We’ve recently returned from our second expat pilgrimage by electric car, meaning that instead of flying home to Budapest, we drove our Nissan Leaf 40kWh 3000 km across Europe. The first time we drove in mid-winter and in a brand new, unfamiliar car, so despite all intentions, I did not manage to collect all the necessary data to evaluate the impact of our journey. We were more focused on trying to make it. This time, the season was more suitable, and the car and I well acquainted, so here is what we found: We reduced our CO₂ emissions by about 80% even though we have charged in places and during times of day when coal power dominated electricity production. To be able to do the math, I needed the carbon intensity of the electricity at the time of charging, as it does vary greatly. Luckily electricityMap does collect and provide recent data free of charge.
Now let me tell you about the whole experience. The first time around, we had little idea what we were getting ourselves into, so we wanted to leave as little to chance as possible. We used https://abetterrouteplanner.com to create a detailed plan taking everything from outside temperature to wind into consideration, converted it to a spreadsheet, copied the waypoints into Google Maps places for navigation. But, we never considered that some charging stations might not function. This led to running into several broken stations forcing us to hunt for other chargers near enough to reach on the remaining capacity, and occasionally cutting it close. This time around we took a simpler approach and only relied on the PlugShare app, creating a plan for each section of the trip by simply picking chargers within our expected range and validating that those do work based on recent check-ins all within the app. We only pulled up to one faulty charger, and that was a simple oversight. Payment still included a handful of service providers, but we were expecting this, and we only had to register for one new service along the way. Yay! Costs did vary greatly, from free at certain parking lots and our favorite Lidl, to some expensive cases when the reduced charging rate (more on that later) combined with a time-based pricing model really hurt our budget. We probably could have put more effort into hunting for better deals and cheaper chargers, but we chose to optimize for comfort and peace of mind instead.
While the chargers caused few issues, the battery was a different story in the summer’s heat. The 2018 Nissan Leaf has a passively cooled battery pack, so once it gets hot, it takes a very long time to cool down when the outside temperature is also hot. We took the car dealer’s recommendation, and mostly remained between 20% and 80% battery capacity to keep the so-called #rapidgate issue under control, but the battery would heat up nonetheless. Of course, it’s no surprise that a passively cooled battery could not dissipate heat when the asphalt below is regularly radiating back at 40–50°C. And when it got hot the vehicle reduced power output, which just meant slower acceleration, but also charging speed, which really hurt. A charging rate decrease from 35–40kW/h to 10–15kW/h would mean, that to charge the recommended 24kWh (60% of battery capacity), waiting time would go from about 30 min to around 2 hours.
Luckily we could mostly do with less capacity, but still did spend a total of almost 14 hours at 21 rapid chargers actually charging. Of course, we mostly weren’t sitting in the car twiddling our thumbs, instead, whenever possible we went for a walk, got some food, enjoyed ice cream, or did a little shopping.
Overall I’m quite satisfied with how the trip turned out. The best part compared to taking a flight, besides obviously reducing our environmental impact, is that we can pick any route we like, visiting new cities, driving through different regions, visiting friends along the way. As expats, we end up going to Hungary regularly, but that also means not going anywhere else during the holidays due to budget and time considerations. Going on holiday has always meant exploring new places, so this expat life has often left me unsatisfied upon returning. Today I’m all the more excited about making the best of our pilgrimages in good conscience by choosing our electric car.