Electric Vehicle Moonshot: Our Newby Road Trip

My wife, Andrea, charging at the solar carport across from her office in Boone. The new Leaf was just delivered!

My wife and I joined the ranks of EV adopters back in July. We’ve always felt like we had to “do the next thing.” When we put solar thermal on our house a decade ago, one sunny morning my wife told me “we’re making money this morning.” Her point flew straight over my head until it dawned on me that the sun was making money for us indeed, in the form of a reduced power bill. So that morning the guiding question dawned– “what can we do next?” Well, sooner or later an electric vehicle (EV) had to happen.

We’ve learned so many things as a result of driving it. Reflexively, the experience has also revealed some deeper and more critical questions in the big picture, which I’ll get into in some future posts. (conflict minerals, crowded roads, sprawl, power sources, etc…) However, before getting into those subjects, I thought it would be useful for folks considering an EV to hear our story of the first week in the car.

Andrea and Jeff (my colleague at AIRE and himself an EV veteran) driving around the block in the brand new EV. Jeff, how does this thing work?

The trip actually started before we bought it. After weeks of researching, comparing battery specs across brands, and some really new and novel consumer questions, we settled on a 2018 Nissan Leaf SV. Never in almost 50 years of car buying until now had I felt like an auto and fuel industry analyst, but we were coming up with questions we’d never before thought of in our Subaru days. How fast do we need to be able to recharge the battery? Where can we go in this car? How will the business of EV charging infrastructure develop over the coming months and years? More halting, where CAN’T we go? That’s a question we’d never had to ask before. The language is so different, it’s really like learning a new language. But we had to get our heads around these questions and what better way than jumping in head first.

We took delivery on a Friday. The next day we launched for the beach, EV newbys. From Boone, up in the Blue Ridge Mountains to Atlantic Beach, on the North Carolina coast is at least 340 miles depending on the route taken. The Leaf goes an advertised 150 miles on a full battery. Well, for an EV, the route taken is something that takes some planning. NASA didn’t send Apollo to the moon without a plan, so we downloaded the apps on our phones so we could see where charging stations were along the way. We knew nothing about these apps 24 hours prior! Gas stations are everywhere but charging stations aren’t although they’re popping up like weeds. We learned about the various levels of chargers (we wanted “fast” or at least level 2), which is important because we generally wanted to quickly recharge and be on our way. But we also had to factor in a Plan B– what if that one lone charger in that middle of nowhere isn’t working? We even decided on a route a little longer just for better charging options.

Waiting for the car to charge, one can discover the beauty of a place.

Given our late departure from home, we decided to overnight at a friends in Raleigh. We got there with one fast charge in Greensboro and had a little range (electricity in the battery) to spare. I’ll admit I was nervously eyeing the charge level (the “gas gauge”) all the way to Raleigh. “Don’t talk to me, I’ve got to pay attention to the instruments!” The next day, a beautiful Sunday morning, we learned to incorporate other activities into our EV charging. It’s fantastic that cities large and small are installing charging stations! A nice breakfast, a cappuccino (ok, I admit I had a second), a walk around downtown and back on the road.

It felt good to have a full battery since we were heading into the vast coastal plains east of Raleigh where the distances felt large and, truth be told, a little unnerving between charging stations. It put my mind back to that 1968 Christmas Eve as a kid when I watched the Apollo 8 crew go behind the moon, the dark side of the moon on TV. Nonetheless, I was more relaxed on, this, day 2 of our EV voyage. I didn’t look at the battery gauge every second. The strategic route we’d planned took us to the outskirts of Greenville, NC where there was a fast charger at the local Nissan dealer. We made it.

Nissan dealerships have charging stations but they aren’t always open. Thanks to Eric, a very kind man at Greenville Nissan for his assistance! His t-shirt reads “angels” and he surely was one this day.
That stop made us appreciate all the more what we’d experienced in Raleigh that morning, namely, things to do while charging. It was almost 100 degrees (F) in Greenville at the Nissan place, which was closed, so we had nowhere to go to escape the heat. We walked pretty long distances across scorched asphalt parking lots in search of something cool, literally anything cool. Iced tea would have done the trick, but we had to settle for an air conditioned used sporting goods store. The owner had gone to college in Boone and so we had something to talk about, but we were monitoring the charging progress which meant we couldn’t venture far or linger long.

Turns out the charger would switch off every few minutes. The dealership’s slogan was “expect miracles,” but just not this day apparently, so after repeated restarts we decided to bridge on over to New Bern in hopes of finding better charging there. Eventually we made it to our destination with a few miles to spare.

We made it with 25 miles of battery to spare! We’ll figure out where to recharge later!

Ordinarily, in our rational minds, we wouldn’t have taken the Leaf to the beach, but we had to immerse totally. We simply couldn’t wait. Besides all the EV stuff, what we discovered was the unanticipated social interaction that our charging adventures brought us. Folks were very interested and receptive to the conversations about needing a new energy system. They were very friendly.

In a way, it reminded us that it was okay, and even rewarding, to slow down sometimes. Good people were always waiting wherever we did on this trip. It’s a mind-bending thing too, driving that far without gas. It’s also a thought provoking experience in a deeper sense for those of us that care about clean energy and a just and peaceful existence.

Going EV felt like the right thing to do next. Not uncritically though. We’ve got to drive on renewable sources of electricity, not coal or methane-rich natural gas. More later.

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