Electric Weekender — “How big a deal is range anxiety?”
Mariua Hot Springs is a place I’d been looking forward to visiting ever since I found out about the Japanese themed onsen, set in the middle of the gorgous Lewis Pass, but after 5 years I’d not found the time or the impetus to go.
Thanks to Yoogo Share; an all-electric car-sharing business in Christchurch central, I had the opportunity to take a brand new 2017 Hyundai Ioniq for a drive to push it’s limits, and at a 400 km round trip, Maruia seemed the perfect destination.
While the Ioniq comes in a variety of models, I’m specifically talking about the all electric 200 km range Ioniq. These cars are flying off the lot and Hyundai loves to tote that they are New Zealand’s best selling new electric vehicle.
This sounded like the dream getway; electric vehicles (EVs) are more powerful and more responsive than most fossil fuel cars, and driving an EV feels like the future — a future where you don’t have to worry about the price of petrol, your tailpipe emissions, or even wasting gas on a personal indulgence. I’d get to drive a silent, non-vibrating piece of future technology. What better way to enjoy the native scenery along New Zealand’s gorgeous State Highway 7?
Yet, at exactly 197 km from Christchurch and a 100 m steep ascent from the nearest Fast charger, Maruia was going to be a challenging test of range. I emailed Maruia Hot Springs, who were more than happy for me to plug my car in to charge during our overnight stay, so that took care of the return journey; we just had to get there.
What is Range Anxiety
One of the most repeated questions you hear, when talking electric vehicles is range. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked about what happens if you get stuck, run out of charge, etc. My standard answer is: Same thing if you ignore the fuel light in your petrol car, you get stuck. The solution is the same too; find somewhere local that has gas (will let you plug in) or call the AA (who can tow you to a charging station).
Just like a petrol car, there are simple things to do to ensure this doesn’t happen to you. All electric cars come with a basic range estimator and a battery percentage indicator. Just like with a petrol car, you may need ‘refuelling’ aka recharging infrastructure in place when traveling long distance.
For those of us who are new to the electric scene, and don’t know how it all works, range can be really complicated and scary that would prevent us from trying new things. Those of us who have already covered this ground that will testify as to how easy it all is, but it can be difficult to convey the whole story simply. I’ve included a really complicated scary chart, that you can ignore, because I’m going to then tell you that it’s a lot easier than it seems.
Let’s start with charging, All EVs can be charged two ways — fast or slow. The type of charge you choose for your vehicle will depend on your circumstances, as each charge style comes with benefits and limitations.
Slow-charging can be done with any standard power socket and is the normal way most people charge their cars at home. Because slow charging usually happens overnight (because that’s when power is cheapest), it doesn’t matter how long it takes to charge. Most owners simply plug their EV in when they get home from work, and in the morning, it’s fully charged ready for their day. The charging speed does depend on your home charging setup so it can vary from a household socket (9 hrs charge time) to a dedicated EV charging station (3hrs charge time).
With Fast Charging, you get power delivered at a super fast rate of 50kwH and can charge a car like a 24kwh Nissan Leaf to 80% in 12 minutes, or the Hyundai Ioniq in 20minutes. You do have to pay more for fast charging, but it’s still less than petrol, at about $10 per 100 km. The only caveat to Fast-charging is that above 80% charge, the charge rate drops off, so fully charging a battery using a fast-charger isn’t the best use of money/time.
So you see, simply by having access to fast charging stations, you can go a lot further.
Luckily, New Zealand is one of the world leaders in Fast-charging infrastructure! Thanks largely to Chargenet, who have made it their mission to install a charger every 75 kms along main routes, we now have over 117 fast chargers around New Zealand, with more coming every month.
There’s a few other technical details, vehicle specifics and edge situations but it boils down to one simple answer:
Charging your car overnight takes no time at all; certainly less time than waiting at a petrol pump because it happens without you being there.
For long distance traveling, EVs can charge at least 100 km every ten minutes; and you can can do this anywhere there is a fast charger.
Hitting the road
We picked up the Ioniq from the Yoogo Share station fully charged and showing well above the average range, with 229 km range available.
Leaving Christchurch via Rangiora, we reached Amberley with 120 km range remaining and 64% battery. We’d traveled 66 km on the road which corresponded to 109 kms used from the initial reading — so why the difference?
Energy usage increases the faster you travel, in fossil fuel cars and EVs. In an EV the range estimator has no idea what your future needs will be and actual output will vary based on speed, climate control, elevation changes and even weather. We were going about 100 km, the heater was set at 20° and we climbed a total of 32 metres in our journey so far. With 120 km left on the battery and Culverden only 42 km away, we had more than enough to make it to the next charger.
We got to Culverden with 51 kms remaining and 29% battery left, so we used about 27 kms ‘more’ than estimated when we left Amberly.
With Chargenet, it really is too easy to ‘refuel’ your car just by plugging in. With a keyfob, or via the app, you start the charge and it will be billed to your credit card. We stopped for a total of 21 minutes, received a 15.9kWh topup to get our battery to 80%, costing a total of $9.23 and taking our estimated range up to 180 kms (or 164 kms with the heater).
From here on out, we were ‘off the beaten track’, or to be more specific, away from the electric highway. Culverden is the last supercharger in these parts and while there are plans, currently there’s only slow charging options from here out. It’s only 35 km to Hanmer Springs but even with a height difference of 184 meters, most EVs will easily make it.
We were going further afield however, and with Maruia being 95 kms away and a climb of 167m, we were going to stretch the limits of the Ioniq range.
I should probably mention that the photos used in this article were taken the next day. We got to Culverden at 7:08pm, it was pitch black, raining and felt a lot less than the 10 degrees the car claimed it was outside.
Pushing the limits
As we drove along the dark and winding road, watching the range indicator drop and playing the game that any EV owner pushing boundaries knows of turning the heater on and off only when absolutely needed, I understood the fear that anyone new to EVs has when they face the unknown. Even having done the research, checked the distance, it’s all too easy to imagine running out somewhere in the middle of nowhere and getting stuck.
The thing is this isn’t a new fear, and aside from being fear of the unknown, it’s one that many a kiwi has faced in the past. Too many of us remember the sign warning of the last gas station for 400 kms. These days, there are a lot more petrol stations and fears of running dry and begging fuel from a farmer are few and far between. Even then, fossil fuel cars still run out of fuel. In 2013, AA stated that they rescued 6500 stranded drivers from empty fuel tanks — and those are just the ones who called AA.
I myself drove out to Hanmer Springs from Christchurch in 2014, assuming I could fuel up after we left the pools. Alas the pools closed at 9pm and the gas station at 7pm. When we called the AA, we were somewhat aggrieved to discover the local gas proprietor was also the roadside rescue service. These days we would have no need to kowtow to tricky service station hours. Any power plug (and the Hanmer Springs Camping ground will happily sell you $5 of power) will charge your EV while you’re at the pools and at the end of the day, you’re away laughing.
Just as our fossil fuel infrastructure has improved in my 20 years of NZ traveling experience, our charging infrastructure will improve as well — and it sure as hell won’t take 20 years. From one fast charger in 2014 to well over one hundred in 2018, I reckon in 5 years we’ll have the roads covered. Chargenet and others are aiming for all journeys to have a charger every 75kms. That means even the humble Nissan Leaf can drive at full speed with the heater and radio blasting with nary a concern.
However in the present, you can take simple precautions when traveling new routes to prevent running flat. You can use Google Maps to check the distance to your destination. Sites like Greenrace and apps like Power Trip will show you the elevation along your route, and sometimes can even predict your energy usage and changing needs. Plugshare, Chargenet and EVRoam will show you where you can find charging stations to top up your battery as needed. Some will say this is too hard, but for most early adopters, the extra planning time on that occasional long distance trip more than makes up for the approximate $0.30lt petrol price equivalent.
For now, it’s these early adopters, who are like brave pioneers pushing the limits and investing in the future of tomorrow, that will help unlock the electric age for the rest of us kiwis.
At 8:45pm, we safely made it to Maruia with 23 kms spare. The total journey was 214 km on the clock.
When we emailed to ask about charging, Maruia were more than kind enough to let us charge off their outdoor extension cable. Maruia Hot Springs is completely off grid and their electricity is actually generated on site from their own Hydro-Electric plant. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if there’s no fast charging infrastructure because you can always plug in to a normal socket and most like Maruia are happy to help.
We plugged in at 9pm and after a great night’s sleep, delicious buffet breakfast and a leisurely dip in their pools, sauna and steam room, I unplugged the car, at 12pm. 15hrs charging at 6amp (lower than the grid supplied 10amp usually found in homes) had netted us a 136 km range, more than enough to get us safely back to the warm embrace of the Culverden fast charger.
Yes there are some edge cases where things get tricky, but I’d be pretty confident in claiming that 90% of your normal commute and drives could be done in an electric vehicle. So long as you have access to a fast charger, it’s really not much hassle. Charging on the way back meant that we stopped at a delightful Culverden cafe to enjoy their desserts, gardens and cat. We finished charging before we were done with cake.
As for the other journeys, the road is open for electric pioneers to explore their constraints and find new and novel places to charge, as we wait for the rest of the charging infrastructure roll out. One day we can tell our kids what it was like before you could drive anywhere and charge anywhere.
We charged for 20 minutes costing $8.90, showing 80% battery and 164 km range and we arrived back at our departure point 101 km away with 83 km remaining and 42%. Elevation taketh away but also it giveth.
We paid about $20 for a 400 km journey. With travel like that, the quintessential kiwi road trip experience is more accessible than ever. Money spent on fuel can go toward supporting local businesses and in time; local energy infrastructure projects. New Zealand spends $7 billion a year on fossil fuel imports and it would do amazing things for our local economy if we can as a nation spend less of that on carbon emissions and increasing our trade deficit. Instead, we can put those dollars to better use, spending more to support local businesses and hastening our 100% renewable energy goal
The road for electric driving is open, it’s up to all of us to take it.
Details & Links
Apart from the comped hire cost of the Yoogo Share car, no other benefit or remuneration was received for this article.