast charging stations

25 kW fast charging? Better than nothing.

I’ll skip details of the actual concert itself, but the wife had a good time, so that’s all that really matters I guess. While the concert lasted over 3 hours, I realized that the charging station (what I found out later was a measly 25 kW CCS station) had a 1 hour auto shutoff, and there was no way to reinitiate a charging session remotely. Attempts to contact garage staff also failed.

Pittsburgh skyline at night.
  
Reflecting back on the charging station setup, I determined that it was one of the dumber charging arrangements I’ve seen. Ignoring the fact they were 25 kW “fast charging” stations, most people parking in that garage were likely attending sporting events or concerts, usually 3+ hour affairs that don’t allow you to return to the facility once you leave, so after 1 hour, you were for all intents and purposes done charging till you returned to your car. I found that I had gained 77 miles of range in 1 hour (33% SOC added to the battery), which after doing the math, I realized a 7.2 kW L2 charging station would have added more miles (90-100 miles in 4 hours). Someone really dropped the ball with this station by having a 60 minute hard shutoff.

After we finally escaped Pittsburgh after being stuck in horrific traffic for what seemed like forever, we headed towards an EVgo station about 20 miles east of Pittsburgh which was on the route home. It was a single EVgo station located in a strip mall that was next to an Applebee’s in Monroesville, PA. I was able to plug in and rest for about 30 minutes while my Bolt charged up. The next charging station was over 170 miles away in Hagerstown, MD, and I knew a significant elevation gain was ahead, so I made sure to give myself at least a 25 mile buffer. Turns out that was barely enough.

During the lonely drive to Hagerstown, I slowly watched the elevation climb in my TorquePro app while my range meter dropped faster than the miles I was covering. To make matters worse, it was very humid and chilly outside, which was the perfect recipe for my windshield fogging up, requiring me to turn on the defroster from time to time. Each time I turned on the defroster, precious electrons were zapped from my battery. About halfway into my 177 mile leg, the Bolt’s GOM spit out a number that was 8 miles less than the miles I still needed to drive. I knew that soon I would start a descent down from my current 2,500 elevation, but seeing a range number less than the miles-to-go number is always unnerving. 

Fortunately, I was soon back several miles to the good and made it to the fast charger at the Hagerstown Premium Outlets with my Bolt’s GOM merely blinking “LOW”.

As I pulled up to the lone CCS charging station, I saw that a Leaf was plugged in! And he was plugged into the combo CCS/CHAdeMO station, and not the standalone CHAdeMO station just a few feet away! (Great ettiquette guy). The nightmare scenario! Who the heck was charging at an Outlet mall at 4AM in the morning on a Sunday??? Besides me, that is. By some stroke of good luck, the Leaf was not actively charging despite being plugged in (and the owner was nowhere to be found), so I quickly plugged my Bolt in and swiped my EVgo card to activate the charge session. As home was only 58 miles away (this EVgo station was a 125 amp variety, not one of those fake “50 kW” 100 amp stations), so a 20-25 minute charge was all I needed to make it home. After 24 minutes of charging and a seemingly plentiful 78 miles of range, I unplugged and drove like a bat out of hell towards home (and then a slightly slower bat out of hell once I realized I was driving too fast to make it home without stopping to charge again). Made it home with plenty of range to spare!

Living on the edge!

Total trip stats.

So aside from telling a tale of a not completely stress-free trip to Pittsburgh and back in my Bolt in a single day, what is the point of this story? It’s to show how while the CCS fast charging network has improved immensely compared to a couple of years ago (this trip would not have been possible 2 years ago), and it is possible to travel long distances in a 200+ mile BEV like the Bolt (it's not Tesla or bust for EV roadtrips), the infrastructure still isn’t quite there yet for worry free travel. The Electrify America initiative is definitely a big step in the right direction, and with charging networks like Chargepoint and EVgo continuing to deploy their own fast charging stations (with GM being rumored to be working on their own ultra fast charging network), the CCS charging infrastructure will only continue to improve. For those of us willing to be adventurous and take a little risk, there is no need to wait to embark on those road trips. Just need to have a little bit of a clue and some patience.

P.S. also found out being worried about running out of range is great for keeping you awake during a graveyard shift drive!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Best Value Charging Station For a Non-Tesla owner may be a....Tesla Charging Station? What?!

Best Value Charging Station For a Non-Tesla EV owner is….a Tesla Station? What?

[Author’s note: I know that 240V residential “charging stations” are actually EVSEs (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment) that aren’t actually charging stations, and the charging equipment all resides inside the cars, but I used the term “charging station” in the title so casual readers didn’t get confused about what an EVSE is.]

For a new EV owner looking to upgrade from the stock 120V charging cord that came with their vehicle, it may be daunting trying to figure out what kind of 240V EVSE would be best to buy. There are dozens of companies out there that offer 240V EVSEs of varying power ratings, cord lengths, plug types (and the choice between a plug-in or hardwire version). 

Photo credit to insideevs.com

Several companies have made a name in the EV world for making quality products, one such company being Clipper Creek. When I purchased my 2012 Chevy Volt, I had a Clipper Creek LCS-25 (made in USA btw) installed at my home soon after, and for the next 4 years, it performed flawless charging my ’12 Volt, along with plug-ins that have come and gone (’13 C-Max Energi, ’16 Spark EV, ’17 Gen 2 Volt) and my 2017 Bolt EV without fail. While I charged my Bolt EV with the LCS-25 for over 18 months, the unit was only rated for a max 4.8 kW charge rate (4.5 kW in real world observations), and once I purchased a new house with a garage, I decided it was time to upgrade to a unit that could take advantage of the Bolt’s advertised 7.2 kW charge rate. I sold off my trusty LCS-25, and looked to purchase a replacement.

I thought about simply upgrading to a 32-amp Clipper Creek unit that would support 7.2 kW charge rates, but wanted to see if I could find something a little cheaper than $565 (but still UL-rated and made by a reputable company). One night I was browsing one of the Tesla owner forums, and came across a thread about the new Tesla mobile connector that came with the Model 3. The Tesla Gen 2 Mobile Connector (Gen 2 MC) was a 32-amp unit (perfectly matches the Bolt’s peak 32-amp specs) that came with both 120V and 240V adapters, was portable, and best of all was only $300! It was literally the cheapest UL-rated (no thanks knockoff Chinese made EVSEs) 240V EVSE on the market that could also charge on 120V. Only one problem though: I didn’t own a Tesla.

Tesla Gen 2 Mobile Connector

Fortunately for me, I already had a device (JDapter Stub, a $239 Tesla-to-J1772 adapter sold by QuickChargePower) that could be used to allow my Bolt (and pretty much any other EV) to charge from a Tesla, non-Supercharger charging station. Or in my case, a Tesla Gen 2 MC. Because I already had the JDapter Stub, all I needed to do was purchase the Tesla unit and have a 240V NEMA 14-50 outlet installed in my garage. At $300, the Tesla Gen 2 MC was the best bang for the buck 32A EVSE out there! Who'd a thunk a Tesla product could end up being the most economical?

JDapter Stub from QuickChargePower
As an added bonus, the Tesla Gen 2 MC comes with a 120V adapter along with the 240V NEMA 14-50 adapter, and can be used to charge from a regular 120V household outlet as well. It is a very versatile, compact unit that can be used for home charging as well as on the road charging as a portable 240V EVSE. 

The electrician finally showed up to my house, and installed the NEMA 14-50 outlet required to use the Gen 2 MC. I plugged it into the outlet, then plugged my JDapter Stub into the Tesla plug end, and voila! My Volt and Bolt now had access to L2, 7.2 kW/32-amp charging once again at my home! What makes this deal even better is the state of Maryland offers a 40% rebate of the cost of a new EVSE. Since the Tesla MC cost $300, 40% of that is $120. But since I sold my old Clipper Creek LCS-25 for $200, and will receive the $120 rebate check from the state of Maryland, the cost of upgrading from a 20-amp EVSE to the 32-amp Tesla one was -$20...or $20 in my pocket! #winning


Tesla Gen 2 MC plugged into NEMA 14-50 outlet

JDapter Stub + Tesla MC charging my Volt

In the event I go on a road trip in my Bolt, the Tesla MC + JDapter Stub combo gives me more options for on-the-road charging. Many campgrounds have 14-50 outlets that can be accessed, and of course 120V trickle charging is always an option, albeit extremely slow. The JDapter Stub opens up even more charging points, as otherwise inaccessible Tesla destination charging stations also become available as charging options. I never thought I would ever be writing a glowing blog post about a Tesla product, but the Gen 2 MC (with assist from the JDapter) is really a nice option for those EV owners looking for a low-cost, portable dual 120/240V EVSE. 

An EV owner of a plug-in that can only charge at ~3.3 kW (Volts for example) can probably find cheaper options for 3.3-3.6 kW charging (such as the Gen 2 Volt/Bolt's stock charging cord which can be used for 240V charging with an adapter), but for a non-Tesla BEV owner that can charge at a rate of at least 6.6 kW, such as a Bolt EV or Leaf owner, the Tesla Gen 2 MC + JDapter Stub combo is a charging solution that should be considered. And is almost a no-brainer if you already own a JDapter Stub. 

P.S. for those of you looking to duplicate my setup, make sure your electrician runs wire for a 50-amp circuit. While only a 40-amp circuit is required for use of a 32-amp device like the Tesla Gen 2 MC, a NEMA 14-50 outlet is supposed to be wire for 50-amps, so while you could get away with running wire for 40-amps, you wouldn't want to fall into any permit issues if an inspector finds a 50-amp outlet wired for only 40-amps. Pay the few extra bucks and get the proper 50-amp wiring installed. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Lessons Learned From a Long Distance Winter Road Trip in a Bolt EV


I just passed my 1 year anniversary owning my Bolt EV, and during that first year I put over 15,000 emission-free miles on it. Rarely being affected by range anxiety due to the ample 238 mile range, the Bolt has met about 99% of my daily driving needs. That being said, there is that remaining 1% of the time I have found my Bolt doesn’t quite cut it in one area: long distance road trips in the winter.

Charging at a Tesla station via adapter.
Twice this winter, I have taken road trips with the family in tow that exceeded the Bolt’s 238 mile range. I detailed the first trip in a previous blog entry, and the biggest takeaway was that a cold HV battery could significantly reduce fast charging speeds on unsuspecting owners. With knowledge from that first trip fresh in my mind, I completed another road trip (this time a 420 mile roundtrip trek to the Big Apple!). Up until a day before the trip, I was still debating whether to roll the dice and take the Bolt, or just suck it up and burn some gas and take my 2012 Volt. In the end, I decided to take the Bolt and give it another chance on a long distance winter road trip. My biggest worry was the aforementioned reduced fast charging speed due to cold HV battery issue, but it turned out on this trip it a non-issue. However, other issues were experienced.

Volt or Bolt?
In preparation for the trip, I did everything I could to mitigate the “too cold for peak DCFC” battery temperature issue. After charging up my Bolt to 100% overnight, I turned on my Bolt and turned on the heater on and let the Bolt “warm up” for 30 minutes before we departed. By doing this, it helps save energy for the road by getting the heater (and cabin) warmed up so the Bolt doesn’t spend the first few miles of driving using extra energy getting the heater up to temperature. Plus, I found (via my OBDII adapter and TorquePro app) that the Bolt will keep the HV battery temperature between 50-60F when ambient temps are freezing while it is turned on and plugged in (heats to 60F, then kicks back on when the HV battery drops to 50F).

Road tripping in a Bolt EV...is it feasible?

Once we were ready to hit the road, my Bolt registered 168 miles of estimated range, a far departure from the nearly 300 mile estimates I had been observing during the warmer summer months. The cold impacts range on all EVs; even six figure Teslas are not immune. As New York City was 205 miles away, at least one fast charging stop would be required. During the summer, I would have had plenty of range to make it to the CCS stations on the New Jersey Turnpike (NJTP) at the Joyce Kilmer Rest Area (https://www.plugshare.com/location/138286). However, being 168 miles away and having 168 miles of estimated range staring me in the face, that math told me another pit stop would be good.






Fortunately, there are two rest areas near the MD/DE border than have multiple, FREE CCS fast charging stations. Since we still hadn't eaten lunch, the hour drive to the Chesapeake House Travel Center (https://www.plugshare.com/location/134788) would be a perfect place to stop to top off the battery and sit down for lunch. I noted that my HV battery temperature was 59F when we left the driveway, and the ambient air temp was 28F. After arriving at the first CCS charging stop, my estimated range had dropped down to 115 miles, and my battery temp had dropped to 57F. I plugged into the 100 amp max (booo) DCFC, and observed the station was outputting max charge rates from the start.

After eating lunch with the family, we returned to the Bolt. By my calculations, it should have charged to nearly full. However, when I walked up to my Bolt, it was not charging. Uhoh. It turns out that, despite not being a EVgo station that are notorious for 30 minute shutoffs, my Bolt had stopped charging after 30 minutes. Thus, I had "wasted" 30 minutes of charging time. I was fairly annoyed, as there was no indication of the 30 minute shutoff, and I had only charged up to 150 miles. Luckily, my next DCFC stop was only 108 miles away, so I still had plenty of range to make the 108 mile drive.

Only gained 35 miles in 1 hour (thank you 30 min auto shut-off)

When I arrived at my next stop (Joyce Kilmer rest area), I rolled into the charging stations that happens to be collocated with Tesla Superchargers. 3 Teslas were plugged in when I plugged myself into one of the CCS stations. I had arrived with 42 miles of estimated range remaining, and since my destination was only 39 miles away, a 30 minute charge was all that was needed. After another quick restroom stop, I managed to charge up to 94 miles of range, so it was off on the final leg to NYC!

30 minute fast charging pitstop on the NJTP

39 miles later, we had arrived in NYC, and with 60 miles of range remaining. It was now 6PM, so we went to find a place to eat dinner. After finding what is likely the most expensive parking lot in the city ($47 for 2+ hours of parking! Dafuq!) that had a charging station, I had to convince the parking attendant several times that the Blink station inside the garage actually worked. After a phone call to his boss, he was finally convinced it worked. Turns out in the 7 months that guy had been working there, no one had ever asked about the charging station. Of course, being a Blink station, it was priced at a NYC-esque 49 cents/kWh, but as beggars can't be choosers, I begrudgingly plugged in and headed off to dinner, which was luckily only a couple of blocks away. We discovered an Amazon book store on the way!

Parking ain't cheap in NYC. In fact, nothing is.

Sayonara Barnes and Noble?
Two hours later after eating some amazing Korean BBQ (Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong...nom nom nom), I saw that the Blink station had added a whopping ~30 miles of estimated range, or 11 kWh of energy. Having plenty of range to make it back to the NJTP fast charging stations, we parked the Bolt for the night and headed to the hotel for some rest.

Nom Nom Nom

After spending the next day exploring the city and seeing a Blue Man Group show, it was time to head home. The drive to the Molly Pitcher Service (https://www.plugshare.com/location/136391) was only 45 miles, so with over 80 miles of estimated range, we were all set.

After escaping horrific NYC traffic, we arrived at Molly Pitcher with 55 miles of range left. Home was 162 miles away, so I realized that I would need to log at least 2 full 30 minute charging sessions. While waiting for the Bolt to charge up, we entertained ourselves and the kids by watching some streamed TV shows using the Bolt's unlimited 4g LTE wifi hotspot. After 1 hour of charging, the Bolt stated I had 131 miles of range. That was not nearly close to the 162 mile number to home, so it looked like 1 more fast charging stop would be needed before we made it home.

Curious if I could actually stretch the Bolt's 131 mile estimated range 162 miles, I employed all range saving techniques I could think of. I reduced my speed to 5 under the 65 MPH speed limit, and I also toggled the heat on and off. I found that even if you turn off the HVAC in the Bolt, it will still blow warm air for several minutes until the heater cooled off. By utilizing these power saving techniques, I was actually able to get the "Max" number on the GOM to exceed the miles remaining to home. However, I decided this was one range test I was not willing to see to the end, and topped off the Bolt for 15 minutes at the same MD rest area I stopped at to charge the prior day to ensure I had enough to make it home. Watching the range meter slowly tick up 1 mile at a time was borderline painful. With no range qualms, I took off for home like a bat out of hell.

Final trip stats

Final trip stats part 2

The 420 mile road trip was complete. After looking back at the trip and what I experienced, I came to the following conclusions:

  1.  NYC destination charging SUCKS. I was fortunate to be able to charge that one time at the Blink station.
  2. 100 amp max CCS charging stations SUCK. The Bolt is capable of charging at ~55 kW peak rates on a yet non-existent 150+ amp CCS fast charging station, but even a 125 amp station would have cut down charging times some. 
  3. The Bolt's aggressive fast charging taper plain SUCKS. At around 50% SOC, the Bolt tapers currents from a theoretical max of ~55kW/150 amps down to 37 kW/100 amps. At ~70% SOC, the charging rate tapers again down to around 23 kW/60 amps. While not affected much by the 50% taper on this trip, the aggressive charge tapering is not optimal for road trips with multiple fast charging stops.
  4. Parking/driving in NYC SUCKS. I am actually strongly considering taking the Amtrak next time. While I love driving the Bolt, for peace of mind I may just take the train next time. This would hold true even if I owned a $160k Tesla. Actually, driving a Tesla in NYC would probably be even more migraine inducing than a Bolt due to the Tesla's massive size.
  5. CCS fast charging infrastruture is not "there" yet. While it was greatly improved over the last few years, it still does not compare to Tesla's Supercharger network. I believe in a couple years, the CCS network will be close to catching up to Tesla's SC network, but until then Tesla has the advantage. Of course, a gas car trumps any BEV when it comes to road tripping.
So to sum it all up, the Bolt is great for 99% of my driving needs, and likely covers the vast majority of needs of the average American. However, if you are thinking of taking a Bolt on a long distance road trip (especially in the winter), you should definitely plan meticulously (with a Plan A, and plans B and C in the back pocket) and consider whether you and your family can stomoche the extra time it will take to complete a trip in an all-electric vehicle, Bolt or something else, along with potential charging pitfalls. The old saying "your mileage may vary" definitely applies.

P.S. there was one more thing I learned during my trip!
Indeed


Monday, December 11, 2017

The Bolt EV may give you the cold shoulder fast charging in the winter

As the official start to winter approaches, thermometers in Maryland have been dropping accordlingly. Despite some warmer than normal temperatures in the fall, winter has unofficially arrived in the Free State, with highs in the low 40's and lows dropping into the 20's. As most of us know, colder temperatures mean bad news for EVs when it comes to range and efficiency, as heater use and less efficient batteries due to the lower temps serve as a double whammy to range. However, there is also another drawback to the colder temperatures that a lot of plug-in owners likely aren't quite as familiar with: reduced fast charging capability.

One winterized Bolt

This past Saturday, my family decided to check out the Koziar Christmas Village in Bernville, PA (might as well rename "SCORCHED EARTH FOR EV CHARGING PA"). The drive to the village was 132 miles one way (264 miles roundtrip), so fast charging stop(s) would be needed. I was actually semi-fretting leading up the the trip, because of the fact the nearest fast charging station to the village was 60 miles away in York, PA.

260 miles round trip!

There is actually a CCS station near Lancaster, PA closer to Bernville, but as it has a 1.0 rating on Plugshare, I decided to write it off as a charging option. There is no L2 charging near Bernville, PA either, so charging while parked at the Christmas village was not an option. I would need to charge at York either on the way up to Bernville, PA OR on the way back home IF I had enough range to make it back to York on the return trip.

No thanks

Before beginning my trip, I made sure to pre-heat my Bolt. I actually turned the Bolt on and left the heat run while it was plugged in for about 30 minutes priop to departing so the heater and battery would be up to temp and warmed up. When we actually departed (it was snowing lightly and about 32 degrees), the heat was set to 70 degrees on fan speed setting 1. I had an estimated 196 miles of range after doing a 100% charge. It was theoretically possible for me to eek out enough range so that I only needed to hit the CCS station in York on the way back. I quickly found out that would be impossible.

Fast charging desert in middle of nowhere, PA

During the drive up to the PA border, the snow steadily increased in intensity, and the wet roads took a toll on my efficiency. About 50 miles into my trip, I realized I would absolutely have to top off in York on the way up to Bernville, as there was no way I could make it back to York on a single. When I pulled into the station at York, I had about 105 miles of range remaining. While the distance to York from my home is roughly 67 miles, *91* miles of estimated range had been consumed. Due to arriving at the station with 63% of the battery remaining, my "fast" charge was relatively slow due to the Bolt tapering charging rates when the battery is above 50%. For a 29 minute session, I had managed to put 12.6 kWh into the battery, and had "topped off" to 160 miles of estimated range when I departed for Bernville.

100A max fast charging station in York, PA

During the remaining 59 mile drive to the village, it continued to snow. Eventually, snow started sticking to the highway, so traffic slowed considerably for streches on the highway. The slower speeds helped increase my efficiency, however, so all was not a total loss. When we pulled into the parking lot of the christmas village, the range meter stated I had 95 miles left. The ambient temperatures were in the mid 20's when we arrived. We ended up spending about 2.5 hours exploring the village (and 2.5 hours of the Bolt's battery cold-soaking in sub-freezing temps).

Not optimal conditions

A little after 8PM, we departed back for the CCS station in York. During the entire 60 mile drive, I had the heat set to 70 degrees, with on and off use of the defroster. When we pulled into the fast charger in York, 29 miles of range/16% battery charge remained. I wanted to top off to about 80 miles so I had a comfortable buffer for the 60 mile drive back home.

Purdy

What I DIDN'T expect was the throttled charging rates of my Bolt! Despite having the heat on for the whole hour driving to York, the HV batterty was obviously still too cold to allow for maximum charging rates! I languished at 18-24 kW (or 60-70 amp) rates for the first 20 minutes of charging, resulting in much fewer miles being replenished than I thought. It wasn't until 25 minutes after plugging in did the Bolt finally realize the station's full 100 amp charging rates (or about 35 kW). My stay at the charging station was about 20 minutes longer than I had planned (and MAN that was a long 20 minutes with a cranky wife! Might as well have been an eternity).

After  ~45 minutes charging (and 19.3 kWh pumped out by the EVgo station), I had achieved my 80 mile range, and eagerly took off for home. The rest of the trip was rather uneventful, and I arrived back home with around 20 miles of range left.

Looking back on this trip, I realized that driving a Bolt to an EV charging wasteland during a minor snowstorm was probably not the best decision. If I were to repeate this trip again, most likely I would have just taken my Volt and burned some gas and shave about 75 minutes off the travel time I ended up spending extra charging the Bolt. The "too cold HV battery" issue doesn't affect just the Bolt, but all EVs in regards to fast charging, even the much balleyhooed Teslas and their Supercharging network. TeslaBjorn has video blogged about reduced Supercharging rates when the HV battery is too cold. Skip to 4:00 to see Bjorn's Model X struggle to register even 1 kW in the video below.



The Bolt is a mighty fine vehicle, but the cold battery issue I experienced should be something other Bolt owners are aware of before planning a road trip this winter that relies on DC fast charging. As you can see below, while the Bolt can condition the HV battery, it seems that it will only heat (or cool) the battery to keep the battery temperature out of the "danger zones" where the battery can be potentially degraded. Perhaps a "warm HV battery" feature could be implemented by GM so that owners had the option of warming the battery to ensure peak fast charging speeds in cold conditions. It would have been "warmly" welcomed by me this past weekend.

Final trip stats

Monday, October 9, 2017

Charging your Bolt EV at a Tesla destination station? Yes, you can!



As most EV owners are aware, Tesla offers one thing that other EV manufacturers do not offer at the moment: a coast to coast Supercharging network. I've read many stories of Tesla Model owners boasting about being able to travel across the country for free using only Tesla's Supercharging network. As of today, Tesla states that 1,008 Supercharger sites with 7,032 Supercharger stations are active in North America. Compare that to the CHAdeMO and CCS compatible fast charging outlets, which are more concentrated in metropolitan areas and lack the coast to coast coverage that Tesla offers. While more and more CHAdeMO/CCS stations are being installed every day, it will be a little while till coverage can come close to Tesla's proprietary network.

Pretty good coverage

So what's the non-Tesla owner that still wants to travel the country to do, aside from renting a gas car or biting the bullet and acquiring a wallet-stretching Tesla themselves? While Tesla touts its Supercharging network, it also supports an ever growing "Destination Charging" network as well. And the best thing about the Destination Charging stations? Non-Tesla EV owners can utilize them*

While not nearly as fast as Supercharging (for all intents and purposes, non-Tesla owners will only be able to charge at 7.2 kW max, compared to the 100+ kW charge rates Teslas can obtain at Superchargers), Tesla destination charging stations are sprinkled throughout the country at properties and businesses that have partnered with Tesla to install them. In most instances, Tesla provides most, if not all, of the charging equipment for free, and may also cover a portion of the install costs as well. The properties (a good majority hotel and inn owners) cover the cost of electricity and offer the stations as an extra amenity to guests. Most of the time, guests staying at these properties can charge for free as a perk for patronizing that particular establishment.

Not too shabby either, though some noticeable gaps.

So why should any non-Tesla owner care about any of the above I just wrote about? Well, it turns out that there is a handy little device that can unlock access to most Tesla (NON-Supercharger) destination stations!

A month or 2 ago I came across a special for a JDapter Stub device made by Quick Charge Power (http://shop.quickchargepower.com/JDapter-Stub-Tesla-Charge-Station-Adaptor-JDPTRSTB.htm . Use promo code "Jdapter239" for a $160 discount!), a company in SoCal that makes all sorts of EV accessories. Their JDapter Stub allows for non-Tesla plug-ins to charge using Tesla's (NON-SUPERCHARGER) destination charging stations mentioned above. While these destination charging stations have Tesla's proprietary plug that would normally make it unusable with a non-Tesla plug-in, the JDapter Stub allows just about ANY EV owner to connect and charge using the Stub, with a couple of exceptions. They are the only company I know of that makes this type of off-the-shelf device. Otherwise, I'd post other options available.


The JDapter Stub

I tested out my Stub on a recent trip to Chincoteague Island in Virginia. Looking at my charging options in the area, I noticed that there was only ONE location on the whole island (or anywhere near it) that had any kind of charging stations, located at the Refuge Inn (http://www.refugeinn.com/). According to Plugshare, it listed the property having 1 Tesla charging station and one Clipper Creek J1772 unit. Based off the positive Plugshare score, I booked the Refuge Inn for our stay.

Deep (EV) Hole indeed!
Upon arriving at the Refuge Inn in my Bolt EV, I found the Tesla station in the parking lot of the property. I whipped out my Stub, connected it to the Tesla charging plug, then plugged it into my Bolt. Within 2 seconds, my Bolt's charging light turned green and I was sucking down juice in part thanks to Elon Musk/Tesla (Thanks Elon!).

Success!

Not just Tesla electric vehicle charging anymore. 😎

According to my Bolt's DIC, it was charging at a rate of 7 kW, with it bouncing to 8 kW a couple of times. Suffice to say, the Bolt was able to max out its peak charging rate using the Tesla station. I awoke the next day to a full charge. The JDapter Stub was a great success! Evidently the Stub can send a pilot signal to the Tesla destination station and "trick" it into thinking it is a Tesla (that's how it was explained to me anyways...something like that). 

***Now I have to caveat my experience by saying that you should always get permission from the property owner before using a Tesla destination charging station (or any charging station for that matter). While most property owners likely don't care what kind of EV actually uses these Tesla stations, there are some establishments in existence that enforce a strict Tesla-only policy, and at least one person has actually been towed! However, most hotel/inn owners should be more than happy to let a paying guest use the stations, regardless of whether you actually drive a Tesla or not. The Refuge Inn certainly didn't care (great place, btw! Indoor heated pool, real close to Assateague Island, free hot breakfast, and friendly staff!).

Also, there are some newer Tesla stations that operate at 277 volts, which the Bolt CAN NOT handle. I believe the Bolt would simply refuse to charge if connected to such a station, but user beware!

Thanks to the JDapter Stub, a lot of additional L2 charging charging plugs are now opened up to my Bolt. If you don't road trip much, this adapter may be of marginal usefulness to you, but for anyone that likes to travel outside the Bolt's 238 mile EPA-rated range, is a very useful accessory indeed. 😊  

P.S. For those Tesla owners that think a non-Tesla using a Tesla destination station is wrong: get over yourselves! You guys still have the Supercharger network all to yourselves, and Elon himself even said, "...we said any car company can use our technology -- it's no problem. They don't even have to pay a fee to us." (https://www.fool.com/investing/general/2015/09/27/tesla-ceo-elon-musk-on-electric-competition-im-gla.aspx). Non-Tesla owners using Tesla destination stations are just obliging him. 😄 And before you ask "Why didn't you just use the Clipper Creek unit?", answer is I wanted to properly test out my JDapter Stub. 

P.P.S. I was recently unceremoniously banned from the main Chevy Bolt EV Owners Facebook group because the admins of that group are a bunch of commies and censor people like North Korean state media. For those that are REAL Bolt owners/fans that want to be able to enjoy some uncensored chit-chat among fellow ACTUAL Bolt owners/fans, I've created a new Facebook group,

REAL Chevy Bolt EV Owners and Fans. Please join up!