Living With an EV for a Week – Day Two
Because of my RA (Range Anxiety), I drove Zippy Zappy gently on day 1, plugged the EV in immediately upon arriving at home and nixed my impromptu drive to the beach. (I haven’t named a car since I was 12 but the garish orange hue and pill-box proportions have made the name stick.) Thanks to my prudence (or was it fear?) I awoke to a 90% charge. According to Fiat’s computer, that was good for an 87 mile journey, plenty for my 52 mile one-way commute. Of course, it was after I started climbing up the mountain pass that separates my home from civilization that I asked “how am I going to charge today?”
You see, [for me] planning is something you do after you meet a problem, then you back-date the plan so you can claim you were prepared all along. As a result, I decided to turn off the heater in the car to save mileage, after all it was “only” 43 outside. The heater is thing most people don’t think about when it comes to EVs. In your gasoline car, you use the heater all you want and don’t run the A/C to save gas because heat is a “waste” product of combustion engines. EVs turn this logic on its head. Since there’s very little heat happening under the hood they have to use resistive heating elements to heat the cabin. According to Toyota, heat pumps would be more efficient but they cost way more and add a great deal of complexity and weight. Running the A/C in the little Fiat consumed about 1.5kW of power while the heater on medium sucked down nearly 8kW. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, I decided the heated seat wasn’t cutting it and I needed to be more realistic so I set the climate control to 68. Let the future be damned!
Once on the freeway I realized my RA had returned. I decided to set the cruise control to a decidedly pokey 59 MPH, a speed that even tractor trailers don’t stoop to in California (even though their speed-limit is 55). At this speed I was able to commune with other EV drivers on the highway (the ones I normally fly by in the left lane.) When I drove a BMW Active E, I got waves and thumbs up from the LEAF drivers. I decided to try the same in Zippy Zappy but the lack of decals announcing the Fiat’s electrification caused confusion in the LEAF drivers and just made them swerve wildly thinking I was some crazy person out to get them. My bad.
55 miles later (I decided to take the flattest and shortest route) I arrived at work where I discovered my RA was unjustified. I had 45% of my battery left. Charge time at 120V was 12 hours and 45 minutes. Electrical codes in the USA limit the 120V EVSE plugs to about 12A which isn’t very fast. Logically 8 hours at 120V would be more than enough to get me back home, but since I work in an area that has only street parking, things had to get creative. Extension cord plugged into the outlet in the hall (the breaker that wouldn’t trip), down the hall, through my office, out the window, across the lawn, over the sidewalk and into the street. I don’t recommend trying this in San Francisco, I’m sure an ADA compliance mob would stone you to death. (If you are meter maid in the Bay Area, I deny all knowledge of the picture above. It was someone else.)
After a few hours, I bothered to look into charging stations. After all, I did sign up for a ChargePoint account a while back. Low and behold there was a charging station just around the corner charging $0.49/kWh. Looking at the map it’s obvious what a year has done to the EV landscape, there are easily three times the number of public EV charging stations in the Bay Area than there were a year ago. Because I’m selfish, what mattered was there were now EV stations near ME.
I’ll digress for a moment. People call the thing on the curb with the cord and plug a “charging station” but that is something of a naming error. All modern EVs have on-board chargers. That thing that you connect to your car is an over glorified “smart” extension cord. The purpose of the “charging station” is to tell the car what kind of power is available (120/240 V) how much current the car is allowed to draw and to provide some safety mechanisms to protect the person plugging in. All the magic is happening *in* the car. As parts are getting cheaper and more widely available, faster chargers are being integrated into EVs. The first LEAF’s 3.3kW charger took 9 hours to fill the battery at 240V, barely 2.5x faster than at 120V. A year later most EVs use a 6.6kW charger that completes the task in 1/6th the time. Good news for me. Since I’m supposed to be getting more exercise I drove a few blocks, plugged in and walked back. Two hours later I had for the first time in my life, a full EV battery and I have a picture to prove it.
Feeling like an ePrisoner eLiberated from their eBondage, I renewed my pledge to test drive Zippy Zappy like any other car. That meant taking Highway 35 home. If you aren’t familiar with the Bay Area, the coastal mountain range separates the population from the sea. At some point a brilliant highway engineer decided to put one of the most scenic highways in the state along the ridge of the range. The trip (shown above with an elevation profile) takes me from sea level to 3,157 ft, then down to about 400 ft with plenty of ups, downs, sweeping curves and corkscrews. If you haven’t driven it and live nearby, shame on you.
About the time I reached that first 2,000+ foot blip on the left of the graph, I had a mild panic attack. ZZ said I wouldn’t reach my destination. Had I bitten off more than she could chew? No, because the software in the car is only using your past record for future range. By climbing rapidly, it assumed the next 40 miles would be on a similar incline. Don’t blame the software. Blame me. The driver is in control so I had to take my (limited) experience into account. I decided not to bail (and charge in Palo Alto). I pressed onwards. (But I set the cruise control to 50.) In the process I snapped some cool photos.
My faith was rewarded as I neared CA Highway 17 with a battery still 40% charged. I decided to throw caution to the wind and visit downtown Los Gatos. The EV gods smiled upon my diversion and without looking for one, I stumbled upon a brace of EV chargers. One was occupied by a decidedly non-EV BMW 760iL, which I briefly considered putting a door ding in “accidentally” as I got out. One expensive carrot cake and a 1.8kWh charge later I headed home.
Since I didn’t make it to the beach yesterday, I decided today would be the day. Thanks to my nifty iPhone app from ChargePoint I found that there was an EV station operated by the City of Capitola By The Sea just two blocks from my favorite beach dive restaurant. A quick numbers game in my head told me that 2 hours would not only power me back up the hill to home, but also put me in a better charge situation. There was just one problem. OK, two. The EV station had one broken charge cord and some douche in a LEAF had occupied the other for 2 hours over the parking limit and counting. What would you have done?
I sat in the car and contemplated my options. 1 unplug him and plug myself in (not on his dime, the sessions stop when you unplug). 2 leave him a nasty note and hunt for another station. 3 wait him out. I waited for 20 minutes at which point he had been over his 4 hour parking limit (clearly signed) by almost 3 hours (according to the charging station). I thought: lave a note explaining why I had unplugged his ride so that he (or maybe she) wouldn’t retaliate by unplugging me when they returned. No pen. I took the high road and moved on to an EV station 7 blocks away.
After a stroll along the beach and dinner, we walked by the LEAF (still plugged in) and left him a more tactfully-worded note than I had planned. I reminded the driver that the spot clearly said “4 hour limit” and that there are other EV drivers out on the road that need to charge. I may or may not have indicated that I would unplug his shiny red LEAF with “NOGAAS” license plate should I see it there for 4 hours again. Or maybe not. Is this the start of “plug rage” perhaps??
Upon returning to ZZ, something else crossed my mind. This EV station is new, and like others is no longer in a prime parking area. Instead they jammed it at the back of the parking lot. Preferential EV treatment may be starting to end as early as it started.
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I liked the discussion of EV rage. I had wondered about this during the flap over the reporter who dove the Tesla S on a road trip in the NE...what if you come to a supercharger on your road trip and someone is already hooked up? And someone else is already in line for it? Triple your charge time. Alex, in your case you would have been completely justified unplugging the Leaf. Who knows what happened. Maybe the owner is a selfish douche. Or maybe he got taken to the hospital in an ambulance from a nearby restaurant after having a medical emergency. Maybe there was some other unplanned reason he overstayed his four hours. In the latter cases I'm sure he wouldn't mind you unplugging.
Doing all the juggling and consideration about when/where to charge, whether the space will be open, if someone put their douche-BMW in the spot, running cords all through the grass... Those things would ruin my day. I'd of been stressed and in a really bad mood, not to mention it took at least 2 hours longer to get things done than it normally would have. When it's hot and potentially raining, I don't want to walk 7 blocks to the restaurant, or go out on my lunch break to see if the charging station is available. I do understand that southern CA is a good venue for the EV, but many other parts of the country are unsuitable for this sort of hullabaloo every day.