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Friday, February 10, 2012

Solar + EV = $263,000 Saved Over 50 Years

Electric vehicles may be more expensive to buy, but in the long run they could save big bucks when powered by solar electricity. That's the argument made by a BMW ActiveE driver in the San Diego area.

He's worked out the cost over the 50 years he says the average driver will be driving, and he argues that over 50 years, driving EV-PV will save a whopping 263K. There's a lot more complexity one could apply to this question, but if tech advances in PV and gas-power are matched, EV-PV would still come out on top. Not to mention the fact that solar "reserves" aren't running out anytime soon.

See more:

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Detailed Tesla Model S Video - A Lot to See

Got 14 minutes to check out Tesla's new Model S? Here's a view into the very cool car showing exterior and interior features, a test drive, comments from Tesla employees. It is in Japanese but has English subtitles. Near the end there's a weird scene where Tesla CEO Elon Musk appears to pull two children out of the car's trunk, but it turns out the car is equipped with two rear-facing jump seats - that is a super cool feature for families.

Monday, September 5, 2011

EV Road Trip - Success!

Take 2... add more advance planning and a less aggressive goal... success! Here's the story:

We took the Leaf to sunny Sonoma, California, a beautiful 45-mile drive. We didn't want to recharge both ways, and this turned out to be just the right distance for a day trip. (You're probably thinking, "wait, if the Leaf has a range of 100 miles, why is this a big deal?" Because that 100-mile range shrinks a lot when you factor speed on the freeway. In our case, the 45-mile drive was mostly high-speed driving.)

We started out with roughly 90 miles of battery power, and when we stopped at the ChargePoint charging station in Novato (30 miles away), we were down to about 35 miles. We had to wait a good 2 hours to get back up to full power, so the charging location needed to be near something worth visiting, and kid-friendly. Luckly, the Novato ChargePoint location is within walking distance of two good places to kill time: a great pizza place and a Dollar Store.

Two hours later we were charged up and heading to wine country. We arrived, plugged into a 110 outlet for some trickle charging, and spent the next 5 hours visiting our friends. When it was time to go, we had a good 60 miles left on the battery, and made it home with about 18 miles to spare.

A couple of lessons here:
- Road trips are easy with a bit of planning
- Over time, you can develop a good understanding of your EV's limits, so "range anxiety" will go away
- Plan for fast driving if you're a fast driver - don't skimp on fun
- a message to ChargePoint - put your chargers near places to hang out!

When I told this story to my good friend, he said, "Wow, I cannot believe you had to plan all that out, and stop for two hours (!!) on the way to a place so close."  Well I suppose that is true, and we certainly would not make a habit of hanging at the Dollar Store. I went back to Sonoma two weeks later and DIDN'T take the Leaf because I didn't have that extra two hours to spare. But overall it was a very good experience, and I can now draw an imaginary line around the San Francisco Bay Area to show all the great places I can go with the EV.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Yes, Electric Cars Can Be Fun

Here's a fun video made by the folks at TFLcar. They mash up a Nissan Leaf with an electric-powered Porshe Speedster replica made by Duke's Garage outside Denver, CO. The Speedster will set you back about 50K, but kudos to Duke's for making EVs fun and stylish.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Behold the Leaf-Powered Home

"It's wonderful that futuristic life is so close at hand" - Nissan COO Toshiyuki Shiga
 This is an image of a concept home at Nissan's headquarters. It shows a Leaf in a garage - but in this case the Leaf is set up as the power source for the home, instead of the other way around. Nissan is working on a system to let homeowners use their Leaf batteries to power their homes.

Here's a video Nissan produced explaining the concept. (If you watch this on YouTube, turn on captioning to see English subtitles - the cc button is at the bottom right corner of the screen):

Using your nice big EV battery to power your house has some nice advantages: (1) You can pull power from the grid during cheaper, off-peak hours and then use the power during prime time, (2) you can power your home during an outage, and (3) you can find a good use for your car battery after the rest of the car has conked out or been smashed beyond repair.

The system relies on a device that switches power directionally, allowing power to flow from the Leaf to the house. The device is programmable, allowing the house and the car to talk to each other. Nissan hopes to roll out this system globally, adapting to each local area's power configuration.

Screencapture from the video showing how the Leaf-to-Home system works.
  If you have a PV system it isn't as compelling, since you are generating power during the day (when you'll be out using your car) and using that power in the evening. But we can see a future where this kind of system can help make truly off-the-grid living workable.
"Hooked up to a new 'Leaf-to-house' system, Nissan's all-electric Leaf, with a full charge in its lithium-ion battery pack, can provide power to the average family home for around two days."
Nissan's system was apparently put on the fast track after Japan's earthquake/tsunami/meltdown left the country prone to power outages. Think an unstable electric supply couldn't happen in the US? Given what's been happening in our economy, doesn't just about anything seem possible right now? Things we take for granted can become unraveled more quickly than we tend to think. Setting yourself up for possible life off-the-grid may seem like overkill, or it may seem prudent.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The EV-PV Proposition - The Poster

For those who appreciate the power of pictures, One Block Off the Grid produced this cool infographic with facts about electric cars and solar energy.

Loaded with facts and presented in an easily scannable format, the poster gives a compelling argument for the EV-PV value proposition.
The poster also includes debunked myths such as the argument that EVs are just as dirty as petrol-powered cars because electricity is often produced by burning coal. (Though if you live in China this may actually be true)

One point of contention around charging: the poster doesn't make it clear that a 30-minute charge time requires a 440-v fast charger, not something you'd have in your house. The 240-v residential quick charger takes 4-6 hours. See more on chargers here.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

EV Road Trip Fail - Running on Empty

Picture this: Sitting in your car, well past midnight, children asleep in the back seat, hooked up to an electric vehicle charging station at a roadside motel in Marin. It's called EV Hell, and I was there last night. Here's how it went down, and what we learned.

Alternate Post Title: There Will Be Excruciating Boredom

We decided to take our first road trip in the Nissan Leaf. It would be a 150-mile, round-trip journey from San Francisco up to the Russian River for a birthday gathering. Nissan advertises a range of about 70 miles for the Leaf, but freeway driving drastically reduces that range, so we knew we'd need to charge up on the way. We'd arranged to charge the leaf at North Bay Nissan (love them!) in Petaluma, about half way there.

We drove the whole way up in Eco mode - a big concession for us as Eco mode is BORING - but we wanted to see if it made any difference. By the time we got to Petaluma, we had about 25 miles of range left. We plugged into Nissan's 240-v charger, thinking we'd kill some time and have some lunch. So far so good.

Lesson 1: Charging Station Location, Location, Location

From the freeway, North Bay Nissan is just one exit beyond Petaluma Premium Outlets - 1.3 miles according to Google Maps. But 1.3 miles of foot does not mix well with a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old, nor with roads designed for cars but not walkers, and by the time we got to the mall the kids were dusty, hot, tired and irritated. The second challenge was spending 3 hours in an outlet mall with small children. After 2 hours we finally gave up, called a cab, and spent $8 to get back to our car. *The worst part? The mall actually had 2 electric vehicle charging stations, but they were not compatible with our newer car. That would have made all the difference.

Now, 2 hours of 240-v charging won't get you all that much mileage, so already we had dug ourselves into a hole. We left Petaluma with 50+ miles of range and hoped that few hours of 110-v trickle charge at our friend's river house would give us enough juice to get back. But we were already bummed that we had spent so much weekend time sitting around charging when we could have been up on a beautiful river with our friends. That was only the first taste of frustration to come.

Lesson 2: Trickle is Right, and Only Good for Overnight

Our friends' garage was perfectly positioned with a 110-v outlet right out front, so we plugged in shortly after arriving. 5 hours later (7:30 pm) we left for home. Our range showed 60+ miles, but that quickly dropped to 35 as we picked up speed on the road. The Leaf calculates range based on current driving behavior, so if you're driving 25 mph on a flat surface it gives you the range you'd get if you continued to drive exactly like that. Since driving is rarely that consistent, one's range can seem to be all over the place - this is part of the reason "range anxiety" has become an iconic concept for electic cars.

When you buy a Leaf, you hear about the "trickle charge" as a viable back-up plan, something you can use if you find yourself stuck without access to a faster charger. But the 110-v charger is so slow that it only helps if you have all day or all night to wait. Unless you have a place to stay overnight, don't count on it.

Lesson 3: Find Your Own Charging Stations

Since we had programmed our destination into the navigation system, the Leaf started warning us fairly quickly that we didn't have enough juice to make it back to San Francisco. We knew we'd have to stop to recharge. Carwings, Nissan's onboard system, gave us a few charging options, all of which were Nissan dealerships. Google gave us other options but we knew from experience that they would likely be non-compatible.

By the time we hit Petaluma, we knew we'd have to stop. It was nearly 9:00 pm as we pulled back into the Nissan dealership (did I mention that driving slowely in Eco mode is a DRAG), and luckily we were able to positon our car close enough to plug into their 240-v outlet. With nothing else to do, we walked to the Denny's down the street and had a second dinner.

Look, killing two hours is not easy when you are with children full of birthday cake and tired from an afternoon spend rafting and playing with friends. It was a test of our willpower to sit there and wait, wait wait.

If we had spent the night, our car would have been fully charged in the morning and we might have made it all the way back to San Francisco. We vowed never to overestimate the trickle of trickle again.

Maybe we were too tired to think straight, but we hit the road with an over-optimistic 50 miles of range. Turns out we should have waited longer.

Lesson 4: Double the Distance to Find Your True Range

At 11:00 pm we were heading from Petaluma to San Francisco, driving 53 MPH (arrrrrgh) on US 101 to try and save range. Driving 53 in a 65 zone is truly truly a bummer. We had 30 miles to go and about 40 miles showing on the range meter, but neither of us had faith we'd make it home. So, reluctantly, we pulled into the new ChargePoint 220/240v charging station at the Inn Marin in Novato. We hoped to get just a bit more juice to make it all the way home.

Nestled along a row of hotel room parking spaces, the lit-up charger felt like a ray of hope in the foggy night. Getting plugged in involved a conversation with the toll-free ChargePoint call center, but it went quickly and smoothly. If I had activated the card they sent me a couple of months ago, we would have saved 20 minutes. The kids were asleep in the back seat, and we both fell asleep in the front, waiting for the car to charge up.

We woke after an hour - it was 12:30 am - and sleepily pulled back onto 101 with 25 miles to go and 50 miles of range. Doubling the miles you expect to drive is a good way to estimate the range you'll need given typical road conditions and driving habits (hills, freeways). Nissan probably wouldn't sell many Leaf's if they had to advertise a 35-mile range on a full charge, but that is pretty close to what we've gotten, and for 95% of our usage that works just fine. We still love our Leaf, but we've learned our lesson.

The rest of the trip was uneventful - if slow. Did I mention that going 53 mph on the freeway is a special kind of torture? The range meter stayed fairly close to double the distance home, and we pulled into our garage at about 1:30 am with 8 miles of range showing. As we've documented before, the Leaf starts freaking out when you get close to empty, so 8 miles left is about as low as we'd want to go anyway. As we carried the kids up to bed we were in a daze.

Lesson 5: Wait for 480V Quick Charging Systems

The Nissan Leaf is not ready for road-trip prime time. That is clear to us now. Stopping every 40 miles to spend 4 hours charging at a 220/240 station is just not feasible. If charging stations were right next to movie theaters, mini-golf water parks, golf courses, mega-malls or other places you could happily spend 4 hours, then we might tolerate ONE stop along our journey. One up and one back for a day trip is not realistic at all.

Once there are 480v quick-charge systems in place, it could be a different story. Spending 45 minutes to charge up won't be a slam-dunk, but it will make a trip like ours reasonable. The quick-charge stations will still need to be combined with something to help us drivers pass the time. 220/240 chargers make a lot of sense at places of employment, or hotels, but who wants to stop at a hotel every 50 miles on a road trip?

Lesson 6 (the big one): Plan, Plan, Plan

We'll still be parsing our experience over the next few weeks, and we still overwhelmingly love our Leaf, for all the reasons we've written about before. Long-time EV owners will laugh at us for being naive. But no-one should get into Leaf ownership without fully understanding what it means: for better or worse, we cannot expect this car to fulfill the role that the traditional car has come to play in the American lifestyle.

What we really needed to do was plan more effectively. We could have figured out exactly how much time we needed to stay in Petaluma, then figured out what activities we could do while we waited. We could have found a different charging station, maybe somewhere more entertaining. We could have gotten an earlier start, and stayed longer at our friends' house. We could have known how far we'd get on our way back, and better planned for that for a stop on the way.

Will we try it again? Maybe - if we can spare the time to do all that planning. Or we may just wait until the charging infrastructure catches up with this remarkable car.