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RE-volv Blog

The Reality of Charging an EV on the Road

8/9/2017
By Don Burke
Posted on Medium (4 of 4 posts, catch lots of photos and the other two posts here)

Thank you for reading my series about exploring America with an electric vehicle. If you’re interested in purchasing a Tesla, contact me for a referral code, which entitles you to $1,000 off the purchase price and, possibly, free supercharging for as long as you own the vehicle. See all posts in this series at the GAMR 2017 tag.

As I discussed in my first post in this series, electric vehicles use a variety of charging standards, which we categorize as Level 1 (L1), Level 2 (L2), and Level 3 (L3). L1 charging is the slowest and L3 charging the fastest. Level 2 charging is the sweet spot for most daily use.

Today, I’ll dig a bit deeper into those charging standards and then show how that translates into reality during a long road trip.

In my previous post, I discussed thinking in terms of kiloWatt hours instead of gallons of gasoline. The same applies for charging. The question to ask is: How many kiloWatts can a given charger or electrical circuit supply to the car? To answer that question, you need to know the voltage and amperage of the circuit because you multiply the two to get the circuit’s power in Watts.

Example: A traditional home outlet is an 110 Volt/15 Amp circuit that can theoretically supply an EV with 1,650 Watts (110*15) of instantaneous power. Sustained over an hour, that becomes 1,650 Watt hours per hour (1.6 kWh per hour). In reality, you can’t use a circuit at its maximum, so, in daily use, a standard home outlet can supply an EV with 90% of that power (typically 12 Amps) or 1.32 kW (110*12=1,320 Watts). My Model S has an 85 kWh battery so it would take approximately 65 hours to completely charge from zero using a standard outlet (85 divided by 1.32). That is a long time.

Obviously, it is a pain in the butt to do all these calculations and keep all the units straight, so we use L1, L2, and L3 to simplify the process by categorizing circuits and chargers:

-L1: Think of a standard outlet. L1 circuits typically add 2 kWh per hour or less to your car, which equates to days to fully charge a 60 kWh or larger battery.

-L2: Think of a dryer circuit. L2 circuits typically add about 6.6 kWh per hour (aka 6.6 kW) to your car, but circuits can range from 3.3 to 11 kW. A 6.6 kW L2 would take approximately nine hours to fully charge a 60 kWh.

-L3: “fast charging” is typically 50 kW or greater. Tesla’s superchargers are capable of about 120 kW at peak rates. With L3 charging, a 60 kWh battery can be fully charged in an hour or so. A special note: L3 chargers adjust their power levels based on temperature, battery capacity, battery state of charge, and other factors to protect the battery. L3 chargers provide peak power when the battery is warm and nearly empty.

Road tripping requires covering significant distances. A good rule of thumb is 500 miles of travel per day. For my Model S, that means the equivalent of about two full charging sessions. Now that you know about L1, L2, and L3 charging rates, you can see why a robust Level 3 network is essential for road trips.

The United States currently has three Level 3 charging standards for passenger vehicles: CHAdeMO, CCS, and Tesla. CHAdeMo and CCS are open standards while the Tesla network is proprietary.

Plugshare.com makes it easy to find L3 charging. 

Charging stations and L3 stations

Other than Tesla, the Chevrolet Bolt is the only electric vehicle that I consider capable of undertaking a road trip (see my first post for why). However, the Bolt does not come standard with Level 3 capabilities. CCS charging is available as an option. Because CCS is the least robust L3 network, the Bolt is untenable as a road trip EV. In fact, Chevrolet doesn’t try to market the Bolt as a road trip car; instead, they call it an urban EV. For now, the Bolt is an ultra-capable EV that can take you on long day trips around or between nearby cities but not country-wide road trips.

All Teslas can obviously use the Tesla network and, with an adapter, the CHAdeMO network, which makes them uniquely suited to country-wide road trips.

How does this work in practice? On this road trip, I’ve used all three levels of charging (L1, L2, and L3). I’ve primarily relied upon the L3 Tesla supercharging network, but I’ve also used an L2 Tesla “destination charger” provided by the InterContinental hotel in Milwaukee and L1 charging (standard outlets) at the hotel in Bayfield, WI and at my dad’s house in Minnesota.

Superchargers are now so prevalent that it isn’t always necessary to stop at each one. In the image below, I’ve turned on a 200-mile range ring for three supercharger locations we’ve used on this trip (Lexington, VA, Lafayette, IN, and Oakdale, MN). Lenny can theoretically travel 265 miles on a charge, but I’ve chosen a 200-mile range ring to show that it isn’t necessary to push the limits. Most of the time, we charge for awhile and go. It is only in a few instances where our plans require going off the beaten path that care needs to be taken to ensure we have enough range to make the next charging location.

I also have accounts with ChargePoint, EVgo, Blink, and Greenlots to access their L2 and CHAdeMO networks. I haven’t needed to use any of these on this road trip, but they significantly expand the charging options available.

We had two range-related challenges on the trip to Minnesota and will have a third one on our return trip.

Our visit to the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin was the most challenging part of our trip from a charging perspective. I can often find a CHAdeMO charger in the gaps between superchargers. Not so in Northern Wisconsin, so we had to get creative. With a full charge at the Wausau, WI supercharger, we would almost have enough electricity to make it to the Apostle Islands and then to the Duluth, MN supercharger, but not quite. Plugshare.com showed a campground outside Bayfield with 220-volt circuits, but for a variety of reasons that wasn’t right for us. We needed another solution, so we called the few hotels in Bayfield.

The Bayfield Inn agreed to make an outlet available. As you now know, an outlet is Level 1, which means it would take multiple days to charge fully. However, we didn’t need to “fully” charge. We only needed to regain about 30–50 miles of range (about 15 hours of charging), and we planned to be there for two days so this solution would be acceptable. Here is a short video I captured just after arriving at the hotel.

Tesla in Bayfield

In Ohio, we wanted to drive along the river between the Charleston, West Virginia, and Cincinnati, Ohio, superchargers. However, I failed to give this segment the due diligence it deserved. In Charleston, we only charged to 90%, per standard practice, which nets us about 200 miles of usable range and about 40 miles of margin. Google shows the route as 224 miles. Our first stop of the day was the Blenko Glass Company in Milton, WV. When we finished there, I finally thought to confirm we’d have enough range to make it to the Cincinnati supercharger. Oops. Maybe we could make it, but it would use virtually all of our margin and the only charging solutions along that route were two Level 2 chargers. Rather than spend two to three hours charging on a Level 2 charger, we rerouted straight West to the Lexington Kentucky supercharger.

We are now in Minnesota and will soon be heading back to Washington, D.C. Our route back will be straight down I35 into Ohio, head Southeast through Pioria to Indianapolis and then straight East on I-70. In Iowa, we intend to stop at the Field of Dreams movie site in Dyersville. To get there with Lenny will require virtually all of our range. We will charge to 100% at the Dows, Iowa supercharger, which will net us about 264 miles of range. Google Maps shows the distance from Dows to Dyersville to the Davenport, Iowa supercharger as 235 miles, so that should still provide us with about 30 miles of margin for emergencies, detours, or any other unexpected situations.

As long as I don’t forget to charge to 100%, we’ll be okay.

In summary, road tripping a Tesla is simple with only a few exceptions, which are becoming fewer all of the time as the supercharging network grows. The capabilities of the non-Tesla L3 charging infrastructure prohibits multi-thousand-mile road trips in other electric vehicles for the moment. It remains uncertain whether other auto manufacturers will deem it important enough to partner with Tesla or increase the non-Tesla L3 charging infrastructure to enable cross country travel with other EVs. I suspect they will, but the automotive landscape is changing so quickly that many futures are possible. I may explore this theme further in upcoming posts.

I hope you’ve found this post useful. 
See photos from this post on Medium.

Don Burke with Lenny

Travels with Lenny the Tesla

7/25/2017
By Don Burke
Posted on Medium

Please join me over the coming weeks as I undertake a road trip in my Tesla Model S, aka Lenny, to Indianapolis for a Tesla Owners meetup and then onto Wisconsin and Minnesota before returning to Washington, DC. In Wisconsin, I’ll visit with the River Revitalization Foundation about their successful campaign through RE-volv.org to fund a solar installation; I’ll also visit the Midwest Renewable Energy Association in rural Wisconsin. We will then challenge our EV road tripping skills by going deep into Northern Wisconsin to visit the Apostle Islands. Wisconsin, as you will see in future posts, is a bit of a charging desert.

Throughout, I’ll be sharing insights about traveling long distances with an electric vehicle (EV), the various charging solutions along the way, and the tools I use in undertaking such a journey. Fortunately, traveling long distances in an EV becomes easier by the day as more long-range EVs enter the market and the charging infrastructure expands.

As an introduction to undertaking road trips with an EV, we need to explain some terms used to differentiate electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure.

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV): A PHEV is very similar to traditional hybrid vehicles that you already know, like the Toyota Prius but have larger (but still relatively small) batteries and use external power to charge the batteries (thus the “plug-in” moniker). Unlike traditional hybrids, PHEVs can run entirely on electric for a few miles (typically 5–20). Upon depleting the battery, the vehicle operates like a traditional car.

As a result, PHEVs are simple to road trip because you just fuel them at any gas station. With their small batteries and small EV-only range, there is no way to undertake a long trip using only electricity. Therefore, the following posts are not relevant for PHEVs.

The dashboard display on our 2013 Volt showing 29 miles of EV range remaining, but 168 miles of total range remaining when including gasoline.

Extended Range Electric Vehicle (EREV): This hotly debated term offers a useful descriptor for a middle-tier of electric vehicles. EREVs have a gasoline engine to extend their range, but unlike PHEVs, they have much larger battery packs and thus longer EV-only ranges. The gasoline engine typically serves as a generator to create electricity to supply to the battery rather than as a way to directly propel the car forward.

The Chevrolet Volt embodies the term EREV. Now with over 50 miles of pure electric driving, the Volt offers nearly as much range as some of the low-range battery electric vehicles, but can switch to gasoline and go hundreds of miles further. For most owners, in most daily situations, an EREV operates exclusively in electric-only mode.

A few people have taken long electric-only road trips in EREVs, but it is more of a stunt than something an average person would do.

We use our Volt to travel from DC to New York regularly but would never try to make the trip without the gasoline engine.

Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV): These are pure battery-powered vehicles. When the battery depletes, the car stops. Examples include the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, Ford Focus Electric, and Tesla.

When I write about making long road trips in an electric vehicle, I’m writing about doing so in a BEV.

As of July 2017, there are 27 BEVs on the market (or secondary market), but not all of them are road trip capable. Only 14 models have a range greater than 200 miles, which I think is the minimum needed. People have made road trips with sub-200 mile BEVs, but doing so becomes the sole focus of the journey. From my perspective, the EV needs to add to the road trip experience if it is to be considered a good candidate.

The chart below shows which BEVs currently meet the 200-mile range criteria. Only one is not a Tesla, but that will change over the coming two to three years as ever more manufacturers release long-range EVs, including Volkswagen, Volvo, and Nissan to name three.

InsideEVs.com has a great electric vehicle comparison chart that is well worth bookmarking.

But range alone is not enough to determine whether an EV is road trip worthy and capable. I’m going to leave most of the charging discussion to future posts, but here are a few terms to know:

Level 1 (L1): Level 1 charging is a regular household outlet (i.e. 110 Volt and 15 Amp circuit). On a road trip, you would never want to use L1 charging because it can take days to charge your car. We will have to resort to L1 charging in upper Wisconsin but have a way to fit that in so it doesn’t impede our schedule.

Level 2 (L2): L2 charging is the bread and butter charging infrastructure around the country. These chargers are great if you have a few hours to charge, say while you are at a mall, work, or amusement park. They provide a pretty good jolt of juice, but you cannot rely solely on them for a road trip.

L2 chargers use a connector called a J1772, and you will see references to J1772 in many applications and charging literature. I hate all the geek speak, but at least for now, it is something we have to know.

Level 3 (L3): Commonly referred to as “fast charging,” L3 chargers are what you seek for road trips. Tesla has their supercharging network, and other companies are rapidly expanding their networks as well. Sadly, there are three competing L3 standards in the USA, and you will need to know which your vehicle can use. Those standards are:

-Combined Charging System (CCS)

-CHAdeMO

-Tesla Supercharging network: While Tesla has said they are willing to open this network up to other manufacturers, no others have taken the offer (yet). It is currently the fastest charging network and is deployed across the country in such a way that almost every portion of the USA is reachable with a Tesla via the supercharging network.

A road trip capable electric vehicle must have the ability to charge with at least one, and preferably two, L3 standards.

Fleetcarma.com has an overview of charging terms. Discussions about charging will be a recurring theme in upcoming posts so don’t worry if it seems horribly confusing. It isn’t; it just takes a little time to get used to the terminology.

Follow me to receive future updates or see the GAMR 2017 tag.

If you’re interested in purchasing a Tesla, contact me for a referral code and receive $1,000 of the purchase price and free supercharging for as long as you own the vehicle.

View the article plus more graphics and photos on Medium here: https://medium.com/@DonB/exploring-america-with-an-electric-vehicle-847d2d9aeffb 


It’s What We Do After the March That Counts

5/8/2017
By Andreas Karelas
Posted on Medium

Three ways to take meaningful action on Climate Change

Americans have been marching for lots of reasons recently, climate change being one of them. And that’s awesome — it’s about time we rediscovered our collective voice to stand up and say “this is not OK.” And yet, there is plenty of legitimate criticism of this form of movement building. Naomi Klein summed it up well recently: “Traveling to Washington, having a protest to try and convince Republican Senators to develop a conscience? Well, it’s worth a try, I guess.” But perhaps that’s not the only reason we march.

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Therein lies, to me, what is so important about protesting. It builds our enthusiasm for change, our conviction to take action, our personal resolve. We see that we’re not the only ones outraged. And we realize that collectively, we have power; a critical first step to creating change. The question is — what do we do with that power? Now that the marches have fired us up, here are a few ideas of ways to channel that enthusiasm into action.

1) Engage people across the political divide

The election of Donald Trump has made clear that climate change is not a top concern for many Americans. They are more worried about jobs, the economy, national security, and upholding their faith, among other issues. Washington will change its tune on climate change only when the vast majority of Americans (not just progressives at a rally) support action on climate and clean energy. To get there, we must make our message more relatable, personal, and in line with people’s values. A single mother of four in Ohio is more concerned about keeping her job at a local factory than she is about the plight of polar bears. But we may be able to encourage her and similar people to care about climate change and clean energy if we talk about the issues in relation to things they care about. Consider:

· In Pope Francis’ Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality he proclaims Climate Change the moral issue of our time and calls on people of faith to be protectors of the environment.

· The Department of Defense has cited Climate Change as one of the top threats to our national security.

· Jobs in solar energy are growing 17 times faster than the rest of the economy, and while solar only produces 1% of the country’s electricity, the industry employs more people than oil, coal, and gas combined.

These are all compelling reasons to shift to a clean energy powered economy. Doing so would fulfill a spiritual duty (across faiths) to sustain our planet, would make our country and our world a safer place, and would create many well-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced.

We also have to examine who is delivering the message. Liberals from the coasts are often disregarded by rust belt conservatives before a conversation even begins, regardless of the message. I love Al Gore, but he’s not helping to make this a bipartisan issue. So it’s important we encourage new messengers who can engage conservative America on climate change. A good example is Bob Inglis, a Republican Congressman from South Carolina who lost his seat because he openly expressed concern about climate change. He’s since started an organization called republicEN to rally young Republicans to advocate for conservative approaches to solving climate change.

In short, we have to do more to relate to people at different ends of the political spectrum. When doing so, we have to engage thoughtfully and meaningfully by finding common ground around values that all Americans can get behind.

2) Take action at the community level

The next critical action is to show real solutions at the community level. For some reason, we’ve accepted the idea that solving climate change requires the federal government’s support. Rubbish. It sure would be nice, but it’s by no means necessary. And this actually may be the silver lining of the Trump presidency — now that it’s clear that Trump will do everything he can to derail efforts to combat climate change, the movement must finally accept that the Feds won’t save us. That means we have to transform our society from the ground up ourselves. So let’s get practical.

There are a number of great initiatives focused on community-based solutions. For example, GRID Alternatives brings solar to low-income families, Community Power Network organizes neighborhoods in solar energy group buying programs, and RE-volv (the nonprofit I founded) trains people to crowdfund solar energy projects for nonprofits in their community. In RE-volv’s model, as the nonprofits pay back the costs of the solar panels with savings on their electric bills, the crowdfunding campaign backers get to reinvest that money on the RE-volv platform into other solar projects. This revolving fund model thus takes a ‘pay-it-forward’ approach to solar energy and has multiple ripple effects. First, it saves the nonprofits money on their electric bills, which helps them better serve the community and facilitates a positive conversation about solar energy with community members. The message is no longer ‘we should all go solar to save the polar bears’ but rather ‘we should go solar to improve our neighborhood.’ Second, putting up solar on well-known nonprofits like local schools, homeless shelters, and houses of worship, raises visibility of solar, and helps spread the contagious effect of solar. (If you want to join the fun, we’re currently crowdfunding solar projects in Oakland; Philadelphia; and Scarborough, Maine; and each of these projects could use your support! You can also start your own solar project in your community.)

Local solutions allow us to showcase what is possible when community comes together. Through crowdfunding, awareness building, events, and collaborative partnerships, we can make tremendous strides towards creating more sustainable communities. Other examples of community empowerment include community gardens, carpooling networks, co-housing, tool sharing libraries, clothing swaps, giving circles, local currencies and more. Community-level initiatives are our best bet for reducing the threat of climate change quickly. Be creative!

3) Make a personal commitment

This is always the most cliché. If I change my light bulb will that really make a significant impact? Well, no. But it will if enough of us do it. And if you reading this article don’t do it, then who will? Trends have to start somewhere. In order to be a meaningful messenger on climate change, you have to make a personal commitment. I’m sure many of you reading this are already very aware of your climate impact and make great efforts to reduce it. So now that we’re all riled up from marching, think of how you can take things one step further. Might you consider committing to some of these actions to further reduce your impact on the climate?

· Going solar at home. Making your residence more energy efficient.

· Not eating meat one day a week. Going vegetarian or vegan. Eating organic, local, and less processed foods. Growing your own food in your backyard or a community garden.

· Biking to work. Taking public transportation instead of driving. Running your car on biodiesel or switching to an electric vehicle (if that’s within your means).

· Consuming less. Keeping your current cell phone until it breaks rather than getting the newest model. Buying your clothes and home goods at a thrift store instead of brand new. Giving up plastic water bottles.

· Conserving water throughout your day.

· Going on a vacation locally rather than flying somewhere.

Whatever it is, let it be something significant to you. Because every time you make the choice to stick to that commitment, you’ll remind yourself why this is important, and that’s how we keep the momentum from the marches alive. Also, doesn’t it seem that many of these choices have a whole host of personal benefits, from exercising and living healthfully to saving money, aside from reducing CO2 emissions? Take action, feel good about it, and show others how easy it is to make small, meaningful changes in how we interact with our world.

In order to solve the climate crisis, we have to do more than march. We have to think creatively and act swiftly to bridge the political divide on climate change. This means finding common ground as well as finding new messengers that are less divisive. We have to show examples of solutions at the community level that people can get behind. And we have to continually push ourselves to make significant commitments for the climate. Solving climate change will require nothing short of a total transformation of the way society operates. And that requires our effort 365 days a year. The solutions are here. It’s up to us to put them to use.

Introducing the Harbor House Solar Champions

April 14, 2017

RE-volv has historically worked with student groups, called Solar Ambassadors, to encourage solar crowdfunding campaigns in a university’s community. While this partnership has worked well, the goal has been to empower anyone who wants to support their local nonprofits with solar. For the first time we are doing this through our “Solar Champion” program, where any volunteer from the local community can run a campaign with support from RE-volv.


To learn a little bit about their motivations, we asked the Solar Champions to tell us a bit about themselves and what motivated them to get involved with RE-Volv and the Harbor House project.

Cecilio Aponte

Energy is kind of my life. When I was exposed to energy issues in college, I was immediately  drawn to how big the problem was and how many ways it could be tackled. In college, I studied materials science and engineering at MIT and tried to look at it from that angle. Then I got interested in policy and moved to DC to work on how cities are engaged with issues in sustainability. Now, my ever changing path has brought me to the Bay Area where I work at a solar company, Sunpower, through the Climate Corps Bay Area fellowship.


When I moved to the Bay Area, I knew I wanted to get involved with the community in which I lived. It was also around election time, where everyone was looking for a way to give back. After hearing about RE-volv on a webinar and being bathed by personal, feel-good buzz words like “community”, “solar”, and “empowerment”, I jumped on the opportunity. Becoming a Solar Champion allowed me to use my passion in a way that could support my community, all while learning important professional skills that are so helpful early in my career.

Michaela Ballek

About eight years ago, I began to work with renewable energy and energy efficiency both on a professional and on a personal basis. At my employer, McKinsey & Company, I joined the Climate Change practice, and almost at the same time, we started to make plans to retrofit our house to make it much more energy efficient. We installed both PV and solar for warm water, among several other measures, and reduced our gas consumption to a third of our usual bill, when everything was completed. We also paid a lot less for electricity. I think everyone should have this opportunity, and particularly people and organizations that need it most. That’s why I love to support this cause as a Solar Champion volunteer for RE-volv.

Jacqueline Kha

During undergrad, I was closely involved with running education and outreach for energy reduction projects on my campus. My fellowship right now doesn’t have opportunities to be as involved as I would like with energy and things I’ve been involved with before, so naturally I had to look for it elsewhere. Luckily, I found those things in being a Solar Champion, and I was able to learn more about renewable energy and get in touch with my community at the same time!

Joey Gale

With a strong passion for sustainability, RE-volv allows me the opportunity to not only give back to my community, but also improve my overall understanding of the renewable energy sector. Currently working as an environmental specialist on NEPA procurement for airport improvement projects and pursuing a Master’s Degree in Sustainable Management with the University of Wisconsin, I volunteer with RE-volv because it is an organization with great direction and leadership. As a Solar Champion, I am proud to assist RE-volv in driving a community-based transition towards solar energy.   

Learn more about the Harbor House solar project here: https://re-volv.org/project/harborhouse/

The Solar Champions: Cecilio, Joey, Jacqueline, and Michaela

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