A heavily laden vehicle ready for adventure, pictured on a city street in a mountainous region, with brooding clouds

EV adventuring

Electric Vehicles (EVs) are great for weekend adventures and more. In Australia in 2024, it still requires a little extra planning, but many adventures are achievable with that little extra, and as infrastructure continues to improve, there will be ever less transport planning for ever more adventuring!

For the time being, I’ll run you through my key considerations for planning adventures with an EV.

What needs planning?

I’ve done some work designing EV charging networks, hand-rolling my own navigation solutions for fun, and I’ve used great EV trip-planning tools like A Better Route Planner (ABRP).

From this, I’ve concluded that travelling well-trodden paths in Australia is generally not problematic and requires no special planning in 2024 beyond allowing some extra time in some cases (assuming the EV range is in excess of 200km and you have what you need to find and use chargers). This generally includes trips starting or ending with home or destination charging, trips within cities, and following major highways. (NB your mileage may vary!)

However, many adventure scenarios I considered, such as doing surf to snow in one day, don’t fit that pattern. Where it gets tricky is when you have some or all of the following factors to consider.

Remote destination

Remoteness could be a factor when:

  • your destination is distant from your last charging option on the outward trip,
  • your first charging option on the return trip is distant from your destination, or typically,
  • both, in that accessing your destination requires an out-and-back trip from the nearest charging option.

This is often the case for National Parks in mainland Australia, and many other places that are not in major highway corridors.

A car on a remote dirt road
Koi Kyeunu-ruff (Stirling Ranges), Western Australia

Adventure gear

Strapping any gear such as surfboards, kayaks, skis or snowboards, bikes, cargo boxes, etc, to the roof or rear of your vehicle, or towing a trailer laden with gear will reduce the range of your EV more dramatically than a dinosaur Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicle. This is due to the impact of both increased air resistance when cruising and increased weight when accelerating or ascending.

Off-roading gear such as spare tyres, recovery equipment, etc, also contributes in this category, especially as most EVs don’t include any of this as standard, and it may be most practical to transport it externally.

EVs typically start out much more aerodynamic than ICE vehicles, and the range impact is magnified by the typically greater ICE range headroom. The range reduction could be up to 50% of the typical range of the vehicle, but will vary a lot depending on the actual aerodynamic impact, and the relative weight increase.

Bikes and other gear in behind a car in a carpark
Wukaluwikiwayna (Maria Island), lutruwita (Tasmania)

Altitude

Gaining elevation requires energy from your EV’s battery. The good news is you can recover a lot of it with regenerative braking as you descend, meaning the net difference can be small. The bad news is you can’t go below 0% battery to get to the top, or store above 100% on your descent to the bottom, even if the net result would be in your favour!

The energy required to raise a 2 tonne EV through 1,000m elevation (e.g. approximately Harreitville to Mt Hotham, Gunaikurnai and Taungurung country) is about 20MJ or 5.5kWh, according to the equation for gravitational potential energy U = mgh. EV mass is roughly correlated with battery capacity, so you can expect a 1,000m climb to require approximately 5-10% of your battery capacity (though you can do the calculation for your own vehicle and loading).

A car in sunset light on a snow-covered mountain
Mount Hotham, Gunaikurnai and Taungurung country, Victoria

Weather and road conditions

Many factors could suck additional percentage points of range from your EV. These may not be noticeable when you’re following well-trodden paths, or when driving an ICE vehicle to remote destinations, but may be far more important for remote EV adventures. These factors include:

  • Hot weather requires more energy expended on air conditioning
  • Very cold weather reduces the electrochemical battery performance
  • Rain wetting the road surface increases rolling resistance
  • Rough surfaces, sand, mud, or snow increases rolling resistance
  • Headwinds or crosswinds increase air resistance (though tailwinds reduce!)
Mt Baw Baw, Wurundjeri and Gunaikurnai country, Victoria

Driving style

Higher cruising speeds and more aggressive acceleration result in greater energy consumption for similar trips.

Speed is a big factor. Air resistance increases with the square of speed, so small reductions can have a big effect. Typically having only a single gear, EVs are not operating at their highest drive-train efficiency at highway speeds either. On the other hand, remote destinations may require driving at lower-than-highway speeds for the final leg(s) of the journey, which may be beneficial for range.

Most EVs have an “eco” driving mode that limits acceleration power or cruising speed, or improves drive-train efficiency, or all of these things. Regenerative braking is also very effective when you need to vary your speed. Another key feature is the biological wetware between the steering wheel and headrest, which if used effectively can avoid a lot of unnecessary energy expenditure.

Show me the numbers already!

It’s OK, I understand. Usually by this point I’d have more maths or some Python code or at least a fancy visualisation. I’ll get to the EV adventure planning tool in a moment.

A notebook page full of equations
Calculating the climb done by an e-bike by integrating torque, cadence and speed sensor readings and using bike and rider weight (look Ma, no GPS). Reduces to the gravitational potential energy equation above.

First some commentary on the data. I haven’t conducted any empirical trials, much as I would like to. Instead I’ve relied on triangulating basic physics, similar-but-not-identical trials (there are plenty just a Google away), anecdotal evidence, and heuristics. In the best engineering tradition, I’ve tried to be conservative, and add multiple factors of safety. Maybe I’ll revise this with my own real world data at some point.

EV adventure planning tools

A Better Route Planner (ABRP)

ABRP was my starting point for planning adventures, identifying chargers and accessible ranges. By default, it supports many vehicles, considers elevation, and supports return trips. Especially with premium membership, it allows configuration of other factors like excess weight, speed, weather, etc, or lets you set custom energy consumption – useful for any vehicle customisations you may consider. However, to run multiple scenarios at once, it was easier to transition to a spreadsheet.

Safety Dave’s destination and activity planning spreadsheet

My main tool was a spreadsheet (engineers, rejoice!) that considered:

  • the critical last leg from the closest charger to a remote destination
  • gear that might be carried exterior to the vehicle for that adventure
  • climb to mountain destinations
  • weather factors – mainly hot summer weather or alpine winter
  • a backup option for marginal scenarios should something go wrong (such as a charger out of order, additional range consumed, etc)
  • destination charging as a final option
Spreadsheet for planning EV trips

Please feel free to duplicate this sheet (CC BY-SA 4.0) and use your own scenarios, as what I’ve done is by no means exhaustive and will quickly go out of date.

Destination accessibility isochrones

I also used “isochrones” (distance-based) via Openrouteservice to identify locations within certain ranges of remote destinations, for consideration of safety factors and backup scenarios.

Screenshot of Openrouteservice isochrones from Mount Buller

These isochrones show accessibility from Mount Buller (Taungarung country), which you’ll see in the spreadsheet currently relies on chargers in either Euroa or Yea, right on the edge of the estimated return range. However, with a charger coming to Mansfield, Mount Buller will become much more accessible for EV adventures.

Full of charge for EV adventures

While it might seem overwhelming at first, adventuring in EVs is easily doable and getting easier all the time. During this planning exercise, I first explored the option of getting to Thredbo (Ngarigo country) from Melbourne via Canberra – about a +50% detour – but when I came back to the scenario a week later, a charger had opened in Corryong, supporting the traditional ICE route via the Alpine Way and Dead Horse Gap.

I acknowledge that not every EV has enough spare capacity in terms of space or range to accommodate all of the scenarios in the spreadsheet. However, some of these scenarios have destination charging options too. As the charging network develops, every adventure in every vehicle should become more accessible.

By running these numbers, I gained good confidence that there would be very little compromise on adventuring with certain EVs. Here’s to great EV weekends!


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