Wow, I never knew what a strange and wonderful world driving an all electric car can be! It very much reminds me of the parable of the two guys in the cave who are freed after a long confinement and they run out into the sun and their eyes burn from exposure, the first person endures the pain and can see the wonders of the world, the second runs back into the cave. I feel like owning an electric car at this stage you’re faced with this conundrum: do you modify your driving habits to fit the reality of your electric car and become an electric driver, or do you head to your gas cave?
Owning a Nissan Leaf is both wonderful and sobering on dealing with the assumptions we take for granted of a gas powered auto. Did you know that heating your car is a byproduct of a gas engine? Venting excess heat was an easy solution for automakers post Model T, there was lots of heat in the engine. Air conditioning, however, requires additional equipment and reduces gas mileage to support your nice comfy environment.
Next, while gasoline is an unregulated commodity, electricity is regulated. In addition, enlightened utility companies are providing price models based on the marginal cost of supplying users during a 24 hour cycle. Not much is happening electrically from 12 midnight to 6 am on the West Coast except lots of hydro power is being created and sometimes thrown away because demand is low. This is the perfect power for an Electric Vehicle. For a Nissan Leaf you can expect about $1 an equivalent gallon and expect about 100 miles for that equivalent gallon.
For the Leaf, once you’ve fully charged it, you’ll have a estimated range of 119 miles using a 21 kilowatt battery. The first thing you find out is that your driving and your climate control affect your use of this charge. From owning a Prius for seven years, I had some clue of this, since the Prius tells you when your driving habits waste gas. The Leaf has regenerative braking, so when you apply the brakes you get some power back, the same as the Prius.
So the first new lesson I learned was the relationship between speed and range. At a constant 75 MPH you have total range in the Leaf of 62 miles, at 65 you can drive for 75 miles and at 55 you can drive for 89 miles. Two other factors affect range: climbing hills and having climate control. Want AC or heat with that? It will cost you 15-30% of your range. Driving up a hill also affects your total range.
As California is increasing its commitment to electric cars, we are at the dawn of a new phenomenon: the plug-in parking station. How do you overcome range issues? Three ways, first work with your employer to have a plug-in at your place of employment. Today, Google headquarters in Mountain View has over 300 parking spaces with EV plug-ins. Google provides this for free. Even if your company would charge for this, they will probably not mark up the price of electricity so you get a company electric rate which is less than half what you’d pay at home (think 50 cents for 100 miles). The second way to increase your range is to find public charging – iPhone and android users can use a utility from plugshare.com to find public charging infrastructure. My first heavy-footed trip to San Francisco used more than 1/2 my battery; fortunately I was able to find a convenient charging station in a public parking garage and I received a full charge while at the Giants game. The third method is the emergence of Level 3 charging for EVs. The Nissan Leaf’s SL model has a 440V connector that can recharge 80% of the Leaf’s battery in 30 minutes. There are currently 6 of these ‘quick charge’ stations in California, with 2 on the San Francisco Bay peninsula (Belmont and Palo Alto). Washington State, Oregon, and California have a commitment to providing Electric Highways. With a charger every 60 miles, it’s possible in the near future (and weird) to drive the entire state in a Leaf. Every hour you’d need to stop, get a cup of coffee, and get a charge. As EVs get better batteries the range will increase. Japan has deployed 1000 quick charge stations and found that EVs now compete with gas vehicles because range issues are removed.
Finally, the conversion to driving electrically is complete when you start measuring miles per kilowatt. Once you know the distance you want to travel, and know the kilowatt capacity of your battery, you can get a helpful trip indicator of miles per kilowatt for the driving you’re doing. 2.5 miles per kilowatt is HEAVY footed, 3.5 is good, 4.5 is great. To get 4.2 to 4.5 miles to the kilowatt you need to limit your acceleration, braking, and speed over 60 mph. As long as you do these three things, it makes no difference whether you’re in congested traffic or not. So when you pass me on my way to San Francisco headed to a Giants game, wave hi! I’ll be driving 65 with the windows cracked open!