Recently I embarked on another road trip adventure in my 2012 Nissan Leaf EV. Due to many factors in and out of my control, that adventure turned into a bit of a misadventure. In the following pages I will outline the trip and share with you the unfortunate series of events and factors that seemed to be compounding and conspiring against me reaching my destination.
Purpose of the trip: install a citizen science air quality monitoring device at a remote location near Franklin, NC. This air monitor was to be part of the Clean Air Carolina Air Keepers project that is working to build a statewide network of private air monitoring stations that will help us all become more aware of what is in our shared air. This network will give us all better tools, data, and evidence in fighting air pollution in our shared air.
Chosen vehicle for the trip: 2012 Nissan Leaf SL
This is my personal vehicle and my nonprofit organization’s outreach vehicle. Being a 2012 “first generation” Leaf it is now suffering from battery degradation due to a chemistry issue Nissan has been aware of for many years. Unfortunately, Nissan HQ has been zero help in repairing or replacing this failing battery despite their knowledge of and my extensive documentation of the issue. I dearly love the car, its technology – well, except for the battery chemistry that is causing the degradation – and all that it stands for as the planet’s highest selling all electric vehicle, however, I am extremely upset with Nissan on this issue and I am sure this fact will impact my decision making process when it comes time to buy a new electric vehicle for myself or for my nonprofit organization. That however, could change if Nissan would choose to support their end of the deal.
Weather: 45F rain and fog.
EV status: 92.1% SOC, 14 kWh available in traction battery (yes, that is all it will hold – the car is a 2012 Nissan Leaf SL with a generation one traction battery…oh how I miss those lost 10 kWh…)
Battery capacity bars remaining: 8
Beginning odometer: 70,609
10am – departed Brevard, NC bound for Cashiers, NC
Travel was slow going due to rain, fog, and slow traffic on curvy mountain roads.
11:00 – arrived in Cashiers, NC at the Ugly Dog Public House.
Weather: 48F heavier rain.
EV status: 20% SOC, 2.5 kWh remaining in traction battery.
I plugged the Leaf into the Ugly Dog’s Clipper Creek L2 EVSE (the only public L2 in Cashiers), verified the charger was working, then I took a wet walk for about half an hour. Upon returning I discovered the L2 had died during my absence and charging has stopped. Red lights on the unit indicated a power/charging fault. In my almost six years of EV ownership, this was only the second time I have had an EVSE malfunction while charging. The first time it was a Clipper Creek EVSE at my workplace – good thing I had L1 “trickle” charging capabilities adjacent to the L2 so no worries. This time however was very different…and it was dumping down a cold winter’s rain.
Lucky for me the EVSE had delivered a 1.9 kWh increase to the
drive battery before it malfunctioned and the car now had a 32.6% SOC and 4.4
I visited the Ugly Dog pub and informed the manager of the station error and thanked them profusely for installing the only EVSE in Cashiers. Staff said they would inform their owner and would work to remedy the problem ASAP. I updated the EVSE error status on Plugshare and then noticed that other Plugshare users had reported charging issues for this EVSE in the past…then I asked myself why the *!@#%! didn’t I check Plugshare before I departed home…!
It was now noon.
Weather: 48F heavy rain.
EV status: 32.6% SOC, 4.4 kWh remaining in traction battery…oh boy.
I consulted with Waze and realized that I had only two options:
Drive the 21 mile, mostly downhill yet out of my way distance to the L2 EVSE at WCU in Cullowhee and maybe get a battery boost from regen and make it there…or…take the shorter, but steeper, 10 mile run to Highlands and maybe make it to the Highlands Ugly Dog’s L2 EVSE. From there I could charge up a bit and then roll downhill through the Cullasaja gorge letting gravity give me forward momentum and some great regeneration and hopefully make it to my destination of Franklin, NC. This time I checked Plugshare and based on the good ratings chose Highlands as it was closer and there was only a 730 foot elevation gain before I would reach the high point of this next leg of the trip and could run on regeneration over the last few miles. Based on my Leaf’s current 3.2 kWh/mile and 32.6% SOC, the regen, and some dumb luck – I calculated that I would be able to make it to Highlands…but only just…what could go wrong…
I departed the Ugly Dog and went into full on power saving mode…or as some call it – “hypermileing.” I powered off all nonessential systems, turned off the stereo, seat, and steering wheel heater, dimmed the info-tainment display and instrument cluster lighting, turned off the defroster using my hand to wipe the windshield when needed…however, due to the weather, safety, and NC law I had to use the headlights and windshield wipers…and I set out into the cool, foggy, rainy winter weather bound for Highlands almost 11 miles up the mountain.
After an uneventful but wet, foggy, and slow drive up the mountain I somehow made it to Highlands arriving with a 13.6% SOC and 1.4 kWh to spare. I made my way through the little mountain hamlet and up yet another hill to the Ugly Dog Pub #2…only to find that their only Clipper Creek L2 EVSE was ICED – as it often is – DRAT!
Raining harder. DRAT! DRAT!!
I had to park the Leaf crooked and illegally hoping nobody would notice the little bright blue EV blocking access to the recycling bins…
I made my way around the ICE car to access the EVSE – which, by the way had a nice sign stating “Electric Vehicles Only” – a sign that has been conveniently (or arrogantly) ignored by many ICE driving visitors to the area who frequently block access to it…so, I dragged the nice long charge cable around the ICE car to my Leaf and plugged it in. As I was about to head into the Ugly Dog to get out of the still heavy rain, the owners of the ICE car (a Porsche Cayenne) came walking up and moved their car…but not before I was able to nicely introduce myself hand then hand them a “If you are not charging then you are blocking” notice which was greeted by nothing but snorting attitude from the recipient – fat lot of good it will do I’m sure. I wonder how they would feel if I blocked their gas pump with my EV…hmmmm. I re positioned the LEAF into the EV parking space and plugged it back in, verified a bit longer this time that the car was going to continue to charge, and then made my way into the Ugly Dog pub where I had an ice cold Guinness to calm my rain soaked, hypermileing, inconsiderate ICE driver stressed nerves.
I charged the Leaf @ L2 for about 1.5 hours for a 41.5% SOC and 5.9 kWh, and jumped back on the road with my next stop in Franklin – it was all downhill through the Cullasaja gorge so no worries – lots of regen – and lots more rain and fog. As I coasted through the beautiful Cullasaga gorge I watched as the cliffs become waterfalls under the torrential winter rains and wondered, and a bit worried, about how much more rain it would take before more than water was going to come tumbling down the steep ridges into the gorge and the road I was driving on? Luckily no rocks, trees or mud joined me on the road and I made it to Franklin.
2:30pm Arrived in Franklin, NC at the Ingles L2 EVSE with 20.1% SOC and 2.2 kWh…and it was still raining. All five EV spaces were open and well-marked (THANK YOU INGLES!) so I rolled into one close to the EVSE and stepped out into the rain to plug in the Leaf. First I plugged the left cable into the car and…nothing. Tried again…nothing. I then tried the cable on the right side of the bollard and luckily it worked.
I reported the faulty charger on Plugshare and to Ingles.
I let the car charge for 2 hours while I worked to install the air monitor at a nearby location then returned to pick up the Leaf. The two hour L2 charge session had brought the leaf’s battery up to a 70% SOC and 10.3 kWh.
4:30 pm. Departed for Cherokee, NC in yet more rain.
I drove over 441 in the rain, high winds, and fog and because I was driving on an expressway I was traveling at a higher rate of speed and climbing one of the steepest, longest grades of the entire journey – so all of these factors became a real battery drainer – until I drove over the top of the mountain and regenerated for several miles down into Dillsboro, NC. This regen boost pushed me on to the Cherokee Welcome center where I rolled in at 5:30pm with a 10% SOC!!
I rolled up to the site where the trusty Schneider L2 EVSE – that I have used many times in the past – only to discover that it was missing!!!! I looked around for it and found nothing but a metal plate on the ground where it used to be…DRAT DRAT DRAT!!! …
…again, why did I not check Plugshare before I left home…???…had I checked I might have noticed a comment by Plugshare user/Model 3 driver “Steven” who stated ““Please note the charger has been moved and is next to the main street now.”
Because I did not check Plugshare I was not aware of this fact, and from my vantage point near the original location of the L2 EVSE I could not see the new location obscured behind some shrubs in the distance. So, due to my oversight – and my lack of sight – my only apparent option was to drive to the Oconoluftee visitor center 3 miles away in the GSMNP where there is a DCQC and L2 EVSE.
Again I practiced my best “hypermileing” techniques, however, as it was now getting dark, still raining, and foggy I was again forced to use the Leaf’s wipers and lights and soon my car dropped into the dreaded “Turtle Mode” as I passed through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance gate.
I have only encountered the turtle once before and that was part of a controlled, good weather, safe, daytime test so I would know how the car performed when in an extremely low battery scenario (watch my video of that test here https://youtu.be/ZTNZchis_Fg ). This time however was not controlled, nor was it daytime, the weather was terrible and safety was most definitely an issue as a huge pickup truck was now riding my bumper. I could see my destination in the distance about ½ mile away and I was not about to pull off the road unless the car stopped dead. At the time of the initiation of Turtle Mode the car was moving about 30 miles per hour and as I made my way across the ½ mile distance to my destination the car started to slow down, getting slower and slower but still moving forward up the slight incline adjacent to the “Elk field.” As I topped the small incline I was able to back off on the almost nonexistent accelerator and let gravity help pull me forward…but it really did not help much as the vehicle was continuing to gradually slow down. Somehow, the EV was able to slurp up enough ghostly electrons to make it into the parking area at the VC at a little better than walking speed, I rolled past the main building, around the curve, and then, when I had the EVSE in my sights – the car just could not give me any more and it came to a dead standstill…about 50 feet from the EVSE. According to LeafSpy Pro the drive battery was sitting at an SOC of 6.6 with 0.3 kWh remaining.
We pushed the LEAF the remaining distance to the EVSE only to find the DCQC offline and dark – DRAT! DRAT!! DRAT!!!
I tried the reset button a few times – no luck – still dark and offline.
The Greenlots L2 was online so I plugged in and left the car alone in the growing darkness to charge.
We trekked into Cherokee for dinner and later returned – 4.2 hours later – and the car was still charging but it now had a 76% SOC and 11.3 kWh.
Still raining, foggy, dark…but at least it was not cold.
I updated Plugshare with details of offline DCQC and drove to a friend’s home in a neighboring county for the night. I arrived at his home with a 32.5% SOC and 4.6 kWh. I plugged the Leaf into a wall outlet and bedded down for the night exhausted and personally out of a charge from all the discharging drama of the day.
The next morning, after trickle charging all night, I awoke to fine the Leaf still charging – yesterday was a long day for the little car and I did not plug in until around 11pm.
Morning stats: SOC 88.5% and 13.3 kWh available. Light rain and fog.
I made my way back to Cherokee without issue and immediately found the new location of the Welcome Center’s Schneider L2 EVSE and laughed at myself for making such an obvious error the night before. Had I found the new location of the EVSE I could have easily avoided the dreaded turtle mode. I plugged into the trusty Schneider EVSE with a 35% SOC and 4.9 kWh and charged for 2 hours for an 84% SOC and 12.8 kWh. Before heading over Soco gap to Waynesville I updated Plugshare with the new location details.
I then unplugged and drove up, up and up over Soco in the rain and fog and on to Waynesville where I arrived at the downtown DCQC with a 25.4% SOC and 3.5% kWh.
I plugged the little old Leaf into the Greenlots DCQC and charged for 30 min for a 81% SOC and a gain of 12.5 kWh. After all the drama of the last day and a half I wanted a full charge before heading out on the last leg of the journey up, up, and up through the rain, fog and steep terrain of the last steep, remote ridge crossing.
When the DCQC finished I unplugged the L3 and then plugged in the nearby L2 for a further 40 minutes charging to top off the Leaf with a final full charge of 94.1% SOC and 14.2 kWh that would hopefully push me up and over Hwy 276 and back home safe and sound.
As I sat there in the rain charging L2 I watched as an ICE driver in a red Nissan pulled hastily into the parking space opposite mine, jumped out, and ran off into the rain. It seemed to me that the driver had absolutely no idea that he had just parked in an EV charging location. He was in a hurry and failed to notice the signs…and the EV parked and charging 10 feet away.
I believe this is what happens in many of the innocent ICEing events – people are just not very observant of anything outside of their frame of reference. Maybe someone needs to come up with an ICE vehicle detector that, when deployed in EV charging spots, will detect the hydrocarbon based fuels/lubricants/exhaust used in ICE vehicles and, when detected, trigger highly noticeable strobe lights and possibly even illuminated signage indicating to the ICE vehicle driver their mistake. While many ICEing events are simple mistakes, others are intentional acts of aggression toward EV’s – but that is another story I have written about before in this blog.
After charging I updated Plugshare.
As I set out on 276 it was still raining, but this time it was only a mist and the sky seemed to be clearing a little bit – a good sign? My drive up 276 and over the Blue Ridge Parkway was uneventful, and upon reaching the highest point of the last leg of the trip my SOC was 39.7 and kWh 5.7. With all the great gravity provided regeneration I pulled on the descent to home I soon arrived in my garage with a 28.9% SOC and 4 kWh remaining in my trusty old first generation Leaf’s ageing battery.
Against all the odds I had made it.
I plugged the Leaf into the nearby wall outlet and let it trickle charge until morning.
I love my old Leaf even with its rapidly failing generation one battery. The Nissan warranty department – I do not care for them very much. Maybe one day a 3rd party battery manufacturer* will make a replacement battery for the first generation Nissan Leaf or, Nissan will drop the price of the OEM unit to something much more reasonable than the current outrageous and unreasonable price that is so egregious that I will not even speak of it here. I really hope one of these things happens soon so I can upgrade my old Leaf and give it a renewed range and a second life as my nonprofit outreach vehicle and daily driver. *Note: If you are the maker of such a battery please do contact me because we need to talk 🙂
Round trip statistics
Beginning odometer: 70,609
Ending odometer: 70,835
Round Trip Mileage 226
L1 – 2
L2 – 5
L3 – 1
Time spent charging:
L1 – 6.0h (overnight), 8.0h (overnight), = 14h
L2 – .50h, 1.5h, 2h, 4h, 1.5h, .70h = 10.2
L3 – .50h = .50
Total charging time = 14 + 10.20 + .50 = 24.7h (14 overnight, 5.7 during lunch and dinner and down time, 2.0 while working and 3.2 on the road)
It is important to note that my EV is a first generation Leaf. This simple fact means that it charges 50% slower than newer EV’s due to its 3.3 kW onboard charger which limits the speed at which it will charge from L1 and L2 charging sources. If it were a newer EV my L1 and L2 charge times would have been cut in half.
Electric fuel cost for 226 mile round trip: $6.72 (L3) + $2.00* (L2) + .75(L1) = $9.47
*All but one L2 charge session were cost free.
kWh per mile = 3.57
kWh used for round trip = 62.8
Electricity cost/kWh from energy mix on the road = 0.04 (9.47/226)
Electricity cost/kWh – if I had used only electricity from my home power grid = $7.53 (62.8kWh * .12)
Electricity cost/kWh – if I had used only electricity from my solar workplace L2 EVSE = $3.76 (3.76 =.06 * 62.8kWh)
MPGe = 120.4
MPGe cost for round trip = $2.64/226 = 0.01/mile WOW!!!
It is interesting to note that if I had driven this route in my 2013 Honda Pilot I would not have needed to stop to charge but my fuel bill (maybe we should call it a conveyance convenience cost) would have been $31.72 or around 0.14/mile! (0.14 = 31.72/226)
That is a fuel cost savings of $22.25!! (22.25 = 31.72 (gas) – 9.47(electricity))
(Check out this handy MPG/MPGe calculator: http://mpgecost.com/calculator/mpge.html#/ )
These savings add up rather dramatically when you consider the following:
Even with all the charging station issues, the old EV battery related crazy, and the garishly long charge times – you cannot rationally dispute the cost savings of driving electric…and that is before we have even discussed the significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions!
Those savings are as follows:
A total of 97.9 pounds of CO2 were released into the atmosphere by using 62.8 kWh of electricity to push my EV on this round trip.
Therefore, by driving electric I prevented over 509.1 pounds of CO2, as well as other harmful pollutants from entering the atmosphere. (607 – 97.9 = 509.1)
Where did I get the 509.1 pounds of CO2?
Had I used my Honda Pilot for this journey it would have used over 31 gallons of gasoline which would have emitted 607 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere.
That is equivalent to burning 301 pounds of coal which would generate 1,068.96 kWh of electricity.
This amount of energy would be able to charge over 35 thousand smartphones….
And…this next fact is mind-blowing…
This same amount of energy (1,068.96 kWh) would push my Nissan Leaf over* 3,816.18 miles!!!! *I say over because with regenerative braking it would go even further since EV’s make a portion of their electric fuel when slowing down, descending grades, and braking!!
Here are the numbers so see for yourself.
If one gallon of gas contains 33.70 kWh of electricity and my Honda Pilot would have burned 31.72 gallons of gas on the 226 mile RT trip then:
If 33.70 kWh * 31.72 gallons = 1,068.96 kWh
And my EV will travel an average of 3.57 miles per kWh
Then 3.57 * 1,068.96 = 3,816.18 miles
The cost, efficiency, and environmental savings of driving electric cannot be rationally disputed.
Just for fun…
The electricity cost to drive my Leaf EV 3,816.18 miles at the average US energy cost of .12/kWh = $128.28 (1068.96 * .12 = $128.28) Source: https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.php?t=epmt_5_6_a
Gasoline cost to drive my Honda Pilot gas vehicle 3,816.18 miles at the current average gas price in the USA of $2.43 = $431.32 (3816.18/21.5 mpg = 177.50 gallons * 2.43 = $431.32)
That is a cost difference of $303.04!!
And that is just for gas…
Knowing these amazing facts – why would anyone choose to drive petroleum powered vehicles??