EV Street - Electric Vehicles for Dinosaurs

Electric Vehicles have come of age. But, it's going to take a revolution to make it happen.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Living with the Nissan Leaf Part V- more digs and gasoline vs. electric numbers

"True love hurts the most" - me.   Good thing I can't truly love an automobile because I'd be polyamorous.  For me there is no perfect car, the leaf is no different.  The most aggravating thing I've encountered since we've had it is the user interface on the dash panel.  It has some really unintuitive areas.

I remember challenging a very computer savvy young friend of mine into attempting to set a destination on the in-dash GPS.  After 10 minutes of listening to him mash on the display and make groans, he finally looked at me and said, "WTF???"  I said, "I know right?"

But, it's not all bad.  The whole design with the phone is aggravating as well.  It handles call just fine, but, well, I could go into more details if I cared.  If a Nissan SE ever calls me up for those details, I'll take the time to be more specific, but suffice it to say, there are some things that are unintuitive and frustrating.   

I haven't published much on the financial savings because things have been pretty consistent with my last posting in this regard.  But in the last month or so, gas prices have come up a bit.  We dropped all the way down to $3.20/ gallon and have risen now $3.85.  We now have put 2,800 miles on the car in about 109 days (about 3.6 months).    At about 25 MPG, which is our average MPG based on the gasoline cars we would have driven, we would have purchased about 112 gallons.  Thus paying between $358 and $431 for it. Let's just settle for a conservative $370.  Take out of the additional cost of electricity I've paid so far, (3.6 mos X $35) $126 and the net energy cost savings are about $244.  With a lease payment of $300/month (12K/yr, 39 months), at this point, the car would have cost about $232/month.  However, if you're changing your motor oil every three months, you'd have spent an additional $50 for that.  The net cost on the car under these circumstances thus far would have been about $218 per month.

As a comparison, let's take a newly leased ($30,000) gas car under the same terms - $300/month.  Let's assume it accomplished a respectable 30 MPG.  About 93 gallons would have been consumed, assuming $3.30 per gallon, about $307 would have been spent on gas.  Add the $50 oil change, $(3.6 X $300  + $307 + $50 = $1,437 over a 3 month period, is about $400 a month.  Thus the difference is about $182 dollars per month in gas and oil alone, saving about $650 over this period.  

One other detail, with a 225 mile range before fill up on the gas car, this mileage would have also resulted in about 12 trips to the gas station.  It takes me about 10 minutes to stop and fill up.  The Leaf could have saved me two hours of time just stopping and slopping gas into the tank.  Granted this is not an advantage specifically of an electric car, it's the advantage of being able to add power to your car once you pull it the garage and plug it in which takes about 30 seconds.  So, I've spent about .9 hours over this period plugging in  and unplugging the car.  Thus my real time savings are about an hour.   It may not seem like much but look at how much we all appreciate gaining that extra hour in the fall (once a year) for daylight savings time and hate losing it in the spring.  :)  

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Living with the Nissan Leaf part IV

Well, it's been over a month since my last post, and it's still been interesting working with this car. We've had a very cold spell here for the last two and half weeks, lows in the low teens and highs in the 20's (Fahrenheit). The car is parked in the garage overnight. But the garage is not insulated so the temperature in the garage in the early morning was only about 20 degrees above the outdoor (so low 40's). It's fantastic to not even have to think about "warming up the car."
But cold weather sure cuts into your range, on multiple levels:
1. Running the heater at these temperatures to maintain a comfortable cabin temperature impacts the range by a little less than 20%. In terms of heating power, the system is quite sufficient so the choice is yours to trade comfort for range.
The power gauge shows the heating system will peak at about 5.5KW before the system warms up. If you make sure your venting is set to recirculate, it will drop back to about 3KW when warmed up. But if the vent is open, it will be trying to heat the colder outside air and will stay a little over 4KW. You might think that is excessive to heat such a small space you're correct. A 1.2KW hair dryer would probably warm the space up quickly... if it weren't contained with 40% single pain glass and a cold 50MPH air stream running over the exterior.
In this regard, Nissan was clever to equip the car with a heated front seats, a heated steering wheel and, heated rear seats! The power draw from these systems is far less that the cabin climate control and the sensation of warmth is nearly complete. Choosing to use these systems has an almost negligible impact on the range.
2. The battery's performance lessens as the pack gets colder (less range). A warmer garage would help in the mornings but if the car sits too long outside it will cool further.
3. No way to measure this, but colder air is denser. Denser air requires more energy when the vehicle is moving at higher speeds like on the freeway. Also, cold weather like this keeps snow, ice and gravel on the road which increases rolling friction. Also, it lowers your tire pressures, also increasing rolling friction.
All these factors are visible in this cold situation and manifest themselves by ultimately reducing your range. Suffice it say that, the practical 70 mile range most people hold up for this car is still optimistic when the temps get below the 40's for an extended time. You must sacrifice cabin comfort and be more vigil on your energy usage to get that 70 miles, under my circumstances at least. After all this complaining I will still say that the car is remarkably well developed for most situations and that if you doing the recommended 80% charge, you can counter act this shortcoming by doing 100% charges during these cold times.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Living with the Nissan Leaf - part III - little adjustments

(If this is your first visit to this blog, I recommend reading the previous post first)

So, everyone wants to focus on the inconveniences. OK, let's talk about those. What's the number 1 inconvenience? No place to fill up. Number 2? Charging time. Number 3? Range (which is a problem because of 1 and 2).

I see the leaf and other electrics as incrementally infiltrating products. Like most in this way, they start by filling a niche. Overtime they will meet more and more demands and that niche will expand. My situation right now lends itself to the earliest niche. So, I'm fairly unique.

Where to charge: I live in a small city where it takes no more than 15 minutes to get anywhere you need. Also, the terrain within the city is fairly even. This means that most of my travels are back and forth / running around and the power usage is pretty much symmetrical going and coming. Within the city there are four places I know of where I can charge my car. Three of them are level 2 chargers (fast) and free, and the final is my home which is slow (level 1) and not free! One of the free level 2 stations is between my wife's and my workplace separated by no more than 2 miles which makes lunchtime or after work charges convenient.

Currently, the number of electrics in this area is small enough that of the few times we've gone to use these free chargers, there's been no line for them. That will likely change in the near future. In the first week or so of using the car, when I was still getting the hang of the car's semi-useless "guess-o-meter" on range, one of these charge stations saved me from otherwise having to call AAA for a tow, that was nice, and exciting! I haven't been young enough in the head for a long time to nearly run out of gas so having this feeling again brought back fun high-school memories.

As a side note, I would really recommend, if you have one of these cars, to also have a AAA membership just for the tow services alone. In fact, if I were a dealer, in addition to bundling free car rental for longer distance voyages when only and ICE car will do, I'd also bundle a AAA membership or some sort of tow service.

Charging time: Because I only have a level 1 charger (the slow charger that was supplied with the car) at my house, if I arrive home too late, and am too low on power and have to leave again early in the morning, there's probably not enough charge time to put back enough range in the car for it to be safely within margin for the next day's use. So far, I've only had that happen once. However, again that could have been avoided with some prior planning. Owning one of these cars teaches you to think differently - more efficiently about your use of the car, which ultimately makes you a more efficient consumer of power.

However, if everything is going smooth and the use of the car has been typical for that day, I arrive home about 6:00p. Plug the car in and it's done charging between 4a and 5a in the morning. Since I don't leave until a couple hours later, it works well.

Using the climate control to heat or cool the interior does use more power. It's cold right now, during the day and night the temps are down in the 40s when the car is usually being driven so the heater gets used a lot. In a smart move by Nissan, both front and rear seats are heated as well as the steering wheel. So, if you need to conserve power, you may turn these on instead of the cabin heater and still be comfortable.

Range: If you typically need no more than 60 miles a day, you will rarely have problems, that's well within its capability and the typical delivery infrastructure available in a typical home for charging. And when I started this piece, I noted that the range was really only limited by the first two problems - charging stations and charge times. For example, if charging only took 1 minute and there charging stations every 5 miles, the range wouldn't really be an issue for most people.

Ultimately, it's again, the old battery and infrastructure problem. This is still a problem for more capable cars like the Teslas. Here's why: many residential homes of consumer grade users would likely not have enough power wired to the garage to provide level 2 charging. On the otherhand, if you can afford a tesla, what's $1,500 for an electrician to pull 220 out to the garage? Thus, without rewiring, those customer's would be limited to about 1.4KW per hour of charge rate capacity. If your charge window was usually 10 hours or less, you could only put back up to about 12KWH (difference due to efficiency losses) of energy into your battery. The leaf's battery is only 24KWH. Thus, it doesn't matter how large the capacity of your battery (like a Tesla's 80KWH battery) is if that's all you can put in during the charging window's time. So, this is an infrastructure problem.

Secondly the battery can only accept charge up to a certain rate, the higher the rate, the more likely damage or a shorter battery life will occur because of over heating the batteries. The Level 3 charge for the Leaf still takes 30 minutes to charge. That's a lot longer than it takes to fill up a tank of gas, but not unreasonable. The problem is, with the leaf at least, maybe not with Teslas, using level 3 charging is not recommended for frequent charging and is only suggested under ideal conditions (the battery pack is within the right temperature range).

As a side note, I found it amusing that it was recommended to avoid charging immediately after the car had run yet regenerative breaking can put much more power in while the pack is actually in use than a level 2 charger can. There is an argument that there's no need to even be concerned for a level 1 charger; I'd side with that group.

So, the salespeople may make it sound like the choice of charging is yours, but if your practical, level 3 charging this is not a method you can count on. It's also a several thousand dollar option, as the car is only equipped for level 2 charging in the base model. Since we don't have any level chargers in town (it takes 440 volt), I didn't bother to pay for the option for level 3.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Nissan Leaf electric costs - first month, the answer to your biggest question.

(If this is your first visit to this blog, I recommend reading the previous post first)

People have a hard time wrapping their brains around the low cost on the electric bill. Several people in my office said, "well let's see what your first electric bill looks like." OK, my first electric bill is in. It was a $32 increase. The car has been driven 4 days short of the billing period. We put 922 miles on the car in that period. Yes, that's about $0.035 per mile.

In that month, a lot has changed with regards to the decision to get this vehicle. Mostly, the price of gas. When we got the car just a little over a month ago, gasoline was $4.20 per gallon here. I just filled up an SUV yesterday for $3.45 per gallon. That's a pretty big drop in just a month. At 25MPG which is the average for the gasoline cars we drive, that same mileage (922) would have cost about $155. But today, that cost would be $127.

OK, now to answer the question some of you may not understand, "how can it be that cheap, I thought gasoline was cheaper per unit of energy." The answer my dear friends is yes, gasoline is cheaper per unit of energy. There are about 40 KWH (Kilowatt hours) of energy in a gallon of gas. My car's battery pack will only store about 24 KWH. So imagine a gas tank on your car that was a little over 1/2 a gallon! Granted, the range is less. I know, I still haven't answered the question. The answer, is efficiency. The leaf (for us) gets about 3.5 miles per KWH. Our other gasoline cars get .625 miles per KWH. Yes, that is how inefficient our gasoline cars are (and probably yours too).

Why you ask, if they are both similar size and weight? First answer, your ICE engine spews about 60-70 % of its energy out the tailpipe and through the radiator in heat. Second, the energy it is able to turn into mechanical energy goes through a less efficient transmission before it gets to the tires. Third, when I step on the brakes, part of the energy spent accelerating the car is returned back to the batteries, in the gasoline cars, it all goes up in heat on the brake rotors.

So, all things remaining constant, if the leaf did run off gasoline, and the conversion of gasoline energy were perfect, it would get about 140 MPG.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Living with the Nissan Leaf (the Nissan Leaf)

In the beginning of November, I decided to try the Nissan Leaf all electric car. The model we chose was the 2012 SL, it's a hatch back. As a car goes, it's nice, had many amenities, is comfortable and functional and quick. If it had a gasoline motor it would be a respectable car in its own right.

However, for us, this was a financial decision, not a decision based on how much we liked the car itself. So as this blog grows, I will try to keep you updated on the detailed financial aspects of owning this car as well as problems and lifestyle changes.

The car's sticker price at the dealer was $37,000. That was the part that didn't make sense. That high of a price for a technology product, which the Leaf is more of than a ICE (gasoline or diesel) powered car, didn't make sense for us. But the lease did. With a low down payment, a government tax credit and manufacturer's rebate and monthly payments and out in three years, we were guessing that a steady $4/gal and over price of gasoline would make owning the car a respectable financial decision.

However, we have 5 cars which we own. Two Trucks, and couple of 4 cylinder cars and a street legal Dune Buggy (my first electric car). This was critical in our decision because the Leaf is not a good choice if it is your only car and you were commuting a lot or taking frequent road trips. With a practical range between charges of about 70 miles, you simply can't use it in situations where your daily mileage varies between one and three digits. Between one and two digits is workable. between charges.

We had the option of getting a leaf with a quick charge (440V Level 3 - typical charge time 30 minutes) but this was an option which would have added to the cost of the car. Since no one in my area at this time offered a L3 quick charge and with a 440V requirement, weren't likely too, I decided against the option. It's also turned out that this charging option is very unhealthy for your battery pack which constitutes about half of the price of the car by itself.

We live in an area where our daily commutes are typically less that 50 miles per day. We gave up one of the four cylinders which averaged about 26 MPG. The Leaf has a garage bay. I happen to have 220V and a separate 30 Amp 110V outlet in the garage by the car so I have more charging options immediately than most people.

The Leaf came with a "trickle charger" - this plugs into 110V and is said to charge to full between 12 to 18 hours. So far this is the only charger we're using. We drive the car to work, lunch maybe a little at night and then home and run a few errands, and plug in on the 110V.

So here's the financials so far:

$1000 down payment.
$323 per month for 39 months.
The first payment wasn't due for 30 days.
License and Registration cost $550.
Our cost in insurance increased about $73 per month.

Thus our out of pocket at the end of the first 30 days was $1,946. All things remaining constant, our remaining month expenses should be about $442 per month for the lease payment and all the legal requirements including full insurance.

One thing I must admit is that so far, I over estimated our annual mileage usage to 15K which unnecessarily increased the lease payment to $323 from $300 for 12K. So for the purpose of making show this more accurately for someone making a more competent decision here, I will use the $300/month in remaining comparisons.

Now, correcting the remaining 38 months at $419 per month. Now, this decision for me was not an addition, but a difference because I was giving up a vehicle for this one. The vehicle given up fetched about $3,700 on Craigslist. The Insurance on it ran $37/mo (liability only) Registration ran $200/year. Gasoline at $4/gal ran about $160 per month. Repairs ran about $67/mo (and were a hassle). Maintenance (oil changes, cooling system, transmission service, brakes, smog) $40/mo. Thus the total monthly cost of the lost vehicle averaged about $320/mo.

Thus, not counting the increase in electricity usage charging the car, the net difference looks like this:

Leaf: 1,946 + (38 X 442) = $18,742 over 39 months
Lost Car: 39 X $320 = $12,480 over 39 months.
Lost car sales price at end of 39 months estimated: $2,400.

Net difference over next 39 months:
18742-12480+2400 = $8,662
$8,662/39 = $222/month increase expense over the car we gave up.

At this point I've not received my first full month of accounting on my electric bill to know for sure but estimates for our electrical usage increase are $30 to $50/month. So actual net cost increase could be about $260/mo.

From a purely financial standpoint, keeping the older car would have made more sense. But keep in mind, the monthly amount of increase I'm showing above includes insurance, registration, maintenance and smog expenses. Most other new cars will cost this much not including those expenses.

Now for the intangibles. I value my time quite a bit these days. The idea of never having to visit the DMV and wait in line. Having to check and service oil and cooling and other such systems, wait in service shops, schedule smogs and such appeals to me greatly. The cost, headaches, time and inconveniences of the maintenance of the old car, can only be estimated since we will never really know. What we get for $260 is a car that is brand new. Everything is under warranty, tight and fresh. The car is unique, looks good, gets questions, draws praise and so there is an ego boost from it. It tends to draw new friends (you kind of join a club by owning one). The car, having almost no vibrations, is so pleasurable to drive... but these are for future postings.

If you have your own means of electrical production (solar, wind or other), the car gives you a way to live off the grid without worrying about gasoline. In my case the solar panels I own should offset the increase in electrical costs.

Let me focus more on service. The leaf uses many standard automotive parts. However, it lacks a transmission per say, a cooling system, an internal combustion engine, a mechanical electrical power generation system, a fuel system, an air intake and exhaust system, a smog control system, environmental protection systems and a few other things.

So lets go through what some of this means. No more oil stains on your driveway. No more dirty greasy engine compartment. No oil changes. No traditional cooling system maintenance (antifreeze, water pump, belts, fans). No oil pump, filter. No transmission fluids or maintenance. No shifting. No engine noise. No added heat in the summer when you pull the car in the garage. No performance differences regardless of your altitude or whether car is warm or cold. No need to ever leave the car "running". The cars internal environmental comforts can run without the need of the "engine" running. Brake wear is minimal because the regenerative braking slows the car most of the time. Never having to pump gas in the cold, heat or wind.

Most of these benefits are moot for someone considering whether to lease this type of car or a new ICE powered car, if it is your only vehicle the ICE car is the only way to go for now.

Of course, I've not really mentioned the drawbacks of owning one of these cars yet. Stay tuned, that's coming!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

OK, next question?

How will we increase our infrastructure to accommodate the increased capacity needed to charge all these electric cars?

Good questions, glad you asked. First off, increasing infrastructure is actually not so difficult. Consider how quickly builder can build and wire an entire community these days.

What is a problem is the source of the power. And here is one solution:
Micro Nuclear Reactors - begin installation in Japan in 2008 by Toshiba.

Thus, we would actually have safe, clean, nuclear powered cars.

OK, next question?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Global WarNing!

Global Warming? I think most educated people now agree that Global Warming is real. However, the cause for it still has some plausible alternatives to the most widely accepted one which is that we are the cause.

Whether or not we are the cause of it is irrelevant if there is no concern to do anything about it. But, if we can do something about it, the Electric Vehicle is one of our best hopes. And if we can't, the Electric Vehicle still holds a much brighter future for us than any other vehicular power system. In fact, it should become the focus of our national security, not protecting holes in the ground in other countries.

Why is the EV our only viable future? Well now, the debate begins. A debate I find almost comical. Consider the beginning of automotive history. Many may remember the three competing power systems were steam, gasoline and electric. However at the time, electric was so grossly inadequate that it was looked at as more of a novel thought than anything else. In that day, our technology for using the power we generated to turn into a motive force was infantile. Thus, the energy sources with the highest density of power provided the best performance because we threw so much energy away in the process. So, while the electric motor was more efficient at turning it's energy into mechanical energy, the internal combustion engine had so much more raw power available from its fuel source that even though almost 70% of the available energy was thrown away, the remaining 30% was still 5 times more power than the electric system had. Gasoline proved to be the winner.

As the years went by we got better at making use of the power gasoline could provide with the internal combustion engine. However, the internal combustion engine has always been doomed to never being a highly efficient means of power because of the tremendous amount of wasted heat it generates.

Occasionally, someone would revisit the electric car concept but was always vexed by the same problem - power density. How do we get enough electric power storage into an automobile to provide sufficient speed and range?

Daring hobbyists found ways to produce remarkable speeds and reasonable distances with electric vehicles but never without major hurdles remaining like cost or the last major hurdle - how to recharge and recharge time.

Most people know that cost is often a function of production volume and production supremacy. Thus, costs can be improved over time in production. But unless the underlying technology solves the other problems, electric vehicles remained a nonviable competitor for the internal combustion vehicle.

Well, times have change dramatically in the last 5 years and here are the historical arguments against electrics that have little chance of holding validation now:

1. Electrics don't have the power. Bull Shit. Electric motors have come down dramatically in size and weight. A 160 HP motor can fit in the hub of a 14" BMW Mini Cooper tire rim. Therefore , one in each hub produces a car with over 400 HP and is all wheel drive.

2. Electrics don't have the range. Well, until recently, this was true. But, new Lithium and Capacitive storage technologies now offer range performance comparable to ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) powered cars.

3. Electrics cost too much. The only truth here is that historically, the batteries have cost too much. Typical lead acid batteries have the problem of being, heavy, low power density, expensive in the quantities needed for a viable electric car, and a short life with degrading performance through that life. Thus a $4,000 battery pack that required replacing every few years indeed made operating costs of an electric very expensive when amortized through the operational life of the car. But, a $4,000 battery pack would not be a big deal if it would last 100,000 miles or more.

Today, power storage systems capable of that many of recharge cycles to last through that mileage are just becoming available commercially. If an electric car goes 100 miles per charge, then the battery pack must provide 1000 charge/discharge cycles with little degradation to make it that far. Classic lead-acid systems were usually only capable of a finicky 200-300 cycles. But, today's newest technologies offer 15,000 or more charge/discharge cycles.

But what about recharge time? True it takes maybe 10 minutes to fuel up a ICE car. But if it takes all night to charge your EV, that kinda puts the ICE car by itself for long distance travel. Well, the final nail in the coffin for ICE vehicles is in place. Today's newest battery systems can be charged in less than 10 minutes! And of course, they can still be charged overnight in your home.

4. Electrics aren't safe enough. Oh, and hauling around 20 or 30 gallons of highly flammable
and explosive liquid isn't? The exploding SONY laptop battery is not the "State of the Art" in battery technology. The newest and most practical batteries for EV's do not have this problem.

5. We don't have the infrastructure developed to charge electric vehicles. Wah wah. Rome wasn't built overnight. We didn't even have an infrastructure for roads when the automobile was first built.

In fact, it's time to turn the tables on the ICE car and show the dinosaurs out there why they better get with the program on EV technology! Here is what today's EV technology can do the ICE cars will never be able to do:

1. Assuming it were possible to make a 100% efficient ICE car, it would still only be 1/2 as efficient in travel as an electric. Why? Because when you turn power into to speed of the vehicle, that costs energy. When you then step on the brakes to slow the vehicle back down, that energy gets wasted as heat on the brakes. But, an electric car can convert that energy back into electricity and store it and use it again for the next acceleration (regenerative braking). An ICE would literally have to be able to manufacture its own gasoline when braking to accomplish the same thing.

2. It is not possible to to set a device out next to an ICE car in a parking lot which converts sun or wind into gasoline. But it is possible to convert solar or wind energy into electrical energy and charge the batteries of an EV. A clever person can even put the energy wasted from his exercise bike into charging his EV. EV's are basically powered by whatever is generating the electricity that goes into them. If your power comes from hydroelectric power than your EV is hydroelectric powered. If it comes from Nuclear power than, yes, your EV is Nuclear powered. If comes from geothermal, then... you get the idea. And, if it comes from coal, like most power in the USA then, it is coal powered.

3. Pollution. ICE's produce it, EV's don't. Now, some may argue that coal produces pollution and therefore an EV charged by a coal power plant is producing pollution. No. The coal plant is producing the pollution. And, it is infinitely easier to scrub and purify the smoke from a few thousand large smokestacks than to do it on 200 million tail pipes.

4. When today's ICE cars come to a stop at a light or any other thousands of reasons it may be halted but left running, it is still burning fuel. This is not only an energy waste, it generates unnecessary pollution. When an EV stops. It stops using energy too. In fact, many of us have learned to "warm our engines up" because of improved performance and it improves the longevity of the engine. EVs need no "warming up". Get in them and go.

5. ICE's are complicated and messy. They have hundreds of moving parts. They have lubrication systems, cooling systems, transmissions, transmission cooling systems, emission control systems, performance control systems, fuel systems, intake and exhaust systems and probably a few others I've forgotten. An EV is vastly simpler. Almost the difference between an insect and an amoeba. An EV's motor has one moving part. Consider the cost of all the systems in a ICE vehicle. Consider the maintenance and consumable chemicals for all these systems. Then, consider the how much more these systems can and do fail. One of the biggest challenges for the American Cro-magnon car companies is figuring out how to make money on the service of EVs when they require so little of it. More than likely, when they do finally commit to EVs, they will have to figure out some sort of artificial limit or failure to design in on their EV's to compensate for this.

Finally (at least for this post), assuming the destruction of the world doesn't happen in the next few years, there's still the matter of a little country called America. America used to be the home of the greatest automobile manufacturers on earth. But, America pushed its industrial base over to China in favor of higher taxes, more regulations and less opportunity. So when the next wave of automotive revolution occurs (the electrics), our Asian neighbors will not only be the first to try the new machines, the first to develop and acquire the infrastructure and technologies, the first in line for the financial benefits and jobs, but also the dictators of the designs.

This is the first in my series on Electrics. For my past Rants and blogs - see: