Sunday, August 4, 2013

You Say You Want a Revolution...

We all want to change the world. Most folks for their own benefit, while others try to change it in a way that benefits the future. I'd like to think that some small part of my behavior puts me in that second group.  At least when it comes to clean energy and electric vehicles. In the past eighteen months we've gotten the ActiveE and installed a PV array on our house. Why?  Mostly because we want to help change the world. There are other arguments out there about solar and EVs saving money, or being green, but the reality is neither is probably true, at least for our individual household in the short term. PV arrays are greener than the alternatives in the long term, but in the short term that's not necessarily true. Additionally, unless you fool yourself with some funky ROI calculation (e.g., using per gallon costs for gas when the array is paired with an EV, rather than your current electricity suppliers kWh price that you would have paid to charge the car without the array), Solar PV arrays pay off incredibly slowly - unless you live somewhere with a lot more sunshine and much higher electricity rates than we have here.

Getting an EV was clearly not a cost saver for us as my daily driver had been a perfectly good ICE that had been paid off since the '90s.  And no matter what spin you put on it, an existing vehicle is greener than any newly built vehicle, electric or otherwise. And when you consider that we can only have the ActiveE for 2 years and we're likely to lease our next EV, we'll go 5 years of changing vehicles every few years.  Not exactly green or cost effective.  At this point it will be at least 2017 before I purchase another vehicle that I keep as long as I kept my '96 Audi A4.  Ultimately our decision to install the array and get the EV weren't about our personal cost savings or being green. They were about long term change for this country and the world. Unless there are early adopters like us to evangelize to others and spur production, demand will never rise to levels that result in price decreases that ultimately make the product viable for the general public and they then truly blossom and become green due to efficiencies of scale.  Especially when an 80-100 mile range and charge times longer than the 10 minutes it takes to fill up with gas scares the hell out of people.

Clearly we've already joined this revolution, so how do we help to sustain it? One of the many concerns that people have about getting and EV is range anxiety and where to charge their EV. As I've written previously, I live in a Dead Zone in southeastern CT. Not much has changed in regards to EVSE availability here since I wrote that post a little over a year ago. The State of Connecticut has stepped up and announced funding available for installing infrastructure, and I've attempted to convince a few entities to take advantage of the funding and install EVSEs to entice EV drivers to our area. Unfortunately my efforts have proven unsuccessful to this point, so I've opted for a different short term strategy while public infrastructure continues to have growing pains.

  Plugshare is one of the many websites (and Apps) that you can use to locate EVSEs for charging your vehicle. Unlike the other sites, however it also allows homeowners to add their home EVSE to the site if they are willing to let other EV drivers charge at their house. While I've been reticent to have strangers show up at my house previously (see aforementioned Dead Zone post), I felt it was time to pony up and do a bit more - so I took the plunge and added my EVSE to the site. Fortunately I live in an area with several restaurants within walking distance as well as a few marinas. This give folks something to do while their EV is charging at our house. Finally after our EVSE had been listed for several months, our first EV came for a charge up. While charging, the owners enjoyed a fabulous meal at Ford's Lobsters, and left several hours later with enough energy to get to their destination. So until some local businesses are ready to join the EV revolution, we'll continue to give EV drivers the opportunity to stop by, charge up, and enjoy some of the great food and sailing options our little village has to offer.  The Revolution has begun!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Who's Going to Drive You Home? Tonight?

Ric Ocasek may have asked it before me, but it was definitely the relevant question of the evening.  It started innocently enough.

On Friday I posted on the ActiveE FB Page that I thought I could make it 438 miles in 24 hours in my ActiveE in response to Tom's almost successful attempt to dethrone Jack Brown, the 24 hour mileage Kingpin.  If you don't know me, you might think that I quickly came up with a theoretical distance that might be possible.  If you do know me, you know there's an intricate spreadsheet with fairly complex algorithims that calculated that distance based on my current battery capacity, a specific route and distinct charge times from my ClipperCreek CS-40 EVSE and several public EVSEs on my chosen route.  Fast forward to yesterday morning.

As it turned out, my plans for Saturday included an inordinate amount of driving (at least for me).  It was enough driving that it was going to be about 30 miles more than my previous one day record.  What I learned was that charging reliability may be the biggest threat to my planned 400+ mile run.

I had planned for this post to be about my 'preparation' drive for a 400+ mile run where I went 200+ miles in under 12 hours with essentially no planning or effort.  Apparently the EV gods are a fickle bunch, however.  All was going well until we went to Hartford for dinner plans with friends.  My preferred lot to park and charge (the Araphoe lot in West Hartford) had a Chevy Volt charging at the one EVSE.  I moved on to the Isham Garage in Blue Black Square and fortunately found the one EVSE was available.

While it appeared my luck had changed, it really hadn't.  When I caught a ride back to the garage after dinner, I found that the car had stopped charging an hour earlier.  The real bummer was there was at least 7% less charge than I needed.  I plotted a shorter route home on back roads, and seriously gambled at the last turnoff to an EVSE that I could definitely make it to.  Thanks to a lot of drafting and coasting, the gamble paid off and we made it home with 2% to spare.    The downside?  This isn't the blogpost I imagined writing when today started, and I only made it 197 miles in 13.5 hours.

Fortunately I was able to drive myself home and I still believe I can break 400 miles in 24 hours. But only if the EVSE gods comply...

Friday, March 29, 2013

Reflections of

the way life used to be...

Admit it, you heard Diana Ross' voice in your head as you read the title of this blog post.  Anyway, its been just over a year, and a scosh over 10,000 miles of all electric driving since I took delivery of my ActiveE last March, and just about four months since my last post.  Somehow life (also known as the holidays and a Food & Drug Law class I'm taking) has gotten in the way of my being able to post lately.  But don't take that to mean that I'm not just as excited as I've always been about this car or EVs in general.  Since its our one year anniversary in the ActiveE and its has been so long since I've put together a new blog post, I thought it might be fun to reflect on how life has changed since we took the leap into an Electric Vehicle.

Before that fateful day when the BMW mailer ended up in my mailbox, I was going through life at 20 mpg.  Even then it was frustrating as hell.  My brother used to have an '88 Honda CRX that got more than 50 mpg, and the fact that we can't seem to approach that type of performance any longer due to US safety standards and American's perceived need for more power rather than gas mileage drove me nuts.  We Americans sure like to b!&@# about gas prices, but most of the folks who like to complain don't seem willing to change their habits.  They just want the government to do something about the high prices.  Sorry, I'll get off my soapbox now.  Anyway, after a year I find the ActiveE completely liberating.  No more frustration about 20 mpg.  No calculating how much each trip cost.  Before the ActiveE this is how my brain worked: 

Grocery shopping: $4.00
Trip to my mother's house: $7.20
Trip to a Certain someone's parent's house: $20.00

Now?  Not only do I not think about how much a trip costs, I don't even know how much gas costs.  When people complain about rising gas prices, I have to ask how much it is up to.  And considering that I had a PhotoVoltaic system installed, I care even less about 'fuel' costs.  At $4 saved per 20 miles driven the system will be paid off in 7 more years and all my future fuel costs will be completely free. Not surprisingly, this is a great segue into another wonderful change brought on by EV ownership. 

No more spending time at a gas station.  And I hate going to the gas station. Mostly because of the time it took - especially when you were running late and you realized you needed gas.  A lot has been made about the time necessary to plug an EV in, but I'm here to tell you that it is nothing compared to stopping at the gas station.  On average I spent about 10 minutes* per week at the gas station before the ActiveE. At ~520 minutes per year, that's a shade under 9 hours of my life back.  Time needed to plug the car in and unplug it each day?  Under 12 seconds combined (although admittedly it can be a bit longer in the winter when the frozen plug cable gets unwieldy).  Since I'm only averaging about 30 miles/day, I don't need to plug in every day.  In reality I only need to plug in ~2x per week, But even if I had to plug in daily, it would only be about 1.25 hours for the year.  That's 7.5 hours more per year that I can do whatever I want.  Doesn't sound like much to you?  Over your driving lifetime that's 17.5 days.  17.5 days of not dispensing and exposing yourself to a hazardous chemical.  In a world where we're all on a limited timeclock, I'll take any time I can get.

Other beneficial changes from the way life used to be?  A designated parking spot at work for EVs, feeling more in tune with your surroundings while driving due to the lack of engine noise, and no longer having to put up with the vibrations of a combustion engine.  To be fair, an EV actually highlights the level of vibration in an ICE when you're forced to drive one after owning an EV.  Prior to owning one I found ICE vibrations to be pretty innocuous.

To be fair and balanced in this little journey down memory lane, I must also highlight those EV traits that are either frustrating or require more effort than is necessary when one owns an ICE.  There's a lot of irony in my first frustration.  We're a four car household with a one car garage.  Suffice it to say that the ActiveE isn't the car that gets to sleep in the garage.  Winter in New England has its challenges and snow and ice are pretty high on the list.  Removal of ice from a car with little to no ability to warm itself up can be a challenge to say the least.  And in a time where many municipalities have enacted laws to make it a crime to drive around with snow or ice on your vehicle, this can be an issue, even with the car's ability to pre-condition and warm up the cabin prior to departure.  Fortunately it's only been a bit of an issue once for me, but a different type of winter could result in more issues.  Live in SoCal or have a garage, probably not much of an issue...

Another challenge is long distance travel.  Typically its not an issue for us as we just take the A6 Avant when distances make the EV untenable.  In a few short weeks, however, I'm hoping to make it to an ActiveE gathering in NJ.  Its 150 miles each way, and the weather forecast currently hints at temps well below the sweet spot for battery life.  Between reduced range due to temperatures and living in an area with a derth of EVSEs, planning for this trip has been challenging to say the least.  Hopefully it will be warm enough and I'll be able to adequately charge the ActiveE so that I can make the event (and the bigger challenge of making it home).  If I do, you'll get to read about it here.

*Note that I define time spent at the gas station as the moment I begin slowing down to pull into the gas station, until I am back at speed after leaving the gas station.