IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

On the Road: A Reporter’s Firsthand Account of Life With an EV

A recent 360-mile road trip to Portland, Ore., in an electric vehicle introduced a whole new set of considerations around trip-planning. Unlike their gas-powered counterparts, EVs take some planning and a little luck where charging infrastructure is concerned.

For all of the writing about electric vehicles, their range, charging infrastructure and the public policy guiding all of this, there is nothing to take the place of actually setting out on an electric-powered road trip and experiencing the many nuances of this new form of travel.

Last week I drove to Portland, Ore., a 323-mile journey up the Interstate 5 from my home in Yreka, Calif., to attend the Urbanism Next Conference. The trip marked the first extended journey in our new 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV, bought in September. Up until now, drives have been relatively short, well within the car’s 250-mile range. The only public chargers I’d used so far were those in downtown Ashland, Ore., a frequent destination for shopping and restaurants. The city has 10 Level 2 chargers in a public lot which are free to use, and are often all occupied.

But this trip to Portland would require at least a small amount of planning, given the need to stop along the way to charge the car. I would also want to time this with say, a lunch break, further adding to my growing list of considerations: At what distance should I think about pulling off the highway? What are my charging options? What are the restaurant options? (Are there high-speed charging options in Eugene, a pretty cool Oregon college town? Will the car make it that far?)

I ended up pulling off the highway in Sutherlin, Ore., 160 miles into the journey, where you can charge at an Electrify America station, which shares parking space with a Dairy Queen. It was ultimately a great charging option, combined with a so-so lunch.

Electrify America is notable for a few reasons. These are high-speed chargers — with up to 350 kilowatts available — so they’re fast, and at least on this trip, they were reliable. The cost was $0.49 per kilowatt hour, which you pay via the Electrify America app that allows users to pre-pay toward an account; or simply tap a credit card at the reader on the charger. This particular 45-minute session came out to $13.44, enough to get me to Portland, with about 40 miles of range left over. It should be noted Chevrolet Bolts do not charge as fast as most EVs, and a high-capacity plug does not increase the charging speed.

Once in Portland, I plugged the car into the Level 2 charger in The Hotel Zags garage, operated by Blink Charging. These are, of course, much slower. It required nearly nine hours to get the car back up to a full charge. Which is fine, because once the car is in the garage I wouldn’t have much need for it in the city. That’s an important point to make about Level 2 charging; it’s passive. It’s the charging that happens while shopping, running errands, at work, or hanging out at home. While in the hotel garage, the car recharged with 58.35 kilowatts for a cost of $22.76.

Even along I-5 — often called the West Coast Electric Highway thanks to the many charging opportunities scattered along the route — operating an EV still requires some forethought and planning in a way that driving a gas-operated car doesn’t. Of course there will be gas stations just off the exit ramp and ample signage pointing the way. And whether the gas station is pumping Shell, or Chevron, or name-your-brand means little to the driver. You pump. You pay. You leave. There are no apps to fiddle with. It’s not like you have to be part of the Shell network to pump and pay for their gas and on top of that, it's very rare that a pump is inoperable.

This is where innovation is still needed in the EV space.

Chargers should be easy to find while driving, and they should all be interoperable. Perhaps most importantly — they should work. When you’re down to a few miles of range, the last thing anyone wants to be met with is a charger with an “Error” message, or a broken connector, or any number of other issues that could take the unit out of service.

On the way home, I planned to stop in Roseburg, Ore., to use a high-speed charger, this one operated by EVCS, but it wasn’t working. There were other chargers nearby, all of them Level 2, which would have taken hours to charge. My PlugShare and Electrify America apps indicated an Electrify America station about 40 miles away in Grants Pass. I did the math. I could make it with about 30 miles of range to spare. That was cutting it close — too close for comfort. But all worked out fine. Once I pulled into the Walmart parking lot I could see there were several chargers available. They were operable. And I was back on the road in an hour, charged to about 80 percent. Altogether, I spent $57.79 at EV chargers for the 650-mile trip.

Finally, if you’re looking for a free charging option — and who isn’t — keep an eye out for public libraries. The parking is generally free, and so are the chargers. It’s a great way to top off the battery while grabbing lunch or checking out some of the great Oregon downtowns along I-5, in cities like Eugene and Salem.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.