Driving on electrons

A couple and their all-electric car make a voyage of discovery across Maryland

August 16, 2012|By Jonathan Slade

Like a few thousand other vacationers one Saturday this summer, my wife Novia and I pulled into the crowded parking lot at the end of the boardwalk in Ocean City, looking forward to an afternoon of sun, sand and souvenirs.

Unlike anyone else there, though, we were completing a meandering 520-mile journey that began a few days earlier in the mountains of Western Maryland — a journey in our a fully electric car, a 2012 Nissan Leaf.

That's right, we drove all the way across the state on nothing but electrons.

I'll admit, it wasn't an easy sell. Phrases like "testing available EV infrastructure" should probably not be used when trying to convince your spouse to commit her precious vacation days to a road trip. But Novia, sensing my excitement, relented, and we left from the historic Oakland Train Station at noon on July 23 to head east.

I should mention that I also promised to stop at as many yarn stores as we could, an irresistible lure for my fiberholic wife.

Along the way, we trickle charged at bed and breakfasts and behind the Talbot County Visitor's Center. We visited a vineyard and a cheesemaker, met the owner of a company that installs solar-powered charging stations, and even got invited to a crab feast by another Nissan Leaf owner we happened into while charging at Salisbury University. All in all, the trip was everything the best vacations are — exhilarating at some points, challenging at others, but an adventure that couldn't help but free our minds from the usual daily stresses of work and home.

Having experienced the EV infrastructure across the state firsthand, I thought it only appropriate to offer a few observations from our journey:

•There are very few Level 2, 240-volt charging stations in Western Maryland or on the Eastern Shore. By adding just 5 stations — each at a few thousand dollars per unit — on the main east-west route across the state, Maryland could open up electric vehicle tourism to the mountains and the shore. Currently, the most crucial need for a public charging station is in Easton. Just one unit behind the Talbot County Visitor's Center would allow EV owners to get from Baltimore and Washington to Ocean City with only a few hours of charging. What are EV drivers to do while they wait? Easton is full of wonderful restaurants, a theater, and other places of business just looking for customers. We went to Bannings Tavern for an owbe sandwich and a few Arnie Palmers.

•Western Maryland can be opened up to EV tourism by installing just four Level 2 charging stations: One in Hagerstown along Dual Highway; one in Hancock near the C&O Canal Museum; one in Cumberland near the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad; and one at the historic train station in downtown Oakland. All four of these locations are near restaurants, hotels and other attractions that will keep EV drivers and their families busy during a deep charge.

•Although we were able to charge at Salisbury University and drive to Ocean City, there are currently no Level 2 charging stations in Ocean City itself. Just one additional unit in the parking lot at the south end of the boardwalk would allow EV owners to spend time traveling to businesses up and down Coastal Highway. We decided to park our car and just travel by foot out of fear that we would drain our battery too much and not be able to make it back to Salisbury.

•Anyone attempting to undertake a long distance trip like this should spend some time planning their route. We used PlugShare, Google maps, and Yelp on my wife's iPad, and even called ahead to verify that charging stations were operational and accessible 24-hours a day. Also, never leave home without your 110 volt trickle charger. At the very least, you can knock on somebody's door and beg for a few electrons.

At one point, a gentleman confronted me in a parking lot to say, "Friend, you're not driving a zero emission vehicle. You're driving a emission displacement vehicle." I explained to him that a number of charging stations we plugged into — including Mountain View Solar in Berkeley Springs, Linganore Winecellars in Mt. Airy, and Nexus EnergyHomes on Kent Island — all offset their electricity usage with solar panels. At home, my wife and I now buy 100 percent wind power from Washington Gas Energy Services. So, much of the time we were quite literally riding on sunshine and cruising on the wind.

In the end, it took us five days to get across the state, something that could easily be cut in half with just a few more strategically placed Level 2 chargers. When municipalities and businesses start installing Level 3 chargers (480 volt) that can top off a battery in about 40 minutes, the electric car could even become viable for long distance daily commuting. At $2.80 for an 80-100 mile charge, it just makes sense.

For the record, during our electric road trip across Maryland, we hit three yarn stores — Millicent's in Cumberland, Woolstock in Glyndon, and Yarns and Company in Easton. A fourth, Blue Heron Yarns, was closed, much to my wife's dismay.

Nevertheless, I'm pretty sure that next summer Novia will get to decide what we do for our vacation. And I'm guessing it won't involve the word "infrastructure."

Jonathan Slade and his wife Novia live in Lineboro, Maryland. He is an associate professor of communication and cinema at McDaniel College in Westminster. You can learn more about their journey on Facebook at "The Electric Road Trip Across Maryland."

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