By on June 1, 2013

 

Fiat 500e LCD Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Day three dawned with a nearly full battery, the exact level seemed unimportant to me. Perhaps it’s the Range Anxiety patch I ordered online for three easy payments of $9.99, or my new-found confidence in tripping across EV stations. Either way I decided bold action was required. I set the climate control to 68 and headed up the hill.

How far would by battery get me today? That’s a good question. Since trip computers aren’t intelligent, they can’t make adjustments for terrain like we can. For instance, I know that the freeway without traffic that’s flat the whole way is the efficient route while the possibly shorter mountain road is going to consume more energy. There’s a problem with Zippy Zappy however, she doesn’t display “fuel economy” in terms of the fuel that’s actually being used, instead the silly display shows you how many Miles Per Gallon equivalent you’re getting. MPGe is stupid.

My apologies for calling the Fiat 500e the most efficient EV available, I was misinformed and I must fall on my sword. The Scion iQ EV is the most efficient EV with a combined rating of 121 MPGe. There’s that MPGe thing gain. Everyone say it with me: EVs don’t drink gasoline. What would be helpful to me as I’m driving down the road is how much energy it takes to move my car one mile, just like a normal car. What I want is mi/kWh. The LEAF and s few other EVs give you this information, but there is no standard and with the EPA heading off in the weeds with MPGe it’s only complicating things. If you bought electricity in MPGe it would be different, but we don’t.

C-MAX Energi

The reason MPGe exists must be to confuse everyone, and confuse it does. I have seen Chevy Volts advertised as 98 “MPG” (without the e), and when people look at the window stickers of EVs, they ask, “but I thought it was electric?” Starting with the 2012 model year cars needed to display a standard way of communicating efficiency to the customer. Because the EPA gets wrapped up in their own red tape easily, they decided that the American public was too stupid to think in terms of mi/kWh or kWh/100 miles. So what they did was they sat down and calculated how much energy burning one gallon of gasoline would produce. The answer was 116,090 BTU or 34.02 kWh per US gallon. Then for some reason the EPA picked 33.7 for the official exchange rate. That’s lovely, but again I ask: where exactly do I buy electricity in MPGes? Nowhere, that’s where.

We can take something away from this MPGe nonsense however, it is obvious how inefficient internal combustion engines are. If one gallon is equal to 34.02kWh, ZZ’s 24kWh battery pack “holds” around 7/10ths of a gallon of “gallon equivalent” and will transport you 80-95 miles. If something running on real gasoline was that efficient, that  20 gallon gas tank would get you from California to Florida on one tank.

With some range experience under my belt I decided to set the cruise control to 74, climate control set to 68 and zipped to work like I was driving any other car. The only thing to report is I got the same scornful looks from the LEAF drivers as I did in any gasoline car as I passed them in the pack of commuters eager to get to work on time. There’s just one thing, ZZ has a top speed of 88 MPH instead of the 130 you can do in the Abarth or the 120 in the regular $15,995 500 Pop. Despite having a stout 111 HP and 147 lb-ft of twist, the A/C motor under the hood of the little Fiat can only spin so fast. The same goes for gasoline engines of course, but they have multi-speed transmissions and torque converters, that all reduces efficiency. Instead the “single” speed transmission in most EVs is nothing more than a reduction gear and a differential. Need to go in reverse? Just spin the motor backwards. Since motors deliver excellent torque at near zero RPM, there’s no need for an efficiency robbing torque converter. There are compromises when picking that reduction gear ratio and the Fiat engineers favored efficiency, hence the 88 MPH max speed. The Tesla Model S uses a motor that can spin faster (it’s a more expensive car so it can have a more precision motor) and since it competes with the Germans in the luxury market, a 130MPH top speed was required. I’m not sure how fast that Tesla’s motor spins at 130 but it’s bound to be singing.

Charging Port, J1772, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

When I arrived, my newly discovered charging station was once again available, so I plugged in and sucked up $7.84 worth of electrons (16 kWh) in two and a half hours. My battery was full before lunch time. For lunch I jammed three passengers in the wee Fiat, depleted my battery by 10% by engaging in EV shenanigans (instant torque makes for entertaining one-wheel-peel) and figured I’d top off the battery the slow way with the free 120V juice from the office. Except I forgot to actually plug the car in. My bad. I discovered my error when I went to unplug ZZ from her umbilical. Never mind, 90% is enough to return home and then some, so I cranked the A/C (it was 89 degrees) and took I-280 home as a happy medium between the flat and efficient US-101 with bad traffic and the traffic-free but decidedly inefficient Highway 35.

When I got home I had 33% of my battery left and I was informed that we were to go and visit my cousin-in-law. No problem, a quick numbers game in my head said that 33% plus a 20 minute stop at the 240V charger at the grocery store on the way (had to get some wine anyway) and mooching off their power with the 120V cord once we arrived would leave us with battery to spare. Unfortunately when we got to the store my “Plug Rage” reared its ugly head once more. I had 30% of my battery left (thanks to the 11 miles to the store being mostly down-hill) and there sucking off the only electric teat in the lot was a Ford C-Max Energi. I was incensed, she didn’t need the power as much as I needed it. Didn’t she know there was a gas station around the corner? Here she is sucking down the electrons I needed to get home when she could just burn some gasoline and we could all get home. We started the errand running and I kept a watchful eye on the ChargePoint app (it really needs a feature to notify you when a station becomes available now that 99% of stations on the map can no longer be reserved). My waiting was rewarded and I got a 25 minute charge. After a 3-hour dinner party and 3.1 kWh courtesy of my cuz, we made it back up the hill with the car flashing, beeping, whining and whimpering that it had 14% of its battery remaining. This made us ask: what happens when you run out? I wasn’t brave enough to find out.

Day three ended proving that thanks to ZZ’s 6.6kW charger you can put over 175 miles on your 500e in a day without too much stress. Charge at home, charge before lunch, charge after lunch, charge at the grocery store. By thinking of your EV as a 1990s cell phone where you were always hunting for a charge, you’ll be fine. Just ask me. Sadly we will have to wait 21 hours for day four to dawn because I don’t own a Level 2 charger.

 

Looking for the other installments? Here you go:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 4

Day 5

 Day 6

Day 7

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128 Comments on “Living With an EV for a Week – Day Three (and why MPGe is stupid)...”


  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    The reason MPGe exists is for CAFE purposes, they need some way to factor EVs into it.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      The problem is, you can paint the apple orange but that doesn’t make it an orange. It’s still going to be an apples/oranges match up.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        That is irrelevant they need some way for the automakers to factor in the EV sales to their CAFE number. W/o that they wouldn’t really have a reason to produce them. Unfortunately those numbers are published which does confuse people, but KWh/100mi is also published which also confuses many people.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        “The problem is, you can paint the apple orange but that doesn’t make it an orange. It’s still going to be an apples/oranges match up.”

        Bullshit. All units are made up. Joule is made up; kWh is made up; BTU is made up; ft*lb is made up; gallon-eqiv is made up. Why suggest one is better than another? Anyone who passed HS science should have no problem using any unit system or converting between them. It’s the same reason there is no problem describing engine sizes in liters but buying gas in gallons.

        You suggest kWh is the only sensible unit because that’s how you buy electricity. Well, the vast, vast majority of drivers buy energy in gallons of gas, not kWh-equivalent. Since they go into the same efficiency calcs, it only makes to use the same unit regardless which is chosen. So, given the option of making a small number of EV drivers use gallon-eqiv or screwing up all the ICE drivers, the former is clearly the better option.

        Stop wasting electrons whining about something that never was a problem.

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        MPGe is an excellent way to convey an EV’s efficiency to the unwashed masses. If it said 40 MPGe there would be no reason to buy it.

    • 0 avatar
      JD23

      The number is fine for CAFE purposes, but it is worthless for the average consumer. A consumer wants to know how far the vehicle will travel on a single charge and how much fuel will cost per mile. All metrics relevant to the consumer could be easily ascertained by providing mileage in mi/kWh.

      Just to further confuse the consumer, the EPA should start mandating that ICE mileage be provided in mi/kWh. It will be interesting to see how many people are able to convert that back to MPG.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Yes Mi/kWh is a better metric, unfortunately a vocal few keep harping that L/100km is somehow better so the stickers list kWh/100mi which is even more confusing than MPGe.

        • 0 avatar
          chrishs2000

          I’m convinced that the “fuel consumption” L/100km people are just trying to make themselves look and sound smarter. Or maybe they see those suave Europeans doing it and want to be just like them.

          Absolutely nothing wrong with “fuel economy” in the form of Mi/G or Mi/kWh. I care about how many miles I can go on the energy that I have, not about how much energy I need to travel a distance. But maybe that’s because I can do maths in my head.

  • avatar
    TybeeJim

    I dunno. Just sounds like a PITA to me. I fill up my inefficient Audi Q5 every 10-12 days, drive wherever I want, as fast as I want, with the climate control set to 72°. After about 400 miles, I fill it up for $50-60. So, at the low side, fuel cost me, on average, $6/day (there’s yet another measurement). Seems to me that you spent more for the kwH/day needed for your journeys.

    • 0 avatar
      Flybrian

      Agreed. And again, we have to remember that we’re talking about this in the cocoon of ‘car people.’ You have to keep in the mind that the automobile has existed in its current basic shape, form, and operation since the mid-40s, yet people still run out of gas, have no idea what side the tank is on, and drive with their hi-beams on ALL. THE. TIME. This is why hybrids and EREVs like the Volt work well for the general public and pure EVs never will (at least for a generation or two).

      • 0 avatar

        The ONLY vehicle where I always know where the tank is a motorcycle.

        On my wife’s car it’s on the drivers side. On my subaru it’s on the opposite side.

        On my Brazilian Fit, it’s on BOTH sides.

        On the 70′s car I used to drive I believe it was in the back behind the license plate, IIRC.

        I don’t blame people at all for not knowing where the gas tank is.

        • 0 avatar
          ClutchCarGo

          Every car I’ve driven in the last 20 years has a small arrow near the gas gauge pointing to the side where the tank filler is. All one has to do is look, yet people are still befuddled because they don’t care to pay any more attention to driving than necessary. For most people driving is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Once the EV charging situation becomes less of an issue to manage, EVs will become a better answer to many peoples’ driving needs.

    • 0 avatar
      Beerboy12

      No one drives as fast as they want. There are those pesky speed limits remember. Sounded to me like the Fiat had no problem maintaining the speed limit or above. Any limitations where due to the drivers RA, or CA as I like to call it. Also, range is relative. You can go further in a gas car but you still have to fill up.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      I plug my Volt in overnight for the 25mi trip to work, and at the parking garage I plug it in for the 25mi trip home. Total cost: about $1 per day. Total time spent plugging in and unplugging: between 30 and 60 seconds per day, depending on how long the ChargePoint validation at the garage takes.

      • 0 avatar

        The garage where I park for work is going to be installing chargers (so they’ve claimed). The charging is going to be $10-$15 ON TOP OF the cost to park ($8-12).

        Doesn’t save me anything. Really hope that changes, but I can’t see them installing chargers & not using it as a $$$ opportunity. I’d be surprised if many other garages aren’t the same around here.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      You wouldn’t pay this rate at home. Alex’s 16 kwH that cost him $7.84 at a public charger would cost me $0.86 at my house. Pure EV drivers almost never use public chargers, anyway.

      • 0 avatar
        Alex L. Dykes

        It really depends on your rate. I pay $0.23/kWh at home. However, even at that rate it’s not a terribly expensive ride.

        Judging by how many ChargePoint stations on their map are in use on any given day, I’d say EV drivers are using the infrastructure more than you might think.

      • 0 avatar
        Fordson

        What would you do if you got a great job offer, but it was 45 miles away and there was no charging facility there?

        Do you turn down the job offer of get rid of the Leaf?

        Seriously – if you got this offer today and gave your current employer the customary 2-week notice. I am asking you since you address the strengths and weaknesses of EV ownership realistically.

  • avatar
    gpolak

    MPG for electric vehicles? That’s downright silly. Next thing you know we’ll be rating engine power in horse equivalents instead of kilojoules. :-)

  • avatar

    I completely ignore MPG stickers and I just assume anything marked SRT, M, AMG, LAMBORGHINI or BUGATTI gets less than 15 mpg.

    You’ve gotta pay to play.

    • 0 avatar
      99GT4.6

      Agreed. I bought a Mustang ~two months ago and most conversations I have with people about it goes something like this.
      -”What type of car did you buy?”
      -”1999 Mustang GT”
      -”Why did you buy that? That must use so much gas (or something like that)”
      Why can’t people just accept that a V8 sports car will use gas. I bought it to go fast, not for fuel efficiency. Sure it costs more to run but it is way more fun than a crappy 4 cylinder econobox.

  • avatar
    Spanish Inquisition

    “By thinking of your EV as a 1990s cell phone where you were always hunting for a charge, you’ll be fine. Just ask me.”

    Or think of it as most modern flagship smartphones which get barely more than a day’s worth of charge with moderate usage without extended batteries.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      My company DROID4 would need charging after lunch as a rule. Non-replaceable batteries, of course. Wonderful progress.

      I managed to get a BlackBerry Q10 instead, and I’m far happier now.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I just find it intriguing that you live in a place with so many EVs and charging stations.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      Not in slightest; he lives in a metro area (San Francisco/Oakland) in a state (California) that has generous tax breaks for EVs; and lets them use carpool lanes with just one person in them.

    • 0 avatar
      AFX

      Another great thing is that you don’t have to worry about road rage so much from a person driving an EV, it’s not like most of them would carry a gun. If you do find yourself in a position of being threatened bodily violence from another EV user you can simply pull out a copy of Mother Earth News, rip it up in front of them, and make them cry.

      I did figure out a way to sabotage another EV user’s car hogging up a charging station that DOESN’T involve putting krazy glue in their charging port. Just carry around a bunch of bumper stickers that say Bush/Cheney, NRA, or “People Eat Tasty Animals” and slap one on their rear bumper.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        Actually, I keep a Kahr K9 in my Volt’s glovebox, and a spare mag in the armrest.

        Stereotyping is faster, but sometimes it fails.

        • 0 avatar
          AFX

          Technically the Volt’s not a full EV though, so you being a gun owning Volt owner doesn’t apply to my EV stereotyping.

          The Volt is neither here nor there, it’s just a car that’s confused about it’s real gender identity, and could swing both ways.

          • 0 avatar
            Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

            Technically, the Volt _is_ a full EV. It uses only the electric motor(s) when the state of charge is within its managed range. Its onboard generator kicks in when the SOC goes down below a certain level. GM decided to add an additional clutch to allow the onboard generator to rotate the planetary gearset’s ring gear because it was more efficient to do that at high speeds (and allow the primary traction motor to rotate more slowly) than to not do so.

            Volt is a full EV with a battery large enough to satisfy a majority of Americans’ daily driving needs based on pretty much universally-accepted statistics, and an onboard genset to extend its range. Thus, EREV.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Dr Noisewater, If you want to get technical about it the Volt is the only real Hybrid on the market. Able to run solely of electricity or gasoline. All the other vehicles sold as hybrids get 100% of their power from gas. Those sold as plug-ins can’t really run as pure EV since the engine will kick in before the SOC is at it’s minimum in certain conditions, whether that is speed or rate of acceleration.

        • 0 avatar

          A Kahr K9? Who do you think you are? JODIE FOSTER???

          1911 or Kimber .45!!!

          .45 means you’ve only got to hit em once!

          http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SKUl85R-qsA

          • 0 avatar
            Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

            Cuz it fits in the glovebox with room to spare, and for its size firing it isn’t tiresome, which means actually hitting what you’re pointing at is more likely. Plus, I like the pun.

            Now for the range and home carry, it’s CZ97B all the way, with 185gr +P Golden Sabers (the only thing I can find when I can find .45ACP these days :p)

          • 0 avatar
            probert

            A .45 means you’ll probably miss. Pros use 22s – saw it on TV.

      • 0 avatar
        Beerboy12

        Assuming all EV drivers are vegan, tree hugging, narrow shouldered academic anti gun damn liberals, that is. You know what they say about assume?
        It makes an ass out of you and me ;-)
        Generalizations are not cool and don’t add any value.

        • 0 avatar
          JD23

          These stereotypes are exaggerated for effect, but several recent studies have shown how vehicle purchasing habits vary with political affiliation, so they do have some merit.

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        If you gave me those bumper stickers, I would thank you.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      I’m surprised there are so few EV’s and charging stations where he is at. Within 10 miles of my house there are 7 charging stations that I know of and I’m out in the boonies. I took a 15mi trip today and saw 3 Leafs and a Tesla.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        According to the internet, there is one charging station in my county (it is owned by a Nissan dealer). The nearest one beyond that is 30 miles away from my home.

        If I go all the way to Tampa or Orlando, then they have a bunch of them but that’s at least 80 miles.

        I’ve seen like three Leafs EVER.

        If you’re in the Boonies, then I must be in the Wastelands.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          I’m in the boonies right up against the Cascade mountains SE of Seattle. Maps.Google Hobart or Ravensdale Wa the “towns” I live between. Leafs are an everyday sight I know 3 people who own one. Model S are seen frequently even if I don’t count the one that lives in my neighborhood, he also has a Leaf but it doesn’t get driven much at all since he got the Model S. I also know a guy who owns a Volt.

          • 0 avatar
            redmondjp

            I live in Redmond WA and I have noticed a significant increase in EVs (primarily Leafs and Tesla sedans) on the roads lately. It used to be that I saw only a few per week. Then it was a few per day.

            Yesterday, I saw two Leafs one after another driving. And then later the same day on I-405, a Leaf followed by a Tesla.

            A neighbor of mine just leased a new Leaf, as his monthly lease payment is about equivalent to what he was spending to fuel up his Magnum station wagon. I have another friend who bought one almost two years ago and he’s got over 30K miles on it now.

      • 0 avatar
        JD23

        Your town may not be representative of the country as a whole. I live in Vermont, which has designated the Prius and Subaru Outback as the state vehicles, and EVs are still a rare sight. The cold temperatures, snow, and rural setting are not ideal for EV ownership.

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        In the Pittsburgh area, over 8 months of Leaf driving I’ve seen exactly 1 other Leaf, 1 Model S, and 1 i-MiEV.

        • 0 avatar
          AFX

          “In the Pittsburgh area, over 8 months of Leaf driving I’ve seen exactly 1 other Leaf, 1 Model S, and 1 i-MiEV.”

          To be fair, Pittsburgh is not exactly the right kind of city for an EV with all the hills and hollers around town. Not only that but an electric car doesn’t quite go along with the city’s demographics either. Maybe if the manufacturers would come up with special edition cars just for the Pittsburgh area, like a Black and Gold Special Edition, or a Real Tree Camo Special Edition, they might have more luck selling cars in that town. Throw in some long-travel shocks to deal with the potholes, a lift kit to raise it up for snow clearance, and add a gun rack, and they’d have a winner on their hands.

          I’d like to see what the MPGe gauge would say while climbing up Sycamore Street (AKA the Burma Road) to the top of Mt Washington. Better yet, they could use an EV like the Fiat or the Leaf as the official pace car of the Dirty Dozen bike race and see how it does for range.

          http://www.pittsburghmagazine.com/Pittsburgh-Magazine/November-2011/Killer-Hills/

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I’m a fifth generation Pittsburgher (if there is such a thing) and I think the challenge of Pittsburgh for EVs and the like is a mix of very unique citizenry combined with difficult topography and climate. Most of the EVs I see on TTAC look too fragile for long term use ’round here and the overall hot pink/orange hipster vibe they put out turns off about 90% of actual Pittsburghers (read: people that just didn’t move here in the past 20 minutes). The two dominant Hybrid/EVs I see around are the current gen Prius and the HSD edition Camry, followed by Volt, Ford/Mercury hybrids, and one or two Chevy/GMC/Cadillac hybrid SUVs. I have seen (1) navy blue Leaf and (1) white iMiev outside of the hybrids on the road, and that’s it. If EV manufacturers want to sell in this region, I suggest they start with a rugged model and convert it from gas to EV/hybrid as Ford had sort of done with Escape/Mariner. The perception of those owners (that I have met) is they still have a capable SUV to handle the local terrain (which is debatable) and they feel they do not have a “Prius” stigma attached to them (until the current gen Prius, it was also a rare sight on the roads here, not sure why its all of the sudden acceptable).

            I would also suggest using Pittsburgh terrain as a litmus test of any new EV/Hybrid vehicle. If you design/spec for Pittsburgh’s awful roads and constant hills then you’re overkill for 90% of the rest of the US which doesn’t present such ridiculous challenges (and you present those folks with incredible value).

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    “…the A/C motor under the hood of the little Fiat can only spin so fast.”

    Semantics are important. Electric motors run on A.C. or D.C.

    A/C cools the air.

    In the 500EV, there may be an A.C. motor that drives the A/C compressor.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Enjoying the saga!

    As a technical person, I agree that mpge is a disingenuous term. Actually, it is an outright con for a gridded electrical system, which for the most part relies on coal or natural gas as the raw fuel to generate electricity.

    Yes, a gallon of gas puts out about 116,000 btu worth of heat. Problem is the generating station chucks away 60% of that in making electricity, for a 40% efficiency. Add in inefficiencies in transmission and distribution and the car’s charger itself, and you end up with a typical 33% of the gallon of gas turned into electricity.

    33%. So mpge becomes about 102/.33 = 34 mpg from that original gallon of gas.

    34 mpg is only so-so for a Fiat 500.

    We have been “sold” a bill of goods. It’s a fraud presented as green efficiency by bureaucrats and pushed by politicians who know f* all about anything. It’s so obvious, it flies right by the average person as just more “noise” like advertising or cajoling people to look after their health.

    First practical law of thermodynamics for best efficiency was drummed into our heads as engineering students – utilize chemical energy (gas or gasoline) where it is going to be used. In this case, the fuel tank of a car.

    Nowadays, logic gets stood on its head, and we have to suck up utter BS and like it. I fear for the future when things like mpge are assumed to be correct. In fact, divide by 3, and you are close to the real answer.

    • 0 avatar
      Autobraz

      Correct logic, but wouldn’t you have to extend the same calculations to the extraction and refining of oil to obtain gasoline and then the transportation to the gas stations to make an apples to apples comparison of true MPG – or should I say: tMPG, trade mark pending.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Coal doesn’t need to be extracted and transported to power stations? Natural gas? Fuels for nuclear reactors aren’t cheap. One might assume it is because they aren’t just lying around on site, ready to be consumed. Wind and solar are extremely capital intensive relative to their outputs. That reflects large inputs too.

        • 0 avatar
          jhefner

          Actually; it depends. Mine-mouth power plants take the coal from the mine, and feed it straight by conveyor or truck to a power plant next door.

          Most coal plants burn at least some Power River Basin coal to meet emissions standards. But even then, trains and barges consume very little fuel enroute; compared to refining and transporting to your local gas station via tanker truck.

          With natural gas and particularly with many recent finds; it may be possible to burn natural gas in a generating unit not far from the wellhead.

          Finally, consider this: emission standards are really about forcing users to maintain their cars properly; those that do not comply often do not. Electric power stations for the most part keep their equipment in good repair; not just because of emissions standards; but to lower generating costs. (I know this because I worked for a performance engineering department; recently I interviewed for a Mission Control-style central dispatch office that can now do continuously through the use of computer controls and the Internet what we did on occassion in a plant visit, and run their entire generating fleet as efficiently as possible.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      Not quite so fast. One benefit you are overlooking is that most generating stations are located far from the city center; the coal burners are often located in a rural location. That means that they are contributing little to the air quality that is so much an issue in large urban areas. To make your comparison complete, you would have to go back to the central stations located in the heart of the city; as they were from 1900-1960s; most of those older stations have since been shut down; or are only used as peaking units.

      Your 40% efficiency may be also be about right for a conventional steam-electric generating unit; but we are moving more and more towards combined-cycle units. These couple a generator to a gas turbine; the exhaust in turn is feed into a HRSG (basically a boiler); which then generates steam which turns a conventional steam turbine-generator. They are approaching 60% efficiency; and by nature of their design; burn clean natural gas.

      I haven’t even mentioned the alternate energy sources like wind and solar; though still small in number; they nevertheless have zero emissions. So, EVs do help the air quality of inner cities; and RA is less of an issue when used around town and as Derek is here; as opposed to a longer commute from the burbs. And the overall energy consumption is slightly better than you paint it.

      • 0 avatar
        jimbob457

        I generally agree with your analysis, although 40% thermal efficiency seems too high for an ordinary steam electric plant except on a VERY cold day and/or if you make it from expensive steel alloy with an extra high melting point – 34% seems more like it.

        Much as I have always liked coal industry people, pushing the stuff back into the ground is the main solution to many of the externality issues associated today’s energy system. Combined cycle gas turbines (almost 60% thermal efficiency) fueled with cheap natural gas from ‘fracked’ wells can and will do just that.

        Also it would help if we had a better physical plant that could more efficiently wheel power all across North America without any bottlenecks. But, I digress.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        And eventually, when we have LFTRs in every US county, then efficiency won’t matter as there’s enough thorium to waste for thousands of years, and as it’s now considered radioactive waste that rare-earth miners pay to have removed, using it for power would be at least a triple-whammy:
        * cheap, plentiful fuel that’s 90+% efficient
        * fail-safe technology that doesn’t require fresh water (and in fact could desalinate or recover waste water with waste heat)
        * dispersal of generation would require less wasted power due to long-distance power lines, and would provide more robustness
        * power may not be too cheap to meter, but it could be cheap enough to enable profitable distillation of hydrocarbons from CO2
        * certain designs can also burn radioactive waste for energy, thus reducing the amount of radioactive waste sitting in cooling pools and avoiding the need for multiple millenia of storage.

        • 0 avatar
          jimbob457

          My body is glowing in anticipation.

          • 0 avatar
            Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

            So, you live downwind of a coal-fired power plant?

            Because, as I’m sure you know, coal-fired plants emit more radiation in a year than all American nuclear plants have emitted into the environment in the history of civilian nuclear power.

            In fact, the thorium in a ton of coal has on the order of 7x as much power as the coal itself. So it actually makes more sense to fission the thorium in coal and convert the coal into hydrocarbons and plastics.

            http://www.ornl.gov/info/ornlreview/rev26-34/text/colside1.html

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      The problem is I can’t put a hydroelectric plant in my car, but I can put a battery in it to store that electricity generated at the plant.

    • 0 avatar
      nickoo

      You’re correct, but efficiency concerns go out the window whenever we’re smart enough to start utilizing sustainable renewables such as solar, geothermal, wind, tide, etc. With our sun resources in the southwest, we should be leading the world in solar energy use-age.

    • 0 avatar
      AFX

      “As a technical person, I agree that mpge is a disingenuous term. Actually, it is an outright con for a gridded electrical system, which for the most part relies on coal or natural gas as the raw fuel to generate electricity.”

      Personally I say cut out the middle man with the coal burning power stations, and screw the high-tech electric cars. Just get yourself a good old fashioned steam powered car, and run it straight off of coal, natural gas, or wood. Horse apples are a naturally renewable resource, you could run it off of them too, or cow or buffalo chips. Not only could you cut out the transmission wastes from the power plants, but you could also use the steam and hot water from your car as a mobile Starbucks shop and sell coffee and espresso.

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        Love your way of thinking, +1000. :)

        But, it has drawbacks as well; what killed the steam car off was the few minutes you had to wait to build up a head of steam in the morning; though a remote starter or timer would fix that. It also has RA in terms of finding makeup water (mostly likely distilled for longer boiler life) to make up for the water you lost.

        You are still releasing emissions in the air when you drive to the big city. And while buffalo chips may be cheaper than gas or electricity; a steam car was even less efficient — the best steam locomotive had an efficiency of less than 10%; or 90+% of the fuel you burned you lost as heat.

        Still, a modern Doble steam car is a neat idea. Electric cars were used in the early 1900s, faded away, and are now back; so one never knows. Lear of Learjet and 8 track fame did try to build steam cars and buses in the 1960s; but it came to nought, so have others. The Stanley’s 120 MPH land speed record was finally broken a few years ago by a steam turbine powered car built by a British university.

        • 0 avatar
          AFX

          “It also has RA in terms of finding makeup water (mostly likely distilled for longer boiler life) to make up for the water you lost.”

          I was going to say a person could create a steam powered car that doubled as a mobile brewery, then you just recycled the used beer after drinking it to use as boiler water, but you killed that with the “distilled for longer boiler life” comment.

    • 0 avatar
      tbone33

      1. MPGs also ignores distribution and generation costs. You are doing an apples to oranges plus orange tresewater plus orange orchard analysis that is biased to make gas look good.

      2. A cradle to grave energy analysis of oil versus the energy grid would be interesting

      3. Some states have fairly green grids. California only gets 10% of its energy from coal, though 42% comes from natural gas.

      4. There are other benefits to an electric vehicle. Less reliance on foreign oil and openning the door for a cleaner environment via renewables are two of them.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      wmba – - – -

      You very nicely addressed the fallacy in the energy-efficiency issue with regard to electricity generation. That was an INTERNAL consideration (namely, inside the device or devices that produce energy). The only thing that can ameliorate this problem is “pseudo-free” (but capital intensive) energy from solar and/or wind-power.

      But, even from an EXTERNAL consideration (namely, what gets emitted outside the device using the energy and the consequence of those emissions), EV’s still don’t make the sense they are reputed to provide.

      The hot button here, of course, is “global warming” allegedly caused CO2 emissions from automobiles:

      As a scientist, I can see that this automotive CO2 problem is one of those cause-and-effect phenomena that are microscopically true and macroscopically irrelevant. Translation: Vehicular CO2 is NOT the problem. It’s a low-order effect.
      You can reduce CO2 output from automobiles until you’re blue in your face — to zero, in fact, — and overall atmospheric/oceanic temperatures will continue to rise, — virtually unabated. Surprise!
      Why?
      1) CO2 is not the dominant greenhouse gas that afflicts the planet: H2O, as water vapor, is.
      2) CO2 is not alone in the realm of minor contributing gases: try methane and SO2, for example. Maybe we should ban cows.
      3) Even with CO2, the vast majority of that gas comes from coal-and petroleum fired power plants, principally in the US and China. Other sources of CO2 are volcanic and thermal-vent emissions.
      4) Jet aircraft produce about 5% of all CO2, but the ice-crystal contrails they leave have a disproportionately large effect on trapping re-radiation to warm the atmosphere. Are we going to ban jets too, and maybe get them to run on batteries?
      5) How can we explain that the equatorial temperature on Mars has been increasing since 1st measurements 40 years ago? Are we going to blame that on automotive CO2 also? Maybe the Rovers are at fault. Or has the sun cyclically increased its output, as it has done for eons? Gee, maybe there is more than one cause here…
      6) So, you want to reduce CO2 by using EV’s? Fine. That’s 1/2 * 1/4 * 1/ 3 = 4.1 % of the problem. So here we are bending over backwards to inconvenience everyone who drives a car just because some bureaucrat never passed 9th grade math?

      And yes, I can burden you with links and references for all this, if needed.

      ———————

  • avatar
    Autobraz

    88 mph speed limit for an electric car…humm….where is the flux capacitor in this thing?

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Guessing that it wouldn’t take the lightning bolt from the clock tower as well as a Delorian…

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        No flux capacitor AND it can’t even receive electricity via lightning bolt?

        Geez just what kind of time machine did they build here?

      • 0 avatar
        AFX

        ” Guessing that it wouldn’t take the lightning bolt from the clock tower”

        How about a longhaired cat and an acrylic blanket ?.

        Maybe go down to the Army surplus store and scrounge up one of those hand-cranked radios from WW2 to power it ?.

        Hey, I just thought of a way to save juice !. Instead of the car having it’s own radio/CD player maybe they could start putting in one of those Radio Shack crystal radios with the little ear plug ?.

        He could save himself some juice by ditching the heater and the A/C too. Just get one of those gasoline powered heaters they used to use back in the 40′s, and replace the A/C with a Swamp Cooler unit hanging off of the passenger’s side !.

  • avatar
    AFX

    I actually thought of two good uses for a car like this one.

    1. Being towed behind an RV. A lot of times when ever I see an RV I’ll see a car being towed behind it, so they can use the car to drive in town with while the RV is parked at the campground. With an EV car like this you could use it as your “in town” car while the RV is at the campground. Not only would it be light and easy to tow, but most RV campsites already have an A.C. outlet right there, so you could charge your car overnight easily.

    2. As rental vehicles at national parks. I’ve been to Gettysburg battlefield several times, and they have self-guided tours where you can rent or buy a CD and play it over your car stereo and it gives you a narration of the action that took place while you’re driving your car around the battlefield sites. They also have commercial places that rent bicycles and Segway scooters at Gettysburg. It’d be the perfect place to rent an EV car like this. You’d get to test drive an EV car for the first time to try one out, there’s less noise and fumes while you’re driving and for other people touring the battlefield, and since they’re small they’d be easier to park taking up less space. They could do the same thing at other national parks too. The Blue Ridge Parkway would be another good rental place, because the speed limit is set at something like 35mph, and they could have charging stations at the picnic areas, campgrounds, or lodges.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      EVs are heavy relative to their gas equivalents. That matters when towing. The idea of having a wheeled dinghy that’s needs to be charged rather defeats the convenience of having an auxiliary car. OTOH, it would be cool if you could wire the brake light connection to trigger regenerative braking and keep the battery charged during towing.

      • 0 avatar
        AFX

        “The idea of having a wheeled dinghy that’s needs to be charged rather defeats the convenience of having an auxiliary car.”

        Not really, the towed car is mainly for the sake of convenience when you need to go in town to buy groceries, or to visit the Country Kitchen Buffet. A 100 mile range is probably plenty enough for a towed RV car. While Ethel’s playing bingo, and Fred’s playing shuffleboard at the campsite the car could be charging.

        “OTOH, it would be cool if you could wire the brake light connection to trigger regenerative braking and keep the battery charged during towing.”

        Just get a few of those bicycle generators that rub against the sidewall of the tire instead.

      • 0 avatar
        Beerboy12

        People tow mid sized SUV’s, how can a Fiat 500 possibly be heavier than one of those???

    • 0 avatar
      Beerboy12

      The EV could theoretically be charging while being towed because they charge the battery while under breaking or going down hill. I think this is a great idea, your EV could be fully charged when you arrive after a day on the road.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        It would also be fully charged after a day on the road if you plugged it in before you go to bed the night before, which wouldn’t cost you any more since you pay a flat rate for the space. When my friend did his Canada to Mexico EV run that is what they did, spent the night at campgrounds and charged overnight. They would plug the truck in at one spot and the range trailer at another.

        • 0 avatar
          AFX

          ” They would plug the truck in at one spot and the range trailer at another.”

          There you go, EV range problem solved. Just get a trailer with an extra battery pack or two on it. If you want to do a longer range trip take the trailer with you. Build a pop-up camper into the trailer and you’re all set.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            This EV was a converted S-10 so they slept in the bed of the truck. The truck by itself has a ~300mi range and the trailer doubles it.

  • avatar
    CB200Cafe

    So here’s a dumb question I guess. With all the charging you’re doing, how does this compare price-wise to fill ups with a regular gasoline Fiat?

  • avatar
    nickoo

    KiloWatt-Hour infuriates me. A thousand lashes to whoever thought up that stupid measurement instead of just using some variant of Joules. (MegaJoules being the closest)

  • avatar
    nickoo

    Stupid questions, why don’t electric cars use a CVT in place of reduction gearing? Also, when you’re driving the car near the limit, how’s the NVH compare to a regular car at those speeds?

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Because CVTs cost a lot of money and have more frictional losses. A single reduction works just fine as most people don’t drive over 88mph in the city and has low frictional loss.

      • 0 avatar
        jimbob457

        What’s the problem? Existing legislation and regulations in place prohibit motor vehicles in the USA from exceeding 85mph on a public road, any time, any place EVER. It is just a matter of properly enforcing the laws we already have.

        You sure you’re not some kinda Communist?

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      Regarding NVH; most of what you hear at highway speeds is tire and wind noise; that does not vary with the power system being used.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Why bother when an electric motor can easily and smoothly spool up well past 10k RPM? A fixed reduction gear is simpler. Seems to work just fine for the Model S.

      Volt actually has a planetary gearset, and will spin its secondary (generator) motor at higher speeds to let the primary motor spin more slowly and efficiently at the same (higher) speed. The Axiflux motor looks particularly interesting since its independently-controlled coils allow for highly-efficient operation across a quite wide range of power and rotation settings.

      Me, I wish there were a Volt SS option that would use a shorter reduction gear and engage the secondary motor at lower speeds, for faster launches. It’d be less efficient, but power is cheap.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      At high speed all you hear is wind and tire noise – the motor is still pretty quiet. In a smooth car like the Leaf, it’s much quieter than a normal car at any speed.

    • 0 avatar
      probert

      One of the considerations with an electric motor is that it has 100% torque at 0 rpm, most transmissions will be destroyed by this. This was a problem Tesla had with their sports car.

      Also: CVTs are soul killing devices.

  • avatar
    art

    The cost to recharge makes for an interesting electric/gas comparison. For Alex’s 52 mile one way commute, he used about $7.84 of “fuel”. This is pretty close to the cost of 2 gallons of regular gas in the south bay area (today I filled up a car in Campbell for $3.899/gal). Working backwards that is the equivalent fuel cost of a FIAT 500 getting a disappointing 26 mpg.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      But if it was charged at home the cost would have likely been half. If it was charged at the rates I pay it would be less than 1/5 the cost.

    • 0 avatar
      nickoo

      He’s getting majorly ripped off by paying .49/kWh, but that’s the price of convenience of a fast charge.

      • 0 avatar
        art

        Similar to the price of convenience of petrol. Will the price of public, convenient fast charging a car go up or down as ecars become more popular?

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Yup it’s just like buying a beer. You can go to a fancy bar and pay $6 for a single beer, to the convenience store and pay $8 for a 6 pack or Costco and pay $20 for a case of 24.

        However at the chargers he has been using it is not a true fast charge it’s at the same rate he could charge at home IF he had a 240v charger.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Pretty much all for-pay recharging in the US is a complete and utter rip-off. 52mi of electric charge at retail home rates at the average price in the US ($0.11/kWh) would probably have run him a smidge more than $2.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Some Level 2 chargers can be accessed for $1/hr, with a minimal membership fee, which could be a relative bargain if you’ve got a large enough on-board charger and are charging in the bulk phase.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    Just imagine if your gasoline engine has a tank so small you have to refuel as frequently. It would be a disaster, people would complain bitterly. And gasoline’s much quicker to fill, with a tank so small, it’s probably less than two minutes. Not so with EVs. I’d say electric cars have a long way to go, either they got better, or electricity becomes so cheap and abundant (perhaps when fusion reactor becomes a reality or something.)

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      It is not cheaper electricity that is needed; as others have pointed out; resident electricity on an entergy basis is very competitive with gasoline.

      The twofold problem is

      a.) Finding a cheaper and lighter elctrical storage system that will allow you to have a bigger “electricity tank” in your car
      b.) Finding a charging technology that will force more power safely into your car, shortening charging times.

      Neither of which is cheap or easy; we continue to take baby steps with both. At some point, it will also become a burden on our nation’s electrical grid; and more sources of electricity will have to be built.

      • 0 avatar
        AFX

        “b.) Finding a charging technology that will force more power safely into your car, shortening charging times.”

        What if you stopped by the emergency room at the hospital and they gave it a short blast with the defibrillator paddles ?.

    • 0 avatar
      Beerboy12

      Yes, they have a long way to go. Electricity stored in battery’s weighs many times more than gas, unfortunately. If you had a battery big enough to go 400 miles, the car would buckle and under the weight. Still, this is an interesting start. You have to start somewhere, right?

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Ever wonder why just about every fixed motor (apart from those in places without electrification) is electric rather than gas-powered? Because electric motors are more reliable, more efficient, and simpler than ICEs. When the portable energy source issue is solved (whether it be by battery, SOFC, or whatever), the internal combustion engine’s days will be numbered. In 50 years, buying gasoline will be like buying horseshoes or fodder: you’ll still be able to, but you won’t find a station on every other corner.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        There’s more known oil in the ground now than 50 years ago, and dramatically more than there was 5 years ago. Unless electrical storage density and storage rate both improve twice as much in the next decade as they have in the past century and a half, no.

        • 0 avatar
          Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

          Envia, LiS, nanotech electrodes, etc. will get us to 500Wh/kg or more in the next decade, which would be nearly a clean double. Then there’s Phinergy-style metal-air batteries that are 1/2-2/3 as energy dense as gasoline which may arrive even sooner, though those would run closer to 8-12 cents per mile in an EV rather than 3-4 cents per mile on mains power via battery and would need to be replaced as consumed.

          Assuming, of course, there isn’t an economic meltdown of biblical proportions leading to WWIII (though technology DOES advance more quickly during war, I doubt it would in the aftermath of a nuclear exchange :/)

          • 0 avatar
            AFX

            When electric helicopters become mainstream and an everyday occurrence then I’ll know that batteries have caught up with fuel powered engines. Until then…..

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            And there’s this:
            http://goo.gl/P8tGH

            Lots of little steps. When was helping my son research colleges, I took a look at some of the research they were doing. Plenty of interesting stuff happening in college labs around the world. I think someone’s going to make some sort of big breakthrough sooner or later. If it does happen, the auto industry better be ready.

    • 0 avatar

      You don’t have to imagine. Just get a motorcycle with a 2 gallon tank.

      I get fantastic (compared to others on the same vehicle) mileage on my gsx-r 600 at ~ 45mpg, but with only a 4.5g tank it gets annoying quickly.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    To me, liters/100km make more sense than MPG and I fully comprehend both but… it’s really just a measurement that we can use to get an idea for comparison. At some point a standard will be “arrived” at and everyone will use it regardless of how much sense it makes, so long as most of us understand what it means we are all good.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    A charging point has to be Much cheaper to install / build than a gas station.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Even putting in a dozen or so Level 3 DC fast chargers, that are actually chargers not smart outlets, would still be much cheaper than 4 double sided pumps and their in-ground tanks.

    • 0 avatar
      TR4

      Perhaps, but gas station’s customers don’t sit there occupying space for several hours before they pay you.

      • 0 avatar
        Fordson

        Bingo. A gas pump can sell $50 worth of gas in 5 minutes. That’s $14,400 in one day. The one charging station Alex charged at sold him $7.84 worth of electricity in 2.5 hours. So that charging station can sell $75.26 worth of electricity in 24 hours. The snack vending machine down the hall at work sells more product than that.

        Where is the profit motive in installing that charging station?

        • 0 avatar
          Beerboy12

          Less profit yes but there are going to be more of them… Not that hard to understand really.

          • 0 avatar
            Fordson

            Not that hard to understand really? Are there going to be 200 times more charging stations to compensate for the fact that each one will only sell 1/200 worth of product?

            The footprint of a bay at either a gas station or a charging station is determined by the space needed in the bay itself to accommodate a vehicle and to enable it to drive up from the road and drive back to the road.

            From the standpoint of the profit motive, which is what we were speaking of, you don’t just put them in at a greater density because you would like to in order to make more money.

            Apple could make an iPhone an inch long, too…but the distance from a user’s mouth to his ear is a lot longer than that, and his fingertips are too big to type on a QWERTY keyboard with keys the size of a pinhead.

  • avatar
    CelticPete

    Electric cars aren’t nearly as efficent as you are claiming. The problem is electricity is already a ‘converted’ form of energy.

    The power plant has to convert fuel to mechanical energy – just like a car does and that process is at best 60% efficent. But there is more an electric engine is only 90% efficent with that electricty. But there is more – some juice is wasted in the charging process.

    Converting gasoline into its equivalent electrical energy as a means of comparison is a very unfair slam to modern ICE engines. The efficency battle is much closer then you think.. Hell Nuclear power wastes MOST of the energy it creates in the form of Heat. I love Nuclear power but the efficency of its power generation of electricty is woeful. I think geothermal ‘wastes’ alot of energy as well. I could be wrong about that..

    Pete

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      Good comment, Pete….

      It correlates perfectly with the one that “wmba” made on June 1st, and my response to him on June 2nd.

      Obviously, this is not a simple issue. EV’s, by current electricity-generation methods, are no “slam-dunk”.

      I still think the Audi method of vehicle propulsion may be the best in a set of unhappy compromises:

      http://www.worldcarfans.com/111051333371/audi-a3-tcng-e-gas-project-announced—methane-powered

      http://www.greencarcongress.com/2011/05/egas-20110513.html

      The first link offers very good video on this topic, said much better than anything I could contribute.

      ————

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    “Since motors deliver excellent torque at near zero RPM, there’s no need for an efficiency robbing torque converter.”

    Don’t they have these “locking torque converter” things on modern cars?

    (Yeah, they don’t lock at low speed. No, that doesn’t really matter.)

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “No problem, a quick numbers game in my head said that 33% plus a 20 minute stop at the 240V charger at the grocery store on the way (had to get some wine anyway)”

    So the EV turns the 4 minute wine stop into a 20 minute hassle, assuming you want to wait ## more minutes for the thing to be free of the C-Max. Again, I would find myself being very irritated.


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