Here I come again, but this time things are all different and I don’t only mean the car. This time we’re testing our EV in the most difficult scenario — winter in Scandinavia. Apart from the never-ending complaint about EV range that I hear from all my skeptical friends, the other most often repeated concern (that is a myth) is that EVs don’t work in winter. Buckle up and follow our adventure — 6000 km, 7 countries, multiple charging networks, one windstorm, and three journalists in a lone EV, the BMW iX.
Day 1 — don’t make any plans, the world doesn’t care
Here they are again, four years after their first EV trip to the north. The plan was simple — drive a mere 350 km north from Warsaw to the port of Gdynia to catch a ferry to Sweden. They were also planning to visit one of the Polish manufacturers of heat pumps and share some insight into this super important element of energy transition. Well, the plans went a little awry, to say the least. Instead of the expected high-pressure clear sky and freezing temperatures, they got low pressure, stormy winds, and spring temperatures. No time to waste, the team drove west embarking on a crazy ferry chase — Świnoujście, Rostock, Puttgarden — all crossings cancelled. Instead of the original 350 km, they eventually drove 1200 km…
The positive outcome is we can now report recent developments in the charging infrastructure. First up, let’s look at Poland. Each year, the number of charging stations doubles. Hooray. Things are improving, but we’re all far from being satisfied. All EV drivers know the expectations are growing. While we were happy to find a “fast” charger of 50 kW every 200 km four years ago (most of them in shopping centers), today we’re expecting really fast charging hubs along our routes every 50 km. Is it asking too much? I don’t think so.
Anyway, Poland is getting there and it was particularly important on this first day. Heavy front wind, low temperatures (about 5 degrees Celsius), and motorway speeds of 140–160 km/h meant the beast from BMW, weighing about 2500 kg, consumed a staggering 33.5 kWh/100 km. The team could do about 300 km under these conditions, but being experienced EV drivers, they chose to stop every 200–250 km to not drain the battery flat. The BMW iX can be charged at 195 kW (who would have dreamt it while driving a Nissan LEAF 4 years ago) and it normally took 20–25 minutes to recharge at the super-fast chargers we selected. As usual, a lot of credit goes to GreenWay, which has been shaping the Polish charging landscapes for years. The BMW used its chargers (50 kW and 75 kW) while the team enjoyed their breakfast. Your second best friend (and first outside Poland) is Ionity, with super-fast chargers of 350 kW. Pure pleasure it is! Especially, when you are equipped with the BMW Charging card (GreenWay being a member of the platform). That little thing nicely closes the loop, helping to make driving an EV long distances real fun.
Needless to say, Poland was just a warmup. Germany has left us way behind. The scale of the development of their charging network is simply impressive. Four years ago, driving an EV through Eastern Germany was actually harder than driving through Poland — sparsely located chargers, mostly 22–50kW, no roaming, many operators, absolute EV nightmare. However, while Poland wasted time focusing on legislation and planning, Germany acted. Today, we can locate fast chargers and hubs of chargers every 15–20 km, sometimes even a few kilometers away from one another, and you can start them all with one BMW charging card. Boring. Well, our team had one instance of all chargers being occupied and were forced to drive another … 5 minutes to get to the next one. Seriously, driving an EV in Germany is smooth and easy. Come and see for yourselves.
Day 2 — Germany–Denmark–Sweden, 1100 km, and many EV talks
For a moment, it felt like the trip could return to its original route. The ferries from Puttgarden were allowed to cross to the Danish Rodby. The only small barrier between the team and the ferry was a small bridge across a small Baltic strait. Normally not a big deal, yet that morning, heavy winds caused two trucks collide and the bridge was blocked. Did I say something about making plans?
Another detour, then, and our guys were heading for Denmark and its majestic bridges. After one short charging session of 20 minutes in Germany, the team arrived at the first charging hub in Denmark, only to see all stations were occupied — four cars were charging and two were queuing to charge. What a bummer! A long wait of … 3 minutes to start charging. Lucky at last. On top of that, they could test what we have all wished for at charging stations — card payment. No pains, no hiccups, charged, paid, and left.
Well, almost, as they’re always ready to chat to other EV owners — new friendships are quickly made. They first learnt from a nice Dane it was his least favourite station but fortunately a new one was being built nearby with as many as 28 charging points. Wow! When the BMW changed the chargers to get better value for money with the BMW Charge card, two German businessman join the team for a chat and it turned out they were in a business meeting discussing entering the Polish market with their application for roaming to allow charging at many operators. Aren’t these EV talks the essence of the trips? With all the benefits of the app from Monta that they were told about — such as easy billing, home charger management, and more — WysokieNapiecie.pl promised they would test it once in Poland.
Crossing the bridge of Storebæltsforbindelsen (The Great Belt Fixed Link) was worth the 400 km detour. It’s spectacular! Soon after the crossing, the BMW landed at another charging hub with all charging points occupied, and this time the wait was … 1 minute. While the team was connecting to the charger, another EV arrived and his wait was 4–5 minutes. Bearable, I would say. Plus, the new driver was eager to talk and asked about all the details of the BMW iX — consumption, charging, and, of course, price.
Interesting as it was, the real story unfolded when our team learnt he was an autonomous vehicle test driver for Nio, a Chinese manufacturer of electric vehicles (he was driving a Nio ES8). The car had a swappable battery, and in Norway the manufacturer actually has stations where swapping a flat battery for a fully chard one takes minutes. Those of us who have been following the EV space for a decade or longer remember Renault’s battery swapping concept, which failed. Will Nio face the same fate? Well, its swapping network — if you include China — is already much larger than Better Place’s was.
As for autonomous driving, we have little to say. In the Nordic states, like in many other places, the real barrier is the weather and protecting lidars, cameras, and sensors from getting blocked. Sounds like a small thing, but it isn’t. Being a big fan of autonomous cars myself, I still picture myself being driven to work like Tom Cruise in Minority Report.
A few talks and kilometers later, Sweden welcomed the team with similar abundance of charging stations. Hubs would normally offer charging stations from different operators with varying rates, speeds, and services. All started with one card — roaming as it should be. What a long journey from 4 years ago when we struggled to start E.On stations, as they didn’t let their chargers be used with roaming cards from NewMotion (Shell Recharge today) or Plugsurfing. We finally started it with the car park app, and it wasn’t a gimme. Today, all you need is a BMW Charge or Shell Recharge card.
And now comes the biggest upset of the trip — the largest Nordic network, Recharge (previously known as Fortum Charge&Drive) is not available with BMW Charge. How could that happen? Our dream of driving through half of Europe on one card has been shattered again. The blow is even more painful since Fortum Charge&Drive was our best, and actually only, charging friend when the Nissan LEAF was heading towards Nordkapp in 2018. The team needed a good night sleep to recover, and if you think these first two days were full of twists in the plan, wait for what’s coming next. I’ll be reporting more very shortly.
The text was also published on CleanTechnica.com