Washington Kia Dealers Want the Soul EV

By Tyrel on September 25, 2014

While my wife and I both drive Nissan LEAFs, we are open to other options for electric vehicles when our leases run out. We don’t have any particular connection to Nissan, we just like that they took the first big move to sell a mass-market electric car, and they made a very good one.

One EV model that we are particularly interested in is the Kia Soul EV. It has slightly more range than the LEAF, but is a different body style which would be more helpful in many situations. It would be great if we had a LEAF and a Soul EV.

So I decided to reach out to all the Kia dealers within 100 miles and find out when we’ll be able to get one. The responses I got varied in their detail, but one thing was pretty common.

The Kia dealerships in Washington State want to be able to sell the Kia Soul EV. They know there is a market for it and they know they’d be able to sell it. But Kia will not be providing any to them in the near future, only selling in a few other states, such as California. The dealerships are understandably frustrated by this. They report getting calls from potential customers all the time asking about it, especially now that Kia is advertising it on television.

Of course I am frustrated by this as well, because I want to buy one, and so do many other people I know (as I’m very involved in the EV community). It’s very unfortunate that a company doesn’t want to sell a product to people who want to buy it.

1,500 Mile Road Trip Completed

By Tyrel on September 12, 2014

After just over 1,500 miles driving from the Canadian border to California and back in a 100% electric Nissan LEAF, we have arrived safely back home.

Our road-tripping LEAF is back home in the garage with its sibling.

Our road-tripping LEAF is back home in the garage with its sibling.

Our actual route (some portions hidden for privacy).

Our actual route (some portions hidden for privacy). Click to enlarge.

We ended up coming home a day early because Trish came down with a stomach virus on Tuesday. We kept thinking it would go away, but it did not after a couple days, so we decided to shoot for home.

This change in our plan resulted in a single day drive on Thursday of 275 miles, which is much longer than we planned to go on any day for this trip. Because Trish wasn’t feeling well and we had to stop anyway, we used each quick charger long the way, even if we didn’t really need to. For the most part we would arrive with about 40% charge and put it up to around 80%, then continue. We successfully completed a total of seven quick charges that day without any negative impact to the car. Battery health was at 100.25% when we reached home the following afternoon. I may write more about this particular leg of the trip in a separate blog post, as the details may be of interest to some of our readers.

For our entire trip, we used 30 different charging stations and a few campground RV outlets while we camped, for a total of 48 charging sessions (most of which were fairly short). We kept our battery charged up: our lowest battery level was 29%. This is a testament to the high number of available charging stations in Oregon and also my personal level of comfort.

In total we used 325.7 kWh of energy for this voyage, and went 1,508 miles. The cost of our charging was $25.71. This comes from $19.99 for a monthly subscription to the West Coast Electric Highway (which we pay every month anyway), plus $0.89 for a short Level 2 charge we did while shopping, and $4.83 for a quick charge at a Blink Network charger. So our cost per mile for fuel was 1.7 cents. If we had taken a typical gas car which got 30 mpg, assuming gas prices of $4.00/gallon, it would have cost us about $200, or 13 cents per mile.

By the way, while we were gone, our solar array at home produced 756 kWh, more than twice the power we actually used on our trip.

We visited a number of towns and cities we’d never visited before. Every place we visited is a place that we would not have visited (and spent money at) if there were not charging stations to get there, as both of our cars are electric. I will be writing another blog post later detailing how much money we spent in each of these cities and towns. I hope that this will help officials in those areas can get an idea of how much money would not have come to their municipality if they didn’t have electric vehicle charging stations, and help officials in other areas justify the costs of putting charging stations in their communities.

I will also be posting later about how the tracking at ZEroadtrip.com worked and how you might be able to use this functionality to track your own trips in the future.

Then we’ll start thinking about our next trip!

Charging on the Go

By Tyrel on September 8, 2014

Traveling hundreds of miles from home in an electric car that has an EPA rated range of 84 miles generally isn’t very hard, but that can depend on a few different factors. Several people have asked about how we’ve accomplished this on our trip.

Our Nissan LEAFs can be charged in three ways. The most common (the way we charge at home) is called Level 2 charging. This uses a 208-to-240-volt circuit, and the LEAF (model years 2013 and newer) can pull up to 6.6 kilowatts (kW), allowing it to charge the battery from empty in about 5 hours. All new electric vehicles support charging at Level 2 using a connector called SAE J-1772. There are tens of thousands of Level 2 charging stations throughout the country.

DC Quick Charge port on a Nissan LEAF

DC Quick Charge port on a Nissan LEAF

The second is called a Direct Current Quick Charger (DCQC). These chargers can charge the car from empty to 80% charge in about 30 minutes; although we’re rarely completely empty when we arrive, so typically we spend about 20 minutes at each charger. The connector used on the LEAF for this is called CHAdeMO. Another type of connector now emerging is called the SAE J-1772 Combination Charging System (CCS), called “Combo” by most of us.

The third charging method is called Level 1. This is what we get when we plug our vehicle into a standard 110-120 volt wall outlet like you have all around your home. Because these outlets are typically rated for a constant draw of 12 amps (or 15 amps instantaneous), the charger that comes with the car will only draw 12 amps through this method, which results in a draw of 1.4 kW or less. It would take the car approximately 20 hours to charge from empty to full using this method.

Luckily, for the majority of our 1,500 mile road trip, we are able to utilizing DC Quick Chargers, although we have also used Level 2 and Level 1 charging along the way.

Charging on the West Coast Electric Highway. Ridgefield, WA.

Charging on the West Coast Electric Highway. Ridgefield, WA.

Most of the quick chargers we’ve used are part of a network of chargers called the West Coast Electric Highway. These chargers, built and operated by AeroVironment, are placed at businesses along major highways in Washington and Oregon. California was supposed to participate but has not yet built any chargers on the network as of this writing. This is why when we reached the California border, we immediately turned around. Washington has about twelve chargers on the network, and Oregon has about 43.

Because these AeroVironment quick chargers are placed near highways, and they don’t take very long to use, they facilitate long-distance travel in a Nissan LEAF (and a couple other electric car models). They are typically placed every 20 to 40 miles, which makes it easy to hop from one to the next, or even skip every other charger.

Major metropolitan areas, including the areas around Seattle-Tacoma, Portland, and Salem, do not include any chargers on the West Coast Electric Highway, because a company called ECOtality was given an exclusive government contract to build quick chargers in these areas. Unfortunately, ECOtality, which operated the Blink Network, did not fulfill its obligations to place all the chargers in these areas, and then filed for bankruptcy, leaving the Blink Network in disarray, and making it difficult to travel in these areas.

Blink Network has since been purchased by another company and they have restored service to the majority of the chargers in these areas. However, they still haven’t built the additional chargers required by their government contract, which would allow for easy travel through the area.

As a result of this, and other factors, when traveling through the Seattle-Tacoma area we depended instead on chargers located at Nissan dealerships. In the Portland area, we charged at a charger operated by Portland State University for research purposes.

Celebration while charging at Magic Nissan, north of Seattle

Celebration while charging at Magic Nissan, north of Seattle

We could have relied on these quick chargers for the entirety of our travels. However, we chose to also do some Level 2 and Level 1 charging in order to save time and to reach one of our goals.

When we were in downtown Seattle and downtown Portland, we used Level 2 charging because we had stopped to either shop (Seattle) or visit (Portland) and didn’t actually need much charge to get to the next quick charger. We also did this in Centralia, WA. Along the very southern end of the Oregon coast, there are no quick chargers, so we used a Level 2 charger to be able to get to the California border and back.

At our campsites, we’ve used either Level 2 or Level 1 charging where possible. Ahead of our trip, we purchased a couple things to make this possible.

The LEAF comes with a Level 1 charging adapter (called an EVSE, Electric Vehicle Servicing Unit). We sent our unit to a company called EVSE Upgrade. This company replaces the internal electronics of the unit so that it can also support Level 2 charging, and faster Level 1 charging. The stock unit will support Level 1 up to 12 amps, as I stated before. The upgraded unit will support Level 1 up to 16 amps, and Level 2 up to 24 amps. We also purchased an adapter from them that will allow us to plug in to the outlets at campgrounds (NEMA 14-50).

Plugged in to a TT-30 outlet at a camp site

Plugged in to a TT-30 outlet at a camp site

Some of our campgrounds have had a plug called a TT-30, which provides up to 30 amps of 110-120 volt service. We have an adapter from TT-30 to the standard outlet and set the EVSE to the maximum of 16 amps to charge with this. Others have the 14-50 so we can charge at the full rate supported by the EVSE, 24 amps. A couple of the camp sites have had no power at all.

Charging at camp allows us to start off the following day with a full charge. Some days this allows us to cruise around and explore the area. Other days it allows us to skip a quick charger along the route, in order to get to our next stop faster.

Electricity is easy to find if needed, and having lots of options for charging also means that if any emergency situation should come up, we would be better prepared to deal with it. However, so far we haven’t found ourselves with less than even 25% charge, so we’re far from experiencing such an emergency situation.

Let us know if you have any questions!

Zero Emission Road Trip – Update 2 – Hello, California!

By Tyrel on September 7, 2014

Hello, California!

Welcome to California!

We made it from Canada to California in a 100% electric Nissan LEAF.

We had originally planned on entering California and immediately turning back via Interstate 5. However, as mentioned in my last blog entry, we decided we didn’t want to subject ourselves and our dog to the heat wave currently going on in that area. So we instead diverted to the coast of Oregon. We intended to travel a bit down the coast and just explore what there was to see. We didn’t intend, necessarily, to actually drive to California via this route, since the charging infrastructure peters out some distance from the border (and doesn’t exist at all in California).

On Thursday morning we left our campsite at Pine Meadows Campground, outside of Cottage Grove. We first drove back north to Eugene / Springfield to do some shopping. We decided that the blankets we had weren’t sufficient for the cold nights and we needed some new sleeping bags instead. Having acquired those, we then headed back south and then out toward the coast.

After a couple hours of driving and a few short stops to charge and walk the dog, we finally found ourselves on the Oregon coast, in the town of Reedsport. Another quick charge there and we headed south to Coos Bay, which turned out to be a pretty nice small city. We were delighted to see that their new fire station and visitor center had large solar arrays on their roofs. The woman manning the visitor center was not as impressed, unfortunately.

We stayed the night in a hotel there, then headed south down the Oregon coast. We had reservations for camping at Humbug Mountain State Park for two nights. It’s much nicer to camp at the same place for two nights as we don’t have to take down and set up the tent so much, and we get time to explore the surrounding area. Which was our intent on Saturday — we thought we might check out the beach and maybe the neighboring cities.

However, it turns out that one of the followers of our adventure, and fellow LEAF owner, Matt Williams, and his wife Kristen, lived just outside of the town to our south, Gold Beach. We communicated with them and concluded that if we wanted to, we could top off our charge level at their house, then easily make it to the California border and back, which would allow us to satisfy one of the original stated goals of the trip. The other stated goal, driving 1,500 miles total on the trip, is very likely to happen as well, but we’ll have to wait a few more days to see that!

Matt & Kristen were incredibly helpful with offering their charger, advise (e.g. on the terrain between their place and the California border), and letting us stick around and visit for a while. It’s great to be able to find people like them on our travels.

The majority of the remainder of our trip will be spent slowly traveling up the Oregon coast, seeing the sights. We’ll be in no hurry, spending two nights in a couple locations, as our intent is to enjoy the coast, not to race back home as quickly as possible! We probably won’t be posting to social media much unless we get some nice photogenic shots of the car, or other EV-specific things come up to talk about. The live tracker at ZEroadtrip.com will continue to run, though, and we’d love to meet up with you along the way!

Campsite for Friday and Saturday nights.

Campsite for Friday and Saturday nights.

1,500 Mile Road Trip – Progress Update 1

By Tyrel on September 3, 2014

Send-off at Magic Nissan

Send-off at Magic Nissan. Photo by Erik Petersen.

First of all, I would like to apologize for not writing earlier. After each of the first two days, we were both very tired after lots of driving and visiting with folks along the way. Also, we didn’t have any connectivity the first night so I couldn’t post anyway.

Our Path After 3 Days

Our Path After 3 Days

Over 700 people have been regularly checking our live map at ZEroadtrip.com, along with 175 followers on our Facebook page and 76 followers on Twitter. I hope that the stuff we post is interesting to you all!

Starting last weekend, we drove the short 17 miles from the Canadian border in Lynden, WA to Bellingham, WA, near our home. Then, Monday morning, we left our home and resumed the journey south.

Three days into our journey, we’ve now traveled 466 miles (750 km). We have used 112.4 kWh of energy. Along the way we were greeted by about a dozen people at Magic Nissan of Everett, several staff and one local LEAF owner at Bill Korum’s Puyallup Nissan, long-time LEAF owner David Laur outside of Olympia, several LEAF owners at Electric Avenue in Portland, and a couple LEAF owners just outside of Albany, OR. It has been really great to see people along the way, to share our knowledge and also to learn from them.

One frequent question from other LEAF owners we encounter in person and via social media is for technical information on how the ZEroadtrip.com site works. I will write another blog post at a later date about this. I do hope to some day make this functionality available to everyone.

Sometimes we forget to post on Facebook & Twitter for a while, and as I noted we haven’t blogged much either. This trip is first and foremost our family vacation, so our personal priorities come first. We’re doing this trip for fun. We appreciate all of you who are following along with is and will continue to communicate, but just keep in mind that it may not be particularly frequent due to these facts.

Along the same lines, this morning we made a personal choice to change the plan for our trip. Instead of following Interstate 5 down to the California border, we are going to divert directly to the Oregon coast on Thursday. We’ve added a couple additional stops along the coast so that we end up going back up the coast on the same original timeline. The primary reason for this choice was that the weather forecast calls for temperatures in the mid 90s F (mid 30s C), which is warmer than either of us would be anywhere near comfortable. It will be about 20 degrees F (10 degrees C) cooler on the coast, so we’ll be much happier there. And a family vacation is much more fun if we’re happy.

Those of you who were expecting us in the areas of Grants Pass, Medford, and Ashland, we apologize for this change. Hopefully next time we come down it won’t be as hot and we’ll be able to come down and visit.

So we will be driving from Cottage Grove to Reedsport on Thursday. This isn’t a very long drive so we have no concerns. We’ll stay in a hotel in Reedsport Thursday night, then head down to Port Orford the next day, where we’ll spend two nights at Humbug Mountain State Park. We may travel further south during this time, possibly to the California border, but that’s still undetermined. After that we’ll head back up to Reedsport to resume our original plan.

Campsite at Pine Meadows Campground, Cottage Grove, OR

Campsite at Pine Meadows Campground, Cottage Grove, OR

Zero-Emission Road Trip Starts Monday!

By Tyrel on August 31, 2014

Our car is easy to spot!

Our car is easy to spot!

Tomorrow, September 1st, 2014, we start our 1,500-mile road trip in our 100% electric Nissan LEAF from Canada to California. We encourage everyone to Like us on Facebook, Follow @ZEroadtrip on Twitter, and especially watch our live map at ZEroadtrip.com.

On Saturday we did a quick drive from the Canadian border to Bellingham, WA, where we live, so that on Monday we can just start off from home and head south, and also to test that the live map was working properly. This drive was 17 miles and used 3.9 kWh of electricity. Unfortunately the road that lets you get to the border crossing easily when you don’t intend to cross the border, has been “closed to thru traffic”, so we weren’t able to actually get to the border crossing. Instead we started out on Boundary Road, which is separated only by a shallow ditch from 0 Avenue, on the Canadian side of the border.

Our recorded route from Saturday.

Our recorded route from Saturday.

Here’s the tentative plan for Monday. Keep an eye on our live data, and Twitter or Facebook, as the plan is likely to change depending on lineups at chargers and such.

Hopefully we can leave home around 8am. We’ll be charging in Burlington around 9am, and at Magic Nissan of Everett around 10am. At Magic Nissan we’ll try to have a bit of a “launch party” for our trip, so anyone in the area is encouraged to show up and hang out with us before we head south.

After Magic Nissan, we’ll charge at Whole Foods in Seattle, probably around 11:30am or noon. We’ve been invited to then charge at Bill Korum’s Puyallup Nissan, which will probably happen around 1pm.

After that, we’ll be charging at the West Coast Electric Highway chargers in Tumwater and Centralia, before arriving at our campsite at Seaquest State Park, near Castle Rock. We may also charge using the charger at Castle Rock, depending on how hot our battery pack is getting. If it’s too hot we might wait until Tuesday morning to charge, or use a trickle charger at our campsite. Along the way we may stop to see the Mima Mounds National Area Preserve if the weather is cool (as we’ll have to leave the dog in the car).

Let us know by commenting here, on Facebook, or Twitter, if you’d like to meet up anywhere along our route.

2014 Zero-Emission Road Trip

By Tyrel on August 20, 2014

Trip route map. Campsites are marked with the date we'll be at each (e.g. "1, 12" means we'll be camping there the night of the 1st and 12th of September).

Trip route map. Click to zoom. Campsites are marked with the night(s) we’ll be at each.

On September 1st, Trish and I will depart our home in Bellingham, WA, near the Canadian border, and begin our 1,500+ mile journey south to the California border, and back, in a 100% electric Nissan LEAF. And you’ll be able to track us live!

This is not a race, it is just an opportunity for us to take time away from the daily grind, explore a small corner of the world, and show that it can be done in a LEAF. We’ll be camping almost every night. After we completed a similar trip last year, we decided it had to be done again, since it was so much fun!

New for this year, I have developed a web site that will display our live location, battery charge level, and more. We encourage you to load up the site and follow along on our journey! It will automatically update our position once per minute while we’re driving, assuming we have adequate cellular signal. Check it out at ZEroadtrip.com.

The general route starts by going down I-5 from Bellingham, WA to the California border. Near the California border, on Saturday, September 6th, we will be showing our car at the Southern Oregon Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Show in Ashland! We’re sure to encounter a lot of great people there. Then we will head back up a bit and over to the Oregon Coast. We’ll follow the coast up to Astoria, and finally head back home via I-5.

We will also post regular updates to Twitter @ZEroadtrip or you can Like us on Facebook, and we will write daily blog posts here as well. Blog posts may be posted a day late in some cases depending on where we can find an Internet connection.

If you are interested in meeting up with us somewhere along our journey, you can comment below or tweet @ZEroadtrip and we’ll be in touch. Or, track us on the map and meet us at a charging station! We’ll be stopping at every one on the map, even if we don’t need it. We’ll be driving a silver 2013 Nissan LEAF SL (on the right on the photo below).

Our two Nissan LEAFs in front of our solar array.

Our two Nissan LEAFs in front of our solar array.

Solar Performance Update & News (July 2014)

By Tyrel on July 28, 2014

It has now been quite a while since we’ve completed our second solar array. Things have been going GREAT so I thought it would be good to share exactly how great it’s been going.

First of all, on July 19th we had a gathering of electric vehicles at our house, and we parked them all in front of the array. It was a very rainy day, at first, but later on it cleared up so that we could get a great photo.

Thirteen 100% electric vehicles parked in front of our solar array. July 19, 2014. Photo by Steve Coram.

Thirteen 100% electric vehicles parked in front of our solar array. July 19, 2014. Photo by Steve Coram.

We had three Tesla Model Ss, nine Nissan LEAFs, and a converted Scion xB. It turned out to be a good party with lots of interesting discussions and great food. About half the attendees had come up from the Seattle area, and half had come down from British Columbia.

The rain that day reduced our production quite a bit, but overall we’ve been having much better performance than predicted. For example, for the month of June, our total predicted production was 1,612 kWh, but we produced 1,820 kWh. In fact, we have over-produced every single month except for December, by an average of 112.6%. You can see our performance for every month in this graph:

Solar Performance vs Predicted as of July 2014

Solar Performance vs Predicted as of July 2014

This writing is on July 28th so the graph includes extrapolated performance through the end of July. There’s also a huge jump in April due to Phase 2 coming online on March 25th.

As of the end of July 27th, we have banked a total of 2,312 kWh with the utility. According to the predictions, we’ll continue banking additional power through September, after which we will begin using up the banked power. We’ll probably have enough banked power to last us at least through mid January, after which we’ll be pulling some from the utility again (though not a lot, as we’ll be picking up production again around that time).

In the coming months we’ll be getting our check from the utility for our Washington State production credit. This will help cover the loan payments we’ve been making thus far, and allow us to pay down the loans a little bit as well. After that, the next big benefit will come next tax season, when we’ll get the remainder of our 30% tax credit for Phase 1, and probably all of our credit for Phase 2.

In the meantime, we are planning to take another EV road trip down through Oregon this year. We’re hoping to actually enter California this time (though we won’t go far there), and possibly visit Central Oregon as well, where many quick chargers were recently deployed. More on that once we’ve figured out our plans.

By the way, we are looking for another EV-owning couple to come along with us (in your own car). We prefer no kids, but otherwise don’t really have any requirements. If you’re interested in coming, let me know!

Solar Phase 2 Installation

By Tyrel on April 17, 2014

Solar Rainbow

A couple months ago, I wrote in a post that we were preparing to install more solar panels. As of a couple weeks ago, this was completed and we’ve been producing a lot of power lately as a result (as it’s been unseasonably sunny).

We were able to complete the install over about 5½ days, most of which was consecutive. Here’s a summary of what we did.

Pulling New Wire

The first step was to replace some of the wires between our house and the original array. The wires were big enough for the amount of power that array could produce, but were not appropriate for twice as much power. In addition, I had discovered that the total distance between the house breaker panel and the arrays, about 300 ft, was a potential problem due to the resistance of that much wire. So we replaced a lot of wire, some of which is in a conduit in the house, some overhead outside, and the rest in a conduit out to the array site. I did this with my dad, and it took the two of us about a day.

Digging Holes

Holes Dug

Holes dug!

The nature of a ground-mounted solar array is that it has to be held to the ground somehow! In our case, this meant eight concrete footings 12 inches in diameter; half of them 3 ft deep and the others 5 ft deep. I rented an auger from a local hardware store and dug these on Friday, March 21st. The same day, Lowe’s delivered an entire pallet of Quikrete that we would be using to fill the holes.

Filling Holes

On Saturday, we had several friends over to help. We started by putting the vertical pipes in their respective holes. We carefully lined them up with the old array and held them in place with 2x4s. Then we hauled several dozen 60-lb bags of Quikrete over to the site and dumped them in the holes. It was great to have a few friends help — it would have been extremely hard for Trish and I to do this task ourselves! We were done with this step by about 2pm.

Poles in Place

Poles in place

Setup Ground Mount

Next, on Sunday, Trish and I built the ground mount. I started by removing the 2x4s we had supporting the poles; by now the concrete was cured enough to hold them up just fine. We used a transit level to mark where each pole would need to be cut off, to match the old array, and cut them off with a band saw. I was surprised, and happy, at how easy it was to cut the pipe this way!

Using various couplings, we attached all the rest of the pipes, which I’d ordered pre-cut to the appropriate lengths. This went very well, and pretty soon we had the ground mount completed.

Ground mount completed

Ground mount completed

Install Rails

Also on Sunday, we were able to install the rails. The rails run vertically on ground-mounted systems, and the solar panels attach to them with clamps. The aluminum rails, too, were pre-cut to the appropriate length. We carefully lined them up with the existing array and bolted them on. But after looking at it, I realized it was not lined up well enough, so we ended up moving all the rails a bit to get them square, before we decided to call it a day.

When I went out Monday morning, looking at the setup from a distance, I noticed that we had obviously not got the new one lined up exactly with the old one. I started taking measurements, and sure enough, it was not what we thought it was the day before! I again adjusted things and squared it up. Finally, I was very confident that we had it right.

Rails installed (we thought)

Rails installed (we thought)

Microinverters & Cables

The next step was to lay out the “Engage” cable that goes up and down the rails to connect the Enphase microinverters together. We used two cables, one for each half of the array. The cable gets attached to the rails with special clips. Then we started attaching the microinverters themselves. A special bolt is made for attaching Enphase inverters directly to the rails. We positioned the inverters so that they would be as close as we could reasonably get them to the vertical center of each panel that would eventually go on top of them.

We've got microinverters!

We’ve got microinverters!

Time for Solar Panels

Now we were ready to start install the solar panels. A very helpful friend, Keith, drove up from Bellevue, about 100 miles, in his Nissan LEAF to help us out. He showed up just in time to help with this part (and some wiring). At first we had a little trouble getting the panels lining up exactly the way we wanted, but soon we got the hang of it, and it went somewhat smoothly. However, each panel had to be carried by hand some 300 ft from my shop where they’d been stored. This turned out to be one of the biggest chores of the whole project!

We tried each carrying a panel at a time by ourselves, but that was too much, so Keith and I ended up carrying one panel at a time together. We were working as fast as we could. But eventually Earth’s rotation caught up to us, and we had to bring out some lights so we could see what we were doing. Finally, by about 9:30pm, we had all the panels in place (but not connected or anything). We were all exhausted. Keith went home and Trish and I went to bed.

Back-lit solar panels look really cool!

Back-lit solar panels look really cool!

Connecting it all

The next morning, Tuesday, I was still exhausted, so I didn’t immediately go out and start working on the array. After a few hours, though, I’d built up enough energy to get out and keep working. I connected all of the panels to their microinverters and hid the cables in the rails, connected the Engage cables to regular wiring that we’d run through a conduit the day before, connected a grounding wire to all the rails, and connected the wires in the breaker panel to their breakers. There were still a lot of cleanup tasks to do, but everything was hooked up and ready to test out. So I turned on the breaker, and watched (on my phone) as each of the panels started producing, one by one!

Everything hooked up

Everything hooked up

Cleaning Up

It took me a couple more evenings to finish the cleanup tasks, including trimming cable ties, putting end-caps on the rails and pipes, and picking up a bunch of garbage.

The final result

The final result

Voltage Drop

Shortly after the array was turned on, it became apparent that we were going to have an issue due to the length of wire, despite our efforts of increasing the wire size. In order for the inverters to push power out into the grid, they have to push with a higher voltage than the grid is pushing in with. But the resistance of wires decreases voltage, and more so when more amps are being pushed. As a result, when the panels are in full sun, there’s a voltage drop of close to 20 volts along the wires. If the panels were pushing 240 volts, only about 220 volts would be left by the time it got to the house.

This is a problem because the voltage given to us by the utility is about 245 volts, meaning the voltage required by the inverters is 260 to 265 volts at peak time. By default, the inverters are configured to turn off if they exceed 262 volts. This started happening almost immediately.

Luckily, Enphase, the company that makes the inverters, was able to deploy an update to them over-the-wire that increased their maximum voltage slightly. Since then we haven’t had any problems with the inverters turning off for this reason.

It’s worth noting that this voltage drop equates to a loss of about 700 watts of power over the length of the wire when we’re at peak production (11.4 kW AC). This will have a slight effect on the benefits of our solar array, but I don’t think it’s significant in the long run.

Production

In the first couple weeks since the full array has been live, our production has far exceeded our expectations. That’s probably mostly because it’s been sunnier than normal, however. I expect it will even out over time. I’ll probably start writing up reports quarterly, or at least annually, covering our production, the amount of money we’ve made, and so on. Until then, enjoy the sun!

1,300 Mile EV Road Trip Summary

By Tyrel on

An electric car 600 miles from home!

An electric car 600 miles from home!

In August and September of 2013, Trish and I took a road trip in one of our 100% electric Nissan LEAFs. We planned out a trip that would take us up to 1,500 miles, which is quite a distance considering the EPA rated range of our cars is 73 miles. But we were confident it could be done; and it turned out we were right.

Planned Route

Planned Route

As enthusiastic owners of two electric cars, we wanted to show that it was actually possible to go on a long-distance trip with one. In addition, personally, we hadn’t spent much time in our neighboring state of Oregon, so we thought it would be fun to check out a lot of the cities and towns that we could easily access with our car. This turned out to be a lot of Oregon, since their EV charging infrastructure is the best in the country.

Our intention was definitely not to see how fast this route could be driven. We wanted to see the sights, meet some of the people, and enjoy ourselves as much as possible.

For most of the trip, we reserved campsites where we would be able to take an RV spot and set up a tent. Many campgrounds had 50 Amp, 220 Volt outlets available that we could plug in to, with an adapter, to charge the car. They did not charge extra fees for using these, as electricity is relatively cheap in this part of the country. This meant that in many places we didn’t need to use the quick chargers that are available as part of the West Coast Electric Highway, though we usually checked them out anyway.

The only problem I discovered with using the campground “shore power” is that the small breaker boxes at the campsites, and especially the breakers themselves, would get extremely hot while we charged the car. Too hot to touch, in fact. They aren’t intended to provide high amperage for long periods of time. I ended up often splitting our charges into 2 or 3 sessions instead of doing it all at once, to give the electrical stuff time to cool down, or in some cases we just used 110 Volt outlets instead if we had plenty of time.

Charge Level Map, 1300 mile trip

Charge Level Map, 1300 mile trip

The trip went more-or-less as planned, but the total distance was less than the expected 1,500 miles. I guess we didn’t do as much driving around in the cities we visited as I had estimated. The total odometer was 1303.7 miles, which we spread over 15 days. At the time of our trip, the West Coast Electric Highway chargers were free. We did use a few paid Level 2 chargers, though, which brought our total fuel costs for the trip to $10.59, or 0.8 cents per mile. If we did the trip today, we’d pay $19.99 for a subscription to the West Coast Electric Highway, so our total would be $30.58, or 2.3 cents per mile. This same trip in a gas car would cost about $175 for gas (13.4 cents per mile).

It was really great to be able to depend on the chargers in Oregon. They are placed close enough together so that if one is broken or in use, you can skip it and use the next one, in most cases. This currently is not possible in some parts of Washington.

The map on the left (click it to enlarge) shows our charge level at every point of our trip (except for one point when the software wasn’t working). Green & cyan are high levels of charge, blue to purple are low levels of charge.

The biggest problem with this trip is that it made us itching to go on more road trips. Unfortunately, the charging infrastructure isn’t available yet for us to go many other places. We would some day like to visit Yellowstone and also California. But for now, those are out of our range.

If you’re interested in more details about our trip, including what activities we did each day, here are the daily blog posts I wrote while we were traveling:

Finally, I must apologize for having taken so long to post this! Right after we got back from our road trip I didn’t feel like writing it, and the more time that passed the more it seemed like I just shouldn’t write it. But over and over I keep needing to have this post in order to point people to it when they ask about our trip! But, finally, there it is.

If you have any questions about our trip, or suggestions for another trip, feel free to leave a comment!