Skip to content

Home on the Range or Can Your EV Get You Home?

February 16, 2011

This discussion has less to do with kitchen appliances or the open land in Texas, then it does with the current hype surrounding the avalanche of EV (Electric Vehicle), which are about to sweep the country. The EV brings to the consumer a number of long-awaited benefits such as: better fuel economy, lower emissions, lower fuel costs, increased energy security, and more fueling (charging) flexibility. Notwithstanding these benefits, there are some significant consumer related issues that make EV’s a questionable investment at this time.

In a January 2, 2011 article by Ben Coxwoth in gizmag.com, he reports the results of ZPryme Research and Consulting’s recent web-based survey of 1,046 men and women across the U.S., asking how they felt about various aspects of buying an EV (Source: http://www.gizmag.com/electric-vehicle-survey-reveals-consumer-preferences/17418). The results show:

“….. only 8.5 percent of respondents said they were very likely to buy an EV within the next two years” “….. Within the very to somewhat likely within two to five years group, 33.7 percent said that 400 miles (644 km) would be a sufficient range”
“….. while 33.3 percent were willing to settle for 300 miles (483 km)”
“….. When it came to acceptable charge times, 32.1 percent indicated 4 hours”
“….. 18.1 percent indicated 6 hours”
“…… and 20.0 percent would wait for 8”

This data supports what was thought to be the user’s main concern about the actual distance the EV can go between charges before being stuck at the side of the road. This fear of the batteries running out energy before reaching their destination (range anxiety) will confront buyers, once aware of the limited range of EV. Other obstacles include: EV comparatively higher price due to the cost of their lithium-ion battery pack, the lack of public and private recharging infrastructure and battery life or when to replace the battery because it can no longer hold a charge.

As range anxiety will become more apparent due to the disjoint between customer’s expectations and delivered performance, this article discusses only all-electric EVs. Hybrid EV (has both a conventional internal combustion engine with an electric motor) and Plug-in Hybrid EV (a hybrid vehicle with rechargeable batteries that can be charged by connecting a plug to a normal electric wall socket), were excluded since the inclusion of a secondary power source makes range a potential non-issue. Additionally, only U.S. EPA highway approved vehicles are taken into consideration. These criteria eliminated a host of glorified golf carts that may be marketed as EVs. 

A list of EV Cars and Trucks satisfying these criteria is shown below (Source: Plug In America, http://www.pluginamerica.org).

Of the eight (8) EV cars and trucks listed above only three (3) are purportedly available somewhere in the U.S. Further research shows that CODA Automotive plans to introduce its CODA sedan in California during the second half of 2011 rather than 2010, which is indicated in the chart. As a footnote to the CODA’s claimed 100 miles range, Marc Gunther, a veteran journalist, speaker, writer and consultant whose focus is business and sustainability reports:

“the battery pack is the major reason why CODA’s sedan, with a sticker price of $44,900, before a $7,500 federal rebate, costs more than the Nissan Leaf (MSRP $32,780) or the Chevy Volt (MSRP $42,280). But you get what you pay for, and so CODA’s batteries should pack more punch. It carries a 34-kWh battery pack; the Leaf’s is 24 kWh and the Volt’s is 16 kWh. CODA also provides what’s called “active thermal management” of its batteries, meaning they operate at an optimal (i.e., warm) temperature.”

Additionally, on Jan 17th 2011, AutoblogGreen reported “Wheego’s president Jeff Boyd said that “he now expects shipments to begin on January 21st, pending final approval from the Department of Transportation. The LiFe, according to Boyd, has received the okay from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), so we’d expect to see Wheego’s electric roll out soon.”

Well, it seems as though Plug In America’s database needs some updating. After elimination the Coda Sedan and the LiFe  from the list of currently available EV, we are left only with the lowly Nissan Leaf to dissect. Playing off Dickens, let’s do our own Christmas Carol and look at Nissan’s Leaf Past, Present, and Yet to Come.

The Leaf of “Past” can be seen in Matt Jansen’s, August 12, 2009 article in Green Cars. The article is titled “Nissan slams GM’s Chevy Volt with claim of 367 mpg for its Leaf.” The further states: “the DOE formula estimates 367 mpg for Nissan LEAF”. The matter is further complicated by the fact that the Nissan Leaf uses no gasoline at all, so the company must be making relative comparisons based on an analysis of overall energy output.” The point is that the article is based on MPGe (equivalents). While 367 MPGe is a great number for the pocket book, as will be explained later, it is meaningless in terms of range or the number of miles the EV will go before the battery and vehicle die.  Notice, the discussion of Range is entirely omitted in these early reports. Also, in the context of EV, these early reports use MPG rather than MPGe, which is somewhat misleading to the consumer of EV who may not understand what equivalents really mean, (Source: http://taintedgreen.com/green-news/nissan-slams-gm-s-chevy-volt-with-claim-of-367-mpg-for-its-leaf/000283).

MPGe (equivalent) is based on the EPA’s formula of 33.7 kW-hrs being equivalent to one gallon gasoline energy. Reference.com defines MPGe as the quantity of heat energy that can be obtained by burning a US gallon of gasoline (115,000 BTUs). In layman’s terms,  MPGe is a measure of distance traveled per unit energy consumption. This indicator is meant to be useful for comparing the energy consumption of alternative fuel vehicles and plug-in electric vehicles to those of gasoline-powered vehicles in terms of fuel economy expressed as miles per US gallon. MPGe is the energy content of the fuel or energy stored in the vehicle. If you are interested in learning more about MPGe please visit: http://www.reference.com/browse/Miles_per_gallon_of_gasoline_equivalent

For these reasons, The Leaf of Present is best seen through EPAs eyes, which after much ado defined MPGe and Range. The EPA label gives the Leaf “73 Mile Range” and “99 MPGe ratings. Leaf’s sticker also shows 106 city, 92 highway. Here again, the 73 mile rating represents the number of miles the EV can go until it is out of fuel, in this case electrons. For completeness purposes only, the label displays a charging time of seven (7) hours on a 240V charge. EV charging will be discussed in a future discussion. These ratings were based on the results of five-cycle tests using varying driving conditions and climate controls.

It is important to point out how the Leaf of the Past went from a 367 MPG to 99 MPGe  rating of the present Leaf. This evolution and reduction is far from insignificant. At the least the hype is now showing its true colors.

An excellent portrayal of the Leaf’s miles per charge realities was reported by Eric Loveday in the June 14th 2010 discussion in AutoBlog. Loveday draws from Nissan’s own technical data to determine “What’s the true range of electric cars?” (Source: http://green.autoblog.com/2010/06/14/nissan-pegs-leaf-range-between-47-and-138-miles-individual-resu). He states:

“….. you may either be thrilled to hear the true range or disgusted enough to grudgingly take your $99 deposit back and look elsewhere.”

“Cruising at 38 miles per hour with ambient temps of 68 degrees, you could squeeze 138 miles out of the Leaf.”

“Averaging 24 mph in city traffic drops range to 105 miles, assuming air conditioning (A/C) is not in use on a 77-degree day.”

“In heavy stop-and-go traffic, averaging just 6 mph with temps of 86 degrees and A/C on, range drops to 47 miles.”

“At 55 mph on the highway in 95 degree temps and A/C on, expect range to be 70 miles.”

“Winter temps of 14 degrees with the heater on, will drop range to 62 miles in stop-and-go traffic, assuming an average speed of 15 mph.”

“….. these numbers give you a good idea of what to expect based on your own personal driving habits.

“Nissan insists that accessories such as windshield wipers, heated seats and the car’s stereo will all have only a negligible effect on range.”

“Avoid traffic jams, cruise at steady speeds and keep the HVAC set to off and you should easily eclipse that 100-mile mark. The sad truth is, though, that there aren’t many places in the U.S. where driving like that is regularly possible, especially not in the Leaf’s initial target markets.”

The EPA

The Leaf of Yet to Come is hard to come by. A semi-thorough search resulted in a slew of articles from December 2009, yes 2009. There may be more current reports; I just could not find any. A good example of the headlines of 12/09 comes from TreeHugger, a discovery company; (Source: www.treehugger.com/files/2009/12/nissan-working-on-new-battery-for-electric-cars.php).

Michael Graham Richard, Ottawa, Canada reported:  “Nissan Working on New Battery to Double the Leaf’s Range by 2015. The Key is a Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide Cathode. I’m starting to think that electric car buyers will suffer from the same problem as buyers of consumer electronics: It seems like something better is always around the corner, so why buy now? The Nissan Leaf EV isn’t even on the market yet that its technology is starting to sound passé. The Nikkei (reg required) reports that Nissan is almost done working on a new battery cell design that could almost double the range of the Leaf, and of other future Nissan electric cars.”

OK, so where does this take us. First and foremost, to achieve our goals of Energy Security, Environment Stewardship and Economic Strength, Americans will have to adapt to the new realities. Changes in ways and means, if not already, will be the norm. But to adopt the Nissan of the Present, may be asking a little too much. Great for running to your local grocery store, but for most American’s to rely on today’s EV for business is most certainly out of the question. Maybe that’s why most EV manufacturers have delayed or have not scheduled a launch date.

One day as convenient fast-charge charging stations (Level 3) start to populate the urban landscape, EV’s may make sense. Depending on the discharge state of the batteries, the type of batteries, size of the battery bank, and who is giving an opinion; Level 2 charging with a 240 volt standard electrical outlet may reach the “full” indicator between 2 and 10 hours. The Nissan Leaf with its 24 kilowatt-hour battery pack takes approximately 8 hours to recharge, (Source:  http://www.nissanusa.com/leaf-electric-car/faq/list/charging#/leaf-electric-car/faq/list/charging).

This discussion is not designed to pick apart EVs. We need to dramatically reduce our appetite for fossil fuels and especially foreign oil. Being a technocrat, I am well aware how the confluence of technology flows over time to render a steady stream of product improvements. On the other hand, I am also market driven. History dictates technology solutions that do not fit the needs and requirements of the customer base are doomed to failure. In this regard, the EV launch is deemed too premature. It’s time has not yet come.

Too bad Uncle Sam did not fulfill the promise of developing a small high-performance fuel cell. If it is good enough for the astronauts to stake their life on it, so it should be for the average American. Now ask yourself, would you put a love one in an EV?

Advertisements
6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2011 3:50 AM

    Barry, thank you for adding this to the Implementing EV`s discussion.
    There will be much more to be talked about, specially, as only a few know, how electricity is produced and distributed today.
    First just a frightening figure: In a small country like mine, Germany,of the size like California and Oregon combined, “The Electrical System” needs a lenght of 1.000.000 miles of “their” elctricty grid. This is four times the distance from the erth to the moon, just to get electricty from the power plants to the consumers. Most of these power plants, not only in Germany, but all over the world, are running on COAL, which is in many cases harvested somewhere else, brought to the pant, cut into small pieces and burned to boil water.
    Once, this water is hot enought, it will steam. This steam is used to turn a turbine.
    This thermodynamical cycle created immense amounts of heat, but only
    very little cinetec energy, to turn the generators.

    Both are technologies from the 1880, when Thoams A. Edison patended this system.
    They have not changed much since than and they need additionally a lot of fresh water
    for their cooling process, otherwise neither turbine nor generator will ever turn.

    The overall efficiency of these archaic plants are only between 35 to 40 percent.
    But with our electricty bill we all pay 100 percent of the coal, which is burned here,
    also creating immense amount of CO2 (by the nature of the coal).

    I could go into many more details here. You are invited to have a look at my unbiased website, which I maintain on my own expense, NO governmental or other fundings are involved, as we want to keep our independence.

    My message to you folks: Be careful, if someone wants to tell you:
    >>>The EV`s are environmetal friendly…<<<

    Than you better ask back: Where do you get the elctricity from, to power the EV`s?
    How do you make the electricity for the EV`s? How do you get it to the points of usage?

    Only if these question are answered satisfactorily,
    you might consider to buy an EV. If beeing asked, I would rather not do that.

    I would recomment to wait, untill soon, when we have a sustainable energy infrastructure,
    based 100 percent on real, decentralized renwable energies. It is worth, working for that high goal.

    More:
    http://www.hydrogenambassadors.com/background/the-process-of-electricity-generation.php
    and:
    http://www.hydrogenambassadors.com/background/german-high-voltage-network.php
    and:
    http://www.hydrogenambassadors.com/background/energy-balance-germany-2007.php

  2. February 21, 2011 3:44 AM

    Hi Barry, thank you for this article.

    I have also written about how green are EVs. They are as green as the energy they get. Coming back to Arno’s comment, In Germany, will be better than ICEs charging the “mix” of energy since 2003. And tehy are better every day, because the mix of energy is becoming better every day, with every single PV-plant installed or Wind turbine repowered. This happens faster than the efficiency increasing of the combustion cars. Read more under http://www.green-and-energy.com/blog/are-electric-cars-really-green/

    Btw, coming to your topic. Tere is a great way for people to know if the range of any EV will fit their needs. If you have an iPhone, grabb the app called “iEV” from appstore and simulate your drivings with any EV that you can configure, while driving on petrol. You will know for sure how much energy do YOU need for driving.

    thank you

    Olmo

  3. February 21, 2011 6:06 AM

    Arno and Olmo,
    Thank you for adding value to this discussion and helping to clear up some of the issues surrounding EV.
    Barry

  4. February 21, 2011 11:57 AM

    Hi Barry,
    Why is Arno spamming all your posts with links to his own BIASed website about Hydrogen?
    I say biased, because he claims it is not, but if you look at the data in his presentations on his *ambassadors* website, you will see how skewed it is presented and how background data is lacking or selected.
    Even in Arno’s own country, I have seen many solar installations, visited several SolarStammTisches and I know that for many years the German government has been very supportive of solar installations. Why then is Arno harping on the coal plants, without even telling us where the energy for Hydrogen production comes from and without explaining that when you try to use Hydrogen as energy carrier, you not only get a large problem but also worse efficiency than when you use the original energy directly or use it to make electricity for a Battery Electric Vehicle? I’d like to see *that* problem addressed by Arno, but I am afraid he will hide behind false arguments and not see the truth that Hydrogen will lead to burning *more* coal.
    (Rant off)
    Back on topic, I have been driving an EV (for large part powered by renewable energy, thank you very much) that had a range of 60 miles when driven carefully and for years it did not have an onboard charger, I could only charge it with the charger in my garage. Still I had little fear when driving it, I just needed to plan where I was going and if it was too far then I needed to use the other car (Prius). I have never been left on the side of the road without battery power, so I find these polls usually a reflection of the ignorance or indoctrination by oil companies’ fear mongering publications. It has very little to do with the actual usefulness of EVs. I hope that truth will come out more once people actually are able to drive in the vehicle, hear from friends and colleagues how well it does and finally get *real* information about EV’s usefulness even with their current range.

  5. February 21, 2011 9:49 PM

    I have been searching for a time for just a reasonable study dealing with this kind of subject matter . Checking out in Aol I now uncovered this website. Reading this post I’m just happy to enunciate that I’ve got a great impression I discovered precisely what I was looking for. For certain i will be sure to don’t forget this blog and go here on a constant basis.

  6. February 22, 2011 6:09 PM

    Hi – very good web site you have established. I enjoyed reading this posting. I did want to issue a comment to tell you that the design of this site is very aesthetically pleasing. I used to be a graphic designer, now I am a copy editor in chief for a marketing firm. I have always enjoyed playing with information processing systems and am attempting to learn code in my spare time (which there is never enough of lol).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: