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On the Road: An EV newbie’s trip across Louisiana (Part I)

by on August 29, 2019

Editor's Note: In this three-part series, read Jeff Thigpen’s thoughts on driving the fully electric Nissan Leaf before, during and after his road trip across Louisiana.

SWEPCO Energy Efficiency & Consumer Program Coordinator Jeff Thigpen on the road with the 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus.

Friday, July 5, 2019

I’m a member of SWEPCO’s Energy Efficiency & Consumer Programs team in Shreveport, Louisiana. In an effort to learn more about electric vehicles (EVs) in general, and the Nissan Leaf in particular, SWEPCO is exploring the possibility of leasing a Leaf. Driving an EV on a regular basis will give us hands-on learning experience as well as insight on the current state of EV charging infrastructure in our service territory. Specifically, the lack of charging locations along I-20 and I-49 as well as in our communities, and what this really means for an EV owner.

SWEPCO soon will co-host an Electric Vehicle Charging Corridor Roundtable and wanted to have an EV available for the participants to look over and maybe take for a spin. While trying to secure a lease vehicle, time was quickly running out with the scheduled EV event fast approaching. Through the generosity of Nissan-USA, SWEPCO is being loaned a 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus for a couple of weeks, which will be long enough for us to get past the event. The one catch was the chosen loaner vehicle was sitting in Metairie, LA, some 320 miles from Shreveport.

Being the adventurous type, and finding myself without a lot of adventure lately, I volunteered to be the guinea pig from our group, I mean, the driver for this little excursion. The Leaf Plus is advertised as having a range of up to 226 miles. As I read into this estimate a little further, I found out this number assumes the majority of miles are driven at relatively slow speeds in and around town. This does not exactly match up with what my trip from Metairie to Shreveport will be like. This route is mostly interstate with speed limits of 70 and 75 mph.

Earlier I stated I was of the adventurous type, but I should also say I tend to lean a little toward the side of caution. In my younger days, I had a commercial pilot’s license. Flying requires a lot of preplanning to stay out of trouble. I can see how this trip is going to revive some of the thought processes used in aviation trip planning.

In the internal combustion engine travel world we live in today, we rarely put much thought into the trip itself. We know where we are going, but few other details about the route. We may check the tires and even change the oil before a cross-country trip, but I doubt many of us put any real thought into where we will refuel. There’s even less concern that wherever we are going, fuel might not be readily available or at least a quick refuel stop might not be available.

We just set the GPS and drive until the tank is about dry and we stop for fuel. No thought needed because fuel is always just a short distance ahead of us. Having readily available fueling stations everywhere you look is the primary factor that allows our nation to be so mobile. We make a quick stop for fuel and a break, and we are off down the road again.

Not all trips in an EV are cross-country or cross-state travel. Most EV models can easily serve the role of city commuter and errand-running machine, but at this time, they are not ideal for driving long distances. A true road trip is going to require a little more thought. At least that’s how I see it. Remember, I am an EV newbie and am learning with every step, or push of the pedal.

Since I feel confident that highway speeds will consume energy faster than slow city driving, the true range of the car could be considerably less than the published 226 miles. With no real desire to spend time sitting on the side of the road with a dead battery, waiting for rescue, I am taking a conservative approach and will begin the trip assuming the Leaf Plus will have a true range at highway speeds of about 150 miles. I hope I am underestimating this little car, but I will need to be convinced first.

My trip will begin with me picking up a rental car and driving to Metairie from Shreveport. My plan is to arrive at Premiere Nissan in Metairie around noon on Monday, July 8, 2019. Once I take possession of the Leaf, assuming it will be 100% charged, I intend to drive to the Electrify America charging station at the Walmart in Breaux Bridge, which is 117 miles from Metairie. This is a Level 3 charger, which the Leaf is equipped to plug into. This leg will be on I-10 and I plan to drive the Leaf at 70 mph and closely observe how the battery holds up. If my calculations are correct, I should arrive at this first stop with a little more than 20% of battery life remaining. I expect the charge time at Breaux Bridge to be about an hour.

The second leg of my trip will be up I-49 to Alexandria, LA, to the charging station in the parking lot of the Fairfield Inn. As the only available charging stations in Alexandria are the J1772 Level 2 stations, with assumed charging speeds of 20-25 mph, I will need to be here several hours to get enough charge to get on to Shreveport. I think it could take on a full charge in 4 to 5 hours, but I just do not know yet. Since my day will have started early, I have planned to spend the night and get a full battery charge. I’ll leave for Shreveport first thing Tuesday morning.

The final leg on into Shreveport is about 129 miles. I hope that I can make that jump without issue.

This story originally appeared 7/19/2019 on SWEPCO Now.

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