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

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 in the 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Being fortunate enough to live in the USA, we have at our disposal things most of our grandparents and their parents could not have dreamed. However, some came before us that dreamed big dreams and made amazing advancements that ultimately changed all of our lives for the better. With the industrial revolution came countless inventions that over time have made our lives easier and more comfortable. I consider myself blessed beyond my understanding. I have been out of this country a few times and I am amazed at what we have, and what we take for granted. One of the many things we love about our nation is the freedom to move about whenever and wherever we please. We are a mobile people and we love it. We expect it.

A major reason for the extreme mobility we have in our nation is the supporting infrastructure to keep vehicles moving, primarily fueling stations. I wasn’t around at the time, but when internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles were new, and few people had them, fuel availability had to have been a major concern. The electric vehicle (EV) owners of today face a similar situation, particularly if they have long-distance cross-country travel in mind.

With an ICE vehicle, fueling stations are literally available everywhere. Running out of gas is no longer a concern because a fueling station is always close by. This availability removes range anxiety from the equation and frees us up to go where we please. We simply jump in the vehicle and head off down the road. We will only think about refueling when the tank is about empty. We often just wait for the low fuel indicator light and in a few minutes, pull into the nearest station or pass by a few because you prefer one over another. With the current state of EV charging locations, this is not always possible.

For a commuter vehicle, an EV is an easy choice because you can set up a charger at home and simply charge at night and be ready for the next day. If you are lucky enough to have charging stations at your place of employment, you can charge while at work. However, if you want to travel in your EV, the charging infrastructure is not as robust as it needs to be. For cross-country travel, it is critical to know the true range of your EV.

Before my trip began, I came up with a simple metric of miles traveled per battery percentage drop. I wanted to have a feel for the energy consumed at a given speed. More specifically, how did my current driving affect the total available range? It sounded reasonable to me that I could simply divide the miles driven by the battery percentage points reduced while 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- my term) of 2.1. With this information, if I have 100% battery life remaining I should have a range of 210 miles at these driving conditions, 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.

MPPD turned out to be a very useful and reassuring measuring stick for me. I continually used this during the entire trip. This way of seeing the true range at my current driving conditions may not seem important to others, but I am finding it very useful. This may be something already used in the industry, but I never found it or anything like it in my reading. This logic, or something similar, is most likely already in use in the cars’ computer now to estimate range; I just never saw it in the available displayed information. I would actually propose that manufactures include this in the dashboard displays going forward. I know they didn’t ask me, but there it is anyway.

Things I learned over this past two weeks.

  1. If you want an all-electric vehicle, it does not have to be a tiny box with wheels, nor do you have to compromise on creature comforts. This car is available with the very nice, high-end features most have come to expect, including heated leather seats and steering wheel, power everything, GPS and a myriad of safety features. This is a very comfortable, well-appointed vehicle. Go figure!
  2. All EV drive systems draw their energy from a large main drive battery. The one in the Nissan Leaf Plus is a 300-volt system mounted under the floorboards. I recently learned most EVs also have a 12-volt battery system, which provides energy to the car’s accessories, i.e. the A/C, radio, heated seats, etc. At least in the Leaf’s case, this 12-volt battery is under the hood where you would normally expect to see a battery and is charged only when the vehicle is moving.
  3. This is a fun driving experience. Disengage the ‘Eco’ mode and this car will take off. Nissan says it has 215 horsepower and can do zero to 60 in 6.4 seconds. I can’t swear that number is correct, but I know if you ask the car, it will jump. That’s all I have to say about that.
  4. It is an easy car to learn to drive. The transition is a near-seamless one. I think there are two initial ‘wow moments’ and you almost instantly fall in love with both. The first is when you put your foot on the brake and press the start button. The only thing that seems to happen is the interior gauges and instrumentation come to life. The second ‘wow moment’ is after you put it in drive and press the accelerator and the car moves and you hear nothing. I am serious when I tell you if the A/C and radio are off, there is no noise as you drive away. This is a very strange experience for most of us, but everyone I have seen in the car enjoys it.
  5. Range is a relative term and varies depending on how you drive the car. Aggressive driving in the non-Eco mode uses energy faster than more conservative driving. Having the A/C on, even though a necessity around here in the summer, uses more energy. Driving at higher speeds uses more than driving at lower speeds. Allowing the car to take advantage of the regenerative braking option saves energy. As with a gasoline car, part of the efficiency is up to you.
  6. Range anxiety is a real thing, but it diminishes quickly. My confidence in this car continues to grow and the very real range anxiety I felt when I first sat down has all but gone away. That anxiety has been replaced with enough knowledge to plan a cross-country trip, knowing there can and likely will be delays along the route due to charging availability and speed. This is simply because the infrastructure is not in place yet.
  7. We should collectively embrace this new technology. Every reasonable, thinking person has some concerns over new and different experiences. That little voice that pleads for caution is a good thing but should be balanced with good information. As with most things, education is the key to moving forward. Good information is valuable and can typically only be obtained through real experiences. Many things are changing quickly in the world we live in, including transportation. The way we have done it forever is not the only way it can be done. Personally, I don’t see the internal combustion engine going the way of the dinosaur. What I do see is the EV technology advancing and the supporting infrastructure developing to the point that we have another viable travel option that allows us the freedom to come and go as we please. As I said earlier, this is what we as Americans expect. EVs are a fast-approaching reality. Maybe not in every garage, but in many. I am excited to see it all grow to its potential.
  8. We need more Level 3 fast-charging stations. As I write this, it isn’t impossible to travel a long distance in an EV, but it can be challenging. The true need is for more fast charge locations, both inside cities and especially along major travel routes. For SWEPCO’s service territory, we need at least one Level 3 station in Shreveport, one in Natchitoches and one in Longview. Arkansas currently has three Level 3 stations-one each in Hope, Little Rock and in the Fayetteville area. So it is possible to traverse the state with some planning, but an additional Level 3 station in the Fort Smith area would open up the western edge of the state to more EV travel. When these stations are available, and they will be, the barriers to quick cross-country travel will begin to fall and more people will actively embrace the change.

My advice is for all of us to learn more about electric vehicles in general. Read about the technology and seek out the experiences of others. Find an EV, look it over and drive it. I think you will be impressed. I will wager you will at least be surprised, and in a good way. Every technology has its limitations. Understanding those limitations and working to reduce or eliminate barriers is how we progress.

Fifty years ago this month, astronauts first set foot on the moon. That was possible because there was a group of people who believed in the technology and worked through the barriers and roadblocks. They refused to say it was too hard. They refused to listen to those that said it would never happen. They knew it needed to happen and found a way. Building a robust EV infrastructure is not space travel, nor is it even rocket science, but there are barriers and roadblocks. It’s actually pretty straight forward, and it needs to happen. Soon.

Jeff Thigpen

SWEPCO

This story originally appeared 8/2/2019 on SWEPCO Now.

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