Thursday, November 5, 2009

Power Hungry

There is one thing that all of us in the MINI-E program have faced at one time or another and that's we need to go further than the range of our cars will allow. Some of us on the East Coast are now facing the reality that we can no longer travel as far as we could the first four months we had the cars due to the effect lower temperatures have had on the battery pack. Even with the reduced range the car will still go 75-85 miles comfortably, which is usually plenty for most daily commutes. The problem is what do you do if you need to go further on a particular day? Well basically there are two choices: You can either use your 2nd car that has an ICE, or find somewhere to charge up during your day. The easiest choice is to simply use your other car. Maybe let your spouse use the MINI-E that day, given they have a shorter commute. If only it were that easy. I'm hooked on the car, I admit it. I want to drive it everyday, not just when it's easy to do it. Luckily for me, when MINI offered 2nd wall chargers I jumped right on it and got one to install where I work. This allows me the freedom to basically drive the car just about anywhere I want to because I can always charge up, whether I'm at home or at work. Since I got the second wall charger I have been averaging 120 miles a day and range anxiety is mostly a thing of the past.

However others in the program aren't as lucky and didn't have the opportunity to install a second charger where they work so they are basically limited to traveling less than 45 to 50 miles from their home or they won't be able to make it back. In California there are a limited number of public charging stations for EVs but I don't think many of them are compatible with the MINI-E plug. Here on the East, public charging stations simply don't exist...yet, but I understand that may change in the near future. Until there are plenty of convenient public charging stations, EV owners will have to be creative if they want to drive for extended ranges. The other option is charger sharing. One of the MINI-E trial lease participants created a website where others in the program could register their home charger and allow others to contact them if they were in the area in need of a charge. Don Young of Shelter Island, NY recently used the website to hook up with over a dozen chargers and complete his "MINI-E Tour" of 1,019 miles before he returned home! He stopped about 20 times to charge up at various locations and basically traveled to the northern, southern, western and eastern most chargers that are in the program (and plenty in between). He stopped and used both of my chargers on different days to complete his mission. Charger sharing is the most effective way to extend your range, but it's not the only way. I'm obviously not the only one who doesn't want to use their other car on days they have to drive further than the car's range will allow. That is evident by the fact that some others in the program have found that the car will charge perfectly fine without the wall box and are willing to "break the rules" and have made their own portable charging systems. You won't find any evidence of this on the blogs or the MINI-E Facebook groups because it is highly against the rules, but I kind of believe MINI knows this is happening and since they really can't monitor or stop it they have no choice but to look the other way. These "outlaws" have been able to charge on the fly at any location where they can reach a 220V outlet with a 40amp line and thus enable trips further from home than any of the rest of us can make. RV parks, for example have available outlets like this for motor homes to plug into while they stay there.

It's all about the power, we need power. Not Gordon Gekko or Bernie Madoff type power mind you, it's the juice that fuels our cars that I'm talking about. These cars are so much fun to drive that we want to drive them more than the range will allow and many of us just won't accept it. I know I didn't want to. Before MINI announced that they would provide a limited number of second wall chargers I had already contacted the manufacturer directly about purchasing one or more additional charging units. Back in June when I first got the car and I didn't have a wall charger yet I consulted a friend who is an electrical engineer about building me a portable cable with a 220v plug on the end so I could charge up on the fly, but luckily the wall charger came and I wasn't tempted to pursue that anymore.

It's really MINI's fault here, so don't blame us if you hear about people breaking the rules to get their electric "fix."  MINI gave us the drugs in the first place, and now we're hooked. Electric drive is addictive, and I can't wait until the day when we are all "users."


  1. Tom

    I share you desire for more public charging options.

    However, there are a lot of safety features in the SAE J1772 specification and the Clipper Creek box provides all of them and more. I implore anyone who might bypass safety features to please do not leave an unprotected charging situation unattended. Especially if children are around. Don't do it if there are fumes around. A spark from a 240 volt source can ignite things that might surprise you. Better just not to do it.

    It is not Mini, it is the National Electrical Code section 625 that requires the "EVSE" charging interface to be hardwired and permanently mounted if it is using more than 120 volts.

    After studying this and talking with other engineers about some rather spectacular electrical accidents, I have to agree with the NEC.

    Please be careful. 240 volts is at least four times more dangerous than 120 volts, it is one of those "square law" things. European 240 volt connectors are recessed for safety unlike most NEMA connectors in the USA.

    Let's not give anyone an excuse to call electric cars unsafe. Public charging stations are coming. All in the fullness of time. Please be patient and be safe.

  2. Good points Jim, but you should know I wasn't advocating doing any of this, I was simply reporting what is currently going on. The unavailability of convenient charging locations may tempt people to get creative, but hopefully no one will do anything dangerous.

  3. I have a friend that converted a 1984 Honda accord about ten years ago and he was always looking for places to charge up. He could only go about 35 miles per charge, so he was really limited. Once there are more of these on the roadways, charging stations will start to appear as soon as there is a demand for them.

  4. Hi Tom, I am from Malaysia. One of the local car manufacturer in here convert their combustion engine car into an electric car for test. We are excited to see battery driven car on the road. In Malaysia, the weather is not good all the time. Heavy rain & storms are often occurred. Do you have any problem with the weather condition at your place?

  5. I have not experienced any problems related to rain or stormy weather. I have heard that high humidity can cause problems within the cars electronics but that should be able to be solved. The only weather related issue you should have is the battery temperature management. The batteries you would use in cars are the same as the smaller batteries you use to power your small electronics and extreme heat or extreme cold diminishes their power and ability to remain charged. One of the big challenges that auto makers that are developing EV's now is how to manage the battery temperature so it doesn't get too hot or too cold. It seems to me that my battery pack works the best if it is between 80 and 95 degrees farenheit. I have a reduced range once the temp gets much higher or lower than that.