On long road trips through the flowers, you don't want to stop to charge, you want it solved where... [+] you sleep
Yesterday, in part One, I described the realities of taking a road trip (meaning car tourism, not all-day long haul driving) in an electric car like a Tesla, with a focus on how you use the high speed superchargers Tesla has been building out along most major highways. These chargers can get you from low to 50% in about 20 minutes, and fill you up from low in 60 to 80 minutes, at least in the model 3. (It's longer in the Model S and X.)
Supercharging makes car tourism possible -- and is necessary for non-stop "get there" driving -- but it still requires you suffer some compromises compared to gasoline life. But to enjoy an electric car, I think it is ideal to not think of it as a very-slow-filling car, but instead one that fills while you do the necessities of life: Sleep, eat or use the toilet. A car that charges while you sleep takes zero time and nothing, not even gasoline, can beat that. There is an option coming which might offer little compromise.
At two hotels on the trip, we discovered (it was not in their hotel listings) regular level 2 chargers at the hotels which were free to guests. Such chargers can provide you with 240 or more miles in a typical overnight stay, which is usually all you need. This is greatly superior to supercharging if you can get it:
Today, though, there are some downsides, though most of them, at their worst, just mean you use the superchargers instead.
Right now, use of hotel chargers is modest, so chances are you will find an available charger. In the future, with contention, there needs to be a way to reserve them. Not getting a charger if you are depending on it can be a problem, though there are usually the following backup plans which are not convenient, tolerable if you don't use them very often:
Note that I mostly refer to car tourism when I say "road trip," not "drive nonstop" long-haul travel. Most tourists don't drive more than 4 hours per day. Nonstop drivers of course must use superchargers in between stops, as well as other solutions. My style of road tourism is unplanned -- you decide where you will stay by where you are at the end of the day.
Tesla offers a map of hotels with "destination charging." Tesla has been installing these charging stations for free, though most of the hotels are more upscale destination hotels, not road-trip motels, at least for now. Tesla requires the hotels provide the electricity free to guests. (Owners of non-Tesla cars can also purchase a $240 adapter that lets them use these free destination chargers.)
As electric cars grow in popularity, I expect a large variety of non-urban motels to offer charging, and reservations. Once it gets to the level that most locations offer a hotel in your price class with that amenity, this should become the more common way to do electric car road trips, with fast chargers only used for rare days where you drive all day. Some hotels will overprice the electricity, but others may continue to offer it for free.
There is a market, in fact, for EVSE (charger) companies to make special EVSEs for use in hotels. Amongst the features such EVSEs would have would be:
Of course, hotels can and do already install chargers in the existing charging networks that can be activated with an app or card.
The goal should always be frictionless charging for the guest, similar to what they do at home. The guest will reserve a room, then drive up to the station which has their name on the screen and plug in. Most cords should reach two parking spaces. Hotel staff could switch cables between the two when one is full if the cars allow it, or guests might be alerted to do that if during their waking hours. In the morning you would just unplug and leave, fully charged.
One option would be a charging station with 4 cords (to reach 4 parking spaces) which would share its power among the 4 cars. This would eliminate the need for a valet to swap plugs. A 100 amp circuit can deliver almost 250 kwh during the typical night parking time at a hotel from 8pm to 9am. If each car can communicate its charge needs with the hotel reservation, or the owner tells them at check-in, the unit could manage how to share the power. With check-in, sleep, breakfast and other activities, most cars spend at least 10 hours parked at the hotel.
Will electricity stay free? Unlike gasoline, which is fiercely competitive, charging stations prices vary hugely today. Sometimes it's free, or free with parking or a room. At home, people pay residential rates, averaging 11 cents/kwh, sometimes less at night. Tesla's superchargers are free to older cars, but today cost around 25 cents/kwh, which starts to approach the price of gasoline for a Toyota Prius. Private parking lot stations bill out 25 to 50 cents, but some are even more, or charge an hourly rate that's not good. People are very picky about gas prices, but today they are not so picky about electricity costs, both because it's lower, and because usually there is no much choice. Ideally hotels should not surcharge more than about 50% over the cost of their power, but we'll see.
As the penetration of electric cars grows, this means a major increase in the electrical service at hotels which meet this demand. That is, until the vehicles have robocar functions, including the ability to drive off in the night and find charging. Robocars will charge in charging centers, using a special connection designed for cars that can position themselves perfectly, or human staff who swap the plugs. For them, the charging rate should be higher than an overnight charger -- that needs too much real estate -- but not as fast as a supercharger which degrades the battery. The charging stations built at hotels may very well be converted to this function since the power is there.
Right now, the best way to find these hotels that I have seen is to use the Plugshare web page. It lets you specify what type of chargers you can use, and it has an "amenity" setting so you can ask to show only chargers with hotels. Do this, and you can quickly note what local hotels have charging near them. Then you can go into your regular hotel search tool and see if the prices and other features of those hotels are suitable for you. Hotel charging is nice, but you are not going to want to pay $40 more for a similar room just for charging if you have supercharging as your backup.
In the future, I hope that hotel search apps will proudly let you say you want to see only hotels with chargers, or at least see it prominently featured. Before booking, you may wish to call to be sure you can reserve the charger. UPDATE April 15: The hotels.com booking site now lets you see only hotels which have charging, however it is not clear if the database is as good as that on Plugshare.
It turns out that almost all RV parks have 50 amp RV service, and most people will travel with a charging adapter capable of fast level 2 charging from that. It's not supercharging, but it will provide 7KW or more. (Teslas come with the right adapter.) The 30 amp only stations won't work, though you can get a converter plug for those if you know what you're doing. You'll only get 2.7KW, good for about 25kw (100 miles) in the night.
For those who like car camping, and who want to travel with the gear in their car, this can be a good solution. RV parks are everywhere and cheap. If this is not your style, give it a pass. Some people have found in Teslas that they can insert an air mattress with the seats down and have decent bedding. They have to clear everything in the trunk, and it's very cozy for two but certainly works for one. They even sell special airbeds designed to fit in these cars. One special reason this works is that electric cars can, while plugged in, keep the heat on inside, silently. So you don't need sleeping bags, just a blanket, and you'll be toasty warm even on very cold nights.
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The Tesla Model 3 is probably too small for this, but the Model X and upcoming Model Y may do it well. They also are able to tow small trailers as an alternative. The car won't heat the trailer but usually the RV Park will have an additional plug for low power to the trailer, enough to run its furnace or a small heater. That might require slowing the charging slightly. The later model 3s will offer a tow-hitch but it's unlikely you could tow a serious trailer any distance. Even an ultra-light pop-up would take away a lot of range.
If you're willing to pitch a tent, you can heat it with an electric heater, saving you the need for bulky sleeping bags, as long as you make sure that your car and the heater don't draw more than 40 amps total. (A heater under 900w will be fine with a Tesla mobile connector which draws at most 32 amps.) Of course, pitching a tent in an RV spot is not as nice and comfy as a motel, but it can save a lot of money.
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