Monthly Archives: September 2013

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Public Charging

A Chargepoint Public Charge Station

A Chargepoint Public Charge Station

Once you’ve driving your BEV around for a little bit you will, on occasion, have a need to grab a charge to make it home. In reality this is much like grabbing a tank of gas while you are out–although it does take a bit more time.

In the US there are two main public charging systems: Chargepoint and Blink. Unfortunately, at this time, the Blink network may disappear. Fortunately for me, however, my neck of the woods (SE Michigan) features quite a few Chargepoint stations:
SE Michigan StationsUsing a public station isn’t much more difficult than plugging in at home. The main difference is you have to first turn on the station. In the Chargepoint case this involves either using a Chargepoint card, using the app, or calling them (the phone # is on the station). Once the station is on just plug in and listen to the electrons flow (yeah ok its pretty silent).

When you setup your Chargepoint account you get a bunch of different options for notification. You can get a text if someone unplugs your car, when the charge is complete, etc. It is very fast too: Once I unplugged my car from a station to see what it would do even though the car wasn’t full yet. My phone got the text message as soon as the plug was disconnected from the car–I still had the plug in my hand when my phone got the text!

Of course using a public station does bring up an interesting discussion point: etiquette. What do you do if someone is already using the station you’re interested in, or are at?

 

 

4k Down many more to go

The odometer just rolled over 4000 miles yesterday. Before picking up the car I was referring to getting a BEV as an experiment: could we actually regularly use a BEV, could we manage the range, how much would it cost, etc. It really only took a week or so to get the answers: yes, yes–no problem, cost is much less than an equivalent ICE car.

It will be interesting to see how the car ages over the 3 years I’ll have it. When driving a conventional ICE car you don’t tend to notice the squeaks and rattles too much until they get louder than the engine noise. This car is so quiet that any squeaks or rattles will be instantly obvious (to Ford’s credit, though, our ICE Focus which now has almost 20,000 miles on it is still very solid with almost no noticeable squeaks).

I think of the Focus Electric as a “stealth” BEV: Since it is just a Focus with a different engine anyone passing by will easily think its just an ICE Focus (the main difference is in the grill). Thus I’m not surprised that I’ve only had 3 people stop me noticing that it is a BEV and ask questions about it (mostly: “Is that fully electric? There is no engine right?” and “How much does it cost in electricity?” They are really shocked to learn how inexpensive it is to power).

 

Motoring…

A discussion on the My Ford Mobile website linked to an Engadget article with cutaway pictures of the FFE’s motor. Some things you can figure out from the pictures and the article: like the long half-shaft for one of the wheels goes through the middle of the motor.

More details can also be found in this article.

Going mobile…

“My Ford Mobile” (MFM) is Ford’s attempt at remote access/control of your BEV.

My Ford Mobile Smartphone appOn the whole the application gets the basics correct: Tells you correctly the state of charge, the cars status (plugged, unplugged, etc.), allows remote control, navigation features, etc. The additional features, however, don’t work so well.

It appears as if Ford concentrated on getting the basics working well and then launched the website/application before fixing/verifying all the rest. That is too bad because some of the extra features could come in quite handy. What are the extra features? Here is a small list–not inclusive:

  • Trip and charge log
  • Driver rankings in different regions across the US
  • Driver “achievements” (awards given for “green” driving)
  • A driver’s “score” from 0 – 100 based on how “green” you are driving

Here is an example of “not working well” from my experience: The Trip and Charge log seems to accurately note when I’ve driven and when I’ve charged but the values it displays are usually off (the watts/mile value is never displayed, for the charge display the charge time is always 1 minute). For the charge log it would also be useful to know how much charge, in kWh, was added to the battery in addition to knowing the final state of charge (a % value). It would be really cool if: A) these values were accurate, and B) you could download the last X days of data into an Excel spreadsheet (say 30 days or so). Other items not working well: My position in the driver rankings seems to have frozen: On the website it seems to think that I always drive at a 237 Wh/mile rate and that my drivers score is always 53–I really don’t think I’m that consistent (and I’d like to think that my driver score has increased a bit! LOL).

Due to the above inconsistencies I rarely use MFM for the above features. I’m now in the habit of only using MFM for the basic and reliable features such as:

  • Checking vehicle state (state of charge, plugged in or not)
  • Checking vehicle location
  • Remote control of vehicle (start/stop, lock/unlock)
  • Sending addresses to the nav system (which can also be done from www.mapquest.com to any MFT enabled car)

The funny thing is that even the basic features listed above go well beyond the capabilities of any vehicle I’ve ever owned in the past. In fact, for about 12 hours back in early summer, MFM communication to the cars (all of them–lots of posts on the FFE forums) was down; during that time I missed being able to “talk” to the car–amazing how quickly you become spoiled!

In Touch…

The Focus Electric comes complete with the “MyFord Touch” system (known as MFT; you can see an introduction video about it here).

Quite a lot has been said about this system in car magazines, on the internet, in the news, etc. To many people its a love/hate thing: they either love it, or hate it. Ford took a bold step in late 2011 to introduce MFT as a complete system controlling entertainment, temperature control, cell phone access, navigation, etc. MFT has improved greatly over the past 3 years: there have been three major updates to it (with possibly more to come).

Personally I like the MFT system and have developed a usage pattern that takes advantage of its positives and attempts to minimize the negatives. The first thing I do with any new update or car with MFT (my FFE is the 3rd car we’ve owned with MFT) is to turn all the settings to the ‘advanced’ mode. This has the affect of speeding up interactions with Sync because it stops Sync from talking to you a lot. For instance: when pressing the sync button instead of saying “please say a command?” the system simply beeps. Another thing is to use the voice control for any interactions while driving–one of the main complaints about the MFT system is that it increases driver distraction because you have to look at the screen to touch the area you want (hint: the complainers are using the system wrong: you talk to it not look at it while driving).┬áThere must be a lot of people who do like the system since MFT sold on 79 percent of new vehicles in 2013.

The current revision on the FFE is not without its faults though: Messing up value charge times, getting the date wrong, missing functionality (bluetooth, and applink), etc. Not to mention the problems with My Ford Mobile the website to remotely check up on your FFE driving (but that is another post!).

 

Leveling up

To take advantage of an electric vehicle you really need a Level 2 EVSE installed at home unless your daily commute is roughly half of the vehicles range (I’m speaking of the “low cost” BEVs with a range of ~100 miles–a 300 mile Tesla Model S is a different story). At Level 1 charging rates a completely empty battery could take as much as 20 hours to charge–much longer than your average night time.

Level 2 EVSE’s can cost a few hundred dollars (the DIY versions) to up to about $1000. Do some research; you may find deals and/or rebates. For myself I found a $2500 rebate towards the price of the EVSE and installation from my power company. The deal also included me in the EV program for time-of-day rates on electricity (charging at night reduces my electricity cost by a factor of 4). The program was part of Bosch’s “Plug In Now” EV business (formerly SPX). Note 1: you can even search for incentives in your area on that link. Note 2: You need to have possession of the EV before you can use that program.

The installation process was pretty easy: They first send out a contracted electrician to quote on the installation (funny that it always seems to come very close to or above the $2500! at least from the few I’ve talked to who also did this). After the quote is approved by you and Bosch they order the EVSE. Once the EVSE arrives they schedule a date to come out an install it. Now the fun begins: You can start charging at Level 2 speeds (at this point you may not be billed for the EV separately yet as the power company has to then come out and install a 2nd meter).

My Bosch EVSE

My Bosch EVSE

Using a Level 2 EVSE won’t use any more power than the Level 1 EVSE: The car still charges to whatever battery level it has; it just does it faster. In many cases Level 2 charging is slightly more efficient and thus will use less power.

Now you may ask: What does that really do to your electric bill? Using all that electricity it must be a lot! (A question I just received recently) To that my answer is below: Exhibit A my EV electric bill for the first month:

First months electricity bill for the FFE

First months electricity bill for the FFE

Yup: One month of driving around in my car cost me a whopping $37.79! In our ICE Focus the same commute was costing me $200+ per month in gas.

 

Fill ‘er up

When I tell people that I have an electric car I get the usual spate of questions: Has it ever left you stranded? How far can you go? Do you have to charge it every day? (As if that is such a huge inconvenience!) What do you do if you run out while away from home?

The quick and simple answers are: No, about 75 miles, no, you plan so that doesn’t happen.

Lets start with charging and the big misnomer: The thing on the wall with the chord that you plug into the car is NOT a charger, its called an EVSE: Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment. It is basically a smart GFI. The actual charging circuitry is inside the car. The EVSE provides a safe connection to electricity. There is a sense line where the car knows if it is plugged in or not, and how much current that the EVSE can provide to the car (which also determines how fast the car can charge up). The J1772 specification, which governs everything about EVSE’s, is actually spec’d out up to 80A (which could charge my car in about 2 hours or less if the car could handle it). The actual charge time is determined by the lesser of the supply current or the power rating of the internal charger in the car (my FFE’s charger is rated at 6.6kW). (The “No” answer above to: “Do you have to charge daily” is true depending on how much you drive. If you only drive 5 miles a day then no you don’t have to charge daily–just like an ICE car: If you empty the tank in a day then you have to get gas daily!)

Now the big deal, or at least it is for most people who ask, charging daily: You plug in your cell phone every day (sometimes more than once per day) how is that less of a hassle than plugging in the car? For myself I just get in the habit of plugging the car in every time I get home–every time, whether I know it will charge or not. It really only takes seconds to grab the cable, open the charge port door, and plug in (I do listen for the cycle the relays make as I’m unloading or locking or otherwise walking away from the car to make sure everything is working). For those few seconds I’m saving a 30 minute round trip to the gas station and back (of course this refers only to the times when I make a specific trip to the gas station, but even just stopping on my way in to work adds 10-15 minutes to my commute).

Here is something to think about as well: If you plug in daily, and charge nightly then every morning the car has a “full tank”. What “range anxiety”? I rarely drive more than about 60 miles a day. On a normal day I barely look at the battery gauge; don’t even give it a passing thought. Conversely when I get into one of our ICE vehicles the first thing I do is check the gas gauge to see if I have enough!

You do have to get a Level 2 charger at home though, that makes all the difference (Level 2 = 240V and can charge the car at its maximum rate). The “convenience chord” that comes with the car (most EVs come with one) is called a Level 1 chord that can be plugged into 120V–the slowest possible speed to charge (up to 20 hours in my case). I was able to find a deal through my electric company that covered most of the cost of the install..