In the immortal words of Marvin Gaye – What’s goin’ on?
It seems as if many individuals that we speak with on a daily basis, those within the automobile industry as well as those not, have no real clue about what is going on with electric vehicle infrastructure. And it’s no wonder – there is no “Department of EV Infrastructure” to which one can pose their questions. Fortunately, there is Living LEAF.
One of the questions we get most often when we discuss our LEAF is this – “What happens if I’m driving and all of a sudden I notice that I need more electricity?” – or some variant of that. Our first response is generally something along the lines of: “If you think that you might find yourself in that situation, an electric car is probably not for you just yet”. Just as when the gasoline powered automobile was first developed around the turn of the last century, the horseless carriage was not for everybody. We have always said, and will continue to say, that an electric vehicle is a situationally specific vehicle. If you fit the situation it can be a near perfect vehicle for you. If not, you may wish to look elsewhere. At least for now.
In the early 1900’s, gasoline stations were few and far between. In the early 2000’s (yes… 2011 would still be considered the early 2000’s a hundred years from now) electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSEs) (often mis-labeled “chargers”) are extremely rare. Let’s take a closer look at the situation.
Every EV purchased from any manufacturer will come with its own 120-volt EVSE. Plug one end into the regular outlet in your garage, plug the other end into your car, and you’re in business. If your car happens to be a Nissan LEAF with a 24 kilowatt hour battery pack, and you have drained your battery to the last bar (of 12 bars indicating a full charge), it could take as long as 20 hours to charge your car. The reality is – that ain’t gonna happen. At least not on a regular basis. Most typical days you may find that you are using three to six of the twelve bars and plugging your car in at night and charging while you sleep will give you plenty of juice for the next day. This included 120-volt equipment will be satisfactory for anyone that finds themselves in this situation. If your particular situation demands that you use 10 bars or more daily, you will need a 240-volt portable, semi-permananent or permanent EVSE installation. As one would expect, with twice the voltage available, the time to charge is reduced by roughly 50%. Even should you use 10 of your 12 bars daily, you could easily recharge in eight hours or less while you sleep.
Should you find yourself needing to “top off” during the day for some reason, this is where the publicly available infrastructure comes into play. Just as in the early 1900’s when the driver needed to provide for his own needs by carrying a five gallon can of gasoline with him, the EV early adopter can carry their own power supply. The supplied 120-volt EVSE is portable and can be carried easily. That piece of equipment will only get you about 5 miles of range for every hour plugged in, so you will need a lot of patience. And time.
Some 240-volt publicly available charging docks (not chargers) are being installed at drug stores, public parks and other areas. The question then becomes – How much does it cost to “refill”? The answer is – that depends. This is an area that is currently wide open. Some sites may offer free electricity as an inducement to shop at or use their facility. Others may charge based on the amount of time that you are plugged into their equipment – perhaps on an hourly basis. So your publicly available refill may be free, or it could cost up to several dollars an hour, based on the provider. Also, the odds are not in your favor of finding a conveniently located charging dock just yet. That does not mean they don’t exist, it just means that there aren’t a lot of them out there just now. That is changing.
Our recommendation? Expect to get 70 miles per full charge (in the LEAF) if you choose not to change your current driving style. If you think that you might need to drive further than that, you will need to locate a conveniently located charging dock near your destination that will allow you the opportunity to be plugged in perhaps for several hours (depending on how much more distance you need to travel). At 240-volts, you may gain an additional 10 miles of range for each hour plugged in. If you can modify your current driving style to be less aggressive on the accelerator, and depending on the area and terrain that you drive in, you may be able to get as many as 90 miles or more per full charge. Driving at 65 miles per hour is doable (even on busy Southern California freeways) without being a hazard to yourself or others. We do it on a regular basis.
Oh yes… 480-volt direct current (DC) fast chargers. This equipment is properly called a charger, and you shouldn’t even think about them right now. For us, it was a priority to have the connector on the car, just in case. We have since concluded that it was likely not necessary. The equipment is almost non-existent currently, and will remain that way for quite some time into the future. Ultimately, you will find these typically in freeway friendly locations (restaurants and fast food locales come to mind) and they will allow an 80% charge in less than 30 minutes. Don’t plan on seeing these installed in quantity anywhere quickly in the next year or two. Eventually – yes. Now? Not a factor.