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, 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!