Saturday, September 28, 2013

National Plug In Day 2013 (Where Have We Gone This Year?)

Happy Plug In Day to all my fellow EV'ers! (and Volt'ers  ;) ) Another year has passed and what a year it has been! Things are looking much different now than it was on Plug In Day 2012.

In 2012; nearly all public plugs were free but scarce. The sales were dismal and huge sections of the country were not even aware that a 100% highway capable EV even existed.  Huge incentives to buy or lease were being offered and people were getting 2012's for practically nothing in areas where state incentives were higher than normal.

Georgia was one of the best examples where high residuals combined with a $5,000 state perk allowed some LEAFers to lease at nearly break even prices.  It took a while to catch on but now, Georgia and the Atlanta area is now in the same category as EV hotbeds, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland.

2012 was also the start of the very ugly battery degradation issue as many LEAFers entering their 2nd Summer were starting to lose their 2nd, 3rd and 4th capacity bars. The ugliness was mostly caused by Nissan's initial response.

At first they claimed surprise stating various tests they had performed that showed a robustness that we owners were not seeing. The fact that they had a test center near Phoenix (the center of the heat issue) did lend credence to their statements but increasingly, too many people were reporting losses and as the word got out and more became aware of it; the geography expanded from the ridiculously hot areas to places that were simply warm.

Accusations, lawsuits, threats and several other nasty things were soon flying all over the net. But Nissan's response?  Silence...

and more silence....

and more silence....

Finally, they admitted that "further investigation was needed" and took 5 of the earliest reported LEAFs from the Phoenix area for in depth testing at their Arizona facility. They were gone a week or so and some actually came back with capacity bars restored (but most disappeared soon afterwards.)  Nissan stated the instrumentation was a bit off and work on better software was the next step.

But sales remained tepid at best. They remained decent on the West Coast but still too many reports of people having to go 1-2 states away to get one elsewhere.

Then the 2013's came out. Reputed to have more range thru software tweaks, power train changes, etc but still the same ole battery pack. Tests later proved that they "might" have more range under special driving conditions but for mainstream commuting? Nada!

But the 2013's did have options including a cheap entry level S model (not a Tesla mind you! but can't help but wonder about the motivation behind the designation?) faster charging, more efficient heaters, etc along with finally an SOC gauge. Many cried it wasn't enough due to its simplicity but the gauge has proven to be relatively accurate. But that did not help us 2011/12 owners but that is ok. We have learned long ago, if we want something we just get er done! So Jim from AZ devised his own software to monitor the LEAF and now we have nearly everything! voltages, charge level, battery temps, etc!

But not all was rosy with the 2013 launch. Unexplained delays, widespread shortages, and incompatibility with public chargers hampered the 2013's.  Nissan was able to sort it out eventually and with continued deep cuts on lease programs, they were selling every LEAF they could make.

After several months of record or near record sales, the "no brainer" lease deals became "good deals".  But Atlanta with its awesome GA credits soon led the way overtaking both San Francisco and Seattle (although they were still doing very very well themselves) but the factory output has been slow to respond which means very limited selections if you were not lucky enough to be in the above mentioned areas.

By now; public charging has been going for as much as 2 years or more. But AV; who only was supposed to offer free charging for a few months is still free. Their website states a $2.50 fast charge session fee but that has not happened and persistent communication problems between the charger and their headquarters is probably part of the problem.  But for the role they were to play, they have done very well at least in WA and OR in completely those sections of the West Coast Green Highway Project.

Ecotality on the other hand has been hit with various problems including compatibility with their level 2 chargers and the 2013 LEAFs with 6 KW charging capacity. Their solution was to turn down the power which was not a popular decision but did not generate nearly the bad juju as their announcement to start charging a flat $5 fee for fast charger use.

Personally I was more than a bit shocked at this decision. for one thing; the role out of the charging stations had been VERY slow and the few that were there (and working) had huge waits most of the time.  (I am sure free had something to do with it) But a flat fee meant that many would charge longer than they needed to "get their money's worth" making lines longer and others who only needed a small boost would be unfairly treated.  I am in the latter camp. In my QC sessions; 60% of them were 15 mins or less.  The other 40% includes several "full charge" tests that were more experimental than need.  In these tests, I have aborted the tests 8 times due to someone else pulling up after 15 minutes and I did not want them to wait since I did not have a need to charge. So in reality; my need for more than 15 minutes of charging is probably more in the line of ¼ of the time or less.

With the immediate feedback; Ecotality backed off a bit. In high electricity rate areas, they went ahead with the flat fee but delayed it in the Pacific Northwest and I think the reason for that is our much cheaper power. Eventually they came up with a scheme that they would use various rate plans and we could "vote" for our choice with our usage but the flat fee went into effect anyway for us as well.  I have yet to vote when I did not need an 80% charge or better having opted for the $1 an hour L2 charge 5 times so far.  Still no word from Ecotality when and what the other "votes" will be...

Something that might be affecting that is Ecotality announcing bankruptcy. They had basically not met the Feds guidelines for the EV Highway Project and had missed several deadlines and the Feds pulled funding and now Ecotality has nearly no revenue.  They were still able to open up a few more fast chargers after the announcement but the future of the company (and the chargers) is uncertain at best.

What will most likely happen is someone else will take over the chargers and then we will have to see what happens from there.

SemaConnect has made a lot of installs in the area as well mostly at Walgreens. They actually sell the charger and maintenance package to the hosts. Up until a few months ago; charging was free and by far the easiest. although cards were issued, you did not need to use one.  But then they came out with a 49 cent/kwh charge nationwide.  To be honest with ya; that is ok with me. It is a bit steep compared to other companies but its based on what you receive which is how gas, electricity, etc is treated by EVERYONE else.  In this respect; Ecotality's buck an hour is much cheaper! But Sema does provide other options (and competition especially when now Walgreens is like "Charge City" where we have Sema's L2's along with Ecotality's L2s AND Fast Chargers to choose from!

Anywho; that is the year in a nutshell.  So what's next? As I see it; we really need to get this public charging fiasco resolved.  I have blogged several times that the states should pick up the slack. the West Coast Green Highway Project was genius and really helped to encourage people to get out and about in the LEAFs! This is a perfect tourist tool!

Now; I am not suggesting we put these chargers out for free. This would only cause a 4 car line at Tumwater like what happened on Labor Day Weekend.  Charge for Charging! Make it reasonable. Put the chargers on routes to destinations that need tourist dollars. Too many people wishing they could go to the beach. Ocean Shores is reachable but only a half dozen of us are willing to take the risk.  Harbor Paper near Aberdeen, WA was supposed to help revitalize the struggling economy in Gray's Harbor County but they are on hard times.  This is just plain wrong! The state could help by putting in stations in the area. Power cost is very low there and this will help direct more tourist dollars when people have to stop for 20-30 mins to get a boost. This does not happen when driving gas car when you fill up in Seattle and drive straight thru Aberdeen or Montesano without stopping!

The other thing we need to look at is employee charging. There are a handful of companies providing stations but too many that are not.  Once again; the easiest thing here is a state mandate requiring employers to step up.  Several good things have come with a bit of arm twisting and a gentle shove in the back and this needs to be one of them. Kudos to WA State and others for now making "ICE'ing" illegal and fineable!

What else do we need to work on?? Post your suggestions!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Cmon Winter! Should I be saying that??

Ya, what's up with that?  Don't I lose like 10 miles of range in the cold and wet? Actually I do and I dread dusting off the heated jacket and what not but at the same time; its becoming apparent my LEAF is looking forward to cooler times.

As mentioned previously; Keith was nice enough to send me an "ELM" a small bluetooth enabled device that reads the CAN bus data and transmits it to my old Motorola Droid X phone.  One of the many bits of information it sends is two metrics that monitor battery pack state and health which are total capacity measured in amp-hours and Battery health which gives one an overall picture of how well the pack is feeling in a way.  Naturally these are two things we want to track for the long term.

When I first started using the ELM a few weeks back I was at 58.09 Ahr and health was 76.60%.  but both numbers started to declined immediately on a daily basis.  On Wed, I recorded Ahr reading of 57.57 and batt health of 75.74% (temps were in the 90's) and was resigning myself to losing my first bar by mid October, but...

**The weatherman had predicted temps in the low 90's and mid 80's for the week but that did not happen. a weather system blew in off the Pacific and parked itself (could not make it over the mountains I guess) and so we have had cloudy overcast and COOL days with temps mostly in the 60's with brief touches in the low 70's. Mornings cool in the upper 50's.

** LEAF not being used. Had 150 mile run on Friday so took the gasser so LEAF just did errands and logged 35.2 miles.  Since I did not work Saturday, I decided not to charge overnight instead opting to plug in first thing in the morning which I did about 5 AM and also opened garage door as well.  Temps were in mid 50's. Started running errands Sat and eventually went 102 miles with a 10.83 Kwh QC at Tumwater AV which shot my batt temps to 88º (highest reading so far!) Temps were 65ish until late afternoon when the Sun finally came out. Don't know the official score but guessing best we got was 70 maybe...

Today is late job so opted to not charge last night again and did the same plugging in this morning and opening garage door. Then went out for short trip and about freaked out when Batt App booted up. My ahr reading 58.29!!  Health was 77.09% both all time high readings!

So basically, it took 2½ days of cool weather and light driving for the BMS to readjust??  really looking forward to any changes in the next few days. Work schedule is not light but early part of the week, all the work is in town so should be light driving.

My only regret is I did not do a full charge (only had 11 bars) so don't know if the GID count has rebounded but hoping for something in the 250 range!

Monday, September 2, 2013

ELM LEAF Battery Monitoring App

Knowing exactly how far you can go in your car has been Man's quest since the dawn of the automobile. Hundreds, maybe even thousands run out of gas every day due to their miscalculated risk from that remaining sliver on the gas gauge.

Having an EV does not make that calculation any harder,  just have to do it more often.  I calculate my remaining range nearly every day to make sure I can make it. I usually have to adjust my driving habits early to account for the planned trips for the day.  Helping me with that is the "GID Meter" which is a CAN monitoring device designed by MNL'er Gary Giddings.  It tells me a very good approximation of my GID count which allows me to track how many GIDs  I have used so I can use my trip meters to determine how far those GIDs have taken me and with previous experience with the planned route of the day, should tell me whether I can make it or not.

All that means a lot of math on my part which is ok. Its not complicated or difficult but there was a lot of things that the GID meter did not provide at all.

This Summer has been one of the hottest overall that I can remember. Mind you, no super high temps like that 2 week run we had in 2009 when we had 4 days over 100º or 11 of 12 days over 90.   In fact, we have only had a handful of days in the 90's but the real story is the string of days we have had in the 80's.

To better understand what I am getting at, lets talk about last Summer. Last Summer was only slightly cooler than normal. We had mostly cool rainy weather up thru nearly the middle of July (about 1-2 weeks longer than normal)  then dry but not very warm weather for July with the real Summer weather in August running up thru about mid Sept.

This year, we had one of the warmest and driest May and June and that has extended into July and August.  Now, we had a downpour (one of the hardest rains I have ever experienced anywhere!) last Thursday which I am guessing will create stats that one will look at next year that will make the numbers from the Summer of 2013 blend into the masses...

Either way, my GID count which has been discussed often here was in the upper 260's low 270's in April which included an occasional 275 or so.  I was very impressed that after 30,000 miles, my batteries were holding up so well.

But then the heat started and my batteries declined almost instantly to the mid 250's. I got the software update that was supposed to increase accuracy of gauges and saw another quick drop into the mid 240's that continued until settling into the mid 230's.  Since it all happened right when the heat of Summer did, I felt the coincidence to be a bit too much to ignore.

Than Jim, another MNL'er came up with an Android based monitoring system that provided much more information including battery temps and individual cell voltages. This would allow me to see if there was a loose correlation between GID counts on a full charge and battery temps along with checking my pack balance. Software is here

This was a project I was very interested in but work got in the way and I put it off and put it off and put it off. But Keith a Seattle area Facebook LEAF owner sent me the ELM interface which plugs into the CAN port on the LEAF and transmit info to a Android phone via Bluetooth. So, now I had no excuses.  (Thank you Keith!)

I wanted to use my old Droid Bionic because it had better batteries but it simply would not connect to the ELM. After determining I was doing everything right (after all its like setting up any other BT connection. very easy for anyone interested in doing this!) I figured phone did not work. It had droid version 2.4 (i think) and most of the phones on the compatibility list seemed to have version 2.2) so I wrangled my ancient Motorola Droid X from my Son (he uses it to play games and you tube)  and the program worked like a charm.

Today was first day I had a chance to do a full charge and actually look at the data (just because its Labor Day weekend does not mean I get the weekend off. I do get today off and that is about it!)

This screen shows each cell module voltage (good balance here! 21 mV difference) and my estimated capacity of 58.09 AHr (full capacity about 66.6) or 87.67% which aligns closely with my GID percentage from a "full" 281.  Battery Health is76.6% (a measure of internal resistance. more on this later as soon as I find out what it means) and all batt temp modules running around 76º.  This charge completed at 1 AM and this pix was taken at 6:30 AM.

Here is another screen that adds estimated range. This is shown at 4.2 miles/Kwh which is basically about what I get if driving along at 60 mph per LEAF speedometer during Summer.  FYI; during the time I was playing around, my SOC actually dropped from 93.3 to the 92.8 you see here... Gives you an idea of just how weak the GIDs at the top of the pack seem to be.

For anyone out there who approaches the range of their LEAF, a monitoring system is vital to have. This allows one a much better picture of just how much is left in the batteries. Steve Marsh; our local LEAF mileage champ (probably #1 in the entire country!)  was stopping 1-2 times on his daily commute to charge on the road due to range anxiety. This meter has allowed him to not stop. So, ya he is pulling into work maybe on his last mile but after all, that is all he needs right?

The best part of the ELM option is that its cheap. Even if you dont get a device given to you, they run under $20. Same with the phone. I am using a Motorola Droid X which was the top of the line Android Phone...about 4 years ago!  So it or something similar can be had for no more than $30 at a used cellphone store or online.

For more details on its operation a good wiki is available at MNL