When you’re used to driving a ‘normal’, or as we call it an ICE (which stands for Internal Combustion Engine) vehicle, you more or less know how to plan for a trip. Usually it comes down to
- Pack enough clothes
- Turn off the gas at home
- Take a look at a map for you final destination
- … go.
When driving an EV (electric vehicle) there are some things extra you need to consider. If you drive an ICE and your fuel level drops below the point you still feel comfortable with, you just drive along until the next gas station, pull in, fill the gas and within 10 minutes you are on your way again. With an EV things are not so simple. When we are running out of gas (or electrons, or whatever you want to call that situation) we have to be close to a chargepoint, plug it in, and wait… And wait… And wait some more. An EV battery can take a lot of time to fill up. The Tesla Model S 85 can take up to 30 hours to plug from 0% to 100% when connected to a standard European plug. Trust me, you don’t want that when you’re on the road.
The home plug is your last backup plan. It’s nice to be able to use it but only as a last resort. I have used it on a recent trip to Paris. I wasn’t going to use the car for a couple of days so I could leave it plugged in and let it slowly recharge. When on the road however, you have more options. For instance, there is:
- 11 kW charging stations. That will fill up the Model S in about 8 hours
- 22 kW charging stations. Those are twice as fast as the one above, so it will take about 4 hours to fully charge a battery
- Chademo stations. They are fast. They can fill a 85 kW battery pack in an hour and half.
- Tesla’s own Supercharger. As the name implies, these are even faster. From 0% to 100% can be done under an hour.
Now, there’s an interesting thing about the superchargers. The speed at which they deliver their electricity is dependent on the level of the battery itself. The first 50% of the battery take about 20 minutes to recharge. The other 50% take up about 40 minutes. Compare it to filling a glass of water under a tab: at first you have the tab wide open to quickly fill it up, but as the glass gets more and more filled, you’ll slow down the water stream to prevent from spilling. This is not how the battery works but the analogy holds up.
So, when taking a road trip you want to use the Superchargers (SuC) as much as possible. They have another advantage: they are closely located to some form of restaurant so you can spend the time waiting while you eat or drink something and, more important maybe, they are free to Tesla Owners (to be correct: when buying the Model S you have to option to pre-pay for a life time membership to charging, something almost everybody does).
The best strategy is therefor to leave home with as little power as you can, drive it as empty as possible to the next SuC on your way, fill it up until you have just enough charge to reach the next SuC (remember: the less power in the battery, the faster it charges) and move to that point. As you can see, this requires some planning. Luckily the navigation system in your Model S helps you with this and will plan your route this way.
But that’s not enough. Although there are a lot of SuC stations, you cannot always rely on them. They may be out of your way or they may be busy. In that case it’s nice to fall back on options 3 to 1 of the list above. Chademo, although fast, requires an additional adapter, that can be bought for 450 euros. The 22 kW option is only viable if you equipped your Model S with a dual charger (one charger can handle 11 kW, so two of those in your car can double the amount of power used for charging). 11 kW is always an option.
Well… not really. If you want to use one of those options, you have to have a correct charge-card. This card is used to identify you at the charge station so they can bill you for the power used. Since there is not really a standardization yet for this, you need to have a card with the major suppliers in all the countries you pass. They are usually not interchangeable. So I currently have about 8 different cards with me.
For the trip to Norway I have contacted Gronncontact, a local chargepoint supplier and gotten one of their cards as well. Just in case.
Now, when reading this you might think: this is an awful lot of work just to drive around. The reality is that although it does take some getting used to, it really isn’t a bother at all. You need to plan just a bit more than when driving an ICE but it’s not that big of an issue. And when it comes to those long charging times: well, since the SuC’s are nicely located everywhere in Europe within 2 hours of each other, you can drive for 2 or 3 hours and only then need to charge. Me personally, I like to stop for 20 minutes after 3 hours of driving so that works out just right.
It’s all about a bit of planning.