Saturday, March 31, 2012

Riverside Pit Stop: Newly installed EVSE in Riverside, California

If you own an EV and want to travel from Los Angeles or Orange Counties out to Palm Springs you may feel a little range anxiety without a pit stop along with way.  The City of Riverside is happy to oblige with two new Chargepoint EVSE's installed at City Hall in Riverside, California.

The good news is that City Hall is in the heart of downtown Riverside, just a block from the Mission Inn. This means you have a nice selection of shopping and dining all within walking distance.

To access these EVSE's just exit the 91 Freeway at 14th street, travel North to Main Street and go right.  Main Street deadends at 10th Street, turn left.  The first driveway on your right is the City Hall visitor parking.  There you will see the two EVSE's against the building on your right.

There are also two EVSE's in the parking garage on 12th street in downtown Riverside, but these are old units without the J1772 connector.  Good for a 110 volt charge if your in a pinch.  But the City Hall EVSE's are brand new J1772 connectors from Chargepoint.

Honorary Member of the Active E Club: We all know its not a honor just to be nominated!

"It's an honor just to be nominated."  You hear this all the time from actors who are nominated for an Oscar or an Emmy, but don't take home the prize. Well that may be true in part, but if truth be told, it's also damn frustrating.

I have been "nominated" of sorts by being allocated a BMW Active E.  I was very excited to receive my allocation email on February 22, 2012, which essentially gave me a key to the Active E club, limited to 700 people in the U.S. (finally, I am a member of something).  But then the wait began, and now over five weeks later, I am still without my prize--the actual car.  The car will arrive eventually, of course, but the wait is hard to bear.

It reminds me of waiting for Christmas to arrive as a child.  The excitement and anticipation of rushing downstairs Christmas morning to see what awaits.  Funny how a car can bring that childhood anticipation back to life.

But the Active E is no normal car, and that's what makes the wait so excruciating...and frustrating.  The promise of an all-electric vehicle with a range of about 100 miles is breathtaking.  While I can certainly appreciate cars like the Chevy Volt, which can go between 35 to 40 miles on electric power only, it pales in comparison to the pure-electric vehicle.  Electric power is the future and the more EVs that hit the road, the sooner they will be adopted by the wider public.

Newly installed public EVSE at Riverside City Hall in Riverside, CA

Already, public EVSE's are being installed, and USED(!), by EVs because between the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, and now the BWM Active E, there are more vehicles than ever needing a charge and using the equipment.  As this demand rises, the infrastructure will rise with it--allowing wider adoption of EVs.
It's all very exciting and I can't wait to claim my prize and join the club.

In the meantime, I will place some cookies and a glass of milk next to the fireplace and go to sleep with visions of sugarplums, and gas-free transportation, dancing in my head.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

$200 in 2 Days: why we need EV now!

Yesterday I paid $100 to almost fill the tank of my GMC Yukon. Today I paid over $91 to fill my Toyota Tundra. Two gas-guzzlers filled in two days and nearly $200 gone. Anyone still want to argue over the adoption of EVs?

Cost of fuel is just one reason why I anxiously await the arrival of my Active E. Although at these prices, fuel cost becomes a very strong reason.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hard Charging -- The Seemingly Impossible Task of Obtaining a Home EVSE

One of the hardest parts, so far, of entering the EV world is obtaining an EVSE for my home, that elusive charging equipment.  I have tried four different options to obtain my home EVSE and each one has achieved various levels of success.  I use the term “success” lightly because as of now, I don’t actually have an EVSE.
In an effort to be creative and resourceful, neither of which has paid any real dividends, I have explored four different option.
1.         AreoVironment.  This is the company blessed by BMW to install home EVSE’s and their version comes with a cool BMW logo on it—although the electrons flow freely to any brand of electric vehicle.  We were required to have the nice people, and they were, at Aerovironment inspect our home and provide a quote for an EVSE install.  My quote was $1,750 for the cost of the EVSE and labor to install it.  But this did NOT include the labor needed to run conduit from my electric panel to the garage—the problem being a doorway in between the two.  So on to plan B.

2.         Coulomb/ChargePoint America.  They offered a FREE charger, can’t beat that right?  As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as free electrons.  The problem with obtaining a free anything is that you have to wait in line, assuming that the free anything is worth something.  And this anything is worth something, so I waited.  And waited.  And waited.   Finally, I did obtain a site visit from Clean Fuel Connection (the subcontractor for Charge Point, who then sub’s it out again to another electrical company), which went well but presented two new options for my home EVSE:

            A.         Subpanel Install.  A subpanel has to be installed because my main panel has a full dance card and can’t make room for one more potential spark.  Adds a bit of cost, but whatever it takes is fine by me.  Or I could choose option B:
            B.         Second Meter. Southern California Edison offers a special EV rate of 10 cents per Kwh for vehicle charging from 9:00 p.m. to noon, but only when a second meter is installed dedicated to tracking only the EV usage.  The second meter is provided free of charge, but I have to pay the labor to install it.  And SCE must conduct a site visit to determine the placement of the second meter and whether I have enough juice in the existing wires to feed two meters. 
My gate and battered electric meter
After waiting another week for the SCE site visit I was told: “you have to relocate your gate because it might hit the meter.”  What?  That gate has been there for over 10 years and has hit the existing meter hundreds of times with no visible damage.  Only now does SCE notice a problem with the gate?  That’s what I get for drawing attention to myself I guess.  Better to fly under the radar.

So scratch plan “second meter.”  I don’t really need a second meter anyway because I have solar and by using net metering and time-of-use billing for solar and EV I can obtain a very similar result to having a second meter.  It just limits my prime EV charging time from midnight to 6:00 a.m. 
And my quote from ChargePoint for the EVSE install?  Don’t know yet.
Leviton evr-green 160
3.         Solar Company.  I had solar installed last year by Peak Power Solutions and they did a great job.  So I called to find out if they handle EVSE’s and whether they could put a package together that included not only the EVSE, but also a few more solar panels to help offset the extra power usage.  I thought for sure this would be my saving grace.  And I would love to add more solar panels to my system—what a perfect excuse.

But not so fast because (1) the cost of the additional panels were way higher than expected, and (2) the EVSE that they wanted to install (a Leviton "evergreen 160") was a 3.8 Kw unit.  Keep in mind that the Active E can consume up to 7.2 Kw and most EVSE’s being installed have a 7.2 Kw output.  Not this one.  They found the small Sony Walkman of EVSE’s in an iPod world, and while it looks ugly it's also entirely underpowered.  Wait those are both bad things.  Power down this option.
GE WattStation
4.         Private Electrician.  The last straw is hiring a private electrician to come in and run conduit to a GE Wattstation that I can buy from Home Depot for $999.  May not be free, but it’s not too expensive given the scheme of things and it has one very large benefit: it may actually arrive in my garage!  A free charger does little good when I can’t use it…because I don’t have it. 

My only hold-up under this plan is…I can’t get my electrician to call me back. 
The Hard Charging Conclusion.  That’s four options, four different avenues to a home EVSE, and only one partial quote in hand.   
I don’t want this process to be difficult.  I can steer through it because my wife and I really want an electric car.  So unlike most people, we will slog through the unpleasantries to get this technology.  But I also want everyone else to want electric cars too.  And with hurdles like this to overcome, the dream that EVs will be widely adopted is still out of reach.
Of course, the companies in the EVSE arena appear to be very busy, which is good.  But there’s not enough EVSE usage to keep every electrician busy.  So at some point, there has to be a shift so that more companies have the ability to learn about and install EVSE’s. 
There is one thing the EV adventure has taught me: patience.  By the time we’re done I will be a regular Zen master. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Electric Lingo: Talking the talk of electric cars

Have you ever been ICE’d?  Do you have an EVSE with a J1772 connector?  Do you even have an EV?  Ever suffer Range Anxiety (“RA”)?  How’s your regen?  You using 240 or 120—ever pre-condition?  Have a Range Extender?  

If you have no idea what I am talking about, then join the club.  I didn’t either until my recent decision to take part in the BMW Active E field trial.  By listening to those who have been in the electric car arena far longer than I have been, you start to pick up on their foreign language of terms and acronyms.  And like any language, it separates the natives from the foreigners in this electric car world. 

But if you are going to keep score, you have to learn the language.  So here is a translation of the terms I have deciphered so far (which I’m sure only just scratches the surface):

ICE – an acronym that stands for Internal Combustion Engine (the dreaded gas-powered cars).  Derivations include “ICE’d” as in, “someone ICE’d the EVSE."  This is by far one of my favorite terms.

EV – Electric vehicle (you should have known this one).  The next category is a bit harder.

EV derivations: ZEV -- zero emission vehicles, PEVs -- plug-in electric vehicles, ILEV -- inherently low emission vehicles (which usually include pure EVs and CNG vehicles (compressed natural gas)), PZEV -- partial zero emission vehicles (hybrids).  The wonderfully confusing world of acronyms--can you add any others?  

EVSE – Electric vehicle supply equipment—refers to the charging equipment used to recharge the batteries on an EV.

J1772 Connector – the most modern connector used on EVSE's, see photo below:

Range Anxiety (“RA”) – fear of running out of battery power before reaching an EVSE. 

Regen or Regeneration – the regenerative braking function found on all electric and hybrid cars.  EV’s actually produce electric power on their own when slowing down or braking by capturing the energy generated by the moving car.  When referring to “Regen” people mean the process by which regenerative braking kicks-in, which occurs either when depressing the brakes or when taking your foot off of the acceleration pedal (as is the case with the Active E).

240 vs. 120 – Type of power source being used to recharge your EV.  120 volt is the typical power outlet in your home.  The Active E, for example, comes with a 120 volt power cord that will allow charging from a regular power socket.  But 120 is far slower in recharging the batteries.  A 240 volt outlet, however is the typical power sources used by EVSE’s and it allows a much faster charge time because it delivers far more power to the batteries. 

Range Extender – an on-board gas motor that allows the electric motor to continue operating after the battery has depleted its charge.  In the case of an all-electric car like the Active E, the only “range extender” available is a tow truck.

Pre-conditioning – the process of using the EVSE power source to warm-up the batteries before the EVSE is unplugged and the car is used.  The batteries provide the most range for an EV when they are operating at their optimum temperature, around 70 degrees or so.

This is just the beginning.  I hope to become completely fluent in electric car dialect as soon as possible.  Feel free to add the terms I don’t have yet, or just tell me your favorites.  Whatever you do, never ICE an EVSE.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Will Electric Cars Reach the Tipping Point?

I love electric cars, solar energy and alternative power sources, and so I gravitate to those technologies and interact with groups of people who share the same interest.  But how many people in our community are ready, willing and able to embrace electric cars?

The enemy against wide adoption of electric cars right now is range.  But that’s just excuse number one.  There are other excuses/roadblocks too.  For example, the time it takes to charge an electric car, the cost of having charging equipment installed at home, the look and design of the cars and the ultimate consumer roadblock: price.  In the case of the BMW ActiveE the price of the car is heavily subsidized by BMW, with a residual value set at around 85% of the purchase price.  The ActiveE has a listed MSRP of $60,000, yet a lease payment of around $499 per month.  Check around and you’ll find that most cars with $60,000 price tags have lease payments between $850 and $1,000.  And that’s for cars with high residual values.  What does the price of an Active E equal in the real world?  Not $499 per month.

Subsidization works for BMW because the ActiveE is a field test, so there is value in the subsidy by receiving driving data from 700 real world experiences.  But once the test is over, the subsidy goes with it. 

When it comes to un-subsidized cars, lets talk Chevy Volt:  

I test drove a Volt and it is a great car.  It can travel between 35 to 40 miles on pure battery power, and then it has an on-board gas motor than generates electricity so the car can travel another 300 miles or so.  The electric motor has plenty of power and Chevy did a nice job making the interior much nicer than the Chevy Cruz model on which the Volt is based.  But the Volt carries an MSRP, when fully loaded with leather seats, of around $43,000 to $45,000…for a Chevy!  Not a Corvette mind you, but a small-size Chevy sedan. 

If I were not receiving a BMW ActiveE, then I would buy a Volt because I like the electric only option (the Chevy Volt will travel about 35 to 40 miles on pure electric and then an on-board gas generator kicks in).  But I am not similar to the average consumer in this community.  I love electric cars (that should be obvious by now).  For others, the price alone will make them either unable or unwilling to pay for such a car.

Of course, the price of electric cars is primarily in the batteries, and the batteries are improving all the time.  With cheaper batteries that provide more energy with less weight, the costs will recede.  But will that be enough to tip the balance in favor of wide adoption of electric cars?  I’m not so sure.  Don’t get me wrong, I have yet to meet anyone who says “I hate the environment and want to drive a gas-powered car forever.”  People know and like the idea of electric power, but will they actually adopt electric power?  Only time will tell.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Home on the Range: how far can electric power take us?

The first thing I hear when talking to people who have never heard of the Active E before is: what's the range, how far can it go?  Range is king, especially here in California where we all commute a million miles annually (and even more especially in the I.E.-- a largely commuter community).

 Neither the Active E nor any other electric car is going to have a range as yet that rivals gas-powered cars (the Active E's range is about 100 miles).  But range is not as big a deal as most people think it is.  It's more like a security blanket that is so entrenched in our collective minds that its hard to let go.

1.     Most people have 2 or more cars.  The range argument usually starts with people saying "I can't drive it to Vegas."  Well how often are you making long road trips?  Once every three months at most. Most people refuse to take more than two weeks of vacation yearly, so why refuse a good thing because of a very occasional need?  With a second car, or a rental car, that long-range trip can easily be accommodated when needed.

2.    Most people don't drive more than 100 miles daily. And for those who do cross that mark, there's a few options (I used to commute 120 miles daily), like EVSE stations and public transit (don't groan yet when I say public transit).

Charging stations (called an "EVSE" which stands for electric vehicle supply equipment) are being installed throughout metropolitan areas. If you work in L.A. or Orange Counties there is a very good chance that you can plug in either at your work or within a reasonable distance.  And Riverside County has a few EVSE's of its own.

By charging while working you can travel close to 100 miles each way in your commute.  Even if there is no EVSE, you can still charge-up using a regular 110 outlet if you have access to one at your work.  It takes longer to charge, but may be just enough to get you home.

Public transit (insert groan).  California, and Californians, have a love-hate relationship with public transit.  But it has huge advantages in this range discussion because it offers a hassle free way to extend your range in commuting.  Instead of commuting all the way to work, drive to the nearest Metrolink station. Save the time in traffic and cut your car-based commute down considerably.

Obviously, either solution is going to take a change of routine from what we are used to, but taking the time to make that change is what electric vehicles truly embody.  That's the whole point--we need to change how we do things. Imagine if we had been driving electric vehicles for 100 years and somebody came up with the idea of putting flammable gas in your car and requiring you to stop at smelly, dirty, and now expensive gas stations every other day.  We would resist that change just as much as we now resist changing to electric power.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Green Machine Resources and Goodies

Driving an electric car is very cool for a lot of reasons.  But one of the perks right now is the incentives treasure trove available to those who take the electric car plunge.  While there are numerous Federal and State tax credits, there are also a few local rebates as well.

For example, the City of Riverside offers a rebate of up to $2,000 for the purchase of an electric vehicle.

Southern California Edison has special rate plans for "fueling" electric cars, which greatly reduces the cost of charging during off-peak (6:00 p.m. to 10:00 a.m.) and super off-peak (midnight to 6:00 a.m.) times.

Don't forget driving solo in the carpool lane.  DMV offers "single occupant carpool lane stickers" to vehicles that are full electric like the BMW ActiveE.

What other incentives can you find out there?

BMW Active E: The Journey Begins (soon)

My wife and I, along with 700 other people Nation wide, are embarking on an electric car adventure in the form of the new BMW Active E. The Active E is FULLY electric, so unlike the Chevy Volt, it has no gas engine on board at all. And it has great performance compared to what you would expect from an electric car--this is no fancy golf cart, but rather a serious form of transport.

While I have been selected from on-high by the powers that be at BMW to receive an Active E, I have yet to actually take delivery.  But I have tested the care (twice) at Riverside BMW.  This is the test car I drove:

BMW is rolling out the test cars over the next few months.  They are referring to the recipients of these wonderful cars as "Electronauts."  But there are many people who have taken delivery and a number of excellent blogs have been started as a result.  Here are a few of my favorites:

ActiveE Mobility: Driving an Electric BMW 1-Series (written by the very first Electronaut)

My ActiveE by Chris

Electra Girl's Guide to Electric Cars

The 100% Electric BMW ActiveE by Know Gas

Electric BMW ActiveE "Sun Gas"

Dave's BMW Active E: "The Leap Car"

Driving Electric, a Journey

I'm sure there are others, but these are the blogs I know of so far.  Please let me know if I should add more to my list.

These are the true pioneers (no wait Electronauts), while I am just a wanna be for now.  But hopefully that will change soon and I can start talking about my actual experience in what appears to be a truly amazing car.