Category Archives: Charging

Our city to get it’s first public EV charging station

Even though our small city, Temple Terrace, was the host of 2 EV events, we have never had a public charging station.   There are lots of them around our area, but nothing in the city limits.  With the leadership of one of our City Council members, Grant Rimbey, there is going to be a new one put in Temple Terrace.

plugshare-hole-with-no-chargersI was able to talk for a few minutes at a city meeting a month or so ago, about the need for this.  It is not just for the public good – it also is a way to boost the economy.  I passed out a screen-grab of a Plugshare map to everyone  on the council showing the ‘hole’ with no chargers.

I explain to every business owner I talk to that people like me really do look at online charging station maps before starting on a drive or errand. If a restaurant or some other place has a station, it can often  influence me to go there.

Well, there was an article in the Tampa Tribune today that talks about this whole subject.  There is even a little bit about Kim and I and our cars, as well as some of our friends. Kim even has her picture (I took) in the paper!

I was a little bit bummed that it did not link back to us here, or to my app!  Oh well, on the cutting room floor. But at least we are doing our little bit toward helping with climate change.   I just know now that after driving our cars for over 10 months, that everyone could be driving an EV.  So one public charging station in Temple Terrace is just another bit of the infrastructure needed to blossom the EV movement.  It is not only coming… it is here now :)

Here is the link to the online version of the article: http://tbo.com/northeast-tampa/temple-terrace-to-get-first-ev-charging-station-20141029/

 

evgram.me – my app to help with the human side of EV ownership

I am a computer engineer who programs web apps and websites, so naturally I had an idea early on for a mobile web app about EVs.  There are already apps from Chargepoint and Plugshare that help you locate charging stations (you can also do it on google maps).  But I had an experience about two weeks into driving an EV that opened my eyes to an issue that I think most of us will experience a little culture shock … sharing!  Specifically, sharing public EV charging stations.

I am pretty religious about monitoring my EV charging sessions.  I use both the built-in apps for the Volt and Leaf – as well as the various charging station websites.  So I was surprised one day when I got an alarm that my car had been unplugged.  Turns out someone had driven up and unplugged my car!!!!!!

I did some reading online about different EV drivers experiences with this happening.  What to do when you are desperate for a charge and all the plugs are taken?????

So I decided that this was something that was a real issue, one that will only grown in importance as the number of EVs on the road grow and grow.

The following are some of the graphics I developed to explain my mobile friendly web app evgram.me – if you are an EV driver I invite you to help me beta test the app.  All you need to do to get started is to join evgram.me, and then print out little cards with your unique evgram.me code on it (or a hang tag).  So join up for free and let me know what you think.

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An EV in the mountains – Our first Volt vacation


IMG_20140717_095125939_HDRWe made a long vacation trip this summer to North Carolina, driving our Volt. We had a lot of fun on the trip and all of us in our family found the Volt a very very good touring car.  We had always had a minivan or SUV on past trips, so driving any car was a different experience.  But I must say IMG_20140715_165100964that the Volt feels so solid and safe, and it handles super well in all the driving conditions we experienced.  Long segments on the Interstates were not bad at all – the seats were comfortable and the cruise control and voice controls made the trip easy when driving. 

Mountain Experience:

IMG_20140717_100909421In the mountains itself, the EV drive better than any vehicle I have ever driving there.  There was superior power in climbing, and the regen brakes were fantastic going down. Not only did the car recharge the battery pack on the way downhill, the ‘engine braking’ also meant that I hardly had to use the brakes at all.

IMG_20140718_105655914There is a mountain mode program that you can select as the driver that helps use the battery and ICE to boost power on really steep grades.  I did test it, but the normal power of the car was super!  I went up gravel driveways IMG_20140713_181221232where people in normal ICE powered trucks, cars, and SUVs have to rev up the engine to climb, building up speed to take on a steep grade.  The Volt could climb those at any speed.  In fact, an EV electric motor has maximum torque at zero RPM, so climbing at 5 MPH of whatever is as good as any speed.  I was very impressed with the over all performance.

If you do want to use mountain mode, you need to use the hold mode to save a little battery power. We usually switched to hold mode anyway, when driving for long distances on the Interstate.  Saving the battery for in-town driving makes for better energy stewardship.

Places to charge:

IMG_20140713_205817398We were able to make reservations at the Hotel Indigo in Athens for the trip up.  It is a ‘green’ hotel and was itself fantastic.  I had selected it though, because it had EV charging stations.  In fact, they had 3 rental EVs (a Volt, a Leaf, and one other type).  Very cool place.

IIMG_20140714_083300953 IMG_20140714_093544761t was nice to have a full charge every morning. Even though we used some gas on this trip, the charging helped with our overall MPG.

IMG_20140715_165125702 IMG_20140715_164200727 IMG_20140717_095125939_HDR IMG_20140718_105705494While in the mountains, I was able to recharge at our cabin using the Level 1 cord.  So every day we had a full charge.

On the way back, we stayed at a B&B that had advertised it had a charging stations.  It was a great place as well, but the staff had to work hard to make the Blink charging station work properly.  It was my first experience with Blink, as here in Tampa Bay we seem to have mostly Chargepoint.  I did get a full charge by the next morning.

IMG_20140714_142557227_HDRIMG_20140718_200230269 IMG_20140718_200212528 IMG_20140718_200205339 IMG_20140718_200253328We did also charge at an odd place – a Burger King (honestly we hadn’t been at one in a decade ) on the Interstate in South Carolina. It was like 100F that day (we eventually had temps as cool as 53F in the mountains).  I had seen from my smartphone app that there was this fast food place ahead of us that had a charger, so we did stop there.  It was in a parking spot with no EV sign – a level 2 charger just sitting there.  I don’t think anyone had ever charged there in recent memory – a staff person ended up moving their car to a different spot so I could charge (that was really appreciated by us).  So maybe we educated a few more people on that stop about what an EV is, etc.  That is part of the adventure. Oh yeah, they had vegi burgers – which I commend Burger King for doing.

Conclusion:

 

IMG_20140713_210142059Everywhere we go in one of the EVs, we meet people who are interested in the cars.  If you are willing to take a little time to map out your charging opportunities and just like to do something a little bit different, I highly recommend an EV :)

Advocating for more public charging stations

One of the things that has happened to me since owning and driving our two EVs is something I call ‘charging station awareness’.   It is sort of like  the concept of situational awareness, but focused on a whole new physical reality.  Although I can and do charge at home, I quickly realized that to get everything I can out of these cars I needed to start thinking about the ‘next’ charging station.

I quickly joined Chargepoint, which is the company (here in Florida at least) that seems to install most of the chargers.  It is pretty easy to start using chargepoint.com, as well as another website called plugshare.coNorth America on PlugShare - EV Charging Station Mapm, to plan any ev trip.  I have phone apps installed on my android smartphone that access this info as well.   You can even use Google Map to find chargers.  I have attached a summary, wide-angle view of the Tampa Bay area chargepoint map as an example.

Now I find I get a ‘high’ when I am able to spot an EV Level-2 charging stations!   It is almost like playing geo-caching in way.   The reward is a a charged car with more range – often free. In fact, so far in my area I have not ever paid anything for charging (other than possibly a parking fee that everyone else pays too).  I know that there are charging stations that charge a fee, but whatever a reasonable fee would be, it is still cheaper than buying gas.

However, I really started writing this post to start showing what I also do – advocate for more charging stations!     I live in a small city of 26,000 people immediately adjacent to Tampa and also the University of South Florida main campus (with 40,000 students).  Our particular town has no public EV charging, and I wrote some emails to the City of Temple Terrace, who are now looking at putting some in.  We actually had 2 EV festivals in our town over the past two years, so we should be a front-runner.  They seem very receptive, and i think it just took some citizens asking for the ball to start rolling,.

Places I drive to that do not have EV charging, I will often make the suggestion verbally.  Sometimes I followup with emails.  I think people just haven’t heard of this new phenomenon, so being friendly and expressing enthusiasm seem to be effective strategies at this point.

BG-logoWe just got some year-long passes to Busch Gardens in Tampa, and I started a series of emails to try to find out the status of EV charging at  the Tampa park.  Busch Gardens attracts people from all over the country and is owned by the same company that owns Sea World and other large theme parks. Here is a the current stream of messages – as a historical record of sorts.

After hunting around their website I found a customer service email:

To: BGA Guest Information, bga.guestinformation@seaworld.com

Hi. My wife and both drive electric vehicles and plan on going to Busch gardens in Tampa. Are there EV charging places there?

We plan on blogging about our summer experiences with our EVs on our website leaf volt man woman.com.
Thanks,
Jamie Robe


The reply…

From: BGA Guest Information
(3 days later)

Hi Jamie,

Thank you for contacting SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment.

You may charge your electric vehicle at any of our first aid stations. Please grab a park map during your entry as it lists the locations of all of the stations.

Thank you again for contacting SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. We look forward to seeing you soon!

Best regards,

Tabarie
Guest Correspondence
Busch Gardens Tampa

 

 


 

They obviously thought I was asking about the electric people-scooters or a wheel chair.   I seriously thought of asking them how to drive my Leaf or Volt into the actual park LOL, but instead have kept it serious.

To: BGA Guest Information, bga.guestinformation@seaworld.com
Hi. Thank you, but I think you must think I meant some sort of scooter. I am talking about our car- an electric car. Do you have EV charging stations (such as chargepoint.com types or others), OR do you have 110v outlets in the parking lot available. Usually, these days public places and companies are providing EV charging spots in their parking lots.

If you need further information to clarify, please feel free to email me or call my cell at ———-.
Thanks,
Jamie


They replied with an accurate and short reply:

 

From: BGA Guest Information
(again…3 days later)
Hi Jamie,

Thank you for contacting SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment.

At this time, we do not have any charging stations for electric cars.

Thank you again for contacting SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. We look forward to seeing you soon!

Best regards,

Tabarie
Guest Correspondence
Busch Gardens Tampa

 


So I am asking to escalate to management – I would be happy to talk or meet with them about it.  I have not charged at the Disney EV chargers, but I have heard they are getting big into EVs. Here is the link.

To: BGA Guest Information, bga.guestinformation@seaworld.com
Hi Tabarie,
Thank you for the reply. That is too bad that there are no charging stations. They are not costly and given the huge increase in the number of these types of cars, it would seem like a smart move for Busch Gardens/Sea World to make arrangements for Electric Vehicles – I know Disney has them now: http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/2014/01/electric-vehicle-charging-stations-now-available-at-disneyland-resort/

I would like this issue to be forwarded up to park management, if that is possible. Can you please forward these messages to management for me or can you provide me with email or phone contact info?
Thanks,
Jamie Robe

 


UPDATE – just got a reply again a few hours later:

From: BGA Guest Information

Hi Jamie,

Thank you for your reply.

I have forwarded this information to our senior leadership team.

Ideas like this may require corporate review. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us.

Best regards,

Tabarie
Guest Correspondence
Busch Gardens Tampa


 

I will to update this post with a complete correspondence, when I hear back.     My whole point here is not to trash Busch Gardens at all – just to demonstrate a (hopefully) successful advocacy for EV charging stations.   By the way, if you are not familiar with parking at these types of parks – it costs $17 to just park your car at Busch Gardens, so they definitely can afford to pay $500 for a charging station or having a couple 110v outlets installed.  I am hoping the just including the charging into the cost of the parking pass, instead of hitting us up for a whopping 25 cents per hour or something.

 

 

 

Our First Trip Over 50 Miles In The Leaf

During the Memorial Day Weekend, we had our first opportunity to drive the Leaf on a bit of a longer drive.  Our son James just recently moved to Pinellas County, which is about a 50 mile round trip.   We had a great time and an excellent driving and charging experience.  This post might give you an idea of what is possible with a little creativity on the part of an EV driver.

Leaf on Crosstown Expressway Toll CameraWe left Tampa with not quite a full battery charge, as we had done some driving around town in the morning.  So we had about 84 miles of range on the dash indicator.   Remember, the range is not a ‘set-in-stone’ thing.  It is a combination of your battery charge, your driving style, the speeds and accelerations used, how much you used the brakes, etc.

For those of you not familiar with the Tampa Bay area, Pinellas is a peninsula, which has 3 main bridges connecting it with Tampa to the east.      Kim, who has been using the Volt as her daily ride, took the driver’s seat for the outbound journey.  It was a combination of 50% divided highway and 50% expressway conditions, including a ride over the bay on the Gandy Bridge.  In total, it was a 25.7 mile segment.  She pulled into the apartment complex, which does not have an EV charging station, but was able to pull right into a visitor spot with a close by 110v outlet.  I had talked to the apartment management earlier about the options for charging my EV while on visits with James.  They had said they had never had that question asked before, but they agreed that I could use the outlet there any time I visited.

plugged into 110v outletStrictly speaking, we would have had absolutely no problem doing the entire round trip journey without charging during the stops.  Even with the air-conditioning running full blast (it is already very hot and humid here in Tampa), the range of the vehicle makes a 50 or 60 mile trip possible without charging.  However, when you drive an EV you will become like a thirsty explorer in the dessert.  You might have used only half a canteen of water, but would you pass up a well or water hole without topping off?

The Leaf plugs in the front of the carSo we pulled out the charging cord and plugged in.  The 110v charger that comes with the Leaf (the Volt has a similar and interchangeable charger too) is referred to as a trickle charger.  It is by far the slowest method of charging the Leaf, but it works almost everywhere.  It also takes 30 seconds to plug in  (right now, it is what we use to charge at home.).  We ended up being plugged into the 110v for only about 20 minutes, as we decided to all go to a restaurant to eat lunch.

The restaurant was only a couple miles away, and as we approached the area, I pressed the ‘Find Nearby Stations’ on the center screen.  This showed that there was a level 2 charger at Applebee’s restaurant, in the same complex as the BJ’s restaurant we were headed to.  I immediately selected  to home straight into that EV charger, using the navigation system.  With just a click of the touch screen, in a couple of minutes we arrived.  The charger was at the back of the Applebees, with no other cars around it. Usually, EV spots are marked EV Only and are in the front of most places that have them.

free charging at St Pete ApplebeesThe charging station was not of brand that I was familiar with, and it did not require any type of credit card or swipe card.  In fact, all I did was pull the charging wand out from the charger and plug it into the car.  The charging started immediately.  Of course,  we then did a very non-typical things for Americans… we walked 2 blocks down to the other restaurant!   Sorry Applebee’s, but we promise to eat there another time.  I have no connection to Applebees but just looked up their website and found this really great page on how they are trying to be a positive force in the world – rock on!

The following are readings from the smartphone app (no, I didn’t keep getting up from my lunch to go outside LOL).

  • 2:15pm, range of 53 miles remaining at the start of the charge.
  • 2:38pm – 61 miles
  • 3:12pm – 77 miles
  • 3:40pm – 88 miles
  • 4:48pm – 91 miles

So we got 38 miles of free energy.    After an excellent lunch, we drove back to the apartment and – you guessed it – plugged into the 110v plug again!    It was enough to charge (at a much slower rate than the level 2 charger) enough to cover the distance from the restaurant to the apartment.

We spent more time with James, and a few minutes before we departed I sent the Leaf (using the app on my phone) a command to start the air-conditioning!  It was very hot out, so turning on the climate system while still hooked up to any charger lets the car cool down without using any range up (the Volt has the same type of app and capability).    In Florida, this is VERY cool.   After a great visit, we left at 5:53pm with 91 miles on the range.  We had traveled a total of 34.6 miles at that point.

Being a Sunday evening, with less traffic in the Interstate system, we decided to drive back on I-275 and the infamous Howard Franklin Bridge (often called the Howard Frankenstein Bridge).  I-275 is all torn up with construction on the Tampa side, but luckily we flew along the whole way home.  Driving the car in Eco mode with occasionally taking it off Eco to really accelerate – EVs are FUN to drive!

24.8 miles on the return trip, with a time of 34 minutes  (return trip average speed of 44.28 miles per hour with speed bursts in mid 70 MPH).  We made great time, and got home at 6:27pm,

60 mile Leaf road tripThe total trip was 59.4 miles,  with 59 miles of range remaining on the Leaf when we pulled into home.   So we went on an almost 60 mile trip and used only about 25 miles of our electricity.  The rest was all free for us to plug into.  Now even if we had to pay a reasonable rate of say, 25 cents an hour to charge on a level 2 charger, that would have been worth it!!!!    The SUV we traded in would have used at-least 2.5 gallons of gasoline on this trip.  At about $3.70 a gallon here, that means we saved about $9.25 of gasoline on this trip.  Even if you factored in that we ‘spent’ maybe – MAYBE – a $1 or so of electricity, it is amazing.  Kim’s overall reaction was “it was pretty darn easy!”.

Now to be honest, I personally find this all A LOT of fun.  Hunting down free places to plug in, saving money, driving around in a cool car full of apps and touch screens – it is heaven for a Computer Engineer.  Remember, we could have just driven there and back as well, and still have saved real money on fuel.

I hope this example, with the charging and trip details provided, helps people understand what real-life driving for a family is like with an EV these days.

 

Leaf range indicator at 102 miles!

I was pleasantly surprised to find that my Leaf is showing 102 miles this morning on the range indicator. This is after about 3 days of operation and charging, on the “trickle charger” on the home 110v circuit.

Months ago when we first got the Volt, I noticed that the fully charged range startLeaf charging at homeed out around 38 miles.  After a few weeks, as I remember it, the range started going up to typically 42 to 44 miles.  The Volt seems to charge up to its highest reading when on a Level 2 charger as opposed to the home 110v charger.  I will have to experiment on both cars to see if this effect is real or not.

I have the car set on ECO mode, which I am finding very good for normal driving. By default, the car was not in ECO mode.  With ECO off, the car feels almost exactly like the Volt when it is in Normal mode, in terms of acceleration.

leaf dash show full charge Again, it is not what it says as much as how you drive the car.  If you pay close attention to the acceleration and speed, as well as juggle the climate controls, you can often get more distance than the range indicator says.  However, the inverse is true too.  If you have to blast your way onto an Interstate, or decide to let it rip on the way to an important meeting or class or something, you may get less than you thought.

volt dash show full chargeHere is the Volt on a normal full charge.  Thought – we will have to find a secluded ‘track’ somewhere and do a test drag race with the Leaf and the Volt :)