Monthly Archives: July 2015

Eco-trip—It’s a Wrap

Electric vehicle travel will get easier---a brand new charger in Danbury, CT, one of several on our route that became operational in the weeks since I first planned our stops.

Electric vehicle travel will get easier—a brand new charger in Danbury, CT, one of several on our route that became operational in the weeks since I first planned our stops.

Well, we got home the other day, after something like 2,700 all-electric miles with the Leaf. We stopped to charge about 54 times (including charging at night during our stops), and it got to be quite easy on the way back, partly because we retraced our trip and knew where the chargers were. It was also easier because several new fast-chargers came online along our route just in the weeks since I first planned the trip, like the one in Danbury, CT, in the photo above. Our longest leg turned out to be on the way home, an 84-mile section around NYC in rush-hour traffic (we skipped a charger that was in a slightly bad neighborhood). We got to Jim Harte Nissan in Mt. Kisco, NY, with about 12 miles left, which was also the lowest we had the batteries on the whole trip. And, it was fun, we’ll do something like this again. It was also cheap, nearly all of the chargers are free (though I suppose I pay my lease payment to Nissan every month, in return for using the chargers at the dealerships). Just a few final thoughts to close out the Eco-trip subject–

— I quit following big trucks. I could get better range by doing so, but it became obvious after a while that it was clearly a more dangerous way to drive. (See the note that I added to my post from last week.)

— As mentioned above, there are more chargers coming on-line all the time. It will soon be pretty easy to travel like this, especially in parts of the country where there is more infrastructure for EVs.

Our last charge, and it was at an alternate location--there were quite a few fast-chergers that were down on our return trip.

Our last charge on the way home, in Rutland, VT. This was an alternate location—there were quite a few fast-chergers that were down on our return trip..

— I’ve said this before, but have a backup plan. Quite a few of the fast-chargers on the way back were off-line for one reason or another, and we had to adjust our plans (at least three of the Nissan chargers had overheating errors; I think they have a design glitch that they need to work on). This is also a reminder that all of this infrastructure is new; my guess is that these systems will get more reliable over time as they get the bugs worked out.

— And, last but not least, just as we got into Vermont on the way back we stopped in Brattleboro, and happened to meet Bill Rich, one of the participants in the Kick Gas movie about crossing the country with EV’s. He was charging his Zero motorcycle, having just completed a trip to Mexico and back. I’ve posted it before, but once again, here’s a link to the Kick Gas movie trailer. (We tried to figure out where the whole movie is online now, but didn’t have much luck. It’s out there somewhere…)

So, if I had to sum up the whole experience—driving long-distance in an EV is a more sustainable way to travel, and we enjoyed it, but it takes longer than zooming along non-stop in a gas car. But, with more and more charging infrastructure, it should get quite a bit easier. We’ll be doing it more—after this trip, I don’t think we’ll have many qualms about taking off to much closer places like Boston. And I think I’m going to aim for creating much less trash here at home, maybe next time we’ll up the difficulty a bit and do the eco-trip trash-free. I’ll practice that part here at the house first…

 

 

A Nice Easy Change

water bottles cropped

The new Styrofoam…

A very quick post here; I’m still travelling, and I’ve been too busy to research or ponder the myriad sustainability topics that are accruing on my mental list, among them soil erosion in Spain, new attitudes about sustainability in Texas, scientific reports on global warming trends, analyses that shows that half of the earth’s biomass is gone, and the problem of mesquite trees, just to name a few. I’ll be back home in a week, and can resume a more normal reading and writing pace. Until then, here’s a quick post about a nice easy change everyone could make—buy and use a stainless-steel water bottle. My wife and I and the kids all picked one up on this trip, because we were tired of creating trash every time we wanted to stop while driving in order to get something to drink. And… it works like a charm. Both of the bottles in the picture are a double-walled insulated type, and they really keep liquids cool or hot. Plus, cold liquids don’t make them sweat on the outside, even on a hot muggy day.

So, I drive along when travelling, pull off at a McDonalds, go in and ask for a large unsweetened tea, but I hold up the water bottle and tell the person at the register that I don’t need a cup, because “I’ll just put it in here”. It works like a charm. A bit of ice, a whole bottle of tea, and off I go, no Styrofoam cup or trash. You could do the same thing with soda at most fast-food restaurants, or with water at water fountains anywhere. Anyway, bottom line—it isn’t always convenient or possible to bring drinks with you from home, and this is a nice easy way to avoid all kinds of single-use plastics and trash.

Small changes, but they all add up…

 

Eco-Trip Day Four—How to Travel Fast and Far in an EV

IMG_20150702_0713529_rewind

Another EV-day…

(Note, 25 July 2015— In this post I discuss following a large vehicle to increase efficiency, and I need to add a great big caveat— even if you are a few lengths back, it is clearly more dangerous to drive like this. In one case on our return trip a tractor-trailer changed lanes abruptly as his lane ended, which left me with no lane in heavy traffic at highway speeds. In another case a truck ran a red light on a limited-access highway, and I ran it too because I couldn’t see ahead of me well enough. So, unless it’s an emergency where you need the range, I’d avoid following someone for mile after mile, it just isn’t safe. Charge enough before you leave that you don’t have to do it.)

Well, we’ve now traveled 1,211.7 all-electric miles. We’re almost there, so this will be my last daily eco-trip post, unless something dramatic happens in the next few hours. Yesterday went smoothly, despite hitting one charger last night in Indianapolis that kept setting an error. But, I had a backup plan, and some backup juice in the car. In fact, that’s been an important lesson on the trip—have a backup plan, and be conservative with your “chunks”. The sweet spot seems to be the fifty or so miles between 30% charge and 90%– keep that bottom part for backup, and don’t take the time to charge that top 10%, because it takes longer, and just do repeated 50 or 60 miles chunks in the middle.

So, back to the title of this post, yesterday I figured out how to deal with these places where the interstate is the only good option, and the speed limits are 70mph. This is what threw me off the other night—going 70 uses quite a bit more battery power, and really lowers your range. BUT, it’s not safe to be poking along in traffic that’s moving 75mph or faster. But I’ve got this problem figured out—I would pick a great big semi-truck that’s not going quite as fast as the others, and get a few car-lengths behind it. Get this—with a truck breaking the wind, I was able to average right at 100 miles per charge (though I wasn’t using the whole charge in one go), which, for the Leaf, is a mile per percent of battery charge. Pretty amazing to be whizzing along at 65mph and be getting the same range I would normally get driving carefully at 50mph.

Travelling a few car lengths behind something big and slower...

Travelling a few car lengths behind something big and slower. I was actually closer than the photo makes it look, but not tailgating-close… I followed this prison bus for a good long while.

At first I was trying to catch up to slower trucks ahead, but then realized that it’s better to just get on the highway and drive slightly slower than most of the traffic, and wait for a big semi with a box trailer to go by, preferably one that was catching up with me slowly. Then I would speed up a bit and get three or so car lengths behind it. Then, if the truck I was following passed another, slower, truck, then I didn’t pass, but would get behind the slower one. Anyway, definitely the ticket for making some time while not burning through the battery charge, and for dealing with super-fast traffic.

So, it’s been fun. We’ll be doing it all in reverse in a few weeks, but I don’t expect it to be too much different from this trip, so I won’t be doing a daily post. It’s been cheap, too, most of the chargers are free. I enjoy the pace, and I think the rest of the family does too—just when I get tired of driving, it’s about time to get out and walk or do something. Then, about the time I get tired of hanging out, it’s time to drive again. That, combined with seeing backroads and places that I normally would bypass, has made it interesting. I’ll be travelling like this again, and I suspect it will get easier and easier as more fast-chargers get installed.

 

It all fits! Camping and travel gear for four people, plus the car chargers.

It all fits in the back! Camping and travel gear for four people, plus the car chargers.

 

Charging in Columbus, Ohio. These Signet chargers are by far the least reliable of all the chargers, in my opinion. Fortunately, this one was working.

Charging in the rain in Columbus, Ohio. These Signet chargers are by far the least reliable of all the fast-chargers, in my opinion. Fortunately, this one was working.

 

Eco-Trip Day 3— More Than One Way to Skin a Cat

Campground level-2 in action...

Campground level-2 in action, with rigged-up adapter.

Well, day three was eventful. I knew from my planning that there were a few places along our route where there weren’t any good backups in case we had trouble with a charger. One of those places was Altoona, PA, and when we got there this morning, the charger wouldn’t read my credit card and wouldn’t turn on. Hmmmm. Nothing on Plugshare within 50 miles, and we had 29 on the meter. Short version of this story—after a bit of rigmarole, we realized that there was a Nissan dealership just two blocks down with three level-2 chargers, it just wasn’t on Plugshare. But, it took several hours at level-2 to get back on the road, so we were running a bit behind. (I added it to Plugshare while we were waiting, so the next person might have an easier time).

Most of the rest of the day went well, until the very last leg. I realized about 20 miles in that due to a slight mileage miscalculation, that we either weren’t going to make it, or would be cutting it very, very close. Not a situation I wanted to get myself into, and I couldn’t slow down to gain some miles because we were on I-70 and it had a 70 mph speed limit. (It would be dangerous to go noticeably slower than all the other vehicles going 70+). So we pulled the plug (ha, no pun intended) on that plan, and stopped at a closer state park in Ohio. Very nice place, so it all worked out. My new 220v adapter worked well, but for some reason the level-2 charger kept tripping the breaker, so I switched back to the level-1 cord. The car will still get to 100% by morning, so that will be fine.

But, now we’re off schedule a bit, and in the middle of another one of those charger gaps. We’ll have to find someplace to charge between here and Columbus, but there are a few campgrounds between here and there, and a Nissan dealership, so we should be able to figure it out.

And, oddly, just like yesterday, the most frustrating part of the whole day was dealing with my new smart phone. I just got it a few days before we left, and I don’t find all of its features intuitive, which is a bit maddening when I need to use it to solve a problem. In fact, the other electronic gizmos were also causing problems again today, because we went to sleep last night without plugging them in, so halfway through today we had devices that weren’t charged up. Anyway, I think we’ve gone about 800 miles now, and should be getting close to my friend’s house in Illinois by tomorrow night.

So, off to bed, right after I plug all those devices in.