Monday, March 23, 2015

Born Electric Guest Blogger: Meet Steve from Washington

Hi! My name is Steve and I was born electric on August 15, 2012.

You highly intelligent, super savvy readers may be questioning my sanity. Or, at the very least, fact-checking. And those dubious thoughts are spot on. The above picture is me putting gas into a new kind of EV: a BMW i3. And those understanding of the i3 know that, in 2012, the i3 only existed as an internal tension at BMW between the maniacal engineers that thought a mass-market car could be made extensively with carbon fiber and the bean counters that believed BMW i was a financial money pit destined to ruin Team Bavaria. Eureka!

EV Bloodline

Our first three EVs were all-electric Nissan LEAFs. 
Back in the summer of 2012, we started replacing our gasoline-fueled family hauler fleet. The second LEAF came eight months later, making us an all-EV household. My wife and I defiantly and definitively proclaimed that we would never again visit a gas station. Then in 2014, I traded my beta test 2012 LEAF for a ready-for-market 2014 LEAF.  We were seemingly set with two very capable EVs in our garage: a 2013 Nissan LEAF SL and a 2014 Nissan LEAF SL.

Then the electric vehicle market expanded +1 in Washington state. BMW started selling its i3 in the State the latter half of 2014. By Christmas, I had one on an extended test drive. When we turned the i3 back over to the BMW dealership, we were conflicted. The i3, with its onboard gas generator, or Range Extender (REx), was far more capable as a transporting vehicle. However, Nissan's LEAF, with its CHAdeMo-equipped quick charging, was far more capable as an EV. 
Fallen LEAF

Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic (CFRP) Passenger Cell
Unless you are a bot scouring the Interwebs, you have correctly surmised that we ended up buying an i3. On March 12, 2015, we traded in my wife's 2013 LEAF for a BMW i3 REx. The i3 is unlike any vehicle on the road: carbon fiber, suicide rear doors, and series-hybrid purity. The features and headlines that make the i3 such an emotionally appealing vehicle are all present in our Bimmer. Yes, there are plenty of bits to get excited about with the car. However, the deciding factor in selling a LEAF for the i3 was the REx option. 

For the past three years, we have traveled far, but not wide, in a LEAF. We have shown that all-electric travel is quite possible the 1,500 miles between Kamloops, British Columbia and the U.S.-Mexico border. But EV travel (sans Tesla EVs) is only practically doable in a narrow 200 mile east-west corridor along the entirety of the West Coast.

Road Trip! A Coram Family tradition.
My wife and I have a long history of road trips...long before we had EVs, long before we had kids. Now that we have EVs and kids, we have naturally invoked our parental obligations of perpetuating traditions with our Littles. And, we've all but exhausted the territory that we can travel to by LEAF. From here on out, the i3 will be taking over as the primary road trip car. With that in mind, I wanted to prepare a day trip for the i3 that would serve as a suitable first, of many, REx adventures.

One of the great tests for EVs lies in day-tripping to the Olympic Peninsula from the Seattle area. I've done this trip twice with my children. The first attempt, ended in failure. The second a success, as we made it to Hurricane Ridge, a spectacular mountain region south of Port Angeles. What makes EV day travels to the Olympic Peninsula challenging is that the last ferry on the Kingston-Edmonds route departs at 11:00pm. In addition, there is not DC quick charging support, and only a limited number of Level 2 charging stations in the region. Basically, the furthest west a current generation LEAF can go in a day, from where we live in Lake Stevens, is Port Angeles.

The i3 REx faired much better. This is our report..
Topping off the 1.9 gallon gas tank!
We pulled out of the garage at about 7:00am, and made the ferry crossing and drive to Port Angeles by mid-morning. And after charging at a Sun Country-branded Clipper Creek High-Amp Level 2 (HAL2) charging station for a bit over an hour, we topped off the gas tank and continued west: Destination Cape Flattery 70+ miles away.

We made it to Neah Bay after about two hours of driving; WA-112 is not an interstate. The typical travel speed was about 45mph, and we had to watch out for the occasional herd of elk!
A herd of a few dozen elk crossed the road we were driving on!
The Makah Tribe, in the Neah Bay region, have started supporting electric vehicle tourism with several recent EVSE installations. The first, a HAL2 and dual Tesla High-Power Wall Chargers (HPWCs) are located in the town of Neah Bay. The second, another HAL2 and dual HPWCs are located at the Hobuck Beach Resort.

Both locations are glorious, in scenery and in EVSE support. In between these two gems, is a marvel in its own right: Cape Flattery. The Cape Flattery experience is second to none. It provides quintessential Pacific Northwest ocean views and kid-friendly hiking abound.

So, after trekking around Cape Flattery in the early afternoon, we let the kids play on the mile-wide Hobuck Beach, which has sand more reminiscent of a Hawaiian coastline than the typical pebbled Northwest affair.

Hobuck Beach: End of the road
By late afternoon, we were heading back east, towards Port Angeles, the Kingston-Edmonds ferry, and eventually home. Pulling into the garage at just past midnight, we were all exhausted, with both kids soundly asleep in the back of the i3. What was different about this trip: We covered 340 miles in a day (using less than 5 gallons of gasoline), and the kids were dead-tired because we had so much adventure outside of traveling in the car.

Tuckered out after a day of fun.
Road trips will forever be different for us, now that we have an i3 with REx. Whereas before, with a LEAF, every moment of the trip was in service of charging. The motto, "if it ain't movin', it better be chargin', " was not coined by somebody driving a hybrid, or Tesla for that matter.

With the i3, we will be able to drive all-electric, all the time. Or, if we wish, we can utilize the REx to take us where no Coram has gone before. Now, that sounds like an EVenture!
We love our new i3!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Featured EV Product: The JLong

The charging stations at the parking garage in Montclair, NJ are frequently ICE'd. This is a common problem across the country. Quick Charge Power has a solution: The JLong.

If you drive an electric vehicle and rely on public charging infrastructure, then you've most likely come across situations where the public charging station you arrived at was blocked by a car that isn't plugged in. At the very least it's frustrating, and at the worst it's disastrous if you absolutely need to charge in order to continue driving that day.

ICE-ing is an epidemic
When an EV owner pulls up to a charging station and a gas car is parked there, they call it being "ICE'd," referencing the Internal Combustion Engine of the car blocking them from charging. However this unfortunately isn't only happening with ICE vehicles. Now that electric vehicles are increasing in numbers and parking is always a premium in some locations, some EV owners are using the charging station spaces to park, even when they don't have to plug in. In my opinion, this is far worse than when the driver of an ICE vehicle parks there because the EV owner should know better. In any case, the person blocked from the charging station is terribly inconvenienced.

If you are low on charge and can't make it to the nearest alternative charging station, there isn't much you can do. You can:
A) Wait for the person to move their car so you can pull into the space and plug in.
B) Try to find the person who is parked there to see if they'll move their car, or
C) Call the police and have the car ticketed and towed, but only if there is specific signage allowing that, which isn't the case for most public charging locations. These options are time consuming and bothersome, and there's no guarantee that the car will move in time to allow you to charge as much as you need to.
To illustrate how the JLong works I chose to use it without cars blocking the camera's view. You can see I was easily able to park one space away from the EVSE and with the extra cable coiled up on the ground in front of my car I could have definitely even parked another space away and had plenty of cable to reach.  Click on the photo to enlarge.
Then there is another issue that sometimes creates problems for public charging stations; the snow. When snow plow crews clear parking lots they push the snow wherever it's most convenient, and where there is room to accommodate the piles of snow they produce. Often that's where the EVSE's are located. I own a commercial property that had two ChargePoint EVSE's and I can say first hand they present a problem during the winter months. I want to keep them clear and accessible, but that's not always possible, especially when there are frequent storms with a lot of snow like we had this winter. I do my best to clear a path to the EVSE's but the cars still need to park much further from the charging stations than they usually do, and if they don't get to park in the spot closest to the EVSE the cable won't reach the vehicle.
This isn't all that uncommon during the winter months in areas that get a lot of snow. Without a product like the JLong you'll never reach your car with that cable. Photo credit: Chevy Volt Owners Facebook group.
Now there is a simple solution that will instantly solve the problem in many of these frustrating situations and it's called the JLong. You plug one end of it into the connector from the EVSE, and the other end has a J1772 connector that plugs into your car. Available from Quick Charge Power the JLong is an extension cord for electric vehicle charging stations. It is compatible with the J1772 connector which is the connector used by all modern highway-capable electric vehicles sold in North America with the exception of Tesla. Tesla however provides a free J1772 adapter with every car they sell so this can also be used with Tesla vehicles.

Credit: Andy Stewart Facebook
The JLong can be custom ordered with any length of cable, but comes standard with lengths of 10, 20, 30 and 40 feet. Personally I believe the 20 foot cable is adequate for most situations, but it wouldn't hurt to have an extra 10 feet just in case the first available space is a couple of spaces from the EVSE. You'll regret not spending the extra money for a longer cable if you come up short one day.

Since most parking spaces in the US are 8 feet to 9 feet wide, a 20 foot JLong, combined with the EVSE's cable will allow you to park three spaces away from it and still plug in. For every ten feet of cable you add, you can park in one space further and still plug in. Pricing is reasonable considering it's a quality product, and dependent on the length of cable you wish to order.
The JLong comes with a small lock to lock the J1772 connector which prevents someone from unplugging and stealing it

The JLong is made in the US and appears to be very well made. There are other J1772 extensions on the market but the JLong seems to be the highest quality one that I've come across so far which is why I'm comfortable recommending it here. I even know one person who bought a similar product from another company and returned it because they didn't think the quality was up to par. They then bought a JLong  a couple months ago and have been very happy with it. From the Quick Charge Power site:

"...Our second generation JLong, has a custom handle (see photo) built of 6061-T6 aluminum alloy and TIG welded. It is powder coated with a special "grip" feature and is laser etched with our logo. 

We use a special 8 conductor cable assembly built to our unique specification for maximum flexibility and light weight.The entire assembly will be good for up to 40 amps. All power conductors are professionally crimped to military and aerospace specifications. We don't use alloy aluminum handles, custom cables and mil-spec professional crimps (amongst many other features) because it's cheap. We do it because it's the best.

Our new price with all these features is now $199.00 for 10 feet. Each additional foot is $5. If somebody were to run over your JLong in the parking lot, there's a good chance that the host J1772 plug will be destroyed and your JLong just might still be usable."
Even BMW dealerships have ICEing problems. I recently stopped at this BMW dealership in NJ for a quick boost and found the EVSE blocked. In this instance I could have reached the cable but then I'd be blocking the lane for cars to drive by. To make matters worse there were plenty of parking spaces open for the dealer to park the cars within 30 feet of this but they blocked the EVSE anyway.  The JLong gives you a lot of flexibility on where you can park and still plug in.

I come across a lot of products for electric vehicles, and this is one I can honestly say is a must have for those who rely on public charging. It's a high quality unit, made in Kennewick, Washington and appears able to withstand the rigors of being used in public places, stepped on and even possibly run over (But I still wouldn't recommend that). Both ends have covers to prevent snow, mud, etc, from getting in should you drop it and it has a custom built, 4th generation design cable assembly built in Ontario, California USA. In most cases it will allow you to avoid being blocked from plugging in, so you can continue on with your daily activities and not worry about how you're going to make it to the next destination, or even home later that day. You can order a JLong from Quick Charge Power from this link.

I also want to mention that Electric Auto Association members get a 5% discount on all Quick Charge Power products along with free shipping on orders over $100. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

BMW i3: Understanding How Preconditioning Works

Setting the preconditioning feature from the i3's iDrive is simple, but not as intuitive as I believe it could be. You can set the time of departure for every day of the week and the i3 will be charged, preconditioned and ready, provided you're charging from a proper 240v, level 2 electric supply. 
In many ways electric cars are very similar to their internal combustion counterparts and that's by design. Most major OEMs are afraid to make something that's "too different" from what their existing customer base is comfortable with. However there are features in electric vehicles that are indeed drastically different. The first one that comes to mind is regenerative braking which allows the electric motor to convert the vehicle's kinetic energy back into electricity which in turn recharges the battery. This feature changes the driving dynamics of the car (some more than others depending on how aggressive the regenerative braking system is) and the operator needs to adjust to this when they first transition to an electric vehicle.
During the winter months preconditioning in New Jersey not only means getting into a warm car in the morning, but it also adds valuable miles to the car's range by warming the battery cells up to their preferred operating temperature.
Another unique feature most modern electric vehicles have is the ability to precondition (warm or cool) the high voltage traction battery as well as the passenger cabin. This allows the driver to begin their journey with a properly heated or cooled battery and cabin, while still having the state of charge at or near 100%. Some conventional combustion cars also allow you to remotely start the vehicle to warm it up in the winter or cool it off in the summer, but the reasoning behind that is purely comfort-driven, and with EVs it goes beyond that. Since electric vehicles have shorter range and longer refueling times than their combustion counterparts, it's important to save the energy in the battery for its main purpose; to propel the vehicle, and not waste too much of it on ancillary power draws.

Warming the battery and the cabin uses a lot of energy, and doing so while the vehicle is plugged into the main power allows the driver to begin their trip with a properly warmed battery (which will increase the range) and still have a fully charged pack. This is very important for EV owners in cold weather climates. It is also useful to cool the car in hot ambient temperatures, but more frequently used by EV owners in the cold since a cold battery can reduce its range up to 30%. A hot battery won't reduce the car's range, but it can have an adverse effect on the longevity of the battery cells. Therefore preconditioning the battery in very hot climates is also advised, but for different reasons than doing so in the cold.

During the day my i3 is parked outside while I work. Accessing the preconditioning from my iRemote app is very useful as I don't have to go outside to the car to turn it on.
OK, so it's clear preconditioning is useful, but do you really know how it works on your i3? I'm afraid most i3 owners don't. In fact, judging by how many people have messaged me this winter asking for help with preconditioning, I'm thinking it's right up there with how to properly care for their battery as the top misunderstood items of i3 ownership. This is all new stuff, and even most dealers don't know all of the answers so it's no surprise the customers are a bit confused. This post should clear the air on most questions about how preconditioning works on your i3. I knew how most of the i3's preconditioning worked, but just to make sure I didn't have anything confused, I reached out to BMW's top electric vehicle technical services manager in the US to get answers to direct questions that I had previously received from readers:

Q. When Preconditioning via the iRemote app Remote Control menu is activated, only the cabin is preconditioned, not the battery, correct?
A. When triggering Preconditioning from the Remote Control menu, the answer is Yes, only the cabin.

Q. If you want to precondition the battery from the app, you need to set the departure time and then enable “preconditioning for departure," correct? 
A. Yes, provided the departure time programmed is at least 3 hours from the time when it is selected.
*Important: This is a very important fact that most i3 owners are not aware of. If you don't set the departure time at least three hours in advance the car is not performing battery preconditioning at all, only the cabin will be preconditioned.

Q. Can you precondition the battery without the vehicle being plugged in?
A. The HV battery, no. The cabin, yes.

Q. Can you precondition the battery while the vehicle is plugged into a 120v source or does it need to be connected to a 240v source?
A. 120V (Level 1/OUC) or 240V (Level 2) have the same effect in terms of Preconditioning. However, if charging on Level 1, the preconditioning consumption is higher than the charge rate, therefore potentially the vehicle will not be fully charged at the departure time.

Q. How early before the departure time will the vehicle begin to precondition?
A. When using the vehicle preconditioning menu, it will depend on temperature, but generally 30-40 minutes prior to the set departure time the cabin preconditioning will start, and the battery preconditioning will start 150 minutes prior to that.

Q. Will the car ever turn a battery warming on by itself if the battery temperature gets critically low. For example, the car is parked outside and plugged in and the battery temperature drops below 30 degrees, will the preconditioning turn on and warm the battery up without owner intervention?
A. No. User intervention is required for battery preconditioning. If the battery temperature is very low, it will be outside its normal operating temperature. As a result, the power output and usable energy of the battery will be reduced.

Q. How about if it gets critically hot – over 105 degrees?
A. If the battery temperature is higher than the optimal operating range and preconditioning is activated, the battery can be cooled. This is not very common due to the fact that the battery is such a high thermal mass, is located close to the ground, and is not exposed to direct sunlight.

Q. Why is it that sometimes after preconditioning (plugged in) the car is left at 97% or 98% SOC? Why doesn’t it fully recharge the car to 100%?
A. When preconditioning using a Level 1 charger, the car will always be below 100%. It could be about 80% or lower.(Because it uses more energy than the 120v source can provide) When using a Level 2 charger, the SOC could be slightly under 100% as the vehicle electrical load stays somewhat constant while the charger will switch off and on.

Q. Will battery cooling occur automatically while you are driving when the battery temp exceeds a certain set point?
A. Yes.

When battery preconditioning is being performed, what is the battery temperature that the vehicle is attempting to achieve?
A. The battery is warmed or cooled to bring it close to or within the optimal operating range of 25-40C (77-104F)

I'm certain that the vast majority of i3 owners are not aware that the car does not initiate battery preconditioning unless they set the departure time at least three hours in advance. Also, based on feedback I've received here, many i3 owners aren't aware that they aren't preconditioning the battery if they initiate precon by pressing the small fan icon at the bottom of the main state of charge screen on their iRemote app. By doing so, that only initiates cabin warming or cooling. In order to precondition the battery as well as the cabin from the app, you must set a departure time at least three hours in advance and then slide the preconditioning tab to "on." Don't feel bad if you own an i3 and didn't know all this, most client advisers at many BMW dealerships don't know it either. It's a little confusing at first, and honestly I think the app could be made a little more intuitive, but once you understand how it works, it's easy to set. You can also set the departure times and precon from the iDrive in the car.

Using the "Activate Climate Control" app feature on the left only preconditions the cabin. To precondition the battery as well as the cabin, use the "set departure time" feature which is accessed by pressing the small clock tab on the top right of the state of charge display screen. Once you set the departure time, you also need to slide the precondition tab to the "on" position.

Living in northern New Jersey I get to experience a range of temperature extremes and using the preconditioning feature is definitely helpful. We just finished the coldest month I can ever remember and it seemed just about every day I was leaving the house in the morning with temperatures in single digits or below zero. One day it was actually minus eleven degrees Fahrenheit when I began my morning drive. Even though my car is parked inside my garage, when it's this cold the battery temperature drops to levels that severely impact its performance and the range is reduced. I noticed I could add as much as eight to ten miles to my range if I used the preconditioning on the coldest days. It's also nice to get into a warm car, and this enables you to turn down the cabin heat a bit, which additionally helps extend the range. I found that if I allowed the preconditioning to warm the cabin, I could then lower the cabin heat, or even turn it off for a while and just use the heated seats which use much less energy than the cabin heater. 

I hope this helps i3 owners understand a little more about preconditioning. If you have more questions, please leave them below in the comments section and I'll do my best to answer them.