The Accelerate Kootenays direct current fast charger (DCFC) network is filling in right now during the winter of 2017/2018. In December, Radium and Canal Flats came online, and in the last two weeks, Greenwood, Christina Lake, Castlegar, Salmo and Creston all came online as well (as I write this, Jaffray might be online now too!) That brings the total tally to 8 (or 9?) out of 13 installed so far. I recently had a trip in our 2014 Nissan Leaf (a short range electric vehicle, or EV) that I think will illustrate what the fledgling DCFC network will mean to those of us with (or contemplating buying) short-range EVs. If you want to skip the trip report itself, head right to the big heading of “Conclusions” near the bottom.
We had two big snowfalls overnight last week (Jan 23/24 and 24/25; 60cm total), which had me itching to go skiing. A friend invited me down to Rossland to ski Red Resort – typically I ski at Whitewater (since it is so close to Nelson, plus I like the vibe there), but I hadn’t skied Red in 3 years, so decided to make the trip. My plan was to drive to Rossland via Castlegar/Trail, and plug in at the only Level 2 charger in downtown and catch a ride with my friend up to the hill. After skiing, the car would be fully charged and I’d be ready to head straight to the Nelson Nordic Ski Club, where I help coach the Jack Rabbits program on Thursday nights and Sundays.
I felt I had left plenty of time to get there (1.5 hours, when in summer the trip is about 1 hour 10 minutes), but I should have known better after a big snowfall in the alpine that had freeze/thaw conditions in the valley that either road conditions or an accident would slow down traffic. Just as I was leaving the last of Castlegar behind, I could see towards the end of a straight stretch a very large line-up of cars. Having been stuck for a few hours in such a line-up recently in November (no side roads for a bypass), I made a quick decision to turn around and head back to Castlegar to use the newly opened fast charger and drive up and over the Strawberry Pass instead.
Back in Castlegar and sucking back the electrons, I did some quick math to figure out how full I needed the car to be… the car uses about 1.5 kWh per 300 m of climbing, and I needed to get up and over the Strawberry Pass at 1575 m, the Castlegar charger is at about 475 m, so that’s 1100 m / 300 m *1.5 kWh/300m = 5.5 kWh! You can see how going uphill really sucks back the juice! To be conservative, I then looked at the distance (Google Maps to the rescue) of 52 km and divided this by my worst winter energy efficiency of 5 km/kWh = 10.4 kWh. Hmm that’s a total of basically 16 kWh, which is most of what my car can store these days! (My 2014 Leaf started with 21.7 kWh usable, and I’m somewhere around 83% available of new, so ~ 18 kWh. Due to battery chemistry and cold, not quite all of that is available in winter either.)
So I charged right to 90% on the fast charger, which because of the cooler temperatures, and starting at about 50% already, took just under 30 minutes (fast chargers work quicker when your battery is at a low state of charge). I would have left sooner, but got deep into a conversation with the guy at the chamber of commerce on the coming rEVolution. After that I was off up the hill!
The road was horrendous leaving Castlegar on the first climb – it must have been snowing and freezing so fast the highway maintenance crews couldn’t keep up. It was like driving on a pothole-filled gravel road that hasn’t seen a grader in months. Once up past the freezing line, the road became much nicer thankfully (at about 1,000 m elevation).
Nearing the Strawberry Pass, I was right on target for energy consumption. Easy sailing from here to Red Resort, and what a beautiful morning for a drive!
Instead of my entire day being wasted, the DCFC network enabled me to get to the ski hill just a 1/2hr after opening (about 45 min later than I planned, and that includes an extra 15 mins of driving by doubling back and taking the longer route).
Since I had parked at Red (I didn’t want to drive down to town, park at the Level 2 charger, then wait for the shuttle bus to take me back up and miss out on some powder!) I didn’t have enough juice to get all the way to the Salmo DCFC, so had to stop in Rossland for almost an hour. In the future we’ll have a DCFC in pretty much every town (similar to gas stations now), so 5 minutes would have been enough to get me there otherwise.
After a quick 12 min stop at Salmo for a charge (and a stretch!) to cover the last 45 km back to Nelson, I was back on the road to the Nelson Nordic Centre to help coach Jack Rabbits. I had stayed for almost the full day at Red, so ended up being 45 min late for JR. If Rossland had a DCFC too as mentioned earlier (or Trail), I would have made it on time no problem.
Before the DCFC network, if I was in this situation, I would have been ‘stuck’ in Castlegar for 2 hours on a Level 2 charger and headed straight back home: day off wasted with no powder skied. Bummer. So, even if your regular trip plans don’t need to include a scheduled stop at a DCFC, some unforeseen event may very well make you very glad it is there as a backup for your regular trips!
Charging the top 30% of the battery is expensive! I spent almost 1/2 hour charging to 90%, which cost me $8.76 for 6.73 kWh (@ $9/0.5hr of charging), or $1.30/kWh! I won’t be doing that too often… but when you need a charge quickly, you pay for the convenience I guess. If I didn’t let myself get stuck in that conversation, my $/kWh would have been somewhere under $1/kWh, since the car really slows down a lot starting at about 80% (see my DCFC charging video). Still expensive.
Conversely, charging from the lower half was much better; at 13% I was getting ~40kW and slowed down to about 30kW by 52% in 12 minutes, which cost me $3.75 for 7.2 kWh, or $0.52/kWh. Still 5 times more then I pay at home, but that’s about the same spread to pay someone to make you food as to do it yourself, so I’m ok with that for the occasional use.
The Leaf at least doesn’t seem to be impacted by cool temperatures as much as other EVs (at least anecdotally). At a low SOC, I was getting about the same kW input to my car as I did in 2015 at the Penticton DCFC linked in that video above. Maybe this would be different at -15C. (Maybe I’ll still get a chance to test that out this winter!)
For short-range EVs, I think the network will enable the type of day-trips that are just a bit too far to cover on one charge, in which case paying about $5 for a top-up to get home, plus the $2 for the initial charge, for perhaps 180 km of driving will still make it cheaper to take the EV then any gas car. We have many many types of trips we would like to do that fit into this category, so I think we’ll be getting a fair amount of use out of the two closest chargers to us – Salmo and Castlegar. I expect the same will be true for other local Leaf owners.
I really wish there was one in Nelson too – some evenings I get home from work and want to head out right away to the nordic area (either to coach or just go for a ski), but I have to head home first for an hour to top up. A DCFC would mean a 5 minute stop would be sufficient.
I would not buy a short-range EV planning to use a DCFC on an every day commute. With only one unit in each town, you are gambling somewhat that the station will not break or be occupied, plus the cost savings will be much less if you can’t rely on home charging only.
Will I be taking inter-regional trips every other weekend with my short-range EV? Not likely: the cost will become prohibitive if you start driving distances of 300+ km. It’s a bit hard to calculate exactly, since the Fortis DCFC units are charging $ by time connected, and charging speed varies somewhat, but I estimate that at the current rate of $9/0.5hr (or $18/hr), I would spend about $2 (initial home charge) + $27 (1st to 3rd DCFC, 1/2hr each) or ~$30. That’s about the price of my gas car (a Forester), except the Leaf is smaller (which might make the difference depending on recreational activities planned) and the trip would take about 1 hr longer (we’d stop for 0.5hr over that distance anyways with our kids). We will likely do a trip like this once per year though – I just like driving electric cars that much better!
Stay tuned for another blog post on what the DCFC network means for the longer-range EVs!