Electric to IFA - Special Coverage
Travelling to the IFA Trade show in Berlin by only Electric Means
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Chapter 2 T- 2 weeks -Planning the trip
Are you spending more time planning this trip with an EV than you would in a normal car? That is what the sceptic asked and, although I know a lot of people in the Electric Vehicle (EV) community will take issue with the normal car part, the rest of the question is reasonable.
Usually when planning the trip I only worry about our overnight stops not where we are going to stop to 're-fuel' in between. We know that there are going to be lots of filling stations en-route at the European equivalents of service stations. To be fair a little more planning might have avoided our afforementioned petrol range anxiety (see Chapter 1) but it is not something most people do - they just plan the route.
As I said before the aim in this trip is to match our last petrol based trip as close as possible. Then we stopped at Ghent, Hannover and finally Berlin.
The Tesla's width meant the place we stayed at Ghent was out of the running. To be honest we had only really stayed there as we had been forced to take a late evening Eurotunnel crossing and we didn't want to have to run too far from the port of entry. This time we had been able to get an earlier 11:20 crossing. One thing to note we had been advised to book the Model X as a tall vehicle not so much for its height - although it would mean the falcon wing doors could open fully - but for the width. We didn't want to go scratching the rims. This does limit the booking availability though as you will be sharing with the lorries. Interestingly one of the things I had heard when I mentioned starting this challenge is that you won't be able to take an Electric Car through the tunnel. This is totally untrue. Not only do Eurotunnel allow EVs they even have charging for them at the terminal building.
Not wanting to risk missing that earlier 11:20 crossing, and potentially to give us time to make use of that charge at the Eurostar terminal, we decided the team would stay overnight nearby.
So on the Saturday we would travel from the office in Peterborough to Ashford in Kent. Actually slightly longer than that as we will have to pick the Model X up in London first. Now it may seem crazy to go back to Peterborough from London to go to Ashford but logistically it makes sense to load the car in Peterborough. Otherwise we would have had to carry lots of stuff on the train to London and then across London to the car pickup.
Anyway it is an electric car and will be fully charged when we get it - so potentially it is not costing us anything to do this more tortuous routing.
I didn't really pay any special attention when booking the hotel in Ashford but when its info popped up I noticed it had a number of level 2 chargers for guests (although at a cost.) Talking to them they say most nights 1 or 2 are taken but they usually have spares. This is fine at the moment when EV adoption is growing but not yet truly mainstream but I can see more of an issue when they do become mainstream. Then I would suspect an awful lot more guest will want a charger. I'm guessing Hotels, who are used to handling reservations and good at monetising things, will add electric charging to the things you book with your room like breakfast.
We shouldn't actually need to charge at the hotel as there are Superchargers at the terminal but I am slighly concerned that all those may be in use as it is the bank holiday weekend we are travelling on.
Now talking of Bank Holiday Weekends - the Monday is a public holiday for the team and although everyone has agreed to travel on that day we are going to try to keep travelling to a minimum whilst still keeping the tuesday journey to Berlin a reasonable length.
We started looking at the trip a little backwards deciding the monday stopping point first as we needed to ensure we could drive the tuesday leg within the restrictions I previously mentioned.
We decided to stop a little earlier than Hannover on the monday and eventually agreed on Münster. We had stayed there on a previous trip and knew that there to Berlin was a reasonable driving distance from there. Having decided that, we all agreed that the hotel on the outskirts we had stayed at previously was our first choice. I was again suprised to find this not only had chargers but indeed had Tesla Destination chargers - now these are more like a home charger than the SuperCharger speeds but an overnight top up on one of these would give us a full battery to start the long trip the next day.
Now I got lucky here. I didn't plan for the destination charger but in discussions with Tesla owners I've come to realise that a lot of them actively seek out places to stay that have Tesla destination chargers. This is obviously beneficial for the Hotels as I'm guessing it will gain some guests they wouldn't have otherwise got.
Having got lucky here I did actively look for a hotel with destination charger near the Ghent/Antwerp area for the Sunday night but alas they were either outside the trip budget or fully booked. What we did find was a place in Antwerp opposite a Parking Garage which claimed to have a Type 2 charger which could potentially be used overnight. We also have the option of Supercharging at Antwerp although we probably wouldn't want to spend 20 minutes charging that early in our journey.
How was I looking for these chargers? Well there are a number of really useful resources. Tesla themselves list chargers on their site - both destination and Superchargers - but they obviously just list their own. For other chargers in the UK you can use ZapMap both on their website and app. Also not just in the UK but widely into Europe you can use the Plugshare app which is excellent. Finally I discovered the Antwerp chargers on PlugSurf which is mainly European but now showing a few sites in the UK- this latter app also allows for paying for a lot of different charger networks in Europe. This is handy as although the EU has an edict that chargers must start accepting Debit Cards for payment, they don't all do this yet and charging can be a maze of knowing what network you are charging at and what card or app to use. Compared to the ease of nat a petrol station this seems amazingly and unreasonably complex. If anything on our upcoming journey could have provided ammo for our sceptics it was potentially this. It is definitely something that needs rapidly sorting if EVs are to become mainstream.
At least by going for the Tesla we had use of the Supercharger network and would avoid a lot of these complexities.
So so far our journey is looking like this
Saturday = Pickup car in London, London to Peterborough, Pack the car, Peterborough to Ashford - stay overnight
Sunday = Ashford to Eurotunnel to Calais. Calais to Antwerp.
Monday = Antwerp to Münster
Tuesday = Münster to Berlin
So lets look at the Saturday first
London to Peterborough is approxinately 93 miles and anything up to a couple of hours drive
Peterborough to Ashford is approx 133 miles and probably a few hours driving. I have had one very scary drive take 7 hours and was running very low on fuel at the end having been stuck in traffic jams approaching the Dartford crossing (it was a cold day and despite being stationary we couldn't stop the car for long without freezing). Hopefully this won't take as long but I'm told that even if it did the range loss in a traffic jam is a lot, lot, less in an EV than a Internal Combustion Engine car (ICE for short)
Now put those two journeys together and we have 226 miles which is getting close to the rated range of the Model X and depending on conditions may be a bit long for it without charging.
I'm not going to panic, however, as I know I've seen Tesla Superchargers at the Birchanger Services on the M11 which is where we often break the journey anyway. Despite being a very expensive place for coffee it is just very convenient. I suspect it will be a quick charge, whilst having a comfort and tea break, and then on our way.
One tip I've learnt from the EV community and first saw on a Youtube Vlog by a UK Tesla Driver, James Cook, is to ABC - Always Be Charging. Basically whenever you stop for natural break if you have a chance then plug your car in. Even if for a few minutes the range additions add up. Now this is probably again a lot easier with the convenience of the Supercharger network as there is no need to dig out the relevant App or Card to charge.
Once we have the Model X I know I can check this charging time very easilly as the maps have the feature of allowing you to plan a journey with SuperChargers where needed and will tell you how long to charge at them to reach your destination.
One thing I quickly learnt looking at the Tesla Map was that there were a lot of SuperChargers along our route to Berlin. To be honest far more than I expected. I was aware that Tesla had been taking the building out of this network very seriously but it had certainly grown a lot since the last time I looked. Whilst perhaps not as common as motorway service stations they are getting closer.
I suspect I was doing too much planning now but I wanted to reassure my team that there wouldn't be any problem getting to our destination without running out of charge and, for my benefit, I wanted to see how the stops would pan out with our normal stopping practice.
On our last journey for example we made 2 stops between Hannover and Berlin. One of these was for lunch around an hour. The other a much shorter comfort and coffee break lasting about 15 minutes. To be honest we all agreed we should have had a longer break.
I wasn't really worried about the Sunday, 182 mile, or Monday 164 mile trips but the tuesday trip of roughly 300 miles was going to be interesting especially as a lot of that would be on Autobahns and I know that higher speed equals faster battery usage. If I had the car I could have plugged the route in and got a charge estimate at each of the recommended superchargers, but we won't have the car until the saturday of the trip and I really would like to know now.
Fortunately there is a really useful website which a number of the FullyCharged Live Tesla owning crowd recommended - evtripplanner.com. This site, which has some features still in beta, allows you to select your vehicle (almost all Teslas are listed and some others like the Nissan leaf) and then plan a route either Direct or through Superchargers (obviously this is primarilly aimed at Tesla owners)
You can set some parameters like the charge you think you will start with and how much you want to end up with as a minimum at each supercharger and destination stop(the buffer charge). You can also add in a payload and guess the windspeed.
If you route through Superchargers it will show you suggested stop points (the green T shields) it will also tell you the total driving distance, journey time and how long you need to charge.
One final parameter you can set is the spede mulitplier. At 1 this is saying you will drive at the average speed of the route as per Google's data. You can tweak this in our exaple we pusehed this up to 1.2 or 20% above average speed to allow for a heavy foot on the Autobahn.
The Steps tab gives you a step by step routing and includes charger stops and how long they will take.
You can cut the Narrative detail down by using the slider at the top to eliminate short steps.
Now occasionally you do get some odd occurences where it will say you need to stop at a SuperCharger but there is no need to charge there. I still found this useful information as it gives you the time it will take to reach that SuperCharger. In our case it showed that we would have around an hour and half between each stop if we made two SuperCharger stops en-route. This seems about natural. So assuming a reasonably early morning start we could stop for a morning coffee at the frst recommended SuperCharger before potentially having lunch at the second stop. I don't think I actually needed to do this planning but it was reassuring.
One other thing you can do is click on a SuperCharger on the map and see more detail about it - unfortunately this is very tricky with a planned route as the route pins obscure the SuperCharger shields making it impossible to click on them. Fortunately you can go to the horses mouth to get this information - EVTripPlanner uses Tesla's SuperCharger page to show information and it is easy enough to search out the relevant SuperChargers there.
This is one bit of planning that might be worthwhile as it will tell you what facilities are at the SuperCharger. One thing to note that, although it is now becoming more common, not all SuperChargers are at Motorway Services or rest stops. For example in Belgium most are in the grounds of hotels. Where they are in hotel ground Tesla will have done a deal to use the hotel facilities. The facilities are going to vary though so it might be good to check what is available if you are planning to stop for a meal at one. Our second planned stop seems to have plenty of optons for food so it looks like that will be our lunch stop which hopefully means we can get to Berlin with plenty of charge. Which is good because Berlin was pretty much fully booked for IFA week and we didn't have much choice for hotels near IFA. This meant we are at a Hotel without a charger so arriving with a reasonable charge level will be helpful.
One thing that I hadn't thought of nearly caught us out. By pure chance I found out that the Antwerp stopover point is within the new Antwerp Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). This is a zone where only vehicles meeting certain emission standards are allowed in. Obviously the Model X being Zero emissions would meet those standards so I thought no problem, but no it is not that simple. You can't just drive a low emission vehicle into Antwerp it has to be registered otherwise you will get a fine. I can see this being a real issue for people with UK hire cars. It is not so bad if you own the car as it is pretty easy to register online for free - you do need to submit the vehicle's registration documents. How could we do this though? We don't even know the hire car's reg number let alone have its registration documents. Fortunately the guys at White.Car who we are getting the Tesla from have been absolutely brilliant on this and have agreed to register it for Antwerp and also obtain the sticker needed for Germany.
Yes you read that right -Germany uses a different system to Belgium. In Germany to enter the ever more common ULE Zones in City Centers you need a sticker showing your emission class. Now France also uses a sticker system but the German's don't recognise those. They do recognise the Danish one though.
The stickers are apparently to make enforcement easy and so Police officers don't have to have knowledge of the emission classes of all vehicles. Antwerp doesn't use stickers as enforcement is all number plate recognition based.
It seems crazy that there are so many different systems, especially in the EU. It is definitely something to be aware of when taking any UK vehicle to Europe. It would have been very embarassing to have been fined for getting to our hotel.
So back to that original question - have I done more planning for an Electric Journey than I would have for an ICE based trip. Perhaps yes but some of that was purely to reassure the very sceptics who were asking the question. I suspect I could have got away with just choosing the overnight stop points and winging it with the car navigation showing charging points.
The main thing from the planning is that to me it seems like the EV owners I know are right and this shouldn't be seen as a challenge at all - although I'm sure the sceptics will have something to say about that.