Stories from the cold snap

Winter in CanadaLast month, parts of the US and Canada braced for record-breaking low temperatures as a blast of arctic air blew across North America. Here in Ottawa, the thermometer stayed below -20C for three days in a row, plunging to as low as -28C.

A temperature of -25C is an important threshold for the LEAF batteries because the chemical process that produces electricity will basically freeze at that temperature. To prevent that from happening, the battery pack is surrounded by thermal blankets and electrical heaters to keep it warm. According to the Owner’s Manual, the heaters kick in at -17C, heat up the batteries to -10C, and then turn themselves off until the battery temperature hits -17C again.

The heaters consume about 300 Watts when running, which is not a lot energy compared to what the motor uses (up to 80 kW). If the car is plugged in, the heating energy comes from the grid, but if the car is unplugged, the heaters will use electricity from the battery itself, creating yet another impact on total range if you park outside for long periods of time.

Another important point to keep in mind is that the heaters will only turn themselves on if the batteries are at least 30% charged. What happens if there’s not enough charge? Well, if the battery temperature drops below -25C, a safety mechanism will prevent the car from operating. You will either have to wait for the air temperature to rise again or plug the car in so that it can warm itself up using energy from the grid.

That’s all the theory but how often do the battery heaters run in practice, and how much energy do they use?

I ran a little experiment during the cold snap by leaving the car unplugged during the night and also during the day, and used the data logger from FleetCarma to verify how much energy was effectively used. I also measured the impact on my daily range, simulating the case where I would not able to trickle charge at work.

Parking overnight outside unplugged

Outside Temperature

With the weather forecast calling for very cold temperatures overnight,  I charged the LEAF to 80% (10 bars) and left it parked outside for the night, to see how the battery heaters would work. I also wanted to measure the effect of driving to work in the morning without any pre-heating from the grid, basically the opposite of what I would normally do — a worst case scenario we all try to avoid. The result was quite interesting.

IMG_8910-1Early in the morning, with the temperature just a notch from -28C, I actually caught the LEAF in the act. From inside the house, I could see the bright blue charging status indicator lights blink in a specific pattern, showing that the battery warmer was busy doing its work.

Carwings CarWings indicated that the battery charge had dropped from 10 to 8 bars overnight. More precise data from Fleetcarma showed that the battery warmer ran for 2 hours and 42 minutes, bringing the battery charge from 79.6% down to 67.4% (a 12.2% loss).

Once inside the car, the Dashboarddashboard confirmed the 8 bars of charge. It also showed a single bar of battery temperature. For some reason, the car thermometer showed -23C, almost 5 degrees warmer than the outside temperature. Notice the estimated range of 64 km. That is very optimistic.

Arrived at workIt usually takes me 2 to 3 bars to get to work without any climate control, but at this temperature, with no pre-heating and with the cabin heater on, it took me 5 bars instead. As you can see on the left, I arrived at work with only 3 bars left and estimated range of 21 km. Fleetcarma data showed that the 37 min, 17.15 km trip reduced the battery charge from 67.3% to 39.8%, arriving at half of the original 80% charge I had in the morning. As for that optimistic range of 64 km, in reality it was more like 38 km (with an 80% charge).

Arrived at workWith -25C on the dashboard thermometer, the remaining 21 km of range would be enough to take me back home. However, if I had to spend 8 to 9 hours at work with the car unplugged, the battery warmer would probably kick in during the day again causing the estimated range to drop. Fortunately, I have access to a 120 V outlet at work, which makes a big big difference in winter, so that wasn’t a concern.

So, parking outside unplugged overnight: definitely not a good idea!

Parking outside at work, unplugged

On a different day, I did the exact opposite: parked overnight plugged-in as usual inside the garage, and parked outside the whole day at work unplugged. The battery warmer did not kick in at any time during the night, even though my garage is not heated. Temperatures during the day were not as harsh as during the night, going from -27C at 8am to a high of -22.5C  at 4pm.

Arrived at workI left to work with a full charge (88.7% SOC), drove the same 17 km, arrived with 67% left, or 77 km of estimated range. I parked outside as planned. The battery warmer kicked in 4 hours later and ran for 3 hours and 7 minutes, causing the battery charge to drop from 66.3% to 57.5%, an 8.8% loss.

photoBefore I left work, I pre-heated the cabin remotely, while still unplugged, which took another 1.7% of the charge, down to 55.8% SOC. I arrived home with 37.7% charge, or 26 km of estimated range left.

Total range for the day (with a full charge, without charging at work): 34km driven + 26 km left = 60km.

Conclusion: Parking outside at work is not as bad as parking outside overnight, mainly because hours are shorter and temperatures are usually higher so impact on range is not as critical.

So how much energy does the battery warmer consume?

During the experiment, I was able to measure three battery warming events in total. While that is not enough data to extrapolate a pattern or a formula, this is the summary of what I was able to observe:

  • For temperatures varying between -22C and -28C.
  • Time it took for the battery warmer to kick in: 3.5h to 7.5h
  • Warming time: 2.7h to 5.2h
  • SOC% drop: 8.8% to 16.4%
  • Power consumption: 287W to 421W

Time to Put That Gas Money to Good Use (and I need your help)

adopt-a-familyOne of the best things about driving an electric vehicle is to pass by and never have to fill up at gas stations. Because electricity costs so much less, and electric cars are so much more efficient, we end up saving a fair amount of money in fuel.

This year I decided to put some of these savings toward a good purpose. My employer, IBM Canada, runs a volunteer program called Adopt-A-Family, which helps to provide for families living in local Ottawa shelters during the Holiday Season.

I’m also very grateful to IBM for letting me charge at work, which makes my life so much easier. Putting it all together, I thought it would be more than fair if I could match and donate their electricity costs to one of the families in need.

I did all the calculations using the data collected with the C5 Data Logger from Fleetcarma. By adding up all Level 1 charging sessions during work hours between October 2012, when I first started using the logger, and October 2013, I figured that on average I used $2.18 of electricity, or about one large cup of coffee at Tim Hortons… per week! That comes as quite a surprise to most people, as they learn how little it costs to drive electric.

The grand total for the year was $113.36. I decided to donate an additional 10% in order to reach $125, which is half of what I need to provide for one single-parent family with two kids.

That’s why I need your help.

I’d like to ask other EV owners to also get some of that gas money and make a donation of any value to help us reach the $250 goal. If we manage to get more than $250, we can direct the funds to a bigger family or even adopt a second one.

About The Shelter

Maison D’Amitie (The Friendship House) is a shelter that supports women victims of violence and their children. They’ve been working to ensure the safety and well-being of women since 1976. Maison D’Amitie is a friendly and accessible safe place where women can be listened to and supported through their journey. As one of only two francophone shelters in the National Capital region, their presence is much needed in this area to combat and put an end to violence against women.

Maison D’Amitie has requested that we donate hampers filled with items needed to help women and their children transition from the shelter into their new homes. Most often these families leave their abusers with little more than the clothes on their backs. As such, Maison D’Amitie requested our help in providing much needed supplies to help them set up their new homes. As the shelter does not know what families will be with them during the holiday period, they have requested more generic hampers that they can give to families that will be leaving them around or shortly after Christmas.  They have requested items such as:

  • Sheets (single and double)
  • Towels and wash clothes
  • Kitchen supplies including pots, pans, dishes, cutlery, etc.
  • Toiletries
  • Small appliances
  • Children’s books, craft supplies, school supplies

The Adopt-A-Family Program encourages us to include a gift card with the hamper. This would give a mother the ability to purchase some gifts for her children or maybe buy food for a Christmas meal. In lieu of purchasing food items, we will include a gift certificate from a local grocery retailer identified by the shelter.

How to donate 

paypal interac-logo

You can send me a donation through Paypal using this email address: (email address removed)

If you’re in Canada, you can send me an Email Transfer, also to (email address removed)

If you prefer to send me a good old cheque, I’ll send you a private message with my mailing address.

If you’re in Ottawa, drop me a line and I’ll try to collect your donation directly. If you prefer to donate items instead of cash, I can collect them too, as long as they fit inside the Leaf. :)

Please note these donations are not tax deductible. If you are interested in donating money directly to Maison D’Amitie, they will be able to issue you a tax receipt directly.

I will need to purchase and deliver all the goods by Tuesday, December 10th.

Let me know if you have any questions and Thank you so much in advance!

Update:  Wow! It only took us 20 mins to reach the $250 goal.  That was amazing!!!  Really really appreciated! Let’s keep it on and see if we can get enough to support a second family! 
Update (Dec 9):  Today is the last day to donate. I need to bring all the items tomorrow morning. So far we have raised more than $350 and still counting!
 Update (Dec 10):  Gifts delivered today (Westie not included).
Gifts
Leaf full of gifts
Update (Feb 16):  Thank-you letter received from the family. Very moving. Thanks to everyone who donated.
Thank-you Letter
 
 
By canadianleaf Posted in Costs

LEAF Range vs. Temperature, After Two Winters

leaf-ice-riverLast year, I posted my first Range vs. Temperature report after the first winter with our Leaf. As the temperature dropped, you could clearly see a trend going down in terms of range, from about 140 Km in the summer, to 80 Km in the winter. We had a fairly mild winter for Canadian standards that year, and I happened to be away on vacation during the coldest days. As a result, I only had a few trips under very low temperatures and the lowest I was able to record was “only” -22C (-8F), and without enough trips to create a good average.

The second issue was that I didn’t know the car very well and I used the cabin heater a lot. As a result, I ended up not having enough data to show how much effect cabin heating would have on range. So the drop in estimated range was fairly significant as you can see below.

Range vs Temperature covering first winter

Range vs Temperature covering first winter

Last winter, I decided to make an experiment to test my hypothesis that cabin heating, not outside temperature, is the main factor affecting range in the winter. As the temperature dropped in January, I decided to take one for the team and drive with minimal cabin heating as much as possible, relying mostly on the heated seats, heated steering wheel and a good winter jacket. I also pre-heated the car before each trip, trying to simulate what I would normally do on a long trip. Pre-heating the car means charging for 20 to 30 mins before each trip and also pre-heating the cabin for at least 15 minutes while still plugged in. This procedure heats up the coolant used by the heating system, using grid power instead of battery power.

The estimated range is based on 120 V charging times. I didn’t use the FleetCarma data because I wanted to compare the results with the original baseline from the first winter, which I created before having the data logger.

With all that in place, I got the following results:

Range vs Temp, before and after

Range vs Temp, before and after

By comparing the two charts side-by-side, you can clearly see that I was able to consistently get at least 100 Km of an estimated range and bring the trend line to a flat line, regardless of the outside temperature.

These results confirmed my expectations but I still find it quite impressive. It is as if the battery didn’t care about the outside temperature as long as its own internal temperature was fine. The fact that you’re either charging or driving the car maintains a flow of electrons in and out of the battery which is enough to generate enough heat to keep the battery chemistry warm. The real challenge is how to keep yourself warm, and any passengers you might have.

I only had two trips recorded with temperatures below -23C, but I had to use the cabin heater in both occasions (freezing to death has its limit). One trip was at -25C (94 km range) and the other at -27C (74 km range). For the latter, the thermometer outside the house actually said -29C but I used the car thermometer as a more consistent reference. I added these two data points to the graph below to illustrate that the flatness of the curve breaks down, closer to last year’s trend, the moment you turn on the heater.

Performance after two winters

One thing these results show is that the cabin heater in the 2011 model is very inefficient. There is hope the 2013 will perform better but it is yet to be tested under the deep freeze (some people expect the performance to be the same when the temperature falls below -10 C).

Some LEAF owners have been successful in installing an internal ceramic heater in the cabin that performs much better than the regular heater. It is also possible to carry a separate 12 V to power that ceramic heater. With such auxiliary heating system in place, I would be very confident that the Leaf could drive 100 km in one charge in the winter regardless of the outside temperature.

Final Thoughts

With winter quickly approaching, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about how the Leaf performs under deep freezing temperatures. Our Leaf already has two Ottawa winters under its belt and we’re getting ready for its third one without a lot of concerns since we pretty much know exactly what the car can and cannot do. So this is how I can summarize our experience with Leaf in the winter so far.

  • Range definitely drops but how much it drops mainly depends on how much you use the cabin heater, not necessarily on the outside temperature.
  • If you heat up the cabin like a furnace and drive like there is no tomorrow, your typical 140 km range can easily drop all the way down to 60 km or even less. But if you manage to keep your cabin cool, drive conservatively, and use some of the techniques described below, you can still drive 100 km under fairly low temperatures.
  • With a short commute like mine (17 to 29 km each way), winter range is rarely a concern. However, if I need to run some errands in the evening, I do need to top off the charge during supper. To me, that’s main difference between summer and winter. In the summer, I rarely need to charge during the day.
  • During the weekends, most of our driving is spread out during the course of the day, with many opportunities to recharge at home. For longer than usual winter drives, we take our range extender (my wife’s car).
  • Heavy snow fall increases rolling resistance, and heavy freezing rain requires you to run the windshield defrost most of the time. I find these two conditions actually worse than a bone chilling but sunny day.
  • There are several techniques you can use to minimize the use of the cabin heater. It is essential to pre-heat the car before you leave, using grid power, and take advantage of the heated seats and heated steering wheels, and keep your winter jacket on.
  • The 2013 model has a more efficient cabin heater that is expected to perform better than the one that I have, but its performance is yet to be tested under very low temperatures.
  • Range concerns aside, the Leaf is the most comfortable car I’ve ever had in the winter. The extra weight from the batteries and the traction control system make it very safe to drive under heavy snow and slush conditions. It doesn’t have any problem “starting” in the cold, or that heavy and sluggish feeling of a gas car in the winter.
  • Finally, being able to charge at work, even from a regular 120 V outlet, makes a huge difference during the winter, for three main reasons:
    • All the energy I spend driving to work is easily recovered during the work hours, so any concern about range only starts after 5 PM.
    • Charging at work keeps the battery warm during the day, improving the car performance during the drive back home.
    • I’m able to continue to charge to 80%, at home and at work, which increases the longevity of the battery pack. Without it, I would probably need to charge to 100% at home every night.

    I hope this helps anyone considering buying a Leaf but is still concerned about driving it in the winter.

Two Years And 42,000 km Later

42,000 km (26,250 miles) and going.

Our LEAF turned two this week. It’s been an absolutely great experience. The LEAF has been performing very well, we haven’t noticed any battery degradation and it’s still a lot of fun to drive, like day one.

Two-year service

This week I took the Leaf for its 24-month scheduled maintenance service at Hunt Club Nissan, the dealership where we took delivery two years ago. According to the maintenance guide, the service should have included replacing the brake fluid, replacing the in-cabin micro filter, rotating tires and a inspecting a long list of items. Interesting enough, absolutely nothing needed to be replaced! Tires were rotated, the battery was tested, items were inspected and that was it. Details below.

Brakes

The brake fluid still looked like new and didn’t need to be flushed. That would have been a costly service that I’m glad the Leaf didn’t need. As for the brake pads, it’s about the same story: We still have a long way to go before we need new ones. That’s one of the best things about regenerative braking. It recovers kinetic energy back into electricity without actually using the regular brakes like in regular gasoline cars. Brake pads are only called into work when the car is just about to stop, or if you brake too hard.

Brake lining after each maintenance service.

Brake lining after each maintenance service.

Brake pads are recommended to be replaced when they are 1 mm thick. They were first measured at the first 6-month service, when the Leaf had about 10,000 km. Since then, both front and rear brakes only lost 1 mm of thickness. At this rate, I estimate I’ll only need to replace them at 186,000 km (rear) and 248,000 (front). Pretty good, eh?

Cabin Air Filter

Nissan recommends changing the in-cabin microfilter every year. The dealer replaced it last year but the old filter still looked pretty clean. Besides, the replacement cost was a hefty $72. Later I realized you can purchase the filter online (for $15) and replace it yourself. That’s what I did this year but I decided to delay the replacement until after 18 months, to wait and see how dirty it gets.

Tires

The original Ecopia tires are still doing well, given that we only use them 8 months a year (we switch to winter tires during the other 4 months). The tire tread depth on all four tires have dropped from 7 mm to 5 mm (6/32″). The minimum depth recommended for summer tires is 1.6 mm (2/32″) so they still have a long way to go. At this rate, I estimate we’ll need to get new summer tires at 75,000 km.

Battery

The Battery Usage Report, which is a mandatory test required by the warranty, passed with flying colors, or five stars, in all categories (charging, driving and storage). The Leaf still has 12 bars of capacity, which is great. Any drop in capacity at this point is still not noticeable.

Cost

I’ve been keeping track of the Leaf’s performance since day one. In these two years we used 5.5 MWh ($658) of home electricity, plus some trickle charging at work, camping sites and the few public charging stations currently available in Ottawa. I estimate that driving the same 42,000 km with our second car, a Toyota Corolla, would have cost us $4,750 in gasoline, plus $250 in oil changes, plus $200 in additional insurance (yes, our insurance company has a fairly good rate on EVs). In total, we have saved $4,542 so far by driving with electricity, or almost $2,300 per year. Over ten years, which is the amount of time we intend to keep the Leaf, the total savings will probably be enough to buy another Leaf!

Reliability

So far, there were three things that had to be replaced under warranty. The parking brake actuator, the Telematics Communication Unit (TCU), and the power lock in one of the rear passenger doors. Out of the three, only the parking brake actuator needed an emergency service, although I was still able to drive the car to the dealer. The electric power train on the other hand has been working flawlessly.

Maintenance

 After two years, there were only two things I had to replace on the LEAF as part of a regular maintenance: the cabin air filter, which I already mentioned, and more recently, the two front wipers in preparation for its third Canadian winter. The dealer performed the two mandatory annual services that included software updates (no cost). I also chose to perform the optional six-month services in between, mostly because they fall right after the salt-and-sand season we call Ottawa’s winter. The scheduled services cost an average of $136 each (excluding the cabin air filter).

Carwings

What can I say about Carwings? It stopped working again last week. I called technical support, they asked me to check the configuration, like they always do, but the car completely lost two way communication with the network. Sigh…

Charging Infrastructure

Even though there are quite a few public charging stations now in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, they are all Level 2 stations which still take a long time to charge. DC Fast Chargers are still not available anywhere, not even at dealerships like in the U.S. Unfortunately Nissan Canada hasn’t done any effort to get them installed north of the border and that’s particularly frustrating. DC Fast Chargers would allow me to do trips that I can’t do today in any practical way. It would be a game changer for EV adoption but it’s not a vision shared by manufacturers in Canada (other than Tesla, who’s right now is building super chargers at the 401in Kingston).

Solar Panels Near Delta, ONIn conclusion

The Leaf is definitely the car we drive the most in the family. Our second car (my wife’s car), which we also use for longer trips, only drove 17,000 km since we first got the Leaf. In other words, the Leaf drove 2.5x as much as our gas car, showing that we only drive it when we really have to.

We love to drive the Leaf. Even my son is driving it now. That’s why it’s so frustrating to take the gas car on a longer trip that we know the Leaf could do if only the Nissan dealership along the way had DC Fast Charger.

You’re buying gas to warm up the hood of your car

Electric vehicles convert up to 62% of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels. Very little is wasted as heat. I took this picture after a one hour drive during a snow storm here in Ottawa. The snow that fell on the hood didn’t melt. It looks like I was just park outside.

Most people don’t realize this but about 80% of the money you spend on gas is actually lost/wasted by your car engine. Internal combustion engines are very inefficient at converting the fuel’s chemical energy to mechanical energy, losing most of it to engine friction, pumping air into and out of the engine, and wasted heat. You’re basically buying gas to warm up the hood of your car.

Source: http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/evtech.shtml

The Nissan LEAF, 30,000 Km later

30,000 Km later, still driving like new

30,000 Km and still driving like new

It’s been 17 months since we first took delivery of our LEAF. Yesterday, as I was driving to work, I had to pull over and take this picture as we had just hit the 30,000 mark. For us, it’s an impressive milestone. I don’t think we’ve ever driven any of our past cars that much in such a short period of time, specially considering most of the driving on the LEAF has happened within the city. For comparison, our gas car only drove 12,000 Km during the same period, which shows that the LEAF is not a good second car like many say, but it is in fact the first car in our family.

30,000 Km also means a lot in terms of savings, for both our pocket and for the environment. Our gas car would have burned at least 2,500 liters of gasoline to drive the same distance, cost about $3,125 at the pump and thrown 6 tons of CO2 in the atmosphere. By comparison, the LEAF cost us about $470 in home electricity, without any gas, oil changes or tailpipes.

On a yearly basis, we drove 21,496 Km in 2012, using just $333 of home electricity. That’s $28 per month, or half of a Corolla gas tank, to drive almost 1,800 Km. Overall, we saved $2,150 in gas, oil changes and car insurance last year.

In terms of issues, the electric power train has been working flawlessly and I haven’t noticed any drop in battery performance or range. There were only two issues that required service under warranty and they were both unrelated to the electric power train: the parking brake actuator got stuck and had to be replaced, and more recently, the power lock actuator in one of the passenger doors also had to be replaced. Carwings remains the single most annoying thing on the LEAF. Nothing to do with the car itself, but with frequent outages in the telemetry service.

The LEAF has also proven to be a very low-maintenance car. The only item we had to replace so far was the cabin air filter, a $20 part that you can buy on eBay and replace yourself, though I only discovered that later, after having the dealer change it for me (for $70). Without any oil to be changed, regular maintenance services are only required every 12 months. They cost the same as any regular car, minus $50 because there’s no oil change! Regular 6-month services are optional but I decided to have them performed as well because they happen right after winter for us, and its always a good idea to have things checked and lubricated after all the slush, sand an salt from ‘the Ottawa roads. They are also considered a “minor” service and cost a bit less than the yearly service.

Finally and most important, the LEAF continues to be very very fun to drive! The instant torque, great acceleration, the low center of gravity (for sharp turns!) and all the quietness and comfort make it always a very pleasant ride.

On to the next 30,000!

Two very cold nights parked at the airport

ImageI left the LEAF at the airport Park and Fly for two nights without realizing it was going to get really cold! If you haven’t heard, the Leaf battery will freeze solid if the temperature hits -25C, and no electrons will pass through the frozen electrolyte. To prevent this from happening, the Leaf has a 300 W battery heater that kicks in when the internal battery temperature hits -20C, stopping when it reaches a more comfortable -10C. The energy to power the heater comes from the battery itself, so in theory, you can lose a significant portion of your charge simply by parking the car during a long cold spell. That’s why you should leave it plugged in when parked in the winter, which clearly wasn’t my case as the Park and Fly doesn’t have any charging points.

The first night hit -23.2C and stayed very low for several hours, while the second night wasn’t so bad as the temperature stayed above -20C. I kept monitoring the charge using the GreenCharge app on the iPhone, but it didn’t change at all. I was curious to see if there was any change in the SOC% so I uploaded the data from the C5 logger to the FleetCarma portal and checked. For the two nights, the state of charge only dropped 1.2%, from 57.4% to 56.2%, which proves that a few degrees below the -20C threshold is still not enough to make a dent.

Phew!

By canadianleaf Posted in Winter

Monitoring the Leaf performance with FleetCarma

Last month a got a call from FleetCarma asking if was interested in trying one of their products and commenting about it. They told me they saw the information I’ve been posting in this blog and thought I would probably like to use their on-board monitoring application and be able to provide good feedback. When I saw the kind of information I would be able to get with their product, I didn’t think twice before jumping on it.

FleetCarma makes an EV Performance Monitoring Solution that combines a data logger connected to the On-Board Diagnostics (OBD-II) port of the Leaf and a web portal where you can upload the collected data and create performance and monitoring reports. It is primarily meant to be used by fleets but it can also be used by individual drivers like me, interested in monitoring cost and performance. The data logger (called C5 logger) stays connected to the car basically all the time, collecting details about charging, driving, temperature and energy used. Like the SOC-meter, it is capable of decoding the exact state of charge of the Leaf to use in its reports, which gives much better precision than what I’m using right now (the 120V charging time).

C5 Logger

The C5 logger collects and saves all telemetry on a 2GB microSD card, which is large enough to store months or possibly years of data. Every time you get a chance – I do it every few days, you unplug the C5 Logger, remove the microSD card and connect it to a computer using a standard microSD card reader. Then log on the web portal and upload all the data files in it. This will cause all reports to be updated automatically. The more frequent you upload the data, the more up-to-date the reports will be.

Dashboard

The main report is a dashboard showing the overall measurements collected and accumulated by the C5 Logger over time. By default, the report covers all the days you used the C5 Logger in the car, but you can also specify start and end dates. The dashboard has several “widgets” that show different measurements, and tabs that show more detailed information. We’ll look at each one of the widgets separately and analyze some of the most interesting data along the way, before digging into the report tabs.

Distance

The distance widget shows the total and daily average distances driven throughout the monitoring period. I just noticed that my daily average (66 Km) is almost twice my regular commute to work (34 Km). That means commuting is only half of what we use the Leaf for.

Driving Energy

Driving energy shows the “MPG-equivalent” measured during the period, but in metrics (liters per 100 km). I don’t mind MPGe but “km per kWh” would also be a meaningful measurement to show (5.7 km/kWh in our case). This widget also shows the total energy supplied by the battery while driving (283 kWh) and how much energy was lost during the charging process (27 kWh). That basically means 8.7% of the electricity we spend on the Leaf gets lost in the charger. Something for my to-do list: compare these values with the ones measured by my kWh-meter to see how accurate they really are.

Time

The time widget shows a pie chart comparing how much time the Leaf spent running, idling, charging and, well, resting. You can immediately see that almost ¾ of the time the Leaf is basically parked doing nothing. The remaining time is mostly spent charging (21%) and only 6% of the time is actually spent driving. The relatively high charge-to-drive ratio is due to the slow 3.3 kW Level 2 charger of the Leaf, which doesn’t take advantage of the 6.6 kW charging station we have, and also by the fact that about 30% of my charge comes from Level one at work (next widget).

Charging Energy

Charging Energy shows how much I charged in total and how much of that charge came from a level 2 charger (71%, mostly at home) and from a level 1 (29%, mostly at work). This is new information for me, something I was never able to collect by any other means. I only had a rough idea of how much charging I was doing at work and how much that would cost to my employer. Now I know exactly! And as I always suspected, it’s not that much: about $2.50 a week on average. It also shows that the Leaf typically starts the day charged at 80% and ends the day with 50% of charge left on average (though this average has a very high variance, not seen here).

Green House Gas Emissions

The Green House Gas Emissions widget is based on configurable options specified in terms of upstream emissions factors for electricity. I’m using a value of 50 g/kWh based on the mix electricity sources used by Hydro Ottawa during off-peak hours (mostly nuclear and hydro), plus a bit more to reflect some of the charging I do during the day at work. I’m not sure if that’s the most appropriate value to use. If anyone has a better suggestion, please let me know.

Report Tabs

The dashboard is a great summary but the most useful reports are behind the other tabs.

Daily Summary

Daily Summary gives a very good idea of how my actual driving needs fit within the range the Leaf can provide. The dark blue bar shows how much range I can get with the overnight charge at home (remember I’m charging to 80%). The additional light blue bar shows the extra range I get for charging during the day. The red mark shows how much I actually drove that day. This chart is great! It also shows the average outside temperature measured for each day as well as the energy consumed by the 12 V accessories and an “Eco Score” that rates the efficiency of my driving.

State of Charge (Daily Distribution)

The Daily Summary also includes an histogram showing the state of charge distribution in the beginning and at the end of the day. You can see that the great majority of my days start with an 80% charge, and end all over the place but very rarely below 20%, and never below 15% ! Not much range anxiety for me.

Daily Utilization

The Daily Utilization chart gives you a great visualization of our driving and charging patterns. I can see the level 2 charging overnight, the commute to work, the charging at work, and all the errands I did in the evening, including some charging at the Science Museum during the EVCO meeting! (Oct 29 evening)

Notice that I configure the on board timer of the Leaf to charge only after midnight, even though the off-peak rates start at 7pm. This is because electricity demand is still fairly high early in the evening, and thermal generation is still going strong at that time. I prefer to charge later at night when demand is very low, and when the electricity is much, much cleaner.

Trip Details

Trip Details show the start time and duration of each trip, as well as distance travelled, state of charge (SOC) at the beginning and at the end, and the energy consumed. Notice the SOC because this is something you’ll never see on the Leaf display (at least until 2013 J). I’m still puzzled with the first to trips in this report (Nov 17). They covered about the same distance (~12 km) and used the same energy (~2 kWh), nevertheless the SOC dropped much more significantly at the second trip, by almost 12 points compared to 9 points. The main difference between the two trips was the duration, where one took almost twice as long. I suspect that might have to do with a visit to the car wash during the second trip. I regenerated the report just for that day and it showed as much “idling” as driving during that day. The mean temperature that day was 0.6C so I’m not sure if I had climate control on but I was certainly using the heated seat and steering wheel. The extra energy definitely showed up in the SOC but not in Electrical Energy Consumed column!

Charge Details

Charge Details show all charging events for both Level 1 and Level 2 charges (and Level 3 as well, if I had ever charged with the DCQC port…). Details also include charging time and duration, charge energy and loss, and the state of charge in the beginning and the end. I noticed a small glitch though, which may be specific for the Leaf. If you have the onboard charging timer configured and you plug in outside the configured charging time, you’ll see a Level 1 event of 0.0 kW, even if you plug in a Level 2 charger. Something similar happen when you unplug a Level 2 charger after charging is complete. This can be seen in the entry #6 above.

Both Trip and Charge Details data can be copy-and-pasted into a spreadsheet for more detailed analysis. In Excel, you have to do a “Paste Special” and select “Paste as Text” in order to parse the tab-separated columns properly. You can also import the Excel file created in IBM Cognos Insight for even deeper analysis.

How does it compare with Carwings so far?

Leaf owners familiar with Carwings will notice that FleetCarma provides much more information and more detailed and useful reports. One thing that particularly called my attention is that FleetCarma also provides more precise and accurate information compared to Carwings. Here’s an example: I ran a quick test by picking one day (Nov 18) and comparing the measurements provided by Carwings and FleetCarm.

Carwings Report for Nov 18

FleetCarma Carwings
Nr of trips 3 3
Travel Time 1:31:06 1.5h
Distance Traveled (km) 93.93 91.8
Electricity Consumption (kWh) 16.94 13.9
Average Energy Economy (km/kWh) 5.54 6.6

The number of trips and the travel time are basically the same, but the 2% discrepancy in the distance travelled is a bit puzzling. I know for a fact that the distance measured by FleetCarma is very precise because measurements of my daily commute are always bang on with the trip odometer. For some reason, Carwings underestimated the distance travelled by more than 2%.

The biggest difference however is in the measurement of electricity consumption. Carwings seems much more conservative while FleetCarma precisely tells the consumption of each trip, which I tend to trust a bit more based on the before and after SOC observed. But the difference is quite alarming: about 3 kWh or 22% lower for Carwings. This makes the energy economy reported by Carwings about 1 km per kWh higher, or almost 20% better than what it actually is!

Conclusions

After using the C5 Logger for about a month, I can say I’m pretty excited with the results it has been able to provide, and they are far superior and more detailed than the ones we get from Carwings. Here are some of the things FleetCarma can do to improve the product even more:

  • Streamline the upload process. Maybe a downloadable app for the computer that detects the SD card, uploads all the .BIN files and deletes the LOGS directory (after making a backup on the hard disk). Today these are all manual steps.
  • Add Wifi support to the C5 Logger so that it can upload all the files automatically once car is parked at home. No more SD cards, no more computers, and very up-to-date reports online.
  • Wifi can also be used to connect to an iPhone/Android phone in the car by enabling Personal Hotspot on the iPhone and have the C5 Logger connect to the Wifi network. This will allow an iPhone app to communicate with the logger and receive telemetry in real time. The app could also communicate via Bluetooth, if the hardware is available, but if Wifi is already there, you can use it instead.
  • Add a small display on the C5 Logger to show the current SOC%. Great for 2011 and 2012 Leafs, makes Logger dub as an SOC-meter.
  • Add “km/kWh” to Driving Energy widget on dashboard.
  • Clarify that “avg start SOC” and “avg end SOC” on the Charging Energy widget refer to beginning and end of the day, not of each trip or charging session.
  • Add temperature column to trip details. This will help in monitoring performance vs. temperature more accurately.
  • Filter out charging sessions of 0.0 kWh charge. These seem to happen when you plug in the Leaf with the charging timer active but before it is time to charge.
  • Add an option to export everything to a .csv file. Include all collected data since the last export. This way we can analyze performance using third-party analytics tools (e.g., IBM Cognos Insight).
  • Create a service API that third-party apps can use to report on the monitoring data.
  • Add a “favorite” widget right after the login page, so I can jump directly to my car dashboard or to a specific report.
  • Auto-select car if “fleet” only has one car (upload page, reports page, etc.)
  • Location awareness. Not sure if GPS data is available through the OBD-port. If it is, it would open a great door of posibilites.

In summary, a great product and lots of potential to evolve and become a killer app for EVs!

 

Update: C5 Logger Spec Sheet says WiFi/Bluetooth support is already in the works (Fall 2012).

Public Charging Stations in Ottawa. Finally!

When we first got our Leaf a year ago, charging infrastructure in Ottawa was non-existing. The only known “public” Level 2 charging stations in the area were the ones at a public parking lot at Aberdeen Road, but they were all reserved for Adobe employees. One year later, Ottawa is still far behind other municipalities like Montreal and Vancouver, but the situation has improved quite a bit over the summer, culminating on this week’s announcement of a pilot project by Hydro Ottawa and the installation of a public charging station at City Hall.

Here’s the list of all Level 2 public charging stations currently available in Ottawa, in chronological order, plus a little bit of history behind each station. Exact locations can be found in PlugShare.

Place D’Orléans

Place D’Orléans was the first to install a public charging station in Ottawa back in July. The station was a collaboration between the shopping mall and a nearby GM dealer (Myers Orléans), a perfect partnership since the mall can attract EV owners while the dealer can advertise and sell more Chevy Volts. Customers can charge at no cost for up to 2 hours and the parking spot is well marked for Electric Vehicles, with the asphalt painted in green. There are also adjacent spots that can be reached by the charging cord if you get ICE’d (blocked by an Internal Combustion Engine car parked at the EV-only spot).

Algonquin College

It wasn’t until September that we discovered a second public charging station: a ChargePoint station at the Algonquin College at Woodroffe Avenue. It wasn’t clear how long that station had been there, and to this date ChargePoint is yet to show it on its map (I already opened a support ticket with their help desk), but the  station is operational and I already charged there once using my ChargePoint access card (at no cost).

Science and Tech Museum

The Science and Tech Museum is where the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa (EVCO) meets every month. The museum has always had electrical plugs available for electric cars visiting the museum but they were all 120 V outlets and there were no reserved parking spaces for EVs near these outlets. This changed in October 19th when Sun Country Highway officially unveiled a 90 Amps Level 2 charging station at the museum parking lot. Sun Country Highway donated the station, EVCO provided seed money for the installation, and the museum provided the parking infrastructure and electricity while complementing the installation costs.

Les Galeries de Hull

Les Galleries de Hull officially announced four EV charging stations for clients in October 25th. The stations have been active for testing since October 14th. They are managed by VER network/AddEnergie and require a “ReseauVER” access card, though if you call the number on the station they will activate the charger for you. The status of each station can be seen online at the VER network website, if you have an account. Charging is currently at no cost but this may change in the future.

Mountain Coop Equipment

Four charging stations became available for MEC customers on October 26th after a long period of renovations at the store and at the parking lot. The stations had been covered with black plastic bags for a long time, and we were all curious to know which kind of stations they were, and how many ports they had per stall. We now know these are ChargePoint stations, two J1772 ports per stall, and require a  ChargePoint access card but are free once activated.

City Hall

Hydro Ottawa and the City of Ottawa have started a six-month pilot project to better understand demand and service costs. A Level 2 charging station is available for EV owners at no cost with charging is limited to 2 hours. The Eaton station was unveiled in an event at City Hall with a fair amount of media coverage.

Carrefour du Versant

As I was writing this, someone in PlugShare reported that the first Electric Circuit charging stations in Gatineau are now installed! This was quite a surprise since the estimate Electric Circuit gave me last week was end of November. I’m not sure if they are really online or just put in place. I need to go and check. In any case, it’s a really good addition for us. It’s one of the farthest Level charging station reachable from my house so it will significantly extend my range on trips to the province of Quebec.

In the Horizon…

  • The City of Ottawa has announced plans to upgrade at least two of the existing Level 1 charging outlets at the Goulbourn Recreational Complex to Level 2 stations. Similar charging stations are expected to be installed at the Barrhaven South Recreation Complex currently under construction.
  • The Electric Circuit is making inroads into Ontario, in a partnership with Plug’n Drive. Hydro Ottawa is also involved in the talks since the first roll-out will be in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. We should be hearing more about this early next year.
  • The Electric Circuit is also expecting to install the first DC Quick Chargers next year. I’m hoping they choose highway 40 between Ottawa and Montreal as the first location for deployment, since that will make practical to travel between the two cities.

One-year with the LEAF: Questions and Answers

National Tree Day in Ottawa

I gave an interview to Nissan today about the first year experience with the Nissan LEAF. Because I never manage to say everything I want to say out of the top of my head, I decided to write down what I really wanted to say. It’s not really a transcription of the interview, just an after thought of jotting down of what I said (or forgot to say).

Q. How many Km have you driven so far?  What is your daily commute like?

A. I’m very close to hitting 22,000 Km (21,900 Km right now), with a daily commute to work of 34 Km.

Q.  What excites you and your family the most about driving an electric car?

A. My son turned 16 a few months ago and the first car he drove in his life was an electric car. It’s the next generation and I’m really proud that everything he drove so far, he did it without burning a single drop of fossil fuel.

Q. How has driving electric changed your life?

A. We use the Leaf for 80 to 90% of the time so our second car needs very little gasoline, which reduced our gas fill-ups to less than once a month. We no longer have to worry about wild fluctuations of gas prices, specially before long weekends, and we’re happy that we’re supporting the development of technologies that help the environment, instead of an old industry that is destroying it. Also, the money we spend on electricity supports our local utility company. It stays in the region instead of going to other provinces or even other countries. The Leaf is also very energy efficient and uses electricity that is widely available overnight so we’re glad we’ve been able to significantly reduce our carbon footprint on the planet.

Q.  What features do you like the most on your Leaf?

A. I basically like everything but I can tell you what friends and family who drove our Leaf like the most. Number 1: The silence, the lack of vibration, the car of the future feeling. Number 2: The heated steering wheel. I’m serious!

Q. How real is range anxiety and how have you managed it this past year?

A. It lasted a couple of weeks until I got to know what the car could or could not do. I remember not going on a 100 Km trip because I was afraid I couldn’t make it, and later doing the same trip without any issues. I work at IBM Canada, who’s a big supporter of electric vehicles. The ability to charge at work gives me the piece of mind. My charge going home at the end of the day is the same charge I had early in the morning so concerns about range rarely come up. I could still make it back and forth by charging at home only, but charging at work really took the range anxiety issue off the table. That’s why it’s so important for employers, businesses and local government to work together and promote the deployment of more charging stations and public charging infrastructure.

Q. What was the longest trip you’ve taken with your Leaf so far?

A. 300 Km to Kingston and back, recharging at the Ambassador Hotel overnight.

Q. What is your most memorable road trip with the Leaf?

A. It was a camping trip with the family. We forgot one of the windows down overnight and a raccoon had a party with our food. :)

Q.  How much money have you saved since you began driving electric and what have you done with it?

A. It depends on which car I compare with. If I compare it with our second car, a compact sedan, we have saved over $2,000 on gas, oil changes and insurance premiums (it’s 20% cheaper to insure the Leaf). If I compare with the car I used to drive to work (a minivan), then the savings jump to well over $3,000. In one year! These savings were enough to purchase a set of winter tires, and a good quality roof rack and cargo box for camping.

Q. What is the reaction of people when they find out you drive an electric car?

A. They don’t hear it coming. :)

Q.  Do people ever stop to ask you questions about your car?

A. All the time.

Q.  What surprises you most about people’s understanding of electric cars?

A. There’s still a lot of misinformation out there so I expect people to be confused. When they come and ask me questions, they’re mostly surprised I can drive more than 150 Km on a single charge. They expect much much less, so they end up realizing an electric car can easily fit their typical day.

Q. What is your advice to those who are contemplating buying an Electric Car?

A. If you’re a family with two cars, like our family, it’s a no-brainer. One of your cars has to be electric. You will use it most of the time, to go to work and to do most of your errands, while still having the other car available for longer trips. It’s the best of both worlds. The savings in gas alone will easily pay the initial investment in a few years. And driving electric is a whole new and gratifying experience.