Category Archives: Electric Vehicles

Leaf vs. Bolt—Quick and Dirty Review

The 2017 Chevy Bolt---not the same as a Nissan Leaf.

The 2017 Chevy Bolt—not the same as a Nissan Leaf.

Ok, so I finally drove a Bolt. And… it’s not the same as a Leaf. I know, this is not sounding like rocket science here. But, bear with me—time for the very very short review.

My quick impressions from a 30-minute drive…

— The Bolt is a smaller car, that feels lighter than the Leaf. BUT… I just looked up the curb weights, and the Leaf averages about 3,350 lbs, and the Bolt is actually a bit heavier, at 3,500 lbs. So let’s unpack this a bit. First, the Bolt is smaller. You can’t really see any of the hood, even when you lean forward a bit. The passenger is closer to the driver than in the Leaf, by what seemed like several inches, and the side windows angle in more at the top. The end result is a cabin that feels quite a bit tighter than the Leaf’s. The area behind the rear seat (the “trunk space”) is smaller, too. But… there’s no hump in the middle of the rear floor, so the rear seating area seemed plenty spacious. Then, it has more power than the Leaf, by a noticeable amount. On one start, I accidentally broke both front tires loose, which made me wonder 1) if it has traction control, and 2) how much faster it would be if it was rear-wheel drive like a Tesla. Its acceleration on a highway on-ramp was impressive, and it seemed to dart right up to 70 mph. So… I think it’s this power that makes it feel lighter than the Leaf, even though it isn’t.

But… (there might be lots of buts in this post…) it seemed quieter than the Leaf, sort of. Continue reading

3,010 Mile EV Roadtrip, Round 2

EV camping fog cropped

News Flash—The EV world is changing. It’s been a few weeks since we’ve returned, but I’m finally getting around to reporting on our trip to the St. Louis area, from Vermont, in the 2015 Leaf. In total, we traveled 3,010 miles, in a big loop, off and on over a period of about three weeks, camping along the way on the days that we traveled. We did a slightly shorter version of this trip two summers ago, and back then I did a once-a-day blog entry about the trip. In one sense, not too much has changed—the daily mechanics of this trip were largely similar, and I don’t feel that this aspect deserves much more electronic ink. On the other hand… there were some aspects of the trip that have changed drastically in the last two years, and they mostly relate to the EV world as a whole, and these aspects deserve some attention.

So, in no particular order… Continue reading

Coming Soon—Your World, Disrupted

Google's self-driving car...

Google’s self-driving car, a possible forerunner to “Transportation as a Service”, or “TaaS”.

Imagine this—fully autonomous cars, legal in all fifty states by 2021. And shortly after that—no more car dealerships. Cars that last for half a million miles, but that very few people own. Radical disruption of the oil industry. No more gas stations. An extra trillion dollars a year in US consumers’ pockets. People paying to have their used gas cars towed away and disposed of. Unused pipelines.

These and more are the stunning predictions in a new report from a noted technology research group, whose authors see an approaching “perfect storm” of economic disruption, driven by self-reinforcing feedback loops that revolve around the combination of dropping prices and increased capabilities of electric vehicles, renewable power, and self-driving control systems.

Basically, they envision an entire transportation system that is akin to today’s Uber, but one that is coupled with electric vehicles and autonomous driving in ways that result in plummeting costs, and they predict that this unbalancing of costs will have ramifications that will upend much of life as we know it. Perhaps more importantly, they also conclude that this shift will happen much, much sooner than nearly anyone thinks it will. In fact, they predict that sales of new gas-powered vehicles to consumers will cease as soon as seven years from now. Continue reading

The Diffusion of Innovation, The Chasm, and the Tesla Model 3

Well, now that explains it...

Well, now that explains it…

Hmmm, it seems that I don’t have time to write long posts. So, I’ll just write some short ones instead. Short post number one– the diffusion of innovation theory really helps make sense of our transition to electric vehicles. As I’ve long held, EVs are clearly better vehicles. They’re mechanically more simple, smoother, quieter, quicker, more reliable, they require less maintenance, they’re cheaper to operate, AND they can be powered with renewable power, AND the entire fuel distribution network (the electric grid, in this case) is dramatically more efficient, AND the vehicles themselves are more efficient (regenerative braking, no wasted heat…). EVs will also help solve the indeterminacy problems of renewable generation, and the list goes on. Eventually we will all drive EVs, and gas-powered cars with tailpipes spewing filth will be seen as archaic.

Because I have long seen this, I would be listed as a “visionary” in the diffusion of innovation model, and because I have acted on these ideas and bought two EVs, I am also an “early adopter”.

A pattern that many have noticed, however, as they study technology, is that diffusion often gets stuck between the early adopters and more widespread use. They call this barrier “The Chasm”.  Early adopters typically adopt the innovation for reasons other than purely economic ones—in my case, I bought EV’s to lower my carbon footprint, and to try to do my part in getting humankind to operate in a more sustainable fashion. But the next phase of adoption, the early majority, consists of people who adopt the technology largely for economic reasons; they are pragmatists. “The chasm”, this barrier to adoption between the early adopter and the early majority, is something of a chicken and egg problem— in the case of EV’s, the lack of market share prevents the economies of scale from bringing down costs, and the higher costs prevent the market from expanding.

But, I’m pretty sure that right now, today, we are witnessing the electric vehicle crossing this adoption chasm after being a bit stuck for several years. And the reason? Tesla, and particularly the Model 3. The Model S (S, not 3!) has been groundbreaking in many, many ways, but it is still a $90,000 vehicle that most people can’t afford. The Model 3, however, promises to be a true game-changer.

Jumping-the-chasm impetus number one--- the Tesla Model 3.

Jumping-the-chasm impetus number one— the Tesla Model 3.

With a sticker price of below $40,000, and a range of over 200 miles, the Model 3 is likely to propel electric cars solidly into the mainstream (and 400,000 people have already paid deposits to ensure their place in the queue to get one). From there, all those natural advantages that EVs have will propel ever-further adoption—the chasm will have been crossed.

In addition, the announcement of the Model 3 prompted Chevrolet to do something akin to a magic hat trick Continue reading

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…

 

 

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.

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.