EVSE Repair

by Ben N on May 7, 2016

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Well, it was bound to happen. Somebody drove the car away WHILE it was plugged in!

OK, technically, that’s not right. A major safety feature of the SAE J1772 is that it DOESN’T allow you to activate an electric car when it’s plugged in. However, if you manage to THINK the car is on, put it in drive and ROLL forward, the electronic controls can’t stop that.

At least, as far as I can tell, that’s what happened. My wife felt terrible about it, but at least the car wasn’t damaged. The charging cable, on the other hand, took a fair amount of damage. The power pins were bent, bits of plastic shattered and went everywhere, and it sure didn’t look like the best thing to be running power through.

I posted about this on the iMiEV forum, and one of the guys there offered to send me a replacement cable. (Thanks Joe!)
Just today, I finally had time to work on repairing the charging station.

IMG_8924My home wall charging unit is a G.E. Watt Station. It’s rated for 30A, 240V, and can be used indoors or out. I’ve had it inside the garage for the winter, as I’ve been able to park the Mitsubishi iMiEV indoors.

First thing was to kill the power, unplug the unit, remove the charger from the wall and take off the trim ring. Under the ring is a number of screws, which I pulled out. That let me take off the plastic lid.

Under that was a large steel plate, held in by four screws. Removing that let me get at the real guts of the unit.

Inside, there’s plenty of space to work. The Watt Station is a bulky unit, but it is handy for looping the cable over. Although there’s a number of wires and circuit boards inside,

it looked pretty easy to replace the cord.

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I noted where the Black and White “Hot” wires connected, along with the ground (Earth) wire. Lastly, there’s a thin blue wire that sends a signal from the charging station to the car for the “hand-shake” signal. (I took a photo to make sure I would remember which wire went where.)

I simply loosened each of the four wires with a straight screwdriver, and was then able to pull them from their terminals.

There’s also a connection that holds the entire cable into the box of the unit. I unscrewed the compression nut from around the cord and pulled the cord out of the unit.

Next, I transferred the nut to the new cable, ran the cord into the box, and then checked to see how the wires would reach.

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The cord was the same thickness (three 10 ga wires, for 30A power) and it looked like the compression nut would tighten back down just fine when I was done. I cut off about an inch of the insulation to make the wire reach as needed, lined each wire up with its appropriate terminal, put it in, and screwed it down.

After that, I tightened the compression nut, tested the unit, and then reassembled it.

I also decided to move the charging station back outside. The weather is finally getting nice, and this will make it easy for other people to use my charger while I’m not home. (It’s on PlugShare. Stop on by and say hello!)

 

IMG_8939The charging station mounts on a sturdy stainless steel bracket. I simply had to run 3 screws through it into the outside wall of the garage. The charger hooks on the bracket, and then a key lock in the bottom mounts it securely to the bracket. The Nema 6-50 cord plugs in to the outlet I already installed on the outside of the garage just for that purpose.

Lastly, I hung up the cord by looping it around the station and went to plug the end of the cord into the middle of the station where it is stored while not in use. Oh No! It didn’t fit! Although the J1772 standard means the end connection is standardized, the rest of the “handle” is not! The new one was just enough of a different shape (geometric, instead of rounded at top) that it wouldn’t fit!

Oh well. I guess the cord can just hang there, and that’s fine. At least I’m now back up to 240V charging for at home!

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben

PS: On further experimenting, I found that I could fit the plug into the socket on the charging station. It’s tight and if I push it all the way in so that it clicks in place, it’s difficult to get back out. Still, it CAN fit in!

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Adventures in Charging

by Ben N on May 7, 2016

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Yesterday, I got to have some more adventures in charging my Electric Vehicle.

I was working in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at a location about 37 miles from my house. The car I’m driving is a Mitsubishi iMiEV – the least expensive, most efficient*, smallest battery pack electric car in the United States. It also has an official range per charge of 62 miles. Since I drove 37 miles to work, yes, I would have to drive those same 37 miles back, for a total of 74 miles, or about 12 more miles than the car was ever designed for.

Normally, I could have simply taken the other car, but the weather was nice, and I knew I’d finish the job fairly early, so I’d have some time to go find a charger when I was done with the job. Also, I was feeling adventurous.

We worked straight through lunch and finished at about 2PM. My friend and co-worker, Rich, asked about what I was planning to do. After mentioning that a CHAdeMO charge takes about half an hour, he suggested that we go plug my car in and the grab lunch together.

I already knew of two Level 3 CHAdeMO Quick Chargers in Milwaukee, which I hadn’t been to before, on the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee campus. I used the PlugShare app on my phone to locate the charger, and headed that way. Rich followed me in his truck, and then before I pulled into the UW-Milwaukee parking garage, he rolled down his window and hollered that he was going to get gas.

IMG_8903Inside the garage, the CHAdeMO was on one side of the entrance, and a pair of Level 2 chargers was on the other. I pulled up to the CHAdeMO and parked. Looking at the charger, there was a note: “OUT OF ORDER”.  Oh well, I could at least use one of the Level 2 chargers. Nope! Both of those were in use! Oh well, I guess that’s a good problem to have – at least people see that EV-ers actually DO use the chargers!

I used PlugShare to look up the other CHAdeMO on campus. THIS TIME, I scrolled through all the user comments left, and found a few saying “Offline”, “Not Working”, and “I don’t think they’re ever going to fix this….” My charging options were starting to sound not-so-good. Rather than even bother trying to get to the other high-speed charger, I headed off to my last option. There was a listing for a Level 2 charging station on the outside of a different parking structure. It was only a few blocks away, but one road didn’t go through the way I expected. I did eventually find it.

At THAT station, there were two empty parking spaces and two unoccupied chargers! Perfect!

IMG_8907I pulled up, parked, and approached the charger. On the charger, there were directions listed. 1) Swipe Card, 2) Plug In, 3) Charge.

Um. What card? There was clearly an RFID reader. There was no 800 number or web site listed to get a card. I did have my ChargePoint card on me. Would it work? I pulled out my card and held it up to the reader. I swiped it past the reader. I shook it angrily at the reader. NOTHING!

So now. I had two broken high speed chargers, two occupied level 2 chargers, and a charger that I couldn’t turn on!

What else could I do? Hmmmm. I decided to just plug in the cord. When I did, the charging station sprang to life! Finally, the small display illuminated and I could hear the sweet “ka-lunk” on the internal contactor snapping shut, and my car began to charge!

Why on earth would a charging station have such blatantly WRONG directions written on it! The directions should be simply “Plug In!”

Relieved that my car was FINALLY charging, I headed back out on foot, several long blocks down Oakland Avenue, towards the Gyro shop for lunch.

Ironically, it took that entire time for Rich to find gas, fill up his truck, and head back.

We leisurely enjoyed Gyro and Chicken Kabobs while chatting about what we’ve been up to lately. When done, we said our goodbyes, and I strolled back up towards the car. I noted that the car had four more “ticks” on the battery meter than when I started. Each mark represents about 1 kilowatt-hour of energy, and the car can go about 4 miles per kilowatt-hour. I had added about 12-16 miles of range to the car.

IMG_8905As I was getting ready to leave, I noticed that there were two MORE charging stations INSIDE the garage, directly on the opposite side of the wall from the outside chargers. I updated PlugShare to reflect that. When I did, I noticed that somebody had commented on this station “Ignore the directions! There is no card! Just plug your car in!”

Heading back home, I took Capitol Drive westbound. (This parallels the interstate, but driving slower uses considerably less energy, and it’s a slightly shorter route.) I ended up driving right past the Outpost Natural Foods. There are several locations in the Milwaukee area, and three of them are getting high-speed Level 3 chargers! I stopped in to get a look. The charging station looked fully installed. I could even see the power meter and main disconnect on the side of the building. It looked as though the only thing stopping me from charging was flipping one big switch! (There wasn’t even a lock on the disconnect. Looks like the power company wasn’t following proper Lock-Out/Tag-Out safety policies!)

IMG_8914I headed inside the store and ended up speaking with the Assistant Manager. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to give me an exact date as to when the charger would be up and running. I left her my card and asked if she would kindly contact me when it was. The Outpost is a great location for a Quick Charger. Besides being a very nice grocery store, there’s a cafe inside with a hot food bar, deli sandwiches, coffee, and restrooms. It’s perfect for a person to grab a bite to eat while charging!

This location wasn’t on PlugShare yet, so I added it, with a “Coming Soon!” comment.

After that, it was the ride back home. While the weather was beautiful, the traffic was TERRIBLE! Fortunately, an electric car is PERFECT for traffic jams! It just sits there, instead of wasting gas idling and creating lots of heat and noise. It was in the mid 80′s and very sunny. I could feel my left arm getting sun-burned in the direct daylight. I might want to invest in getting some window tinting for my little electric economy car. Not only would it look nice, but it would keep the car cooler in the summer!

When I finally got home, I had two ticks left on the battery meter. Since I charged up four of them, I can reasonably assume that I would NOT have made it home without at least a little charging! Total trip was 74 miles. Could I have done that same trip in a gas car with no worries about range? Well, yes, I could have, but then I would have been using gas! In fact, pretty much ANY other car would have gotten me around all day without needing a charge! A Nissan Leaf or BMW i3 could have gotten me there and back with 10 miles to spare!

It’s unfortunate that EV Charging Stations are not yet standardized. At gas stations, although there are different brands, the user experience is almost identical at every location – pull up, put in credit card, put hose in car, get gas, drive away. Price of gasoline from one station to another is nearly identical, and there are gas stations everywhere.

EV Charging Stations aren’t quite there yet. Prices range from irrationally high “Convenience Fees” to FREE! As of yet, I haven’t seen Free Gas at the gas stations! Using the PlugShare app, and following user-generated content sure helps with finding stations.

I’m glad to see new stations popping up at locations like the Outpost. Those ones are even dual CHAdeMO and CCS, to avoid format wars and create a bit of future-proofing.

As it is right now, 89% of all American commutes are 30 miles or less. Most EV drivers just charge up at home. It’s far cheaper and more convenient than going to a gas station. So, public EV charging is really about longer trips and special travel arrangements. And, with the coming wave of 200-mile-plus range cars, we’ll only really be talking about public charging for long-distance, cross-country trips!

Once again, here I am in the “Worst Case Scenario”. But then, even driving farther than my car is designed for, even with multiple chargers not working, it all still works out just fine.

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben

*My car is a 2012 model year. It was the most efficient car that year. Now, the BMW i3 takes that honor with a few more MPGe than the iMiEV. In terms on battery pack size, the iMiEV has the smallest battery pack OTHER than plug-in hybrids, which use a gasoline engine as well.

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Around the World in 80 Days

by Ben N on April 25, 2016

IMG_8708When I was a kid, I read in amazement as the British Gentleman Phileas Fogg made it AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS. The explorer trekked across the world with pocket-watch precision, using rail, steam, all of the modern conveniences of the late 1800′s, to complete an unimaginable journey around the world.

As I headed in to work this evening, I stopped and grabbed dinner. I paid with my Paypal card, checking my current balance on my phone.

I also looked at the newspaper. On the front of the World News section was an article about a solar-powered airplane landing on the United States mainland, on its trip around the world. Kitty Hawk was only a little over 100 years ago. Now, we aren’t too far from perpetual solar flight. Imagine a world in which a solar powered airplane just circles, day and night, broadcasting from Wi-Fi?!

Two weeks ago, SpaceX landed a rocket on it’s tail-fins just like in a Marvin the Martian cartoon.

Recently, a number of folks have criss-crossed the country setting all sorts of records on electric motorcycles.

Modern Gentleman Explorers are bringing us the future RIGHT NOW! But it’s not just Elon Musk, Bertrand Piccard, or even Terry Hershner. There’s lots of us living in the future every single day.

While I’m no pilot, I, like many of us, drive a car. Every. Single. Day.
And while I’m not crossing the country, I’m still usually driving on solar power. I charge my car at home. No, the car isn’t covered with solar panels. I don’t even have solar on my garage. I just have one solar panel on the roof of my Little Girl’s club-house! Still, it’s enough to provide 40% of the power to the car while I charge it. I’m using a small grid-tie inverter. As long as the sun shines, and I have the car plugged in, it just slurps up the solar energy. At night, (or cloudy days) my house is still 100% renewable energy powered through a program from my local, municipally-owned, co-op electric power utility. IMG_6661My car isn’t even a Tesla. Nope, it’s a heck of a lot better than that, because I can AFFORD the car I drive! I’m in the wrong tax bracket for a Model S, and the Model III is still a few years out. In the mean time, I’m pretty happy driving my renewable energy compact car.

IMG_4099I’m not the only one. Even my 5-year-old girl has a solar-powered car, that she even helped build. Unlike SpaceX, it’s NOT rocket science – just a kids PowerWheels car that’s been modified with a solar panel and an updated battery. On the other hand, I’ve NEVER had to plug it in! Even the naysayers that usually suggest that all electric cars are powered by coal get a kick out of the Barbie Solar-Powered Jeep!

It makes me wonder what will happen in the future. My Little Girl might NEVER drive a gasoline car. EVER. Who would want to, with all the extra cost of fuel and maintenance? Her first car might be an old beat-up Model III! She might not drive at all. I can’t imagine how our transportation system will change when Uber and Tesla Auto-Pilot merge. When I saw the official release of the Model III, it looked like the driver’s seat was designed so that it would act as one more passenger seat. Why have a driver’s license, when you tap your phone and a car comes right to you and picks you up!? TOTAL RECALL’s Johnny Cab isn’t that far away.

IMG_5375We are living in an amazing time. The future is happening right now. When I hopped on an electric motorcycle and rode 1276 miles AROUND Lake Michigan, without using a single drop of gas, maybe I was just living the dream of a 10 year old boy reading Jules Verne.

I wonder what Phileas Fogg would think of that?

Till next time, stay charged up!
-Ben

 

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iMiEV Heater Installation

by Ben N on February 14, 2016

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Overall, I love my little electric car, the Mitsubishi iMiEV. It’s a good, affordable, all electric commuter car.

It’s one shortcoming is that it was never designed for COLD Wisconsin winters. The heater is electric (of course!) but it heats a liquid antifreeze (coolant) which then circulates through a heater core, where a fan finally blows the heat into the car. It’s not particularly efficient and has a bit of a warm-up time. On top of that, the system only heats the coolant to around 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Most typical gas cars keep the engine coolant at 190 degrees once they are at temperature!

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The car also has the smallest battery pack of any commercially-available battery-electric car in the United States. Combine a small battery pack with an inefficient heater, and a Wisconsin winter, and it becomes a recipe for short range and a cold driver. In this screen grab, red shows energy used by the heater, and blue shows energy used to push the car down the road. When it’s really cold, range can be shortened by a third or more!

So, after reading lots of information about “Winterizing” these cars on the MyiMiEV forum, I decided to install a dedicated fuel-burning heater. The heater I chose was one already used by several of those forum members. It’s a generic version of an Espar 5kW liquid heater. My heater was roughly $500 and was purchased through Aliexpress.com. You can also find the heater through the manufacturer’s web page. It’s the 5kW 12V Gasoline version.

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So, far, I’m running the heater on E85 from my local gas station. I have a friend who makes his own ethanol from scratch, and I intend to get some pure, sustainably produced ethanol from him. Even with the heater running full blast, fuel use translates into hundreds of miles per gallon.

Mounting the heater in parallel with the original electric heating system allows me to use the electric OR liquid-fueled heater, and I can still use the car’s electric “pre-heat” feature. I intend to use the fuel burner when it’s either very cold, or when I have concerns about range, due to the electric heater otherwise sapping power.

In effect, what I am doing is using a liquid fuel for heating, to maximize battery energy for propulsion – trying to “use the right tool for the right job”!

After the heater arrived in the mail, I first rigged it up on a stand in my garage to learn what I needed to do to hook it up and test it. I also shot some thermal video of the heater running hot water into a bucket as an initial test.

Once I had a basic understanding of the heater, I started the process of the actual installation of the heater into the car.

What follows is a series of 6 videos showing step by step how I installed this heater in the car.

A big Thank You to other Mitsubishi iMiEV owners who have shared information on modifying the heater systems in their cars! I hope these videos help anyone else who is interested in hybridizing their heating system in cold climates!

I’ll add some more information here as I get more experience using this heater!

-Ben Nelson

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Free Car and More: Read the Sticker!

by Ben N on February 12, 2016

MItsubishi iMiEV window tag

I finally found what I was looking for – the official EPA/DOT window cling for a 2012 Mitsubishi iMiEV.

Since I bought my car used, it didn’t have the window sticker that describes the car’s fuel economy and several other important pieces of information. Recently, I found a photo of one from another car that was for sale. Take a look, there’s some very interesting stuff here. This is the highlights of what I noticed.

  • Best fuel economy – period. The fine print reads “The best vehicle rates 112 MPGe”. In the large print, it lists this vehicle as 112 MPGe. Why doesn’t it just say THIS IS THE BEST MPG VEHICLE!!? As in, in 2012, you could NOT buy a MORE EFFICIENT car in the United States! It’s this! Pick this one!
  • Top of the charts. The car rates 10 out of 10 on fuel economy, minimizing greenhouse gasses, and minimizing smog.
  • Pays for itself! I bought this 2012 model year car, used, in 2015 for $7,000. The tag says that it will save $9,850 in fuel over five years vs. the average vehicle. Less than five years from now, my car will have literally paid for itself! Of course, this does depend on the cost of gasoline, which is why I am tracking my odometer, cost of electricity, and average gasoline cost. That way, I will be able to calculate the actual date that my car pays for itself, not just an “on average” guess based on stock numbers.
  • Energy sources still matter. The fine print makes passing reference to where energy comes from. “Does not include emissions from generating electricity.” Traditional energy production does create pollution and CO2 production (although LESS than what a gas car would!) However, using electricity is the easiest way to switch to a renewable/sustainable energy source. I already purchase renewably-produced electricity through my power provider, and I have a small solar panel. I’m actively getting ready to install a large solar array. Once that’s installed, I will be able to create enough energy to simultaneously charge my car and power my entire house. After that, I will literally Drive for Free, Forever.
  • Emissions are bad! Notice the grim warning of “Vehicle emissions are a SIGNIFICANT cause of climate change and smog.” It reminds me of the warnings on packs of cigarettes. Most people finally agree that smoking is bad. Glad to see warnings on car as well.
  • Who’s the competition? Perhaps the oddest piece of information on this form is about the other cars in the same category. “Subcompact cars range from 10 to 112 MPGe.” What subcompact car gets TEN MILES PER GALLON!? And who would drive it!? Yipes! The tag also points out that the AVERAGE car in 2012 only got 22 MPG. I think we can do better than that, America!

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Well, those are the main things that jumped out at me. How about you? Perhaps you would love a super-efficient car that can also run on renewable power, but the Mitsubishi iMiEV just isn’t the one for you. That’s fine, there’s LOTS of other great vehicles with plugs out there. In fact, even the efficiency of the car has already been surpassed. The 2014 BMW i3 gets the equivalent of 124 miles per gallon. Even a used Chevy Volt (which you can get GREAT deals on right now) gets the equivalent of almost 100 miles per gallon, and can do the average daily commute solely on electricity, but you can still take an out of town trip in the same car.

Here’s the important thing. You could be saving $9,000 on fueling your next car. Just make sure you read the sticker.

Stay charged up,
-Ben

PS: If you don’t want to make the trip to the car lot, just check out everything you ever wanted to know about car efficiency at https://www.fueleconomy.gov/

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