By Andy Hampton, August 2019
One of the most commonly expressed concerns about all-electric vehicles is the perceived difficulty to travel long distance. This summer, between August 3rd and 18th I took my family of 4 on a two-week, 5660km, road trip to Quebec, New Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia. I hope that this account of our trip will help to dispel any such fears.
The map below shows the details of the trip, colour coded to represent different stages of the trip, with arrows indicating the stops along the way.
Richmond Hill, ON to Montmagny QC 910 km
Montmagny to nr Shediac, NB 747 km
Sight-seeing trips to PEI and NB 955 km
Shediac area to Ingonish CB 544 km
Ingonish to Antigonish NB 310 km
Antigonish to Halifax NS 215 km
Halifax to Fredericton, NB 550 km
Fredericton to Quebec City 592 km
Quebec City to Richmond Hill, ON 837 km
Total 5,660 km
I’ll discuss below each of these stages, but first a little background on our car, on EV charging and on how I planned for this trip.
2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, fully electric, not hybrid (zero emissions). It has a 60kWh battery.
EPA rated range 383km Note: 2020 model has an increased range of 416kms
All fully electric vehicles derive their power exclusively from their batteries and so these need to be regularly re-charged, just as the gas tank of a conventional car needs to be re-filled. There are three levels of charging.
Level 1 (L1) Charging
This is charging using a regular 110V outlet and is very slow. A full charge on our car would take 56 hours. Tends to be used as a last resort, although if used overnight can add about 70kms of range.
Level 2 (L2) Charging
This is charging using an EV charging station on a 240V circuit. A full charge on our car takes about 9 hours. An EV owner will typically install a home charging station and use this for most of their daily charging.
Level 3 (L3) Charging
This is the fastest form of charging and is most suited for travel away from home. One major difference from L2 is that it is DC rather than AC. Specialized charging stations are built in convenient locations near highways – such as rest areas, shopping malls etc. A full charge on our car would take about 1.5 hours, depending on the speed of the charger. However, a typical charge on a long trip would add about 50% (or approx. 200kms) and would take about 40 minutes. As technology improves new and faster charging stations are coming out all the time.
The locations of these chargers are published on various apps, the most widely used of which is Plugshare. This app allows owners to locate chargers, plan trips and drivers are encouraged to check-in and out when using a charger so that others can see if the charger is working and whether it is available. It is also possible to contact another owner through the app to see when they will finish their charge. The EV community has really embraced this app and it is an essential tool on long trips. Other apps give equivalent functionality for chargers belonging to a particular network, such a Flo or ChargePoint.
Planning for the trip
Although long distance travel by EV is very doable, it does take some planning. Factors to consider are
Are there L3 charging stations along my route? What about alternative routes?
What power/speed are they?
Is there evidence that they are currently working (PlugShare Check-ins in the last few days)
How busy are they? Are they likely to be occupied when I get there?
What is the distance to the next charging station if this one happens to be out of order?
Can I get to the next charging station on an 80% charged battery? (The speed of charging reduces dramatically after the battery reaches 80%. Most of the fastest L3 charging stations cost about $15/hr so it most efficient in terms of time and cost to only charge to 80%)
Can I stay at hotels which have an L2 charger (for an overnight charge), or have an L3 charger nearby?
I developed a charging plan spreadsheet for the routes to Montmagny and Shediac which focused on 50kW charging stations which were less than 250kms apart and which had good reviews and recent usage on PlugShare. Quebec and New Brunswick have an excellent charging infrastructure, whereas the stretch along the 401 between the GTA and Montreal is more of a challenge, with fewer options. Therefore, I ensured that I had backup options for each charging station, to avoid outages or long waits.
For the other sections of the trip I left it a little less planned, although I did add the locations of the best chargers onto a Google map so I had an idea of which ones would be best.
As it turned out the planning paid off and I never encountered an out-of-service charging station and only had two waits of over 15 minutes on the entire trip (the longest being 20 minutes). So, I would highly recommend investing a little time in planning your charging destinations to ensure a smooth trip.
Please note - Chargers are enabled by using their respective app or by an RFID card which you can load money onto. Therefore, it is essential to download the apps and obtain the free RFID card (through their app) from the most popular networks – such as Flo, Chargepoint and MyEVRoute – before you head out on the trip. You will then also need to load some money onto the cards (similar to a transit or coffee card). The RFID cards will be essential if you happen to have a dead cell phone battery or there is no cell service at the charging station.
Stage 1: Richmond Hill, ON to Montmagny, QC
It’s about a 2-day drive to New Brunswick so we decided that we would stay overnight in Montmagny QC, which is about at the halfway point (910kms). We were travelling with friends, who have a gas car, so arranged we would meet them part way at Karting St-Zotique, which would allow the kids to have a fun activity to break the journey. We knew that it would take us a little longer than our friends, so we set off about 2 hours before them. We did a couple of charges, one in Belleville and one in Prescott, which is a little after Brockville. For the first charge we had to wait about 5 minutes for some very nice people in a Kona to finish their charge, and then in Prescott we waited about 15 minutes. There was only one other time on the entire trip that we had to wait for a charger. Each charge took about 40 minutes and replenished the battery to about 75% full.
We reached Karting St-Zotique around 4pm and met up with our friends. While the kids were having fun on the go-karts (consuming fossil fuels – oops!), I took the car off for a charge, one intersection back down the 401 and I returned just on time as they came back out. We then continued to Montmagny, with one charge mid route along the Trans-Canada highway.
Stage 2: Montmagny, QC to cottage near Shediac, NB
There was a fast charger near to our hotel in Montmagny, so I got up early before breakfast the next morning and got a 40 minute charge to get us on our way.
We then set off to complete the remaining 710km to the cottage on the coast near Shediac NB that would be home for the next week. I’d planned to charge at Riviere-du-Loop and Grand Falls so we made 40-50 minute pit stops at each of these, one of which served as a lunch stop. Then we dropped in on some friends of our friends in Fredericton to look at their new Tesla Model 3 and their energy efficient “passive house”. We got to the cottage around 8pm in the evening by which time our friends had already arrived, perhaps an hour or so ahead of us.
So, the 1600km journey up was really very easy and trouble free. Charging the car proved to be very little of an inconvenience, in fact I think we all quite enjoyed the frequent breaks and chances to stretch our legs.
Stage 3: Shediac and area
During this period we just relaxed at the cottage, enjoyed the beautiful beach and took some day trips to various places – PEI, the Fundy National Park and the Hopewell Rocks. One disappointment was that there wasn’t a convenient outlet at the cottage where I could plug the car in for L1 “trickle charging” while we were around the cottage or overnight. We could possibly have run the cable through an open window, but didn’t want to let bugs in. However, I had already established that there was a L3 charger in Shediac so I used that regularly and combined grocery or other sightseeing trips with charging. Another option was an L2 charger at Parlee beach just down the road, but we didn’t end up using that one at all. For our trip to PEI – “Green Gables” and the “Anne of Green Gables” show in Charlottetown (to the particular delight of our 11-year-old daughter) – we used the L2 charger in the Delta hotel parking garage in Charlottetown. This was perfect as we got a charge during dinner and the show and returned to a car with a full battery. For Fundy National Park we had an unexpected find of a L2 charger in the car park, so that served our needs there. During this period, we clocked up almost 1,000 additional kms.
Stage 4: Shediac to Ingonish
On August 11th I did my usual pre-breakfast charge in Shediac and then we bid farewell to our friends who were staying on at the cottage for another week and headed out, destination Ingonish Cape Breton, about 550kms away. Our first charging stop was in Masstown at a service station with a wonderful market and great lobster rolls for lunch, a stop I would highly recommend whether you need a charge or not! We then charged in Monastey NS, which is a great location to get a full “tank” before heading over to Cape Breton. There is only one fast charger on Cape Breton, in Baddeck, but it is centrally located so that’s a good location to serve the whole island, although a few more would always be better! We wanted to make sure we arrived at our destination during daylight so that we could take in the full delights of the Cabot Trail and get in an evening hike, so we decided to make it a short stop at Baddeck and charged the car to about 53%, with 200-250kms of range. We arrived in Ingonish somewhere around 6pm but now ran into the only charging issue we had on the entire trip. Our hotel had an L2 charger (one of the reasons for choosing that hotel) so we expected that would be sufficient. However, it turned out that the charger at the hotel wouldn’t work so we ended up just plugging into a regular outlet for a slow overnight L1 charge. Putting that out of our mind for the moment we quickly dropped off our things and had a nice evening hike and home cooked pasta dinner in our hotel apartment. There was a great view from our room.
Stage 5: Ingonish to Antigonish
Our plan was to set off with a full battery and take the Cabot Trail around to Pleasant Bay and hike the Skyline Trail before heading on to a hotel in Antigonish back on the mainland. However, our range wasn’t quite enough for that and we ended up needing to get an L2 charge at Laurie’s Motor Inn in Chetticamp. There was a Tesla Model S charging when we arrived but fortunately the owner was just finishing as we got there and we had a nice EV chat before he moved his car for us. In the end it all worked out – we had a beautiful hike (on which we saw a mother moose and her two calves, the nature highlight of the trip) and a nice meal in Chetticamp while the car was charging.
We then got a good L3 charge in Monastery, the second use we made of this charger, and arrived in Antigonish quite late around 11pm. We plugged in to the L2 charger at the hotel and settled in for a good night’s sleep.
Stage 6: Antigonish to Halifax
The plan for August 13th was a 215km drive to Halifax and spend the day sightseeing in town and satisfying small peoples’ desire for “Cows” ice cream (ok and larger people, I admit it!). The good news was that the drive was trouble free, the bad news was that ice cream was almost sold out, so we would have to wait until Quebec city before we got a really good Cows experience. The day was spent seeing the sights, we especially enjoyed the guided tour of the Citadel, while the car charged on L2 at a parking garage in town. Our hotel was the Marriott Harbourfront (free on points!) so we had a delightful experience strolling the boardwalk in the evening, sampling the one remaining flavor from Cows!
Stage 7: Halifax to Fredericton
On August 14th the plan was to head out in the morning to Peggy’s Cove, with a battery still full from the previous day’s charging and then continue to Fredericton. Peggy’s Cove proved to be a hellish scene of full parking lots, too many tourists and coaches, so we didn’t even stop but instead explored the coast and found a beautiful little cove where we skimmed stones and enjoyed the tranquility. The journey to Fredericton was trouble free, with three 40-minute charging stops along the way. One of these was at a new Petro Canada charging station which charged at 56kW, the fastest I have ever experienced and happened to be free during an initial promotional period (ending in fall 2019). I look forward to many more of these Petro Canada chargers in the future
Stage 8: Fredericton to Quebec City
There was no charger at our hotel in Fredericton, so I did a pre-breakfast L3 charge in downtown Fredericton and while that was happening checked out a free L2 charger that I planned to use later in the day. This proved to be a very handy charger – it was very close to the historic Garrison district, free to charge and free to park - perfect! We took advantage of this later in the morning while we explored. The unusual highlight of the morning was seeing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who, completely unknown to us, was visiting Fredericton for the Acadian Festival and to talk about issues regarding Federal funding for flooding. There was quite a commotion as a convoy arrived downtown as we happened to be watching the view of the river from the second floor of the public library. Our son Simon was wearing a “Canada” tee-shirt so we thought it might make a good photo opportunity for Trudeau, so we dashed down, but unfortunately, he was just stepping into his car as we got within a few yards from him.
After completing our, rather more conventional, sight-seeing we set out on the nearly 600km stretch to Quebec City. About 6 hours later, after 3 charges along the way and a short ferry ride from Levis, we arrived at our Airbnb in Quebec City.
We spent August 16th-18th in Quebec City but didn’t use the car at all as there was a very convenient bus service from near our Airbnb, which got us around without any parking headaches. Quebec City is such a lovely place to visit in summer and we had a great time and some delicious food, not least of which was the full-blown Cows ice-cream experience, finally! On this visit we also heard of a couple of free events that were both spectacular. First was the free circus show by FLIP Fabrique which runs daily (except Mondays) from July 16th to September 1st every year. It was a breathtaking performance and hard to believe that there was no entrance fee. The other was the free fireworks show on the St Lawrence in front of Chateau Frontenac, probably the best fireworks I have ever seen.
Stage 9: Quebec City to Richmond Hill
On the morning of August 18th, we had to face the fact that our vacation was over and started the 837-kilometer trip back home. I had already got an 80% charge before breakfast, so we were in good shape. For the route back we had decided to take the route on the north side of the St Lawrence, through Montreal, which would be a little slower but a change of scenery from the route up. I hadn’t put a lot of planning into the route back, so we played it by ear. The province of Quebec has so many charging stations that it is really very easy, but Ontario is a different story. We did two charges in Quebec and then when we reached Kingston decided to stop for dinner and get an L3 charge at the same time, expecting to need another charge further on. However, due to my wife Shan’s excellent, energy-efficient driving skills we made it all the way from Kingston to home (270kms) with no subsequent charging stop and still had 25% left in the battery on reaching home.
Our total charging costs for the trip were $297.00.
Our trip was about 50/50 highway and city. Had we taken our 2.5L Subaru Outback we would have consumed about 450 litres of gas. Gas prices in the Provinces we drove through currently range from around $1.14 per litre to $1.20 per litre, so we’ll take an average of $1.17 per litre. This means fuel consumption in a gas car would have been about $525.00, giving a saving of about $225.00 for driving an EV, almost a 50% saving *.
* It would have been possible for further savings by charging at free chargers – for example at Chevrolet dealerships – however these tend to be 24kW rather than 50kW so we chose speed rather than economy.
With a little planning, there is nothing to prevent using an EV for a very long road trip. The other thing to remember about an EV is that they are fabulous to drive! They have astonishing acceleration, are an extremely smooth ride and very relaxing to drive as you can use one peddle driving for almost the whole time. Since returning from our trip I used our gas car for a cottage weekend (that needed a little more luggage room than is available in our Bolt) and found the experience sluggish and frustrating!
Hopefully I have sparked your interest in EVs – if so I’d highly recommend that you visit the great people at the EV Discovery Centre for test drives and lots more information.