Southern California 140-Mile Journey Pushes Limits of EV Charging

By · January 06, 2012

Our Nissan LEAF was delivered June 10, 2011. It now has about 5,900 miles on it. In the time we have owned it, we have made trips from our home in West Hills to Santa Monica, Culver City, Downtown Los Angeles, LAX and Century City, as well as many trips to visit our grandchildren and their parents, our daughter and son-in-law, in Studio City. On occasion, we did run low on “fuel” and just made it to our charging station in our garage.

The Experiment

We decided to try an experiment: A trip to our friends in Del Mar, a distance of about 140 miles. With a range of about 70-100 miles, that would be impossible without charging the batteries along the way. That’s where the adventure begins.

Mitsubishi's Quick Charger

Getting access to Mitsubishi's DC Quick Charger proved to be tricky.

Our home 240-volt unit will charge the LEAF in 7 hours or less depending on the status of the batteries. That works out to about 14 miles per hour of charge based on 100 miles per charge. The other two alternatives are ordinary 120-volt AC that takes about 20 hours, or about 5 miles per hour of charge. A DC fast charger allegedly will give an 80% charge in about 30 minutes. Sweet. Or so we thought.

Advance Planning

Without charging stations along the way, the trip would obviously be impossible. And, without a fast DC charger it would simply take too long. In searching out the existing facilities, Mitsubishi’s North American office popped up as the only location in southern California with a fast DC charger. Located in the city of Cypress, it is more or less along the way to Del Mar. Barbara, my wife, called to be sure the unit was up and running and would be available on the dates needed, Wednesday, December 21 and Friday, December 23.

The first date was not a problem, but the offices would be closed Friday, she was told. But, the security guard would have the key to unlock the charger. Okay, that would work.

We would drive to Mitsubishi, a distance of about 60 miles and “fill up.” Next, we would stop for lunch at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, a distance of 15 miles from Cypress and “top off the tank” while we had lunch. That was the plan. Also, we turned off the climate control to maximize driving range. Not a problem this time of year.

Someone Didn’t Get the Memo

Arriving at Mitsubishi, Ida, the person with the key appeared after a few minutes and we started to charge the batteries. When Barbara asked Ida to confirm what we were told about coming back again on Friday, she knew nothing about it, but would check on it.

Installation of EV charger in Costa Mesa

EV charging was installed at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, with great fanfare in April 2010.

The charge took longer than 30 minutes to get to 80%. When another LEAF owner arrived, we aborted the charge after about an hour with about a 95% charge. We easily made it to the next charging location, a Level 2 charger at the South Coast Plaza (located on the lower level near Crate & Barrel).

We let the LEAF charge until it had enough to make it to Del Mar with a buffer of 20 miles. Driving the distance of about 70 miles with a gently rolling terrain (no steep hills), we made it with 10 miles to spare driving mostly at 65 mph. Of course, cars and trucks blew by us at speeds probably up to 80 mph. On arrival, we plugged the LEAF into an ordinary AC socket. About 16 hours later it was done.

Bad News

On Thursday, Barbara called Ida and was told that the information that the security guard would have the key was wrong. Yikes! We had no way to use the fast charger on the way home. Now what?

Now, we had to go to Plan B, which was to charge the LEAF along the way as much as was needed to get home. Leaving Del Mar at 10 am with a full charge and trying to maximize the range, we drove along the coast as far as Oceanside before getting on the freeway. When it was possible, we exited the freeway and drove through the beach cities to Costa Mesa. That took a very long time and left us with only about 13 miles of “juice” left. Much less than we had hoped. Would staying on the freeway have mattered that much? Who knows?

Finding a charger in South Coast Plaza near the valet stand next to Nordstrom, the LEAF starting charging. It was 70 miles back home, IF the charge would hold considering the hilly terrain (which sucks energy). Also, there was the issue of traffic and a lack of charging stations.

EV chargers at IKEA, in Carson, Calif.

EV chargers at IKEA, in Carson, Calif.

One idea was to drive to IKEA in Carson, which, according to the IKEA web, had a charging station. IKEA in Burbank also was supposed to have them. Neither the Carson nor the Burbank location answered the phone after repeated tries. Since it is impossible to talk to anyone at a store location, we talked to an IKEA customer service representative and he could not get anyone on the phone, but told us that the website for the stores had pictures of where the chargers were. So we decided to head to Burbank. We wanted to get as close to home as we could before charging and Burbank has a lot of restaurants around the store. Contrary to what the IKEA web showed, there were no charging stations at the Burbank location. But, there were other options in Burbank.

The decision was made to take surface streets home. When the LEAF had a charge of about 78 miles, we headed to Burbank, and distance of 53 miles. Hey! A 25-mile buffer. Nice.

Leaving just before 4 pm, we started the leg to Burbank. That took about two and a half hours due to terrible traffic. The 25-mile buffer dwindled to 7 miles, as we pulled into a parking structure at 6:30 pm, adjacent to Islands restaurant where there were 2 charging stations.

At 9 pm, we headed home arriving at 10 pm. Total elapsed time: 12 hours.

Analysis

First, we really love our LEAF. The last time we were in a gas station was last June. Since we have solar generating in our home—about 15,000 kWh per year—it costs us nothing to charge the car.

Also, in a sense we were lucky. What if there was a line of cars waiting at Mitsubishi or at the other locations? This could have taken much longer than it did. Imagine a car with a gas tank that holds only 3 gallons. At 40 mpg, that would approximate the range of the LEAF. Now, imagine gas stations with a couple of pumps that take 7 hours to fill the tank. Can you see the line of cars? Even with fast pumps, say 30 minutes to fill the tank, who would want to do that on a regular basis?

So, here it is. The plan for Blink, and other manufactures of charging units, is flawed. Even if there were the equivalent of gas stations with 12 pumps, waiting 30 minutes for a charge is just too long. When the number of electrics reaches a critical mass, it simply will not work. Unless, there will be a way to “fill up” an EV in less than 10 minutes.

The solution? Electric vehicles must have a minimum range of 250 ACTUAL miles. Also, because hills kill power, the navigation system should take into account speed limits and terrain to give better information as to whether a proposed trip is within the range of the vehicle.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.