An EV Experience

  • May 18, 2024

It’s hard making use of a battery powered device when it’s hard to keep it charged up. That – rather than the range – is the true (and not-likely-to-be-solved) problem with battery powered devices.

That is, with electric vehicles.

Which are devices. They differ from other devices in that they have to move under their own power, as opposed to a device such as a phone that you carry with you or a laptop that sits on the table. In order to be able to move under their own power, they have to carry it along with them. This takes a very large – and very heavy – battery. Which, of course, takes more power to move it (and you). And that is chiefly why electric vehicles don’t go very far before they run out of power.

But that is not their true limitation. Motorcycles don’t go very far, either. But it is easy to put gas in one, almost anywhere (almost anytime) in two or three minutes. If you ride, you’ll already know all about it. A stop to refuel takes only a little longer than waiting for a long red light.

With a device, it’s not only that the wait is often longer than it takes to get where you were going (in the 30 minutes it takes to partially charge an EV at a “fast” charger, I can drive all the way into town or back) it is often the case that you can’t charge the device.

Either at the “fast” charger or at home. In which case, you might not make it back home. Or dare not risk leaving home – because running out of charge for a device is not like running out of gas. You can’t push three tons of device down the road. And you can’t walk back to the device you left by the side of the road with a can of kilowatts. So you had better always have enough charge to get there and back – plus a margin, for just in case you can’t get a charge.

I had this experience recently in a new device I was test driving. The company that delivers and picks up the vehicles I test drive asked me to please be sure to have the device charged up enough on pick-up day for the driver to be able to drive it at least to the next place to charge it. So I plugged the device in – to my garage’s 120V “Level 1” (common household) outlet on a Tuesday, figuring that by Thursday – pick-up day – the device would have enough charge for the driver to be able to get to the next charger.

But when I checked on the device the following morning, it had not charged at all. Some issue with the charge box thing that is supplied with every EV. It is not just a simple plug with a cord. It is a doohickey that acts as an interface between your outlet and the EV that has to “boot up” properly before it will facilitate the charging process. You don’t just plug in your device. You have to make sure your device is plugged in and that it is actually charging.

My device wasn’t.

So now it’s the day before the driver comes to pick the device up – and the device says it only has about 82 miles of driving range left. Which isn’t very far – or much margin. Keep in mind that point about running out of charge vs. running out of gas.

Given how long it takes to recover any significant charge at home – using a “Level 1” outlet (“Level II” – which is 240 volts, is faster but the problem there is that you have to have the right type of plug to plug in, which varies according to the device you have) I decided to risk the 30 mile drive into town (and back) where there are some “Level III” so-called “fast” chargers where one can recover a partial (80 percent) charge in about 30-60 minutes, depending on the brand of “fast” charger.

But when you get to the “fast” charger, you may not be able to get a charge – because the charger is “out of service.”

This almost never happens with gas stations and even when it does, there’s almost always another gas station not too far away. And when you get to it, the pump nozzle will fit your car’s filler neck. Because all gas pumps have the same type/diameter nozzles.

EV “fast” chargers are EV-specific.

More finely, they are EV brand specific. If you own a device not made by Tesla, your device’s charge receptacle and the “fast” charger’s male end may not mate. In my case, the next-down-the-road “fast” charger was for Rivian devices only and not for BMW devices. So I could not get a charge there, either.

And now I was down to about 60 miles of charge remaining – with the guy coming to pick up the device the next morning. By the time I got home, the device had almost no charge at all remaining – about 31 miles indicated. Had I not been able to get the car’s factory-supplied charge box to “boot up,” I would not have been able to charge the device up sufficiently for the driver to be able to drive it to a “fast” charger. The press fleet management company would have to send a flatbed to haul the device to the charger.

Will this is problem ever be solved? Probably not.

While it’s possible to make a battery with more capacity, the problem of recovering that capacity in anything less than a long time – in comparison with how little time it takes to refill a tank – will persist. Because charging a device is not like filling a tank. It is one thing to pump liquid fuel into an empty container; it is another to draw electricity into a battery. You need more than a high-volume pump. You need an as-yet-undeveloped technology.

Maybe it will be developed, in time. But the fact is it’s not available – and may never be.

The sum of it is that charging a device takes planning, time – and good luck. If any one of the three doesn’t line up, you may find yourself out of luck.

. . .

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