Monthly Archives: June 2015

Eco-Road Trip Day 2—Heating Up

Ten bars on the temperature guage---working those batteries...

Up to the red on the temperature gauge—working those batteries by the end of the day…

Aaah, writing from the tent in a campground outside of Lewistown, PA. Day two is behind us, many stops and another 300 miles down the road. The Leaf is just outside, charging up with the Level-1 cord. I’m writing on my laptop via a wi-fi hotspot on my smart phone, which is related to the only frustrating aspect of the whole day—trying to get a Greenlots charger to turn on at noon with a combination of the smart-phone hot-spot, the phone, and the Greenlots app loaded onto an Apple I-pod (I eventually called and they turned it on remotely). A bit of excitement before that—we were going to skirt around the top of NYC, but missed an exit and ended up in the Bronx. Fortunately, the car had a nearly-full battery, and we managed, with some luck, to find the George Washington Bridge in the rush-hour traffic and get across to the chargers in New Jersey. On the good side, the kids got a nice view of the skyline from the bridge.

The main news of the day, though, is that we got up to the limit with regard to how hot we could get the batteries. If I had to generalize, I think that one full fill-up with a fast-charger bumps the temperature gauge up one bar. So, we started with six bars this morning, and the batteries got warmer all day, each time we charged. By 3 or 4 this afternoon, after charging in Lancaster, the temperature gauge was at the very top of its normal range; ten bars. So, in Harrisburg we parked it for an hour and went and ate supper, and it cooled off to nine bars, which let us charge one more time to do the last leg to the campground. I could charge into the red zone if I had to, but it would be hard on the battery pack, so I’ll avoid that. Not too big of a deal overall, but I think Nissan might need to add some active cooling to the Leaf battery system as fast-chargers become more common. Not too many people are travelling with their Leafs right now, but that will change.

Last charge of the day, after a cool-down.

Last charge of the day, after a one-hour cool-down.

While stopped today I made up some adapters to use at the campgrounds, but I didn’t need one of them tonight, this “30-amp” site does indeed have the “TT” 110v plug, but it also has a regular 110v outlet, so I was able to plug in without an adapter. I’ll try it out in the morning, though, just to see if it works, and when I get a chance I’ll try out the 220v one.

Finishing up the 220v adapter. Note the NEMA 14-50 plug, and the NEMA 6-50 receptacle, which our Level-2 charger will plug into.

Finishing up the 220v adapter. Note the NEMA 14-50 plug, and the NEMA 6-50 receptacle, which our Level-2 charger will plug into.

So, off to bed; we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

 

Eco-Trip Day One

A "throttled" charger. Even throttled fast-chargers are fast, though...

A “throttled” charger. Even throttled fast-chargers are fast, though…

We’re off! Day one is behind us, and it went super-well. The Leaf is impressive as always—quiet, quick, smooth, and enjoyable to drive. We drove from home to Danbury, Connecticut (we’re having to come several hundred miles south before we head west; that’s the line that let’s us hit the most fast-chargers). Not a long day, we probably went 250 miles, and charged five times, four of those at fast-chargers. And, I must be getting better at this, because it seemed easy, no “range-anxiety” at all, except for a brief few minutes where we thought we might have to do a long detour in the middle of the longest leg. But, even then we had a backup charger we could go to. And, like the trip the other week to Albany, I’m still learning some things. A very quick rundown—

— Tonight we’re at a hotel, but the remaining nights we’ll be camping, and charging, at campgrounds. So last night I looked up what the most common 220v plug was for RVs, and, drum roll– there seems to be only one common one, and it’s not the same as the plug on our Level-2 charger. In short, chargers come with NEMA 6-50 plugs, and RV’s use NEMA 14-50 plugs. So, brought a few tools, and we stopped by a Home Depot today and picked up what I need to make some short adapter cables. I’ll make two during the stops tomorrow, one for the Level-2 charger, and another for the Level-1 charge cord, because I also figured out that when campgrounds say “30 and 50-amp hookups”, the 30-amp part is 110v, using a NEMA TT-30 “travel trailer” plug. More on that tomorrow..

— The car batteries do heat up after many hours of driving and fast-charging. Outside temps were moderate today, between 60 and 75, and we started the day with 5 bars on the temperature gauge. It bumped up steadily all day, and by the time we got here it was at 8 bars. It doesn’t hit the red zone until after 10 bars, so I don’t think it will be a show-stopper. In general, though, high temps are a bit harder on the batteries. I will continue to observe…

A good lunch at the Brattleboro Co-op, a block from the chargers.

A good lunch at the Brattleboro Co-op, a block from the chargers. (Ignore the wadded up napkin!)

— The GPS is a life-saver. I don’t use it to tell me every turn to make, but I do keep the current map up. It’s well-thought-out, and gives the current speed limit of the road you’re on, and at the bottom  the name of the highway or street, both of which are very helpful. The display has grids on it, so you can tell quickly about how far away a location is (if the setting is on 1 mile per grid, and a town is three grids away on the map…). Anyway, good job Nissan. I missed a turn in a tiny town today, and realized the error within a minute or so.

— Not all chargers are created equal. Some of the fast-chargers are throttled to 50 or 60 amps, which is quite a bit less than the 107 amps or more that the car can take from a full-power DC fast-charger. All fast-chargers are pretty darn fast, though, compared to all the alternatives.

— Plugshare.com is by far the best site for charger information, in my (continuing) opinion.

Anyway, as in our trip the other week, it was a fun day. If I had to generalize—drive for an hour, walk around somewhere for 30 minutes, repeat. Really relaxing, though I can’t quite put my finger on why. A quick post here, excuse any typos, more tomorrow.

 

The Shakedown Cruise

trip7 cropped brighter

Off on a road trip…

We needed to go to Albany, New York, this weekend, and decided to take one of the Leafs, as a trial run for this summer’s planned trip across country. Albany isn’t super far, but we had to charge several times each way to get there, and probably drove 350 miles over the course of the weekend. Call it a shakedown cruise. Some pics and some short lessons-learned—

trip6

Topping up at the fast-charger at Green Mountain Power, on the way through Rutland.

Mini-golf, next door to the Davidson Brewery (and charger) in Queensbury, NY.

Mini-golf, next door to the Davidson Brewery (and charger) in Queensbury, NY. We visited their tasting room; good beer.

Hmmm, not a good putt...

Hmmm, now that one wasn’t a good putt…

We charged twice to get to Albany, and then stayed at a Hampton Inn with a charger in the parking lot. There was a ten-dollar fee to charge, but we charged at another station near where we ate supper, so in the end we didn’t use the hotel chargers. In fact, all the charging was free for the whole trip.

Solar-powered charging at Green Mountain College, in Poultney, VT.

Solar-powered charging at Green Mountain College, in Poultney, VT.

On the way home we charged at the Kohl’s chargers in Saratoga Springs, NY, (and walked to Target from there), and then took small roads over to Poultney, VT, to charge at Green Mountain College. We ate lunch at the nearby Main Street Eatery while we waited. Good food, especially the ruben sandwich!

More PV at Green Mountain College, with sheep grazing underneath. They're in there, but they don't show up well in the photo.

More PV at Green Mountain College, with sheep grazing underneath. They’re in there, but they don’t show up well in the photo.

In the end, it was a really enjoyable trip, and I learned a few lessons about long(er) distance EV travel—

— It isn’t too conservative (in a Leaf) to plan to charge at chargers that are 40 or 45 miles apart. If I charge to 80%, where the battery starts taking a charge slower, and then drive 45 miles, then I might be down to around 30% when pulling in to the next station. When travelling to chargers you’ve never visited, or navigating in strange towns, it’s not a bad idea to have this buffer (especially, as Mr. X puts it, when your alternative is a tow truck). In general, your total time charging is about the same whether you charge a lot in one spot, or less at two spots, so there isn’t much downside to charging more often. Speaking of…

— When planning a longer trip, have a backup plan in case a charger is out of order, in use, or blocked. On this trip we didn’t have any trouble using the chargers we’d planned on, but we had enough charge throughout to get to an alternate one, and I had a map of where they were. As I’ve mentioned before, plugshare.com is a great resource, especially if you have internet access or a smart phone while on the road.

— Don’t be too proud to use GPS. I don’t normally use the Leaf’s GPS, because it seems to dull my sense of navigating without it, but using it beats spending time and miles backtracking or searching. I used it off and on to get to Poultney, and it saved us two wrong turns on some confusing back roads. With an EV, you don’t have as much of a range buffer, so it pays to have maps, and to pay attention, and to otherwise avoid getting off-track.

— The batteries do heat up as you use them all day, but I’m not sure yet if it will be a problem this summer when we’re planning to go more miles per day. We shall see…

So, I’ll be with students on a trip to Spain for the next two weeks, but we plan on starting the eco-Leaf trip shortly after I get back, near the end of the month. My wife wants to up the ante and try to do the trip without creating any garbage or using plastic disposables, but that might be too high of a bar to tackle all at once, while on the road. In our carbon-powered world of disposables and consumption, it isn’t always easy to buck the status quo, and takes a bit of practice. But, it wasn’t hard on this weekend trip—it was a lot of fun.

Two Sides of the Very Same Coin

zero_waste_home_jacket_500You have to admit, that of all the staggering statistics about plastic in my last post, that the one that probably stayed with you was that small statistic at the end, when I discussed how Bea Johnson was able to reduce the trash output for her family of four to one quart for a whole year. In our modern world, that seems nearly impossible. So I read her book, just to see how she did it. AND, lo and behold, guess what’s behind the one-quart achievement? Minimalism, though she doesn’t really call it that. It turns out that trash reduction and Minimalism are just two sides of the very same coin. In fact, other “sides of the coin” could also include plastics reduction, energy conservation, healthier living, money savings, and perhaps even time savings; all very-related aspects of the same general impetus of living more intentionally.

So, Johnson and her husband first devoted themselves to shrinking, in a thoughtful way, their material possessions and footprint. They moved to a much smaller house that was within walking distance of nearby amenities, dropped down to one vehicle, and decluttered all the rooms in their house. They cut down to a bare minimum of clothes, to only the necessary items in the kitchen, and they reduced their electronic distractions, in return for more time spent as a family and less time tending to their material possessions. When they were done paring down, THEN she turned her attention to minimizing waste. And once you realize how she did this part it seems rather obvious. You can’t “disappear” trash once it’s in your home, so you have to NOT BRING IT HOME. Johnson spent a large amount of time figuring out her methods (she initially was striving for zero trash AND zero recycling, but found that to be too high of a hurdle in terms of her sanity, so they have settled for striving for zero trash and very-low recycling), but, once she perfected her system, it doesn’t seem that difficult. Now, this post is only a very short summary of the family’s endeavors, but the Johnsons bring reusable containers and bags of various sorts with them when they go shopping for food, and shop mostly in the bulk, produce, and deli sections of their local natural-food stores. She then cooks meals from these wholesome ingredients, using a list of recipes that she has selected that can be made with the bulk foods that she has available. The family buys used clothing and other used goods when they can, and for many household items, such as basic cosmetics and toothpaste, she makes her own.

Want to see how it’s done? A great little video about Lauren Singer, a resident of New York City, who also lives a zero-waste lifestyle—

In short, Bea Johnson summarizes her method as the “Five R’s”– Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot (compost). And, she stresses that these efforts need to occur in that particular order. I won’t try to recap all of her material here, but I did want to include a couple of her points–

— We should avoid advertising and marketing. I was surprised to see a discussion of advertising in this book about trash, but it made sense when I though about it. In fact, a quote from the book is in order here—

“Media exposure (television, magazines) and leisure shopping can provide a great deal of inspiration; however, the targeted marketing that funds the former and the clever merchandising that promotes the latter tend to make us feel unfit, uncool, and inadequate. These feelings make it easy to succumb to temptations in order to satisfy perceived needs. Controlling our exposure can have a tremendous effect not just on our consumption but also on our happiness. Find satisfaction with what you already have.”

–Once you realize that your actions and consumption are having negative consequences, then you really only have a few choices—you can deny that it is happening, you can lapse into “eco-depression”, or you can begin to change and take action. And if you don’t think that you can go as far as Bea Johnson did, I would posit that any action is better than no action, and some of them are really quite easy. For instance, it’s not all that hard to quit using single-use plastic shopping bags, or to quit putting your compostable material in the trash. And once you’re comfortable with that, then you could take further steps. Every little bit matters.

Minimalism = less to deal with.

Minimalism = less to deal with.

So, if there’s one thing I’ve noticed in the last week, after reading three consecutive books about trash and recycling, is that average Americans create trash in incredible volumes, and nearly thoughtlessly. Disposability has become ingrained in our culture, even though it’s a recent addition. A concerted effort to reserve that trend may be long overdue.

Note, May 2016: After a year of paying attention to packaging and zero-trash, I’ve arrived at a more nuanced view of the subject, see this post, “No Perfect System—Yet“.

Minimalism image credit: Tommerton2010, Flickr Creative Commons.