I had the opportunity to attend the inaugural EVCCON 2011, an Electric Vehicle Conversion Conference in Cape Girardeau Missouri, hosted by Jack Rickard of EVTV fame. With special pricing if you bring an electric vehicle I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to attempt a long distance road trip in an EV. With Tennessee being part of the early adoption of EV charging I thought this 510 mile trip would be possible. It just seemed wrong to drive a gas gulping truck towing an electric vehicle to the electric vehicle conference, hence the genesis of the trip. In summary the convention was terrific and the trip educational as it was challenging taking such a long trip in an EV.
The Trip Out – The general plan was to leave in the evening and drive about 200 miles then stop for the night while gathering a full charge. The next morning drive about 100 miles take a leisurely lunch while getting a full charge then drive the last 200 miles to the show. I was prepared with a plan B, and a plan C which was fortunate because with the current state of EV charging; traveling is a true adventure.
I encountered the first challenge when I stopped at the KOA to stay the first night. I called ahead to verify they had NEMA 14-50 plugs, but for some reason the Tesla charging cable would not work. It seemed that campground had only 120V NEMA 14-50 not 240V service. So after 20 minutes trying a few sites I gave up for plan B. Thank goodness for Nissan and their preparation for the Leaf roll-out. The Nissan of Cookeville, about 20 miles down the road, was generous to let me charge overnight. A hotel was nearby and thus with a good bed and good charging, I was set.
The next day I headed for Nashville where I planned a leisurely lunch and a full charge. The Marriott Airport just had two level 2 chargers and said I could charge, but when I arrived I found out I was their first EV customer and the chargers, installed by BLINK, required an RFID card, something neither I nor the hotel had. The hotel tried their best to get things turned on and cards were to be delivered later in the day. But not having time to wait I pressed on to plan B. Recargo, an internet site that lists charging stations said there was a charger near the stadium downtown. Unfortunately the charger could not be found, so after searching 30 minutes I went to plan C. A local business 7 miles away had a public charger. But this too was a bust as the Tesla and the charger would not communicate on this charge station. By now it is getting late and I’m beginning to worry. There was another Nissan dealer 30 miles away, Mathews Nissan of Clarksville TN who let me charge. Again Nissan was most accommodating and started the charge and went to lunch. After lunch I found my last challenge in that charging was at 208V not 240 so rather than getting the anticipated 24 miles per hour of charge I was getting 19 miles/hour. This transformed my initially planned 4 hour stop into 7 hours as I had to also recoup the miles spent driving in circles in Nashville. I did not want to cut this charge too close as there were NO charging opportunities for the next 170 miles. I charged to 185 miles and with the time now 7pm, I was in for a late night on unfamiliar loads I headed out. I arrived safely in Cape Girardeau, too late for opening welcome, but early enough to get a night’s sleep and a full charge.
EVCCON – The conference was everything an EV enthusiast could hope for. There were more than 25 EV’s present, everything from a strong X prize contender, to simple conversions to several VERY high end custom conversions that looked and drove great. And of course all the owners/builders were there to proudly show off their vehicles and answer most any question. The conference featured many great speakers of the people that have built the industry to the current state of conversions.
The speakers included (and there were many more just check at http://EVTV.ME ):
A special treat was Chris Paine of “Who Killed the Electric Car” who spoke and premiered his new film “Revenge of the Electric Car." Talk about a receptive audience, as both he and the film were a solid hit.
Friday we had additional speakers and in the afternoon an autocross and drag strip were set up so people can see how their conversions performed. Here the Tesla was a solid hit and I made dozens of runs down the tracks with passengers as it seemed everyone wanted a ride.
Saturday had a few additional talks and then an EV parade and car show open to the public. It was amazing to see the large turn out from town with hundreds of people coming to look and ask MANY questions about electric transportation and conversions. The event was concluded with a wonderful dinner along with awards and the winner of the EVTV $20,000 component giveaway. The Tesla won three trophies, fastest street legal ¼ mile at 13.1 @ 100.2 MPH, the fastest autocross time and in the community vote, the best technical build! Additionally we had a group shot displaying the more than 25 electric vehicles that came to the event.
Trip back – I thought the trip back would be easy as I now had experience, WRONG. The first planned leg was to drive 211 miles to the Nashville Airport Marriott which has J-1772 charger working. I started off on the wrong foot by letting a good friend take a test drive after an already late dinner burning about 10 miles of range. Then it began to rain hard, requiring the wipers and defrost (A/C). So my W/mile was noticeably higher and I was not able to make it to Nashville without first stopping for a boost. So at 2 am I stopped at a Nissan dealer for an hour to ensure I made it to the hotel, late, very late, with the “plug-in-now” warning flashing at me. After the short night’s sleep I only had a 60% charge in the morning. So rather than hang out at the hotel, I pressed on another 75 miles to charge at another Nissan near my son’s college. I was able to visit with him and then discuss the merits of electric vehicles with the Nissan sales force. But after 4 hours my patience was waning. I now had enough power to make it to Knoxville at the Electric Power Research Institute where I found a Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt as charging companions. The charging at EPRI was nominally faster at 240V but after 400 miles of driving, and 100 yet to go even 24 miles/hour is SLOW. While that charge rate works great at home, sitting in an empty parking lot as the sun sets, time takes on a much slower dimension. Thank goodness the weather is close to ideal or I may have lost my mind. I pulled into home, at midnight, exactly 24 hours after the start of my return odyssey, with a scant 5 miles of range left. The one good thing is that so far all public charging is at no cost so the trip only cost me $4.25 in fuel costs, not bad for 1020 miles. Even better if you add the 100 miles I went while at the event.
I plan to try the trip again as there have now been many more improvements in public charging in Tennessee. We will see how this years' trip will go.