A Long Journey Home in Electric Vehicle

2023.02.01 02:00  来自云南

His Tesla Model Y purports to have a range of 525 km, but he found that the actual range was about 350 km in downtown Qingdao city. After he entered Liaoning province in northeastern China, he saw the actual range dipping to about 240 km. His original charging plan was totally disrupted.

Charging EVs in extreme weather is a big challenge.

Charging EVs in extreme weather is a big challenge.

BRIJING, Janaury 31 (TMTPOST) -- During the Chinese New Year holidays, migrant workers, professionals working away from their hometown and university students head back for a family reunion. During the past holidays, many chose new energy vehicles as their first choice of transportation mode. Electric vehicles have many advantages, including energy-efficiency, environment-friendliness, subsidies and the most effective mode to avoid travel restrictions. Gas cars are allowed to hit the road only a few days in a week in many cities in China.  

However, EVs have some disadvantages, such as a short range and difficulties in finding a charging station. Against the backdrop of low winter temperatures, the long distance and long lineups in service stops on highways, there are a few poignant stories about their EV trip.

Charging Station out of Service

Mr. Zeng, who preferred to be identified by only his family name, works in Qingdao, eastern China’s Shandong province. He had driven a gas car to his parents’ home in Heilongjiang province in northeastern China. In 2022, he bought his first Tesla and decided to go home on it.

He made many preparations for the trip. He planned the route with the most charging stations and marked each station on the map.   

Since Mr. Zeng set out on January 15, a week before the Chinese New Year’s Day, the highway was not very crowded. The trip was smooth thanks to his meticulous preparations. Although he had to wait two hours for charging, he seized that opportunity to have a break.

As he entered northeastern China, he got a bit upset because of harsh weather.

His Tesla Model Y purports to have a range of 525 km, but he found that actual range was about 350 km in downtown Qingdao city. After he entered Liaoning province in northeastern China, he saw the actual range dipping to about 240 km. His original charging plan was totally disrupted.   

The most nerve-racking moment was when he arrived at a charging station as planned, only to find out it was out of service! He was forced to drive to the next one. Next he saw the remaining range was only 60 km but the next charging pole was over 30 km. Based on the gap between the purported range and the actual range, he knew there was little hope to make it to the next one before the battery was dead.

In a panic, he exited the highway and drove to a city over ten kilometers away. When he got to the charging pole in the city, the remaining range on his dashboard was less than 10 km. He said: “At that moment, I thought of tips I read before I set out for the journey home:You can always look for a charging station in a nearby city. I did not know whether I could find it. But I had no other option. I tried and it turned out to be good.”  

In the end, Mr. Zeng charged his Tesla for 14 times and spent a total of 699 yuan during his trip from Qingdao to Heilongjiang province. He had rented a SUV to go home, which cost him gas fees of 900 to 1,000 yuan. Although he saved 200 to 300 yuan, the experience of searching for a charging pole was not pleasant by any means. He suggested people to choose non-EVs as their mode of transportation for a long-distance journey. 

Many EV owners have similar experiences like Mr. Zeng’s. In winter, a 500- kilometer range on the dashboard can be less than 250 km in the real world, even without air conditioning on. 

Many may wonder whether there is any progress in the range after years of technological advancement. Industry insiders say that the range in winter would be less than that on the dashboard as long as the battery is made of lithium ion. With falling temperatures, the activity of lithium ions would be reduced and thus the actual range would shrink. In theory a range on the dashboard is achievable in terms of materials and technologies but the cost can be very high and hardly affordable to consumers. Thus in practice almost all EV makers try to find a compromise between the cost and the function.

In the past few years, battery technologies have been improved in two aspects. First, the low-temperature start feature has been boosted. Many EVs could not be started when the temperature fell below minus 20 degrees Celsius. Now with self-heating, an EV can be started in all weather. Second, battery density has been increased, leading to a longer range. Even if the actual range is only half of that on the dashboard, it is better than a range of dozens of kilometers before.     

An Unexpected Traffic Jam  

If the journey is only 500 to 600 kilometers, would that be safe and sound to drive an EV? Ms. Wu’s experience would answer this question.

Ms. Wu had usually took a high-speed train for a family reunion. But she just got a dog. In order to give the dog a good travel experience, she chose the EV she bought in early 2022. The nominal range was about 500 kilometers but it could run only 300 kilometers in winter.

Given the trip was about 700 kilometers, Ms. Wu thought she would be home after charging twice.

On January 19, she left Wuhan on a fully charged EV. However, she had a congestion in Anhui province and the remaining range on the dashboard was less than 100 kilometers. She drove to the nearest service stop. To her disappointment, one charging pole broke and the other three were slow due to low voltage. Faced with a long line, she decided to try her luck in another charging station.

For the next 30 kilometers, she kept driving at 100 km per hour, trying not to hit the gas pedal or the brake. The air conditioner was off. She used her cellphone to listen to music. Finally she drove to the next service stop but it was being renovated. “The next service area was 40 km away and the remaining range on my dashboard was also 40 km. I was really distraught,” she said.   

Ms. Wu exited the highway to look for a charging pole. Eventually she gave up and called for road emergency assistance. She learned a lesson: she should always have Plan B on the EV.

According to a survey, about a quarter of charging poles were out of service prior to the Chinese New Year. Of the working charging poles, many do not have the function of fast charging.

Industry insiders say that the utilization rates of charging poles is so low that operators would not have any profits. Charging poles in service stations mainly are run by state-owned companies. In return, private charging pole operators are discouraged to enter the market; fewer charging poles lead to a reduced chance of getting profitable. It is a vicious cycle now.  

Frozen Ice on Chassis 

In recent years, supercharging in southern China and battery swaps in northern China are seen as a cure to the headache of the slow battery charging. However, new problems have arisen in extreme weather in northern China.

Ms. Wang, an IT professional in Beijing, drove her NIO EC6 to her hometown in northeastern China.

The nominal range of her NIO EC6 is 430 kilometers but the actual range is only 300 kilometers in the winter of Beijing. Just to play safe, she planned to recharge or swap the battery every 200 kilometers.   

Before getting home, she charged the battery eight times and swapped batteries four times. Each charging cost her 70 to 80 yuan. NIO charging stations were free and 24-hour operating during the Chinese New Year holiday. On the highway from Beijing to Shenyang, there were three battery swapping stations. She could finish swapping batteries in 10 to 15 minutes.  

Due to her careful planning, her trip was smooth except one thing.“If an EV was parked outside for one entire night, the charging speed on the next day could be  as slow as a snail. The efficacy of the charging pole is 120 kw, but it turned out to be 20 kw only,” she cautioned. 

In the days with snowfalls and rain, there was ice on the chassis of an EV. “You have to wait for the melting of ice before the charging. It would delay your trip,” she said. Some EV taxi drivers in northeastern China told TMTPost that they need to use a tool to break the ice or heat and melt it, which prolonged the time for the battery swap to about the same as charging an EV.
Snow can cause many problems to EVs.

Snow can cause many problems to EVs.

A battery swap has emerged as a solution to the shortage of charging poles in northern China in the past one or two years. Unexpectedly the freezing of the snow and water on the chassis has become a roadblock to battery swaps. Perhaps a gas car or a hybrid car is a more realistic choice. That being said, an EV owner witha strong will and a very cautious charging or battery swap plan will get home nonetheless.

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