Saturday, January 24, 2015

Replacing my Level-2 charger

As soon as my level-2 EV charger died, I went online to find out what was now available for home use.  (This was after a futile attempt to contact the now-defunct manufacturer about servicing my old charger.)  I found some units online at Lowes, but the only unit that looked promising was the GE charging station, and it was also the most expensive.  The less expensive models lacked the amperage or the plug that I was looking for.  I found similar results at Home Depot.  Then I remembered the EV charger that was being given away at the Electric Auto Association Silicon Valley rally at De Anza College back in September.  So I dug through the business cards in my desk drawer at home and found it: Clipper Creek.

One thing that I liked about Clipper Creek is that, not only are they an American company, but they are also a California company.  That, and the price of their 32-amp charger was about $150 to $300 less than the competition’s.  I checked the Clipper Creek web site and found some specifications and installation instructions for the model I wanted (with a 220-volt plug).  I had some questions about my installation and sent an e-mail to Clipper Creek.  They responded promptly with enough information to address my concerns, so I was ready to place my order.  One change that I would have to adapt was in the orientation of the electrical outlet and housing.  The cord for my (now broken) charger exited the housing from below and wrapped around to the charger box above.  This new charger (and all the others I found for sale) limit the length of the cord to just 12 inches, forcing the cord to exit the housing from above to feed directly to the charger.  (This was the result of a newly adopted national electrical standard.) 

Just then I remembered a recall for my car that concerned a particular EV charger.  At the time, the recall was not for my charger, so I decided to wait for my annual service appointment to address it.  But suddenly I remembered the charger brand in the recall and double-checked my recall paperwork – the recall involved Clipper Creek chargers.  So, I had to get the car serviced before I could buy the charger.  This further delayed getting the new charger, but only by a few days as the dealer was able to work on my car soon after I called.  Finally, I was able to place the order with Clipper Creek (which I did online).
My new Clipper Creek charger mounted on the wall

Much to my surprise, the charger arrived the next day (and on a Saturday, no less).  A few days later I had time to install it.  I needed to reorient the outlet, which was straight-forward and involved removing six screws, rotating the outlet in place, tucking the wires back inside the outlet box carefully, and reattaching the six screws in the new orientation.  (I also needed to cut a little more away from the opening of the plastic housing for the larger plug.)  After a couple of drill holes in the wall, two bolts, and connecting the plug to the outlet, I was ready to test the unit.  When I tested my first EV charger, I plugged everything in without worrying about problems.  This time, after having dealt with the recall (which was essentially a firmware update), I was more nervous because I wasn’t confident that the firmware update would work for my new charger model.  But, I threw the switch on the circuit breaker and the status light came on.  I connected the charger plug to the car, heard a loud click, and the car began charging.  And I let out a sigh of relief because I would no longer have to depend on the slow-charging level-1 charger that came with the car.  I could drive the distance again.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Pile it in

When you drive a car the size of a pill-box on the outside, it’s sometimes hard to believe what you can carry on the inside.  While my car is about the length of a Mini Cooper, inside there is much more room, especially with the rear seats folded flat.  Unlike the Mini (and most other tiny cars), the Mitsubishi i-MiEV was optimized for an electric drivetrain.  There is no bulky three- or four-cylinder engine, no transaxle with spinning cogs and flywheels, no muffler, and no gas tank.  The car is propelled by an efficient electric motor that is installed between the two rear wheels, with the batteries stored beneath each of the seats.  By raising the roofline to compensate for the batteries underneath, nearly the entire length of the car can be devoted to passenger (and cargo) space.  Admittedly, the car will carry only four people, which is an acceptable limitation for me.  (I can squeeze six into my four-door pickup on those rare occasions that I need the extra people capacity.)  But the real value of this car’s interior dimensions lies in its ability to accommodate cargo with the rear seats folded down.

On the few occasions I have taken my car in for service, I always toss my bicycle into the back with the front tire removed.  The bike fits easily like this.  (When taking my old 1987 BMW 325i to the mechanic, I would have to remove both wheels to fit the bike into the trunk.)  That the bike would fit came as no surprise.  What surprised me was when I undertook a repainting project that spanned a few weekends.  Even though I brought supplies to this apartment being repainted in multiple loads, I was astounded that I was able to return with all the supplies in one load.  See for yourself in the photos below, but the load contained several storage bins full of supplies, a few paint cans and a five-gallon can, drop cloths, cleaning gear, and a full-size dolly.  And, as you can see, my view to the rear was not obstructed by the cargo either.  Since that job, whenever I check out an electric car, I first look at the rear cargo area and whether the seats fold flat before I even consider the car for my future.  (Sorry Ford Focus, but this was a major deal-breaker.)
All this stuff just came out of the I-MiEV (see next picture)
All the stuff that fits easily inside the I-MiEV with the rear seats folded flat

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Demand for charges at work increases

 My company recently installed enough level-2 EV chargers to meet the electric-car driving needs.  While not always available, it was usually easy to find an open spot or two after 3:00 or so in the afternoon.  And, since all of the new chargers are hooked into the ChargePoint network, it was easy to go online and see which, if any, of the chargers are available at any given time.  Finally, there was EV peace on the campus.

Then, in a cost-cutting effort, one of the other campuses (which also was home to a substantial EV population) was closed and all the folks moved to the site where I work.  Now, the infrastructure that was barely adequate to meet the needs of its employees is now taxed and stretched thin as twice the number of people make a vailed effort to cooperate and share the charging spots.  Each charger is set to charge for free for the first four hours, and then the cost jumps to $10/hour while connected (whether drawing current or not).  So, there is a financial incentive to not remain hooked up to the charges for too long, but this is still inadequate.  A mailing list has been set up so that the early arrivers can announce when they disconnect (as a heads-up to others), but only two or three people use it regularly.  Every day there is rivalry for the charging spots (to the point of bad behavior).

Recently, people have been sending out reports of being disconnected, of others not moving their vehicles as soon as they have finished charging, and people parking in spaces not designated for parking in order to connect their car while someone else neglects their now fully-charged vehicle.  (After all, once you have your charge, your own needs have been met.)  I see some possible solutions to this big problem, all of which may be needed to remedy the situation.  (1) Add more charging stations, both free and some that are reasonably priced (for all-day recharging).  (2) Reduce the number of free-charging hours from four to three (or two and a half?).  (3) When installing chargers, cluster two units with four hookups so that eight (or more?) cars can share them without having to move the cars (think spoke and wheel pattern).  This would allow busy people to leave their cars a little longer while others responsibly take over their charging connections.  Whoever designed the one-car-per-connection model was clearly not thinking about maximizing use among busy employees.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Living with my Level-1 charger and charge-anxiety

You never know how much you depend upon something until it breaks.  My home level-2 charger worked perfectly for over two and a half years before it stopped working.  Repairing it was not an option, so I have had to live with the level-1 charger until I can find (and pay for) a suitable replacement.  At the recent EV car rally, I remembered Clipper Creek offering a decent product, so I looked into it online.  The unit with the wall plug will meet my needs after I alter the installation of my 220-volt outlet to reorient the plug for the new charger.  I was about to order the unit when I remembered one of the recall notices that I had yet to perform on my Mitsubishi i-MiEV involved a level-2 charger problem.  So, I scrambled through the myriad of papers floating about my car and found the notice.  Sure enough, the recall applies to Clipper Creek level-2 charging stations, so I have to wait until I take my car in for the recall to get the charger (to avoid damage to my car).  Doh!

Meanwhile, I am growing ever more tired of the slow charging level-1 charger.  Being able to add a 20-mile range to my car in about two hours is great with a level-2 charger, but the same range requires six hours from my level-1 charger.  And, my drive to work and back needs about 12 to 14 hours to recharge using my level-1 charger, which just gives me enough time to get to work the next day.  (Thank goodness for morning meetings handled online at home.)  If I need to stray from my route home, I cannot get a full charge by morning.  If I need to make two long trips on the weekend, that is impractical as well.  Clearly, the level-1 charger is suitable for folks that drive fewer than 35 miles a day or don’t need to drive every day.  (It’s worth noting that my level-1 charger draws only 1kw, while many newer level-1 chargers draw 1.4kw, reducing the charge time by almost 30%.)

So, now I have learned a new anxiety that EV drivers face, one that causes more stress than range-anxiety.  This angst, that nobody seems to be talking about, is probably best called charge-anxiety, and has more to do with not knowing how you are going to manage to recharge your battery before you need it again.  The level-2 charger is a great soother of charge-anxiety because you know that during your sleep, however short that might be, you can fully recharge your battery.  (While level-3 chargers work much faster, they don’t finish the job – they stop once the battery reaches 80% charge to avoid over-heating and over-charging the battery pack.)  How can you reduce charge-anxiety when you are stuck with a level-1 charger?  Find a nearby public level-2 charging station (at a store or parking garage), plug in for about two hours, then return home to finish the job using your level-1 charger.  I am fortunate enough to have several public level-2 chargers close to home, but that is not the case for most folks.