Thursday, March 3, 2011

Nissan Leaf Free Electric Car Charger and Privacy

After you've ordered your Nissan Leaf, Nissan insists you schedule someone to come by and assess your electrical system and garage for charger installation. I originally contacted Aerovironment, the charger company Nissan is working with, in December about buying a charger but was told I had to wait. Sometime in early January, I received an email from Nissan to sign up for a charger assessment, so I scheduled an appointment as late as possible in February because I wanted PG&E to finish the 200 amp upgrade and the electrician to complete installing the 240V/40 amp circuit for the charger. My assessment was Monday this week. Unfortunately, due to a snow storm on Fri. last week,  PG&E couldn't complete the 200 amp  service installation until Wed. this week, though the electrician did get the 240V circuit installed. I was a little anxious whether the assessor would pass my house given that the 200 amp service was still a work in progress.

The guy from Aerovironment came on Monday about 5 minutes before his scheduled timeslot was due to expire. He took some pictures of my house number, electrical meter, and the junction box in the garage where the charger would go, then pasted up a picture of the charger next to the junction box. I guess the picture is to guide the installation guys about where to install the charger. He said he would email me a quote, but wouldn't tell me what it was. But he did say that the electrical work we were having done was  fine and he was quite relieved that he didn't have to pull a permit for it nor have  any additional upgrade work done. Installing the charger itself doesn't require a permit.

In addition to the Aerovironment charger, some time ago I also signed up at the EVProject for email about progress. The EVProject is giving free chargers to electric car customers for the right to collect data on their electric car usage. Now, normally I am a real stickler for privacy. I don't use my CVS discount card nor grocery store discount cards because you are in effect trading information on your purchases for the discount. Perhaps I wouldn't be so picky if I really needed the discount, but I don't see in principle why some company should get this kind of information so they can spam me with paper junk mail and otherwise target their marketing at me.

However, the chargers being offered by the EVProject looked like a much better deal. First off, it's a lot more money, something like $2K. Compare that to a couple of cents off a box of tissues at CVS. Secondly, the most potentially sensitive information they are collecting  - where the car is located - is known to my cell phone company anyway. ATT always knows exactly where I am because the active cell phone in my pocket is telling them. Since the same privacy constraints bind ATT and the EVProject (at least according to the agreement with the EVProject), I don't have much worry that they'll use the information for some tawdry commercial purpose. In fact, what I think they are collecting the information for is to decide where to install public chargers. So, in the end, not only do I get a free charger but also the information will help improve the infrastructure for electric cars. Finally, I actually get to view the information, so I can track my electricity usage and other data on the car.

For some unknown reason, the San Francisco Bay Area was one of the last areas to be approved for EVProject enrollment.  A few weeks ago,  I received an email from  ECOtality, the car charger company that is managing the EVProject for the U.S. government:  they were now taking applications in the Bay Area. I called Nissan to find out what to do, and they said I should just log into my Nissan Leaf account and apply for participation in the program. So I did. The application involved filling out a form with information about my electrical system, what appliances I have, and whether I had a WiFi  access point through which the data could be uploaded to the Internet. On Monday night,  I received  an email from ECOtality with the happy news that we had been accepted into the program. I never did see the Aerovironment quote, but I'm not concerned.

The ECOtality charger is a bit larger than the Aerovironment charger, and it has a reel for rolling in the cord. After three years of dealing with the cord on our plug-in Prius conversion, I don't feel the need for a reel but possibly it will come in handy. The ECOtality charger also has an LCD screen on it, about which I have some mixed feelings. Generally, I think it would have been better to simply allow people to log in over the Internet or through their smartphone to view this kind of data. Software apps are cheap while hardware is expensive. But, hey, the charger is free as long as I am in the program and I get to keep it when the program completes, so I am not complaining. And I am really happy that it collects data on the electricity usage of the car, as this is something I wanted to do by myself. The basic Aerovironment charger has no connection to the Internet.

In addition to the free charger, ECOtality also supplies a free 440V DC charger for the Leaf. The 440V DC charger allows the Leaf to fast charge in around 20 minutes, something the Chevy Volt can't do. ECOtality sells a commercial charger with a 440V port on it, but I suspect the EVProject is also interested in collecting data about how often people travel beyond the 100 mi. single charge range of the Leaf by quick charging using the 440V charger. At this point, I am just getting started with EVs, so I don't have much idea about whether we'll try to do longer trips. I do know that the Leaf's built-in public charging spot map often directs you to a charger with an older plug,  that was used for the original  EV1 in the 1990's, so it might not be all that reliable yet if you want to make a longer trip. Eventually, these older chargers will be  replaced of course. It will be interesting to see how the public charging infrastructure develops and to play an active part in contributing to weaning the world off of fossil fuels by the data the EVProject collects on our Leaf.


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  2. The aero charger quote for me was more than $2000. I decided not to have it, as I could just use the 120V charger. I doubt if the Ecotality charger can charge a 24KWh battery in 20 minutes at home. A simple calculation would require an almost 100KW power for that. My Tesla has 53KWh battery which takes 6 hour to charge via 14-50 plug at 240V and 50A. Quite a feat as I observed that the AC and fan was in overdrive to cool the system and it was not a hot evening in Arizona. Ecotality is a lot of hot air. I like the Tesla charging using RV park receptacles.

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  4. Hi Joseph,

    You're right, the Ecotality charger does not charge a 24KWh battery in 20 minutes at home. It is a Level 2 220V/30 amp charger, and it requires 6 hrs to charge the car. The 20 minute charge time comes from a Level 3 440V DC charger, but using it requires special hardware on the car. Ecotality makes Level 3 chargers for public/commercial use. As part of our participation in the EV Project, we get the 440V DC hardware on the car for free, ordinarily it costs around $400. I don't think it would be possible to push that amount of energy through PG&E's transformers in our neighborhood today, though hopefully someday it will.

    Sorry if this wasn't clear.


  5. There is little need to charge that fast at home, overnight 240V is plenty. Charging that fast harms the battery, as mentioned by Nissan, due to Ohmic heating, with the Nissan Leaf being forced air cooled, not liquid cooled being liquid cooling each AA size battery. Cooling and warming to right temperature during charging is crucial. BYD car F3DM sold for taxi fleet had fire in Shenzhen, and it is reported for taxi they can drive only 6 hours per day, so obviously not fast 20 minutes charging. Do not fully charge beyond 90% or discharge under 10%. My approach: small exchangeable and as needed batteries.