Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My level-2 home charger

The first thing you need to get for your electric vehicle is a level-2 EV charger (220-volts).  This makes it possible to charge your car in a few hours rather than the better part of a day.  In my case, a full charge when plugged into a 110-volt outlet takes up to 22 hours.  With my commute to Palo Alto, the 110-volt charging solution was not a feasible option.  Of course, being the first i-MiEV customer in San Jose meant that the dealership was horribly unprepared to help me get a level-2 charger installed, and the folks from Best Buy (sent by Mitsubishi) dropped the ball and were no help (especially so close to Christmas).  I checked at Lowes and Home Depot and found a GE charger for $1,000 and a mystery-brand model for $800 that only offered 20 amps of charging capability (about half the GE’s).  Although my car would never draw more than 14 amps, I felt that newer EV’s (such as from Tesla) might be able to draw more current and I wanted a capable charger.  So, I turned to the internet for help.
My EV Charge America level-2 charger installed outdoors

I found the website for EV Charge America and their 32-amp EV charger being offered at an introductory price of $650, and placed my order.  Because they were still pre-production (something I wasn’t aware of), I had to wait about six weeks for them to work out the production kinks in their pilot-production models.  They shipped me one of these pilot-production models, then canceled their production plans.  (While shocking – pun – the unit provided has worked beautifully since day one.)  Next, I hired an electrician and applied for a permit.  The electrician installed a beautiful outdoor 220-volt receptacle and I mounted the charger to the house wall with four easy screws.  (I needed to whittle away at the receptacle housing to get the cover to close over the beefy electrical cord for the charger, but otherwise it was an easy installation.) 
I needed to file away at the opening for the power cord so the plug would fit.

Now I have a charger that can only be activated by a RFID card I keep in the car, so I don’t have to worry about amp-bandits tapping my house during the day while I am at work.  The RFID card can be hit-and-miss at times, but with a little patience it works well.  And, I charge at home while I sleep, avoiding those 5 to 10 minute stops at gas stations every week.  How cool is that?  And, my charger has the extra capacity needed for my next generation of EV, which looks to be hitting the roads sometime in 2017.

Friday, August 22, 2014

My commute

Before committing to buying my electric i-MiEV, reports had spread throughout work that we would be relocating from the Cupertino campus to the Palo Alto campus in the coming 12 to 18 months.  My coworkers and I had hoped this wouldn’t happen, because we had all purchased properties in proximity to the Cupertino campus.  My coworkers would go from driving two miles to driving about ten miles, while my commute would grow from 10 miles to about 20 miles (each way).  So, I plugged my home address and work address into Google Maps and saw that there were four practical routes to work for me.  One involved driving mostly on the most congested freeway cutting through Silicon Valley, another involved endless stoplights on a slower-speed expressway, and then two more involved taking the freeway that passes closest to my house.  The difference between these last two routes was in the last 8 miles.  On one, I would stay on the freeway and drive over rolling foothills, while the other traveled a slower, more level expressway with traffic signals.  This last route would add about five minutes or so to my travel time, was one-mile shorter, uses less electric charge, and has become my route to work.

The fastest route to work

The slower, shorter, more level route to work
During the Christmas shutdown, I decided to test out my future route to work to see how the car would fare.  I decided to drive at the speed limit (65 MPH) along the entire stretch of freeway, not using the car’s Eco mode, to get an “upper bound” on how much electricity I would use.  When I arrived at the office site in Palo Alto, I had used one third of the charge, meaning I could drive to and from work without any worry of running out of juice.  In fact, there would still be about 18 to 24 miles of driving range remaining when I arrived at home afterwards, which is enough to run to the store or go out for dinner.  As it turns out, I always use the car’s Eco mode when commuting and I keep the speed closer to 60 MPH, resulting in using almost 15% less electricity used for the same drive.  Over time, this savings becomes significant.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Range Anxiety


Range anxiety is not some superstition that afflicts electric vehicle drivers (except you Tesla guys), but rather a meaningful need to understand how far you can drive.  Anyone can hop into a gasoline powered vehicle with a 15-gallon tank and expect to drive 300 to 500 miles without the need to refill.  (That’s over six hours of driving.)  And, the refueling takes as little as five minutes.  In fact, most owner’s manuals recommend refueling once the gas tank is down to its last two gallons of fuel to avoid sucking tiny debris into the fuel injectors of the engine.  With a range of about 65 miles, the i-MiEV is like driving a gasoline engine with a two-gallon gas tank.  Of course you’re going to be antsy about range because you have been trained to refuel when the energy level drops to where an electric vehicle is fully charged.  The good news is you get used to this.

The more important thing to do is to befriend Google Maps.  If you plan all your destinations within 25 to 30 miles from your home, then you are usually safe, especially if you can shift some of the miles from the highway to slower streets.  Google Maps allows you to put in your starting point and your destination and determine the length of the best routes to get there.  (Many smart phones offer this feature as well.)  I can travel beyond 30 miles when I have access to a charging station at or near my destination.  But then I need to allow time to recharge the battery.  A full charge takes a little more than six hours.  I can get about one third of a charge in two hours (good for 20 miles), which can extend my driving range to roughly 80 miles, or points 40 miles away, without too much inconvenience.
The approximate safe range for my I-MiEV without recharging
 There are two destinations I would like to try to visit from my home.  San Francisco and Santa Cruz.  The road to San Francisco is 50 miles and is mostly level.  There is more demand for charging stations in San Francisco and the car would need to charge for at least five hours before I could return home.  This long recharge time is what keeps me from taking my car there.  As for Santa Cruz, the biggest unknown is crossing the mountain at 1,800 feet up, with a number of uphill climbs before coasting into the beach town of Santa Cruz.  Since buying the car, there are now charging stations in downtown Santa Cruz, so perhaps I should attempt this drive next.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What got me started?

In the summer of 2007, while strolling the main street through Los Gatos, CA, I came across the Green Vehicles car store.  Inside they had three of their prototype vehicles.  One three-wheeler was highway capable, while the other two were neighborhood electric cars.  They were taking deposits on the cars to help bring them to production.  I became enamored with a yellow two-seater, but in my usual fashion, I opted to think about it and do some research before laying out $1,000 in hopes that the car would someday be delivered.  In the coming months I learned that the car was imported from China and was limited to speeds of 25 MPH, and could not travel on roads with a speed limit of 40 MPH or higher.  My favorite wine store could only be accessed by a road with a 40 MPH speed limit, so I decided against getting any Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV). 

Green Vehicles Neighborhood Electric Car

The Flybo Neighborhood Electric Vehicle

Next, I started digging into what electric cars were being developed and which were in the works for the near future.  Those that would be imminently available were too unconventional to really work for me, so I had to set my sights further down the road.  (One sat two people in tandem and made a Smart ForTwo look big, while the other looked like its airplane wings had yet to develop.)  Then, three cars started to promise a delivery timeline.  The first one, the Mistubishi i-MiEV, was targeted first for Japan, and then the United Kingdom, with the rest of Europe following shortly thereafter.  Then, the Nissan Leaf EV and the Chevy Volt came to market in 2011.  The Leaf met with some success, but the Volt took much longer to catch on.  At this same time, Mitsibishi announced plans to adapt the i-MiEV for the U.S. Market, making it wider and giving it bigger bumpers.

After months of waiting, Mitsubishi created a waiting list for U.S. deliveries of the i-MiEV, asking for a $300 deposit to secure your car and select its color and trim options.  I hesitated at first, but after a month I put my name on the list and my money on the table to secure one.  Of the four colors offered, I chose the only real color, "raspberry".  (Somehow, white black, and silver do not seem like actual colors.)  I picked the upgraded trim level in order to get the leather-wrapped steering wheel (a must for me) and a few other dandy items.  Then came the two road tests.  First, Mitsubishi sent a European-spec i-MiEV on test-drive tour through the states so that people could get a small taste of it.  Drivers were not allowed onto the highway, but the city driving was promising and almost impressive.  The second test involved a U.S.-spec pre-production model, which drove amazingly like the first.  Again, drivers were not allowed access to the highway, but my representative allowed me a brief “wrong turn” onto highway 87 and back off at the next exit.  While not mind-numbing with its speed, it performed like many of the small cars from the early 1980’s. 
One of the pre-production Mitsubishi I-MiEV cars made available to test

Finally, can time to track delivery of my car.  According to the Mitsubishi web site, my car would arrive in early January.  But, in mid-December, 2011, I received a phone call asking me to come to the dealership to pick up my car.  On December 18th, I took delivery of the first retail-sale Mitsubishi i-MiEV in Santa Clara County.  (I’m guessing that the real first person backed away when they saw how purple the car turned out to be.)  When I returned to drop off some paperwork a few days later, I met the second retail delivery customer, which is where this started to get a little peculiar.  We are both named Mark, both in our late-40’s, and both working in the computer software development field.  (Even more disturbing was later discovering a second i-MiEV showing up at work driven by another Mark.)  Later I would meet owners not named Mark who were not involved with software who drive the same car (much to my relief).  So, that’s basically how I got started.
My i-MiEV at the Mitsubishi dealer