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.


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