Tag Archives: carbon emission

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?





Zero Means Zero


There has been some press lately calling into question the actual carbon footprint of operating a battery electric vehicle (BEV).  There is logic behind this.  Utilities quite commonly generate carbon emissions from their portfolio of generation sources, whether natural gas driven turbines or coal plants.  They (the investor owned utilities like PGE or PacifiCorps) are obligated as regulated monopolies to provide power on demand to our society, no matter that demand’s daily and seasonal peaks and troughs.  As a result they have devised an ingenious system that includes baseload power generation sources (those which can economically and reliably provide most of our power needs, day in, day out) and peaking plants to cover exceptional power needs.  The source of this baseload power is highly dependent on the region served.  The Southeast and Northeast have had little historic choice but to rely on fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, to feed their demand.  They lack cheap, natural resources.  The Northwest has the happy fate of enjoying a deep bench of low or zero emission generation sources starting with the Columbia River Basin Hydro-system (which generates almost 50% of the region’s power depending on snowpack) and extending out into the Gorge through Sherman and Morrow Counties where currently 2300 mWh of wind generation (valued at $4.5b) has been installed.

So how do you respond when someone says an EV’s electrical use is not “clean”?

First, zero emission vehicles are simply defined as emitting no combustion byproducts from their tailpipe.  At this level, and it is a reasonable level, all BEVs qualify as zero emission.  In congested, urban settings, preventing the introduction of additional emissions has tangible environmental and health benefits. Of course, the argument then turns to the generation source of electricity, often located far away from the urban centers who benefit most from the generation,  and whether that contributes CO2 emission and merely displaces its impact to rural settings. An analysis requires each EV owner to be familiar with the source of his/her region’s baseload electrical generation (which you should be able to get directly from your electricity provider.)

“Even in the worst-case scenario where 100 percent of that generation is from coal, there is still a net positive emissions trade-off,” Glenn Stancil  of NRG Energy VP said. A 2007 study found that a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle charged with electricity from a coal plant would result in 25 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than a conventional gasoline vehicle, he said. The study was conducted by Electrification Coalition, a trade group of which NRG is a member.

A study by Jan Kreider, founding director of the University of Colorado‘sJoint Center for Energy Management, found similar results.

It bears noting that EVs are much more efficient in converting energy to movement compared to their gas counterparts, which means they still create less carbon emissions per mile.  In that sense, even if we kept coal and natural gas electric generating plants, and added to them, as a country we would still experience a net decline in carbon emissions if our light-duty/passenger fleet converted over entirely to BEVs.

We can do better.  In the Pacific Northwest we have the unique ability to charge our BEVs with truly clean electric power. Portland General Electric sponsors its Green Source Program, which adds 1.2 cents per kWh on my monthly bill.  For this, I receive a 100% renewable energy mix ranging from low-impact hydro, to wind to geothermal.

Zero can truly mean zero.