Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Charging Your EV From Home

Remi relaxes in her mobile dog house. Credit: Greg Whitchurch.

Greg Whitchurch

The reviews, the government agency reports, and the science are in: electric cars are faster, more powerful, quieter, more comfortable, cleaner, less polluting, safer to ride in (http://bit. do/ev-safety) and cheaper than Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars. So why do people still avoid buying a new or used electric vehicle (EV)? When asked, most say they worry about the range of a full charge and about the availability of charging. To address these two concerns, let me share our family’s experiences, because they might be typical experiences of most EV owners.

In 2015, my wife, Barbara, and I decided to go greener, so we bought a 2008 Prius (for more than three times what I usually pay for a car, $6600!); we loved both the car and the feeling of being more responsible. Going beyond that, in 2016 we bought a 2015 Nissan LEAF ($12,000 OMG!) Now, the LEAF is just about the shortest-range, low-budget EV around, but what a difference over our ICE cars! Power to spare, much better traction and balance in snow and mud, no appreciable maintenance costs or schedules. (With four cameras for surrounding views of parking lines, curbs, cars, and pedestrians; bluetooth voice-activated phone calling; maps and directions to shopping, eating, touring, charging spots; super-quick DC charging; Bose® sound; LED headlights; etc. , it was more features than we’d select for a new car, but nice to have anyway. )

Just as predicted, we worried ourselves to distraction regarding the range issue. But those feelings have slowly evaporated (without any unfortunate instances) and now it’s “no worries” for us. We discovered that being able to just plug in when we got home meant we were always ready to go by the next morning — no more looking at gas station price signs or hanging around gas pumps in the weather while filling up.

For the first year and a half we used a regular 120VAC 15A outlet in our garage almost exclusively to charge our car; we used public charging perhaps three times. In the past year, we’ve started using the public chargers (sometimes free!) around central and northern Vermont. The ChargePoint app shows us chargers everywhere and which ones near us are available, and we’ve gotten very comfortable using those, but still we seldom charge away from home.

The pre-2018 LEAFs have unusually small batteries, allowing a range of perhaps 75 miles in the dead of winter, maybe 95 or so in the summer. (Just like ICE cars, your mileage may vary. EVs don’t suffer as much as ICEs from jack-rabbit starts, but the high-speed stuff costs extra energy, whether gas or electric. ) However, again, plugging in when parked at home is the exchange for trips to the gas station. One can certainly always plug in while at home to avoid keeping track of the “tank. ”

In the extremely rare case where we run our relatively small LEAF battery down past the second voice warning and then further down to the level where flashing warnings appear, we plug into our wall socket by 6:00pm and are fully charged again before noon the next day. (Wish I’d had that much warning on my ICE cars over the year, but those are stories for another time. ) The second voice warning offers to find the nearest available charger, map it out on the dashboard display, and then guide us there by voice, but we’ve never done that.

Not that we keep it fully charged, though. Fifty percent charge is more than we use most days of driving, which requires eight or nine hours of charging. So, unless we’re planning to use it all, we keep the battery at about 60% to 80%, and plug it in when we need to. The Prius is our “second car” now, and we didn’t use it at all from the first week in May until the last day of July.

Other people and I have seen people plug their trickle chargers into an outdoor socket or extension cord at their offices, the Red Cross, universities, friends’ or relatives’ homes, at a park ‘n ride lot pick up 10 to 80 miles, depending on time, of “free” fuel while the car sits parked.

So, if you buy an EV, don’t feel panicked by a perceived need to install a Level 2 charger in your garage or to be able to find them sprinkled all over the landscape like gas station/markets are nowadays. As demonstrated by even Tesla owners (who have much larger batteries), you can get by for as long as you wish with just the trickle charger that comes with your car and any nearby 15 amp, 120 volt AC socket. On the internet, there are lots of intermediate, cheap solutions for speeding up your charging times, if you wish. But take some tips from these guys: http://bit. do/110evcharging, http://bit. do/110evcharging2 and http://bit. do/110evcharging3.

Warning: Beware of internet information. I had a hard time finding folks with actual wall socket charging experience. But I found LOTS of threads where folks say “seems like…of course. . . I think you’ll find . . . it only makes sense to. . . probably…it’s not possible…” If you’re not careful, you’ll discover that the Earth couldn’t possibly be round; no one ever landed on the moon; climate change is a conspiracy to garner more funding for research; and Santa doesn’t (or does) exist.

Barb and Greg Whitchurch are owners of a Nissan LEAF, a Prius and a net-zero passive house with solar PV and hot water in Middlesex, Vermont.

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