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On the Road: An EV newbie’s trip across Louisiana (Part II)

by on August 29, 2019

Editor’s Note: In this three-part series, read Jeff Thigpen’s thoughts on driving the fully electric Nissan Leaf before, during and after his road trip across Louisiana. 

SWEPCO Energy Efficiency & Consumer Program Coordinator Jeff Thigpen at the Level 3 Charging Station in Breaux Bridge.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Last night, I picked up the rental car and left this morning at 6:15 in route to Metairie, Louisiana. I dropped the rental car off at Enterprise and they were nice enough to give me a ride to Premiere Nissan, a short distance down the road. The manager at the dealership handed over the keys and a salesperson gave me a quick overview of the car, we shook hands and I was on my own. As promised, the car was at 100% charge.

My first impressions of the Nissan Leaf were that this is a nice looking car, both inside and out. This particular model is the Leaf Plus SL version. It has just about everything you can get on any well-equipped car, including a heated steering wheel and heated seats. I was immediately impressed with the interior. I am 6’3”, 195 lbs. and felt comfortable the entire trip.

I opened the door and sat down. It was a HOT day in south Louisiana. Before I began to drive, I engaged the ‘Eco’ button. I had no desire to waste any energy on this first leg. I considered turning off the A/C, but it was 98 degrees with about 90% humidity. The cool air was winning out over my range anxiety, at least for now, so the A/C was staying on and I must say it worked quite well.

A look at the interior of the 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus.

Range anxiety, at least for me, was a very real thing. My research before the trip only mentioned range in broad terms and I never found what I was looking for. I wanted a metric that helped me understand what to expect for range with my immediate driving style, i.e. 70 mph with the A/C running, as one example.

I came up with a simple metric of miles traveled per battery percentage drop. In my mind, I wanted to have a feel for the energy consumed at a given speed. To get this number, I felt I could simply divide the miles driven by the percentage points reduced driving those miles. Example: For a 10% reduction in remaining battery life with 21 miles driven, I would have an ‘mppd’ (miles per percentage drop) of 2.1.

With this information, if I have 100% battery life remaining I should have a range of 210 miles at this speed, or with 30% battery life remaining, then I should be able to travel 63 miles at this speed, assuming all other conditions remain the same. This metric seemed straight forward enough to me, so I adopted this as a check and balance against the range the vehicle displayed.

The drive from Metairie to Breaux Bridge started with me going about a mile from the dealership and stopping for a quick lunch. Back in the car with my foot on the brake, I press the ‘Start’ button and all I hear is the A/C. I turned the A/C off and rolled down the front windows to experience how there really is nothing to hear. That was interesting, but I quickly rolled up the windows again and turned the A/C back on. Did I mention it is HOT? Within 2 minutes, I am on I-10 headed west toward Baton Rouge in heavy, but fast-moving traffic.

My nerves are high, but even with the drive mode set to ‘Eco’, which reduces the acceleration rate, the Leaf responded when I asked and easily jumped into the flow of traffic, never missing a beat. I nervously watched as the battery percentage level began to drop. Nothing dramatic or too worrisome, but a continual reminder that I need a charging station in mind as a destination, even if it is well down the road.

The leg went very well. I was showing an mppd as high as 2.22 (in a construction zone going about 40-45 mph) to a low of 1.06 at speeds of 75 mph. This low number seems to be an outlier though and may not be correct. For the most part, I was seeing around 1.9 miles for each percentage of battery drop, which is 190 miles of range on the highway. Pretty good but not the posted 226. My overall first driving experience in this EV was very positive. I now felt much better about the entire trip.

After driving 117 miles and arriving at the Electrify America charging station in the Walmart parking lot, I am pleasantly surprised to see the charging stations are vacant. At this location, there is one CHAdeMO ‘pump’ and five CCS/SAE ‘pumps’. I’m not sure what the actual charger is called, but it does somewhat resemble a gas pump, so I’ll use that term. The two hook-up types differ only in the plug/connect end of the charging cable.

The Nissan Leaf can accept a charge using either a J1772 Type 2 charger or a CHAdeMO Type 3 charger. It can also take a charge from a standard residential wall outlet, using the Nissan-provided adapter, but Level 1 charging is very slow, as in 24 to 36 hours to get a full charge. Level 2 chargers can normally provide a full charge in around 8 hours and the Level 3 chargers can usually charge to full capacity in less than an hour. These numbers will vary by EV make and model.

The Nissan Leaf has two charging ports, one for a J1772 Type 2 charger and another one for a CHAdeMO Type 3 charger.

I am happy to report that my initial assumption of 150 miles of highway range and that I would have about 20% charge remaining were both very low. I arrive at Breaux Bridge with 46% remaining and the Level 3 station charged the Leaf to 97% in 50 minutes. The charging speed is fastest when the battery charge is low. The charging speed drops off quickly when you get up around 80% to 90% charge when it begins to move at a crawl. I could have left earlier, but again I am being a little cautious and wanted a near full ‘tank’ before starting my second leg.

The 50 minutes passed quickly and I then headed for Alexandria. As I was leaving the parking lot, a man walking stepped out in front of me in the Leaf. A truck had just passed him and not hearing another vehicle, he assumed it was clear to walk. When he finally looked, I was close enough to startle him. I could see in the expression on his face he never heard the EV approach. These cars are very quiet!

A few miles from Breaux Bridge, I exited I-10 for I-49 and headed north. The drive to Alexandria was uneventful but for some reason, the range I was seeing was not as good. I drove part of this leg at 70 mph and part at 75 mph (not exceeding the speed limit), always with the A/C on. On this leg, however, I was seeing an ‘mppd’ from 1.57 to 1.74, meaning my highway range — at this speed and these conditions — was to be between 150-175 miles. I am not sure, but I think I might have had more headwind. Many factors can affect the range; including wind; how loaded the car is; extremely high or low temperatures. Even rain can have an effect.

I arrived at the Fairfield Inn in Alexandria around 5:30 pm to find the two J1772 Level 2 charging ‘pumps’ unoccupied and in perfect working order. I feel blessed that I have been able to charge without incident. I would have had to scramble and change plans if the stations were not operational.

I let the Leaf charge all night. I checked on it around 10pm and had charged from 49% to about 95% in around 4.5 hours. I think it would have been 100% charged in less than another hour or so, but I went on to bed and found it at 100% the next morning. I left for Shreveport around 7 a.m. and the miles per percentage drop for this leg ranged from 1.7 to 1.9, allowing from 170 to 190 highway miles of range.

As I drove along, I could not miss the irony of me cruising along the interstate in a very modern, all-electric vehicle while listening to Patsy Cline coming through the speakers. I like old country. It struck me that this trip, even though it seems foreign to me, would soon be a very common experience for many. If we as an electric utility are ready for this reality or not, it is coming quickly.

The major issue needing attention is the lack of Level 3 charging stations. Until these quick-charge stations are readily available along all major travel routes, it will remain a difficult hurdle that most travelers will not be willing to approach. In my opinion, a 30-minute charging session is completely acceptable and reasonable. A charging session of 4 to 6 hours, however, is not acceptable for most people’s schedules during a cross-country trip, unless that stop can be overnight.

This is a great car, it just happens to be a total electric vehicle requiring a little more planning if you intend to travel cross country. Cross country in this electric vehicle is very achievable, it just requires a little more thought and planning.

For in-town transportation, the Nissan Leaf would more than meet the needs and expectations for the vast majority of us. If the electric vehicle owner has access either at home or at work to a Level 2 charger and does not typically go more than 100 miles a day, this car is a near-perfect solution to fill the need.

I had fun and a little adventure to boot. At least for an old guy that likes this sort of thing.

This story originally appeared 7/26/2019 on SWEPCO Now.

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