Tuesday, March 19, 2013

1 year, 100% Reliability

It's been a 1 full year with my ActiveE.  14,500+ miles.  225+ daily commutes.  Not a single electrical or mechanical problem.  Every weekday morning, I wake up, unplug, hop in and go about my 55 mile, round-trip commute.  On the weekends I drive in what seems like larger and larger concentric circles running errands and playing taxi driver for my teenager.  The other night, as my wife and I got ready to go out to dinner she said: "We can't take my car because it needs gas."  As if that was even an option!  I was charged up and ready to go.

I feel sorry for my fellow Electronauts who have suffered from various ailments from splining to full motor failures.  There are others who have elected to return their car because it didn't meet their expectations. As a test car, these types of issues are bound  to happen.  With a nascent technology, we have to deal with hardware and software errors.  We also have to understand the limitations of the technology.  In fact, I got in trouble recently when I said that driving electric is not for everyone because you have to "think more".  I wasn't implying that those in earshot were not smart enough to drive an electric car, but that given the current limited range and, in the Boston area, the sparse infrastructure outside of the city, you simply have to plan your trips differently than you do using an ICE vehicle.

But it can be done.  In the past year, I have plugged in at Boston's Logan Airport where the 6th floor has plenty of Chargepoint options that are never ICEd.  I've also leveraged the Clarendon garage downtown where the friendly attendant moves the big SUVs out of the cramped spaces to let me charge.  But my favorite spot is the Chelmsford (MA) Public Library.  Here you can plug in and get online, both for free!  Even though the chargers are in the far corner of the parking lot, the library's WIFI reaches out there.  It's a great place to get some email done while waiting for weekend volleyball practice to finally end.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my first year of driving electric.  There are many things I would like to see in a future, affordable, electric vehicle (greater range, more consistent winter vs. summer range, continued no-noise options, colors other than white, etc.).  While I figure out what's next, I am looking forward to another year of 100% reliability (knock on wood!).

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Paving our future - Enjoy the free ride....for now.

$3.77.  That's how much I paid per gallon the last time I ever filled up my Prius.  Out of that, 23.5 cents went to the state of Massachusetts and 18.4 cents went to the Federal Highway Trust Fund.  Do the math....at 15,000 miles per year, 45 miles per gallon, $.42 cents tax... I was sending $140 per year to various government agencies.  Without getting too political, I have to assume that some of this money is earmarked for paving roads, repairing bridges and other projects that keep me and others safe on the roadways.

As of March, 2012, I am still driving about 15,000 miles per year on the same roads (and having way more fun in my ActiveE!), however, I am not contributing to their upkeep.  Is that fairWhat if we all started driving electric cars or high mpg hybrids?

Oregon and Minnesota are two states leading the charge to find alternative ways to fund their transportation infrastructure.  Oregon began research on this topic in the early 2000s. They experimented with various ways to collect usage fees through a VMT (Vehicle Mileage Tax). They ran a pilot program, made mistakes and admitted it!  Now, version 2.0 begins this fall with the Road User Charge Pilot Program.  Minnesota is actively recruiting volunteers for their Mileage-Based User Fee with the same goal: be ready to replace shrinking road maintenance revenues when the country goes electric.

For now, I'm enjoying the free ride, but urging my Massachusetts state representatives to look into the future of road maintenance funding.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

You pay how much to drive an EV?

Cartoon by Michael Ramirez
A friend recently sent me this (offensive) cartoon produced by some people who "just don't get it".

After 4 months and 5500+ miles, I now have a very good sense for how much it actually costs to plug my car into the grid.  $1.95 per day!  About the cost of 1/2 gallon of gas.  Heck, some times I pay more for an energy drink to fuel my body!

Here's how I calculated this.  My electric company sends me a bill each month which shows me my usage for the last 13 months.  This way I can compare year over year to see the difference.  In general, my home energy consumption can vary with the temperature, but the average monthly temparatures year over year have been pretty consistent.  In the first 4 months, my increased consumption has been between 12 and 15 kWh per day.

Our electric company is a private company that only serves our town so it's overall costs are vey low.  40% of the energy we buy comes from non-carbon producing plants including wind farms in the Berkshires (MA) and regional hydro plants. 

We pay about 9 cents per kWh, well below the national and local average.  When you load in the various fees and surcharges, it goes up to 13 cents total.  Basic math says .13 + 15 = $1.95.

More basic math shows the cost for driving 100 miles in my ActiveE plugged into my house is around $3.50.  The same 100 miles with my small SUV is $15 at $3.75 per gallon.  For my Honda hybrid it's $9.40.  So real world data shows that I'm saving between $80 and $150 per month in driving costs.  And, on top of it all, I'm cruising around in an all-electric BMW that is, and continues to be, a blast to drive!

For more information about ActiveE owners who save even more money by leveraging the power of the sun, read here and here.

So, the moral of the story is that all energy is not created equally.  Green cars plugged into green grids are our pathway to future, on many levels.  Don't let anyone fool you otherwise.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hey Dad....Can I drive?

It took 8 weeks for my 17 year-old son to get up the courage to ask the big question:  "Dad, can I drive the BMW tonight?"  My wife had Skyped me a warning earlier in the day so I had ample time to prepare all of my "No Way" responses.  Then I decided....why not.  What could possibly go wrong?

When I arrived home I surprised everyone with my "Yes" response, followed by the usual retort of, "Clean your room first."  I also said we had to go on a test drive first so I could explain the basics and have him get a feel for the powerful regenerative breaking, smooth acceleration and superb handling.  He did very well on the short test and I felt comfortable handing over the keys for the night.  Of course he got the additional lecture of: Slow down.  No one besides your girlfriend in the car.  Come straight home after the game.  I'm sure all he heard was: Blah, blah, blah!

It turns out that my wife made dinner reservations that night so I wasn't home to watch my ActiveE leave under someone else's guidance.  I did get to drive the Honda Civic Hybrid for the night.  The first thing I noticed was that the car handled very poorly.  The steering felt loose and the first sharp corner was a challenge as I expected more out of the car.  You could say that I am now officially spoiled by the legendary BMW handling.

We arrived home late to find the ActiveE tucked away and charging in its usual garage bay.  A quick inspection shows no visible damage!  The next morning I asked my son why he wanted to drive the car that night.  His response was: "Because it's cool, Dad.".....I can't argue with that!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Free Electrons at Boston Logan Airport

I had my first experience with public charging this week at Boston Logan Airport.  Thanks to MassPort and ChargePoint for the free electrons.

I had to pick up my wife at the airport which is about 50 miles from my house. I didn't feel safe in the chilly weather that I could make it back so I planned to get up to the 6th floor Hybrid Parking area where several chargers are available.

When I arrived at the garage, the not-so-friendly worker directing garage traffic said I needed to park on the 3rd floor.  I tried to explain that my car was electric and I needed to get up to 6.  He was not very sympathetic, so I went with plan B. I drove around and found another worker in the garage and explained my predicament.  He directed me over to a back way and I zig-zagged my way up to the 6th floor.  As expected, I had my choice of 8 unoccupied charging stations. 

Another worker came over and asked me how these worked.  Seems that someone tried to connect through their credit card and he didn't know how to help them.  I told him next time to have the customer call the toll-free number on the charger and the nice ChargePoint folks will help out.

I then swiped my keycard and went to wait for my wife.  Her plan landed early so I bought her a drink while we waited for the car to juice up enough to get safely home.  Hey...does that count as a "date"? 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It's a beautiful car....said the policeman

I tend to not put the car in eco-mode when driving around town.  It gives the ActiveE that extra punch when jumping into traffic and, in general, makes the car more fun to drive.  Earlier this week, while returning home from a late meeting at the local school, I got pulled over for going 48 in a 35.  It certainly didn't feel like 48!

I was crusing down RT111 near my house with no other traffic in sight.  I wanted to see how the high beams worked so I pushed them on with the left paddle.  I saw an oncoming car around the bend so I reached to flip off the high beams and somehow hit the cruise control.  I quickly adjusted and thought I was in the clear.  Well, that oncoming car was one of our local police cruisers.  The lights went on and the cop proceeded to find a driveway where he could turn around and chase me down.  I briefly thought about making a run for it, but I'm not 20 anymore and just hoped that maybe he had something more important to do than ticket me.  Not today! 

He approached the car, asked for the usual license and registration, asked where I lived (less than a mile away) and kindly let me know that the speed limit was 35 on this stretch of road.  He was even so nice as to point out the speed limit increased to 40 just ahead.  I fiddled around in the glove box, said it was a new car and I didn't know where everything was hiding.  Normal banter as I have been through this a few times over the years!

The officer went away for 2 minutes, came back, handed me my documents and said, "It's a beautiful car, slow down please."  "Absolutely!", I replied and then I glided back home.  No ticket, no written warning!

So, did the officer's computer show that the BMW ActiveE is a 100% electric car so he decided to cut me a break?  Was it my natural good looks and charm?  Or, was it just my lucky day?

Either way, I don't condone speeding, breaking the law or evading the police.  I am now more cognizant of the fact that the ActiveE is such a pleasure to drive that you have to check your speed every once in a while.  Thanks officer!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

She Likes It....

  This week I attended a training class in eastern NY, 180 miles from home.  I searched the ChargePoint network for a way to make the drive in the ActiveE through RT 84 in Connecticut.  What I found is a desert of public charging stations through the Connecticut region.  I thought that CT would have a better infrastructure being one of the the selected states for the ActiveE trial.  It's not until you get down to Fairfield County that you start to see some EVSE stations.

So I went with Plan B, our 2009 Civic Hybrid at 42 mpg.  This meant leaving the ActiveE with my wife for the week.  I took her out for another driving lesson the day before I left and she seemed to understand all of the nuances of the car.  Less than 30 minutes after I left, my cell phone buzzed and I was greeted with the shrill shout of "The car won't go into reverse!".  After several trial and error attempts, we figured out that she wasn't stepping on the brake when pressing the Start button.  Problem solved!  However, that didn't stop me from worrying about the car swap for the next 4 days.

By the time I returned on Friday night, she had the hang of driving the car.  After a few minutes she asked: "How about if we switch and I drive the ActiveE?"  That is the ultimate compliment coming from someone who doesn't really care at all about cars.  Of course, my answer was: "No, no, no way, never!"