Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Plugging In

Recently I was talking to a friend about the future of electric cars and he said he thinks one of the obstacles will be that people(he) wouldn't want to have to waste time plugging in the car all the time. He said it's so easy to just buy gas once a week and it takes so little time to do so. I quickly snapped back "you waste more time buying gas than I do plugging this thing in, I'll tell you that" He didn't believe me, but as they said in Cool Hand Luke "Some people you just can't reach".

So I thought I'd do a little test to see just how much time I spend plugging in. I know it's not long, but exactly how long I wasn't sure. So for the next few times I plugged the car in (and then unplugged) I timed myself.

Six seconds.

Yep, that's all it take to plug the car in and another 5 or 6 seconds to unplug. So basically I spent about 24 seconds a day plugging in and unplugging since I charge the car twice a day on most days, once at home and once at work. I'm not sitting there waiting for the car to charge, like you have to go when you're filling up with gasoline. I'm either sleeping or working while the lithium ion batteries are recharging. I then went to a gas station when I had some time and parked over on the side by the air pump and timed some of the cars that were filling up.

Seven minutes.

The average car took seven minutes from the time they pulled in to the station to the time they pulled out full of dino juice. While this wasn't a scientifically controlled experiment, I think I'm pretty close to how long the average car takes to full up and I'm not even taking into consideration the time it took them to drive to the gas station. I'll assume it was on their way so they only had to pull into the station.

I have about 32,000 miles on my car in three weeks less than a year so I'm going to end up with right around 33,000 miles on the car this year. If I had driven my Toyota Tacoma truck all year instead of the MINI, I would have to had to stop for gasoline exactly 100 times as I can get 325 to 340 miles per tank.

Doing simple math I have spent a cumulative 2 hours and 26 minutes plugging and unplugging my car this year. If I was driving my Toyota, I would have spent over 11 and a half hours sitting at a gas station waiting for the tank to fill.

So I ask: Who's really wasting their time?


  1. Can't wait until we can skip those trips to the gas station. Both my wife and I absolutely hate it -- even though we fill up each of our cars only about once every two weeks.

    You've probably seen this YouTube video of Darell Dickey (founder of EVNut.com), in which he videotapes himself taking the "time" to plug in (while also extolling the benefits of solar-charged driving), but just in case you haven't, here it is:

  2. Thanks Christof, I had never seen that. I have had email contact with Darell before though.

  3. Nice post. Do you know how much the electric cost you for the year verses the 100 tanks of gasoline you would have purchased?

  4. David,
    I would say the electricity cost me about $1,200 to $1,300 and gas for my Tacoma which gets 18mpg would have cost me about $5,100 to %5,200. So I have close to a $4,000 savings on fuel. Plus no oil changes or other ICE required maintenance.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  5. You would have had to stop for gasoline many times more than 100. You assumed you would be empty every time you filled up and that isn't possible. actually you would most likely needed to make about 115-130 trips to the gas station depending on how low you let the tank get. This is even better for your argument!

  6. Yes, Alan you are correct. I just did quick math and basically figured an empty tank for every fill up which never happens. Before I got the MINI-E I was filling up the Toyota twice a week so I probably should have figured 110 trips to the gas station. So then I would have spent about 13 hours sitting there, waiting for my tank to fill up with the smelly, cancer juice.

  7. Tom,
    I have to say that while I am totally behind electric, your argument is highly ethically dishonest. The time wasted isn't in plugging in vs refueling, it's in downtime.
    Accepting your math outright, you'd be spending roughly 11.7 hours refueling. The Mini on the other hand takes 4 hours to recharge per 90 miles (season average). So you've spent roughly 1467 hours recharging... or 125.36 times as long refueling your Mini as you would have the Tacoma.

  8. Hi Justin,
    Yes, the car takes that long to refuel, no doubt about it. The time to refuel is tremendously longer with the MINI-E or any other current electric.
    However, I'm sure you understanding what I'm saying, even if you don't agree with how it may have been worded. I really never waited for the car to charge so I could go somewhere like I do when I'm sitting at a gas station waiting for the tank to fill. When I'm charging the MINI, I plug it in and walk away. I'm then either sleeping or working so it really doesn't matter to me if the car is charging or not, it isn't changing what I was going to do anyway.

    Yes, your math is correct and the car probably spent about 1,400 hours charging to go 33,000 miles which would be over 100 times how long my gasoline vehicle would have taken to refuel, but I still don't see how it's ethically dishonest because I explained how it was calculated. If I said the car only takes 5 seconds to charge I'd say I was definitely guilty as charged but that's not how it was presented.

    A 100 mile range EV simply won't work for a lot of people, especially when it has no thermal management system and it becomes a 75-80 mile EV in the winter months. Three to four to charge the car will even further limit the number of people willing to buy one, but I have been able to work out a system (probably because my life and travels are very predictable) where I drive the car about 130 miles a day and the time I charge the car is time when it's not needed so it makes no difference to me if it's charging or sitting in the garage resting. When I have to gas up the Tacoma, I'm truly wasting time sitting there waiting for the tank to fill, I can't be working, sleeping or doing anything else than waiting for the tank to fill.

  9. Justin,

    Did you take a look at the video the person in the above comment sent?
    If not take a look, he drives a RAV4 EV in California and he took the same angle as I did.


  10. I understand both sides of the discussion. I guess it comes down to how you look at it. If someone were to drive an EV less than it's usable range during every day and simply plug it in at night when they get home, then yeah I buy the five seconds is all it takes argument. However if you need to drive the car more miles every day than the single charge can deliver then finding charging locations as well as the time it takes to charge the car has to be taken into account.
    Tom, you are rare bird in that you own the building that you work in so you could install a level 2 50amp charger there. So for you charging really is not a problem, but others will not have that convenience.

  11. Tom,
    I said that it was dishonest because both vehicles are essentially out of commission during the refueling period. During the last year I was routinely deterred from taking out my Mini for this reason. If I needed to run a bunch of errands or travel a bit more than usual the EV was not an option because of refueling time. There were several times when I had to head home to switch cars before I could continue with my day. If you are simply driving to places where the car can sit for hours you don't notice the penalty. You are definitely lucky in that your schedule affords that. However, should you ever have to run out in a hurry, off schedule, I imagine you will quickly abandon your assertion that it's only a few seconds.
    For EVs to truly go mainstream charging times need to be drastically diminished and/or some form of replaceable/consumable supply needs to be introduced (I think Tesla is on the right track in that arena with the S). Until then they'll remain niche.

  12. I think all avenues are being considered now: quick charging/battery swapping/longer range packs and that's good news.
    Believe me, I understand 100% what you are saying about the car being out of commission during refueling, whatever fuel you use.

    Having a 220V charger at work is an incredible advantage. I know it might be hard for you to believe me but in this entire year I don't think I had to change my plans or not go somewhere because I didn't have enough charge more than two or three times.
    After arriving at work (35miles) I plug in and in about an hour the car is back to 100%. I never need to leave work within the first hour so to me it seems like every time I get in the car, weather I'm leaving my home or my job, I start out at 100% SOC. I'm really never waiting for it to charge up but I see how you and some others in the program look at it differently especially if you don't have as predictable a daily driving regime as I do.

  13. Interesting exchange. To me, one of the single most important points that has been made here -- and it appears to be completely lost on many people who criticize EVs, plus the so-called analysts who predict little interest in EVs -- is the simple fact of different routines and needs.

    While there are tens of millions for whom an EV won't work until it can be charged more quickly and have a longer range, there are tens of millions with predictable, relatively short commutes and driving routines for whom an EV with 4 to 8 hours charging time and about 100 miles of range will be perfectly adequate (including us).

    I'm not seeing this perspective in this comment thread, but it really frustrates me when the EV critics assume a one-size-fits all perspective on cars. Do they assume that the Prius owner and Hummer owner have the same needs, routines, etc.? Not at all...