LEAF 2.0: Mastering the Emerging Charging Infrastructure

By Paul Triolo, last updated 12/8/13 01:05pm

  • The Nissan LEAF comes with two charging ports, a Level 3 "quick charge" port and the standard Level 2 port.
  • iPhones and Androids have a variety of apps to allow a LEAF owner to check the current status of the battery, find charging stations, and make use of charging networks for payment.
  • The garage on Maryland Ave at Rockville Town Square has a Level 2 charging station, next to two parking spaces that are reserved for electric vehicles.
  • Whole Foods Market Rockville also offers Level 2 charging and designated parking spots for its electric vehicle-driving customers.
  • A charging station at the Nissan dealership in Frederick. All Nissan dealerships currently offer free level 2 charging to LEAF owners.
  • Quicker charging can be done with the Level 3 charging port, shown here. It takes about 20 minutes to fully charge, instead of 3-4 hours.
  • The DC metro area's only (as far as we know) Level 3 charger. EV owner Paul Triolo on the phone with the eVGo people setting up a trial 60-day account. The LEAF was 85% charged in 15 minutes at this location while we had coffee at Starbucks across the street.

After becoming familiar with the NISSAN LEAF zero emissions vehicle's functions and capabilities, the next thing the intrepid new owner must begin to explore is the world of charging infrastructure. Initially rolled out in California, both the LEAF and Tesla eVs have a large and growing infrastructure in that green state, with strict emissions standards driving the deployment of charging capabilities to match the growth in eV sales. East of California, it’s a patchwork of development when it comes to public charging stations, and charging networks.

First, a reminder of the types of charging options for eVs like the LEAF, Tesla, and Volt. Level 2 chargers are most common, with most eV owners installing the 220 V 30A devices in their garage for overnight charges, with the LEAF typically 2-3 hours depending on the level of battery depletion. Currently, the vast majority of public chargers are Level 2, with the larger DC quickcharge, Level 3 chargers, typical charge time of 20 minutes, slowly popping up all over the landscape. Shockingly, Maryland does not yet have a single Level 3 charger available. This is likely to change soon though.

The eV owner then typically is relying on a combination of his/her own 220 Level 2 charger, and the array of public free or for-pay chargers available. Currently there are several emerging business models for public chargers:

  • Free charging stations at business locations. MOM’s grocery stores, for example, are luring in eV owners by offering free charging at their Maryland store locations. We have used the one at the MOM’s on Nicholson several times to top off while shopping for various organic goodies. We get about 20 miles range for an hour charge. In addition, we can charge the LEAF at all Nissan dealerships for free. We tested this out in early November in Frederick, where the Nissan dealership is open from roughly 7 am to 9 pm and has two charging stations/parking spots, market ZERO EMISSON (photos). We were able to get 11 miles of range in only 20 minutes, providing a nice cushion to get back to Rockville after driving out to Western Montgomery County.

  • Fee based charging networks. We are now members of the Chargepoint and Blink eV charging networks. Blink’s parent company Ecotality recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and its substantial charging network was bought up by Car Charging Inc (stock ticker CCGI), which also owns Chargepoint. Blink has a big network in California and had been expanding in other states, including Maryland, Virginia, and DC. Both Blink and Chargepoint work on a charge card basis, charging a per hour or other time unit charge, typically averaging around 48 c/kwh, compared to roughly 11-17 c/kwh for the normal home charger. With a swipe of the Blink or Chargepoint card (photos) you can activate a charging station and begin charging. I have found that I like to linger at WholeFoods a bit longer when charging on their Blink network station, and I can check the progress with either of two iPhone apps, the Blink app or my Nissan LEAF app. Chargepoint’s smartphone app is actually quite good, and includes maps of non-Chargepoint charging stations. Aeroenvironment, which is the brand of our garage charger (preferred charger for the LEAF), operates a similar network in the northwest in Oregon and Washington.

  • Plan based charging networks. Currently, NRG eVGo is installing Level 3 and Level 2 stations in DC and eventually Maryland, and will offer charging plans that will allow unlimited charging at their stations for specified time periods. The firm has a well developed charging infrastructure in Texas and is just now moving in this area, making it difficult at present to decide on a longer-term plan. We bought a two month all you can eat plan for 5.00 and were able to do a Level 3 charge in late October in DC at the Walgreens on Connecticut avenue (photos). It has a very nice setup, with Level 2 and 3 stations side by side and is easy to use.

    The Level 3 cable is rather massive, delivering 125A for the DC quickcharge. It appears that the Level 3 charge takes about 22 minutes no matter what your battery level going in, as the charging station modulates the amperage as the battery level rises, starting at 125 and reaching around 30 when the battery is around 85-90 percent charged. It is advised to only take the Level 3 charge to that level to improve battery life. The Level 3 CHaDEMO standard name is a pun for O cha demo ikaga desuka in Japanese, meaning How about some tea? This referre to the time it would take to charge a car. For us it was How about a tall toffeenut soy latte with no whip extra shot….still about 22 minutes.

  • Walgreens has a robust corporate policy supporting charging stations, and many of its stores in California sport both Level 3 and Level 3 stations. The new store in Rockville, however, does not yet have either. When I went in and asked an employee where I might find a charging station, she directed me to Aisle 6, thinking I was looking for a battery recharger. While this was not auspicious, it is likely that the Walgreen’s will eventually installed charging stations. An eVGo employee we talked to for the DC Walgreen station indicated they were considering Maryland installations. My sense is that this is an evolving business model and the utility of various plans offered will depend on the extent and coverage of the network.

So basically at present, there are a lot of possibilities for on the go charging, allowing for topping off and for planning modestly longer trips than the 120 mile or so range of the LEAF. The good news is that in October 2013 the governors of 8 progressive states, Maryland, New York, Connecticut, California, Oregon, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island announced commitments to enhance the eV charging infrastructures in their states. While the agreement requires no specific financial commitment, the deal has the states working together to change building codes and other regulations to allow a quick rollout of new charging stations. “This is not just an agreement, but a serious and profoundly important commitment,” said California Gov. Jerry Brown in a statement. “From coast to coast, we’re charging ahead to get millions of the world’s cleanest vehicles on our roads.” There are more than 6,700 charging stations open to the public in the signatory states. The eight states account for 23 percent of the automotive market in the U.S. Each of the eight states had already adopted rules requiring a percentage of new vehicles sold to be zero-emission by 2025. California’s mandate of 15.4 percent calls for a total of 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles to be on the state’s roads by that time.

We are still on the cusp of a real takeoff of eVs nationally. There are now 16 zero-emission vehicles from eight manufacturers on the market, including nine battery electrics, two hydrogen fuel cell cars and five plug-in hybrid models. Officials say that every automaker will have a zero-emission model by 2015. However, as noted previously, the mid-priced market for eVs at present is really only represented by the LEAF, as the Tesla S family sedan remains well out of the reach of all but a small number of car buyers and the eVs priced below the LEAF suffer in terms of performance, primarily range. Tesla has chosen a different standard for its quick charge, which it dubs “super charge”. Tesla recently came out with an adapter so that the Tesla S can use the widely used Level 3 CHaDEMo standard, and Tesla charging stations are beginning to appear along major highways (Tesla provides lifetime free charging for its vehicles).

The DOE website has some good material related to charging stations and maintains a quite up-to-date list of charging stations nationwide, which is available for download. Wikipedia also has a pretty good page on the basics of eV charging.

Filed under Tech & Science, Green transportation

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