How My EV Changed My Commute

January 08, 2014

One Vermonter's Experience Getting Off the Beaten Track

Guest post by Lucy Gibson, who commutes from Norwich to work at DuBois & King consulting engineers in Randolph. Lucy can be reached at [email protected]

On July 1, 2013, I took possession of a Nissan LEAF all electric vehicle for a 2 year lease. I did this for all the same reasons that others are choosing EV’s: cost, reducing my carbon footprint, and the great performance of EV’s for their handling and noise levels, but especially because my 35+/- mile commute is expensive and making me feel guilty!

My LEAF has worked very well for my commute, which uses nearly half my battery capacity each way. I am able to plug in my car while at work, partially recharging the battery, so I have plenty of juice in the battery for my trip back home.

Tropical Storm Irene Detours

In September, the route I normally commute on was closed completely for final Irene-related repairs, forcing me to choose among a number of alternate routes. I basically had two options: a longer, flatter “highway” route and a shorter but much hillier “back roads” route. 

As new EV owners tend to do, I worried about my battery levels. The car’s numerous indicators on the dashboard tell you how much energy the vehicle is using, and I am well aware how much energy it takes to climb a steep hill, so would my car make it on a commute with three steep climbs? While I have a phone number for Nissan charging assistance, I wonder how long it would take for someone to find me on a dirt road in Tunbridge, particularly with little or no cell reception on much of the route.

I tried both commute options, traveling at very conservative speeds on the interstate (i.e. 60 mph or less) so the commute times were about the same. Much to my surprise, the longer but flatter route used quite a bit more battery (52%) than the shorter hillier route (35%). My normal commute was somewhere in between these two, using about 45% of the battery each way. I even got higher kWh/mile on the steep hilly route, and save $1 per day in electric costs on my round trip!

But there’s more than money and energy efficiency to consider. My backroads commute was much more engaging and fun. I got to drive on roads that are as scenic and interesting as you would find anywhere, literally right through farms, over covered bridges and through very scenic villages.

Another thing I noticed was the abundance of local shopping opportunities on the back roads route. I pass right by four historic village stores, and I have learned which store has the best fresh eggs, the best wine, my favorite local bread, etc. There are also several seasonal farm stands on the route making farm to table eating very convenient and fun.

I can’t believe I am the first one to discover how more direct, shorter routes can be very beneficial for EV drivers in saving money and being more enjoyable. My backroads commute not only uses less energy and saves me money; it is also more fun, more scenic, and more productive for the local economy! It has allowed me to really get to know each town, each store, and each farm on my route.

Final Thoughts

I have learned firsthand that it is much better to travel at slower speeds on a shorter, more direct route, even if it is very hilly, than on a longer high speed route. My car loses a lot of energy to air resistance when traveling at high speeds. While climbing the hills take a lot of energy, my car regains a portion of it on the way back down the hill. Range anxiety will remain a significant concern of EV drivers until we have many more charging stations in place, so these facts of physics could steer the growing number of EV users to change their travel patterns, and chose the more direct routes for their travel. The fact that our back routes are also scenic, more historic, and provide more unique local shopping opportunities could reinforce changes in travel route choices.