Monday, May 16, 2011

Our Nissan LEAF, One Month into the Journey

It's one month into our Journey with our LEAF and time to share more of our thoughts and experiences.

First of all, we love our LEAF even more after living with it for a month than we did when I last posted, two weeks after taking delivery.  We chose the LEAF as a car for most of our local driving, errands, shopping, to visit local family and for fun outings.  It has worked out perfectly for that purpose, and proven to be a lot of fun to own and to drive as well.  I chose to ignore economy and just drive it for fun the other day and I was reminded that the LEAF can be a really fun, fast, secure and stable car to drive quickly.  Someone asked me whether I missed my BMW 3 Series, and I could honestly answer that I don't.  The LEAF is no BMW, but in its own way, it is an amazing and fascinating car.  And to be sure, it is a far better and more satisfying car than the Versa it resembles, and a much more satisfying road car than a Prius.

My favorite things about driving the LEAF are its smoothness and quiet, the feel of quality the car gives (except for the amazingly thin "carpet" that barely deserves the name), the turbine-like quickness as soon as you press the accelerator from a standstill, and the fascinating electronic displays.  I'd like to be able to introduce and explain the car more to people I meet, but apparently it can be easily mistaken for a "normal car", so I don't get a lot of questions, though I do get one or two a day.  It is fun to take it to car meets, etc, though, and we do get a lot of interested people at those events.

Of course, there is definitely a good feeling that comes from knowing that I'm driving without polluting and that it is costing us nothing for the fuel, thanks to the solar power that comes from our rooftop solar panel array.  The combination of electric cars and rooftop solar panels makes for a very good fit..  To make things better, add the availability of "Time of Use" electric rates that include lower rates for charging late at night, and you have a perfect incentive to drive electric.  I calculate that over 6,000 miles a year of our driving will be truly emission-free due to our solar panels, and over 12,000 miles a year will be free of fuel costs because of the benefit of "Time of Use" rates.

The most common question we hear is "What's the range?"   Or, from our friends who find puns funny, "Watt's the range?"   Well, the longest distance we've driven on a full charge is 86.5 miles.  That was on the day when we purposely ran the car down to zero charge.  There was no freeway driving or heat or air conditioning used, and we used ECO mode to conserve power some of the time.  If I'd driven the car very carefully, with only range in mind, I probably could have added ten or fifteen more miles. We usually don't drain it that far down, though, so I'll answer the range question using information reported by others.

Driving range with an EV depends a lot on driving behavior, including speed, aggressiveness, hills and use of the heater or air conditioning.  Low temperatures also reduce the range.  I recently read that an online magazine got a range of 132 miles from driving at a steady 35 mph until the batteries were fully discharged.

Most people, though, are asking for the realistic, practical range that they can get in their normal commute.  Here in suburban California, that means freeway driving, often using air conditioning.  Under those conditions, and assuming that most people want a safe margin of miles left when they reach home to avoid needing roadside assistance, I'd say that the range is 70 to 75 miles.  That's a one-way commute of 35 miles, driven conservatively (65 mph, in ECO mode). Any further than that and you'll need to be able to plug in to charge during your work day.  If you can charge at work, add about 10 miles of driving for each hour that you can charge at 220 volts, or about 4 miles of driving for every hour that you charge at 110 volts.

Charging Time:
The next most popular question is "How long does it take to charge?"  Again, it varies based on the voltage of your charging power source.  With our 220 volt home charging dock (an "EVSE"), we can always recharge the LEAF within 6 hours or less, usually a lot less.  That works perfectly if we charge at the time when our electric rates are lowest, midnight to 6 am, while we're sleeping.  We wake up every morning with fully charged batteries.

If we didn't have a 220 volt power source and we were to rely solely on the 110 volt "trickle charge cable" that is supplied with the LEAF, we'd be looking at 15 or 16 hours of charging.  Some LEAF owners are having this trickle charge cable updated by a private company to work with a 220 volt plug, like an electric dryer plug.  With that modification, you don't get the full amperage of the wall mounted EVSE, so you're probably going to need about 8 or 9 hours to fully recharge.

Charging Locations
Another common question is about where public charging stations can be found.  We're still waiting to see a network of public 220 volt charging stations along highways.  Most Nissan dealers have several charging docks, and most dealers will allow anyone to charge for no cost.  There are also some public charging stations at shopping centers, hotels and airports.  Many of the charging docks that were installed in the last ten years were made to fit older EVs, like the Toyota RAV4 and the EV1.  The new standard for this "Level 2" charging is called J1772, and all of the new EVs sold in North America will fit this plug configuration.  Many of the older charging stations will be converted to this new "J" standard.  Again, this is the 220 volt charging level that will add about 10 miles of driving per hour of charging.

There are several government programs to add 480 volt DC "Quick Charging" stations (also called "Level 3", though no Level 3 standard has been agreed to yet) along major highways.  These chargers can charge a LEAF from empty to 80% full in about 25 minutes, perfect for a coffee or meal stop.  However, only one of these stations exists in California, at a transportation center in Vacaville in Northern California, and that one is awaiting some certifications before it can be turned on for public use.  These chargers are very expensive to buy and install, running more than $30,000.  The establishment of this network of fast chargers is considered important to the success of this new wave of EVs.  Charging at home works well for commuting and local errands, but convenient rapid charging will encourage EV travel to more distant destinations and will make the EVs much more useful.

Charging Costs
While home solar power can make charging an EV economical or even free, what about the increase in the electric bills of the average homeowner who doesn't have solar power?  Well, there is good news for these potential EV owners as well.  Some utilities offer separate meters for EV charging that allow for billing on a rate structure that is separate from the home's routine power use.  These programs offer rates of 10 cents or less per kWh, in many cases.  If a separate meter isn't possible or is too costly, time of use rate programs are still possible for the whole house electricity use.  The major concern with these latter programs would be that heavy electric use during peak times of the day, such as air conditioning use, would more than offset the lower costs for the nighttime EV charging.  Those who are interested should check with their utilities for rates and available special programs.

Maintenance of a LEAF
Because an EV lacks most of the high maintenance systems that an ICE car has, ignition, exhaust, fuel, lubrication, etc, the maintenance requirements are far less.  Most of the items on the LEAF maintenance schedule involve electronic checks of the health of the battery pack, fluid levels and tire rotation.  Costs for these maintenance visits should be far less over the life of the car than they would be for a comparable ICE car.  I don't know the prices for the LEAF maintenance tasks yet, but I'll blog about them when I learn more.

The Numbers
Month:  April 2011
Total Miles at Month End:  877 miles
Miles Driven in Month:  808
Electric Power Used for Charging: 260.3 kWh (measured at wall power source, includes 13.4 kWh of public charging)
Home Charging: 246.9 kWh
Most Electric Power Used for Charging in a Day: 26.1 kWh (7.1 charging hours)
Least Electric Power Used for Charging in a Charging Day: 0.5 kWh (0.14 charging hours)
Average Electric Power Used for Charging in a Charging Day:  11.8 kWh (3.2 charging hours)
Energy Efficiency:  3.10 miles/kWh (wall to wheels)
Household Power Used:  492.1 kWh (without car charging)
Total Power Used:  739 kWh (includes car charging)
Solar PV Power Generated:  814 kWh
Net Power Used or Sent to Grid:  75 kWh sent to grid
Electric Bill:  -$39.36 (A credit in this amount will be added to our net metering total credit for the year, offsetting future bills for months with lower solar output.)
Cost for Charging Car:  $0.00
Cost per Mile:  $0.00
(If We Didn't Have Solar Power, Est Cost for Charging Car in April: $32.10)
(If We Didn't Have Solar Power, Est Cost per Mile in April: $0.037)
Average Miles per Driving Day:  32.3 miles
Longest Day's Driving:  86.5 miles
Shortest Day's Driving:  5.0 miles
Number of Times we Took the Prius Instead of the LEAF Due to Low Charge:  Two
Unexpected Low Charge and Unable to Reach Destination:  Never

May 14 So Cal LEAF Branch Cerritos Gathering

Just a quick post to report on the May 14 gathering of our So Cal LEAF Branch at Cerritos Nissan, our third gathering kindly hosted by our friends at Cerritos.
(Sorry for the delays, the Blogger network has been down for a few days due to a technical failure.)

We had about 35 attendees and ten LEAFs in attendance.  Several of the LEAF owners had picked up their LEAFs very recently, including one of our founding members, Kataphn, with her pretty blue LEAF virtually full of accessories (inside joke, Kat had more accessories in advance of actually having her LEAF than any of us have heard of).

There were lots of newcomers, who were very welcome.  Several of the attendees were under the age of 13, and one young man appeared to be about four years old.  We were glad to share the future of personal transportation with those who will inherit the world we are creating.   Some of the newer attendees hadn't been able to see of sit in a LEAF before, and we were able to offer that opportunity to them.

John Beard and Cerritos Nissan were extremely welcoming to us.  We had another great catered breakfast and the use of their conference room.  John continues to help us to get a Forum discount on LEAF accessories, and I was able to pick up my cargo organizer at a great price.  John also provided some nice keychains that we added to the raffle items that Kat and Gary brought.

Unfortunately for our pictures, Cerritos Nissan had an event planned this weekend, and so they had lots of inventory on the lot.  This prevented us from parking our LEAFs together for pictures, and we were scattered around the lot.  We were still able to show off our cars to interested newcomers.

Gary (our Branch Manager) led the discussion. Topics included charging options, including the Ingineer-modified Nissan L1 EVSE, technical issues that have cropped up, including starry's "teaklettle syndrome" heater circuit, and availability of "orphan" LEAFs.

Here a few pictures.

Gary Leads the Discussion

Kathaphn moves her LEAF to more easily show it to some newcomers

Checking out the new LEAF

Kat's "Passengers"

Danny, hill and Jim chatting with some future LEAFers

Boomer's (our) LEAF after install of new Cargo Organizer
Note the raised load floor

There will be a meetup in Santa Ana at Hometown Buffet on Saturday May 28th at 8:30 am.  All interested parties and families are welcome.  Test rides offered happily to those who haven't had the chance to ride in an EV yet.