Electric cars are becoming a viable transportation solution with almost all major car manufacturers now offering many models of electric vehicles (EVs). This is thanks is a large part to the hype surrounding the development and manufacture of Tesla cars by the iconic Elon Musk.
Anyway I decided to take the electric car on a day’s around Ireland tour to see how it can be managed when pushed to the limit. It basically involved a Dublin-Galway-Limerick-Dublin drive over 14 hours and 3 meetings, which amounted to over 600 km in one day (I did not do this just for the fun, I also had to visit sites in the 3 locations in the one day).
I was driving the BMW i3 which has an all-electric range of about 180 km in real driving conditions. It also has an on board backup generator for emergencies, although this will only add an additional 100 km range on a full tank.
The first thing to be said about driving electric is that it is great fun and much more enjoyable than an internal combustion engine (ICE) car. I think that this has to do with the acceleration that an electric motor has and also almost all electric cars are automatic, so no fussing with changing gears. But the lack of noise and vibration is a surprising benefit, especially on long journeys as you do not feel as tired when you reach your destination.
Using an EV for regular commutes is very straight forward and 1000s of people do it every day, however doing a grand tour creates different challenges and these are the points that I discovered from my intensive day tour:
- There are more charging points in Ireland that one realises and thanks to the eCar app from ESB it is easy to locate and check the status of each charging point. Being able to see real time status is essential, because one needs to know if a charging station is occupied and what type of charger it is i.e. how fast it charges.
- There are a few different charging types which have different charging times. As in any new industry different companies/organisations have developed their own standards with different cars using the different standards. This results in the many of the charging stations being different from each other, so it takes a bit of getting used to. The BMW i3 can be charged at 3 different charge types, being slow, medium and fast. When on a long journey the charge points of interest are the fast ones, so it is essential to make sure that you will encounter one of these on route.
- Not all plug types signify the same charging power. You can find the same type of charging plugs on different charging stations giving different amounts of power. This has to do with how much power ESB supply to the point.
- Plan your journey and allow time for stops. These are a good idea anyway so that you can rest and take a break from driving, but also they can be productive time to answer emails and calls and even do some work on the laptop.
- Tell people in advance that you are driving electric and that you will want to plug in when you stop. Almost everybody is delighted to assist with an extension cable to plug into. On most domestic plugs it takes about half the night to charge the battery fully, so for an average site meetings I can get the battery half charged.
- I only found one charging point that was not working and this was not listed on the app, so maybe it has only just been installed and has not been commissioned yet. But in fairness to ESB they seem to keep the charging network to a good standard.
- I did not find any charging point occupied. I think that most EV owners fully charge their cars overnight at home and have a commute that does not require any additional charging. So public charging points seem to be readily available.
- Drive style makes a big different to energy consumption. A good thing about an EV is that you become much more conscious of the energy you are using and it is amazing how much you can save by just changing habits. The faster you drive the more air resistance the car has to deal with, and this increases proportionately with speed. The ideal speed is 80km/h, but this is a bit slow on motorways, although it is the average speed on the majority of Irish roads. In this regard there is a large difference in energy use between 120km/h and 130km/h, so not breaking the law by speeding also has a great benefit on the environment. And keeping a good charge in the battery lets you enjoy the acceleration of an all-electric drive when it is needed. Having said this EVs have no problem driving at the same speeds as ICE cars, and it is just a case of being sure you have sufficient battery to do it.
- Continuing with drive style the aggressive breaking-acceleration of the car does consume much more energy. Most EVs have regenerative breaking (they turn breaking action into charge for the battery), but this is not effective if one slams the breaks on. So by having a more relaxed driving style does not only save energy, it also means you and your passengers will reach the destination feeling more rested.
The world of motoring is anxiously awaiting the imminent arrival of the Tesla Model 3; which will be a game changer. This is not because the Model 3 will be so much better than other EVs already on the market. The Nissan Leaf practically has an equally good specification and has been on the market for years. The big difference is the dedicated Super Charging network. Because Tesla have their own charging stations they can ensure that the speed of charge and the car specification are optimised to the maximum (Tesla Supercharge can deliver 120kW, the alternative fastest is 45kW, this is 266% more power). This results in consistent super charging speeds and the knowledge that the charge stations are not occupied by any other EV brand owners. Already they have 8 super charging points on the motorway between Dublin and Cork, so this journey is already easily doable in a Tesla car. And with new charging stations coming online near Limerick and Kinnegad getting around Ireland in the Model 3 will so much easier when they become available this summer (that is if you pre-ordered yours). With varying estimates of between 400k and 600k pre-orders it is clear the Model 3 will be a huge success. EVs are the future of motoring and it makes me feel really positive about the future. For people with a regular commute it requires very little change in habit and EVs are ideal for this type of journey. For people like me who have to do visit various parts of the country on an irregular schedule it requires more preparation and planning, but what I have found is that it is possible and even very rewarding to arrive more relaxed while helping protect the environment.