A few months ago, Aakash, an electronics engineer based out of Jaipur, had made plans with his friends to take a long road trip to Longewala, a town in Jaisalmer district on the Indo-Pak border.
While his friends would travel in their IC-engine vehicles, Aakash was planning on driving his Tata Nexon electric vehicle (EV), which has a premium battery range of 312 km. But his friends cancelled on their plans last minute. Aakash, however, was already committed to the trip and had made extensive preparations. Instead of his friends, he would take his wife Kaushal.
Thus, in the wee hours of Christmas morning in 2020, the couple embarked on their nearly 1500 km round trip from Jaipur to Longewala, taking them through Pushkar, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. With little to no hiccups, they completed the trip to Longewala and back in over four days.
“We started the journey from my home in Jaipur to Pushkar, where we stayed overnight and charged the vehicle. From Pushkar, we went to Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and then Longewala town on the Indo-Pak border,” says Aakash, the founder of Aha 3D innovations which designs 3D printers.
What’s particularly remarkable about this trip was that they spent approximately only Rs 700 to Rs 800 charging their EV. If Aakash had taken this trip in a conventional IC-engine vehicle, that has an average mileage of 15 km per litre, he would have spent close to Rs 9,000 just on petrol. So, how did Aakash take this long road trip to the Indo-Pak border with barely any hiccups and pay so little to power his EV?
What Do You Need to Take Your EV Out on Long Road Trips?
First off, EV drivers need to ensure that they can charge their vehicle at any given point.
To start off, Aakash made an extension cable and attached it to an electricity meter (electrometer) so that he could measure the electricity consumed and pay the owner of the concerned establishment. During the trip, he also carried an earthing kit because a lot of the hotels and establishments did not have proper earthing.
“EV owners often resort to making DIY earthing kits (an iron rod covered by copper wire is inserted into the ground). As you may know, earthing is the process of protecting against unwarranted spikes of electricity that can cause damage to an appliance or in this case my EV. It’s important that earthing is available for this vehicle. There is an iron rod, which I can pitch into the ground and connect a wire to it. This creates earthing, and then this wire connected to the vehicle charger. During my journey, I discovered more ways of earthing like using a copper plate for water-tank based electrical earthing and clamp for getting earthing with any metal structure like plumbing (GI pipes), hand-pumps, railings, pole, electricity board pits, etc. This was the most important discovery I made and would advise the same for anyone who plans on such road trips,” notes Aakash.
EV drivers need earthing to charge their EVs safely, and most places he came across during this trip didn’t have it. Everywhere, they had to make adjustments to create that earthing. After the trip, he developed an EV travel charging kit, which contains all the necessary elements like the extension cable with an energy meter, an indicator to note if the wiring is okay nor not, an iron rod, a copper plate and any other equipment one needs on long EV road trips, which costs up to approximately Rs 9,878. This product is available on the Aha3D website.
“We also ensured that every 200-odd km, we planned a stop at a hotel or any such establishment to charge the EV. We stayed at hotels, my friend’s home, and desert camps, which we called in advance to ensure that electricity was available. At every place we stopped for the night, we charged our car for a good 10 to 11 hours. Ideally, however, we would charge the EV when the battery hits 15% and therefore require just 8 hours for a full charge,” he says.
In the absolute worst-case scenario, however, if drivers are stranded on the highway with no charge, they can either call up the nearest workshop that can help them tow the car or ask a passing-by vehicle to help with the same. Towing the EV helps charge the vehicle because of a feature called regenerative charging (regen) or tow charging.
“All you need to do is carry your towing rope in your car boot and you can just hail a vehicle ready to tow your car. For every 1km the vehicle is towed, you approximately gain 1.1% charge. If you tow the vehicle for 5 km, you gain 6% of battery charge. Every 1% charge gives you a range of 2.5 km. So, if you tow your vehicle for 5 km, you roughly gain a range of around 15 km in addition to the 5 km you have already towed for,” says Aakash.
Thus, another key part of his EV travel charging kit is the tow rope. Of course, he does not recommend this option and it is to be used only in dire need circumstances. If drivers follow the basic plan, they wouldn’t even face such scenarios.
EVs like Tata Nexon are very predictable and it can tell exactly how many kilometres are left before the battery runs out. If drivers have to travel more than what their car is predicting, then what they can do is adjust their driving pattern to gain more range.
“For example, if you’re driving at 80 kmph, you get a range of 200-220 km. But if you discover that this is not good enough, you can always start driving 40 kmph, and this will increase your range to over 300 km. Therefore, at no point were we stranded. Although the company claims a range of 312 km, if the Tata Nexon is driven at speeds of 90-100 kmph, the battery range drops to about 160 km on a single charge. If they drive like monks at speeds of 40 kmph, they can extend the range to up to 320 km,” observes Aakash.
It really depends on speed and acceleration. When accelerating hard, a driver burns a lot of battery energy. Sudden breaking also eats up a lot of battery. They don’t want to break too hard or often and instead tap into regen (regeneration of energy). EVs have this feature that if a driver is speeding and wants to stop, they can save energy while stopping.
As this article in electrek noted, “Regenerative braking uses an EV’s motor as a generator to convert much of the kinetic energy lost when decelerating back into stored energy in the vehicle’s battery. Then, the next time the car accelerates, it uses much of the energy previously stored from regenerative braking instead of tapping in further to its own energy reserves. It is important to realise that on its own, regenerative braking isn’t a magical range booster for EVs. It doesn’t make EVs more efficient per se.”
To stop an EV, all anyone needs is to let go of the accelerator pedal. In the process, the car will start the process of regenerating energy. If a traffic light is 50 metres ahead, one can just let go of the accelerator and the car will stop while saving energy. Besides fast acceleration, even sudden breaking would result in a loss of battery energy.
“Our biggest challenge emerged while travelling from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer. Along the route, for about five-odd kilometres, the highway was under construction. The road was all sandy and rocky. These conditions put a strain on your EV battery. We wasted something like 10% of energy in covering just these 5 km. As a result, during the following 148 km we were supposed to travel towards our next destination, I only had a battery range for about 118-120 km. To make matters worse, we were travelling at night, around 9.30 pm, and the road was very deserted. There was no fallback option of towing as well,” he recalls.
Instead, they started driving really slowly at around 45-50 kmph and that helped them cover this distance on less charge. However, while returning from Longwala to Jaisalmer, they had sufficient charge and travelled at speeds of 100 kmph on the highway.
Speaking of the fuel cost saved from travelling in an EV, Kaushal says, “If we travelled in an IC-engine vehicle with a mileage of 15 km per litre, we would require approximately 100 litres of petrol to cover the 1500 km round trip. Say, we take the price of petrol at Rs 90/litre, I would have spent Rs 9,000 just on fuel costs. In the EV, we spent about 200 units of electricity to charge it. At Rs 7/unit, it comes to about Rs 1,400, which is barely over 15% of the total fuel costs of travelling in an IC-engine vehicle. In fact, there were certain places, where they didn’t even charge us for the electricity consumed. Out of these 200 units, we paid for only 100 or Rs 700. Our fuel costs, therefore, was in the range of Rs 700 to Rs 800 for the entire trip.”
Confidence with Assistance
Thanks to this trip, Aakash has gained a lot of confidence in taking his EV out on the highways cutting through Jaipur. Since the trip, he has made regular road trips.
“There is a place about 115 km from my house which I visit every weekend, so that’s a round trip of 230 km. On the periphery of Jaipur city, a lot of fast charging stations have emerged particularly along radial highways to Delhi, Ajmer or Kota. Tata Motors has set up these fast charging stations at places where you can charge your EV and hit the highway. Moreover, all the major cities are within a radius of 250 km. I am currently planning a visit to my native village, which is 230 km from Jaipur,” he says.
Before the trip commenced, Aakash had reached out to Amit Goel, a senior manager at Tata Motors, through their informal online network called National EV Owners Club. He asked Amit for routes and technical back-up. In return, Amit supported the couple by lining up commercial workshop owners in the State to support their endeavour.
Having said that, with the right charging infrastructure, the day isn’t far away when travellers hitting the highway on their EVs becomes the norm.
Despite limited charging infrastructure, Aakash and Kaushal managed a 1500 km round trip with ease. Instead of guzzling litres of petrol or diesel and polluting the pristine air outside our cities, maybe next time you can take your EV out too.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)