Plugging into Electric Cars

Tuesday, August 14, 2012 24 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...

Residential EVSE Review: Schneider EV2430WS

Monday, April 9, 2012 7 comments
When it came down to buying an EVSE for my Nissan Leaf, I did my research on residential EV Chargers and ended up choosing a Schneider Model EV2430WS.  Here's what I think of the product after using it for 4 months...

Quality

Perfect Performance: The EV2430WS has charged my Leaf flawlessly since it was installed.  I basically charge once a day, so that's 120 times I've used it with 0 defects.  Having a reliable charging station is very important to an EV driver...because if my car isn't charged when I expect it to be, I won't be a happy guy.

Good Materials: The shell of the unit is durable plastic that's easy to clean.  The display is bright and buttons are easy to press.  The cord is thick, but flexible...and finally the plug is solid 

Design/Ease of Use

Like most residential EV Chargers, the EV2430WS is simple to use: you simply plug it into your car when you want to charge and pull it out when you're finished.  It's that easy - you don't need to press any buttons on the EVSE ever.

Given that many there are many standards governing the operation of Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE), they should all nearly work the same.  Since the Schneider EV2439WS is UL Approved and is J1772 Compatible, it's safety and basic functionality are basically guaranteed.

Favorite Feature: Perhaps the best feature of the EV2430WS is the user interface.  In one simple display, it allows you to see how many hours your car has been charging, shows you warning lights, allows you to delay the start of charging, and allows you to manually stop the charging process.

Each segment of the lighted circle around the display represents one hour of charge.  As you can see in the picture, the Leaf has been charging for 3 hours.

For cord management, the EV2439WS includes a simple powdercoated rack to store the cord. 

Features

  • Integral ground fault interrupter set at 5mA that meets the UL definition for people protection
  • Automatic recovery and restart after ground fault interrupt or main power loss
  • Ground monitor
  • Option to have advanced metering functionality to collect and monitor energy and demand profile data

Specifications

Electric Vehicle Charging Stations at Gas Stations?

Monday, March 12, 2012 1 comments

I've had several gas station owners ask me if installing an Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Station at their location is a good idea. While going electric might seem like a logical evolution of the gas station, the time it takes to recharge an EV changes nearly everything in the gas station business case...as it takes at least 30 minutes to recharge an EV vs. 5 minutes to refill a tank.

The fundamental question gas station owners need to ask:
Why would someone drive to my location and spend at least 30min charging their car?

With this in mind, we can start to figure it out the important factors to consider...

Location, Location, Location (most important factor!): You might be have a great location if...
Alice's Restaurant in California would be a good location
  • ...it's located near an event center, sports venue, school, beach, park, etc. and cars normally park around your location when people are at these events.  As an EV driver, I would like it if I had a safe place to park and charge my car while attending an event or at the beach/park.
  • ...it's located just off a major highway 30-40 miles away from a major city.  This is the perfect case for a Level 3 Charger!
  • ...it's located at/near a restaurant.  Restaurants and EV Charging go well together since they both take 30 minutes or more do!
  • ...it's located in a quint tourist town that "city" people drive to on the weekends...especially where public transportation is available.  Bonus points for offering low-carbon pedicab or horse drawn carts to shuttle people to/from your location.
  • ...you want to convert your gas station into "dance station" where the dance floor charges the electric vehicles.  While this idea is "tongue in cheek" it's a real product from Powerleap and this video from David Guetta captures the concept well!
 

Space:

  • Where will cars park for 30 minutes or more?  
  • Are you planning to convert a gas pump island to EV Chargers?
Blink Level 3 DC Charger
Type of Charger: What Type of EV Charger should you install?
  • Level One.  If your location is near a place where people park all day, then installing simple Level 1 weatherized outlets in peripheral parking spaces around your gas station might be acceptable.
  • Level Two.  If your location anticipates customers that will only stay .5-4 hours, then install a Level 2 charger in peripheral parking spaces or replace your gas pumps.  But here you have two choices...
    • Dumb Charger (takes no payment): If you intend on manually attending parking spaces and having customers pay you when they park, install a cheaper commercial Level 2 charger.  You have several choices, including ClipperCreek, Schneider, Eaton, etc.
    • Smart Charger (takes payment): If you want customers to self serve their own payments, install a smart EV Charger like a Coulomb, Blink, or GE.  They will be more expensive up front than dumb chargers, but you won't have to manage them in the long run.
  • Level Three.  If your location is located near a major highway AND has fast food AND is between two major cities AND has a 480V service, then you've got the perfect location for a Level 3 DC charger (this is the type of charger that can recharge a Nissan Leaf in 30 minutes).  Because of their very low volumes, these chargers are still in the $20K+ range, so make sure you have a good idea (guess) of car volumes before making this investment.  Look to Blink, Eaton, or Schneider for Level 3 Charging solutions.

So there you are, three important factors to consider when evolving a gas station to a much cleaner "electron station".

2012 Nissan Leaf - An Owner's Review

Tuesday, March 6, 2012 17 comments

My wife makes the Leaf look much
better than with me in front of it!
After 20 months of waiting for my Nissan Leaf, I finally took delivery on December 22, 2011.  I leased a 2012 Brilliant Silver SL, which it turns out is the most popular Leaf color.  I've never waited for anything that long...not to get married...or even to get out of Mom's womb, so my expectations for the Leaf were very high. 

So now that I've had it for two months and 2,500 miles, I feel it's safe to say that: It's better than I expected!  Why?

Here are my Top Five Reasons...
  1. It's Quiet! 
    • When stopped, the Leaf makes no noise and does not vibrate since there is no engine idling.  From 30-55mph, I can hear a non-obtrusive high-pitched drivetrain whine...which sounds kinda cool to me.  After 60mph, I can hear tire and a small amount of wind noise.  Overall, the Leaf is very quiet.
    • Because they are so quiet, electric vehicles like the Leaf are going to raise the importance of quality sound systems (not just loud systems).  Even though the Leaf doesn't have a premium sound system (no subwoofer/center speaker), it has great imaging and decent bass.  My favorite progressive bands (Tool & Traverser), as well as my favorite high fidelity jazz band (Flim and the BB's) all sound great...at any speed!
    • Since the Leaf's climate control works without an engine spewing out toxic fumes, you can listen in comfort...even in a closed and cold garage!
  2. It's Fun to Drive
    • Acceleration is all about torque...and electric motors can dish out lots of torque at any RPM...instantly...with no need to rev up or switch gears.  The Leaf's pickup will surprise you.
    • The Leaf is fun in corners.  The 660 lb lithium ion battery pack that is in the floorboard keeps the Leaf flat in corners.  Together with the instant torque and lack of a gearbox, you get acceleration exactly when you want it when exiting a corner.
    • The car can easily pass another car at 60 mph and has good pickup all the way to 95 mph (feels like it's speed limited)...it's no golf cart.
    • Because it's so quiet, "spirited drivers" can now hear something very important that's been masked by internal combustion engines - the tires!  With the Leaf, you can hear the tires howl as you push them to losing grip.  This makes driving more fun since you get more feedback from the car before something bad happens...it's a big plus.
  3. It's Efficient and Cheap to Operate. 
    • My first 1,000 miles cost $36 in electricity and my second 1,000 cost $28.  Compare this with the $190 I was spending with my 20 mpg internal combustion engine (ICE) car at $3.80/gal...and that price is going up!  That's a 6.5X difference in price!
    • Once you get past the low fuel cost, the maintenance requirements for a Nissan Leaf are tiny compared to an ICE car.  This means I waste less personal time taking my car to the mechanic too.  Check out this article from Consumer Reports.
    • Regenerative Braking Rocks - The biggest surprise I got from driving the Leaf was seeing how much energy the regenerative braking system created during any given trip.  Ready for the answer?  The Leaf generates between 20% & 40% of the energy I use on my average trip...with an average of 24%!!!!  That's a huge efficiency gain...and something that is impossible in an ICE car.
    • It's Cool...Literally!  I've driven home via the freeway and parked the car in the garage.  I can immediately get out of the car and touch the front brake disks and open the hood and touch the motor and not get burned.  The Leaf's motor is very efficient at delivering power to the ground...and picking it back up again with it's regenerative braking.  This efficiency WILL translate into lower home A/C usage in the Summer since the Leaf won't be heating up my garage when I get home.
  4. Home Charging beats Gas Stations any day.  
    • I installed a Schneider EV2430WS EVSE in my garage and it takes me 10 seconds to plug in my car on my way in the house...I certainly don't miss pumping or smelling gas.  It takes about 3 hours to recharge my car at night from driving it 40-50 miles...which is about $1.20 a day.
    • When I'm on the road, finding charging stations is easy with the Leaf, as it displays them on the GPS display.  When I get a low battery warning, it pops up nearby stations and asks me if I want to be routed to one...easy.  However, what it won't tell you is if the charging stations are currently being used.  For realtime availability information, you'll need to use a ChargePoint or Blink app on your Smartphone.
  5. It's Clean.  
    • It's a great feeling driving a car that pollutes so little from so many points of view: gasoline, carbon (COx), engine oil, radiator fluid, excess heat, brake dust/pads, and noise are all significantly reduced with the Leaf.  
    • Even if I was in West Virginia and charging my car with 97% coal powered electricity, the Leaf's fuel would still be cleaner than burning gas.  

Range

How far can I go on a charge?