Category Archives: ICE

Dirty Electricity; The New Oxymoron

A recent Headline from the NYT Sunday paper-How Green are Electric Cars? Depends on Where You Plug In.  suggests that EVs may not be the cleanest form of transportation available and cites a soon to be published Union of Concerned Scientists study.   As an example of the tone- “[W]here generators are powered by burning a high percentage of coal, electric cars may not be even as good as the latest gasoline models — and far short of the thriftiest hybrids.”

(Portland General Electric’s Boardman Coal Fired Plant, now slated to close.)

I re-raise this issue of whether an EV from well to wheel is the greenest transportation alternative because we are now parsing it down region by region, yielding some very interesting variations. See the national graphic found at Carbon In, Carbon Out, Sorting out the Power Grid. For example, Buffalo, NY’s electricity has THE highest per mile equivalency of any region in the country, which means that its kWh generation is the cleanest in terms of carbon emissions and it would take an ICE vehicle having 86 mpg to equal the carbon emission of a Nissan Leaf charging in that region. (Thank you, Niagara Falls) Which zipcode(s) are the worst? Hmm. Think Red States- a swath that cuts from the Dakotas to the midwest to the Southeast.  These are regions heavily reliant on coal generation.  Perhaps most interestingly, Hawaii had one of the worst carbon equivalencies- it would only take a 37 mpg vehicle to equal the carbon emission of a Leaf in Hilo, HI.  Apparently Hawaii needs to accelerate its transition away from non-renewable, imported oil and coal if it is to truly benefit from BEV’s zero emission potential.  And I believe that will happen, as it has adopted several progressive laws incentivizing consumers to buy EVs and landowners to get charging infrastructure in place.  [Note- Denver apparently has a coal problem and is the dirtiest electricity in the country, needing only a 33 mpg vehicle to equal a Leaf.]

But back to the point.  I see that even a 37 mpg ICE is a high efficiency engine compared to the national average, which in 2008 was 25 mpg.  So, even in a region hosting the most dirty electricity out there, in order to beat the emission savings of a Nissan Leaf,  a consumer would still have to buy a small economy car capable of very high mileage.  In most other jurisdictions, few mass marketed vehicles exist (other than a hybrid Prius perhaps 53/46 city and highway mpg) that are capable of attaining the 50 mpg range equivalency.

The transition to renewable energy and away from coal burning plants will continue to raise the mpg equivalencies, region by region. It will also mean that EVs will get cleaner the longer you drive them.  Consider the other benefits.  All the money we spend on electricity, in even the dirtiest jurisdiction, stays in the United States and gets fed into a virtuous loop of economic activity.  Electricity  is domestically produced, comes from diverse and renewable resources and has traditionally been viewed as a quasi-public resource such that it’s pricing structure is extremely stable.  Charging station infrastructure uses an existing electric grid and utilities already have built in excess capacity to meet the load demands of millions of EVs.

We just need consumers (and National newspapers) to start recognizing that clean coal and dirty electricity are both oxymorons.

 

 

 

Reality Check- Four Months in with the Nissan LEAF

I bought (actually leased) the Nissan LEAF on September 17, 2011.  I have had it for over 3900 miles and four months. So, how is it going?

Interestingly, today is the first time I ever walked away from the car in a parking lot leaving it on without realizing it. This may sound strange but the car is so silent, and if you are distracted, as I was because I misplaced the key fob while two friends waited for me to join them on a five mile run in the Arboreteum, you can just walk away from it without noticing.  When I came back an hour later and opened the door, I immediately realized something was wrong as the interior was hot and the fans were running. I could have at least shut off the climate control! That said I still had plenty of charge to get back.

So, other than this mishap, I have not run out of “gas” nor have I experienced any buyer’s remorse.  What are notable observations?  I have applied the brakes hard twice to avoid a collision, when another driver pulled out directly in front of me- it stopped without a problem.  I have run the battery down to four miles or less of range- which did provoke range consternation, though not anxiety.  I still enjoy driving it because the torque is striking and responsive.  I could try to snow you about the performance, but, when it is in its regular D mode, it really is fast– 0-60 in 7 seconds.  I have inadvertently squeaked its tires while accelerating in a curve.

I wish there were more far flung public charging stations so I could use the car for extended travel.  Those charging stations that are out there need MUCH better signage.  I literally drove around an entire multi-level parking structure in Salem looking for two level 2 chargers and never found them, later to be told they were there. Still I do 99% of my charging at my residence which is a function of my typical mile usage during the day.  I seldom neglect to connect the charger at night.  When I do charge downtown, I tend to use the same public charging locations.  I miss having the gas station attendant clean the front and rear windows; if you don’t have to gas up, you don’t get any personalized attention.    I also tend to average 75 miles per full charge if counting highway miles and use of climate control.

When I now drive a combustion vehicle I immediately have to recalibrate my foot pressure on the gas pedal because I notice the ICE is not as responsive as the EV and requires more finesse to keep from accelerating in a herky-jerky fashion. EVs accelerate cleanly and evenly with foot pressure.

I have had only one person, a pedestrian, notice the “Zero Emission” decal while I was driving (in this case stopped at a light) and actually engage me in conversation.  Otherwise people are completely oblivious to the car and its message.

I tend to shut off the noise manufacturing device as it irritates me.

I can’t imagine the car yet being suitable for colder climate states.  I lived in Maine for ten years and I can tell you that this vehicle is not ready for the trial of a long winter- activating the climate control taxes the battery and reduces the range by 10-15% immediately.  Even pre-heating it while it is attached to a charger does not offer much advantage as the car chills down quickly when used; windows offer little insulation and the car does not retain heat.

Perhaps the most interesting change of driving awareness dynamic arises from the “fuel” gauge, which ostensibly tells you how many miles  remain on your battery.   For those who are video-game-minded, the whole point is to maximize your mileage.  So, while driving up a hill saps the battery by 7 miles, tapping the brakes (did I tell you it uses regenerative braking?) on the downhill puts you up by 1.  Driving becomes a game of terra firma give and take.  My goal is to return home with more energy than I left with.  Driving the Nissan LEAF, I find myself much more conscious of the influence of terrain on my driving experience.   Have you ever thought in those terms driving a combustion engine?