July 26, 2011

Quick Charge To The Rescue!

Several of the biggest obstacles to the wide-spread proliferation of all-electric vehicleswhich circa July, 2011 means the Nissan Leaf--are these simple facts:

(1) Battery technology limits range to a maximum of about 50 miles which virtually requires drivers to adopt unrealistic techniques, such as carrying only a driver, little or no cargo, using no accessoriessuch as air conditioning, radio, turn signals, headlightsthat drain electrical power, and accelerating and driving very slowly. Absent such methods, less range is a certainty.

(2) Charging times are excessive. A full charge takes as long as 12 hours, and virtually never less than eight with a fast charger which costs $2000.00, not including installation. And charging times are variable. It's not always exactly eight hours, but virtually never less.

(3) Cold weather reduces battery range to a fraction of its already small capacity. Adding such things as battery heaters may help overnight in the owner's garage, but such heaters require even more electricity, and unless the driver can plug in the heater wherever he parks the vehicle, it is of little use.

(4) There is currently almost no public charging infrastructure and no commonly accepted means of paying for (or generating) the power that will be used.

(6) EVs cost significantly more than conventional vehicles in their size class and are far less flexible.

(7) The resale value of EVs on the used car market is unknown, but unlikely to be good. Even new EVs are attractive only to a very small niche market.

(8) Even if a significant nation-wide charging infrastructure sprung up overnight, all of the other issues would still exist. If you run out of power, you have a very large and expensive wheeled paperweight on your hands for at least eight hoursif a quick charging station is handy. Oh sure, you could take a faster, partial chargesay four hours--and end up out of power somewhere less convenient

But now comes AAA to the rescue with quick charge trucks! According to Chuck Squatriglia at Autopia (here):

"AAA is rolling out North Americas first fleet of quick-charge trucks that will rescue dead electric vehicles and get them back on the road."

One Paul Scott, who is a founder of "Plug-In America" which (surprise!) is an EV advocacy group, is enthusiastic:

As an EV advocate-turned EV salesman, I applaud the AAA for taking the lead offering this service to EV drivers. Many people have asked me what would happen if they were to run out of juice on the freeway and now I have a very good answer: They get juiced up by AAA.

Mirable dictu (wonderful to tell)! So AAA shows up, ultra-fast charges the depleted batteries of a distraught EV driver, and everyone leaves with smiles! Not quite:

"The service will be available to AAA members and provide Level 2 (220 volt) and Level 3 (440 volt direct current) quick-charging service, depending upon the vehicle. Although Level 3 charging can fill a depleted battery in as little as 30 minutes, not all EVs have the capacity for it. There are a couple of reasons for this, not the least of which is there is not yet a global standard for the plug."

Can I call AAA for this service in Buffalo Tongue, Nebraska? Not quite:

"AAA says it will deploy one truck in each of six metro areas later this summer: Portland, Oregon; Seattle; the San Francisco Bay Area; Los Angeles; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Tampa, Florida."

So, if you happen to live in one of those six cities, AAA will be there to have you on the road "in as little as 30 minutes!" Not quite:

"Dont expect a full charge if you get yourself stranded. Youll get 15 minutes with the truck. Thats not much, especially if youre using Level 2, but AAA says its enough to send you three to 15 miles up the road to your garage or a public charging station."

So, if I happen to live in one of those citiesif I don't, too bad, so sad--and my battery runs out of juice I can call AAA, which will send out its single truck (which is, by the way, gasoline poweredthe horror! I think that's called "irony.") which process would take--from my call to their arrival--oh, let's say 45 minutes just for fun, and if my car will accept a super fast charge to fully recharge my battery (which, by the way, does not existmore on this in a moment), I'll be on my way within an hour! Except that AAA will only give me enough charge to limp another mile or threeif I'm lucky, except if it's cold, in which case it will be less. How much less? Who knows? Call me cynical, but this doesn't exactly sound like a great advance in service and EV practicality after all. But then again, I'm probably just some green technology-hating fuddy-duddy incapable of understanding how to win the future.

Please, gentle readers, if I'm wrong, provide the necessary links to illuminate me, but the current state of EV battery technology does not allow complete fast charging in 30 minutes or anything close. As I noted earlier, "fast" charging is a matter of four to six hours at best, not 30 minutes, and that's only with expensive fast charging equipment.

While advocates of EVs will no doubt see this as a great advance, it's rather like calling AAA when you run out of gas and finding them willing to provide only four ounces of fuel, and only in six cities. Very few people would consider that to be a real service, particularly considering the likely cost, and the fact that the people providing the service will need to burn fossil fuels to deliver next to no range.

I guess I'm just getting cantankerous in my old age, but I can't quite find the kind of enthusiasm some folks have for what the evidence indicates is a not-ready-for-prime-time technology. AAA's service is interesting, but even for EV owners, it will be of minimal utility, and no doubt AAA is hedging its bets that many years from now EVs will not dominate the market. In fact, they'll probably never beat bestmore than a tiny portion of it. I suspect that's a smart bet indeed.

Posted by MikeM at July 26, 2011 11:25 PM

It's the elitist plot to keep us on the grid, Choice of champions would be hydrogen..

But then again, if we take water out of the ocean we could all die from "globals warming"... Or it could incrust our ozone with "pyrosteamsynthesis"
which is a deadly chemical that comes from water...

Posted by: KeplerTheSovereign at July 27, 2011 05:32 AM

Let's see . . . I've been skeptical of the entire electric car biz for a number of reasons, (many of which you enumerate pretty darn well in your posts) such as the aging power grid.

However, Items 1-4 capsulize two major objections for me perfectly. A: my drive from Denver to Wyoming to see my folks (a 3 hour trip) at their ranch. B: Any farmer or rancher will not be able to afford to use one of these electric veeeehicles as a personal car let alone for work.

Prime example in recent weeks - due to Murphy's law my folks have had haying machinery break down several times (yes - stay out of my dad's way - he's NOT a happy camper). Those issues meant multiple 43 mile round trips to town or driving to Cheyenne, Lingle, Torrington, or Fort Collins to get parts. Think one of those electric veeehicles would be useful and cost-effective then? Nope - didn't think so!

Another point is this - for those of us who like to hunt and fish, and for those agencies who monitor/patrol the public lands (BLM, Game & Fish), try using an electric veeehicle then. NOT!

Furthermore, it will be just like the cell phone carriers. 90% of the US has cell coverage. Only problem is - they count all the populated areas - NOT the land mass. It will be same with electric cars as well . . .

Posted by: Nina at July 27, 2011 08:02 AM

Dear Nina:

Indeed. But you've touched on all of my old stomping grounds! I lived in Lingle for three years, and of course, spent substantial time in Torrington and Cheyenne. Thanks for the memories!

Posted by: Mike Mc at July 27, 2011 08:45 AM

I think it kind of undermines the whole electric vehicle concept if each one has to have a diesel generator following it to top it off every 5 miles. AAA is going to need a whole lot more tow trucks. If I were them, I would refuse to assist EVs. If EV owners bitch, tell them it's for the environment. But more importantly, economically it just doesn't make any sense. The EV seems designed to need constant roadside assistance. They will bleed AAA dry.

Posted by: Professor Hale at July 27, 2011 09:58 AM

Meanwhile, the ones dictating these designs are picked up at their private (jet powered) planes in their security (gas powered) limos.

Posted by: Phelps at July 27, 2011 11:42 AM

What truck platform are they using for these quick re-charge vehicles? Probably a diesel F-350 (minimum). Electric power source? Wanna bet truck bed mounted diesel generator. Yup, that's real green.

Posted by: butch at July 27, 2011 05:32 PM

Mike, glad to provide you a trip down memory lane! My hometown is Wheatland ... ;-) BTW - due to the abundance of snow and rain fall this year - the state is incredibly green this summer! Speaking of green - I find it ironic that the charging stations/trucks are going to be powered by the eeevil gasoline companies!

Posted by: Nina at July 28, 2011 07:55 AM

I find it very interesting that the people who love these electric cars never question where the electricity to run them will come from. Is it possible that they do not realize that 'something' has to generate the electricity and that that 'something' might pollute the air?

Hummmm.....I have a great idea! How about all electric cars have windmills attached to them and that way they can generate their own clean electricity! The Obama administration can create a new department that can be in charge of wind speeds. The new Department of Wind Speeds can let drivers know where they can drive and where they will need to wait for a gust to move them along: Probably can zip right along through West Texas but you might get slowed or stopped in Alabama. I will await my call from the White House as I am sure they will be MOST impressed with my idea. They won't be able to resist my idea to create yet another 'Department'!
Sorry folks.....I just could not contain myself this morning!

Posted by: Carol at July 28, 2011 03:00 PM