Driving an electric vehicle from San Diego to San Francisco. Why so few commercial EV charging stations on I-5?

If you read my blog post about my EV drive from San Diego to Las Vegas you know it is a bit of an adventure with spotty availability of commercial EV charging stations.  A year later in September 2016 I embarked on a 2nd adventure, this time to San Francisco.  Let’s see how my little BMW i3 handles the trip.

I first planned my trip on Plugshare which is a great mobile app that shows where commercial EV charging stations are located, allows you to filter based on connector type and provides reviews from users.  My plan was to drive through the Central Valley along the I-5 freeway, but incredibly there were very few non-Tesla high speed commercial EV charging stations along this heavily traveled thoroughfare!  So I mapped out an alternative route using the 99 freeway.

I left San Diego County and headed up the I-15 freeway towards the Lake Elsinore Outlet Mall.  They have an EVgo high speed commercial EV charging station there that worked perfectly.  From there I drove to the WalMart in Duarte and charged up with an EVgo high speed commercial EV charging station.  My trip was moving along very nicely.  I drove from Duarte to Castaic where I topped off my EV batteries at another EVgo DC3 high speed charger.

This is where the trip was going to get tricky.  I was going to have to drive over the Grapevine and into Bakersfield without any high speed commercial EV charging stations.  I eventually made it after draining my batteries and about half of my REX (BMW i3 Range Extender) gasoline tank.  But I made it.  From there I charged at various EVgo high speed commercial EV charging stations along the 99 freeway.  Most worked, some didn’t, but I had patience so I carried on.  Those that did not work seemed to be the same incompatibility problem I had in Las Vegas the previous year.  Certain EVgo high speed commercial EV charging stations worked great, but other EVgo stations simply would not work with my car.  It was perplexing.

The trip got particularly hairy as I traveled along the Altamont Pass on the I-580 with 0% on my batteries and less than 10 miles left in my REX gas tank.  I was able to get over the summit, coast down hill and pull into a gasoline station with about 4 miles left.

From there I decided to visit the San Francisco Premium Outlets in Livermore where they have an EVgo high speed commercial charging station.  (As an aside, why is an outlet mall in Livermore titled San Francisco Premium Outlets?)  At this time it was about 11pm, the mall was closed and I drove into the parking lot to the EVgo station on the edge of the lot.  I wasn’t parked more than 2 minutes when a security guard drove over in his electric powered golf cart and told me I couldn’t charge.  He said the mall was closed.  I protested that I wasn’t in the mall, the EV charging station was not closed and I was not bothering anyone.  That’s when the security guard demanded I get off their private property.  Oh my.  This was not working out well.

It was late, I was close to San Francisco and I figured I would simply drive there using my REX.  I made it, but it took me 13 hours for a trip that takes a normal gasoline car about 8 hours.  That extra 5 hours was captured in stops for charging (good), stops for chargers that didn’t work and trying to resolve on the phone with customer support (bad) and arguing with a mall cop (ugly).

More EV charging infrastructure is desperately needed.