I have grown accustomed to things closing down early in Southwest Florida. I do like the quiet of an evening here. Yet, planning a 140-mile trip during late-night hours with CleanTechnica‘s nocturnal site director on a tight schedule (coming over from Europe for a few days) is a bit of a challenge.
Going from Tampa to the EV Summit in Cocoa Beach in a 2015 Nissan LEAF is a bit discouraging. There are simply not quite enough EV charging stations to easily plan a trip across the state of Florida in an electric car with limited range, a trip which could take just 2 to 3 hours in a gasmobile, plug-in hybrid, or Tesla. Most of the Nissan DC fast chargers must have gone to California — thanks to high demand for California EVs.
The challenge would be steep enough during the day, but several of the charging stations along the route state “available during dealership hours.” That’s not uplifting for people who have to drive at night.
Zach quickly planned a potential trip on ChargeHub. Here are the stops (all are DC fast charging stations except for the Orlando airport, as you can see if you click on the links):
- Lakeland (open 24h, NRG evGO)
40 miles from Tampa airport
- Premium Outlet Vineland (open 24h, NRG evGO)
38 miles from Lakeland charger
- Level 2 charging at Orlando airport while picking up passenger #2.
BACKUP: UCF (open 24h, ChargePoint)
17 miles from Premium Outlet Vineland, just south of Orlando airport
- Cocoa, Clear Lake Road (open 24h, ChargePoint/Greenlots)
38 miles from Orlando airport, or 40 miles from UCF
- 14 miles to hotel
The problems, as anyone who has driven an EV much knows, are:
- 40 miles on the Interstate (going slightly uphill and with probable headwinds) is going to eat up a lot more than “40 miles” of electric range from our 84-mile Nissan LEAF. Unless we are careful, it could eat up more range than the car has (leaving us stranded).
- There’s a significant chance one or more of these stations could be broken, blocked, or closed. If so, it may be too difficult to get to another charging station before the battery is done powering us forward.
I also planned the trip on PlugShare, which presented at the EV Summit last year. Plugshare has much more background information on each EV charger — more activity and experience from EV drivers. Unfortunately, I’ve now read a series of discouraging comments about fast chargers on the way to Cocoa Beach. Due to unavailability, improper functioning, and connection problems, I could not consider the few available on our route to be reliable.
This is problematic, especially for the nocturnal travelers who will have more limited backup options after dealerships close.
I took screenshots of my planning in stage 1 on PlugShare. Here are some of those (click to enlarge):
ChargeHub, however, is deficient in comments compared to PlugShare. PlugShare has been around a lot longer. ChargeHub has a great tool for saving all your trip planning ideas, though. I went back and forth between the sites to explore the options.
It looks like there are some potential pathways across the state. There are daytime slow options. There are stretches that would be fine if I drove in my slow, energy-saving, Eco style. I am not sure this is genuinely possible on a highway like I4, though. In fact, I don’t think it is. My range in the 2015 Nissan Leaf varies from 84 to 120 miles, but this is in-town driving or lonely-highway coasting — no cars following me as I slowly move along.
Driving on 275 North to St. Petersburg over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge can cut that range in half — half of 84 miles. The incline, the wind, and the steady 65 miles an hour speeds eat up range like a thirsty person gulping down a glass of cold water on a hot day. And then you see a note like this:
We Need Reliable Charging Stations
Limited charging is one thing. Unreliable charging is another. Many of the comments on PlugShare are not encouraging in either of these areas. So, I spent the better part of 24 hours looking at all kinds of options.
The cluttered map that appears to have many EV stations is lacking in a few important stretches. That presents the first big challenge.
With one click, you can view the comments of each charger. One has to go into smaller areas of the PlugShare map to see how much distance it is to the next charger — in actuality. Many of the chargers on the map along your path may not be practical to use for one reason or another.
If traffic is slower at night, we could drive slower preserving range. But if not … below is one of the stretches we could have issues with due to limited and daytime-only charging stations. There is a big gap on I4 between Lakeland and Orlando.
More Range Helps Too
The concerning descriptions on some charging stations bring back memories of a tight schedule problem I ran into before. My plug would not release from the “fast charging” station. It was not anything to do with a lock, which I had to prove to staff at the dealership again and again. Upon later investigation, I found it was not only me who met this difficulty. Now, I read comments on my apps about stations I’m planning to use. This incident took a long time to resolve (I was very late) and many salespeople unsuccessfully tried to release the plug before someone figured out the trick. The “fast charge” was a “dead in the water charge” that day.
So … if the charging station at Dunkin Donuts in Lakeland does not work … there is nothing to do but lose a lot of time.
The other stretch that concerns me has essentially the same problem as the one discussed above. There’s a 40-mile gap with almost no backup charging stations along the way if we run into trouble (see screenshot below). We remember this stretch being quite windy, as well.
I have one vivid memory of driving I4. The memory dates 24 years back with a baby in the carseat on the way back from a soccer tournament. It is one memory because I never would drive that route again — it pushed me toward trains. I was almost run off the road as I maintained a speed of 5 miles over the speed limit — while everyone else was driving 90 miles an hour with no break in any stream of traffic. I hope things have changed, but I doubt it.
Even if we stay at 65 mph, with an incline and any windy weather at all, we could run out of charge in two areas that have very limited charging stations — well, no charging stations for big stretches. I have not been towed in the LEAF. I would like to keep it that way.
Any suggestions are welcome. And perhaps a car trade for a Volt? Someone with a Volt want to try a LEAF for a week?