Thursday, April 11, 2013

Most Miles Driven in a Day for an ActiveE

Today, BMW opened up the Electronaut Effect website for participants in the ActiveE Electronaut program to see statistics about their participation in the program. As explained at last week's Project Green Onramp Technology forum held at the BMW Technology Group last week. BMW collects data about the cars every time the car is started via SMS messages. For people who register on the website and opt in to sharing their data, they are allowed to see their rank with others who have also opted in. At least so far, the trip that was detailed in this blog holds the record for a BMW ActiveE's most miles driven in a day. It definitely did not beat the number of miles I have put on a car in a day (My record was a solo run in my X5 4.4i from Albuquerque to Simi Valley in a day which included a non-stop run from Williams Arizona to the finish line), but this was definitely the most memorable)

The 210 mile day was from April 6th, 2013 for the 1 year anniversary meetups where I started in Aptos, drove down to Monterey to do 5 hours of volunteering at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, back up to Salinas and down through King City and Atascadero to get to Morro Bay. Seven more sets of ActiveE Electronauts from northern and southern California also caught the EV road trip bug and did the trip as well.

Current #1 rating on the Electronaut Effect website 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Flying with an Electric Car to L.A.

OK, I am not really flying an electric car, but I am trying to park an electric car while I fly. One of the least mature aspects of the Electric Vehicle movement is how to charge and store an electric vehicle while on a trip going to the airport. Many airports are starting to add chargers, but are being misled in the types of charging they should make available. There are primarily two types of charging Quick Charge that can add 100 or more miles of range to an electric car in less than an hour and casual charging that can typically charge a electric vehicle at a rate of anywhere from 4 to 20 miles per hour. Public quick charging is still hard to come by, but casual charging is becoming more readily available. Most public chargers operate at 240 volt 30 to 40 amp circuits that will charge a vehicle in the 10 to 20 mile per hour range, while charging at a standard 110 volt home wall outlet will charge the car at a rate of 3 to 4 miles per hour.

Now here is where the airport parking infrastructure is immature. Many airports are making a “green” effort to add these 30 to 40 amp public chargers that will fully charge a vehicle in anywhere from 3 to 8 hours. However this only makes sense if you are at the airport for a short time, such as picking up Aunt Betty from her flight from Milwaukee and its 2 hour delay gives you a chance to pick up an additional 15 or 30 miles of range while you wait for her flight to finally arrive.  But many of us with electric vehicles are travelling. We will be gone at least the whole day if not several days to a week. We don’t need to charge at a rate of 10 to 20 miles per hour, a standard wall outlet would be an economical choice to charge the car. No special charging station is required, just a space near a wall outlet.

San Jose Airport has installed 8 EVSE charging stations in lot 5, their most premium short term parking lot that runs $32 a day. For the equivalent of about $4 worth of electricity, you could pay $64 to park there for an overnight trip. Los Angeles International Airport also maintains a set of chargers at their terminal 6 parking structure that runs in the high $20s to park per day, but half of their chargers are in Disabled (or as I prefer to call ‘Adapted’) parking spaces. If you park an electric vehicle in these spaces without a Disabled placard, it will cost hundreds of additional dollars in fines.  LAX looks like it is going for a niche market or elite special interest group (However it really looks like they are trying not to lose revenue in more lucrative standard parking spaces by not losing a small set to restricted parking).

This week I had to fly from San Jose to Los Angeles for some meetings. Rather than pay the high rates at SJC, I wanted to try off airport parking to see if any of the lots would accommodate an electric vehicle. I first tried search Google to see if any of the lots actually catered to Electric Vehicles, but no luck, all I could find were the chargers at SJC, so then I did general searches and started calling the lots with decent rates.

I called Park and Jet from the number on their website, A man with a heavy middle eastern accent answered. He listened and said they could accommodate me and to ask for him, Elias and he would help me out. I showed up at the lot that was not very clearly marked, but luckily I took the address with me and was able to locate them. It appears this was a lot that was in competition with EZ Park Fly that EZ Park Fly is taking over. I pulled in to the front booth and Elias was there as promised, however it was not the person claiming to be Elias when I called. I let him know my situation and he was very accommodating. He had me go into a building and was originally going to have me plug in in a disabled person spot, but changed his mind and moved me to another building where he was more confident the plugs would work. Normally they would have someone park the car in the building, but since I was only staying overnight, he didn’t have an issue with me parking the car. I found a good spot next to a plug by a rollup door. I had no issue with the plug, power registered on my charger and the blue charging light was flashing on my car.  All was good.

Walking back to the front gate, I noticed they were doing improvements to the location, adding a new cashier booth where a working was busily verbally assaulting a piece of drywall (not sure why, but I think I learned a few new swear words in a foreign language). I got to the front gate and Elias let me know the van would be their shortly and struck up a brief conversation about my car. The van arrived, a little beat up, but got me to the terminal in 7 minutes. This was also my test to know how much time I should expect when calling for a pickup on my return, my expectation would be they should be able to pick me up within 300% of that time, or roughly 21 minutes.

On return to SJC, I called the number on my claim ticket and Elias was there. He instructed me where to go and the van would be there shortly. This is where I have to knock them down in rating. I waited 25 minutes and no van. I called Elias back and asked where the van was. Elias was very conscientious to get the location of the driver and call me back to let me know he was currently at the other terminal and would be there shortly. True to his word, the driver eventually made it (Total wait time was 33 minutes).

Upon arrival at the lot, I walked back to the building and I had a fully charged car. Cost was $10 a day for indoor valet plus $7 for the shuttle service. I know SJC charges the vendors a ridiculous rate to bring shuttles in, but this is the only supplier I have seen that surcharges parking for it. Still, the cost was less than half of what it would have cost in the airport to charge had I parked at SJC, but it cost me an additional 40 minutes in doing so.

Lastly, somewhere around there, I picked up a drywall screw in my rear tire. I believe it was probably in the lot as they are doing construction, but could never prove it. I went ahead and filled the tire with air at a service station nearby and repaired the tire when I got home.

So in all, it was a positive experience, but not a glowing endorsement. Elias does a very good job with customer service, but it seems like the owner could improve on the maintenance/upkeep of the vans and improve the pickup process letting customers know when their van should arrive and contact the customer if there is a delay. Also with all the EVs in the bay area, it would be a simple way to lure in a new set of clientele.

Park and Jet/EZ Park Fly
1740 North 4th Street
San Jose, CA

Monday, September 17, 2012

Charging in L.A.

From the 1991 movie L.A. Story:

Sara: What did you have in mind? 
Harris: Well, I was thinking of taking you on a cultural tour of L.A. 
Sara: That's the first fifteen minutes, then what? 
Harris: All right, a cynic. First stop is six blocks from here. 
Sara: Why don't we walk? 
Harris: Walk? A walk in L.A.? 

Charging is available in L.A., but like most cities, may require a little bit of a walk. One thing you usually try to do when you have an electric car is when the car is stitting, its a perfect opportunity for the car to be charging. Usually with a little planning and research, you can find someplace close to where you are going to charge the car. Drug stores like Walgreens, some stores such as Whole Foods and Banks such as Rabobank are installing chargers at their facilities.Also apps such as Plugshare and ChargePoint can help you find chargers near where you are and may have some checkin information to help you easily locate them.

On my free day in L.A. I tried to catch up with some people and drove around quite a bit. After I got up Saturday morning, I met my once older, but now younger sister Lisa (This is L.A. remember ) for breakfast at the Grove in West Hollywood. The Grove has a set of 6 Blink network chargers on the third floor of the parking structure. 

Blink Chargers at the Grove

After a great breakfast and catching up, I then went up to Canters and took a day picture of the car in front since I didn't think the picture would come out well from my camera phone at night (and my phone was still giving me issues that evening) and then I went to see a family friend, Tara at her salon Rust on Melrose Avenue where I gave here a ride in the car and also got put to work cleaning a mirror they just mounted high on the wall. 

From there, I went to a Target to pick up some things I forgot to pack at Santa Monica and La Brea in a nice new urban-style shopping center, but no chargers. Too bad, because this would be an excellent location.

Then I drove to Pasadena to meet some friends for lunch at Burger Continental on Lake in Pasadena. It's a funky little restaurant that serves all types of food from American, Middle Eastern, Italian and Mexican. Since the hotel charger stopped short the night before, I thought it would be good to find a charger nearby to bump up the batteries and pulled up the Recargo App on my phone and found a charger about 4 blocks away at CalTech's Parking lot #2. This was an interesting structire as the entire top level was a photo-voltaic solar array. The charger was on the lowest level.

A large PV Solar Array at CalTech's Lot #2

This was a 4 block walk from the restaurant. Here I realized maybe an outdoor restaurant was not the greatest venue on a 100 degree plus day in the valley, but we found an air conditioned area in a banquet room and all was well. I then gave my friends Greta and Steve a ride in the car back to where they were parked and proceeded to go back to the hotel in the afternoon to freshen up for the Reunion that night at Canters. On the way back to the hotel, I could see smoke in the distance. The Exxon Mobile refinery south of the hotel was burning off something. I have seen this there before, but with all the efforts I have been doing, it really made me angry to see this and what it was doing to the air.I could see it from the freeway just south of downtown all the way into TOrrance. The thick black smoke was blowing far out into the eastern horizon, ultimately people are breathing in all this crap they were spewing into the air. I am really happy that I am making a meager difference.

Exxon Mobile Refinery in Torrance burning off something

Once at the hotel, I parked the car at the charger to boost the battery while I showered and changed and then went to the reunion.

The stops at the chargers helped, but I still wanted an additional buffer while I was at the reunion. So I wound up going back to the grove and leaving the car there for about 3 hours while at the reunion and just walked 5 blocks back to Canters. Towards the end of the evening. I walked back to The Grove and took the car off the charger with plenty of reserve for the ride back to the hotel.

After grabbing a bite at Pinks after the reunion. I headed back to the hotel and let it charge overnight. This time there was no issues and I had a 100% full battery to start my journey home on Sunday. 

The day stops really made me appreciate the mobile applications that are available to assist in finding chargers. Most are hidden and hard to find. I only found that Hermosa Beach did an excellent job with signage making chargers easy to find, I just didn't need one at the time.

Sunday would be the start of a 1 1/2 day trip back home. I would take a more casual route and try other chargers on my way home. Overall, I drove over 150 miles around town before I would start hitting more remote chargers along the way home. This time I would go to the charger I couldn't find in Thousand Oaks, a charger in Santa Barbara and then back to the chargers I had used in Solvang, Atascadero (where I would spend the night in a motel) King City and then a charger in Monterey before going to class. 

This was definitely a journey.

The Final Leg: Tarzana to Torrance.

The final leg was probably the easiest. I had a short 45 minute commute from Tarzana in the San Fernando Valley to Torrance where my hotel for the weekend would be. After some sushi for dinner, I headed east on the Highway 101 to the 405 to go into LA, through the south bay and finally to the hotel. Apparently it was an interesting day on this route A brush fire had broken out in the Sepulveda Pass between the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles which is a major corridor between the two cities.

While I was charging in Thousand Oaks and Tarzana, others were stuck for 3 hours in the fire suppression and clean up. Luckily while I was charging, most of the mess was cleaned up and I just dealt with construction traffic. Here I thought it would just be best to not go to Canters late at night because I couldn’t get a good picture of the car at that time, so I decided to take the picture in the morning would I would be in the neighborhood to have breakfast with my sister. So I just stayed on the 405. Driving through LA, the traffic was not too bad until I got passed Los Angeles International Airport. Here, there was more of a construction backup, but this time with my Clean Air Stickers where any freeway legal electric car can apply and can drive solo in the High Occupancy Vehicle (aka Car Pool) lane. Standard hybrids used to have this option, but it was taken away recently as the program proved to be successful and there was no longer the need for an incentive for drivers to purchase hybrids.

I breezed by the traffic jam at 11:20 PM and shortly made it to the hotel near the intersection of the 405 and 110 freeways in Torrance. Once I was there, again there was no signage pointing to where the chargers were. However cruising around parking lot, I found the charger in the back of the property. The layout was a little unusual. They had an old style paddle inductive charger and a Clipper Creek non-networked charger. The chargers were 2 spaces apart. There was one parking space between the two chargers with a sign for only that spot that said “Electric Vehicle Parking Only”. But these signs were not at the charging spaces. Again, the cord was short on the Clipper Creek, so I backed in and started the charge. The batteries were hot, over 90 degrees, but hopefully they would get a good full charge while I slept. I checked in and after getting into the room and calling the family, I quickly fell asleep. I was pretty much away for 43 hours with just a couple of quick naps. I woke up the next day and got ready to have breakfast with my sister and unfortunately, the car only charged to 81% and had some sort of charger fault, but more on my charging in the next post.

Free Parking and Free Charging at the Holiday Inn in Torrance

So in all, I met my goal. I charged at all the stations I said I would (plus 1 more), I took longer than expected, but I made it within my goal of 24 hours and my estimates were not terribly off. The drive was definitely challenging, but it was possible. Would I do it again? Unfortunately I had 2 a couple of days later, but I didn’t have the 24 hour deadline, just that I get back to Monterey by 6 PM Monday for a class at the Aquarium.  I hope this journal gives encouragement to others with Electric Vehicles to burst their range bubble and get out and explore. If you have the time, it is an interesting way to turn a trip into a journey.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Solvang to Thousand Oaks

This was the hardest leg of the trip. One thing I didn't really say much about was that I got up at 5:30 AM on Thursday, September 13, 2012 to help my wife get her day started, worked from home, went to a doctors appointment, was interviewed by the Santa Cruz Sentinel and the Community Foundation Santa Cruz County for the trip and attended my docent trainee session at the Monterey Bay Aquarium before leaving  for the trip. I managed to get a couple of hours sleep in King City, but I was getting a little frazzled on the second to last leg from Solvang to Santa Cruz and I made some mistakes along this portion. As noted in the previous post, the battery in my phone was dead so it was not very easy to get connectivity so I could not check for updates or try to get more accuracy on location of chargers. One good thing I did was print out my itinerary and directions in case for some reason some electronics failed so at least I had that as a backup and a contingency charger selected in case I could not find the charger I picked for the trip in case there was an issue.

Now for what went wrong. First, the route I chose to get out of Solvang. Back in the day, I used to ride the Solvang Century. An 106 mile bike ride from Solvang to Santa Maria with 6,000 of my closest friends. When I would leave the event, I would take the state route 246 to state route 154 to rejoin the 101 back in Santa Barbara.

From above, this looks like a great idea. I would not have to back track to Buelton to bet back on Highway 101. What I forgot from my bike riding days was the hill climbing required for this route. I didn't realize it until it was too late. One site I found after the fact was, This site is primarily for bike riders to plan their route, but it is also helpful for EV drivers as well. Here is the profile of my shortcut from bikeroutetoaster:

I believe the scale is meters in elevation to kilometers in travel.

So at from 30km to 36km I had a pretty nasty hill climb. This is also a 2 lane highway. I did maintain the speed limit on the road and was courteous to pull to the right when passing lanes were available (Do you hear that Prius owners? I moved to the right. Try it sometime. However one pickup truck was offended I held him up 5 seconds while I drove the speed limit and proceeded to honk and throw something at my car as he passed in the carpool lane. I kept my cool and let him pass (more on him later)

The downhill was pretty nice though and was charging the whole distance down. On my way back, I will take 101 instead.This will be 102 miles instead of 88 miles, so I need to watch my mileage carefully.

So I made it past the issue on Route 154, and started down the 101 south through Santa Barbara, and here I got in a traffic jam (There was an accident in south Santa Barbara. Remember that pickup. I was able to find a bus here and used it as a drafting agent (Remember that pickup truck that was trying to have a food fight on Route 154? I passed him while he was stuck in the "Fast" lane. The bus made for a nice way to maintain speed. I was able to use it all the way to Camarillo, before the Conejo grade. I then followed another truck up the grade until I was rolling downhill into Thousand Oaks.

I was approaching the location where my next charging location was supposed to be, Janns Marketplace. A shopping center with a few big box stores and restaurants, so it it seemed like a good stopping location. However, there was no sign if the chargers! I still had no power to my cell phone and I was down to 11 miles on the range computer. I went back and forth through the parking area with no luck. I was tired and desperate.

I then hit the BMW assist button. I reached an agent who was friendly, but still was not able to give me any indication where the charger might be. She gave me businesses to look for, but none were visible from where I was. I had to give up and ask her to feed me directions to the National Park Service headquarters. She got me the directions and I was able to drive up a long uphill driveway and found a pseudo futuristic office complex where there happened to be 3 Clipper Creek chargers that were free and a Blink Fee Charger. I plugged in but it was hot and muggy and no amenities. There used to be a visitor center in this location, but it was closed and the offices were sealed tight. So no restroom and no power for my phone and I had been drinking a lot of water to stay cool.

I was antsy and looking at sitting for 3 to 4 hours to get charged to get to the hotel was not looking appealing and I didn't want the family to worry about me. I saw from the charging site that the mall which was about a half mile down the hill had a Verizon Wireless store. My idea was to first take care of my bladder and just buy a spare battery for my Droid Bionic and then call my wife to let her know I was almost there. However this plan backfired too. I drove down the hill, had to hunt for a parking space and then went to the store just to find out they didn't carry batteries.I thought I was smart and took my power adapter with me so in case there was an issue, I could just plug in my phone and get it jump started. I searched around outside and found a a covered outlet. lifted the cover charger wouldn't fit under the cover. #*(&$@)^%!!!!

So back up the hill to charge for a while. I got to talk to a nice lady from the park service who was disconnecting her Leaf who thought I was another ActiveE driver who parks there on occasion. She recommended I walk back down the hill and see a movie, but I was concerned about the gates at the bottom the National Park Service Entrance and that I could return to a locked parking lot. So I stayed with the car and continued to think of alternate ways to get my phone to work.

As a contingency, I did bring a 70W pocket inverter with a 3 prong plug in case i needed a boost in power. This one did not work well in the ActiveE, but when I found the sweet spot, the green LED ready light eventually turned on. I plugged the phone charger into the inverter and after a few minutes, it worked!!! I then called home and let them know I was OK and got a couple of updates out. As the lot got darker and emptier, I was able to locate another charger in Tarzana at a library that was a little closer to civiization. I drove the car down to the library to the Eaton charger and let it sit for a couple of hours while I had dinner, by this time, my phone died again.

This leg of the journey had me a bit on edge, but it showed the importance of amenities and signage in and around the charger, but with some planning for contingencies, I was able to continue.

Atascadero to Solvang

(Apologies for these late entries - My main internet access tool, my phone died and was not resuscitated until near the finish). I will supply more pictures later. Atascadero to Solvang saw a big shift in my mileage and cost. The day warmed up and the Solvang charger was a fee based charger. The temperature when I arrived in Atascadero was 55 degrees. When I left after the charging was completed, it was up to 74. This is when I started using a truck to part the air for me (but not really going for a draft where I would be dangerously riding the truck's bumper), but following at a comfortable distance. This shot up my mileage efficiency from 3.4 kWh per mile to 3.5 kWh to 5.0 kWh per mile.The range estimator shot up my range from 85 to 90 miles to 130 miles. When I arrived in Solvang with 38% state of charge remaining, this meant less than a 4 hour charge I originally estimated.
This was helpful to drop my overall energy usage. Solvang charges $1.25/hr and I would up using $3.57 worth of electricity. With the tourist trade abundant in Solvang, the car received its most attention while on route. I was surprised how many Europeans were in Solvang too, but they all had great questions. Solvang had plenty of restaurants and gift shops, but lacked the modern amenities in the other stops. E.g. when I saw a bunch of freshly adobe painted stucco structures in Atascadero, I knew a Starbucks must be near (which there was) within 2 blocks of the Rabobank charger.In Solvang, there were no Starbucks, or chain stores, so it would be hit or miss to find a store that offered WiFi. I did use a  WiFi hunting application on my Kindle Fire to find a provider and was able to use for a little while, but then one of my biggest issues of the trip occurred, my phone died.
There are two issues that I have with my Android phone (or as I call it, my German iPhone Nein) is that some OS/App updates make once good applications into poor applications. The other is there is no warning when you have applications drawing more power than they are producing. SO even though I had my phone on a USB connection to the car to draw power, it was not really net charging and the phone eventually quit. With my Droid Bionic, once you have gone into a full depletion, it is just about impossible to get it to build up enough of a charge to start without an AC wall plug connection, so the only internet device I had with a full charge was my Kindle Fire, that only really worked with a WiFi connection. Also apps are limited on this device since it is pretty much controlled by Amazon, so my ability to do much to verify my next charger in Thousand Oaks would be an issue.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mission Accomplished

 Door to Door in 23:21 and 338 miles with only a few minor hiccups. I will try some changes in my next run Sunday and Monday and put together a summary posting by NPID. I tried to start writing the detail for Solvang and Thousand Oaks, but I was literally falling asleep at the keyboard. So I will add them from my notes.  Thanks for your support, questions and words of encouragement. It was a lot of fun.