Tag Archives: plugging in

24 Hours, 426 Miles, Hundreds of Stories

As I have learned, a 24-hour Road Rally in a MINI E requires extensive planning, reliable deodorant, a dash of stubbornness, a bit of “road magic” (aka luck) and a good friend to share it all with. Luckily I had all that last Memorial Day weekend, and was able to finish the rally 426 miles the richer in experience.

My original goal was 400 miles, which I figured by assuming a 4.5 hour recharge every 100 miles. But having discovered the joys of the “95% charge” (which can be achieved in as little as 3 hours on a 32 Amp box), I believe a more dedicated (and less scenic) rally could pass the 600 mile mark. A maniac could probably do 700.

But Scott McDonald – friend, navigator, electric-car newbie – and I decided early on that this was to be a “civilized” rally, with good food, cool history, interesting sights and all the non-alcoholic beverages required to wash it all down. And boy did we enjoy, everything from a visit to a Wizard to a trip up Mt. Fuji.

The game is afoot!

Things kicked off Sunday, at 11:20am at the South Amboy, NJ train station, where I collected Brooklyn’s own S.D. McDonald. We then headed 40 miles north to Montclair, NJ – home to Tom Moloughney’s Nauna’s Bella Casa restaurant, which has become the defacto headquarters for East Coast MINI E pioneers.

#217 dined on some 50amp juice, while Scott & I enjoyed the best balsamic calamari I’ve ever had, some incredible shrimp parmigiana and very tasty stuffed shells. We then took a nice stroll around Montclair, and had time to visit with our ever-gracious host.

Scott & Tom, the two best-looking models I could afford

And then I got to experience something I hoped would’ve happened hundreds of times by now, but just hasn’t for me (hey now, don’t go there…) – a stranger approached and asked why my car was plugged in! Some nice lady from Queens then got the full M&M (Miller & Moloughney) – a 1/2 hour session of electric car nerd talk! Scott was also regaled with the facts, figures and anecdotes, and so he earned his MINI E degree as well. Fun stuff, and a great way to kick things off.

We next headed out to West Orange, NJ – which should’ve been a short 7 miles away, but using the Scott & Gordon GPS system we made it an even 10 miles. Which leads me to another truth about a 24-hour electric car road rally – there are no bad miles, there are only miles, and the need for an outlet before you reach your last one.

West Orange is home to the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, and like all National Parks it’s a wonderland that I vow I’ll come

Home to another electric car geek

back to visit again someday. My original plan was to take a quick photo opp, and then get on the road – but visiting the “Wizard of Menlo Park”‘s playpen was like thumbing thru an encyclopedia, and so we spent about :45 minutes longer browsing than I had intended. The library alone is worth a look, as are the many different labs and work areas. Think of what Willy Wonka’s factory would look like if electricity was the main ingredient instead of chocolate.

After Edison we detoured for a quick visit to my daughter’s soccer tournament in Manalapan, NJ (Arsenal, U14 Girls Champs!) and then we spun back around and headed north.

Our first trip to Home Base in Pearl River, NY saw us with 150 miles on the odometer and about 5 hours on the clock. Hardly a blistering pace, but it was a lot of fun making some videos of the experience (which I promise to edit and post soon…).

Our next landmark was to my favorite bridge on the planet – the Bear Mountain Bridge in the Hudson Highlands of New York. My plan

MINI meets BIG

was to get some great pics of what was at one time the longest suspension bridge in the world (it looks like it’s anchored into two mountains overlooking a narrow spot on the Hudson River…which is pretty much what it is) but we didn’t get up there in daylight because we got distracted by this huge Japanese gate on Mt. Fuji.

Actually, it’s just the entrance to the restaurant named Mt. Fuji at the top of a big hill near Suffern, NY – but standing under it you do feel like you’re in Japan. It’s located in a relatively undeveloped area near Harriman State Park, and so this HUGE ceremonial gate drops your jaw the first time you see it. We took a 20 minute detour to head to the top and grab a menu. Chalk up another place to come back to later though, as we’ve got miles on the menu, not sushi.

We hit Bear Mountain around 7pm, parked at the Bear Mtn. Inn and had a really nice walk across the span. One of the bridge attendants came out to make sure we weren’t jumpers, but other than that it was very peaceful, albeit dark.

Next stop was just 9.5 miles north – the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Before 9/11 you used to be able to stroll the grounds like any other college campus, but these days that’s only allowed at certain days and times, so the distraction-ability index was low. We did pull through the first gate

The General would've approved

and headed up the Thayer Hotel for a suitable photo op.

You can’t make out the paper I’m holding, but if you had a really good photographers loop you’d see it says “Stop #5 – West Point   Mileage: 205.5   Hours: 10”

From there we headed over the bridge, and back down the Hudson on the more fashionable Westchester side. Some pretty little towns there, including Ossining – lovely, except for the huge Sing Sing Prison which occupies prime waterfront real estate. We arrived back in Pearl River and went to bed.

My alarm went off at 3am, and I made a solo trip (only fitting that I pursue my dream while Scott pursued his) to Morristown, NJ.

Morristown is where I work, so the trip was a familiar and convenient 90 miles (to which I tacked on an extra 15 miles for good measure). It also has a singular historical draw as it was the headquarters of General Washington back in 1777 and the harsh winter of 1779/1780. Talk about Pioneers, those guys really toughed it out, so it was good motivation to continue the rally.

What's good enough for George is good enough for me

Back home I grabbed a couple of hours of sleep and woke up around 7:30am on Memorial Day. The car was 98% charged, and so we headed into town to fuel up on Pete’s Bagels.

After grabbing a quick breakfast, we swung by our town’s train station, where the local VFW post had set up their annual tribute to the local heroes. After setting up the mini grave markers with the names of the fallen and the wars that they served in, the members of the post stood vigil all night long. I waved

Pearl River, NY's Memorial Day Observation

to the gentleman who was there at 3am, but I wanted to be sure to stop by and pay my respects in the day light. Whatever your politics, whatever your feelings are about war, I think it’s vitally important to not let Memorial Day become just a metaphor for car sales.

We headed south with the intention of squeezing in 200 more miles in the final 4 hours. The plan was to swing by Manhattan and cross the Brooklyn Bridge, then head back home for a quick 2 hour charge and a final dash for the last miles we could eek out.

Coffee on the High Line

But we are weak, and again got distracted. This time by the fantastic new High Line park in Manhattan. I have been wanting to see it since it opened last June, but I never seemed to find the time. Luckily this time we were driving down the West Side Highway, saw the IAC Building and opted to pull over for a photo op (East Coast Pioneers will recall that it was at the IAC building that we all got our first look at the MINI E during the reception hosted by BMW/MINI).

The IAC building is unique, but not quite as unique as the High Line. An elevated train track that runs about 14 city blocks (with longer extensions planned) it is a strolling promenade about 20 feet in the air that transforms the city around it and places visitors in a new yet familiar place.  I can’t do it justice, but like the 24-Hour Road Rally it was an event that demanded I take time out and simply be in the moment. Add another spot to come back to later.

After the High Line, we got to talking about one of the city’s other new parks that is just recently opened, the new Brooklyn Bridge Park. Since the bridge was on our destination list, and since we’d killed our planned timeline already with an hour on the High Line, we decided to check it out.

No Sleep Brooklyn!

I didn’t take a photo at the park, but the sights and walkways of this brand new public space were as inviting as I could’ve hoped for. It’s interesting how cities are reclaiming their old industrial spaces – which often occupy great waterfronts – and turning them into something valuable and sustainable for the public to use and enjoy. Cities, individuals – even car companies – all like to change and adapt, and to try and better themselves. I view this car test as part of that imperative to change, and the Brooklyn Bridge Park – and the High Line as well – are just the newest, more positive examples of wonderful things that change can bring.

From the park we headed up to Williamsburg, which is where Scott makes his bed these days. We parted outside of his home with 390 miles on the odometer and 23

the Newest Electric Car Fan

hours on the clock. It was a fun event, this rally – but it would’ve been so much poorer without his companionship, his interest in the car, and his generally unflappable good nature. It also would’ve been so much less without the good will of the many people we met along the way. For that, I’d like to name them here – Tom Moloughney, the kids and parents at the soccer tournament, the friendly gate attendant who guided us back on the right road in West Orange, the Park Rangers at the Edison Historical Park, the valets at Mt. Fuji, the desk people at the Thayer Hotel, the VFW members in Pearl River, folks at Pete’s Deli (aka Zimi’s), the visitors on the High Line – all of whom proudly wore smiles in this sometimes-too-busy city – and many others I’m sure I’m forgetting.

Finally, I’d like to tip my hat to Don Young for his inspiration. It’s homegrown, made-up events like his tour last fall that I think we all need to take up more often. The daily grind can certainly grind the years by, and can make you cynical and distrustful of your fellow kind. But the fact is that people are great, and fun, and inventive. And we should get to meet them more often.

I wound up in Pearl River with a total of 426 miles at the deadline. That pretty much assures that I’ll pass the 20,000 mile mark

The Checkered Flag

before I turn the car back in on June 17th. But in the end this 24-hour Rally wasn’t so much about the miles, as it was about the incredible places and incredible people I’m surrounded by every day. I’ll learn to slow down a bit and appreciate them all more often now.

And thank you for reading this. If you know me – and especially if we’ve never met – please help me remember all of this.

A MINI E “Pony Express” Trip

Don Young, MINI E #364, took an amazing trip last week – traveling almost 700 miles over 4 days from his Shelter Island, NY home on the eastern end of Long Island to the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in the Hudson Valley, and several other stops in-between. To get there and back, Don organized a “Power Support Team” to recharge his MINI E #364’s batteries every 70 miles or so with high-voltage pit stops.

IMG_0941

Original Art by Lea Miller

But Don didn’t just stop with the idea to take a high-mileage round-trip, he made an event out of it. Dubbing his journey the “MINI E E*TOUR”, he had custom window wraps and car magnets created to advertise and celebrate both his tour and “Power Support Team”, and also created his own t-shirts to give out to the many people he’d meet along the way. He also contacted a local newspaper in Bethel and did an interview there; plus he took the time to meet with strangers and bartenders (and probably some strange bartenders too) to show off the car and relate his experiences driving it.

I just love these kind of individual, people-powered quests, and my wife and I were very proud to support Don and fill him up on some solar-generated electrons last Thursday and Sunday. Infected by his enthusiasm for the project, my teenage daughter and I put together a poster to welcome Don and mark his journey to our home. Creating the poster gave us a chance to talk about things… like how weird it was that we were going to welcome a “complete stranger” to our home while most of us were away so he could plug his car in; about how normally we wouldn’t do such a thing; about how it was OK this time because we were all part of a broader community of people involved in the same thing – so while Don may or may not be strange ;-), he was driving a MINI E just like us, for all the same reasons and with all the same desires for a better future, and that disqualified him as a stranger.

As Don himself noted, “On my MINI E E*Tour, I’ve had great experiences with 8 MINI E’ers, 2 companies, 3 corporations, and 1 foundation. I also learned that stopping once in a while to make new friends, and talking to bystanders about GP? (#364), is as nice a way to travel as I can imagine.”

At the risk of sounding corny or melodramatic, I imagine his experience was very similar to the old Pony Express system – Don too set out on the road in full awareness that his journey would only be complete if a group of people he’d never before met came together to help him. He too had to rely on faith in an unmet community. And in this day and age – where we rightly teach our children to be wary of strangers, and where we rely on standardized systems for everything from dining to refueling – what a unique experience that is.

In the few short years ahead, at just about the time my daughter will learn how to drive, electric cars will no longer be the domain of a few hundred pioneers. The frontier of “limited range” will be closed with the solutions of public recharging at the old ‘gas’ stations, battery swap technology, electrified liquid, or some other kind of innovation which will be hugely convenient and enable our modern and mobile lifestyles – but which will also be a bittersweet signal that this particular kind of unique, individual, community travel experience is unnecessary.

Don’s promised to post photos and tales of his experience, and I’ll be sure to link to them here.

The New Glossary of My Daily Commute

As part of the MINI E program, we get weekly emails containing driving suggestions and bits of insight from MINI on life in the prototype electric car lane. This week’s edition contained this handy little glossary and a tip on efficiently using the heater that I found interesting (who, for example, knew that a gallon of gas = 36.5 kWh!):

V: Volt; from the 17th century Italian physicist, Alessandro Volta.

In simplified terms, voltage is like electrical pressure. If an electrical wire were a water hose, the pressure or force of the water exiting the hose would be akin to the voltage level in a wire.

A: Ampere (Amp); from the 17th century French physicist, Andre-Marie Ampere.
Using the same water hose analogy, the Ampere is a measure of current flow. The volume of water which can flow through a hose is related to how wide the hose is – narrow hose, low volume, wide hose, high volume. Larger wires are able to carry a greater amount of current than smaller ones, and this current is measured in Amps.

kW•h or kWh: kilowatt hour
Those of you who are in tune with your electric utility bill are probably familiar with the kW•h because it is the unit measure by which you are charged for your energy consumption. A Watt-hour is the total energy used over time. Some of you have calculated your energy costs to drive the MINI E by using your kW•h rate to determine cost per mile. Your kW•h costs can vary based on such factors as where you live, when you charge and what your total monthly consumption is. A single gallon of gasoline contains approximately 36.5 kW•h of energy.

HV: High Voltage
There are two electrical systems we interact with on the MINI E. The low voltage system covers the 12V (Volt) components which are common to other MINI models. The power windows, windshield wipers, and map lights are examples of low voltage items. High voltage items are what sets the MINI E apart and typically runs in the range of 390V. The HV system is what propels the car, and provides heat and air conditioning.

SOC: State Of Charge
The amount of energy stored in the MINI E HV batteries, displayed as a percentage.

PEU: Power Electronics Unit
The magic gold box under the bonnet of the MINI E. It is the “brain” of the HV system and coordinates a variety of parameters such as power delivery and charging.

Module: High Voltage Battery Module
The HV battery in the MINI E is comprised of modules, each of which contain 106 cells. There are 48 modules in total which are individually monitored. Using a modular battery configuration enables more efficient packaging. If necessary, servicing the HV battery can be accomplished by replacing only modules which need to be, instead of the entire battery pack.

OUC: Occasional Use Cable
The 110V, or 12A cable which many of you keep with your MINI E, is commonly referred to as an OUC.

TIP OF THE WEEK

Heater Efficiency
This one works a lot like Goldilocks. Getting the warmest air from the cabin heater is achieved by setting the fan speed to the second setting. The lowest setting won’t take full advantage of the output of the heating element. The highest setting will blow so much air past the heater that it won’t have time to pick up all the heat. The middle setting is just right.

Hmmmmm – the closer we get to winter, the more I get nervous about this heater and it’s impact on my ability to get home….

Is Electricity The Right Fuel?

This question was sparked (excuse the pun) by a conversation I had with a neighbor last night. He works as a Distributed Generation Manager for Con Edison in NYC, and so he’s very knowledgeable and familiar with the current (more puns!) electrical distribution grid, it’s ability to incorporate ‘DG’ (solar panels, windmills, etc.) and it’s capacity now and in the foreseeable future.

While he is a supporter of the movement towards renewable energy sources broadly, he is skeptical/bordering on discouraging when it comes to electrical cars and our ability as a society to support them. “For the system we have, we use way too much electricity now – your car and the 250 others in the area are fine now, but what’s going to happen when there’s 10,000 cars plugging in? 1 million? The grid simply couldn’t deliver that energy. And don’t talk about building new transmission lines – no one wants them, no politicians will let them come through their districts. Look at what’s going on in Old Tappan right now (where a proposed electrical sub-station has drawn the ire of local residents).” It’s been an issue on the table for years now, and according to my neighbor there is still no consensus or movement toward a viable solution.

I countered that I thought electricity was still a more efficient and environmentally-sound way to power automobiles because the distribution system – ok, while old and in need of upgrading – didn’t have nearly the negative impact that the liquid fuel distribution system does, and that the energy use model is more efficient (in that it only ‘costs’ me $.03/mile in electricity, while gas costs me $.13/mile). His response was that “right now, the electricity that comes into our houses is only 30% efficient – meaning a full 70% of it gets lost en route from Canada or Upstate where it is generated – and we lack the ability to make that more efficient without running new high-voltage transmission lines, which would have a negative environmental impact.”  To which I opened and then closed my mouth.

He thinks we can get there eventually – his idea is to use electricity rates, tax credits and other financial incentives to encourage businesses, individuals and utilities to use less electricity/be more efficient than we are now – then use the additional revenue that would generate (pun!) to upgrade the transmission grid so that it can better accommodate DG (solar, wind, tidal, etc.). A DG-enabled power grid would then increase the distribution efficiency (the solar panels on my roof are, depending on the temperatures outside, about 80-95% efficient), which in turn would mean more juice to power our cars.

Sounds like a reasonable plan – but he and I and the rest of us recognize that even mentioning the idea of “raising rates” is a non-starter in a recession. Frustrating that – I wish we could make it a topic of discussion. I wish we did have political leaders who were strong enough to say “Hey, cowboy-up people – sacrificing for a better future is what this country is all about, so stop the whining and let’s all pay a penny or two more per kWh”.

At the end of the day I still think that electricity is the sound strategic choice here – no doubt it is true that our system couldn’t handle a huge, sudden influx of electrical cars on the market, but that isn’t likely to happen anyways. It is a long-term solution, and long-term electricity is a fantastic source of power because it can be produced here, is mobile, can be generated in a number of renewable, carbon-free ways, and holds the promise for additional technological breakthroughs to make our use of it more efficient.

But that’s from the 10,000 foot view – it was interesting and eye-opening to hear my neighbor’s very different view from down on the ground, where oil-filled cable transmission lines can’t be run along the interstate medians, and it’s a patchwork process just to keep our ancient grid up and running, with no money or will to take the steps required to improve the situation.

Bits & Pieces

Hello – here’s a chex-mix of minor experiences from my electric car test.

– I had my first spontaneous sighting of another MINI E last Thursday in Morristown, NJ. It was 8:15am, and i was waiting at a stop light when I saw a fellow E turning off the green – they were too far away to see even if it was a man or a woman, but we flashed headlights. Kinda fun and communal – like exchanging a fraternity handshake.

–  I’m thinking of getting some decals put on that say “Electric Car” – so many people have told me that they didn’t recognize the stylized “plug” icon, and some other MINI E drivers have reported success with these. Here’s a shot of #250 (Tom Moloughney).

electric

Electric Car Bling

– After nearly 2 months of plugging in at the Morristown Bank St. garage and having no one express any curiosity about it, this morning I got two questions. The first guy was parking at the same time as me, and as we both emerged from our cars he asked “Hey, I have a question – what would happen if somebody stole your cord?”, to which I answered “Uh, then I guess they’d have my cord…” (I hate it when I’m not prepared). We then talked about the program, and he said he’d gone online to read about it. As we parted company, he said “Thank you for doing this – I know it isn’t cheap, but it’s great that somebody’s getting this going.”  Just a simple and honest sentiment, but it was great to hear it from a stranger.  The second person was a co-worker, who came into the office soon after me, and asked “Hey, I saw your car plugged in again. I got a question – what would happen if somebody stole your cord?”, to which I answered “they would be hit by a Clean Diesel bus and squashed – e-karma is hardcore”.  Ahhh, sweet preparation!

– Tomorrow is my scheduled “3,000 mile service” – though i’m already at 4,000+ miles. Honestly, I hope they get good data, but I’m hoping to get a nice wash and vacuum out of it.

The Day I Forgot

I knew it would happen – just a matter of time before I pulled into my garage and somehow forget to take the 7 seconds needed to plug #217 in. Then wake up to the nauseating reality that I don’t have enough juice to drive to work.

Today is that day.

In a weird way, I’m glad it’s happened, because now I’ll be certain to never do it again. Since for most people, “I ran out of gas” is a one-time learning event (outside of dating scenarios), I imagine this will be the same.

But it does point out a fundamental difference between the electric- & gas-powered models: running out of gas probably means a 20-min delay in your plans (unless you’re out of normal service areas), whereas running out of electrons means – in my case – a 2-hour delay. Though obviously the benefits of driving an electric-powered vehicle outweigh this relatively small, wholly-avoidable, inconvenience.

One unexpected realization was how this little hiccup has proven how much I’ve come to enjoy driving #217. I was well and truly pissed-off on my entire commute this morning – ticked that I had to drive my very comfortable, very powerful luxury-sedan (an Infiniti G35) instead of my stripped-down MINI Cooper with the slightly uncomfortable seat, no sun roof and the lack of basic amenities like cruise control. I didn’t realize how much I’ve come to appreciate the little joys of driving an electric car, like feathering the accelerator, the zip of the electric-torque, enjoying the regen-braking on the downhills, etc.

Whether it’s a Chevy Volt or a Tesla Sedan, I’m definitely going to be in the market for another electric car after this test is over.

1,000 Mile Review

Last week saw a major milestone, as I guided #217 past the first 1,000th mile (ironically, it was a pretty dull mile on I-287, just north of The Quarry). In honor of this occasion, I thought I’d chronicle the biggest differences i’ve noted so far about what it is like to drive an electric car. Here goes:

1. One-pedal Driving — thanks to the magic of regenerative-braking, the accelerator now also acts as a decelerator, and that yields a kinda different, but kinda fun, way of driving.

2. Range Anxiety — I need to drive a minimum of 90 miles each day, and fit that in the official “about 100 miles” range of the MINI E. In practice, I know I can drive at least 108 miles, and probably get closer to 120 miles if i had to. But the practical effect of this is what the MINI E newsletter termed (cue the echo sound-effect) “rAnGe AnXieTy”. Ya get a wee bit concerned watching that charge meter charge towards 0. I think most of this can be relieved with a larger-capacity battery, and software that can be better calibrated to give a more accurate estimate – both items I know are on the drawing board at BMW/MINI. I’m pretty comfortable that I can make my 90 miles, but I also haven’t yet pushed it as much as I’d like to.

3. No Pumping Required — just before I took delivery of #217, I timed a visit to my gas station. From the moment I exited the highway, to the moment I got back on (and this is a station that is about 400 yards off of I-287), it was about 12 minutes. For me, that was 12 minutes every 4 days, which compares to the:15 seconds it takes me to plug/unplug a day. That means I’m saving 1 hour a month. It’s nice.

4. The Four Hour Fill Up — so, as much as I love skipping the lines at the gas station, I have to admit that gas stations are terribly useful things when you’re on empty and 12 minutes gets you another 400 miles. Especially when compared to the 4 hours it takes me to fill up #217’s electrical tank. For most of the time though that four hours happens when I’m home for the evening, usually sleeping. 5 days out of 7, that’s just fine for me.

5. The Sounds — I knew of course that an electric car would be quieter than a gas car, but i really didn’t expect this. On the highway I notice it because I can keep the radio at a lower volume. In town, I notice sounds I never knew were there – kids in some nearby backyard, the idle chatter coming out of a restaurant, etc. It’s weird. Nice, but weird.

Those are the big and obvious things. I’m sure the next 1,000 miles will turn up some more subtle differences.