Thursday, February 11, 2016

All I Need Is To Need! AKA "If Only"

Just about a year ago, NRG announced expansion of the EvGO network into Washington State and put the first 4 fast charge stations at key mall locations. So Happy Anniver...uh... hmmm??...ok, hold on a sec...

In November of 2007, I brought home my teeny weeny EV with its teeny weeny range. It was a ZENN. It was a two door glorified golf cart that despite my grand plans ended up being no more than a bonding tool for me and my then one year old Son but only because that is all I could fit in the car!

So it was definitely not going to replace the family car. But I wanted an electric vehicle and the options back then were slim to none.  So I got the ZENN and decided that I would make it work and I did. I lived only 6 miles from my work so I commuted with that ZENN for the next 3½ years.  Now, it was not effortless by any means. I went thru 3 battery packs (all under warranty so at least it cost me nothing) several various BMS systems, battery preservers, extenders, thises and that's and yes, those did cost me money but all the while the one constant remained; I could not leave town!

Well, actually that is not completely true. During the time I had my ZENN, I lived in both Olympia and Lacey and worked in both Tumwater and Lacey (business moved to bigger shinier house!) but never at the same time.  My speed max'd out at just over 35 mph so I could go anywhere I wanted to... as long as it did not involve a highway or freeway.

But the real issue was the range. During my good days AKA as fresh battery pack, I could do 25-30 miles but it was more like 15-20 miles.  Now, I did convince my employer to allow me to plug in at work. After all, it was dinging him for roughly 25 cents per day so its not like it was cutting into his profit based bonus.  Also, the City of Lacey did have a few public charging stations scattered around their downtown area so it was not easy but it was doable. Now, if only I had more range. Then LEAF showed up. At the time, I decided I would be thrilled to have 70 miles of range simply because that is what my minimal "point A to point B" range was for a majority of the places I wanted to go.

And LEAF was awesome!! for a while anyway.  I soon realized that the farther my EV could go, the farther I wanted to go. So what would be the "right range" for me?  By now, I had had several years of EV driving under my belt so I no longer looked at it as "miles" it was Kwh.  What was the right Kwh for me?  I then got my 2013 LEAF which did have more range. Not a lot but enough that I now could add a major client destination to places I could go that did not require any on the road charging.

At first I was really quite surprised at how much joy I got from what was essentially just a few extra miles that wouldn't likely last more than two years. This got me to thinking; What range would I be happy with in the long term?

Well, the question needs to be answered by addressing the fact that I do not consider the current LEAF to be "purchasable" due to its current range (2016 LEAF SV/SL included) which is why I am on my 2nd lease of the LEAF.  A purchase with payments lasting at least 5 years means I have to be happy with the worst case level of degradation after the payments have stopped.  The whole benefit of purchasing is enjoying that time between completion of payments and the search for the replacement.  I like that to be at least 2 years so I am looking at range with the 7 year mindset.

Now the 7 year thing is something I have come to accept simply because it fits everything. This means one new set of tires during that time but likely no other major expenses.  When the car goes onto the trade in block, yes it will need tires and its starting to become time where a closer monitoring of the brake system is recommended.

So I then figured that 165 miles would be where I need to be.  Now, I had figured that so long ago, I forgot the math used but that doesn't matter because I soon realized that even if it was 500 mile range EV I was buying, it would still not eliminate the need for public charging stations. No matter how far I went, I still had the desire to at least have the option to go visit the "other side."  Right now the biggest knock on EVs is range, the time to charge and the level of inconvenience associated with the two.  But an EV with 200 miles of range actually becomes convenient because this can allow one to recharge part of that range only when its convenient. The window of opportunity as it relates to convenience is much larger.  Sure this won't work for 1500 mile road trip, but how many of those do we take?  Not many but a 200-300 mile weekend trip?

 But not everyone shares my views especially now that the big news is how much people would flock to the next round of EV offerings from Chevy, Nissan, Tesla and others. Them along with others have at least mentioned their plans for a 200 mile EV, all at prices less than my first LEAF.  Well, that would definitely cover the math from last year but I have come to the sudden realization that there is no such thing as a convenient time to get gas which is really the same as there is no such thing is "all the range I will ever need" simply because...

Now recently a company raised 9 million in funds to start a type of gasoline delivery business where they come to your car and fill you up.  I find this incredible that there are people out there who would waste their money on something like this. I thought people with money were smart which led to them getting the money but apparently the addiction of cheap fuel knows no IQ boundaries! But this does illustrate the fact there is NO RANGE THAT IS GOOD ENOUGH! So what is stopping us??

The real problem is that there is no conventional profit model for an EV charging network.  The installation costs are high while revenues barely cover the cost of ongoing operation. There is simply not enough EVs to support the cost of even a fraction of the expansion currently needed in most areas. We are faced with a chicken/egg scenario.  But this is not the first time our country has faced this. The US Interstate system, telephone and the power grid were both built with the full knowledge that it would be decades before any real return could be realized. But the government knew that these services were vital to growth and prosperity of a country still trying to figure out what to do with all the far flung resources at its disposal.  It was this ability to understand the long game that allowed America to become a great country which is what allowed us to win World War II.  Sure it was partially the fact that America was simply made of a different kind of people; born and raised during the depression, never knowing easy, understanding and accepting that anything in life worth having was worth fighting for, etc. Long known as the "Greatest American Generation Ever" (at least Tom Brokaw thought so) they accomplished a lot with very little, but without the help of the government and its funding, it would have all been for naught.

Would Las Vegas have flourished without the Hoover Dam? California's Central Valley without the viaduct? Phoenix without the freeway system?  The time has come for another nationwide infrastructure buildout and that is for the direct support of electric vehicles and yes it will cost a lot of money and no, it won't be paid back anytime soon if ever but will it be worth it?  I say every penny spent plus more.  Any large scale buildout will stimulate the economy as it will require a large workforce to cover every state but the advantages only start there.  Imagine a very large power need scattered no more than every 50 miles. The two options are to run the wire or create the power.

A nationwide charging network could easily double as a local power generation and storage site. Power generated locally instead of being distributed in the normal fashion by wire could be used to power cars. Sound inefficient? How can we store power in our cars when we need all of it to get around?  As always, scale can accomplish a lot when a little is taken from multiple sources.  Even if a car transported as little as 2 kwh from one area to another times 10,000 cars this potentially power a small town  (average consumption per person per day runs roughly 10 kwh per day) So there is a lot of upside to having power sources blanketing the country.

But again; its all about money. Eisenhower perfected the art of getting Congress to pay for the Interstate Highway System using National Security as a reason. Now getting a President to fund a comprehensive public charging network to prevent another country from using Oil for leverage is where we need to be.


  1. When numbers are used to report on the tons of carbon put into the air, that is not well understood by most people. Most people relate to the amount of gravel that can be put into a 1/2 ton pickup not the tons of carbon that come out of a tailpipe. I wish that there was some way that it could be related better! Chris Thorsen

    1. Agreed Chris!! but that horse has been beaten to death and climate neighsayers have simply put much more effort into getting "their word" out. Now, despite a HUGE body of evidence to the contrary, too many people immediately discount anything climate related so I decided a tact (they are ALL VALID!) relating to one of the most successful projects in American History was in store.

  2. Good Post Dave, The first round of EVSE deployments (EV Project) made mistakes and lessons were learned, but in the recent congress there was no way to follow that up with better-aimed investment. WA HB2357, which just passed is a good start and an example to the Feds.

    1. I think the States plan of trading this for that will work in the short term but the infrastructure needs to grow faster than this law will allow and in more places. Leaving the buildup to private interests is simply a mistake. This is a nationwide infrastructure issue that I simply cannot see the difference between it and the highway, telephone or power network!