Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Electric cars go cross-country

By Santiago Miret

map of U.S. supercharger nettwork

A common anxiety among potential electric vehicle (EV) drivers is being stranded in the middle of the road with an empty battery and no possibility of recharging. Similarly, another concern is that electric cars do not have enough range to sustain longer road trips.

Tesla Motors' Model S, which has an EPA certified range of about 265 miles , would have to be charged at least once to make a trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a distance of about 380 miles. The range and charging procedures of EVs can make a road trip significantly more unpleasant than a road trip with a gasoline powered car, which has an established refueling infrastructure.

As a result, many established car manufacturers have released hybrid cars, such as the Chevy Volt or the Ford Fusion, which have both a battery and a gasoline-powered engine. Recent EV sales data indicate increasing sales of both models, with pure EV sales increasing 19% from January 2013 to January 2014, and hybrid EVs sales increasing 25%. The current bestseller of EV models is the Nissan Leaf, which sold 1,252 units last January. A breakdown of EV sales by CleanTechnica can be found here .

Realizing that range anxiety is a significant concern among consumers, Tesla Motors decided to build a network of charging stations across the United States. Moreover, Tesla created a Supercharger network comprised of stations in which drivers can recharge a battery faster than regular charging stations.

Tesla claims that the Superchargers can refill a battery in about 20 minutes, yet testers have recorded varying charge times when testing different stations . Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced last week that the company’s Supercharger network is about 80% complete and the company promises that the network will serve about 98% of the U.S. population by next year. The current Supercharger network covered enough ground for Tesla to attempt a record-breaking coast-to-coast road trip with its Model S.

map of U.S. supercharger nettwork

The rally started last Saturday from Los Angeles and ended later in New York City 3,464.5 miles and 76.5 hours later. The entire trip cost 1,197.8 kWh of energy . The Model S had to traverse various adverse driving conditions during its cross-country trip, including blizzards, sand storms, rain and freezing temperatures. The rally attempted to break a Guinness World Record for cross-country energy efficiency, which still has to be verified.

Tesla team in NYC

Tesla’s recent rally drew public attention to the fact that EVs have the ability to last through cross-country road trips, but this was not the first successful trip across the United States with an EV. About a week before the Tesla rally, John and Jill Glenney, a father-daughter duo, traversed the continental U.S. in their Model S in the opposite direction. Their trip took about 5 days; the duo started in New York on Jan. 20 and finished in Los Angeles on Jan. 25, fueling the Model S at 28 Supercharger stations along the way.

Even though both cross-country trips still have to reviewed to be included in the<em> Guinness Book of World Records</em>, I personally will have a Guinness in their honor.

Cross-posted from BERC Blog , published online by the Berkeley Energy & Resources Exchange, a network of UC Berkeley scholars and industry professionals.