Thursday, February 14, 2013

Growing Pains.

It seems my recent road trip post  has been getting a lot of traffic.  First of all, let me clarify.  This wasn't meant to be a criticism of EVs.  Mainly, it was an amusing story to tell and I want to remember what this trip felt like when I'm driving around with my kids who will have never known a gas vehicle, let alone range anxiety.  Second of all, lets be clear... I LOVE my car.  I am a 27 year old female with student loan debt who has been in the workforce for less than three years and I somehow let myself be talked into putting down almost 100,000 on the most amazing vehicle I have ever driven, sat in and heard of.  Yes, my car payment hurts every month (it's more than my rent), but not nearly as much as it used to hurt when I was putting $500/month into my gas tank.  I view it as an investment in something I believe in and an unbelievable ride as part of the package.

As a Model S owner there is something known as Tesla Time.  This includes, the double and triple-takes, the nods, waves and thumbs ups and the questions and opinions that are shared with you every day as you go about your business.  There are those who are excited by what they see and many constructive, stimulating discussions are born... and then there are those who are not.  Perhaps they feel threatened?  It's very interesting.  Without asking for an opinion, many people will take it upon themselves to tell you that driving an electric vehicle just really isn't feasible.  Is it not obvious to them they are speaking to an EV owner?  It's feasible.  Here we are.  It's just a choice.  All it takes is a decision.

Back to my woeful road trip.  Let's remember, this was my first time driving even more than 50 miles away from my house.  There were a number of preventable obstacles which, would just one of them been remedied, I would have made the trip an entire night earlier and not been towed.  Also, I'm pretty sure I would have made it without the tow, but I didn't want to even think about risking harm to my battery, so I played it safe (assuming you would consider 3 miles safe).

Yes, everyone, I know about the apps.  I use (and used) Recargo, Chargepoint and Plugshare.  I also now know about the RV park finders which will be very helpful in the future.  One criticism I have is that the EV apps often don't tell you amperage or voltage at the sites -- this would have made a huge difference for me.  There are a wide range of J1772's out there.  My adapter was already replaced and the new one works flawlessly.  Knowing the "30 amp" vs. "50 amp" service lingo will be helpful as well.

I think it's fair to point out that there are a lot of criticisms of the Model S.  It's a brand new American company who has just built and produced their first car from the ground up.  Yes, there are some glitches.  But one thing people (particularly non-EV owners) seem to gloss over is that you never hear an EV owner who regrets their purchase.  If anything, if you know or speak to anyone who is a Model S owner... they likely can barely refrain from gushing about how fabulous it is.  There is no other car manufacturer right now who could have these sorts of issues (glitchy screen, door handle problems, range anxieties, you all have read the articles...) and not be eaten alive by their owners.  Yet Tesla owners are just as willing to wait in the reservation line and do whatever they need to do to get in the drivers seat.  Obviously something is working.

Not only is it a new company, new car... It's completely new technology.  All of it.  The reason why we put up with the 'little' kinks that are being worked out (and they are, rather quickly) is because its the most amazing machine currently on the market.  My fiancĂ© and I's viewpoint was if we're going to spend the money and get a new car... and we're going to go electric... get the best.  And get one that is actually practical as a one-car family.

There are many places in my story that could have been improved.  Learned lessons.  Particularly, I don't think we really saved that much energy by going as slow as we did and with as little heat.  With some experimentation since then, I think we could have made it a lot more comfortably (though still long) without much difference in energy loss. But the point is, yes, it does take some practice, some planning and some research to be a successful EV owner.  I don't think we can really dispute that.  Many veteran EV owners have relayed their own 'first road trip woes' with me while having gone on to take numerous successful roadtrips--even 3000 miles in mid January.  The environment is not as well prepared as we would like.  That will take time.  I think that the most ready resolution for this is the supercharger and expansion of CHAdeMOs.  But again, we're talking about road trips.  I don't know about you all, but outside of the three hours I spend in my car everyday going to and from work, I don't take that many road trips.  Day to day I drive to work, visit my friends and run my errands without so much as a thought about range.

 It will be interesting to see when the competition starts to pick up... How long did it take for Apple?

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Not-So EV Life: "Gallons of Sunshine" Run Empty in Mid-January

My first road trip in Brutus 2.0 (my Tesla Model S, named after my previous Brutus, a gas-powered Buick Park Avenue) was quite an adventure.  I'm not sure that I would qualify it as a good adventure, although it was a learning experience.  Here's how it went...

My poor unsuspecting friend and I planned a trip to Rochester, MN to visit a mutual friend and her new family addition.  Normally a trip to and from Rochester with a stop in Dixon each way would take about 16 hours.  Ours took 65.

I had planned stops along the way to charge and researched available charging stations to try to make our trip a little easier (hah!).  In Dixon there is an RV park that has places to plug-in.  I spoke to the RV site and made sure it would be OK if I stopped and charged there for a few hours.  I told them I normally would use a NEMA 14-50 and they said that should work fine.  The plan was to arrive early, charge for a few hours to make up my lost mileage from the trip to Dixon and then be fully charged and ready to go once Rachel got out of work at noon.

What happened instead is that it was negative four degrees outside (-25*F windchill) and I lost a LOT more range on my way to Dixon than I should have -- I arrived with about 80 miles of range, versus the 170 that I was hoping for.  Granted I did drop my fiance off at the airport and run to the bank as well, which likely ate about 30-40 miles.  I left my house at 4am, arriving at the RV park at 7:20am, ready to plug in and take a nap.  Unfortunately someone had other plans in store for me.

The RV site had NEMA TT-30 plugs, which very clearly did not fit the plug that I had brought as it was for the NEMA 14-50 that we had discussed.  Obstacle 1.  I tried plugging into the 110 outlet (like a normal wall plug) while I figured out what to do, but I could clearly see that I was not even getting enough charge to combat the temperature outside and my need for heat inside.  I was losing mileage sitting there.  Fortunately, Dixon has an auto dealership with Chevy and Nissan, both of which now sell EVs and provide places to plug-in at their dealership.  I headed there.

As I pulled into the Chevy side of the dealership, spotting a plug on the wall.  I paused to ask and make sure it was OK I used their plug.  The young tech seemed to not really know or care, so I figured that was enough go ahead; however, as I turned to park by the plug, a leaf pulled ahead of me.  I pulled off on the side and decided to wait.  After a while, another a man who worked at the dealership came over to let me know that the owner of the leaf charges there every morning until about 10:30, so it would likely be a while and I should come in and have some coffee.  I thanked him and went inside to review my options.  Obstacle 2.

I decided to give the dealership a call and see if there was anyone else that could help me out.  After being transferred around a bit, I was sent to the voicemail of the service manager on the Nissan side and left a message explaining my predicament.  He called me back within about 10 minutes and let me know that there is a plug available in the showroom on the Nissan side and I headed over there.  A very nice man inside of the Nissan showroom directed me to either a plug in front of the showroom, or one in the back, which was inside their garage.  As it was still about negative two degrees outside, I opted for the garage.  I tucked my car in with their charger at about 20mph and headed to the lounge area to sit.  At this time it's about 9am and I've already lost two hours of charging, not to mention I'm on a slower charger.  This is where my previous post on the EV life came into play.  Spirits were still high.

After a few hours, Rachel is getting off work and I figure I will grab a taxi over there to kill some time (this becomes a mantra of the trip -- killing time).  We do some facial peels in the derm clinic, look up crochet patterns for the trip and grab lunch at Culvers before heading back to the dealership to take off.  Time for phase two.

We drive to Dubuque, Iowa (State #2!) -- another point on our trip where I had figured we would stop to charge for 2-3 hours.  Eric had talked to the service center at the Chevrolet dealership who had indicated it would be fine to charge there for a few hours.  We found the Chevrolet, plugged in, no problem.  Obstacle 3 -- Their charger is only 15amps and less than 200 volts... We were only getting about 6mph of charge.  At that rate it was going to take all night.  I quickly found a Nissan dealership in the area and we headed over there to try our luck.  Their charger was outside, covered in icicles, clearly not having been used in a while.  Although hesitant, they were willing to help us out and they moved some vehicles out of the way, so we could park by the charger.  Unfortunately, when we put the adapter on the charger, it wouldn't fit.  It was about 1-2mm short of latching and without latching the electrons won't flow.  Obstacle 4.  We tried to enlist some of the techs to help us force it on there, but they were unable.  They shrugged their shoulders stating it was probably the wrong adapter, even though it had worked at the other Nissan dealership a few hours beforehand.  I chalked it up to the fact that it was still barely over zero degrees outside and their charger was sitting outside in ice.  Nevertheless, it wasn't going to work.  We received word Kwiktrip gas stations now had EV charging stations and decided to head over there (a few miles away) to check it out.  Although, I'm proud of them for entertaining the idea -- Kwiktrip at this point has only installed some 110 plugs with an "EV Parking" sign in front of them.  Stating they will update their "chargers" when there is more interest.  As I previously noted, 110 was not going to work.  I also hope Kwiktrip realizes that there will not be "more interest" with a 110 plug.  Likely ever.

So after running around town and wasting our precious mileage, we were back to Bird Chevrolet.  At this point I've realized we are staying the night in Dubuque, Iowa.  Fortunately there is a Fairfield Inn right "across the street" (the street being a four lane highway) from Bird Chevrolet.  We plugged in, tucked the car in, grabbed our luggage and headed out in the freezing temperatures to traverse the busy highway and walk to the hotel.

After checking into the hotel (not much more than a tank of gas would have been), we found a nearby Olive Garden and went back out into the cold to get some dinner.  At least the night was not a bust.  We found a warm bed, a bottle of wine and good food.  We also had stopped at a JoAnn's Fabric on our way back to Bird Chevrolet and picked up some yarn to start our crochet projects, being that we had some time to kill.  I figured it wasn't so bad -- we would have arrived to Rochester late anyway, so instead we will arrive late morning, no big deal...

We had received word later that night that a new parking garage had been constructed with EV parking and charging.  We decided against crossing the highway in the cold that night and decided instead we would check it out in the morning in the hopes that it would be a faster charger to top us off before we head out.  We got going around 8am, packed up our things and walked back to the Chevrolet dealership.  We had gotten to about 200 miles of charge, with a 170 mile trip up to Rochester to go.  I crossed my fingers that it was enough of a buffer and we headed over to the parking garage.  Fail.  There were four clearly marked EV charging spots, each with a shiny new 110 plug.  We headed out.

For the first half of this phase of the trip, I had the cruise control set on 50mph, and later 45mph, thinking that cruise control would be the best way to save energy.  As the trip progressed and the miles were coming off, I realized it wasn't going to cut it.  We were encountering quite a few big hills between Dubuque and Rochester.  I took cruise control off and manually tried to keep the Wh marker beneath 20, as low as I could go, without getting rear-ended.  It made for slow-going, but our average usage came down from about 380-390 Wh/mi to about 310.  A new record for me.  Of note, we also had been driving in 6 to 8 degree weather without the heat on, in order to save energy.  We both were bundled in jackets, gloves, hats and blankets, but still had to turn it on occasionally to defrost the window or prevent the frostbite from eating away my toes.  At this point, the trip was becoming slightly miserable.  And despite all of our efforts, we still weren't going to make it.  We had bout 70 miles left, had been consistently losing mileage and were exactly 70 miles from the next nearest charger in Rochester.  I got on the phone with my fiance.

Eric researched online and found that we were only a few miles away from a nearby "green" sustainable college campus.  What luck!  They even had their own fleet of electric vehicles.  We got on the horn with the security guard at the college who was willing to meet us and show us where their chargers are for their electric vehicles.  We drove into the college, seeing solar panels and a windmill on the way in -- looked promising!  We arrived at their chargers and they use what looked like an 11-30... definitely not going to fit.  Obstacle 5.  The security guard was very helpful though and he led us on a search throughout their maintenance and shop buildings searching for plugs.  We did find two other 220 plugs, neither of which was a 14-50.  At this point we were losing charge and still 70 miles away.  We decided to plug into the 110 and head inside to warm-up.  We had a snack and decided to spend an hour or two crocheting to pass the time and get a few extra miles of buffer.  After more than an hour, I checked on the car and was surprised to see that I was now down to 53 miles of range!  I know it was about 10 degrees outside and likely the battery was getting cold... but thus far I had never see any miles actually get added back to my range when warming the battery.  Quite the opposite actually.  We said eff-it -- clearly we weren't doing any good sitting at this college campus, and headed out.  I drove extremely conservatively, in a freezing car as far as I could to Rochester.  At one point I even got my average Wh/mi over a period of 30 miles down to 265!  It was a mix between feeling pretty proud of myself and feeling pretty disappointed in the whole experience.  Not to mention I couldn't feel my fingers or toes.

About 20 miles out from Rochester, I started getting a little anxious.  Our projected range fluctuated between being a few miles above our miles to go and a few miles below.  I didn't want to run my 100,000 dollar car into the ground, but then again I was in the middle of no-where, freezing and frustrated.  I decided to call Roadside Assistance.  The gentleman on the other side of the line (in 60 degree weather in California no doubt) kindly suggested that I drive conservatively and limit the use of climate control.  At this point I was going 27mph, as I understand that provides for the optimum range, and it was likely 20 degrees inside of my vehicle.  As it was clear I was already doing all I could, we started looking for plan B (or is it plan J by now?).  It is possible that I would have made it to where I was going, but pulling that much energy out of the battery is not good for the vehicle and it was recommended that I stop.  We started looking for a good stopping place, as for miles all I had seen was corn fields and farmhouses.  My roadside assistance man located us and directed me to a BP gas station.  I pulled over with 3 miles left in my rated range.  Luckily we weren't stuck in a freezing vehicle and were able to stand inside the gas station for the next 45 minutes until the tow truck arrived.

The tow truck driver was... tolerable.  After taking about 10 minutes with my key and trying to figure out how the key works and which car he was towing, he told me he had never towed an electric vehicle, let alone a Tesla, and then rolled his eyes when I told him that I don't think he can tow it the same as other cars... we got things straightened out.  Despite some comments about how I should "keep a few gallons of gas under the hood for situations like this", or get a Volt... he was friendly and he got the job done, even waiting around to make sure that we got plugged in okay and our friend arrived to pick us up.  We were towed about 15 miles to a charge station in downtown Rochester, inside of a parking garage.  Being that it was a chargepoint, I figured it had a high likelihood of actually working.  Unfortunately, the powers that be were not in my favor.  Our adapter again did not fit into the plug.  We finally, out of options, had our friend smash the adapter into the cement floor and put all of his weight on it.  SUCCESS!!  He saved the day, we tucked Brutus in and headed back to their house, arriving about 24 hours later than we originally intended.

Adapter Issue
To summarize the way back, we left with 253 miles at full "range mode" charge (because of the cold) and decided to take the route through Madison and Rockford to Dixon.  It was a more established route (read: more chargers) and we could take the interstate and hopefully avoid so much hill climbing.  We barely made it to Madison with 18 miles left and plugged into a Blink charger outside of a Kohl's.  We had picked the location, because there was a mall and a movie theater within walking distance (killing time!).  After activating an account with Blink, we had the same problem with the adapter again, and could not get it to fit despite putting all of our combined weight into it.  We enlisted a passing construction worker, who after a few minutes of pushing with all of his might on the asphalt, the adapter clicked.  *PHWEW.  Got Brutus charging and headed towards the mall, hoping to get back to Dixon in time for dinner.  The charger never got above 17 mph and we ended up not being able to leave until close to midnight, crawling into bed with frozen toes at about 2am.

So, in summary...
We hit a lot of obstacles.  The cold being a huge factor, which no one can help.  It was unbearable to drive without heat, the heat stole a lot of the energy, charging was not as fast in the cold and we were losing electrons it seemed at every corner.  Not to mention it made walking and functioning quite uncomfortable.
Other events that could be improved would be -- not having so many different plugs!  Standardization would be nice.  We've since ordered all of the adapters Tesla has available (along with a replacement for the faulty one that I've been smashing into the ground), but it still doesn't cover everything.
Proper chargers would be nice as well.  Particularly none of this 110 bullshit -- that's just a joke.  I hope they aren't getting any subsidies from the government for that type of thing.  And for the places that are taking advantage of the governmental grants to put in chargers -- the least you could do is 220 volts and 30 amps.  And know what exactly you have so it is less of a guessing game.
The only gripe I have about my actual car is that it was difficult to estimate how much we were losing on range.  It felt as if electrons were just seeping out of everywhere, despite extremely conservative driving (being honked at by passing semi trucks) and turning off the heat.  I'm continually told that I'm not actually losing the energy, that it is just my range changing based on environmental factors, but I call bullshit.  I have not once seen my range go up once the battery has warmed up -- on the other hand, it seems to use energy in order to heat the battery up and cause my range to go down even more quickly.  That being said, I would never expect my laptop to function properly at subzero temperatures, and I understand the obstacles.  I know that we are early adopters and there are lots of hurdles still to be crossed -- socially, economically, electronically and mechanically.  I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of CHAdeMO adapters along with more superchargers.  It would have made all the difference in this trip.

final breakdown after the last leg home (Trip A)
Afterwards I felt pretty defeated.  I had to stay the night at Rachel's house in order to gain enough charge back at the Nissan dealership to make it home.  I was lucky to have such a good friend with me, so I never felt completely down and out and she kept a positive attitude the entire time, never once griping to me about the vehicle that I had suggested we take.  Magically, and somewhat surprising to me, as soon as I got home, into my own parking garage where I don't even think about plugging in and my range rarely every crosses my mind -- it was like I had my old car back.  The car the I love and that makes my hour-plus commute to work everyday a joy.

Perhaps I just won't be making a middle of January road trip anytime soon.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The EV life.

Owning electric vehicles is a lifestyle.  Some people get it, some people do not.
It turns out, I really love it.  We put a deposit down on a waiting list to hold our reservation about 20 months before we got our Tesla Model S.  Our car payment is more than our rent.  I'm sitting in a Nissan dealership right now blogging while I charge.  It's all worth it.
This car is nicer than any car I have ever driven.  It has the latest technology.  A 17" touchscreen with web browsing and music streaming capabilities not to mention completely adaptable software that can continue to be updated to the latest and greatest.  Unbelievable performance in a sedan of this size.  A panoramic roof and more room than I could possibly ever need in the trunk and frunk.  Plus those super awesome door handles that light up and present when I walk up... Like hey mama, welcome home!  Oh, right... And it's electric.  It somehow satisfies both my consumerism wants and my moralistic needs.
It's strange.  I've never had anything nice like this.  "Showy."  It's embarrassing sometimes.  But I'm trying to embrace the 'Tesla time', as its called.  The looks, the nods, the stops, allllllll the questions.  Because I believe in it.  I believe in the electric car industry.  I believe that it is time for us as a people to move on.  And this is my investment for the cause.  My children will never know a gas-powered vehicle.  I'm not going back.  We may have never become motorcycle riders if it wasn't for our Zero.  The ride is like a ninja.  Unbelievably fast and quiet.  The sensation can't be matched.
But... It is a lifestyle.  I'm making quite a few lifestyle changes this year.  None of them easy, but all of them for the better.

Today's lesson... Sub zero weather does not provide for optimum range.


Cancer has so many connotations with it.  Cancer.  The C word.  (No, not that one.) For some reason, I've always been afraid I would get cancer.  Idk... Maybe everyone is.  Don't do that, you might get cancer.  Don't breathe that smoke.  Don't eat that burnt hot dog.  Don't drink that diet soda... Somehow skin cancer wasn't on my radar.  Now looking back, I feel like an idiot.  I'm a red head.  I grew up in florida with sun-worshipping friends.  I was young and dumb... No matter how high the SPF, there are some people who just can't handle their UV rays.
Skin cancer is kind of a grey area.  You think of cancer as this devil growing deep inside your dark twisty insides.  Skin is superficial.  Also, most skin cancers can just be burnt or cut out and be done with it.  Easy, peasy, right?  Yet some how 5000 people die from melanoma in our country every year and at some stages the 5 year survival rate is quite dismal.
Some days it feels like my body is turning on me.  I've always held the 'my body is my temple' perception.  Like... We're in this together.  Side by side taking on challenges, tackling new experiences, growing... So why do these little clumps of cells keep trying to kill me?  And now it's the divide and conquer mentality.  Cut it out.  Chip, chip, chip... Snip, snip.  At this rate it seems there will be nothing left of me when we're done.  I've had 17 biopsies and excisions since this began, not much than a year ago.  My trunk is riddled with scars.  I feel that I'm in stitches as often as I am out of them.  My dermatologist might see my naked body more often than my husband.  OK, maybe not quite so.  But we have definitely gotten to know each other.
It's not that bad.  Supposedly right now, with my fresh new wound, I am cancer free.  That is, until we find the next one.  At the point, it seems it is only a matter of time.  I am so lucky I chose medicine as a career.  I am lucky my first melanoma was a clear (enlarging dark brown spot) superficial spreading and not these atypical amelanocytic melanomas that we would have never found  this early otherwise.  Am I lucky?  There is worse.  There is much, much worse.  I am lucky.
The hard part is the mental game.  I used to call orthopedics a barbaric, crass, carpenters' realm of medicine.  But isn't my dermatologist practically my seamstress?  How do I know there aren't 5 more melanomas making their way through my layers of skin right now?  How do I know what looks like a cute freckle isn't just a clump of those devil cells trying to quietly sneak towards my brain?  There is no blood test or MRI.  The thing is I don't know.
Which is why I cut them out.  Let this be a warning to you moles and freckles... If you so much as look at me funny, out you go!
And for me, I am to focus on the good.  I try not to sweat the small things.  I stay in the shade, take my vitamin D, eat my vegetables and exercise.  I enjoy my partner, the love of my life.  I appreciate my unbelievably awesome family and friends.  I work in a career I am passionate about.  I remember to take a look around and see the beauty that is life.  I watch the sunrises and smell the roses.  And this is good.  It is enough.