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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Point of No Return

Plugged in and charging 120v at Buttermilk Falls Inn & Spa, in Milton, NY
Months ago when my wife told me we would be going to her cousin's wedding this September and that it was in upstate New York, I assumed we'd be taking our gas car. The reason being most of upstate NY is well out a a single charge range for the ActiveE and I really didn't think we'd want to stop on the way for a couple hours (both ways) just so we could take the ActiveE.

The portable 120v EVSE charging me up
Then one day about a month ago my wife asked me if I had wanted to take the ActiveE or her Equinox to the wedding. She said she checked with Google Maps and the Inn where it was being held was a little over 90 miles from our house so in theory it was possible to take the ActiveE. I then went to my computer and started looking at the route, the elevations and if there were any possible charging stations in case of an emergency. I found a Nissan dealer that was on the way, actually only about fifteen miles from the Inn where the ceremony was being held. So I then really started thinking about it. Next I had to call the Inn where we were staying and ask if they had any 120v outlets near the parking area where I could plug into while I was staying there. They did and told me I was welcome to plug in and charge while I was there.

The property was really beautiful
OK so the trip was doable, at least on paper. The problem was I couldn't run out on the way there under ANY circumstance. My wife was part of the ceremony and I would never have heard the end of it if she didn't make her cousin's wedding because my electric car ran out of juice. The trip was practically all highway, and 75-85mph is the average flow of traffic along this route and to make matters worse there were very little flat roads, it was all up and down hills and that really kills the range of the ActiveE. So I started to feel a little uneasy about the trip, even knowing I could stop if necessary about 82 miles in at the Nissan dealer provided they let me use their charger. Then as the day approached, I noticed the weather forecast was for rain, another obstacle as driving in the rain will also cut into your range. It wouldn't take many miles off the range, but I knew I wouldn't have many to spare so I got back on the computer and looked up a different route. I found that by leaving from my restaurant, I'd cut about 15 miles off the trip so I decided to drive to the restaurant, top off and start the journey from there.

Drafting for a bit!
Once we started out it didn't take me long to realize we would make it with power to spare. I was driving about 70mph in the slow lane and while most cars were passing me, they weren't blowing by me and I didn't feel like I was holding up traffic at all. I even hooked up behind a tractor trailer for a bit and drafted for about 20 miles.  Once I saw we were half way there and I still had about 60% state of charge I realized we were in good shape and I moved into the middle lane and started driving about 75mph. We made it there with 13% SOC remaining. I found the outlet they said I could use and I plugged in. Mission accomplished - or so I thought.

The building the outlet was on looked old and I was concerned about overloading the circuit so I set the convenience charger to charge at the lower setting. I have never charged at this setting before so I really didn't know just how slow it would charge at. I know on the high speed setting the car will charge about 4-5% per hour (as opposed to 18-20% per hour when charging on a 240v supply) so I figured I'd monitor the charging and if it was taking too long I'd set it on the high speed and hope it didn't trip the circuit breaker. The next morning I checked the car and it was only at 42%. WOW this thing charges slowly on the low 120v setting! However I still had plenty of time as I wasn't leaving till the next morning.

The tents where we held the ceremony
Then came the trouble. It started raining, well really pouring like crazy. A few hours later I checked on the car and it was no longer charging. The GFI tripped on the outlet so I reset it and it began charging again however when I checked it again an hour later it was tripped again. So now I was concerned. I still had plenty of time, but I needed to get the car up to about 85% to feel confident I'd make it back to the restaurant - going home was out of the question. All afternoon this went on and I reset the outlet about ten times. By nighttime, after the wedding, the car was only at about 55% and still tripping the GFI. I then figured I had no choice but to set it at the higher charging rate and hope I didn't trip the actual circuit breaker because I'd then have to get somebody from maintenance to reset it so I could continue charging. I set it at the high rate and went off to my room to go to sleep.

I had to keep resetting the GFCI
When I woke up in the morning I immediately went out to check it and as I walked up tot the car I could see the charging indicator light wasn't blinking so I knew either the GFI tripped or I blew the circuit breaker. I went to the outlet and saw the GFI reset button was tripped so that was good news. I reset it and the car started charging again. I opened the door and saw I was now up to 75%. Not great, but close to where I needed to get. We were still going to be there for about 5 hours so I had time provided the car continued to charge. After breakfast I checked and it was tripped again. I was now up to 81% and very close to what I needed. After checking it every half hour and resetting it two more times I was finally able to get it to the 85% I wanted before we had to leave with no time to spare.

As I rolled into the parking lot of my restaurant, the state of charge was zero. A few minutes earlier I had considered stopping at a public charger two miles away because I only had 1% left but I just drove slowly the last mile and made it. I had never relied on the 120v convenience charger to make a long trip before and I'm not sure I'd do it again unless I had plenty of time to deal with unexpected charging challenges. I've heard a lot of other ActiveE drivers complain about issues charging with the 120v portable charger also. Sometimes the car simply won't charge with it and I suspect that happens if the power delivery isn't within parameters. Perhaps the location has a low or high voltage problem and the car won't accept it. When you get past the point of no return with an EV, the point where you can't make it home without charging somewhere you need to feel comfortable that you'll be successful charging. While I do feel confident when charging on proper level 2 charging stations, I don't feel good about charging the ActiveE on 120v. I don't know if it's the car, or the portable convenience charger itself, but I would like to see improvement on this when BMW launches the i3.

Off to the next electric adventure...  :)


  1. Tom,

    As always a very entertaining post. Your wife is VERY understanding. Mine has been great about this, but with the challenge posed, that is exactly why we go ICE at times (and probably the reason my average is no where near the 100 miles a day that you're doing!) Ugh! Have to figure out something else to catch up!


  2. Tom, I'm not sure where that is in NY State but if you are near High Point in Sussex County, I can always hook you up with a 240v charge! You know that! I'm very close to RT 84 and Port Jervis, NY. Hills are crazy around here! I live with that EVery Single day!

  3. OK, just checked the location of Milton, NY. Its near Poughkeepsie. I checked the mileage from my house to the town of Milton. 59 miles. I don't know how far you are from me, but I would guess about 30 miles. So if you have to go there again (not likely) I can help.

  4. I have had no problems the( three) times I've needed to charge on 120v. Luck o' the Irish, I guess! Also, is a great resource when in the 'wild'

  5. There's nothing like a GFI trip to get the heart rate going and the beads of nervous sweat forming on your brow - it's good for you - what doesn't kill you makes you stronger... so I've heard :-)

  6. Hey guys, thanks for commenting.

    Dennis: Get out there and drive!

    Douglas: Thanks, I am up by Stokes every now and then. You need to email me your address in case I am nearby sometime, I'll stop by even if I don't need to charge.

    MPT: Exactly! I still haven't figure out why it kept tripping. it charged fine until it rained. I hope the portable EVSE doesn't allow moisture to infiltrate somehow. It could have just been the old wring of the cabin I suppose. I think I'm going to test my portable EVSE at home and plug it in one day when it's raining and see if I can duplicate the problem. At least then I'll know if it was the charger or the place I was charging at.

  7. I do admire the pioneering spirit but I just think tales like this prove that unsupported EV driving such as you have is completely unsuitable for prime time.

    Israel has been completely bashed for banning uncontrolled EV charging from domestic power: this story gives a good reason why I can only plug my EV into properly certified and installed Better Place power sockets. I know these will work and won't crap out on me in the middle of the night.

    Besides the problems of route planning and just physically not knowing if you'll get there all of which are solved (at great expense I will admit) by the Better Place system I have available to me.

    Tomorrow I'm driving to the border with Gaza. It's 80km each way but my car will tell me if I need to stop and switch battery on the way there or not. If I don't stop on the way there, I can probably stop once on the way home. No significant pre-thought needed and no relying on slow charging at the destination (an Army base).

  8. Thanks for chiming in Brian. I definitely support Better Place and am really rooting for it's success, but I definitely don't believe it's the ONLY way to get us into electric vehicles and off oil.
    I've been driving electric for 3 1/2 years now and have logged over 98,000 all electric miles, and as I noted in my post this is really the first time I had a problem like this. I had options, in case I just couldn't get a charge from the outlet they suggested. there were other places I could have plugged in and I would have if it became necessary but I didn't want to have to ask management unless it was definitely necessary.

    I believe you should use the proper tool for the job and for me a 100 mile range works perfectly with home charging and it's especially true for me because I can also charge at work. I don't really have to give much pre thought except on the rare occasion I'm driving very far and I can always use another car for those one-a-month or so long trips.

    What I like most about the Better Place model is it reduces the initial cost of the car because you buy it without the most expensive component, the battery.

    It's funny, tomorrow I'm driving to an event that is 44 miles from my house so the round trip is 88 miles. I'll be doing it without recharging. I know the route and I know I can make it without stopping to recharge. That's 71kM each way so here we are, thousands of miles away driving electric cars basically the same distance but using a different EV charging system. Mine works for me and yours works for you. We are both happy and not using oil for our personal transportation. That's progress.

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