In less than a day, team Transport Evolved will be heading from our Bristol headquarters in the west of the UK all the way to Stuttgart for the start of the 2014 WAVE Trophy.
Bristol to Stuttgart… in an electric car. A 2011 Nissan LEAF, no less.
Billed as the world’s largest electric car expedition, the WAVE — or World Advanced Vehicle Expedition — will spend seven days winding its way from Stuttgart to Seebodenalp in Switzerland, taking in some of the most beautiful mountain passes the Alps has to offer. And we will be there to report on its progress.
While we’re not competing in the event, we are following the same route, and we’ll be faced with the same challenges and expectations as those competing. That means we drive a 100 per cent electric car — not a range-extended plug-in like the Chevrolet Volt.
And that explains why we’ve spent the last few weeks meticulously planning a route across Europe from Bristol to Stuttgart, via Koblenz in Germany.
The range question — and route planning
One of the biggest challenges we’ve been faced with since agreeing to provide media coverage for the WAVE Trophy is trying to get to grips with the range limitations of our car. Designed primarily as a city car, our Nissan LEAF isn’t exactly the best electric car out there for making cross-European trips. With an ageing battery pack, comfortable range at motorway speeds in this particular LEAF — with 55,000 miles on the clock — is 60 miles. 70 miles is possible, but it requires some eco-minded driving. A little eco-driving here and there may be fun, but for a trip of more than 500 miles, it’s not all that practical.
The solution for us is to try and plan recharging every 50 miles or so. That might seem like overkill, but with some charging networks still terribly unreliable, we’ve decided to err on the side of caution. After all, it’s better to arrive with ten to twenty miles of unused range in case we need to divert to a different charging station than it is to try and push our car to the absolute limit.
In that way, we’ve devised a route primarily made of CHAdeMO DC quick charging stations. Capable of topping up our car’s battery pack from empty to 80 precent full in under 30 minutes, and from empty to full in around 45 minutes, CHAdeMo quick charge stations are the only things making this trip feasible.
Unfortunately however, not all of our charging stops will be quick charging capable locations. That’s because in some areas the fastest charging available is a type 2 charging station — or because quick charging stations aren’t open and available while we’re passing through.
Opening hour restrictions
Imagine if petrol stations weren’t always open — or if you could only drive when shops were open.
That’s the biggest challenge facing us on our trip: some of the charging stations we need to use are only available during office hours, either because they are at dealerships or shopping centres with limited opening hours.
For anyone making a long-distance trip, that’s a big challenge. For us, it’s meant that we’ve had to come up with contingency charging locations for each of the stops on our route, along with calculating a temporal contingency figure into every leg of our journey. Calculated as being twenty per cent of the travel and charging time, we hope this contingency calculation will not only make our route stress free, but ensure we’re not left running massively behind schedule.
In ideal situations, it’s best to only charge an electric car from an official electric car charging station, such as a Type 2 or Type 1 charging station or DC/AC quick charging station. But when travelling across Europe — which has a dizzying array of different domestic and commercial electrical outlets — packing a set of adaptors is essential.
While we haven’t packed a comprehensive set, we’ve made up adaptors which allow us to charge at the maximum possible current in any situation, allowing us to charge at up to 16 amps (3.3 kilowatts) when there isn’t a DC quick charging station available.
At this point, it’s worth noting that automakers don’t recommend you charge using adaptors, using manufacturer-supplied charging cables instead. But when crossing multiple different countries, adaptors have to come into play. In our case, we’ve got adaptors for charging at 3.3 kilowatts from French and German domestic sockets, plus adaptors to charge a 2.3 kilowatts from lower-power Swiss power sockets.
Take a look at the photograph to see if you can name them all.
The route book
These days, we don’t think twice about making a trip by car. But when you’re in an electric car which only ever has at full charge the equivalent of the ’empty tank’ segment of a petrol car, it’s always important to know what challenges lie on the route.
For us, this has meant analysing each segment of the route, using freely-available tools on the Internet to not only plot distance travelled but elevation. That’s because major changes in elevation can have a major impact on the distance it’s possible to travel on a single charge. If your route is mainly downhill, dropping hundreds of feet from start to finish, you can increase your range by ten or maybe even twenty miles over normal conditions. But if the route travels uphill over a similar distance, you can dramatically reduce your car’s range over ‘normal’ conditions.
Here in the UK, we generally don’t think that much about elevation, but when traveling to the Alps, elevation does come into play. As a consequence, we’ve provided elevation profiles for each of the three day trek to the WAVE, and each of the three days spent travelling back.
At our highest, we will climb to over 580 meters on the way to the WAVE, while our trip back from the WAVE will start at more than 1200 meters above sea level.
Plotting distance travelled over altitude will help us not only prepare for hills on our route, but ensure we’ve got enough energy left in the battery pack on each stage to tackle hills and mountains when they arrive.
Time to leave
With our car packed, our route book printed, passports, hotels and charging information prepared, tomorrow marks our departure for the WAVE.
Before we’ve even left, we’ve been given some bad news however: our last rapid charging station in the UK went down this morning, leaving us with a little challenge to find somewhere to charge after getting off the Eurotunnel in Calais, France.
But with multiple charging network cards, smartphone apps and more adaptors than we’d deem healthy, we’re excited and keen to head off.
Throughout our trip, we’ll be liveblogging on Twitter using the hashtag #WAVETrophy2014 — and we’ll also be sharing our live location using Glympse.
If you live en-route and would like to drop by to say hello, please let us know. You can see our proposed route here, although we may deviate from it if situations demand it.
Until then, we’re going to continue packing — and we’ll see you on the road!
Transport Evolved is an official media partner of Wavetrophy. You can view the original post on the Wave Trophy site.
You can also support us directly as a monthly supporting member by visiting Patreon.com.