July 02, 2018

Test driving a mid-range EV

The Renault Zoe is popular amongst colleagues for driving to meetings. We all like the fast and smooth acceleration, the single pedal driving and the silence (it makes the incorporated Bose sound system sound even better). I decided to take the Zoe on a long trip to Friesland to get first-hand experience, and true range anxiety. To start, the north of the Netherlands has a poor coverage of fast DC chargers along the highways, and the nearest charger from my end destination was still 10 km away.

My journey began with a broken public charger at home. This meant I had to park at the supermarket 800 meters away, in order to start my trip with a full battery. This shows me how I will need my own home charger whenever and if ever I buy my own EV. Then, once I started my trip on Saturday, fully loaded with 3 people and camping gear, everything went smooth. The first 100 km passed in an hour after which my remaining range was 138km, which meant I was still on track. I dropped off my kids and a lot of luggage somewhere halfway, and marked my final destination in the R-link system. Side note: this TomTom powered system is not particularly intuitive. It suggested to add a charging station to the route, but only provided slow charging options off of the highway. Such a detour would slow me down and never get me to the wedding in time.

Fast charging along the Highway

With a small detour, I made it to Fastned Lageveen with around 120km to drive and a remaining range of just 51km. I almost drove over the cables when parking near the charger. Then I took the plug and discovered that the cable is way too short to reach the car. After moving the car, I could finally plug-in. I took the opportunity to eat something and have a coffee. This is what they call a meaningful break!

I was charging at 43kW which equates to around 3,5km per minute. The battery fans were blowing to prevent overheating. So far, all is going great. However, the next day when fast charging, I got an alarming message on the dashboard screen: "battery charging not possible", without any additional information. Google told me I had to do the so called 'raindance'; leave your car locked for at least 6 minutes to allow it to go to sleep and reset itself. Renault cars and electricity still remains to be an awkward combination.

Improving the user experience

Although the car accelerates smoothly, pushing the pedal to 130km/hr instead of 100km/hr will seriously affect the range, which is limited already. The only way to predict your true range is to compare the kilometers you've driven with the remaining range, and then apply this equation to the distance to the final destination in the TomTom. I noticed that I was constantly calculating and juggling with three different numbers and units: percentages, kilometers and kiloWatthours. Luckily I'm good with numbers, but I feel that you shouldn't have to do the math yourself when you are basically driving a computer.

I was glad that we decided to get the Zoe with fast charging options. But since you will rather avoid to use the last 50km of your battery, and fast charging only charges fast below 80% battery charge, you are stuck within the 20% and 80% range. This amounts to an effective range of just 140km. With that range even the Netherlands is a large country!

Due to of the limited range, the time it takes to charge, and the limited availability of charging stations along my route, planning of the trip became the most vital thing. Unfortunately, I had to combine Google maps, TomTom and the FastNed app to plan it. Still I was constantly calculating the numbers myself. There is no official way of planning a round trip, so here is a great opportunity for charging providers to create added value.

There are opportunities for everything to be made a little more user friendly, something that can be confirmed by the very patient Tesla driver I met that spent a good 30 minutes to get his brand new Model S to charge. After trying almost all chargers (and cables) and two phone calls to the helpdesk he finally succeeded in starting a charging session. The operator said it was a problem in the app, most likely. I think that problems like this should be resolved to make the technology more user friendly.

So, is this the future?

Yes! EV-driving is great, but we're not there yet. The battery capacity needs to grow a bit more (this is happening already), fast charging needs to at least triple in speed (also, happening already) and more chargers need to be installed at home and at your destinations. This is a challenge for the coming years, and it feels great to be part of that.

Eric Biermann is Team leader of VanBerlo's Green Team, a team with the ambition to work in the field of energy transition. The team is actively involved in a number of projects, amongst which the chargers for EVBox.

Read more about our original work for EVBox, the The Smart Charging Solution For EVs worldwide, and the consecutive project to build a Level 2 Business Charger for EVBox.

[disclaimer: this article was not sponsored by Renault, Fastned, or any other companies that were mentioned in the text above.]

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