Friday, January 28, 2011

Running on Empty

I am now officially an electric vehicle owner: came close to running out of charge last night. I won't go into the specifics, but I spent the last 30 minutes of the drive hypermiling for all I was worth (using the tricks I learned riding my bike).

When we bought the LEAF, I really didn't think we'd use public charging stations. Fill up the battery at home, drive to/from work, plug it in at night. Why would I want to spend 2-3 hours at the mall, trying to get enough electrons to make it home? After yesterday's adventure, my perspective is changing.

Make an unexpected trip during the day? Forget to plug in the night before? Worried you don't have quite enough charge to make it home? A public charging infrastructure addresses these situations, and provides a more important benefit: peace of mind. If I miscalculate, I face the minor inconvenience of stopping for 30 minutes or an hour or two, versus having to arrange towing.

In the US, The EV Project and ChargePoint America are rolling out public charging stations (240VAC and 480VDC) in selected communities. The stations will initially provide free charging, but switch to a subscription model sometime in the future.

Incidentally, Nissan really doesn't want you to completely drain the battery. We hit just the first of three warnings designed to get you to a charging station:
  • Level 1 - Gas pump/plug icon starts blinking (~10% charge remaining)
  • Level 2 - Visual/audio alert and console displays map to nearest charging station (~5% charge remaining)
  • Level 3 - Reduced performance ("Turtle") mode, limits acceleration and top speed (~2% charge remaining)
Update: According to CARWINGS, panic-induced hypermiling reduced my energy consumption by 30%. Life on the edge has its benefits!

Monday, January 24, 2011

I May Regret This

For the second year in a row, the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states are getting pummeled by "the worst winter in history". And, for the second year in a row, the Canadian Arctic is having the mildest winter in history. In both cases, the reason is a negative North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). This despite the fact that 2009-2010 was an El Nino winter, and 2010-2011 is a La Nina winter. The NAO is overpowering the effects of ENSO, at least in the North Atlantic.

And maybe beyond. Here in the Northwest, in 2010, we experienced the warmest January on record. But it was an El Nino winter, after all. More surprising is our relatively normal winter this year, during the strongest La Nina event in more than 50 years. Before I go too hyperbolic, we've had a wetter-than-average winter, with snow in the mountains and flooding in the lowlands. But only a few stretches of below-freezing weather, and very little overnight frost.

Of course, now that I've said this out loud, we'll probably get pummeled ourselves next month since Winter doesn't officially end until February 21st.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Embracing My Inner Geek

One of the velvet handcuffs that comes with the Nissan LEAF is the CARWINGS telematics system. On the minus side, it collects data on your driving and charging habits and sends it to Nissan Corporate. On the plus side, it lets you look at your data and download it to a spreadsheet.

The data collected include electricity used by the motor, electricity regenerated while braking, and distance travelled. I added in temperature, elevation gain/loss, and whether or not the climate control was on. Now I can track how each of these factors affect the car's efficiency.

And yes, I was captain of the math team in middle school.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

First Impressions

We took delivery of our Nissan LEAF yesterday. It's the end of one journey (going all the way back to this post), and the beginning of another. I'll have more to talk about in the weeks and months ahead, and experience shades perception. So here are some first impressions, from an unjaundiced eye:
  • This is a complicated vehicle But not for the reasons you might expect. The electric part is amazingly simple. Drive the car. Park it in the garage at night. Plug in the cord. In the morning, unplug the cord and drive the car. The complicated part is that this is a new car, circa-2011, with a navigation system, Bluetooth, climate control, satellite radio. Our two other cars are 10 and 12 years old, so all of the electronic gadgetry is going to take some time to figure out.
  • Living on a hill has plusses and minuses It takes energy to go uphill. I know this from my daily bicycle commute, but driving an electric car really drives the point home. On the minus side, the motor uses extra energy when going up hill. On the plus side, it recovers some of it on the way back down through regenerative braking. I need to do some more experiments to determine how much of the energy we're able to recover.
  • I have "range anxiety" Heading home, we watched the estimated range remaining drop from 41 miles to 24 during the climb up the hill. What if we ran out of power? It's not like I can walk to the nearest electric station and pick up a bucket of electrons. Maybe that's why Nissan gave us a roadside assistance program. All part of being a pioneer, I guess. And not unlike the situation at the beginning of the 20th century with respect to gasoline-powered vehicles. If you ran out of fuel somewhere along the way, you enlisted the services of the nearest horse to tow you to a town where, hopefully, the druggist dispensed "benzene".