Sunday, August 26, 2012
Monday, November 21, 2011
Electric vehicle charging stations are being installed all around the world. For most regions this is a new experience. Many things should be considered: Where should they be installed? What are the considerations for disabled EV drivers? How should they be labeled? Many lessons will be learned over the next few years. Regardless of planning, some learnings will only happen by trial and error.
You can see in image 1 below, currently there are many ways under trial to indicate an EV parking spot.
|Image 1 - The Signs of Our Time|
|Image 2 - Portland EV parking sign|
To label a parking spot as "no parking" is confusing. Although confusing, since most vehicles on the road today are gas powered, this works well to ward them off from the precious few spots that currently have charging stations. As more EV parking spaces are added, I am not sure labeling them 'no parking' is the right solution. I prefer the positive expression of what can park there, rather than what can't.
For comparison, when a table is being held at a restaurant, it is not marked "no sitting, except for the party that reserved this table." While I understand, and appreciate, the 'no parking' aspect, these signs seem like they are telling a long winded story.
The lower half of this sign reads Electric Vehicle Parking Only. This should be enough to let someone know they can not park their gas car there.
Let's look at another sign.
EV Parking Only
|Image 3 - Electric Car Parking|
The more important part of these words is ELECTRIC. For pure electric vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf, there is no question if they can park there, but what about vehicles like the Chevy Volt? It has had an identity crisis, with GM calling it "more car than electric", while others call it a plug-in hybrid. It has an onboard internal combustion engine that usually doesn't, but when needed can, directly provide power to the wheels. The Volt's marketing issues aside, what about Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) such as the Plug-in Prius? They make no claim to be electrically-only driven. Can they park there? Of course they can, they are plug-in cars.
|Image 4 - Hybrid and EV Parking||Image 5 - Alt-Fuel Parking|
What kind of vehicle is the parking spot in Image 3 really intended for? If this spot has a charging station, and the point is to make it available for plug-in
One additional clarification, note that I said "use grid power for propulsion", rather than "plugs in". Plugs in could refer to a block heater or an alternator disconnect 12V battery system. Neither of these use electricity to propel the car and so should not be able to park in this spot. This is the sort of clarification that can be spelled out in local parking ordinances.
While Charging Only
|Image 6 - EV parking sign in Beaverton Oregon at the Farmers Market parking lot|
- If someone comes along and unplugs my car, then I am suddenly illegally parked.
- It prevents a charging station from servicing more than one parking spot.
- If my batteries fill up and stop charging, I am again, illegally parked.
- Once full, if I unplug and move my car, then I can not use the remote cabin preconditioning feature without reducing my range.
The second item on this list is the one I find most troubling. If placed correctly, a single charging station can service up to six parking spots, regardless of which ones are marked EV-only. EV drivers have developed a charging station sharing protocol. This protocol lets you know when another vehicle has enough juice so you can unplug it and plug in your own vehicle. However, if the spot they are parked in is marked "While Charging" then unplugging that vehicle, even with permission, would cause them to be in violation of the parking sign.
Let's look at the example from Image 6 above. In this parking lot there are three level 2 charging stations. These are in front of parking spots #2, 4, and 6 on the east side of the lot. Only the parking spots directly in front of the stations are marked for EV only. However, due to the placement of the charging pedestals parking spots #1, 3, and 5 can also easily be serviced by these charging stations.
Say I were to pull into this parking lot and the EV only spots (2,4, & 6) are occupied. So I park in spot #1. I look and the car in spot #2 has a protocol card that says it can be unplugged at 3:00pm. I am in luck, it is 3:30. They have enough juice to get to their destination. I, on the other hand, need to charge. If there were no "While Charging" restriction, I would disconnect their car and plug mine in. In this scenario, both drivers get the charge they need and the charging station is more fully utilized. That is why it is there.
Unfortunately, this parking lot has the "While Charging" restriction shown in Image 6. So, I would not be able to charge there unless I were willing to illegally unplug the other car, where one or both of us could be ticketed. So I would either have to forgo charging or sit around waiting for one of the drivers to leave before I could plug in. Most people would do the former unless they desperately needed to charge.
Since public infrastructure is currently rare, anything that can be done to maximize its use should be the law of the land. The point of the public charging infrastructure is to have it utilized. In this case the While Charging clause is preventing exactly that.
California recently had a bill (AB 475) to address public EV charging etiquette. General Motors asked for an amendment similar to those we discussed in the first half of this post. They wanted to make it clear that plug-in hybrid vehicles, like the Volt, would be able to legally park in "EV" parking spots. These changes make sense, but along with these changes, GM also added a "While Charging Only" requirement.
This did not go unnoticed by California's EV community. When this was pointed out, it seemed like it would be a simple matter to keep the PHEV clarifications and remove the While-Charging-clause. However, it was not that simple, GM showed their arrogance by ignoring their potential customers and advocates. They insisted that all the amendments remain. The state legislature listened to GM rather than their citizens. The bill passed the state legislature and now "While Charging Only" is the preferred sign text in the state.
Oregon and other regions that are rolling out infrastructure should learn from California's mistake. Here are a couple better alternatives: on Electric Avenue in Portland every parking spot has their own charging station, so there is no contention to plug in once you are parked. This removes the sharing hurdles that "While Charging" causes; however, the other issues remain. And having every parking spot with a charging station is obviously not a scalable solution. Considering the associated costs a station should be installed such that it can service as many possible parking spots as possible.
The second solution they use is simply restricted parking times. Like most street parking in downtown Portland, these Electric Avenue spots have time restrictions. The DC Quick Charger parking spot is limited to one hour. This ensures some level of turn over on this high-demand spot. Of course, putting time restrictions on level 2 spots will mean that drivers will not be able to fill up from empty, but topping up with a mid-day convenience 1-4 hour charge should be all that most drivers need. Parking garages, home charging, and DC quick charging can handle the rest.
For EV parking signage there are several semantic considerations. A sign should:
- not say car, if vehicle is what is meant
- not say electric vehicle, if plug-in vehicle is what is meant
Saturday, November 19, 2011
|Electric Vehicle Charging Station in Portland Oregon|
In 2010, to reduce emissions from transportation, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 1059. Given the ample hydroelectric power and growing wind and solar in this region, the best way to reduce transportation emissions is to power transportation with electricity.
To facilitate this, Oregon invested in transportation electrification and applied for and received federal grant. Charging stations are being installed in Oregon by the following projects:
- The EV Project - This is a $230 million dollar public/private partnership project is deploying 14,000 chargers in six states and the District of Columbia. This program is installing both public and residential charging stations. In Oregon The EV Project will deploy about 900 home stations to new EV owners, 1,150 publicly available Level 2 charging stations, and 45 DC Quick Chargers.
- American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) - This federal stimulus grant paid for the peculiar combination of high efficiency woodstoves, irrigation, & EV charging stations. $700,000 will be spent installing 8 DC quick chargers in the southern part of the state by the end of the year.
- Tiger II - The bulk of this $27 million grant will be spent improving light-rail and freight rail, however, $2 million will be spent to install 42 DC quick chargers along the I-5 corridor.
- Electric Avenue is a street in Portland that has 8 charging stations. Plug-in vehicle manufacturers can bring their vehicles here to test compatibility. This installation was paid for by Portland State University, Portland General Electric, and the City of Portland.
|DC Quick Charger in Central Point Oregon|
Additionally, local governments such as the city of Hillsboro are installing charging stations at transit centers and parking garages. Within her city limits, Hillsboro currently has more EV charging stations than gas stations.
So if you are looking for a launch market to test your EV in, consider Oregon. You can collect data here about usage and charging patterns that you could not get anywhere else.
Sunday, October 30, 2011
The northwest electric vehicle community is pulling out the stops to support the film on the night of the premiere in three ways:
- There is free parking for plug-in vehicles just across Sandy Blvd from the Hollywood Theatre. Portland General Electric is sponsoring this free parking for up to 70 vehicles.
- Many EV drivers will be caravanning to the theater from the new DC fast charger at the nearby Fred Meyer store.
- 41st Ave on the west side of the theater will have some of Portland's coolest EVs on display.
Tickets are available online from Hollywood Theatre.
To RSVP for free EV parking contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Free parking location is 1814 NE 41st Street, right across the street from the theater, above the Rite Aid, on the rooftop level.
To participate in the EV caravan (dubbed the EV Road Rally), arrive at the Hollywood district Fred Meyer charging stations before 5:30PM. The store's address is 3030 NE Weidler Street. The caravan leader is Steve “LEAF” Erickson. You can contact him at:
Cell phone: (360)513-6040
Monday, September 12, 2011
There have been many highly publicized EV treks: coast to coast, around the world, to the Arctic Circle... You name it, someone has tried to drive it in an EV. Most of these trips have very good intentions to raise awareness of EVs and/or renewable energy.
I laud these efforts, but as I have mentioned in other posts, they are often using EVs for the one thing they currently are not well suited for, long distance treks.
This is not a trek story. I picked up my Nissan Leaf on May 18th and recently crossed the 3300 mile mark. Why is 3300 significant? This is the distance from Seattle, WA to Miami, FL.
This blog post is a celebration of the mundane trips that make up most people's driving. 3,300 miles in just less than 4 months is an average of ~28 miles per day. The Leaf's 100 mile range covers this with ease.
Different cars have different capabilities. If you were going to help a friend move gravel with your vehicle, you should take a truck rather than a sports car. The same is true for EVs. Today the range is too short and the charging times are too long for EV treks to be popular for anyone other than EV diehards to attempt. However, if you have to run to the store, daycare, then soccer with cargo of groceries and kids, then the Leaf is a great fit.
Perhaps, a decade from now the country (or better yet the world) will be dotted with fast charge stations that would make treks simple. Until then, if I want to make one of these epic journeys, I'll rent a Prius and leave my EV at home.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Several times each year I display my EV at public events. There are the usual 'How far will it go?' and 'How long does it take to charge?' questions. One of the less frequent but recurring questions is 'What if you have an emergency?' I can now answer that question with an actual experience, rather than a hypothetical response.
Where I work there is free, solar powered, EV charging. During the week, this has become my primary charging source. Free renewable energy, it can't get much better. One typical morning, I park with 48 miles of range remaining. I plug in the car and head to my cubical like any other workday. These are only level 1 outlets, but the car typically emails me around 3 in the afternoon to say that it is full. Level 1, albeit slow, is adequate for workplace charging.
At about 2:30 that afternoon I get a call from my wife. She was rollerskating at Oaks Park with my daughter when she fell and broke her wrist. Oh no! I told her that she needed to head to the nearest emergency room. She could not drive. Call an ambulance, I tell her. No it is not bleeding, she responds. Ok then call a taxi, I say, and I'll meet you there. No, you come get me, she responds.
I grab my keys and head to the car. I am ~25 miles away and have to drive through downtown Portland to get there. The car has had all morning and early afternoon to charge, that along with the 48 miles it had, means it should be nearly full.
Unplug, jump in, start the car; as I am backing out, I see the car only has 50 miles of range. There are about 10 EVs at my workplace and the charging stations have 8 outlet pairs (16 outlets). This means that occasionally two EVs will be plugged into the same circuit on an outlet. The outlets have 20 amp GFIs. A Nissan Leaf like mine can draw up to 12 amps when charging at full level 1. This means that it is possible for two EVs to exceed the 20 amp limit of a GFI. The car I was sharing the circuit with was a conversion EV which I later found out was pulling 19 amps. I generally use the Leaf smartphone app to check on my car sometime mid-day to see if it is going as expected. On this day, unfortunately, I made no such check.
This was bad timing for the GFI to pop, but I still have more range than I need to get there. I hop on the freeway and drive ... fast. This is not the slow driving with most traffic passing me as I go merely 3 MPH over the posted limit, that is my norm. This is an emergency. I don't have the car or my right foot in Eco mode. The quick acceleration is just what I need to jump into any traffic opening I can find to get there sooner. Luckily rush hour(s) had not started and I am able to make good time.
I arrive in the parking lot to find her waiting in the passenger seat of her Prius. From her, 'no I'll wait for you' comments on the phone I was wondering if her wrist was really broken or just sprained. Now that I see it, her arm is not straight. It is broken! I jump into the driver's seat of her car and head to the emergency room about 5 miles away. They set her wrist and put a splint on her.
I am there by her side for the entire ordeal. Then they said that she needs to stay in an observation room for an hour or so just to make sure there are no side effects from the drugs they gave her during the procedure (which included propofol, the drug that Micheal Jackson overdosed on).
While she is being observed, I am to go pick up our daughter. She is still at Oaks Park with one of our friends and her children. I drive back to Oaks and park the Prius next to the Leaf. Only now do I start to wonder how I am going to get both cars home. I'll need a 2nd driver. The Leaf reports 20 miles of range remaining. It is only 13 miles to my house from there, I probably could make it, but I'd prefer not to deep discharge the battery. I did buy this car, not lease it. Also I would prefer not to drive the last couple (uphill) miles in turtle mode.
I am going to need some help. Hitting the 'find nearest charging station' shows one on Barbur and several in downtown Portland, just 3 miles away. A friend of mine lives in the south waterfront district which happens to be about half way between me and the downtown charging stations. I give him a call, tell him what is going on, and ask him if he can meet me at one of the downtown charging stations and give me a ride back to Oaks Park. He agrees. I can easily take the MAX back downtown and pick up the Leaf either that night or early the next morning and it will be adequately charged by then.
The first charging station that I find is occupied, but I find another 2 blocks away. This is one time that living in an EV-friendly area with several charging stations is coming in very handy. Many times I have said that home charging is all that is really needed, maybe I need to rethink that a little.
My friend shuttles me back to Oaks, I pick up my daughter. We then pick up my wife and head home in the Prius. I call her brother, he is getting off work that night at 10pm and had taken public transportation. He is happy to help me get the Leaf in return for a ride home. I have the 2nd driver I need.
I arrive to pick him up in the Prius. In the couple minutes that I am waiting, I run the Leaf app on my phone and see that the car is up to 42 miles of range, and it will have more by the time we get there. This is more than enough for the 12 mile drive home. He gets in the car and we head downtown. We pull up next to the Leaf, I hand him the keys and because we are double parked with traffic behind us, the only instructions I gave him were "The shifter is a little different. You'll figure it out."
I have to admit that I was a little worried. This is my new car, the one I blog about, and post pictures of on facebook. And I just gave the keys to my wife's little brother. On the other hand, I want people to experience the EV grin and know that these are 'real cars'. The best way to do that, is let them get behind the wheel. I circle the block and find a spot to wait behind him. He adjusts the seat and mirrors and pulls out into traffic. I follow. He turns on to the freeway, but headed in the wrong direction. He quickly realizes it, takes the next exit and gets back on headed the right way. Good thing the batteries have more than enough to make it home.
We head up the Sylvan hill at freeway-speeds. The Leaf can run up Pike's Peak, so the Sylvan hill is no sweat. We pull into my garage, he gets out and said "That is fun to drive." His only complaint was the slope of the front windshield reduces some visibility. Oh and that it is "too easy to speed because it is so quiet."
I give him a ride to his house, drop him off, and return home. The family is now all here and both cars are in the garage. The Leaf is charging on its own dedicated 40 A circuit.
It was a good thing that I didn't pull in to work with just 20 miles remaining that morning. In my normal routine, the range does not drop below 40 miles remaining. Now I have a reason to try to keep it there, just in case.
In conclusion, the Leaf worked great in this emergency. If I had a gas car that day, what would I have done different that day? Nothing. Even moving the car from Oaks to downtown would have been the same so I could have gotten to it via the light-rail system. The only thing I would do different that day is be more insistent that my wife call a cab rather than wait for me.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
This is enough time & miles to evaluate the car far more than a short test drive. I’ll cover the driving experience, range, and areas that I think could be better.
The Leaf is intended as an around-town commuter car. It fills this need very well. If you are looking for a racer, or a cross-country cruiser, skip the Leaf and keep looking.
The driving experience is great. The car has enough acceleration off the line to put you back in your seat. The acceleration slows when you get above 40MPH or so, but still plenty for a car in this category. The low weight gives the car a solid feel when cornering. The front-wheel drive and traction control have kept it surefooted on the wet roads of Oregon.
It is difficult to compare an electric motor and a gasoline engine. They have very different performance characteristics. The 80kW motor only has 107 BHP. However, it has a full 206 ft-lbs of torque from zero PRMs. This aspect is more comparable to a 250 HP gas engine. So off the line, the Leaf feels like you have 250 horsepower, whereas at speed, it has a mere 100 horsepower feel.
If you are the first car at a red light and want to change lanes, you are not going to have any trouble zipping ahead of the other cars at that light (unless another one of them is an EV).
When driving an EV you do have to be “range aware” but there is no need for anxiety. The Leaf has a display that shows you an estimate of how far you can go. The estimate is based on two factors: how much charge you have left and how efficiently you have been driving recently.
The first thing that all EV drivers need to know is that not all miles are the same. Going 65 MPH uphill with the A/C on is very different from puttering around town. The range estimator in the car monitors your driving and attempts to tell you how far you can go based on your recent driving. For planning purposes, you should have an understanding of the impact that speed has on range. Here is a chart that shows the expected range at various speeds:
On the flip side, this ever-adapting value encourages efficient behavior. If you were to accelerate hard and the range did not adjust, you may incorrectly assume this has no impact. In addition to the range estimation the car also has a “fuel” gauge. This gauge is made up of 12 bars indicating how full the batteries are. This does not adjust based on your driving patterns, it is a simple measure of the charge you have remaining. I find this combination of estimate and fuel gauge meets my needs.
The lowest I have had the car was down to 2 bars remaining with an estimated 18 miles remaining. You should plan all of your trips to have at least 20 miles to spare to allow for unseen detours.
The Leaf has a great telematics system. It shows you how far you can go on the map with a white circle. If your destination is within this, you should have no trouble making it there. Outside of the white circle is a light grey ring, this is an area that you can reach if you drive efficiently. Outside of that is the dark grey area. If you plan to go there, you should look for charging stations along the way.
Speaking of charging stations, there is a button on the steering wheel that will show you the nearby charging stations at a glance. You can also select “nearby charging stations” in the navigation menu, and you can add these as waypoints on any trip. In the month that I have had the car more than 20 charging stations have been added within a single charge driving distance of my house.
I can charge in my garage with 240V 16A and I can charge at my work with 120V 12A. Most of the time I used overnight charging. This gave the car plenty of time to fill up and the car started out each day fully charged.
Last week I decided to see if only charging at work would meet my needs. With a 20 mile commute, during my workday the car was able to fully charge up, even on just a 120V outlet. The cost to my employer is minimal, about 40 cents worth of electricity each day. I consume more than 40 cents in free drinks that we have at work each day. It is good green PR, makes me happy to see their support and does not cost much, so it is a nice perk.
My only complaints about the experience so far are not about the car itself, but the amenities. It comes with XM satellite radio. I was unimpressed with XM. It did not have as many stations as I would have liked and they had commercials. Why would I pay for radio with commercials?
The second radio failure is the lack of HD radio. There are free stations on HD radio that I do like. The Leaf system does not have HD. I took the car into my local Car Toys and they said that there was nothing that I could do about it short of replacing the entire telematics system. Since the Leaf’s system has some very special support for finding charging stations, I would not be able to find a replacement with these features.
The car does support streaming bluetooth, so I plan to listen to Internet radio via my yet-to-be-purchased smart-phone while driving.
Speaking of smart-phones, my next complaint is that the Carwing app for the car only works on the iPhone. This app will allow you to: check on the car’s state of charge, set charge times, turn on the climate control, set climate control timers... However, this app is not yet available on Android. Many people have Android phones, they seem to be ignoring too many customers by not supporting this OS.
I have been very happy with the Leaf. You can see that Nissan put a lot of thought into the car. It was not a conversion of an existing gas vehicle just to get something on the road, but a real effort to make an EV market for Nissan. There are things that they can fix in next year’s model and I hope this is just the first of many increasingly better EVs from Nissan.
Friday, February 18, 2011
Promises were made over and over about the new great EV that was going to come out and have a great range, do freeway speeds, and be affordable. The dream did not come true, in fact it was crushed repeatedly in 2001 through 2010 and until the Nissan LEAF and the Chevy Volt delivered their 2011 models in December of 2010 it looked like it may never happen.
December 2010 changed all of this disappointment into hope. This was the point when I felt I could exhale a long sigh of relief. I had been hoping that start-ups like Aptera, or Coda, or Zenn would deliver. I was shocked to see that it was not start-ups, but major auto manufacturers the likes of GM and Nissan that delivered.
Perhaps they were concerned that the writing was on the wall and that start-ups like Tesla were gaining too much ground or perhaps it was the ground swell of demand from buyers. What ever the reason, they responded and there are now EVs for sale. Real cars, with real freeway capabilities, and more are coming.
Ford, Honda and others are not going to sit back and let Nissan and GM run away with the new tech market. Toyota has made a deal with Tesla to produce an(other) electric RAV4. Ford and Honda have announced 2012 model EVs of their own.
It looks like EVs are here to stay this time. No auto maker wanted to be the one left behind. They have all learned the lessons of the Prius and want to be the one that had the next jump in this new plug-in technology.
If you want to see what EVs are coming out and which one would be right for you, check out the EV tracker at Plug In America. It has the complete list from Aptera to Zero. Narrow your search by the number of wheels and/or the availability date. There are vehicles available now and even more available next year.
Plug In America EV Tracker
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Moving transportation off of crude oil is vital; pick your reason: energy prices, national security, war, military spending, pollution, environmental devastation, CO2... Whether your political views run left or right, down the middle or indifferent, there are reasons to support moving off of gasoline. Tea Party members can support the reduction in this massively government subsidized energy source. Tree Huggers can support the cleaner air. The indifferent can enjoy the decline (or at least slower rise) in gasoline prices as demand is decreased and competition is increased.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation most Americans drive less than 30 miles each day. This means that with the Volt, most days will be completely gasoline free. Electricity will be used for commuting and all the in-town short trips, while gasoline will be there when you need it for a road trip to Vegas. If you are unsure of, or cannot use a full-electric car, then a plug-in hybrid with an electric range to cover "most days" is a great way to move the majority of your driving to electrical power and still have the safety net of all those quick-fill gas stations.
The second reason that the Volt is important, specifically to America, is that it is made by an American Company that has a loyal following. If a new technology like this had been introduced by a foreign car company, there are some people that would never consider it and even disparage it. The Volt has taken a couple of knocks from Rush Limbaugh, but Chevy diehards will ignore this completely. As their ads say "Chevy Runs Deep".
Americans know that General Motors is here to stay. As the recent US government bailout and resurrection IPO proved, GM is not going away. They will be here to honor their warranties and service their vehicles. Additionally, potential US customers know that the vehicles are being assembled in an American factory and that their payments are, at least in part, going in to the pockets of American workers.
The Volt reaches out to an audience that has never been interested in a car like the Prius. For example, when NASCAR's Rick Hendrick bought the first publicly available Volt in a charity auction, an entire segment of America was introduced to this car technology as something really cool. Yes, it is different technology than the Chevy that their Dad drove, but it comes from that same company and carries the same bow-tie logo that they trust.
The Volt will be the first opportunity for many people to experience an electric motor bigger than a golf cart. In a Volt you can feel the high-torque electric motor acceleration. The Volt will be the first chance for many to have the "EV Grin." In short, it is fun to drive. Plus it has a lower fuel bill and a quieter ride.
The Volt will also give people a choice of how they fuel their driving. They can plug in, filling up on locally generated electrons, putting money into their local economy. Or they can pump up, knowing that most of that money is going out of the country and some of it is going to regimes that don't like our freedoms or way of life. The point is the Volt gives them a choice.
The Volt is an eloquent machine that Americans can be proud of. When plugged in nightly, the Volt is fueled with enough locally generated electrons for most people's daily driving to be "energy independent." Because the Volt can be run on gasoline too, there is no need to be concerned about range limitations or charging times. Many people that would have ignored "yet-another-foreign-hybrid" will give a Chevy a chance.
Rick Hendrick Buys a Volt
Rick Hendrick fields 4 Sprint Cup teams:
- Five time consecutive Sprint Cup Champion in the Lowe's #48 Chevrolet Impala SS driven by Jimmie Johnson.
- Four Time Sprint Cup champion #24 Jeff Gordon
- #5 Chevrolet driven by Mark Martin
- and #88 driven by NASCAR’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.
* Call it a range extended electric vehicle (REEV) if you'd like.