E.V. Range Anxiety: A Case Study

E.V. Range Anxiety: A Case Study

Electric vehicle sales are booming, and an effort is underway to blanket the country with new charging stations. But despite all that, the nation’s E.V. infrastructure is not ready for prime time.

I recently found this out the hard way.

I’ve been renting electric cars ever since Hertz started offering Teslas as an option a couple of years ago. It had always worked out great. The battery never ran too low during my drives around cities. Whenever I needed to power up, I found one of Tesla’s fast charging stations and was back on the road with a nearly full battery in less than an hour.

But when I arrived in Minneapolis for a reporting trip this summer, the Tesla I had reserved wasn’t available. Instead, the Hertz agent offered me an all-electric Volvo C40 Recharge crossover. I said yes without thinking twice, and was soon on the road.

My destination was 154 miles away: a farm near the South Dakota border, where I was researching a story on innovative farming practices. Unlike my previous E.V. rentals, this would be a bit of a road trip, the kind of long drive through sparsely populated farmland that is a hallmark of American car culture.

The Volvo promised 200 miles in range. I figured I would find a charger along the way, then charge again on the way back. Wrong.

After two hours of driving, the Volvo’s battery was below 50 percent, so I used the car’s built-in software to find a Blink charging station not far ahead, in Clara City, Minn.

Upon arrival, I downloaded the Blink app on my iPhone and offered up my credit card details. Within moments, the Volvo told me it was charging.

A half an hour later, I glanced at the display to check the charging progress. I was dismayed to see that the battery had gained just 2 percent. The Blink charger was not nearly as powerful as the Tesla Superchargers I had used previously, and the Volvo wouldn’t be fully charged until 1 a.m.

That wouldn’t work. I had a meeting in a couple hours. After another 15 minutes, I decided to press on. I would have to find another charger down the road.

When I arrived at the farm, the battery was at 20 percent, which it said would get me about 45 miles. I used the car’s interface to search for another nearby charger and received an unpleasant surprise: the nearest charger was the one I had just left in Clara City. There was nothing else for 50 miles in any direction.

I was nervous, but I also didn’t have to drive for another 15 hours. I was staying at the farm, and asked my host if I could charge the car overnight. He led me to the barn, where I took the Volvo’s charging cable out of the trunk and plugged it into a conventional power outlet, next to a hulking John Deere combine.

The next morning, I checked the battery’s status. It had only gained 20 miles of range overnight. There was no way it was going to have enough power for me to drive back to Minneapolis.

I called Hertz and explained the situation. The customer service representative offered to send a roadside crew out to pick up the car. The tow truck arrived on time and loaded up the C40, and I caught a ride back to the city with a friend. So much for my E.V. road trip.

I’m not the first person to find myself with a low battery and few good charging options. Earlier this year, energy secretary Jennifer Granholm’s caravan struggled to find enough chargers during a road trip meant to highlight the promise of E.V.s. And among electric car owners, range anxiety is a persistent issue, for reasons I now understand.

That might have been the end of the story. But two weeks after the trip, I checked my credit card statement. There was a charge from Hertz for $702.48 emergency roadside service. I called customer service to dispute it, but the representative refused to issue a refund and declined to connect me with a manager.

By this point I had resolved to write about the situation, and reached out to the company’s media hotline for comment. A very attentive public relations person promised to issue a refund. It was the right thing for the company to do, but I fear that had I not been a New York Times reporter, I wouldn’t have been so lucky.

I’m not blameless here. I should have considered the fact that I was driving deep into farm country before opting for an E.V., and I should have checked to make sure there were fast charging stations along the way.

But Hertz deserves some blame too. The company rented me a car that was slow to charge, and did nothing to warn me about the dearth of charging stations outside of Minneapolis. Surprising me with a huge fee poured salt on the wound.

“We are committed to providing an excellent rental experience to our customers and sincerely regret that your experience did not meet our high service standards,” a Hertz representative said in a statement.

Beyond who is to blame, the episode revealed the nascent state of the nation’s charging infrastructure.

Electric vehicles are reliable for shorter hops around major metropolitan areas. And several automakers this year said they would spend $1 billion to build 30,000 new chargers across North America.

But for now, if electric vehicles can’t get me from Minneapolis to the South Dakota border and back, they’re almost certainly not ready for the great American road trip.

It’s not just chargers. Countries will need mightier electric grids to power the world’s growing E.V. fleet and the green energy transition. But many are falling behind on that task, according to a new analysis by the International Energy Agency.

The report estimated that nations will need to build or upgrade roughly 50 million miles of power lines by 2040 if they want to meet their renewable energy goals.

That’s a staggering task, equivalent to nearly doubling the size of the world’s existing electric grids in just two decades. Countries would need to double their investment in transmission lines and other infrastructure, to $600 billion per year by 2030, the report said. Yet with the notable exception of China, investments in grids have been declining in many countries

“It’s like being focused on building the fastest, most beautiful car you possibly can, but then you forget to build the roads for it,” said Fatih Birol, director of the International Energy Agency.

— Brad Plumer

Severe rainfall and winds pelted Britain on Thursday, part of a storm that could prompt flooding and put lives at risk in eastern Scotland, Britain’s national weather service warned.

Forecasters said more than a month’s worth of rain would fall between Thursday and Friday, with some areas expecting 250 millimeters, or 9.8 inches, of rain. That is more than fell in Scotland in the entire month of October last year.

Isabella Kwai

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