He helped write the language of the internet, and today he’s a student of the EV charging experience. In this exclusive interview with Electric Autonomy Canada, Bray explains why “range per hour of charging” is an important metric and why public EV chargers might be too cheap
In early August, iconic Canadian software developer Tim Bray took his 2019 Jaguar I-Pace electric vehicle, and his 15-year-old daughter, on a 1,725-kilometre road trip from Vancouver to Regina to visit his 91-year-old mom.
It was Bray’s first visit with his mother since before COVID. It was also his first long-distance road trip in his EV — a drive inspired, in part, by the launch of Petro-Canada’s Electric Highway and the growing density of available fast-charging stations (100 to 350 kW) along the route.
“If you’re OK using 50kW chargers, there are loads and loads of options. Once you’ve worked with a higher-power charger, though, they’re just not a satisfying experience,” says Bray.
He’s not the first EV driver to try a long road trip. But unlike most, he also compiled a detailed charging and driving log and published it in one of the best EV road-trip reports we’ve seen.
We were delighted when Bray offered to speak to Electric Autonomy Canada about his report and his views on range, charging speeds and Canada’s public charging network. The following interview, edited for length and clarity, is the result.
Electric Autonomy Canada Tim, this was your first long-distance road trip; what’s your prior EV driving experience?
Tim Bray I took delivery [of the Jaguar I-Pace] in January 2019. I used to work for Amazon. I was here in Vancouver and I used to drive down to Seattle regularly. When I was originally shopping for an electric car in 2018, my ironclad criterion was that I’d be able to drive it into Seattle and back, which is about 230 kilometres. The longest leg I ever drove was 290 kilometres.
Electric Autonomy In your charging log, one of the stats you report — and that you say is really important — is range per hour of charging. In your case, it varied from 101 to 293 kilometres. That’s not a metric we often see cited.
Tim Bray I think that’s my invention. I haven’t seen it before. It’s a stat you have to be careful of because it depends a lot of how charged you are when you start charging. But I think it’s kind of what you care about when you’re driving up to the one of these things: ‘How long do I have to stay here to get to my next stop?’ So I think it’s a really useful statistic.
Electric Autonomy You stress the importance of fast chargers. But your trip notes also focus a lot on concerns about charger reliability. Can you expand on that?
Tim Bray I can’t speak to the Tesla side of things, but for the public charging network, I think it’s pretty clear that reliability is [still] really a big problem. On the way back, two or three of the Petro-Canada chargers that I used on the way out were either partially or completely broken. So, kudos to Petro-Canada for this initiative and making these things — I think the network was well-designed and, as I wrote, my impression remains mostly positive — but evidence suggests it’s not been well-implemented.
We don’t know whether that’s Petro-Canada’s problem or whether it’s state of the art in chargers. But it’s a real issue. I went by a couple of Electrify Canada chargers. The one in Salmon Arm was just all shut down…[with] signs on it saying, ‘Out of order.’ I found one that worked in Calgary [on the return trip], but I was not impressed at all. I tried to do it by swiping my [credit] card, it wouldn’t do that. I had the app, so I fired off the app and it said, ‘App failed, failed to charge.’ But then it started charging.”
Electric Autonomy We noticed you used a Co-op Connect station in Moose Jaw. That’s a new network. Thoughts?
Tim Bray They looked similar physically to the Petro-Canada chargers. I liked them. There was not a single one that was out that I went to. The charging speed was good. The user interface was good.
Electric Autonomy You also wrote that you couldn’t have done this trip without the PlugShare app. Specifically, “PlugShare is best at showing you a map with all the chargers on it, and thus helping you route-plan. The reason it works is because it’s social.“
Tim Bray That’s right. It’s essential to let you know where the chargers are and [if] they [are] actually working.
Electric Autonomy Should more providers be trying to do this? Or is it ok if we just have one social platform by default?
Tim Bray Good question. PlugShare, near as I can tell, is way ahead of everybody else. Now, they’ve recently been purchased by an outfit [EVgo] that is building [a U.S.] charging network. Everybody immediately said, ‘Oh, they’re going to become prejudiced in favour of those.’ They have hotly denied this. So we’ll have to see what happens.
Speaking as an internet guy, I think it would be useful for the IETF [Internet Engineering Task Force] or one of the other standards bodies to find a protocol whereby charging stations could broadcast their current status — how many are working, what chargers are actually available and so on — and then you could imagine that being built into lots of apps, including lots of cars, it would be part of the car software so that the car would just know. It would be nice if we could take a decentralized approach to that.
Electric Autonomy You wrote that the chargers — big metal boxes with heavy cables — “feel like first-generation tech.” What about EVs themselves?
Tim Bray I think they’re pretty well there, with the single exception of charging speed. Am I satisfied with my car? Yes. Its performance and power and comfort are exemplary. Its range is ok. I can always get 300 kilometres and if the conditions are good, I can get 400. That’s enough to get across Canada. The charging speed? I’m getting the feeling that being able to soak up 100 kW is going to start feeling old-fashioned pretty soon.
In comments to my blog, or maybe it was in a chat on Hacker News, people with a Porsche Taycan were saying they regularly get 250 kW on the high-speed chargers; they can get from 20 to 80 per cent [charged] in like 15 minutes. My question was, is this strictly an ultra-luxury car thing? And the answer is no. Earlier this year, Hyundai shipped the Ioniq 5. It’ll charge well north of 200 kW. So bringing that [charging speed] to mass market electric cars, I suspect, breaks the camel’s back. Once that becomes ubiquitous, then that really changes the game.
Electric Autonomy Last question. The drive from Vancouver to Regina cost you $120.52 in electricity. In your report you say you think that’s too little if the networks are going to be profitable. Is that still your view?
Tim Bray I felt like they could have been charging more. As the proportion of electrics [on the road] goes up and people need the chargers, I wouldn’t be surprised if roadside charging becomes quite a bit more expensive. And I think that’s ok.