Tag Archives: Portland General Electric

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?

 

 

 

 

The Journey Down Electric Avenue Begins

Portland State University and PGE co-sponsor a remarkable experiment in electric vehicle charging behavior, called Electric Avenue. Located in Portland at 633 SW Montgomery Street, it displays six level two charging station products (Blink, GE, OPConnect, Shorepower), plus one of the first DC FC installed in the country manufactured by Eaton.  Designated EV only parking spots,warnings are directed to ICE vehicles who nonetheless try to quietly slip into the available spaces with misguided hope that they won’t get ticketed (they will, to the tune of $70.00). Finding parking is such a premium at PSU that many drivers no doubt pull in reflexively.   Opened on August 17th, Electric Avenue featured a flashmob that danced in coordinated t-shirts and steps to the hauntingly obsessive song- “Electric Avenue” by Eddy Grant.

Each day, each week, offers PSU a new opportunity to see how EV users and publicly sited charging stations interact.   Practical issues become apparent.  Does the experimental signage communicate the parking location and restrictions properly? Does the DC FC properly instruct people how to use the connector without breaking the Yazaki Energy Systems manufactured tab.
Do the chargers function appropriately in all types of weather and usage? Do the chargers attract graffiti? Can seven chargers be sequenced on the same street easily?  Is clustering of chargers less expensive and more beneficial to attracting users?  Do people find the location near the streetcar useful?  When does most charging occur and for how long?

Perhaps its most important function is drawing attention to the technology. Students walk past as I connect my LEAF to a charging port.  Some spontaneously taking pictures with their cell phones.  They point. They talk huddled in groups.  They try not to stare.  But there is electricity in air.

Other  electric avenue facts

EV Roadmap 4- Getting to a Million

Sponsored by Portland State University and PGE, the EV Roadmap series recently completed its fourth iteration. George Beard, Strategic Business Alliance Builder Extraordinaire, constructed the conference around the theme of “Getting to a Million” and interwove the pragmatic with the aspirational.
I have been attending them since the beginning (Nov/09) and always find something intriguing and hopeful in the two days. This time was no exception.

Of particular interest was the conference’s use of electronic polling of the audience the results of which were displayed on the big screen.  Questions ranged from factual knowledge (how much oil does the US import each year?) to subjective conclusions (how likely is Oregon to meet its EV objectives?)

Most provocative was Sam Ori’s presentation of Oil Shockwave, designed to to incite awareness of how precarious the perch is of the United States when it comes to global oil production interruption.  Oil Shockwave is designed to bring seasoned domestic security decisionmakers to confront a terrorist attack  at Saudi Arabia’s Abaquiq oil refinery compounded by geopolitical intrigue.  As a country, we are only 3% (of global oil production)  away from massive price spikes and severe economic damage.   Sam also related that the Saudi’s recently let slip they do not want to cause such price spikes because it will hasten the developed world’s transition to renewable energy sources.

In Oregon’s case, we have assigned for ourselves the goal of achieving 30,000 EVs sales by 2015, tripling our pro rata share of Obama’s national goal.  This means that 2012 will be a BIG year if we are to stay on track to meet those numbers. According to Charlie Allcock, PGE’s Director of Business Development,  we will be facing formidable challenges including ongoing unemployment, high MSRP, and diminishing tax credit incentives.   If we are to meet just the one percent goal of 10,000 vehicles, we will need to sell 2000 new EVs by the end of 2012.

How do we get there?  The solution lies in a multi-pronged approach. 

We must stress consumer education and outreach.  [Oregon’s Governor’s Transportation Electrification Executive Council  (TEEC) is promoting a strategy of “eyeballs and seats” which presumes that the more vehicles out and about in public, the more people will begin to entertain EVs as an alternative to conventional vehicles.  Providing visibility, driving experience, and broadcasting a positive message using all forms of media (including blogs!) will help inspire change.  The focus group that was videoed live at the conference showed many EV myths remain, including perceptions that the vehicles are prohibitively expensive, have limited range and speed, and take too long to charge.]

We must assist fleet managers in running the numbers to show the long-term operational cost advantages presented by EVs, especially when fuel price volatility is introduced.

We must get people to begin to assess their driving habits, operational costs and routines so their next vehicle purchase  is based on choice of electrified transport that accounts for these realities.

We must start our own social movement by engaging social networks and creating toolkits to promote social engagement with the personal and public virtues of EVs. [Check out Nathan Pinsley, a strategist at Purpose.com, who provided one of the more interesting presentations on bridging the gap from early adopters to mainstream]

We must continue to subsidize technologic innovation to fuel progress in battery development and continued downward trajectory of pricing.

We must build strategic partnerships between electric utilities, smart grid technologies, and regulatory authorities.

We must NOT rely upon Washington to solve our energy problems given the partisan divide and gridlock.  No more federal loan guarantees or manufacturing tax incentives are imminent.   States and regions must provide their own set of solutions.

If we truly aspire to greatness on behalf of our nation and the environment, maybe 30,000  EV sales in Oregon by 2015 isn’t such a daunting number.