Can you drive from SW Colorado to Michigan in a 2018 Battery Powered Chevy Bolt? YES YOU CAN! Part I

This post is divided in two parts: PART 1- Why do it? And PART 2 – Answers to the basic questions of how much time did charging add to the trip? What if all the charging stations are taken when you show up? How much did the cost compare to gas?

On August 28 of this year, 2020, the day after Hurricane Laura mowed into Louisiana, my husband and I started a 1,600 mile road trip from Durango, Colorado to Beulah, Michigan driving our all-electric 2018 Chevy Bolt. A couple weeks later, we’d have to turn around and do it again to come home. In 2018, the trip would not have been possible. The fast charging infrastructure we used was installed in 2019 and 2020, so it felt like an adventure.

Iowa, where wind energy produces 42% of the state’s electricity, the highest of any state.
  • How would the costs measure up?
  • Would the charging stations be working and available?
  • How much extra time would it add to the trip?
  • What would we do if we arrived at a charger to find it in use by someone else?

The answers to all these questions will be provided in Part 2 of this post, which will be published a couple days after this one. For now, let’s start with more basic questions:

  • “WHY?” Why would anyone try to do that now?
  • Doesn’t it take SO much longer with the charging stops?
  • I can’t buy an EV until my current car rusts into a pile of dust, so isn’t it a waste of money to buy an all-electric vehicle before the vehicle technology and charging infrastructure are more mature and built up?

I can’t answer those questions for you, but I can tell you a bit about me and why I did it. I graduated in 2000 with a master’s degree in geology, and I’ve worked the past twenty years as an air quality specialist, with seven of those years doing greenhouse gas emission inventories for industry. I’m a scientist at heart. I strongly believe analyzing empirical data, when it’s available, is really good input to base decisions on.  However, also as a scientist, I DO mean to sound alarmist about climate change and Americans’ contribution to it from their traveling habits.

Hurricanes have become stronger worldwide during the past four decades, an analysis of observational data shows, supporting what theory and computer models have long suggested: climate change is making these storms more intense and destructive.

Henry Fountain in the New York Times, May 18, 2020

Global warming is likely worse than you think, because most climate scientists don’t want to sound alarmist. They are even-minded, non-biased scientists, after all. So what you hear about in the media and from the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) reports about climate change are actually the low end, least destructive scenarios of what climate models predict will happen if we continue at our current rate of emitting greenhouse gas emissions. We need to slam the brakes on these emissions.

Massive forest fires in California redden the sky in Michigan, 2,400 miles away, July 8, 2020. You can run, but you can’t hide from the effects of climate change.

We are at the point where government action has taken too long to adequately slow emissions down.  Individual actions such as buying an EV if you can afford it are among the most important, immediate steps we can take to lower our personal greenhouse gas emissions and signal our governments we are ready to step up to the challenge of slowing climate change.

Nope. Didn’t carry all that in on our backs.

As a western US outdoors-loving environmentalist, over the last 25 years this knowledge has been the root of a fair amount of psychological stress for me, triggered by cognitive dissonance. I’ve lost count of the number of river trips I’ve been on, serviced by one or more large pick-up trucks traveling several hundred miles carrying hundreds of pounds of rafts, waterproof boxes of food and gear for groups of up to twenty peoples’ pleasure. And I’m a kayaker! I don’t really need that much gear to go down a wild river, but it sure is nice to have rafts carrying friends and coolers of cold beer along. However, I have also known for more than 25 years how harmful this way of loving the wilderness is. Traveling long distances at high speeds in either cars, trucks or airplanes fueled by fossil fuels creates larger amounts of greenhouse gas than any other thing individuals do.

So in early 2017, when Nissan offered their all-electric, 136-mile range Leaf at a VERY reasonable price, I figured we had to do it. Finally, the world came around to creating electric cars which cut emissions so significantly that regardless of any inconvenience, we had to step up and early adopt.

Sweet lil’ EV. So sweet.

The Leaf was a great commuter car. I was surprised at how nice it was to never have to stop at a gas station as part of my routine. Never. I just plugged it in at home when needed (two or three times a week in my case), and it would charge overnight. When the opportunity to buy a higher range (235 miles) Chevy Bolt came up, we jumped on it. We wanted to use an EV for more of our less frequent, middle-distance trips. We owed the world something for all the fossil-fuel enabled pleasure we’d taken. We could finally start paying it back.

And, as this round-trip to Michigan proved, you pay more than just money to settle a greenhouse gas emissions debt. However, the slower rate of travel had some benefits, too. Tune in to PART 2 of this post for answers to questions posed at the beginning of this post.

Hurricane Laura also traveled generally to the north-east as we drove on those August 2020 days. It killed fourteen people, half of them by carbon monoxide poisoning from the use of generators indoors. Power was knocked out for days for 360,000 people. As late as September 2, tanker access to liquid natural gas plants and oil refineries was still limited by debris and salvage operations in the waterways which lead to those plants.

Hurricane Laura, which one was that? There were so many this year. And so many last year. It sucks to have your home destroyed by fire or hurricane. Not so much to spend a couple thousand more for a car, and a bit more time fueling your vehicle.

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Dick
    Hi Sarah. Although I agree with you about climate chaos, and admire what you do with the Bolt and CCL, I think that there is an error in the otherwise wonderful essay (I wait anxiously for Part 2!). You state: "Traveling long distances at high speeds in either cars, trucks or airplanes fueled by fossil fuels creates larger amounts of greenhouse gas than any other thing individuals do." Actually, the thing that creates more greenhouse gas than any other is having children! An article by Wynes and Nicholas has shown this conclusively.
    • Sarah Kelly
      Hi Dick! You got me there. I am not surprised to learn there are studies proving that is so. However, I tend to shy away from the topic of human population since it is so sensitive. I have long admired your efforts to publicly and sensitively address the subject. Just a note, I'm not active with Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL). I agree with their passion for carbon tax, but think cap and trade could also provide a step towards controlling GHG emissions and shouldn't be discarded or discouraged at this time.

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