Adventures & Misadventures of an EV in the Country (Part 2)

May 11, 2015

The second installment of the series about a man living in the country with an EV and a harmonica. Actually, no harmonica.

This blog is the second in a series describing my experience of owning an all electric Nissan, Leaf in the country. The distances between places are much farther apart and charging opportunities are virtually nonexistent other than at home. My thinking, my assumption prior to this experiment was that owning and using an electric vehicle in the country would be an extreme challenge. However, I had no experience living in the country or owning an EV to prove my assumption. Now that I am living in the country I thought it might be a perfect time to see if my assumption was true.

My first challenge was getting the vehicle back from the dealer. The shortest route to the dealer would have been about 55 miles from my home, however, do to being directionally challenged I took a detour and ended up going 80.1 miles to get back home from the dealer. We made it, but you will have to read my first installment of this blog to get the story of that adventure.

Once home with the vehicle dashboard indicating that I should plug in with only 16 miles range left in the battery, my son came out to see our new purchase. Of course he wanted to drive it. So, I got back in the car with him at the wheel and we drove it around town for about 3 more miles. When we pulled it into the garage the range estimator indicated 13 miles before completely empty. Time to plug-in and get recharged. The Leaf estimates how much time it will take to charge your vehicle based on if you are charging at 6.6 kilowatts, 3.3 kw or a 110/120 volt ordinary wall outlet. As you would know if you have read Part 1 of my blog, I purchased my bright silver 2013 Leaf SL in haste to take advantage of a sale and hadn't installed a charger at home yet. This meant that I was going to have to charge from a regular wall outlet. I didn't even look at the other faster charge times for the 6.6 kw and 3.3 kw, they were something like 4 and 8 hours respectively. What I saw was the wall outlet time and it said 24 hours. The way that it registered in my brain was like a voice booming from the heavens, TWWEEEENNTYYYY FOOOUUUR HOOOUUURS. It wasn't a surprise to me. I had been told that charging from an outlet would take a long time, but seeing it there in real life was a bit shocking. I plugged it in expecting to not have use of the vehicle until the evening the next day and went inside my home to read the owner's manuals that came with my Leaf.

The next morning I puttered around eating breakfast, grooming and doing things around the house. This was the weekend that our small country town has its big garage sale event. Over 50 homes advertise their garage sales in a special section of the local newspaper and many more homes participate but don't bother with putting an ad in. This is the first year that I get to participate in this fabled annual event, as a shopper of course, and my wife and I planned to make our rounds starting around 10 am. At just before 10 am I went out to the garage to check on the new EV, sat in it, turned it on and looked at the estimator. It showed 83 miles. EIGHTY THREE MILES!?! Whoa! But it had only been charging for 14 or so hours. There was 10 more hours to go to have finished charging based on what I saw in the charge estimator the night before. What went wrong? What went right!?!

Here is where having a little experience having owned experimental EVs comes into play. With my converted Pontiac Fiero, the yellow one with the solar panels that I call EV Sol, when I would first plug-in I noticed that the amp indicator for charging showed a high amp draw, however, the next morning the indicator showed around 3 amps. I had both a regular wall outlet and a 240 volt outlet installed, but soon found that I never needed to use the higher voltage outlet. It turned out that around 80% of the battery charges relatively fast, for the EV Sol it was just a couple of hours, then it took about an hour to go from 80% to 90%, then from 90% to 100% took about 7 hours, and that was only when the battery was fully depleted. Most of the time, since the battery wasn't completely empty, it took less time to charge. Because deep cycling, taking a battery back until it can't go anymore shortens the life of the battery I only depleted the traction battery completely only once that I can recall.

Well, it seems that advanced lithium-ion batteries are the same. They charge quickly at first, reaching 80% in a few hours, then slow in charging considerably after that. Charging that last 20% takes nearly all of the charge time. It seems that batteries convert electricity from one chemical to another inside the battery and those other chemicals build resistance to the electricity as it approaches fully charged. My charger in the EV Sol would drop the current to match the level of electricity that the batteries could receive, hence the high amps between 15 and 20 amps when first plugged in and the 3 amps when the battery was full or nearly full. I suspect the same thing happens in my Nissan, Leaf.

Well, 83 miles of range was plenty of range to do what we were planning to do, which was go from house to house in the vicinity, maybe a 4ish mile radius around our home. It would be different driving from the highway mile adventure coming from the dealer. I was looking forward to seeing how the Leaf would do. The 83 miles range indicated by the estimator should be plenty of juice to do the trick.

However, this leads me to a question that challenges my assumption. In the first blog I insisted on getting an EV that had DC super fast charging, in the Nissan, Leaf this is called CHAdeMO. Installing a CHAdeMO charger at home is prohibitively expensive, however, they are found in many places in cities and highways where a 30 minute to 80% charge would be appreciated. I am OK with that decision because I want the option to go long distances even if I have to plan on going to specific places to take advantage of CHAdeMO charging. I also bought a Leaf with the 6.6 kw charger on board. It supposedly can charge a Leafs battery in 4 hours from being completely depleted. I bought a 2013 Leaf because that was the first year that Nissan offered the 6.6 kw charger. I could have paid far less if I didn't feel that I needed it. There were 2012 leafs on the lot selling for thousands less than the 2013s. Could I have gotten by with a lowly 3.3 kw charger? Charging so fast on a regular outlet makes me wonder. Hmmn. The experiment goes on.

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