NM Media Runs Into Steve Wozniak at an EV Charger, Shows The Importance of Education, Infrastructure

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Eventually, there will be EV charging all over the place. Like gas stations, we’ll get to the point where every small town along most highways gives you a few options to choose from. When that time comes, it will make sense to put up signs pointing people to the charging stations and maybe even post the price up on a board. People will be able to use the guess-o-meter and wing it hoping to get to the next charger, just like they do with gas stations.

But, we don’t live in that world yet. There are many parts of the United States that don’t have enough EV charging. There are stretches of highway where you need to get a fairly full charge to be able to make it to the next station, and there are no charging opportunities other than maybe RV parks between here and there.

Worse, the guess-o-meter (the estimated range left on the display) can be very wrong sometimes. In many cases, the estimate it gives is based on past driving for the last few miles. In others, it’s based on the vehicle’s EPA-rated range or based on overall efficiency. But, when you take that average and bet against a big hill, a stiff headwind, or colder than average weather, you could come up short.

The end result is what’s happening in New Mexico. Tow truck drivers have reported picking up as many as 3 EVs per week between Las Vegas and Wagon Mound along I-25. While there isn’t a big hill in that stretch of road, it’s not far from steeper hills near Santa Fe and the Colorado line that could easily leave an EV driver with less remaining power than they had planned on. Temperatures are also a lot colder there than in the southern parts of the state that I-25 also passes through.

The end result is that some drivers get stranded and have to wait in the cold, occasionally for hours.

When interviewed by KOAT, an opponent of EV mandates exaggerated the problem some:

“The people that are driving them understand when they look at their mileage that they have left, that they need to be able to get to the next charging station,” Larry Behrens, of Power the Future, an organization opposed to government mandates on electric vehicles, said. “But because sometimes, you know, they have to go uphill, they have to turn on a heater or an air conditioner or any number of things that, internal combustion car would handle just fine. The electric vehicle then diminishes their range greatly.”

But, an advocate for EVs and climate change efforts focused on improving infrastructure:

Jim MacKenzie is the co-coordinator of the climate-focused organization 350 New Mexico. He said part of the problem is there are gaps in the charging network, and people are waiting too long to charge.

“We hear a lot of that in rural New Mexico. They’re still lacking the charging infrastructure,” MacKenzie said. “That is a long stretch between Vegas and Raton. I’ve been on it many, many times. I’ve seen broken cars. So that’s a problem. That maybe there should be a charging station out there somewhere. We’re not all the way there yet with our infrastructure, but we are making rapid strides. And I think within the next year or two, we will be there.”

Rather than take their word for it, KOAT’s reporters ran out to Las Vegas to interview drivers and see what their experiences were. They happened to run into Apple co-f0under Steve Wozniak. He said they’d run into a situation where the vehicle rerouted him, and that he’s run pretty close to empty a few times:

“We took risks and, some of them caught up with us, but the network just expanded nationwide so far,” he said. “Sometimes when we travel, we look to see where are the charging stations. But that’s like the old days of battery anxiety. Where? Which one should we stop at?”

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The Infrastructure Issue

I want to go a little deeper than local media did on this. After all, we’re an EV publication, right? Also, I live in New Mexico, and I’m a lot more familiar with the situation than the average EV driver from elsewhere.

Strangely, the stretch of I-25 the story talks about actually has slightly better CCS coverage than Supercharger coverage, thanks to a station in Wagon Mound (Electrify America) and one in Las Vegas that recently went online (ChargePoint, owned by NMDOT). So, it’s one of the few areas where a Tesla driver that doesn’t know what they’re doing could get into trouble a little faster than someone driving a Ford or a Kia. 

But, this is only a temporary problem. Tesla has plans for a Supercharger in Wagon Mound that would put the situation pretty much even. Plus, there are plans for either V4 or Magic Dock, so the situation will be better for all EV drivers. Sometimes the Electrify America station can be down or run slower than desired, so having a second option will be great.

Eventually, somebody will put a rapid charging station in Raton and close the gap up thoroughly. So, I’d say that this is a growing pain for EVs that will go away, just as the interviewee from 350.org told KOAT.

The Education Issue

This doesn’t mean that we should slack on driver education. 

For a Tesla driver, it’s pretty simple. Tell people to use the in-dash software! It handles pretty much everything, including variables like temperature and terrain, and gives some extra percentage for the unexpected. If people used that, they’d avoid getting stranded most of the time. For other manufacturers with good in-vehicle software, this is also good advice.

For people who don’t have good software in the vehicle (that’s me and my Bolt EUV), we need to recommend phone-based software. A Better Routeplanner and Chargeway are both must-have apps for EV drivers, and we need to get new owners to install them. Or, more importantly, we should be getting dealers to help new EV owners install and use those apps until the manufacturers get their crap together on software.

Between education and infrastructure improvements, this is a problem we can tackle.

Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1988 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba