Two years in…. Where are we now?

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So it’s been two years since I bought the Nissan Leaf, and disappointingly from the perspective of writing an interesting blog, nothing dramatic has happened. Which is good as I hate false drama put there just to make something informative and inherently undramatic more exciting.

I’ve 11000 more miles on the clock since I bought it, my battery health has gone from 86% to 83% which is a reassuring reduction in the rate of battery degradation over time, and its running the same as the day I took possession. There are quite a few more dents and scratches than there were two years ago. Whilst the former keeper was extremely careful, sadly I cannot categorise myself in the same way. I’ve bumped it into my garage door, I’ve had the spoiler ripped off by a car wash (replaced), I’ve been reversed into by someone (repaired) and I’ve had my old cast iron fireplace which was leaning against the wall in the garage fall onto the car (t-cut and touch up paint). But repairs can be made and it’s still looking nice (I’m really not doing myself a favour if I want to sell it).

The remote proximity-entry key has been a bit iffy so I brought the spare into commission. Each MOT test I’ve had has not been the day of worry followed by the days of repairs to get a pass that I’m accustomed to with the old bangers I used to (and still do) drive. Even the servicing is reasonable.

So where are EV’s now in the big picture? Well they are certainly not quite so avant-garde as they were two years ago. Most people now know someone who has one, or if they drive have thought about buying one themselves, and we’ve all seen them about. Tesla has become a well-known and longed for brand, their high profile does everything to help EV’s in general.

The issue about batteries ageing prematurely seems to be gradually dying away. Tesla claim 16 years is expected from theirs and I’m quite sure Nissan’s estimate of 10 years for the leaf will be proven to be pessimistic.

The issue of range anxiety as I have written about before has moved on two fronts. People who thought 90 miles was nowhere near enough have either experience that proves this is plenty, or have heard this from EV drivers. Other manufacturers are gradually moving towards the Tesla position that you need to provide customers with what they think they need, not what they need – as such battery capacity is increasing and so is range. The latest Nissan’s, Kia’s and Renault’s have upped their ranges into the 130-180 miles bracket. This is partly to do with battery cost per kW reducing also.

Public chargers are now a common sight, but as is the way with these things they are not generally free anymore. EV drivers who’ve been in it since day-one might moan, but no one gets a free lunch, at least not indefinitely, but the cost to run an EV remains very low. I estimate having saved around £2000 in fuel in the last 11000 miles. It’s still the case that they suit those who have a modest daily commute and can charge at home, but this covers a lot of drivers, and it is changing the prospective market gets bigger every day.

The cost of batteries per unit of energy and their density continues to improve which means the forecourts will soon be full of EV’s which are the same price as petrol/diesel cars. Okay they will probably go perhaps half the distance before needing to be charged but they will cost around 80% less to run, be more reliable and produce around 40% of the CO2 that petrol and diesel vehicles produce. My son is two and half years old, and loves cars, he is very unlikely to be driving a fossil fuel car when he turns 17. Given their reliability he might be driving my current Nissan Leaf.

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Okay so I lost a bar

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I’ve had the leaf now for over a year. When I bought it I used the android app leafspy pro to check the battery wear and it was 86% at 3 years old.

The dashboard on the leaf shows the battery health (as opposed to charge) in 12 bars. The first bar is 15% capacity.

After 14 months and the car now being 4 years old I have reached 84% so I have 11 bars of battery health remaining.

20151105_173801The battery health bars are the small ones with the red at the bottom between the charger icon and the blue bars which are battery charge.

So what does this mean? Well not a lot,  since you don’t really notice the capacity or real world range difference between 86% and 84%. However it has happened at the same time that the weather has become decidedly colder which you do notice, in terms of reduced range. Lithium batteries can deliver less power when cold (but degrade less quickly). Currently from an 80% charge I get 60 miles range, so with the heaters and lights on I get to work with 30miles available. As I like to have a little headroom in case I have to make a detour on the way home I charge at work back to about 40 miles range before heading home.

The rate of battery degradation is an inverse log, the rate drops as the batteries age, so I am unconcerned. The pack dropped from 100% to 86% in years 0-3 then just 2% more in year 4.

That being said this occurrence and the fact that the 2016/2017 leaf will have a 30 kWh pack (mine is 24) has peaked my interest in potentially replacing the cells with higher capacity units in the future. This is likely to be both dangerous, if done without proper care and attention, and expensive. The replacement cells could cost £4000, so the economics of doing this are difficult. Nissan charge around £4000 for a replacement battery but you have to give them your old one. I know why this is as the old batteries I remove will still have great value as an energy storage system.

Assuming I do this myself one possible use for them would be to make a home energy storage system like Tesla’s powerwall. Ideally charged in the day from solar or wind, then delivering their charge back at night. However I do not have solar or wind but do have dual rate electricity and can potentially charge the system at night for half the price,  then use it in the day.

It would also mean I would have a backup power source in the event of a power cut.

At this point I am very pleased by how well the car performs and the rate of battery wear seems very reasonable. The motor shows no sign of any trouble and whilst a 4 year old petrol/diesel car might easily have lost 16% of its engine power in an EV it’s easier to liken this to the fuel tank getting a bit furred up and therefore holding less fuel. As the costs of lithium cells drop and their capacity and performance improve the EV continues to become more realistic a prospect for more drivers.

It is worth adding that battery degradation has been for EV drivers in the temperate areas of the world (indeed the UK is considered the Goldilocks zone being neither too cold nor too hot) far less of a problem than many of the naysayers initially reported, further confirming my belief that we fear what we do not understand.

 

Dieselgate, Main Dealer Servicing and Winter Ahead

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Dieselgate

Okay so this morning I watched Robert Llewellyn’s Fully Charged YouTube channel where he has a little rant about Dieselgate. No one reading this will have missed the events but a one sentence summary is that since 2009 VAG group diesel engined vehicles (VW, Audi, Skoda, Seat) have had computer code in their engine management software that can detect when the car is being tested for emissions based on its engine revs, speed, steering wheel position etcetera and reduce the engine output power to lower emissions.

Manufacturers claiming things in their marketing and then delivering something slightly less in reality is nothing new, and whilst its wrong on almost every level, we have all but normalised this behaviour. What seems to make this so shocking is really the level of corporate dishonesty it demonstrates and on the emotional side, customers buying a vehicle that they believed to be more fuel efficient and less CO2 producing, have actually been, if you believe the exaggerated media slant we now hear, poisoning our children with carcinogenic fumes.

This will have a massive impact on VAG group, their sales will plummet and the public will forever be much more wary of their future claims. But isn’t this inevitable? Any company as large as VAG group will by the nature of the size of their operation make mistakes, big mistakes from time to time and as it should be, they will pay for it. But so will their employees, their suppliers and many others. Perhaps this is an argument for limiting the size and power of large companies. But that’s another story.

When viewed from the point of view of electric/hybrid petrol vehicles it is nothing short of the spring board from which they are hopefully going to start to eat into sales of diesel vehicles and maybe one day overtake diesel as the car you buy when you want to get more miles to the gallon (or kWh)! Lets hope that no similar revelations appear about our beloved electric cars.  Nissan, Tesla and the rest are hopefully not cheating,  but no one would have thought VW were until a few weeks ago, this is partly why it is such big news.

Main Dealer Servicing

I only mention this as I took my Leaf for its first main dealer service since I took ownership of it a year ago. Incidentally its actually my first main dealer service, having never owned a car new enough to be worth bothering with one before.

I attended Wessex Nissan in Bristol and I cannot speak highly enough of them. They were polite, courteous and friendly. They did not accede to my demands for a GTR as the loan car, but I did get a 2015 Micra petrol which was quite nippy, well spec’d and all the buttons were in the same places as on my Leaf. It was interesting to note that this car felt a lot like my leaf but you can feel the difference in the handling as it is a lot lighter. I went to Gloucester and back and around town a little bit and had to put £15 of petrol in it. That’s all!  I hear the fossil fuel drivers cry, yes but that’s about 2 weeks worth of electricity for the Leaf.   My service involved them replacing the coolant (for the charge system) which is scheduled at that service interval. My battery health was 5 out of 5, which I knew anyway as I have been monitoring it with Leafspy which shows the battery health on my 4 year old EV to be at 85% (still 12 bars showing on the dash… just), it was 86% when I bought the car!  This is expected as the battery loses more capacity in its first few months of use than later, and I have been particularly kind to it since (I only use slow/fast chargers not rapid’s and I only charge to 80% most of the time). The total cost was £190, it would have been £149 if not for the coolant change. They also washed and polished it, cleaned the inside, inflated the tyres back to the optimal pressure, topped up the screen wash, and charged it to 80% for the journey home.

The only thing which was a bit of a surprise was to learn that my 3 pin 10 amp EVSE cable which I use to charge at work is subject to a recall, apparently according to Wessex Nissan, via British Gas. I was not given a number or any other details regarding what to do next.

So I sent an email in to UK Nissan EV support and asked what to do, and was given an auto reply with a support ticket number. Then nothing more for 4 days. So today I called Nissan EV support and explained the situation, they said the dealership had to deal with the charging cable and offered to give me a number for a local dealership. A number I already have, having just been in for the service a few days ago! I asked the call handler if he could contact the dealership and explain the situation and ask them to call me to arrange to sort it out, at which point he said he could offer me the number of a local dealership! A clear case of not really listening, and not knowing what to do, then falling back on a procedure which isn’t really going to solve the problem.

Oh well. Spoke to the dealer and they eventually confirmed that the information was about British Gas supplied Pod point chargers and not 3 pin EVSE cables. Quite a few emails and phone calls, to determine that something I own which works perfectly, is in fact in perfect working order and does not need to be recalled!

Winter Ahead

Okay so although the sun is shining an unseasonably welcome amount for late September-early October in the UK, anyone who leaves the house at 7am knows it is not warm at this time of day, in fact this morning it was 9 deg C.

This is where being an EV driver becomes a little bit more challenging. The heater in the original mk1 Nissan Leaf, my car, is quite power hungry as it is a resistive heater i.e. a fan heater and we all know how efficient these are.

The solution is to use the Carwings system to remotely activate the heater while the car is still at home, sat in the garage plugged-in to the fast charger. This means the initial heating of the car’s interior which uses the most power is done by the time you unplug and drive off. After which the heater just maintains the temperature, using far less power. However Carwings is not totally reliable, far from it. So this morning I left in a cold car, an inconvenience EV drivers usually do not have to put up with and arrived with 30 miles range remaining instead of 40. So I am back to charging at work most days, not because I have to, but because I like to have a little in reserve in case I have to make a detour on the way home. I have not had to charge at work much over the warmer months, having had at least 40 miles range left when I got to work to get me the 20 miles home with some headroom.

The newer Nissan Leaf and other newer EV’s have since adopted reverse heat pumps. These work using the air conditioning system. When its hot the air-con uses expansion of gas to transfer heat out of the car. When its cold the system goes into reverse and effectively (though this is not scientifically accurate) pushes cold out of the car, leaving the heat behind. As such it uses much less power to keep you warm. I have an air-conditioning system at work which does the same thing, effectively giving the output of a 2.5kw heater using just 800w of electricity, by pumping cold air out of the room. This is the only reason I might switch to a newer Leaf one day, apart from if they eventually have a larger battery capacity and in all fairness I am more inclined to attempt to replace my battery pack with one with larger capacity when it fails anyway.

Speed Limits and EV’s

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Following on from my last entry where I discussed going reasonably slowly, i.e. sticking to the speed limits, I suggested that “the car maketh the driver”. This principle has held true for the 23 cars (and 3 bikes) I have owned and for a great many more people who I have known as well. The idea is that despite perhaps our belief or intuition, that it is our own temperament and experience that determines how we drive, I contend that this is heavily modified by what we sit behind the wheel of.

For example a considerate driver of a Honda Jazz is likely to put their foot down and be a little (or a lot) less considerate in a Porsche 911 Turbo. Never has this been more clear to me than in my Nissan Leaf EV, but in reverse.

In this car everything is designed to psychologically encourage low energy driving. The amount of miles remaining takes centre-stage on the dash, a game where you grow trees depending on how much energy you save as you drive is on the dash for all to see (in fact your statistics are uploaded and compared with other Leaf/ENV2000 drivers around the world) and the car’s cruise control can be activated from 23 mph and is often used, as it accelerates and manages your speed much more smoothly and therefore saves more energy than manual throttle control.

As such I am more likely to drive at the speed limits than in any other car I have ever owned. Precisely at the speed limits by using the cruise control. I do account for the speedometer 10% inaccuracy by setting my cruise control at 33 mph in a 30 zone for example, so my actual speed is 30mph. In every other car I have ever driven I have either been fairly indifferent to the speed limits, often in cars/on bikes which can easily and quickly exceed it or have been driving slower vehicles where it is an effort to get up to speed and therefore quite an achievement to exceed the speed limits.

Over the years I have been flashed by many cameras, but never received a ticket and I have never been on the famed “speed awareness course”. Perhaps I should go, or perhaps I should continue to drive the Leaf which actively and cleverly encourages the saving of energy by psychologically inspiring careful driving.

It is odd that it works this way, because I should drive the Leaf like a boy racer (I’ve got the alloys!) It is fast, it accelerates rapidly and has a totally flat torque curve, the cost of running it is very low, so you can go fast cheaply, and the wear and tear on the mechanical/electrical parts is very low even if you have a heavy left foot. But oddly I don’t, the game isn’t to get there as quickly as possible, but to get there with as many miles of range still available as possible, a totally different sport.

What about the effect on other drivers. Well it seems that two things predominate. The effect of actually going at the speed limit and the effect of using cruise control.

When you actually drive at the speed limit it is more often the case (I’d say around 50% of the time during peak periods) that someone will end up driving up your ar*e. Its a running joke that they will always be driving an Audi or BMW but in all seriousness, confirmation bias means you notice this quite a lot. In almost every other car I’d just go at the speed everyone else is going but in the Leaf I feel more inclined to dig my heels in and make a statement that the speed limit is enough. In fact during my drive to work if I am overtaken by someone, I nearly always come to stop just behind them at the next set of lights, their overtaking manoeuvre got them nowhere. The Leaf discourages harsh breaking and accelerating, and whilst on a racetrack there are only two acceptable states of change of speed i.e. accelerating or breaking (no cruising) if you want to set a fast lap time, on the urban/suburban or even busier country roads, gunning it only results in having to break hard at the next junction and is a total waste of fuel and brake pads.

Cruise control is another area where problems arise. Those using it are constantly frustrated by the changing speed of other road users. When on cruise, which in the Leaf is particularly useful, you are always having to nudge it up or down. Driving without cruise we tend to speed up going downhill and slow down going uphill its a natural thing to do. This means cruise control driving and manual throttling are always going to be odd with one another. This has led some manufacturers to fit adaptive cruise systems that use radar or other sensing technologies to keep you a set distance from the car in front, even auto braking if they slam on the anchors.

Whether this gentle driving effect of regular EV’s also extends to high performance EV’s such as the Tesla Model S I am unable to say until I get my Model S (Tesla if you’re reading I am still waiting). But I suspect it might be a little more tempting to go fast, given the higher performance and the considerably greater range.

Nearly One Year On…..

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So the Leaf and I have been motoring for nearly a year and its taken until now to have a “moment”. By moment I mean a “oh bugger I am going to be stranded halfway to work”- moment.

So what happened? Well I am working today (Wednesday) when I normally don’t. Why is this a problem? Because the car has a charging timer which is set to charge in the early hours of the morning on each of the 4 days I am normally at work. However I don’t normally work on Wednesday so it didn’t charge this morning. Typically I arrive home in the evening with around 18 miles range showing on the dash and plug in leaving the charger and its timer to do the work.

This morning, when I started it up and saw 18 miles remaining on the dash, I should have reattached the fast charger in my garage and decided that I had time for a piece of toast and a cup of tea. The 10 minutes extra charge would give me plenty of headroom to get to work (work is 17 miles, so 10 minutes charge at 16A probably gives about an extra 6-7 miles).

However since I was tired and still a bit sleepy I did not notice until I got to Bristol ring road. Shite! Okay I said to myself lets just stop at the rapid charger at Longwell Green Leisure Centre where there is also a McDonalds, and have 10 minutes on the rapid (£4 so not great value for a third of a charge but probably still cheaper than petrol) while I eat a Sausage McMuffin and drink a coffee. But no the rapid charger was dead, the screen showed a blue screen of death. I normally don’t use rapids, my journey to work and back is comfortably within the range of the car even if its only charged to 80% to help keep the battery going. When its necessary to use one, its normally desperate for a charge and when the charger is out of order the frustration is immense. Not only do you not get the power you need but you might have made a detour and used even more to get to the charger, so today I began to sympathise with the public charger woes of some of my EV driving forum buddies.

Okay then I said, steeling my resolve, I was going to drive to work on the charge remaining. According to the guess-o-meter (GOM) I had 17 miles available and 15 miles to drive. I turned off all the electrical gadgets, radio, heaters, lights etc… I even unplugged my phone charger which I was using as a sat nav, (which is laughable as my phone could be charged by the battery in the car probably 100 times even if the car had only 1% remaining), I prayed for dry weather so I did not have to use the wipers.

The problem with the GOM is that it bases it’s assumption of how far you can go on the current battery charge, the current battery usage and the speed you doing averaged over what seems to be about 15-20 seconds or so. So as you speed up or go uphill the range decreases, but obviously slowing down and going downhill increases the range. My route to work across north east Somerset is hilly. This means that I was constantly comparing the sat nav reading of how many miles to get to work, with the GOM estimate of how many miles I could go. At points, such as uphill sections or faster sections the GOM value reduced and at one point was within 1.5 miles of the actual range available. Imagine being in a petrol car estimating 8 miles range with a 6.5 mile journey ahead. (as an aside this is one thing EV’s do well, the estimate of range is normally pretty accurate when you average it out over a journey, the range estimate on a fossil fuel car is often out by quite a lot).

Normally this would induce considerable anxiety; the dreaded and much talked about “range-anxiety” but I have the Leafspy app on my phone which can show you exact battery % remaining, i.e. raw data not a processed estimate. As such I could see the battery had 13% charge when it was telling me I could only drive 7 miles, this really means I had about 12 miles real range before the car stopped completely which is quite a lot less worrying. I knew from Robert Llewellyn’s youtube video that even when the GOM shows 0 miles the car does not stop in fact he drove on 5-6 more miles before grinding to a stop.

So I drove like a (insert politically incorrect example of typically slow driver) sticking rigidly to the speed limits and only going 40 in 60mph zones etc… Whilst this annoys fossil fuel car drivers especially (but not always) those in Audi’s and BMW’s, it was not unusual behaviour today as I often drive precisely on the speed limits using my cruise control, as it reduces battery consumption. I always proclaim that “the car maketh the driver” and not the other way around, this is clearly demonstrated when even committed petrol-head-boy-racers drive their new EV gently to save energy. I was just much more strict about it today, and resisted every opportunity to give it some welly like I normally would just to surprise fossil fuel drivers by how lively the Leaf actually is.

To cut a long story short I arrived at work with 5 miles remaining so had in fact outdone the estimate of the GOM by driving exceptionally conservatively, I plugged in the car and came inside to blog about it.

So after 11 months I have only had one near miss with running out of power and this was my fault for not charging the car, I have lost no battery capacity, my car has only cost £20 in electricity per month to run and it has been a pleasure to drive. In fact a friend asked me if I had taken my motorcycle to work this year, as the weather has been very nice, and I said no. I normally would on the basis that its fun, cheaper than driving a car and I often get there more quickly but this year I have had almost no desire to do so. Its been far too much of a pleasure to drive the Leaf to work every day.

even lighter?

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A while back I mentioned that I would be considering lighter wheels and tyres. After sailing through the recent (and first for me with this car) MOT, with just an advisory about worn tyres, I decided now might be time to make this change. So here are the results:

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The styling might not be to everyone’s taste. I have selected MAK XLR 16″ wheels which come in at approximately 6.5kg’s each and Dunlop Sport Maxx RT tyres which are summer specification but seem to be a good combination of lightweight and low rolling resistance.

I have also added aluminium wheel nuts, as much for style than weight saving but that being said they are very light. Use caution when tightening these onto steel studs as the steel will strip the thread from the aluminium. I tightened to 108 Nm as per the Leaf handbook.

The old wheels and tyres weighed in at around 19kg’s each, the new ones at 16kgs. This means 12 kg saved of unsprung rotating mass which should be equivalent to around 48kg’s saved from within the vehicle. Add this to the lightweight lithium battery, replacing the original lead acid unit and I have saved 52kg’s.

Whilst this is not big beer it is the equivalent of ejecting a slender adult passenger from the car. I have reset my energy efficiency counter on the dash so I can now measure how the average kwh/mile figure changes. That being said it only reads out in units of 0.1 kwh/mile so the effect of this change might be lost since units of 0.1,0.2,0.3 are not that accurate.

Also there was in Bristol a recent front page article in the Bristol Post about the scandal of £1m being spent on electric vehicle chargers for the Green Capital 2015, that Bristol now holds. I could not find it on their website but it would seem this is something to cheer about rather than complain about!

Also it is worth mentioning that 6.5kg wheels are pretty light for cast aluminium, but forged aluminium can be lighter still, around 5kg for a 16 inch wheel. The lightest wheels are carbon fibre at around 2kg per wheel but easily several thousand pounds each!

Doesn’t the electricity generation produce CO2? So what’s the point of an EV?

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This is just going to be a quick note to answer this question as it is often asked of me by the doubters.

The answer is that electricity generation does produce carbon dioxide, but there are three factors that mean this is much less for an EV than the equivalent fossil fuel car.

1) The electricity is produced by a mix of generating methods, some such as coal produce a lot of CO2, as do oil and gas fired power stations, but others such as nuclear and especially wind, solar or hydro produce very little. As the UK’s energy mix gradually moves toward these cleaner forms of generation the amount of CO2 an EV generates at the power station becomes less.

2) A power station is much more efficient than the engine in a fossil fuel car. Approximately 20% efficiency is typical for most engines, whereas 33-60% efficiency can be achieved by a coal or gas power station. The efficiency of an EV at turning this electricity into movement is 90%.

3) There is a huge energy and CO2 cost in the drilling for, shipping, refining and delivery of fossil fuel to the point of use where it is burned in a car. Even if you subtract the energy/CO2 required to drill, ship and refine fossil fuel for use in a power station, you are still left with the cost of transportation of the fuel to the petrol station forecourt and the cost of providing and running that forecourt. No such cost exists for the 240v plug in your garage and the cost for public chargers is 10-20 times less than for petrol stations.

As such the well-to-wheel cost and CO2 production for an EV is considerably less as the table below shows.

Emissions and Fuel Cost for a 100-Mile Trip
Vehicle
(compact sedans)
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
(pounds of CO2 equivalent)
Total Fuel Cost
(U.S. Dollars)
Conventional 87 lb CO2 $8.33
Hybrid Electric 57 lb CO2 $5.48
Plug-in Hybrid Electric 62 lb CO2 $5.43
All-Electric 54 lb CO2 $3.74
Source: http://www.afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/electric_emissions.php

So EV’s alone without zero-CO2 electricity cannot save the planet, at present in the UK they are about 62% better at saving the planet than a fossil fuel car.

However if you charge your EV from your solar panels or wind turbine then you really do not have to take this line of questioning lying down.