Tuesday, August 16, 2011

EV in an Emergency

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.

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