Saturday, February 25, 2017

Shocking Prelim Data On 30 KWH LEAF Pack Temperature Management...Maybe

As mentioned MANY times in the 3 months I have had my S30, I have noticed the pack does not seem to retain the heat as much as my previous 24kwh LEAFs.  Now, it was a very warm Veteran's Day when I picked up the S30 but the weather has been pretty cold ever since. In fact, this Winter ranks as one of the coldest of this Century!

Anyway, me being cheap me (as usual) was avoiding home charging if I was even remotely going to be going by a free fast charger and the other day was no different.  But free was not to be! For one thing, it was very cold in the morning and I had a detour and defrost issues (I forgot my wiper. Took it inside to set over a heat register to dry it and forgot it!) so I basically had to stop at a Blink to gather enough juice before making it to the Tumwater AV so that was 44 cents down the drain!

So to put it mildly, I was in need when I got there. Unfortunately there was already someone there who was at 75% when I arrived but took another 28 mins before finishing.

So I plugged in and did random nothings and after 20 mins, I checked LEAF Spy to see how I was doing and pleased to see I was still over 40 KW charging (Ok, so I caught a temporary dip...)

**NOTE** GIDs = 77.5 wh

Either way, I only had about 30 miles or so for the day planned so decided at this point I would unplug when someone else arrived or when I dropped below 20 KW. 

I then noticed I was at 7 TBs for the first time ever in this car.  The Sun was out so some solar radiation would be contributing but I was only in the 102ºish range so not too bad. A coolish Spring day in Phoenix really... :) 

But the unthinkable happened.  The temperature started dropping! This was completely alien to everything I thought I knew about charging and TMSless LEAF battery packs! I was still charging over 20KW so how was this happening??

The Sun was still out so that wasn't it. I was so engrossed with what was happening I got a near full charge from the Chademo not unplugging until I was at 15 KW charging rate. The temps were still dropping now down to the mid 90's.  So I took off from the charger and about a minute later... I dropped to 6 TBs!

Final Stats (from LEAF Spy Log) GIDs 352,  charging speed; 14.7 KW.  SOC on dash would have been about 97%. I have to say, I am fairly confident I have never seen charging that fast at that high of an SOC!

So again, very preliminary and despite a sunny day, the air temps were still in the mid 40's that day but still VERY interesting observations. 

FYI; Tire rotation #1 in the books which means my new LEAF is "officially" no longer new... 

To clear up some confusion, I am in no way whatsoever implying that my LEAF has TMS. Notice the the title says "Temperature Management?"  TMS is used when manufacturers can't solve the problem.  Nissan chose to tackle the root cause instead. Have they found the answer?  Doubtful, but if the above can be repeated it would be obvious they are on the right path. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Jan 2017 Drive Report

LEAF went 1160.4 miles costing $23.08 or  1.98 cents per mile. NCTC pitched in 105.92 Kwh for the month. A bit too early to start reporting battery stats as far as highs and lows.  Other than one day (in Feb actually) all my stats are still the same as new which is to be expected since I only have 4800 miles on the LEAF.

The Corolla traveled 531.8 miles costing $40.05 or 7.61 cents per mile. Winter range degradation hit the Corolla hard averaging a "career" low under 35 MPG. 

Anyway, in other news, My 2016 is still sucking on the efficiency meter but becoming more and more convinced every day that the previous LEAF instrumentation was simply inaccurate.  LEAF Spy allows me to estimate my range based on my expected performance and I use 3.3, 3.7 and 4 miles per kwh as a guide depending the weather conditions. First thing I realized is those numbers still work. So... pretty much just another reason to ignore the GOM.

I am continuing my data gathering on how well the 30 kwh pack dissipates heat. If you didn't see it earlier, I noticed that the 30 kwh pack simply does not heat up as much nor does it retain the heat when it does.  I have consistently seen the heat from a fast charge completely dissipated in less than a day including several times in roughly 12 hours.  This means at least one temperature sensor is within 2º of my ambient garage temperature.  IOW, no I am not leaving my LEAF out in the cold overnight to help speed the cooling process.  So far the results have been encouraging.  Anxious to see how she does when its over 80º!

For all current LEAF leasers; the deals are still flying! Do not be discouraged when NMAC does not discount your residual!  Although NMAC owns your car and does actually provide any discounts off your residual, you MUST go thru a dealer! Why is this?

Uhh, well, that is actually a very good question and anyone who knows for sure, please chime in but I suspect its done this way because the dealer incurs costs to handle your return and its another way for them to get a little money out of the deal so does this mean that you might not get a good deal on a lease to purchase if the dealer is too greedy?

Well there is very little evidence of that and the reason is likely due to the fact that 2014 was Nissan's best LEAF sales year ever so that means a lot of lease returns due back and Nissan doesn't want them so guessing there is perks for everyone. So what can you expect?

Well again, you simply need to beat feet to your dealer to find out!  Some dealers are very helpful in this regard but the "deal of the week"  a person just bought out their 2014 S with charge package and had 3 months lease payments waived. So total cost to them (without $2500 state incentive that not all of us qualify for) was  $16.7K!! (yeah that means just over $14,000 in real terms!)  IOW, the deals are getting better and better.

Finally; its Winter and sometimes our best estimation of our range might not be as accurate as we had hoped. If you find yourself just a little teeny bit short of a plug, your best bet is to shut the LEAF down even if you are less than a mile away. Look at your power circles on the dash for guidance. Don't go below 5 if you are more than a few hundred yards away.  You run a strong possibility of killing your 12 volt battery and if you do, its tow time!

But if you shut down just before that point, your LEAF may be able to rest up enough to make it that extra mile down the road to the charger.  Your LEAF will shutdown when the weakest cell in your battery pack hits a certain point. Resting the LEAF allows pack balancing (which is pretty much going on all the time) to boost that weak cell and it might just be enough for you to make it.  It might take an hour of sitting and balancing but then again, how likely is it a tow truck will be there in significantly less time?  Not very in most cases!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Public Charging Effectiveness; There Has To Be A Better Way!

The Chevy Bolt trickled into existence last month (December.... This blog was started MANY weeks ago but I was derailed by several life things.  FYI; 98% of my blogs are conceptualized, written, and published in less than an hour...)  but that trickle promises to become a flood as the pent up demand for a 200 mile EV under $40,000 is unleashed to an unprepared public charging network already overburdened by Nissan's fire sale of the remaining 2016 LEAF stock.

Add to that, a half dozen promising new EV entrants for the first half of 2017 and I predict we will see a renewed "turf" war emerging between the 100% battery cars and the "half as.." I mean the plug in's over whose need is more important.  I have already seen a few Bolters who have done 2 consecutive 30 min fast charges!

But there is some light at the end of the tunnel. A new wave of announcements for new stations and partnerships to build, propose or encourage private businesses to invest in stations is addressing areas that have had little or no public support previously.

But there is still a basic realization that many providers have not come to grips with and that is how to allow multiple cars to access one charging station?   Too many times I will see 6 chargers occupying 6 consecutive parking spaces.  IOW; unless there is a space at either end of the row, you can't get better than a one to one ratio.

One hurdle is clear. It costs money to trench and install new power equipment especially when the power requirements are this robust so putting the stations adjacent to the power feed saves a ton of money.  This almost always means they will be located on the edge of the parking lot or against a wall which means access on one side only.  So this is a cost cutting move that makes sense.

But what about the process of bunching the stations all together?  How much more money does it cost run to spread the stations farther apart if they are all running parallel to the power feed?  Nearly every station now has a cable that is more than long enough that 3 LEAFs can easily reach one station.

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Above we have the same six stations but instead of being able to charge or queue 6 to 8 cars,  we can now have 18 cars ready to roll, right!  In those rare cases when the stations can be put in the middle, we would have two rows of parking spaces meaning 36 cars can potentially access the 6 stations!

Well this would make the network much more effective but some states have ICEing laws where an EV parked in an EV charging space can be fined if not actively charging.  So this could be a problem... IF the law was actually being enforced.  In most cases, it is not. I am only aware of a handful of incidences at most where a ticket has been issued and all those instances likely only happened thru monumental efforts on another EVer's part.  IOW; if only relying on the diligence of the local constabulary, we be screwed!  So how to sort that out?  How can we tell if a car is waiting to charge or is simply wanting to park 25 feet closer to the entrance? 

SemaConnect stations have LEDs  that provide status of the stations.  Blue means available, flashing Green means charging, Solid Green means charge complete, but more importantly Blue also means the car parked in the spot NEVER attempted to charge.  One thing that is impossible to know is whether someone who is plugged in, ever charged at all. What's to stop someone at another station from simply plugging in the car and not starting a session to avoid a ticket? or at least consternation from the EV community? 

Obviously the ideal solution is each station having 3 cords allowing queuing between the 3 cars in question. This would not be cheap but would be cheaper than adding more stations.  This also opens up the possibility of upgrading the stations to higher outputs and possibly load sharing between the 3 vehicles.  Park and ride situations really need this. The bulk of the traffic in and out happens in the morning and afternoon with little action in between or even possible.  This means cars parked 9-10 hours.  Having 3 cars queued up can mean that all three could be at their desired charge level when owners return.  

But bolstering the network will take time, money and motivation, all of which is in short supply. The other much easier idea is financial disincentives.  But parking fines as mentioned above has not been enforced for the most, can be tough to determine sometimes and simply creates too much hardship for some drivers in park and ride situations.  But one idea that is gaining traction is variable rate billing to encourage sharing and more turnover.

The University of Idaho has installed at least one charger on the Moscow, Idaho, campus The Spokesman-Review (Embree, December 5, 2016) reviews. Charging costs  $2 per hour for the first three hours, after that, the rate goes to $3, 8 to 5 during the day. After hours charging costs $1 per hour for the first 3 hours, then goes to $2 per hour.

It has now been over two months since starting this blog entry and one thing is certain; EVs are gaining a lot of ground. Be it better range like the Bolt, versatility like the Volt or simply crazy discounts like the LEAF,  the battle for plugs will escalate and quickly.  We need to start moving on adding more plugs.

Finally; an interesting situation that I just have to share.  As we all know, fast chargers are the prime time destinations for people on the go. 80% in 30 mins just barely fits in most people's day so a slower option would be completely out of the question, right?...not always.

NRG EvGO at Tacoma Mall, WA

A few months ago, I reported that the L2's at Tacoma Mall were free. I observed people just pulling up and plugging in without scanning their cards.  So I was in need of a charge Friday (Yes, it was one of the 8 GID days!) so I pulled in with the idea of getting my free 30 minute fast charge courtesy of NCTC and then testing the free L2 on the way out.  Well, I got there and these two cars were plugged in and both drivers were in the car. I didn't think much of it. This is a common sight here.  I plugged into the DCFC and headed inside the mall to powerwalk for my usual 28 minutes. I returned and found the same two cars sitting there.  So my test of the free charging had to be put on hold because all the L2's were occupied while the fast chargers sat empty.  I have to say in 6+ years of publicly charging my LEAF, this was a first for me!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Used Nissan LEAF Buyers Guide

2014 was Nissan's best sales year for the LEAF which means the 2nd half of 2016 and most of 2017 will be the best buyer's market for used LEAFs coming off 2 and 3 year leases.

But Nissan has realized the market is saturated so the thought of selling any but the cream of the lease return crop is not looking well in what has become very much a buyer's market. Prices are simply that low. "Too good to be true" is not working!... or is it?

To the uninformed wannabe EVer the market seems to be flooded with "can't miss" deals but not everything is as cut and dried as one would think.  Hopefully I can provide a checklist every used car shopper needs if looking at a used Nissan LEAF.

We all have enough experience with batteries to know that they fade away. Sometimes quickly, sometimes not. We have gotten better at preserving them with smarter chargers, better charging profiles, habits, etc. but that only delays the issue.  Since this is a "used car buying" guide, we will only briefly mention what you need to be concerned with and that is location.

The warmer the climate the car was in, the faster and deeper the degradation will be. Even with this knowledge, the range of user reported experiences can vary widely in just a few miles.  So even location can only be taken as a point of consideration.  For example; Los Angeles varies from moderate near the coast to desert-like 25 miles inland.  This means that not only is the home of the car important but also the area the car likely commuted to on a daily basis.

The Nissan LEAF dash has two gauges that at first glance looks like one.  More commonly known as the "GOM." Guessometer is so named because of the digital representation of range expressed in your unit of choice of miles or kilometers.  The "guessing" part stems from the fact that the LEAF calculates your efficiency over the very driving history assuming it won't change for the remainder of the charge left in the car. It should not be taken literally and it does not account for other uses for accessories, climate controls, etc.  It is basically the "fuel gauge" designating how much of the battery pack is charged and able to provide driving range represented with 12 long bars or segments. 12 bars is "fully charged" and 1 bar is nearly depleted. Like any fuel gauge, these bars are not a linear representation of range or remaining charge. The bars at the top represent more range just as there is hidden range or reserve at the bottom. IOW, just like any gasser gauge.

On the right, you see the 47 mile estimate that is the GOM, the 6 long segments is the charge level meter (or gas gauge for those you still early in the conversion process) and the capacity gauge which is the 12 little bars on the far right.  Before you ask, No that is not a gas pump symbol!!

The 2nd gauge is just to the right of the GOM is the "Capacity" gauge representing how much of the original capacity is remaining from the car when it was new and represented by short adjacent bars or segments.  It is also not linear but "somewhat" defined.  In the original iterations of the LEAF service manual, the 12 segments were designated as 15% for the 12th bar and 6.25% for the 11 bars below it.

First thing that we should realize is that only accounts for  83.75% of the capacity.  Part of the 16.25% we don't see is the reserve and part of it is the part of the battery not accessible for use. This is done to increase the life of the batteries. Discharging too much or charging too much greatly shortens the charge life of the cells.   FYI;  The reserve on the GOM is a blinking "_ _ _ " a very disconcerting sight for the new LEAFer which brings us to the next section.

Unfortunately the dash is limited in the information it can give you especially when the first capacity bar represents 15%.  There is also a possible issue that is much less likely now due to a huge awareness campaign by the LEAF community to make the issue known is that the quirk of "capacity bar resetting" that causes lost capacity bars to show back up on the dash. This DOES not bring back any range.

Because of the widely varying rates of degradation from one area to another, a device to provide measurements of the pack is recommended. For the shopper, I would recommend simply borrowing one to check your possible purchase with.  LEAF Spy was developed by an early LEAF owner and provides a TON of information that is vital to know when evaluating purchase options.  It is also an essential tool for the LEAF owner that can be had for under $40.

LEAF Spy is an app installed on your Android or iphone. It works in concert with an OBD device plugged into the CAN port of your LEAF located under the dash just to the left of the steering column.

You will not find a more economical way to get around than an EV. Even in areas with high electricity rates, charging off peak can still save you a bundle of the cost of maintaining and driving a gasser. But it takes time to charge and that can range from a little to a lot depending on your options.

Charging options are generalized into 3 categories; L1, L2 and L3.

L1; 120 volt based charging. Nissan provides a EVSE (Electric Vehicle Service Equipment) cable that you plug into a dedicated 120 volt circuit (dedicated means a circuit that has no other load on it. If you are not sure, best thing to do is plug something into every outlet in the area, turn on all the lights then turn off the breaker observing what goes off with it)  Generally 12 amps is the most you will get.  This creates power to the car at the rate of 1440 watts or 1.44 kwh determined by multiplying the voltage by the amperage or 120 volts* 12 amps.  Do be aware that Nissan BMS (battery management system) takes some of that power to monitor the charging process, keep the AC/DC inverter from overheating, etc.   Generally you can get roughly 4 miles of charge per hour. IOW, not a good option unless you have a lot of time on your hands.

L2; 240 volt based charging and what most public charging stations provide.  Amperage received will be based on the charger in the LEAF. 2011's and 12's only had 3.8 KW chargers capable of receiving no more than 16 amps at 240 volts.  2013+ that had the charge package (generally identified with 2 charge ports instead of one) "generally" came with a 6.6 KW charger capable of up to 27 amps.

The slower charger would give 12-14 miles of range in good driving conditions. The faster 6.6 KW charger up to 25 miles of range but beware several public chargers will not provide this much power. Blinks are common for this with many turned down to prevent overheating.  Most however will give 5.8 KW or higher. For general purposes, 20 miles per hour of charging is a good guideline.

L3; DC based charging. This is the ritz of public charging where the famed "80% in 30 minutes" slogan started. In reality, your charging speed depends on a dozen different things so expect your 80% to take a bit longer than half an hour.

 By far the toughest thing to advise so I can only say you really need to take a look at where you need to go, where you want to go and what kind of support you have available to you.  IOW;  Plugshare!!

Plugshare is an app and website and is THE MOST VALUABLE TOOL FOR ALL EV'ERS!  so as you may have guessed by now, it cannot be over emphasized!  Plugshare is a user supported database of public charging stations in your area. It is FREE!! and shows station locations, pricing, number of plugs and also recent charging experiences. Hopefully I got the point across that you should already be half way to DOWNLOADING PLUGSHARE TO YOUR PHONE NOW!

The Range; There are simply too many good deals out there to take a car that is missing any capacity bars but again sometimes the price is too good.  So things to consider is that as the batteries degrade, not only is the range reduced due to capacity but it will be reduced due to lower levels of regen available. Regen is the process where kinetic energy is transformed into electrical energy and stored back to the battery.  It happens anywhere from a little (constant speed driving like on a lightly used freeway) or a lot (AKA as real life) when there is a lot of speed changes involved. This can add a significant amount of range  back to the car.

The Weather Summer is the time to drive! AC uses a lot less energy than heat does so the hit on range will be much smaller but other factors are involved.  In Winter, cold air is simply denser (which is why your feet are more likely to be cold because they are at floor level where cold air hangs out!) which means more energy needed for your LEAF to push it out of the way.  There is also road conditions. Snow and rain also require more energy so expect anywhere from 10 (for the people willing to bundle up) to 25% loss of range in Winter.  Obviously, this applies to people who have Winter. For those whose seasons consist of Fall, Spring, Summer and Hell,  you have other things to worry about!

In the used car game, its a process of elimination and comparison. By now we should already be armed with our driving needs, locations of public charging we would likely be using and at least an initial evaluation of where and how we will be charging the LEAF at home. So first off;

The Eliminations;

Location; Unless its a super duper unreal giveaway of a deal, stay away from cars from the Southwest. Phoenix, Needles, Las Vegas and any other place that brags "its a dry heat" should be avoided!  How much value should be assigned to this?  Good question and will be addressed again!

Degradation; 12 capacity bars! Remember, its the short ones on the right, not the long ones on the left!

Models; Nissan has a program of continuous battery improvement that has been in place since day one. Generally this means the newer the car, the better the chemistry, longevity, etc.  But there are still some significant points to consider.  Avoid first gen! 2011's and 2012's had the worst chemistry and worse yet, no more manufacturer's warranty and very little (if any) battery capacity warranty left.

Lizard packs; In response to severe degradation in He... er...uhh, I mean Phoenix, Nissan worked on developing a more heat tolerant battery. Well results in Phoenix may seem small but other areas of the country saw huge improvements. Officially Lizard packs started for the 2015 model year but there is strong evidence that many latter 2014's also had them. Considering that the 2014 Model year was one of the shortest in the history of the automotive industry, that does not eliminate many 2014's.

Build Dates; You can determine the build date from the inside plate on the driver's door. It will be listed in 2 digit month/2 digit year.  This is critical for the 2013 Model year since there is strong anecdotal evidence among owners that later build (May 2013 and newer) had better, more robust batteries.

The usual; Its always a good idea to check Carfax for not only location of previous owners but for accidents.  Unlike other EVs, Nissan has the most secure battery storage system in the Universe.  Yes, Tesla's do occasionally wreck and the batteries crisp the car.  This is not a Nissan issue! There have been some LEAFs in horrific accidents including one less than 10 miles from me when a LEAF was sheared in half when the driver hit a bridge abutment.  Despite not be recognizable as a car, the battery pack remained intact. Say what you want about Nissan's decisions on battery management but one thing that is completely unassailable if the level of safety designed into the car.

Shopping; Ok, so now we are browsing online and see a car that might work. Problem with used LEAFs especially if not at a Nissan dealer is that you probably know more about the LEAF assuming you read my previous blogs (shouldn't take more than a few weeks!) than they do.  So this is where you need to tread carefully.

Most have found that insisting on testing the battery with LEAF Spy  has scared several dealers into thinking they are going to walk out to see their car in parts scattered across the parking lot.  My take; Don't tell them what you plan to do.  It takes all of 20 seconds to plug in the OBD and get a reading. You will be done before the salesman even knows what you are doing. When new, 24 kwh LEAFs read about 67.36 ahr.  The values you want are this, Hx and SOH  both displayed as percentages, which are all conveniently located on one screen. (GIDs are useless if the car is not fully charged)  Best part is after the read takes place (about 3 seconds) you can freeze the screen. unplug the OBD and you are done. As mentioned, you can do it in 20 seconds. (FYI; if you are interested in a competition, call me when you have cut this time in half because that is where you need to be!)

OBD I use

Probably not a bad idea to familiarize yourself with the CAN port location. I can now easily locate and plug in OBD without looking. Benefits of a "3 LEAFer" I guess.

Ok so you got the basic foundation to make and informed purchase decision right?  LOL!! Cmon, we all know life is not that easy! 

Nissan, under pressure added a capacity warranty (FYI, don't bother comparing theirs to others in the EV World) which states they will replace pack if your capacity gauge drops to 8 capacity bars in less than 60,000 miles or 5 years from the original in service date which means my advice above to not consider LEAFs that don't have 12 capacity bars remaining stands, BUT....

Sometimes if the price is right and the car has suffered a lot of degradation and still has a ways to go to hit 60,000 miles and its 5 year in service date, you might be better off to get the car, put up with the now pathetic range and work towards losing that 9th capacity bar. 

Ok, so there you have it. Strongly recommend browsing the links provided in the blog or at least seeing what they are about. The best weapon you have in the used car market in knowledge.  Posted below are other links to blogs that you might also want to consider as well