Thermography shows the efficiency of the Nissan Leaf

Friday, January 4, 2013 11 comments
I borrowed a Fluke Ti 25 Thermal Imaging camera...and got my geek on.  These cameras are fun to play with since they let you see the world in completely different way.  These cameras "see" heat...or more specifically, the infrared spectrum, and display how hot things are with different colors, i.e., blue is cold and red is hot. 

For example, I took this shot of my shower head right when the hot water was starting to flow.  The hot water shows red and the everything else shows blue.  The scale on the right side shows the hottest (103.8F) and coldest (76.8F) temperatures the camera captured with a color scale in between.

If you didn't ask for it, Heat = Waste

The whole point of a car is to move people from place to place.  Unless you need heat to keep you warm along the way, any heat the car makes is wasted energy (fuel).  Why?  Because heat doesn't directly power your wheels...it's a necessary evil in an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) that relies on explosions to work.

Given that conventional gasoline vehicles only convert about 20% of the energy stored in gasoline to power at the wheels, it follows that when gasoline is $5/gallon, $1 goes toward getting you to your destination and $4 goes to heat the earth.  Stupid eh?

EVs, on the other hand, convert about 60% of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels.  That's a 3x efficiency...and EVs can recover even more energy with regenerative braking.

"Seeing" Efficiency in Infrared

To "see" how efficient the Nissan Leaf is, I drove my car for 15 miles on an 85F day.  I did not turn on the climate control.  The first 13 miles were at high speed (65 mph)...with the last few miles spent driving at 45 to 35 mph to get home.  The whole trip took about 30 minutes.  Once I parked in my garage, I jumped out of the car and started taking these cool pictures. 

Plugging into Electric Cars

Tuesday, August 14, 2012 23 comments
Interview with Mark Thomason of PluginRecharge.com
by Tammy Odierna, Florida Renewable Energy Association

The electric car is anything but dead in Central Florida.  A promising technology that has existed for decades, it is becoming more feasible for Florida residents.  Proponents of electric vehicles (EV) tout that its electric motor powered by rechargeable battery packs are advantageous to typical internal combustion engines.  For example, electric vehicles convert about 59–62% of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels—conventional gasoline vehicles only convert about 17–21% of the energy stored in gasoline to power at the wheels. EVs also emit no tail-pipe pollution, provide quiet, smooth operation, and allow for greater energy independence for the United States.
However, EVs don’t come without their share of roadblocks.  Their mileage is limited per charge, and the infrastructure for charging stations is still being developed.  Batteries are expensive and the initial cost of EVs are far more costly than a traditional gas-fueled vehicle.
Mark Thomason is the former Director of Business Development at Palmer Electric.  As such, he was involved in marketing, selling, and overseeing the installation of over 100 public and private EV charging stations in Central Florida and worked with several companies to install them for theme parks, hotels, local governments, and utilities. Mark now works for Symantec as the Product Strategist for Backup Exec. He is also the owner of a Nissan Leaf and the author of the popular online blog, Plugin Recharge.  Mr. Thomason is an active member of Get Ready Central Florida (GRCF) which is a coalition of state and local governments, utility providers, businesses, and electric vehicle enthusiasts who are committed to preparing Central Florida for the early release of highway-ready, plug-in electric vehicles.
FREA: You have stated that Orlando is “ready for EV.”  Could you further explain what you mean by this?
MT: Here are the BIG things that we’ve accomplished in Orlando since 2009 which made us THE early adopter city for EVs in Florida:

  • Signed an Memorandum of Understanding with Rocky Mountain Institute to become a “Get Ready” city.  This focused our efforts on properly rolling out EVs in our metro area.  (www.PlugAndGoNow.com)
  • Signed an Memorandum of Understanding with Nissan…which made Orlando the launch city in Florida for the Leaf.
  • Held several public Stakeholder Meetings to get people educated and involved.
  • Seized the opportunity to be a “ChargePoint America” city that helped seed our Public Charging Infrastructure.
Because of these early efforts, Orlando is now nationally identified as an early adopter city for Electric Vehicles.  Here are a few examples:

  • The first Chevy Volt sold in Florida was in Central Florida in Q3 2011
  • The first Nissan Leaf sold in Florida was in Central Florida in Q4 2011
  • We’re in the “First Wave” EV Cities in a Roland Berger/Rocky Mountain Institute study.
  • We’re a target city for the launch of the Ford Focus EV in late Summer 2012.
  • We’ve got a Fisker Automotive Dealership which has delivered many Karmas to Central Florida residents.
  • Frito-Lay in Orlando has 10 fill electric Smith Electric delivery vehicles dropping off snack food around town. - At the end of 2011, there were over 150 public charging stations deployed around Orlando.
FREA: In your opinion, what are the three biggest advantages to owning an EV?
MT: EVs are Cleaner to Operate: Much lower CO2 emissions, no oil changes, no coolant flushes, no tailpipe emissions, no off gasses from refueling, no need to truck explosive fuel across the nation, no need to run dirty refineries, no need for inefficient tankers to transport oil across the ocean… and occasionally spill in the ocean, and no need for offshore oil platforms that occasionally spill massive amounts of oil in the ocean which destroy ecosystems and our food and tourism.
EVs are Cheaper to Operate: Even though electricity is currently more expensive than gasoline (~$4.75/kWh for an equal amount of energy in 1 gallon of gasoline), electric vehicles are 5 times+ more efficient than gasoline cars since they don’t waste ~80% of their energy making heat…which gets you nowhere.

Another benefit of EVs making little waste heat is that for people who park their cars in their garage at night, EVs can help lower their A/C cost since they no longer park a very hot engine in the garage.

On the subject of maintenance, EVs have very few moving parts (typically less than 10) which means there’s less to break…they also have no oil changes, timing belts, coolant flushes, spark plugs, exhaust pipes, etc….which means YOU also save time by not taking it someplace to get it maintained either.

EVs use Domestic Fuel: The US generates electricity using many domestically sourced fossil fuel (uranium, coal, natural gas) and a growing number of renewable electricity sources (wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower), which means we don’t have to export billions of dollars each month to other countries.  This greatly improves our trade deficit and national security while lowering the need for defense to secure the oil coming to our country.
FREA: What would you say are the biggest disadvantages?
MT: Range: Outside of the $90,000 Tesla S which has a 300 mile range, most affordable EVs only go 70-100 miles on a charge.  While 70-100 miles is MUCH more than most of us travel in a day, owning a car that limits you to this range is not acceptable to most people.

Recharge Availability: For people with a single family home, owning an EV is great because you can conveniently charge at home.  However, for the people that live in an apartment or condo, getting access to a charging station means convincing someone to install one…and that can be a challenge until EVs are more popular.

Price: Just like flat panel TVs were much more expensive than tube TVs 15 years ago, first generation EVs are more expensive than gas powered cars…and just like flat panel TVs are very affordable now, EVs will follow suit.  The main reason EVs are expensive now is because the batteries they use are built in new manufacturing facilities, are highly engineered, are tested in all environments.  However, most of this investment is upfront costs, so EVs will fall in price quickly if people adopt them.

As a forth reason, EVs are New & Different and the people are very conservative in this economy: Buying a car is the typically the second largest purchase people make, so people want the most from their investment and want it to do everything they want…that’s why many people bought big SUVs.  While owning and driving an EV is very similar to a gas powered car, they are more limiting than gas powered cars. You just have to appreciate the advantages more than the disadvantages.
FREA: It’s said the EV is great for the environment since it’s not fossil
fuel dependent, leading to less CO2 emissions. However, opponents state that electricity plants needed to charge the cars are mostly coal powered, which still leads to C02 emissions. What would you say to this?
MT: Quoting a recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientist on this very topic: “Nearly half of Americans live in the BEST regions where charging an EV on the electricity grid emits LESS global warming pollution that driving even the best hybrids (>50 mpg)”. Only 18% of the population lives in a region where electricity is dirty enough that equal a car getting 31 mpg…and there are very few cars that get 31 or better MPG.
Unlike gas powered cars that get more inefficient with each mile you drive them and generate MORE CO2 as they age, EVs get cleaner as they age. This is because the US is shutting down more old dirty coal power plants and installing more renewable energy power plants.
FREA: Approximately how many miles can you drive before needing to charge?
MT: Just like a gas powered car, range varies widely by the way you drive. I have a Nissan Leaf and I can comfortably drive 75 miles around the city and not worry about recharging.  The longest trip was 110 miles using a short 2 hour charge at my destination.  Most days I don’t go more than 40 miles, so I rarely have to use public charging.
FREA: How long does it take to re-charge an EV and how do you envision a future highway charging infrastructure will look?
MT: On a typical day driving 30-50 miles, it takes my Nissan Leaf less than 3 hours to recharge. Since I have a single family home with a charger installed in the garage, I plug my car in at night when I get home and it’s ready with a full battery in the morning.
On the topic of highway charging, I think that fast charging stations (DC) will slowly be added near highways to quickly recharge drivers who want to keep driving. It will be an incremental change. You can see this in action on the West Coast starting in Oregon here.
FREA: Currently, how many charging stations exist in the Orlando area?
MT: There are over 150 public charging stations in the Central Florida area. You can find a map of charging stations here.
FREA: What are the maintenance costs associated with owning an EV? How often do you need to change the batteries, and what is the cost?
MT: The maintenance cost requirements for a Nissan Leaf are very small – just semi-annual tire rotations and annual brake fluid replacements; no oil changes, coolant flushes, belt replacements, automatic transmission fluid, air filters, etc. As for battery life, most new EVs sold today have long warranties on their batteries…  for example, the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt both have 100,000 mile/8 year warranties…  so there’s less risk that you’ll be stuck with a defective battery.  As for replacement cost, I’m guessing the batteries will be 60% cheaper in 8 years…  if not more.
FREA: What type of rebates and incentives are available in FL if you purchase an EV?
MT: Florida doesn’t have any incentives for purchasing an EV (unlike many other states including Georgia). So Florida residents can only take advantage of the Federal Tax Credit worth up to $7500.  If you lease an EV, most manufacturers factor the tax credit into your lease payments.
FREA: Where should those interested in purchasing EVs go to get more information?
MT: The best thing someone should do is to GO DRIVE ONE at your local Chevy or Nissan dealership. That experience will change your mind about EVs. Outside of that, there are MANY good resources on the Internet, including local resources like www.PlugAndGoNow.com and my blog atwww.PluginRecharge.com.  Other good resources are www.gas2.organd www.plugincars.com.
FREA: This is great, Mark. Many thanks for taking the time to share this info on the state of EVs in Florida!
Interview by  Tammy Odierna

How 16 metros are getting ready for EVs

Saturday, May 5, 2012 2 comments

One of the best resources for a city/metro to learn about EV Readiness is Project Get Ready by the Rocky Mountain Institute.  They've been behind the transition to EVs for many years and they've created a list of best practices (Menu) based on new research and lessons learned from the prior launch of EVs in the 90s.

Project Get Ready was a big help for my hometown (Orlando) to jumpstart our readiness program starting in 2009, and it's worked pretty good so far - we've got about 100 EVs on the road that I know of (65 Volts, 30 Leafs, 10 Fiskers, and a few Teslas) being supported by nearly 150 public EVSE funded in part by ChargePoint America.

Project Get Ready just released a new case study of 16 metros (see below) around the world.  It's an easy read and informs you of each area's status, incentives, and current initiatives.  You can download the full report here: http://www.rmi.org/project_get_ready.  Success favors the informed and prepared!

  • Amsterdam
  • Barcelona (nice fuel mix!)
  • Berlin
  • Brabantstad
  • Goto Islands, Nagasaki
  • Hamburg
  • Helsinki
  • Kanagawa (most EVs on the road now)
  • Los Angeles
  • New York City
  • North East England
  • Portland
  • Research Triangle, NC
  • Rotterdam
  • Shanghai
  • Stockholm

Green Charge Networks - Saving EV Drivers and Nailing Energy Spikes

Sunday, April 22, 2012 7 comments
Each time I have a conversation about EVs with a newbie, I ALWAYS get the question:...

What happens when you run out of "fuel" on the highway?

After I explain that my Nissan Leaf will tell me when I'm low on fuel (multiple times) and guide me to the nearest charging station, people are impressed with the final answer: In the very near future, I can call AAA and they will drive a truck out to give me a 10 minute charge that gives me about 10 miles of range.  There are 6 currently deployed...and one is in Tampa, just 80 miles away from me.

The idea of AAA offering this type of roadside assistance is brilliant and fits in perfectly with their existing roadside services.  AAA is actually trying three different types of systems to charge electric vehicles:
    1. Lithium ion battery pack. 
    2. Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) driven generator. 
    3. Generator powered by truck's engine. 
Since using a Lithium Battery Pack to charge an electric vehicle is a new idea, AAA worked with Green Charge Networks to create a custom solution that fit into AAA's existing service trucks.

Green Charge Networks (GCN)


Creating a mobile EV Charging solution was a logical next step for GCN, as they had been making mobile energy storage solutions for utilities that enable EV charging at any location, such as sporting or music events.

GCN was founded in 2007 by Ron Prosser, who had a long and very successful career with Boeing and Rockwell (see GCN's website).  The bi-coastal company (CA-NY) is now run by Ryan Prosser, Ron's son.

The company was one of the first to use Lithium Batteries for Energy Storage...with the intent of charging the system off-peak (when there is a surplus of cheaper energy) and discharging the batteries when there is quick demand for electricity (a demand spike), such as when a big motor, A/C, or refrigeration systems starts up.  The idea is to use stored energy to flatten out these demand spikes so that they don't affect the electric utility company's infrastructure.

What's wrong with demand spikes?

Electric Utilities have a mission to provide electricity 24x7...without fail.  To do this, they must size transformers and wires so that they can deliver enough electricity across their service area without overloading.  While utilities charge for fuel usage and generation, most utilities charge commercial electricity customers a "demand" charge which is based on highest amount of kW usage in a time period...in most cases this is a 15 minute time period). 

This demand charge is to offset the infrastructure needed to get the maximum power to your building.  This means if a business normally uses 70 kW...but uses 200 kW for 5 minutes when A/C systems are turned on in the morning, the business pays a demand charge on the 200 kW.  Demand charges vary, but in Florida they are $5/kW...so in this instance an extra 200kW x $5 = $1,000 would be added to your bill.  If your building didn't have this demand spike...you could save $650 a month...and that's the business case for GCN's GreenStation product.

GreenStation - A Utility-Focused Product

The GreenStation has a battery pack sized for the energy need (68 kWh typical) and control hardware/software, which can profile, detect, and act on demand spikes while recharging off-peak.

They also have a mobile version of the Greenstation with a 68kW battery pack to provide energy management to buildings or charging electric cars at any location, such as sporting or music events....the mobile version could give 15 Leafs a 20 mile charge.

The GreenStation was developed with ConEdison of New York, which is also GCN's first customer.  GreenStations have also been deployed at 7-Eleven, and AVIS Rent a Car at La Guardia Airport to fast charge their fleet of Nissan Leafs.

Morphing the product for mobile charging on a AAA Service Truck

When AAA was looking for a mobile charging solution, GCN worked with AAA to create a ruggedized and compact version of their utility product.  Making it ruggedized posed the biggest challenge, as it had to perform in all weather environments and handle getting bounced around in a truck all day.   Their EVRoadside product has a 260 Amp onboard system with a removable lithium battery of a minimum of 3 kWh and can charge electric vehicles at a Level 3 (CHADeMO) or Level 2 (J1772).  The EVRoadside can be recharged using 220/40A, 110/15A, or with a supplemental alternator installed in the truck

At this point, AAA has two of GCN's pilot trucks on the road with several more about to be deployed.  The company is hiring and has doubled revenue last year.  GCN is charging ahead...

How to get your Charging Station on Nissan Leaf's GPS Map

Saturday, April 21, 2012 10 comments

Nissan Leaf GPS display showing charging stations
denoted by a blue 120v Plug.
Do you have a publicly available, non-networked Electric Vehicle charging station?

Would you like Nissan Leaf drivers to see your charger on their GPS map so they can charge at your location?

The short answer is to click on this link and submit your charger's location to NAVTEQ.

Keep reading for the long answer and the how-to...