Tuesday, February 26, 2008

One Year of EV Driving

As of today, Feb 26th, I have been driving an EV for 1 year. Here is the story of my first year including trip stats, repair issues, public education, anecdotes... Be prepared, it's a long entry.

I drive a 1998 Chevy S10EV. It is my commuter vehicle and I have about 5500 EV miles and over 200 trips in it. In the last year I have significantly changed my driving habits; I went from an aggressive gasoline driver to a more efficient EV driver. I even get better gas mileage when I occasionally drive gas Vs now. When I got the truck it had 18,800 miles on it and it now has 24,300.

Trip Stats
Only 3% of my trips have been over 35 miles. Nearly half of my trips were between 20 and 30 miles (my typical commute is 21 miles). My longest trip in the EV was 46 miles on 10/29/07 when forgot to pick-up the dog and effectively did my commute twice plus some errands. I made it home with 5% SOC. This was the second time that I had the charge down into the single digits, the first time being the very first day I drove it. I now make sure to keep the charge above 30%, usually above 40%. I am hoping the batteries last 100,000 miles, so I need to not abuse them. By the time this EV has 100,000 miles, I hope it is easy to buy an EV (or Range Extended EV) to replace it.

For each trip I record the starting and ending charge and the distance. The trip efficiency measurement is simply the distance divided by the % of charge used. For example a friend of mine lives nearby (less than 5 miles round trip). The drive to his house is very hilly and up a mountain. This drive typically scores in the low 40s for efficiency. My commute, on the other hand, is relatively flat and scores in the 70s. My best trip, just last month, scored 115.

Other than the word "electric" on sides and tailgate this S10EV looks like any other Chevy S10. I added a PIA bumper sticker that simply has the plug car logo (no text) and suddenly people began to notice it was different. I got a thumbs up from a biker and three times at red lights drivers rolled down their windows and asked me questions.

We have a spectrum of vehicles. As much as I enjoy driving the EV, it is not the right vehicle for all situations (none are). We have a Prius and an SUV (Honda Passport) too. When I bought the EV, I was looking for a freeway speed EV. I did not care if it was a truck or car. Having a little truck has come in handy. We have hauled lots of stuff from Home Depot in it, a new washer and dryer (and the old ones away), and even a couple hundred pounds of rock. Ironically, I drive the SUV so little now that its (2 year old) battery died and I had to go buy a battery charger for it.

Fuel Use and Money Savings
When I bought the S10EV, I estimate that I would save about $1000 per year in gas compared to driving my Honda Passport. And as the price of gas goes up, so does my savings. That estimate turned out to be very accurate, as I saved $1014.

I estimate that I used 3,800kWh to power the EV during this 1 year. I don't yet have a Wattmeter on my charger, so this is an estimate after looking at Wh/mile data from someone that does have a meter on their magna-charger (Thanks Alex). This electricity would have cost about $300 if we bought it from our local utility. The S10EV uses 2-3 times more Whs per mile than most other EVs and it still costs less than 1/3rd the cost per mile to fuel than ICE (that is like gas prices being back to $1 gallon, ah 1988). That would be a net $700 savings per year. However, it is even better, we have a PV solar plant on our house. This generates about 4,000kWh per year. More than enough to power my transportation, so now I drive for free. Big Oil's nightmare.

As mentioned above, my driving is solar fueled. Had I driven these 5500 miles in my Passport, as I did the year pre-EV, this would have consumed ~300 gallons of gasoline, put ~5800 lbs of CO2 into the atmosphere, and fueled terrorism (excuse the pun). I have reduced my carbon foot-print by nearly 3 tons per year. As I often sign my emails: "EV + PV = No CO2".

The EV and solar panels work well together. The solar produces power during the day and supplies the grid during peak demand and I charge the EV at night when there is surplus grid power. This helps smooth out grid demand. Does it mean one less coal plant can be built? Maybe if a significant number of cars on the road were solar powered EVs, Yes!

Community EVents
The first thing I took my truck to was the Beaverton Eco-Neighborhood Summit in April 2007. They had some display spots reserved for the EVs. As I pulled in to one of them, I was told I could not park there. I guess they were not expecting a normal looking vehicle. The two other OEVA guys that were working the event thought it started an hour later than it did. So there I was, having only been as EV driver for 2 months, try to man the booth and answer questions. Trial by fire is the best way. Luckily, I had done some research before buying my EV and I did a cram session on EV history the night before. This is also the event where I met the folks that would later be my solar installers. But that's another story.

My next event was OEVA's EV Awareness Day. This was a fun day. There were lots of EVs there and even an electric boat. Gary G drove his Li-Ion powered conversion there on its first major outing. Different EVs were coming and going through out the day. There was a lot of foot traffic too. Portland's Pioneer Square is right in the middle of downtown so lots of people came by to check out all these wacky vehicles. It was a 12 mile drive to the event for me, so I expected to be fine to get there and back without charging. However, when I left the event, there was a shooting on Highway 26 and they had closed it down completely. I took I5 south and made it home with a total round trip of 35 miles, no problem.

My EV's final pubic appearance of 2007 was at the Livin' Green Music Fest in Hillsboro. This was a tribute to the music and environmental work of John Denver. They barricaded off several blocks of downtown Hillsboro and lined the streets with vendor and information booths. This time I was the only OEVA rep there. MCEV was there too displaying LSVs, but they were off on a side street, whereas I was on the main drag near the stage.

I am hoping to do all three of these events again in 2008.

At each of the events and I assume any public EVent, you tend to get the same questions over and over:

  • How far can you go on a charge?

  • How long does it take to recharge?

  • What is the top speed?

  • Is it really green if you are burning coal to power it?

I am going to write-up and have a handout for these. The answers not as simple as the questions. "How far can you go?" for example, for most people, when you are charging between every trip in your very own garage, it is not as important to be able to go hundreds of miles between fill-ups. There are lots of data to show the vast majority of people (not all) drive less than 30 miles per day.

And 'how long to charge?', it is not like a gas station where you sit there and wait for it. I started using a cell phone analogy. I plug in my phone each evening when I get home and it is ready to go, fully charged for the next day's use. If, instead, I had to take my phone to some cell phone filling station a few times per month, that would be horribly inconvenient. Yet that is exactly what we do with gas cars. EVs change the paradigm; see things differently.

'Is it green?', Ok that one is easy. Yes, it is greener, even if coal-plant powered according to the DOE. And if being green is your concern, buy wind power or install solar. In my area, wind power from the local utility is only about $0.10 per kilowatthour compared to $0.09 for regular power. It very affordable to buy RE power. Additionally, because of all the hydro power here in the NW USA, our grid power is already cleaner than most.

Repair Issues
I had to have the coolant pump replaced soon after I got it. Luckily this is a standard water pump part rather than some exotic EV part. It was easy to get and simple to replace. Just a couple months ago I had to have a battery box fan replaced; getting to it was a pain. These minor failures are to be expected with a 10 year old vehicle. Too bad they did not continue to make them so I could have bought a new one. With progressive improvements each year, they would have a really cool EV by now.

I replaced the brake lights with LEDs. They come on faster and are safer. LEDs light up about a fifth to a third of a second quicker than standard incandescent light bulbs. That may not sound like much, but at 65 MPH, a vehicle covers 19 feet in a fifth of a second. This could be the difference between a severe crash and a fender bender or the guy behind you stopping just-in-time and you avoiding that dreaded call to your insurance agent. You can actually see the difference in the time that it takes for LEDs vs old bulbs to come on in this video.

OEVA Meetings
This year I hope to get more involved with my local EV club, OEVA. Their meetings are on Thursday evenings and I have not been able to attend any of them, since I already have standing events each Thurs that I have not been able to shuffle.

If you are still reading, thanks! Feel free to send me any comments.

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