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?