Charger-rage – a new phenomenon.

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Okay so there is this network of chargers out there in the world. They fall into three categories (though a few other random types also exist).

1) “Rapid” chargers – these are designed to concentrate electrical power to allow a large, rapid charge to take place. On the main roads and motorways they are provided by Ecotricity, the green electricity company. In other locations a variety of other companies such as ChargeYourCar provide the chargers.

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There are also chargers at Ikea stores, and many Nissan/Renault dealers.

Various maps exist to help EV drivers find them such as zapmap.com but none are comprehensive.

The rapid charger can push 400v at over 100amps into your battery which gets you to 80% charged in about 30 minutes, longer if its cold, as the battery’s internal resistance is higher. The charger communicates with the car but its the charger that limits the charging. Beyond 80% the charging rate has to drop as the resistance in the battery increases – attempting to force more current through would result in heating up the battery, which at best shortens its lifespan at worst causes a massive explosion. So from 80% to 100% takes a further 30-45 minutes. This will have some relevance later.

2) “Fast” chargers – these operate at lower current levels and typically go up to about 30 amps @ 240v. The car’s on board charger (a transformer to turn 240v AC into 400v DC) controls and limits the charging. Some cars can use 16 amps some can use 30 amps so charging takes 2-4 hours. These are again provided by many different organisations. These can be installed wherever there is a standard mains 240v supply so you could have one installed at your work or downloadhome.

Some have a cable attached, or tethered. Some have a socket and require you to have the correct cable to attach your car to their socket. Most of these use a type 2 socket or Mennekes socket. The plug which fits into your car depends on the car you drive.

3) “13amp” chargers. These are domestic 3 pin plugs, just the same as the outlets in your home. To use these you need a portable charger which is a cable with a plug one end for your car, a box of tricks in the middle to provide safety and control of the charging and a 3 pin plug on the other download (1)end. (shown here with a European style plug)

They only pull 10 amps rather than the 13 amps that the socket can provide for safety. In theory since the 10 amps is constant and prolonged i.e. 6-8 hours, some heating of the cable or pins in the plug might take place. So rather than draw 13 amps, 10 amps is used to reduce the risk of heating, and potentially fire. I have installed one of these outside my workplace by attaching an outdoor, waterproof mains socket to the wall. Cabled with heavy duty cable it is attached to a wall socket inside via an RCD which will cut the power if it is damaged, vandalised or water gets into it.

So that was an overview of chargers. But what about charger-rage? Well the issue arises over the use of public chargers. Such as the ones at Ikea. These are currently free to use and therefore you can effectively fill your battery for nothing. So the effective miles per £ is infinite. Whilst the numbers of EV’s out there was low the occupancy at these chargers was low also. EV drivers found that often they would arrive to find the charger standing empty and could plug in and begin charging immediately. After 30 minutes considerate EV drivers would disconnect their car and either move it to another space so freeing up the charger for someone else to use or continue their journey. The higher occupancy of chargers is something I have noticed in the 6 months I have been a Leaf driver.

However now there are many more EV’s on the road, and plug-in-hybrids such as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, so more often the charger is occupied. This means waiting. Since many are free, the wait often seemed irrelevant. If you were visiting Ikea then you could pop into the store and come back out to plug your car in once the previous user was finished.

So I’m still fuzzy why is there charger-rage? Well the scenarios above describe typical usage by considerate EV drivers, indeed I have had the sort of conversations at chargers with other Leaf owners, that motorcyclists and VW Beetle drivers might have at the services – a camaraderie and general mutual respect prevailed. However as with all things relying on good human nature, bad apples will always be present. The number of such bad apples seems to be on the rise, as the typical EV or plug-in driver changes from the early adopting, eco-warrior to the money-saving, company car tax-saving, typical motorist.

The types of behaviours which are causing charger rage are as follows:

  • Plugging in your car, starting the charger and then buggering off to return some time after charging has finished. The rapid charger can only charge one car at a time although many have two parking bays. The charging plug locks electrically to the car for safety and can only be disconnected when charging is finished. So if the charger is in use when you arrive, you could park in the other bay and see how long is left on the timer on the charger and return (or wait until) the other car’s charging session finishes. At this point you hope the driver of the other car arrives to disconnect, but if not its okay as the standard charge is 80% in 30 minutes after which time the plug can be removed and you can connect your car. However many people set the charger to a higher level such as 90% or 95% and then go off shopping. As such the charger is blocked until this person returns.
  • Setting the charging level to above 80%. This is problematic as the charging rate decreases above 80% as explained above so the time required to get to 90, 95 or 100% is much greater than 30 minutes and even more so in cold weather. Whilst some people might not be able to go where they need to go with 80% charge, there seems to be a lot of people charging to 100% purely because its free, and free things often engender a sense of entitlement that paid-for things do not.
  • Parking in a charging bay when you are not actually charging. This is a very annoying habit and is really rude. The charging bay is for charging, not convenient parking near the main entrance for lazy drivers. This becomes extremely annoying when the car blocking the charger is not even an EV. In this case since an Internal Combustion Engined car is blocking the charger it is said to be ICE’d.

All of this combines to cause a lot of stress and frustration for those who are inconvenienced by these inconsiderate/ignorant drivers. This has lead to harsh words being exchanged and notes being left on car windows.

I propose a national set of rules governing chargers which would establish a default etiquette:

  1. These bays are only for Electric or plug in vehicles. Any other vehicle will be removed.
  2. Please only charge to 80% unless no one else is waiting. Charging beyond 80% is slow so please only do it if there is not a queue.
  3. When your car is charged please move it. You should do this within 5-10 minutes of charging finishing, unless you are parked in a car park where you have paid for a parking bay. Removal will be considered for breaking this rule.

These are not draconian measures. For the larger and more in demand chargers the first rule could be enforced using barriers which only allow those with a charging card, which is required to use a charger, to enter. For rule 2 the issue would be mitigated if batteries were larger. 80% of 40 kWh is better than 100% of 24 kWh. Enforcement could be by CCTV which many chargers already have to discourage vandalism.

If people viewed a charger in the same way as a petrol forecourt they would not treat them as they do. The problem is more acute with chargers. We all get a little annoyed at a busy petrol station, which are more often than not, coupled with a convenience store, when someone has clearly filled up then gone into the shop to do their shopping in a leisurely manner. The wait is unlikely to be more than 10 minutes, at a charger set to 90% it might be an hour!

This problem, as one Leaftalk forum member pointed out, might solve itself. Charging will not be free forever and the introduction of fees will discourage some of this behaviour. A charge will cost less at home than at a public charger. A paid-for charger near to me costs £5 a charge. Still good value compared to petrol or diesel, the most economical car I have ever owned, a Ford Fiesta 1.7 diesel cost £10 per 100 miles to run in 2007, my leaf can go 80 miles on £2 using economy-7 or £3.50 on daytime rate electricity.

Also the number of chargers is increasing. When the number of chargers is high relative to the number of EV’s using them, the problems will be fewer. It will ebb and flow as the infrastructure develops and EV numbers stabilise. As someone else pointed out, in response to a complaint about chargers, we are in the dawn of electric motoring. You could buy a car in 1905 but you couldn’t expect to find a petrol station as easily as you can now. The good news is that it is much easier and cheaper to install a charger or bank of chargers (£1000-£20000) than to build (or buy) a petrol station (£100,000 – £2,000,000). The electricity is already there, running along/under the roads we drive on.

Ps. as an interesting aside, electric cars and their charging networks pre-date the ICE car. They were quite popular around 1900. The demise of the electric car came about when ICE cars became easier to start, due curiously, to the introduction of the battery and starter motor instead of the crank handle. I also imagine the massive wealth of the oil companies, even at that early stage, enabled strong promotion of a vehicle which could go further and faster and conveniently used their product as a fuel and a lubricant.

Back to EV’s – What’s stopping everyone from buying one?

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Well it seems a lot of people are buying them – Nissan has sold 158,000 Leaf’s worldwide, which might not be huge numbers but for an electric car that makes it the best selling model in the world.

But for everyone else who hasn’t bought one yet what’s the issue? Well for some it’s simply that they are too new and therefore too expensive at the present time, the Leaf has only been in production since 2011. If you shop in the £1000-£3000 car market as I have done for most of my life, there aren’t any EV’s for sale.

If however price is not the limiting factor then for most people range almost certainly is. My leaf is supposed to be able to do 124 miles on a charge. However as anyone who has ever owned a car has found out, especially if they bought it because it was meant to be very economical, these figures are produced in a facility where the temperature is perfect, the rollers under the wheels are perfectly smooth and the wheels only turn at a constant (low) speed. In reality my 3 year old car does 80 miles on a full charge and around 60 miles on an 80% charge (which is recommended to maintain battery longevity).

Why is the range 80 miles? It seems that the range a Leaf was designed to do was based on Nissan data showing that average journeys are nearly always under 100 miles. This is explained very nicely and diagrammatically in a documentary about EV battery tech https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtfKux9BUnE (there are lots of other interesting things in there as well).Daily distance car distribution

Here is a similar graph.

Long journeys are very uncommon.

 

One Leaftalk forum member Scott has devised a clever website https://evstatus.com/ which downloads (with users permission) data from their cars and shows the average journey distance from a pool of a hundred or so Leaf drivers to be 8.1 miles or 10% of the real world range of a Leaf!

This way of thinking was in one sense very accurate and the experience of Leaf drivers matches this scientific and statistical way of specifying the range needed. It is enough for most people to make it perfectly viable. Everyone who now owns a Leaf worried about range before buying the car and then found it be just fine once they went out driving in it. However a lot of the current owners are early adopters. Nissan though failed to take into account the human factor, when you’re coming from a fossil fuel car, the range feels low and some people make a lot of journeys in a given day even if they are short ones.

So whilst a range of 80-100 miles is actually quite enough for nearly everyone (and really not a problem if adequate reliable charging facilities are available such as your own garage/driveway), those who are anxious about range would be more comfortable with 300 miles and this is why Tesla’s Model S has this range. It’s a case of science/statistics versus human psychology/existing norms.

So what are the alternatives? Buy a Model S – fine if you’ve £70k to spend and want a luxury, grand tourer-type car, but since this applies to a tiny fraction of the driving public it is not really the answer, though if Tesla want to give me one (or even lend me one for a few weeks) I’d be very happy to accept their kind offer. Its worth noting that the Model-S’s large battery means charging times are much longer unless you use a Tesla supercharger station which is capable of much higher power charging, and there are a lot less of these available than any other type of charger. But as your typical journey is short this probably doesn’t matter most days.

Buy a plug in hybrid car such as the Prius Plug-in and the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV? These try to give you best of both worlds by giving you an electric car with battery/motor plus an engine and fuel tank as well, but like many other cross-overs, think amphibious cars for example, they potentially give you the worst of both worlds instead. Whether you chose to start on electric mode (approx 15 miles), drive in hybrid mode or switch to petrol mode will be dependant on whether you’re making a short journey (electric) a long one (petrol) or want maximum performance (hybrid).

Why the worst? Because you don’t buy one based on a dispassionate statistical analysis of your driving habits, if you did you’d buy a pure EV, but because they sell to people who want to try this “new electric thing” and save money/CO2 and company car tax but worry that they won’t have the flexibility that their current fossil fuel car offers them if they go full-EV. Despite this they will and do sell well and in so far as they bridge the gap they are great. They will get people used to plugging in their cars both at home and out and about, and if they find they hardly ever need to switch to petrol mode, as the majority of journeys are under 15 miles, they are much more likely to buy a pure EV next time and drop the engine/fossil fuel altogether. My negative stance really only stems from being quite happy to take the plunge straight to EV and bypass plug-in hybrid altogether.

This leads nicely to another possible way forward. A Leaf or other pure EV which comes with a removable petrol/diesel range extender (generator) would be the ideal combination, leave it at home on shorter runs and stick it in the boot for long journeys. It charges the battery as you drive extending your range considerably. Several companies are working on designing a small, powerful range extender that could be used in this way. Currently none are quickly removable so they don’t quite satisfy this ideal yet. Sure you could just buy a generator and stick it in the boot, but you’d need an exhaust pipe and a way of cooling it, and to be able to put up with the noise it makes.

What about public chargers? Well it seems that my experience of them is that they are pretty good and fairly numerous. A lot are free and even when you get charged a ridiculously high fee such as £5 (for 100 miles driving), you’re still sitting pretty. However I live in the 2015 Green Capital of Britain – Bristol and they really have had a push to install chargers everywhere so I’m having it easy. Discussions on Leaftalk forum suggest not everyone is so happy and the proliferation of EV’s and more commonly plug-ins, is placing a strain on the capacity of public chargers. However this is a teething problem and its chicken and egg, more chargers will be installed as more EV’s are sold and so on. Supermarkets are starting to install them which will really help and if the petrol retailers (many of whom are supermarkets) start putting them on their forecourts then the problem will be much less acute.

However it still takes 30 minutes or so to charge on a public rapid charger, which considering that a coffee, a visit to the loo and a catch up on emails/facebook can easily take 15-20 minutes is not ridiculous but it is a way short of the 5 minutes it takes to fill up at a petrol station. Perhaps the answer is inductive charging where a strong magnetic field or something similar wirelessly induces a current in a receiving unit in the car. This can happen at the traffic lights or when parked up, or even on the move. This is a very infrastructure-heavy solution but then so are roads for all these cars to drive on, and most main roads have electricity cabling running along them already for lights and the national grid.

Battery swap systems have been tried in Israel and this is a nice idea. Pull in to a station and a mechanised system changes your battery for a fully charged one. This works in Israel which is small and where few of the population drive out of the country but limits all vehicles to having one standard sized battery pack.

So in conclusion range with a fully battery electric vehicle, in reality, is an issue for only a few but the perception of range being too short is a problem for many. Hopefully information like this will convince more people to try it and see for themselves. This is the reason Nissan will give you a 7-day test of a Leaf, they are convinced you’ll see the light if you only give it a try.

All quiet on the EV front – operation general rant is a go

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Okay so its been consistently below zero degrees Celsius here in Bristol, at least in the mornings so I have been using my other car, a 4×4 to get about. As such the EV has been taking a well earned, but chilly break in the garage.

So having the urge to write something I have decided to instead have a general rant about one particular motoring issue that causes me great consternation – mini roundabouts and a couple of other minor things.

If you are not from the UK then this might not make much sense to you but for the rest I assume there will be some sympathy.

The mini roundabout as shown heremini-roundabout

is a convenient way of connecting several small roads so that in theory each approaching stream of traffic gets a fair chance at traversing the junction and does not require any expensive lights/sensors to operate. Unlike a normal roundabout these occupy a small area and because of this they do not have kerbs in the centre or else large vehicles such as buses/HGV’s would be unable to move across them. This creates many problems as multiple vehicles can cross from multiple directions at the same time. It is clear a lot of drivers can’t cope with this “two-things-happening-at-once” situation.

So what’s the problem? Its the lack of ability of a considerable number of drivers using them to understand how they work, leading to very poor traffic flow and huge frustration from the rest of us who do appreciate the subtlety. Also and directly related to this they are a cause of a lot (possibly the most common site) for urban low speed collisions.

A full-sized roundabout operates a simple system requiring approaching drivers to look to their right and if nothing is coming around the roundabout they can go. A mini roundabout also operates this system, but, and here is the crucial and it seems often ignored difference; if three vehicles approach the roundabout and each driver looks to the vehicle on their right and decides to stay put, a paralysis occurs. Each driver potentially feels they must not go as they do not have right of way, due there being a car on their right. Nothing happens for an interminably long time, many long slow seconds, and unless someone plucks up the courage to go first placing them into the path of the vehicle to their right this “Mexican stand-off” continues. Sometimes all three drivers or the bravest two, move off at once and this can be the cause of the aforementioned collision.

The problem above is particularly acute when three people approach the roundabout and then stop unable to go because of the car to their right. However this is rarely the case. Usually as you approach there should be a natural order, the first person arriving at the roundabout is usually able to proceed across/around as any car to their right has not reached the roundabout yet.

A second and equally exasperating phenomenon occurs when one driver waiting to cross the roundabout refuses to go because there is a vehicle on the approach to their right, even if there are also vehicles coming across from the opposite side, effectively blocking the vehicles on their right from being able to proceed. In this case it is perfectly safe for them to go, and not doing so will irritate those behind them. In this case the problem is with this driver who cannot for the love of all things, see that they need to observe the other vehicles from both of the other approaches, not just the approach to their right. Failing to see this obvious connection leads right minded competent drivers to consider whether that person really ought to be driving at all. I am not asking them to factor prime numbers in their head, whilst whistling Motzart and also driving, just to see that there is a fairly simple system before them and they have to think about how it works and interact with two things, not just one.

During the rush-hour or in busy urban areas, contrary to popular belief, the road system often works more efficiently. This is due to drivers being in a hurry, being used to rush-hour conditions and due to the time of day there is a higher proportion of drivers who drive frequently and are generally more competent. It is during these conditions that “perfect” mini roundabout usage sometimes takes place. In this scenario, where cars are queued at all three approaches to the roundabout, one car goes across then the car to their right, then the car to their right and so all cars cross one after another taking one vehicle from each approach each time the cycle takes place. This is optimum and everyone gets a fair crack of the whip and traffic flows.

So please for the love of mike, if you do not understand how a mini roundabout works, take the bus or walk!

One more thing – indicators…. If there is no other vehicle that will be affected by indicating then DON’T BOTHER. Using your indicators should not be a matter of switching them on in a given situation as if by reflex, but instead they should be used where they will bring clarity not confusion. The police call this signal clutter and on an advance motorcycle course I was told by the police not to indicate unless there is a benefit. This requires intelligent, thinking-driving the exact and much more desirable opposite of “going through the motions” in a half-awake stupor.

Putting mini roundabouts aside for now as the rules for indicating here are a little different; indicator use on full sized roundabouts, by many drivers, leaves a lot to be desired. Here are some simple rules which the highway code makes perfectly clear. When approaching and turning left indicate LEFT. When approaching going straight on DO NOT indicate. When approaching going right indicate RIGHT. When leaving the roundabout INDICATE LEFT EVERY TIME as you are exiting to the left/making a left turn every time you leave a roundabout irrespective of whether you are in broader terms making a left/right turn or going straight on.

You are letting vehicles waiting to cross know that you are coming off the roundabout, and letting vehicles behind know that you are moving to the left. I see people getting all of the above wrong time and again with resulting collisions. If this is too complicated for you and if your walking shoes are not roadworthy, then consider not indicating at all on roundabouts. This is slightly annoying and carries a small risk of another vehicle pulling out in front of you but weighed against indicating the wrong way, it is considerably less dangerous.

Here are a few video examples to mull over

All that happened here is the Saxo that pulls out in front of the driver filming fails to react to the indicators of the two cars pulling off the roundabout and is indecisive or unobservant and hesitates, then deciding he/she should have gone decides to throw caution to the wind and go anyway. Accident avoided as the driver filming sees them and slows down. If you f*cked it up don’t overcompensate on your next action, just compose yourself and try again.

In this one you see the stand-off situation above, my solution here is always to go first, this is not arrogant its assertive, someone needs to get the f*ck on with it and it might as well be me, or you! It helps if you have a car that leaves the line like a stabbed rat, like my Nissan Leaf not a car where you will have to wrestle with the ageing clutch and clunky gearbox at every junction.

The other danger situation I have seen result in a fairly serious collision was the case of a car, typically being driven by a young bloke, going about 50mph in a 30 zone crossing a mini roundabout and hitting a car which pulled out in front of him. I did not stop to see the aftermath but I am certain he would have been giving it all that about “it was my right of way, you pulled out in front of me” and so forth. If you approach too fast then other drivers do not have time to see you coming and they will pull out, because when they looked it was clear. You must give others time to react to you or when you hit them it will be your fault not theirs.

Rant over – that is all.

Buying a second hand leaf or not?

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So a recent article in a newspaper highlighted the very reasonable price of a second hand Nissan Leaf.

leaf-sun3This does not seem particularly revelatory to me having myself bought a second hand Nissan Leaf four months ago for £8500. However on the forum Leaftalk.co.uk it has certainly prompted a lively debate.

It seems the camp is split between those who feel that it is too risky to buy a second hand Leaf as the potential for problems outside of the warranty is too great and those like me, who acknowledge that there are some risks which are harder to quantify than for a petrol/diesel (ICE) car but that logically there should be no reason to assume these cars will not be very reliable, with the exception of the battery, which I will address later. Whilst this whole blog is basically an extended road test of a second hand leaf, the debate about this particular issue has been pointed enough to be worth commenting on.

The arguments put forward by the new car side of the debate seem to be as follows:

  • “You can lease one for the same monthly cost as you were paying for fuel in your old car”. And whilst I think that is true, after you pay about £3200 deposit, which you don’t get back, you will soon forget how much your old gas guzzler used to cost you to run and the indignation you had with that cost will be replaced by a new indignation at the monthly lease fee instead.
  • “Its a brand new technology and we are concerned that it might break – we have to have a warranty!”. Well that’s the trouble with the car industry isn’t it? When new cars are sold to us they cannot say enough about the amazing reliability, but once the discussion turns to 3+ year old cars they become a ticking time bomb waiting to fail and cost you a fortune. Of course they do, the industry not just wants, it positively needs you to buy a new car every three years, and if not you personally then certainly a large number of other people have to buy one to keep the wheels turning.
  • “I can’t be bothered with the MOT-lottery.” – so one day per year (which can be a rainy Saturday if you wish), you cannot spare a few minutes of your free time to take your car along to a garage and have them check that its safe? Why? Is it because a lot of garages are dishonest, or you believe they are dishonest? I would agree with you, but then your mission is to find a garage you trust and then keep using them. Here’s a tip take your car to your local council-run MOT station, they do not do repairs, just test the cars – so you get a fair test. Taxi’s, buses, limo companies, movie studios etc… all use these stations for precisely this reason.

What all of these arguments really come down to is that some people are so adverse to risk, which I always find amazing as so many of life’s risks are so far beyond your control you are clutching at air trying to manage them, that they are willing to pay a LOT of money every three years to remove that risk. Fair enough but I feel differently zero risk=zero reward=zero excitement.

Here is my argument for buying a Nissan Leaf/or other EV at 3 years old for £8500 with 20k miles on the clock.

  • It’s an extremely reasonable price for a car so new, in such good condition and such low mileage that it would be silly not to buy it. When this car was new it was £26k after a government grant. It has a steep depreciation curve because a lot of people are wary about new technology and because real long term data about reliability of this car does not yet exist, the oldest production models, like mine, are only 3.5 years old. There are two ways to interpret this. 1) these others are right and one should be very wary as there is a real chance these cars will be very unreliable long term and the potential for large costs to keep them running is real. 2) People are naturally cautious about things they have little understanding or experience of and therefore may in fact be “erring” too much on the side of caution. The ICE car industry has been very keen to be negative about electric vehicles and to perpetuate the myth that they are slow, the batteries die off rapidly and that buying one is a bad move. It is in their interests to do so as most car makers sell ICE cars with only a handful offering electric vehicles (EV’s), and for those who do it represents a tiny fraction of their overall business. So I feel this is actually an opportunity, if other people undervalue second hand electric cars – that’s their problem, but I am very happy to scoop one up at a lower price than a corresponding ICE car would have been at 3 years old.
  • If we put aside the battery for reasons that will become apparent, I believe there is every chance this car will in fact be very reliable. The EV consists of a lot of solid state components i.e. not moving parts, such as a battery, electronic modules to control the motor and charging and the other systems we expect of a car. The only moving parts are broadly the wheels, brakes, steering and motor. In an ICE car there are hundreds of moving parts in the engine alone, add to that the perishable parts such as an exhaust system which is subject to huge corrosion by the nature of what it does, fluids such oil and water and its easy to see there are a very large number of things that need to be checked/replaced/serviced and repaired. Much of this does not exist on an EV. The issues around these wear components are well known for ICE cars and reliability is a long way ahead of the cars of 30-40 years ago, but in many cases they will still fail, we are just generally more comfortable with these risks as we are more familiar with them. Why is the service interval for the Leaf 18,000 miles, rather than the 12000 or even 6000 on some ICE cars? Because there are not many parts to check/maintain, the motor needs a little periodic lubrication, there is a differential to drive the wheels which might need its oil changed every 60k miles or often more, the brakes/tyres are checked, and the bushes that hold the suspension together, and the aircon system might need gas – these are the same as any other car. The rest is electronic checking of the battery and other modules. There are no reasons to assume the solid state modules will fail provided they are well made to begin with and capable of doing the job they are intended for. Even the moving parts that do exist on the Leaf are in some cases subject to less wear and tear than on an ICE car. Brakes being a prime example where regenerative braking reduces brake wear hugely.

Now we come to the battery, the real issue at hand.

Will the battery gradually degrade? Yes. Will the battery have to be repaired/replaced at some point? Yes. How soon will this happen? Don’t know. How much will it cost? Don’t know!

So based on this uncertainty its not hard to see why there is apprehension about second hand EV’s. However as with all questions that get answered “don’t know” there is always the possibility of making an educated guess or discussing the possibilities.

Nissan warranty covers the battery and drive train of the car (motor and inverter/speed controller etc…) for 5 years. The detail appears to be that they will replace/repair a battery if it drops below 9 bars out of 12 on the battery health meter on the dash i.e. 75% capacity. So far I have not heard of anyone with this problem in the UK, a few people have had issues in very hot climates, one or two ex-demo Leafs that have been sold had more battery wear than expected as they had been kept fully charged for long periods and not used which is bad for battery health. Each time this has happened and the warranty conditions for a battery have been met a new battery has been provided, not a repair. This is probably because Nissan want to do analysis on failed batteries in order to learn more about the problems and want the battery packs back to Japan in one piece.

The lithium batteries as used on the Leaf, do not degrade as quickly as the types used in mobile phones and laptops. These devices suffer relatively short battery life as they are often too hot, such as mobile phones in trouser pockets, or laptops with hot processors and hard drives within them. Also these devices are prone to being charged up to 100% and left fully charged, at higher than ideal temperatures for long periods, which is not good practice for high battery life. In contrast, with a bit of thinking ahead, you can charge your electric car so that the battery goes to 80% not 100% and finishes charging just before you need to drive it. When this isn’t practical its not that important as hopefully it will be infrequent rather than daily.

The cost of a replacement battery when my car was new in 2011 was £12600, it is now £5000. Its not difficult to see this dropping to £3000 or lower in 3 years time. If I assume my fuel savings per year based around 12k miles are £2000 (I was putting £30-50 per week into my previous cars which in recent years were all very economical i.e. LPG vehicles) and my battery lasts for another 3 years this gives me £6000 to play with to replace the battery, more than enough! Also given that I’ve paid £8500 for the car not £25k (or £3200 deposit and £99/month for a lease), my fuel savings are larger relative to this cost. And as I will say below my £8500 might turn into £5000 if I break the car into pieces when I’m done with it.

It may be possible to either attempt a DIY recondition of a battery pack, removing failing cells and replacing them or have this carried out by a third party. I am certain a secondary market will emerge run by enthusiastic electronic engineers helping owners of older EV’s to keep their batteries in good condition, or upgrade them to newer battery technology as/when it becomes available. Just such people exist to provide engines/gearboxes for older cars of all types. You can buy cell packs as used in the Leaf for $129, of which 48 are required to make a complete battery. However it is unlikely that they will all require replacement. This means a complete replacement of cells can be done for £4000 now. These costs are likely to fall as time goes on. It might be large and powerful but it is just a battery after all.

At the end of the day there are very few Nissan Leaf’s at the scrap yards, so second hand parts are very valuable. In the event of the car being uneconomical to repair it will be worth a considerable amount in pieces (as all cars are hence scrap dealers never really struggle to make a living). This further insures the buyer of a second hand leaf against the “nightmare scenario” many feel might occur – a dead car worth essentially nothing!

UPDATED 24-03-15

Nissan release figures on reliability over the first 4 years of the Leaf.

1 vehicle in 10000 had a failed battery! This makes it more reliable by a considerable margin than a petrol or diesel engine.

http://www.newsroom.nissan-europe.com/uk/en-gb/Media/Media.aspx?mediaid=131212

It will be very interesting to see the 6-7 year data in three years-time!

 

Chargemaster charger installation part 2

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Okay so a little while ago I arranged to have a home charger installed by Chargemaster. This is done under a government scheme called OLEV. To cut a long story short the government wants to lower the country’s CO2 emissions so is willing to pay companies to install electric vehicle equipment. If you currently want a 16amp charger its free and via chargemaster a 32amp charger costs just £95. The government pick up the tab for the remaining £900!

On the first visit installation was not possible as my consumer unit did not have any free slots. So I got an electrician friend, to install a secondary consumer unit, as can be seen below.

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This meant I had some spare ports for the wiring to the charger. So Dan from Chargemaster was able to make a return visit this week to finish the job.

As you can see from the photos this involved placing the charger in the garage on the wall,IMG_20150115_211200 then drilling some holes through the substantial end wall of the house for the cable. This runs to the consumer unit, via the outside wall and the hallway where it sits in some chunky trunking.

IMG_20150116_140701IMG_20150116_140709 IMG_20150116_140826 IMG_20150116_153005 IMG_20150116_153011 IMG_20150116_153030The job was completed without any drama and only took 2 hours. Dan was very helpful and professional. I filled in some paperwork for the government grant, they need to ascertain if you have an electric vehicle and that you are happy for them to get usage stats via the charger (which has its own sim-card and internet connection) and paid the £95 over the phone.

Everything worked fine, and now I can charge the car in 4-5 hours from empty or, more normally in 2-3 hours from half-empty/full. This is a step up compared to using the Nissan-supplied charger which plugs into a standard wall socket which takes 8-10 hours from empty as it only draws 10 amps.

download However I wouldn’t say I ever found this to be too slow as I only do one journey each day to work and back, and I have a second car which I am more likely to take if I am making a short trip extra to this journey, as its not in the garage, needs using and is easier with the baby in tow. However there is supposed to be a safety benefit to having a wall charger, in that the plug-in-charger (as shown above) which use 10 amps does so continuously for 8+ hours which is potentially capable of heating up the cables and pins in your home wiring and causing a fire. I have seen, via a forum, one example of an extension lead where the plug melted.

I opted for a type 2 socket on the charger which allows me to connect almost any electric vehicle, so future proofing myself. However you do need to buy a cable, which is also useful for some public chargers and can be sold if you change vehicle later.

My Nissan Leaf has a built in 3.3kW charger so it can draw 16 amps. The newer leaf can fully utilise this new wall-charger and draw 6.6kW or 32 amps.

The only issue occurred the next evening when I connected the car and got a red error light on the charger – it seems you need to insert the cable at the charger-end first then the car, not the other way around and it is also recommended to unplug the cable from the charger after charging.

In hindsight I would have asked them to locate the charger somewhere else as the plug at the charger end sticks out a fair way making it hard to squeeze past the car when it is in the garage but nothing’s perfect.

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I took this image of my home energy meter this morning in the wee-hours, when economy7 began and it shows £13300 annual electricity bill at that moment as my night storage heaters, water tank, car and dishwasher were all running. This should be much less frightening in the summer, and my average energy usage should not annualise out to £13,000, I hope!

 

Came across this….

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Came across this the other day:

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And to be honest the ratings speak volumes about the car industry versus the actual people who own and appreciate this car. The car industry might not be ready for the EV but I think a fair number of the car buying public are. Enough said.

A word or two about regenerative breaking, and clever Nissan

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Well its bloody marvellous isn’t it? Simply put for those who have not come across it before (apologies to those who have please skip to paragraph 2) the car turns its kinetic energy back into electricity when you press the brake pedal. The drive motor effectively operates in reverse and produces power when it is turned, i.e. when you’re rolling down a hill or when the brake is pressed, which is fed through the charger and increases the battery charge. When you’re almost at a stop the brake pads are applied to the discs, just like in any other car, and the car stops. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LwDY73MuSM

Why is it marvellous? Well there are several big benefits. Firstly it recovers energy that is normally lost as heat and wear in/on your brake pads and discs, which are not brought together under light-moderate breaking only when you press the pedal hard. This means all that kinetic energy you have built up using precious battery charge is not wasted as you roll down a hill or stop.

Secondly you are not wearing your brakes out at anything like the rate you are in a conventional car. I suspect a set of pads will last 40,000 miles or possibly more and the discs might manage 100k miles.

Why clever Nissan? The dashboard shows a lot of information such as the amount of power flowing into the motor – or in this case back out of it, under braking/hill descent. NissanLeaveDashGaugesThis provides the driver with feedback on how much energy he/she is putting into the motion of the car or extracting from it. This facilitates more economical driving, in much more sophisticated fashion than the typical fuel metering/range display on a fossil fuel car.

Nissan have taken this one step further, a display in the top right corner of the instrument binnacle shows a gauge with the start of a tree inside it. downloadAs you drive along the tree grows until you have grown a whole one, then another begins to grow. The more efficiently you drive the quicker the tree grows. Nissan have calculated the amount of CO2 saved by driving the car and the number of trees grown equates to a quantity of carbon saved. You can even upload your score to Nissan via the car’s on board, internet enabled computer and see how you rank next to all the other Leaf (and NV200) drivers.

The other clever if slightly frustrating thing is that the amount of the battery you can access and use is much less than the capacity would suggest. For example it is meant to be a 24kWh battery pack, however I seem to go from about 20kWh down to 8kWh and back all the time (using Leafspy Pro for android), rather than actually using the full capacity of the pack. Its long been known that Li Ion batteries work best when used within a 40%-80% range. Nissan it seems, make sure you stay within this range by calling 40% nearly empty and 80% nearly full on the dash mounted gauge, whilst I accept I am being a bit sarcastic this is how it feels sometimes, not that it is a problem when you consider that battery longevity must be balanced against battery capacity.

It seems Nissan have spent a lot of time and money considering the psychology of converting people to electric cars and encouraging us to drive efficiently. This make sense for an eco-vehicle. However its the sheer torque of an electric car which impresses their owners, and dismays “fast” car drivers at the traffic lights. Nissan and the other electric car makers would sell more if they emphasized this aspect of their performance.

In other news fast home charger to be installed soon, new lighter wheels still on the wish list and spoiler still be chased up via Esso.