Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Preparation Checklist

Me in my ActiveE chasing down Tony Williams from in his Nissan Leaf at Laguna Seca at Refuel2012 last month.Tony drove his Leaf from Tijuana to British Columbia in 8 days last June. He is one of the people that has inspired my trip next month to LA.

One of my inspirations for this trip was Tony William's BC2BC trip in June. Tony drove a brand new Nissan Leaf from Tijuana in Baja California to British Columbia in a little over 8 days. He took his time through California, sometimes due to plans, sometimes due to necessity like when he attempted the central coast route that I am avoiding, he had to drive at as little as 11 miles per hour to make it between charging locations. His charging options varied wildly for his 6 days through California.In my plan, I plan on using only 3 types of chargers (Level 2, NEMA 14-50 and Tesla Roadster) and I plan at staying near or at the speed limit for the whole trip to complete everything in one day.

One of the good things Tony came up as he is also an airline pilot is to create a pre-departure checklist. My checklist will be a little less complex than his.

My checklist includes:

  • Wallet, Driver's License, Insurance Card, AAA Card, Registration
  • ChargePoint and Blink Network RFID Cards
  • Threaded bumper tow attachments
  • 10 Ga Extension Cord
  • Level 1 Charger
  • Tesla UMC Adapter with NEMA 14-50 attachment
  • Tesla to J-1772 adapter
  • Fix a flat, patches and compressor
  • First aid kit
  • Smartphone mount and power adapter and spare battery
  • Lighter power adapter/splitter
  • Log book
  • Flashlight
  • Sunscreen and Lip Balm
  • Laptop
  • Phone tether to laptop and confirm pdaNet access 
  • Wallet
  • Suitcase with clothes, medication and toiletries for 4 days
  • Jacket
  • Sleeping Mask
  • Kindle Fire
A few of these items are obvious to a road trip and a few are not. The RFID cards will allow me to use my account to charge at some of the locations that are on a network such as ChargePoint and Blink. The RFID unlocks the charge connector and also provides communication between the charger and my smartphone. Should I step away, the system will alert me if there is a power fault or if someone has disconnected the charger. The extension cord is for an emergency situation in case I need to charge from a wall plug that I just can't quite reach with the charger. The cord has to be a heavy gauge to handle the current. Fix a flat is necessary because most EVs do not have a spare tire. The industry believes that spare tires take up space, weight and are rarely used, especially with today's run-flat technology that the ActiveE also uses. But they are also ridiculously expensive and could be a time killer should I lose one on the trip, so the fix a flat is compact and easy insurance to bring along. The sleeping mask is for catching naps while I am charging. I tend to be light sensitive when I sleep and I found a blacked out sleeping mask knocks me out pretty well. My laptop and Kindle Fire will be good for when I am charging, so I can update my status or to keep me entertained when I can't sleep, I can finally finish all the back episodes of 30 Rock using pdaNet to turn my phone into a mobile hotspot using it's data plan for no additional fees. 

For the log book, I plan on recording at each destination.
  • Location
  • Arrival Time
  • Departure Time
  • Air Temperature
  • Battery Temperature
  • State of Charge at Arrival
  • State of Charge at Departure
  • Charger Type
  • Charger Network
  • Cost to Charge Unit
  • Total Cost
  • Miles Driven
  • Notes from Location (conditions of equipment, amenities, people met, other findings)
  • Checkin to Recargo, Plugshare, Facebook, Twitter and Blog.
So everything is just about planned, the last thing to plan is, where am I going to stay in Los Angeles?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Risk-E-V Business: The Challenges in Long Range EV Travel

A lot of people have asked me why am I doing this trip? It's a lot easier just to fly, or drive a gas powered car to LA, and they are right, it is. But I wanted to experience the challenge to see how is the infrastructure growing and where it is not. I want to see how the infrastructure is adapting to this new mode of transportation and what challenges did I envision and which I did not and how would I work through them.
It wasn't too long ago that these challenges were also faced by internal combustion engine drivers. This trip may expose risks and challenges, but as said in one of my favorite quotes by John  W.Gardner "Every unsolvable problem is a brilliantly described opportunity". Entrepreneurs may soon see that they have a captive audience for a few hours Many casinos are now installing EVSE chargers for their patrons and have them stay a while.

As with any trip, there are the usual risks, schedules get changed, there may be weather issues, road construction, I may get involved in a traffic accident, fall ill, suffer a mechanical breakdown or there may be a natural disaster along the route (earthquake, land slides, wildfires). With each risk the possibility is the same whether I drive an electric car or an internal combustion engine automobile. However the impact of these common issues may have a greater impact in an EV rather than an ICE vehicle. My route to LA is pretty much has few alternatives and each alternative changes between charging locations. As part of my checklist I will be watching the weather,  Caltrans' quick map site  as well as the traffic indicators on my GPS. At the southern part of my trip, additional EVSEs are more plentiful and I may have other options to get to or charge at my destination, but the options at the beginning of my journey are probably the riskiest if there is an issue along the road.

Risks that are unique to EV drivers on trips are:

For availability, hours of operability and maintenance, I have contacted each location I plan on visiting giving them the time of day that I would be arriving and using the equipment, . So far, no one has reported an issue.I will also be calling ahead the day before my trip to verify everything is still available. and that any special instructions are still valid. For example, at the KOA Trailer site, I will need to leave my 'Dump Fee in an envelope and pick a space, In Coalinga, I will have to ask for the charger to be unlocked because curious people have played with the connector and charge cord and they are afraid the equipment will get damaged.
For ICEing conditions, where an Internal Combustion Engine vehicle is using the charging location as a parking space, I may have to wait are try to find the owner of the vehicle or EVSE to see if it can be moved if I cannot maneuver around it.

It should be rare that one of the chargers along the route should be taken by another EV. The only one with a risk is the Roadster charger in Coalinga, however I should be rolling through around 5 in the morning, so I think the chances are remote. Further down in the route, I can check on the Blink and ChargePoint sites to see if the chargers are currently in use. ChargePoint allows users to reserve a charger, but the chargers for my route do not support this feature. So here I will assume the risk is low, but will be a greater challenge in the future as EVs (and PHEVs) become more prevalent and necessity vs opportunity charging etiquette becomes more of an issue,

For issues during charging such as charging faults, hit and run as well as vandalism, I should be with the car most of the time, so I can watch how the car is progressing, some charging stations will also alert you if there is a charging problem. Sites like ChargePoint even text me if that car is not unplugged in the proper sequence.

The last risk, is always the greatest risk, the one I have not foreseen. If you can think of any risk that night be an issue for me, please let me know.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Silver Lining Crossing the Chasm

Seeing that my charging time was going to get the best of me and take me over a day to get to LA if I continued my current driving habits, I thought I would try a practice run on similar terrain that I would expect to experience on my trip. A mixture of flat and hilly highways. I also wanted to test my Tesla Universal Mobile Connector on a NEMA 14-50 outlet, similar to what I would be using at my first stop in Santa Nella. at the KOA RV Park.The practice trip also allowed me to try some of the techniques I noted in the last post. Using Eco Pro mode for more efficient accleration, enovirnment profile and electronics conservation, keep the windows up, only use the vents, use cruise control to maintain the speed limit. Also, it let me look at one other possible route. Charging at the southernmost charging location in Salinas, and see if it would be available as my first stop and attempt to make it 105 miles to next stop in Atascadero.

The Salinas Loop

According to Recargo, the southernmost charging location in Salinas is at a wild animal sanctuary called Wild Things Inc. Vision Quest Ranch. (Point B), I could then drive through the hills near Laguna Seca Raceway and spy some cars leaving the Monterey Historics and then get back home.for a total of 86 miles.

I left the house midday with the temperature in the mid 70s, so not having the AC on was a little stuffy, but it worked. I reset the trip computer to watch the consumption. The first hills out from Aptos to Watsonville were not encouraging, my miles per KwH was only hovering around 2.6 to 2.8. As I proceeded down Highway 1, the mileage steadily climbed as I switched over to cruise control keeping the car at the 65 speed limit. The cruse control provided smooth acceleration and didn't pulse the go pedal like I tend to do. Traffic was light, so it was easy to maintain distance with the cruise control along the two lane highway

Leaving Highway 1 in Castroville towards Salinas is a mixture of small town roads and more flat agricultural highways. The slower speeds were also advantageous to my trip as I kept creeping up to my goal of 3.6 miles per KwH. When I arrived at Wild Things it was a little confusing of where I should actually go. The business is part of a ranch compound, so there were gates and several other businesses in the complex. The pictures on Recargo were helpful to find the building I needed to go to, but the charger was not clearly marked. Luckily I arrived just before a tour group was to start, so the gift shop was open and the tour guide was extremely helpful in finding out where the charging location was. It seems like electrics have been talked about with the staff, but rarely seen. After a few back and forths over the radio, they found someone who new where the connector was and told me to pull alongside. Along an electric panel were two boxes. One was clearly for Level 1 charging and another box with a cover that was the NEMA 14-50 plug. The spider webs over the box made it evident this had not been used for a while. I was a little unfamiliar with how to open the cover, but was able to find a button on the underside to the box, pressed it hard and the cover opened exposing the NEMA 14-50 plug. I then pulled out my Tesla UMC and Adapter and tried it out for the first time.

My Tesla Universal Mobile Connector with a NEMA 14-50 adapter

Tesla UMC to My EVSE Upgrade Roadster-J1772 adpter 

SUCCESS!! The blue light under the rear view mirror (affectionately known as the clown nose) slowly flased blue signalling that the car was accepting the charge. I let the car charge for about 10 minutes to verify no excessive heat build up was occurring on the UMC, again, no issues.

Mission Accomplished!

The other nice thing I found was I averaged 4.0 miles per kWh, something I never thought I could achieve. So far, so good. So I packed up, checked in on Recargo and gave Wild Things charging a good review (although autocorrect mangled it and I have no way of correcting it) and took off down the road. This was a good charging location, but it was only available at certain times and you had to have some knowledge of where to find the connection as the crew was not experienced with anyone using it before. Luckily I got there at the right time and luck guided me through.Unfortunately, if I were to take this route, I would be passing through around 1 in the morning and this charger would be behind two locked gates. But with the 4.0 miles per kWh consumption, things were looking better for my plan B route.

BMW ActiveE E-Drive Battery Status Screen

I then proceeded south on Highway 68 toward Sand City, a little north of Monterey. This was a great area to test for driving through  rolling hills and seeing the impact on consumption. It was also a great rolling car show. I spotted many Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Cobras working their way out of Monterey Car Week and the Laguna Seca Historics. If you are a car lover, this was the week to be in the Monterey Bay area.

Here, my mileage dropped back down to 3.8, still good and no issues all the way into Sand City. I then hopped back on Highway 1 back towards Santa Cruz. About 6 miles into trip back home, I hit a snag. Dead stop traffic. Highway 1 goes from six lanes to two and merges with another highway in Castroville, there are roadside attactions that causes a lot of turns and merges and all this backed up the crowd quite a bit. This is not good for maintaining highway speed, but it skewed my mileage up to 4.0 again. Since an electric vehicle is not working so hard in traffic and isn't idling ilke an internal combustion engine, there is not a lot of things going on in the car consuming energy, the car runs pretty efficiently. After a good half an hour sitting in  stop and go traffic, it finally cleared up near Moss Landing and I could get back to the speed limit again for the rest of the trip home.

Once I got home, I backed it up to my charger and set the timer for the charger to start at 12:05 AM, where I pay a few pennies a kilowatt to buy back what I made with my Photo voltaic (PV) solar panels during the day that I charged PG&E 5 times more to sell to them. I then checked my stats. 86 miles as expected in 2 hours and 21 minutes. Slower than expected, but that came with the weekend traffic.

Average consumption was 4.0, but I understand a few factors skewed it, but it seems as though 3.8 will be a good estimation number and I still had about 21 miles left according to the computer. So it could make the long trek across the chasm, but just barely and with extra weight of my luggage and computer for the trip, that would really require a lot of good fortune.

With this good bit of optimism, this is the result of my estimation spreadsheet.

With the new consumption rate, it will be no issue to make it to LA in under just over 20 hours, my current driving habit according the car's computer were much lower.

Next, what do I take on my 20 hour road trip and once I get to LA, Where am I going to charge it?

More to come.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Stop Too Far

I have the new route created with sufficient gaps between stops, however , the extra stop and additional 90 miles to avoid King City is hurting my estimates. I have planned the journey with some optimism and some pessimism. Optimism is with the charging rate at most of the charging stops along the way. Pessimism in my consumption rates. The ActiveE has a built in 6.6 kW charger. Nearly twice as fast as a Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Volt, but half that of a Tesla. I know I wont have issues at the Santa Nella or Coalinga charging stops as they will be delivering electricity at 50 to 70 amps, the Atascadero, Solvang and Thousand Oaks charger may not be charging as fast and require careful supervision to avoid ground faults and lower charging rates. Also, the ActiveE will charge at the full rate up to a 90% state of charge for the batteries, but will slow down for the last 10% so as to not overcharge the battery. I can get away with leaving early from Santa Nella, but probably not at the other stops. Currently my estimates also expect that I drive on average at 65MPH and maintain my current average eDrive rate of 3.2 miles per every kWh used. That is probably a pessimistic estimate. Based on these variables, here is how the trip pans out.

Based on the 5 stops and 437.5 miles to drive. I will spend 6.7 hours driving and 19 hours charging for a total of 25.7 hours. This won't help me with my goal of attempting to make it in a day. So what is better, trying to speed up my driving or be more conservative in my consumption to make it to LA? Speeding up 5 MPH does not help much. Increasing my average speed from 65 MPH to 70 MPH only saves a half hour, and it will probably have a negative impact my consumption rate. However reducing my consumption rate so that I get 3.6 miles per KWh or better handily improves my recharge times saving over 2 hours.

So how can I accomplish this? Multiple changes in the behavior of my driving will play a lot into this. There was a great blog posting on the Tesla website by Elon Musk on how driving behavior affects range in an electric car. By having the tires properly inflated, using cruise control for constant speed, restricting climate control, closing windows, level road driving can help significantly. Also drafting and keeping the eDrive meter in the first band has helped many ActiveE drivers achieve 3.5 to 4.0 Mile/kWh consumption rates.Also, preconditioning the batteries (pre-heating or cooling the batteries to an optimal temperature before starting my drive) may help as well.

The route I will be taking is somewhat hilly, but I can control the other elements for the most part. I will have to practice these techniques for the trip or look for another alternate route. So there could be the Plan C contingency, but it will truly test these techniques. More on that next time.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Plan B Route and Charging Options

OK, so King City may or my not happen in time, so I need to plan out some alternate routes. So to back up a little...When you drive an electric car and are planning a trip, you need to take several important points into consideration. What are the types of charging available on your route and do you have the correct adapters to charge the car? The BMW ActiveE uses something called an SAE J-1772 connector to charge the vehicle. This is a pistol like connector that is very intelligent. It uses a series of signals from the charging station to ensure a clean connection before it ever sends electricity, it communicates charge rate information  and can provide information regarding the level of capacity between the vehicle and the charging station. Most of the current day electric cars and plug in hybrids use the J-1772 standard.

Charging my car at home on my solar panel supported EVSE

When pulling up to a standard Level 2 EVSE, I can typically plug in directly to the charger with the connector provided. However, different charging situation require the use of different adapters. The car also came with an adapter to charge at a basic 110V wall socket, otherwise known as Level 1 charging. Level 1 charging is not ideal for a trip because it would take approximately a full day to charge the car if the battery was totally depleted. It is a good option for topping off at home or for plugging in at an airport where time is not of the essence. Being able to charge at a higher voltage and amperage allows the car to charge at a much faster rate. Not all cars use the same charging options. There is the new Level 3 DC Fast Charging that I cannot use. Fast Chargers can fully charge a Nissan Leaf in less than an hour, and although the ActiveE is wired for it, there is no connector on the ActiveE to accept it, so this is not an option. Tesla uses a higher rate of charge and have created their own proprietary connectors. There are a number of chargers at my employer, but they are setup for Tesla Roadsters, so I had a company called EVSE Upgrade, create an adapter so I could easily charge for free at work.Although a Tesla Roadster can handle as much as 70 amps, the signal from the J-1772 connector tells the Tesla charger to only deliver electricity to the car at 30 amps. I have also acquired a used Tesla Universal Mobile Connector (UMC) that will work with other NEMA outlets that deliver electricity at 20, 30 and 50 Amps. These are convenient when dealing with other public charging options, such as an RV Park. Most RVs connect using the NEMA 14-50 standard.

My car at Refuel2012 at Laguna Seca Raceway connecting a Nema 14-50 outlet to a Tesla UMC to my Tesla Roadster adapter (with an attached security cable) ultimately to my car. This looks crazy, but it is one of the more elegant solutions.

So now that I have my charging options, my next step is general planning. Along with the Charging network apps for Chargepoint and Blink Network that show chargers with their respective networks, there are other apps, such as Recargo which is a social networking site where users can add charging locations, rate them and give other information about the charging location to assist other EV drivers gain info about charging locations. Using the information on Recargo and Google Maps, I determined my Plan B route. Preference criteria was 24 hour availability, low to no-cost charging, approximately no more than 80-85 miles between charging locations and for the charger to be of a type that I could hook up directly to the car or through my adapters.

The new best option appears as though I will need to go inland to Santa Nella, then Coalinga and then back Atascadero on my original route. The first stop would be at a KOA RV Park in Santa Nella/Los Banos 68 miles away from my home. This will break my no-cost preference, but they are EV friendly and only charge a $10 dump fee to charge using my NEMA 14-50 adapter. They  are open 24 hours with advance notice. The next stop is Harris Ranch in Coalinga (that place where you roll up your windows on the I-5). This is 72 1/2 miles from the RV park. There is a Tesla Roadster charger available free 24 hours a day at the Shell station at Harris Ranch plus its a great place to catch a meal. From there, I would be stretching my range criteria a bit to 86 miles to get back to my original route at Atascadero charging at the Rabobank in that city, then to Solvang, Thousand Oaks and finally, L.A..

The new 'Plan B' route.

So now I have successfully set a new route and that also gives me an opportunity to use all my adapters. All well and good right? However, this has increased my stops to charge from four stops to five stops and 340 miles to 437 miles each way. Can I still make it to L.A. in 24 hours? Stay tuned....

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Bay to LA in a Day: How to drive 340 miles with a 100 mile range electric vehicle

The issue with an electric vehicle they say is you can only drive as far as a battery charge can take you, but think again. Can you only drive a gasoline powered internal combustion vehicle as far as what is in the tank? Of course not. You can rely on a network of gas stations along the route to refuel and be on your way. In September, I want to attend an unofficial high school reunion in Hollywood for Fairfax High School at the Kibbitz Room at the famed Canters Deli, a few blocks from my alma mater but thought it would be an interesting challenge for myself. To take my BMW ActiveE with it's 100 mile per charge range and drive it from the bay area to Los Angeles in less than a day. I have already driven over 9200 miles in less than 4 months in the car. I typically drive over 100 miles a day between my house south of Santa Cruz to either one of our company's work sites in Fremont or Palo Alto, charging the car while I am at work. This trip would provide some challenges. I would prefer not to pay for electricity while charging my car and I'd like to make it in less than a day. Granted, this is not the most efficient way to get to LA, but it would show that you can make a journey out of your trip. To get a chance to enjoy the local area while the car recharges.

My first thought, I was looking at 4 stops.Starting near my home, I would follow El Camino Real, The King's Highway, otherwise known as US-101 with stops in King City, Atascadero, Solvang, Thousand Oaks and then LA.  I would start in the Santa Cruz area, probably at the Santa Cruz Community Foundation near my home in Aptos, CA.There is a free Chargepoint Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (aka EVSE  or charger) available. My next stop would be in King City, from friends in the Monterey Bay Electric Vehicle Association, I was told 2 EVSEs would be available around the time of my trip. Otherwise there is an RV park that opens at 6 AM, but charges $25 to charge. Next would be an EVSE at the Rabobank in Attascadero, an EVSE in a city parking lot in Solvang, another in a parking lot in Thousand Oaks and finally at my destination.

Sounded easy right? Not so fast. The King City EVSEs are part of a project to add 60 EVSEs in Monterey county in one year, unfortunately they will not be avaialble in time for my trip. And waiting for the Campground to open (should it open at 6AM) would definitely put a crimp in my plans. Time for option B....