Wednesday, March 23, 2016

WA State Infrastructure Development Conference; Public Charging Woes Part Two

On Wednesday, March 16, 2016, I attended a conference put together by WSDOT to gather input from the community on the direction of a pilot program to enhance the public charging infrastructure for the state.

The pilot program will be funded using the extra Electric Vehicle registration fees up to one million dollars. Because a million dollars is not a lot when considering the very low coverage the current charging networks provide, it was decided that partnerships in the private sector would be required. This essentially "doubles" the money in a way by spreading out the risks. But the risks come with rewards and there were several key criteria each partner needed to show.

1) Bidders must have private sector partners contributing to the project who stand to gain indirect value from development of the project, such as motor vehicle manufacturers, retail stores, or tourism stakeholders.

2) bidders must demonstrate that the proposed project will be valuable to electric vehicle drivers and will address a gap in the state's electric vehicle charging station infrastructure.

3) Projects must be expected to be profitable and sustainable for the owner-operator and the private sector partner and

4) Bidders must specify how the project captures the indirect value of charging station deployment to the private sector partner.

Well 1 is easy.  I think I can speak for the majority of EV owners who are grateful for charging stations and will patronize that location because of the charging station's presence. 2 is easy as well. Simply bring up Plugshare, determine if there is another charger in the area. (there are several areas that have very little or nothing at all).   4 is pretty easy as well.  Nearly all of the Washington Coast is unreachable with an EV of range less than 100 miles.  For day trips, fast charging is essential.  Many locations currently without a fast charger in the area are on the way to major tourist areas including the Olympics, Westport, Long Beach, Forks and Ocean Shores. These are World Class destinations!

Lake Crescent; Highway 101 Olympic National Forest just North of Forks

But then we come to point #3. All of a sudden, the point is not so clear. Most charging stations revenues barely cover the basic cost of maintenance and electricity. Forget the installation costs or any major repair like charging handles.  Recently a BC'er posted videos of customers at Chademo stations and the struggles they were having.  Break a handle and you just spent several weeks of revenue for the repair.  Now there are some locations that would be swamped by EVers because there is so few route options and even fewer competing plugs but if there is only one plug, it will quickly gain a reputation of being too busy so the host is faced with the expense of maintaining two stations or having too many people hanging around waiting to charge.  So a major crossroads might generate enough of a profit but most will not and the outlying stations which are just as vital almost certainly will not. 

Lets not make the same mistake San Diego did. Recently Car2Go announced they were starting to replace their 100% EV fleet with gasoline powered options citing the poor state of the public charging infrastructure in the San Diego as the main reason for the decision. They made the mistake of relying on Ecotality (Blink) to follow thru on their installs. In reality, less than one third were put in and the ones that did make it to ground received little if any maintenance support when the federal program ran its course. The resulting holes created, both geographically and in the minds of EVers, all made building a business based on having a reliable charging network a shaky idea.  Not only is this news heartbreaking but it also empowers the Big Oil team in its battle to slow electric vehicle adoption. 

How many of us plan our weekend excursions around where we can charge?  I do! especially on the occasional weekend that pops up where I had nothing planned in advance and this makes sense. I want to have fun on my days off and if you saw my gasser alternative, you would quickly realize fun in that car is not an option! 

And I am not the only one. Social media is the perfect gathering place for EVers simply because a lot of it is so different from the norm and we have new people coming in all the time. Here is where we find out the best methods for getting somewhere that might be a challenge like a hike found after a 3000 foot climb. A proper charging plan (with contingencies) is critical!   But the other great thing about social media is simply synergy.  No matter where new chargers get put in, someone will come across it and guaranteed, will post it on Facebook!  Now level 2's are not as big a deal (unless its in the Aberdeen area that is!) but a fast charger is a completely different game. Not sure why it is, but as soon as we find out a new one is in the ground, we have to run out and try it!  Its actually worse than that. When a station install is announced, EVers will start cruising the site weeks in advance reporting on the construction progress along with predictions on the power on date!

So are we getting a picture similar to Buzzards circling a carcass waiting for the Lion to leave?  Yeah, it really is that desperate!

Washington State along with others needs to realize that the need for proper public charging support is beyond the critical stage. We are now seeing many EVers going back to gasoline simply because they cannot handle the stress of an unreliable charging network.  We should not have to worry about the business hours of the station hosts or wondering how many cars will be there ahead of us or whether the station will work at all. 

I think the grant program will help bolster stations on the busier corridors along with several currently plugless destinations but the roads leading to these far flung destinations needs a better plan and a quicker plan without the added stress of being able to prove long term viability.  WSDOT already has an automated billing system in place for toll roads and Bridges.  I think it is time for Washington to take a serious look at extending "Good to Go" with a "Good to Charge"  Program that will take the lead in providing adequate charging in the less populated areas of the State where a viable business partner will be much harder to find.  This could greatly reduce the time it takes to get chargers in the ground and powered up.

Recently the World lost a great innovator, Andrew Grove; former CEO of intel. Even years ago, it was obvious to him that things needed to change. The urgency is now greater than ever.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

$50 Never Looked So Good; EZ Charge? Where Is The "Easy?"

After a few days of EZ Charge I am thinking I should have taken the $50...

It is no surprise that NRG seems to be the only network the card works with (they are the admins of the program after all)

Despite getting an email from AV within a few minutes verifying my registration, the card does not authenticate at the station. So once I called in and they verified a few pieces of info and started the charge manually. Last night, I tried the same thing and the AV rep simply refused to help me when I mentioned EZ Charge. She directed me to a department that was closed. I advised her I had done the exact same thing a few days earlier and the AV rep was able to look me up and start the charge remotely. The rep last night "Doreen" said that she could not do that.

Blink is still NA as there is some sort of technical issue registering on their site (along with everything else wrong with Blink) and still waiting for some sort or resolution email from them.

So that leaves NRG. I have used NRG at Tacoma Mall 4 times and my biggest gripe is that they do not provide charging statistics so I have no idea what charge I am getting. This forces me to calculate the charge which I can do but this ties me to the car to monitor the charge rate via LEAF Spy which is no good. I want the option to hit the bathroom if need be. Its less than a 5 minute walk and my Fitbit appreciates me when I go!

But I also noticed another issue. Unlike AV which starts the charge over 48 KW, the NRG maxes out at just under 40 KW...sometimes. In 4 sessions, I saw 39.5 and 39.8 KW to start when another 2 sessions one max'd out at 20.2 while the other session got no higher than 19.8 KW!

Well, it did not take me long to notice that both the lower sessions had someone on the L2 station. Am I to believe that the Fast Charger has to split the circuit with an L2? So the L2 gets 20 and I get 20?

On a station that bills by the minute, is this acceptable? or even legal?

Its not hard to see why Tesla is so popular. Their supercharger stations had 10 KW modules from day one. Such a simple and obvious solution...

Sunday, March 20, 2016

2013 Batteries, Better?; An Unofficial Range Test

There has been a lot of talk about how the Lizard Batteries in the Nissan LEAF have not done any better than the "pre-Lizard" batteries.  Now, I always found that a bit hard to believe and no I did not expect Arizona degradation to disappear magically either so I was more than a bit surprised that there was no apparent improvement but then I read this;

...I turned in my 2011 after 3 years and it was down several capacity bars. I got a 2013 to replace it (in Dec 2013) and (correct me if I'm wrong) that pack was the "improved" pack, but not the newer lizzard pack?
In any case, I'm afraid to post here (I need some wood to knock on) but I have 23k on it after 27 months, this will be the third summer coming up and I do not have any capacity bars lost. I'd say I have maybe around 2%-4% loss in range. (I used to get to work with 80% left, now it's 78 to 76% on average)
Overall it seems to be holding up quite nicely...

 Ok then! maybe there was a improvement after all. I had long contended (from day one pretty much) that the 2013 had more range. Not a lot, maybe 4-5 miles at the most but it undoubtedly went further than my 2011 and I regularly stretch the limits so I am pretty aware of what each LEAF could do.  I will admit the poster above went out and measured his battery stats and had more degradation than he predicted but still claimed it was much better than his 2011.

So naturally I mentioned my battery stats and got this response

Must be some sort of sampling error, right? So you either have to bring your Leaf to SoCal or I need to drive to WA so we can use the same diagnostic tools. Without that, who knows whether there's a real difference. Seriously, you need to locate another Leaf owner in WA to corroborate your data!
Bottom Line: Your are one of the very very few that reports this great of a delta for your mileage. Your battery in some cases has more capacity than a new 2015, which indicates a potential error somewhere.

Well, only one way to respond to that and that is RANGE TEST!!  So I charged up the battery and first thing I noticed is my stats are starting to drop. Oh well, lets try it and see what happens I guess.

 LEAF Spy reading at the beginning of the test

Wasn't sure where I was going but then was invited to Breakfast at my Sister's house which is about a 63 mile roundtrip so I decided to start there.  Well despite being the first day of Spring, the weather was still fairly Winter-like. The temps weren't too bad in the mid 40's with rain off and on.  Traffic was light going there so no major slowdowns, speeds per LEAF speedometer ran 60-65 on the freeway with a roughly 7 mile jaunt on some State Highways ranging in speed from 45 to 55 mph.  Either way my range predictor of 93 miles should be fairly accurate for this time of year. I used the 4.5 miles/kwh as a guide for "mild Winter"  days defined as cold, rain but light or scattered.

After breakfast, I was headed back to Oly when accidents were reported so detoured the back way home thru Yelm on Hwy 507. Its 55 mph with a few slowdowns as it winds thru a couple of towns. I left my Sister's house with desert that needs to be refrigerated so I stopped by home to drop it off then hit up various shopping destinations.  FYI: shopping in this area on a Sunday afternoon is a big mistake. Way too many people out and about.  Anyway, I got home and

                                                      End of trip stats

So I supposedly had 1.6 miles left (my personal feeling says less than a mile...) and I went 90.7 miles which is only 92.3  miles so he was right! I did lose something!  But then again, if we look at the starting numbers; if there is 21.6 kwh available then most of that at 4.5 miles/kwh would be 97.2 miles but my range is set to 1% SOC not zero which the implies the meaning of the "kwh remain" so the original 93 miles at 4.5 miles/kwh means 20.66 kwh would be applied to moving the car down the road or roughly 95%.  This makes sense. I did defrost a bit, not too much, radio, etc...

The remaining range of 1.6 miles at 4.5 miles/kwh would only use .4 kwh so I guess in this case, Turtleland lies at .2 kwh

Notes;  The dash shows 4.9 miles/kwh and I did gain .3 while idling thru town in traffic but the dash does seem to exaggerate a bit. Two independent GPS systems will also claim the 90.7 miles driven is closer to roughly 89.2 miles as well.

FYI; Many people ask why I take pix of the phone instead of using screenshots. LEAF Spy is not on my primary phone and yes, I have done screen shots occasionally but they are a pain. Anyone who knows phones would quickly realize this phone does not even have a SIM card in it. So yes, I could do screen shots and pix would look prettier but that only happens when I feel ambitious...

Confession; I confess to artificially inflating my battery stats to perform the test. None of the pix have been altered. That is actually beyond my skill level. I understand Photoshop and what it can do but being able to do something that is not easily detectable is what I struggle with plus I don't have a graphic program other than the basic stuff that comes with my phone.

In reality, my pack is just over halfway to losing its first battery bar. My ahr has been running in the upper 60's to low 61's. If I had it that long, I would expect it the bar to disappear between 64,000-68,000 miles which by all other measures, good and bad means that the 2013 battery pack is an improvement over my 2011 which likely would have lost its first bar at 54,000-56,000 miles.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Future Without Oil

Time waits for no man. (or battery) From a Tesla owner; 

What about the battery losing capacity, though? This is the one point of weakness in the depreciation of  any all-electric car like the Tesla. Time will tell how much battery capacity is lost in the various Tesla models and then how much it costs to replace the battery, given the plummeting costs of lithium-ion batteries and Tesla’s Gigafactory. My own experience is that after four years and 30,000 miles, I have lost about 12 percent of my original range of 245 miles. At this rate, it could be a decade before I have less range than a brand new Nissan Leaf, and a decade from now I suspect batteries are going to be a few thousand dollars, a little like replacing an engine block.
The above simply lends more credence to the notion that traction batteries thrive on exercise. "Use it, or lose it" really seems to apply here and half of this scenario plays out in my LEAF on a regular basis.  Because of widely scattered job assignments, the LEAF has not been possible for a lot of recent jobs.  Due to mileage reimbursement; it has not really been an option most of the time anyway because my office to reduce expenses prefers that I take a company car when its available so there is a constant juggling of who is going the farthest that day and how many passengers they will have.  But to make a long story "slightly" shorter, my battery stats are currently down. Down so much that I barely eeked out 84 miles of range despite the dash claiming 4.5 miles per kwh!  That is 18.66 kwh used with a small amount of defrost involved from a LEAF Spy reported 20.5 kwh available that morning.  This implies that degradation is well on its way and after 33,923 miles, I was expecting some. Now how much I really have? Well, that remains to be seen. I have actually seen greater degradation almost a year ago in the very same LEAF so stay tuned. My current thoughts on the subject of battery improvements from the 2011 to 2013 are still being formed.

Now if you have been reading my blogs lately you probably have noticed my thoughts on public charging have not been good. In fact; they really really SUCK here lately including my local dealer Olympia Nissan and their feet dragging to get their fast charger working. Its been down at least a month or longer but I have decided to put the complaining on hold (most of it) for a bit. (a very little bit actually) and instead of whining about what we don't have, I want to show you what we could have if we simply started putting it together.  A great video put out by Nissan shows an awesome vision of networked charging and power distribution and how it could really change our lives.  The message becomes more poignant in my area when the memories of power outages a few days ago are still fresh in people's mind.

Now tell me that is NOT TOTALLY COOL!! Although, not sure about the cars rearranging themselves every night but then again, push a button on your FOB and the car pulls up the front door. Yeah, I could live with that!

Now as much as I complain about... that thing I said I was not going to talk about, every once in a while I see something that gives me hope.  What is really amazing about this town is their proximity to oil riches!

I guess the real issue is that climate change is no longer your children's problem. The predictive models simply did not account for cheap gas so this issue that was supposed to be a few decades away is pretty much kicking in our door right now.  Sure it was a combination of bad timing, bad weather, etc. but when this happens a few miles from your home, its hard to ignore. 

Downtown Olympia

Gotta be better ways of keeping our sidewalks clean!  But to be fair, it was high tides, high winds and unusual weather. Now how much correlation between the unusual weather and Global Climate Change exists is becoming clearer and clearer daily but many choose to use old news to form their opinions.  I admit; I am guilty of that. My mind; blessed though it be has time/spatial issues.  Its hard for me to keep straight the old and the new sometimes.  But lets face it; the jury is not only in, they have left the building! We are GREATLY hastening our own demise and our fossil fuel based transportation system is chiefly to blame!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

February 2016 Drive Stats; Public Charging Woes

Well another month, another set of stats!  February was a different kind of month than my normal driving habit. After a very busy January, things slowed down quite a bit at work so most of the mileage on the LEAF this month was personal which included a handful of long drives which of course meant public charging stops.  We will get to that later but for the month the LEAF traveled 1424.3 miles costing $36.67  (remember that figure) which includes $9.14 in public charging fees. Despite that, I still managed to get less than 2.6 cents per mile.

The Corolla as always was used only for work and only went 292 miles costing $13.91 or 4.8 cents per mile. Gas continues to be cheap but still nowhere cheap enough as the econobox costs nearly twice as much as my LEAF but that is only the beginning. Remember the figure I told you to remember?  Well the Corolla also had an oil change during the month costing $36.32.   Now, I could have changed the oil myself and saved a bit of money but the oil change does two things; gets me a free car wash coupon and also allows the mechanic to check on the car since its old and has the VERY high potential of  developing random old age things. It also helps that I know the mechanic and the service advisor at the dealership (AKA Sister and BiL :) )

I mentioned the $9.14 in public charging fees and that runs the gamut from 49 cents per kwh at a Blink L3 to nothing at some Chargepoints.  My local LEAF Dealer in Oly allows me to charge for free cause I got my LEAF there I but didn't use them this month which is normal.  Too bad they could not move to DuPont or something. That comment makes a lot more sense if you read my blog about getting a tow because I could not make it home one day.  But the tow was not due to my poor planning but the fact that our public charging network still has HUGE holes in it after nearly 6 years.  I was headed to a charging station I had used several times before because there was a eatery in the same parking lot and I simply was hungry so I passed up dozens of stops in Tacoma, Parkland, and Lakewood including the NRG station at Tacoma Mall shown below. In fact, this was the very day this pix was taken!

Losing the TWO locations DuPont had including the 3 Blinks at the hotel I went to now makes the Olympia area a kind of charging oasis with no public chargers radiating from it IN ANY direction.  This is a pretty sad statement for a State Capital that should be leading by example!

But Olympia is not the only area having issues. Seattle is well known and admired for the hundreds of charging options it provides but after the sidewalks are rolled up, that rosy picture seems to be a bit wilted.  Recently a Seattleite   was burning the Midnite oil on the job and needed a quick charge to address some last minute issues but all he found were stations locked up or broken. Ultimately, he could not finish the job and the client is unhappy and he went home.  It was 11 pm at night so the last thing he needed to do was wait over an hour for L2 charging when 15 minutes at a quick charger would have done the trick.

I have already commented several times that the State should have been  responsible for putting in the public charging infrastructure. There is no viable business model for the private sector to do this unless its a public utility that has the ability to absorb a lot of the installation costs. So the State simply makes the only sense.  They already have a billing system in place for ferries, toll bridges, etc.  Adding an EV swipe card tied to one's "Good to Go"  account would be simple and cheap. One of the most economically depressed areas of the State is Grays Harbor County, WA. Not coincidentally, its also one of the most isolated areas where public charging is concerned.  I still find it hard to believe that no one at the governmental level has not realized that putting  charging stations in Grays Harbor would bring revenue to local businesses in the area.  Ok, Aberdeen maybe not be the destination we all pine for during the week (well they do have Kurt Cobain's childhood home...) but is on the way to both Westport and Ocean Shores which we do pine for!!

So why is the State dragging its feet after all this time?  A change that would have provided funding specifically earmarked for public charging in Washington State was removed when the sales tax waiver was modified adding a purchase price cap of qualifying vehicles. The only good thing that came out of that change was that Chevy Volts now qualify for the tax break .(if the price is below $35,000) Thankfully, it did not take long to realize that no one was happy with the new law and already a new one is being worked out.

I think the State simply thought it would not have to provide the network, that private interests would step forward and take up the reins. But as I mentioned above, there is no viable business model that will support a public charging network. NRG has already proven that high prices are not acceptable in the market and even their business model is not going to be a moderate money maker under the best of circumstances.

**DISCLAIMER** I love Tesla and what they are doing to promote Electric Vehicles, but nobody is perfect and Tesla is far from that.     **DISCLAIMER**

Part of the hesitation no doubt comes from the fact that Tesla has put in a nationwide public charging system which is well on its way to becoming a very effective option for longer range Electric Vehicles.  I think its a great way for Elon to marry his EV, battery storage and solar businesses together but it also gives everyone the wrong idea about how public charging should come about.  Tesla currently has the dubious benefit of being able to accomplish things without the burden of doing so  within the confines of a viable business model. IOW, they are spending money supporting the product that the product cannot provide.  Our current public charging networks were not paid for by Blink, Aeroenvironment or Chargepoint.  The government paid for nearly all of it.  Yes, there have been some private companies that have put in charging stations on their own dime to which I am grateful to. In fact; I used Group Health stations in Puyallup on Wednesday, free of charge.  But it has become painfully obvious that most privately funded charging stations are not being maintained. The Group Health location I charged at Wednesday had 5 Blink stations but 3 were out of order.

Now, I have talked A LOT about who benefits the most from public charging on the business side. It is the public utility by a long shot.  They always benefit from having someone pay for the electricity. In many cases, they pass the cost of infrastructure expansions and upgrades to the customer as part of the install process, etc.  But public utilities are hampered by red tape more so than nearly operation including the governments, so again everything points to the State as the only logical choice.


*Washington State has oil refineries so supporting EVs too much could upset the State Oil Lobbyist's applecart. I think I could live with this...


*Washington State has no carbon resources. No coal mines, no oil wells, no natural gas.  So no loss of highly coveted manufacturing jobs from a major shift away from these fuels.

** Washington State has a wealth of green fuel technologies, namely hydroelectric and wind. They also boast one of the strongest Solar incentive plans in the country.

*** Washington's Coasts have two things not really going for it. Isolation and unnavigable waters.  But that makes it a boon to develop offshore wind generators. Having a source of power very near by simply makes putting in charging stations cheaper. A network connecting the generators to the grid would have to be built. The big knock on Wind, Solar and Hydro is their inability to provide a reliable base load. Washington State currently uses coal and natural gas to provide our baseload. This has led to wind generators being turned off because they were providing power we could not use while the coal plants were going full steam.  For anyone who is familiar with the coast, we know that the wind almost never stops. In fact; steps would have to be taken to protect generators from high winds.  I don't know if this is possible yet, but I am guessing that smaller bladed models have the advantage of both withstanding high winds and being less visible although I do not think wind generators detract from the awesome beauty of the Washington Coast.

**** Because Washington State has no homegrown fossil fuel supplies, we must import it. Every dollar shifted away from imported Oil and spent on homegrown electricity is a hidden dividend paid back to the state in an endless (and very profitable Green) cycle!

As mentioned above. We have isolated communities in desperate need of new revenue sources. I know the Washington EV community enough that if charging stations were put into the parking lots of a restaurant in Elma, Montesano and Aberdeen, they WILL see increased business from EVers!  Right now, these towns are have the unenviable distinction of having thousands pass by them every day with nearly no one stopping.  An electric vehicle charging station will change that.  Yes, today it will only be a trickle but that trickle will become a flood if the State would only let it happen.

We are the trickle. To become a Flood, we need to start talking, letting our wishes be known.  I challenge everyone here to start filling out comment cards for every business you visit. Ask them for a charging station. I am not saying this will do the trick, but every time a comment card is filled out, public charging is in the forefront for a few seconds. Lets make that a few seconds times a thousand!