Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hurricane Irene Blasts NJ. MINI-E #250 Unfazed

This street by my house was still closed five days after the storm. 

It's been five days since Hurricane Irene barreled through New Jersey, leaving in it's wake destruction, flooding, widespread power outages and unfortunately, a few deaths. There are still many people without power, houses underwater and many streets closed. The power to my neighborhood was just restored last night, but we still don't have telephone, cable TV or internet service. 

Luckily I installed a home generator a few years ago so I had power the whole time. It's a 16kW natural gas generator and it powers most of my home. It doesn't however power my 220v EVSE that charges my MINI-E, as the electric draw is about 7kW which would use almost 50% of the power it makes for my entire house. I can still use the 110v occasional charger which only draws about 1.6kW, however it does take a long time to charge the car this way, actually about 36 hours to fully charge a completely depleted battery. The good news is that the battery isn't usually fully depleted and you don't have to charge it to 100% unless you need to drive 100 miles. I almost never use the 110v charger, but while I was running my home on the generator, I didn't have a choice the first day.
110V charging at home
On Monday morning (the day after the storm) I set out on my 31 mile usual trek to work. I left early because I figured there would be some closed roads with flooding and downed trees. It turned out to be much worse than I imagined it would be. After about 3 hours I realized that attempting to continue would be futile. Every different route I chose ended with a closed road and when I tried to take the highways, the cars were backed up as far as you could see and the cars weren't even moving. It was a disaster. I've never seen anything like it. It seemed everywhere you looked a road was either flooded or had trees with tangled power lines laying across the street. So I turned around and went home. Luckily most of my staff and manager lives close to the restaurant so they could all make it. The restaurant would have to live without me for a day.

When I arrived home I had been gone 4 hours and had driven 58 miles. The estimated remaining range was 42 miles to give me an even 100 mile range for the day. The reason this is significant is to point out the advantage EV's have over internal combustion cars. All the time I was sitting in traffic I was barely using any energy, while the gas cars were burning gas the whole time. This is something that people that don't understand EV's are quick to ask "What happens if I'm stuck in traffic and run out of charge?" You won't!!! Your EV is especially efficient crawling around at low speed, the opposite of the the internal combustion engine cars which are terribly inefficient while stuck in traffic. 

The next day I left for work at 5am. I figured even if the roads were still closed, I could find a route to take as long as I didn't have thousands of cars clogging up the streets with me. The strategy worked and I was able to negotiate my way the 31 miles from Chester to Montclair in about 2 1/2 hours. It was difficult, but I was able to drive the whole way on back streets. Then, as I drove around the past three days I realized that many of the gas stations in Morris County are closed because they have no power. That didn't present any problem for me and MINI-E #250 though. My 62 mile round trip to work could be accomplished without a problem by fully charging at work so I didn't even need to slow charge at home, but I did anyway just to make sure it worked if I needed it in the future. 
New Jersey is still in emergency mode but the rivers are starting to recede, the utilities are slowly restoring power and the public works departments are cutting up the downed trees and clearing the roads. It has been a really difficult time for a lot of people and will continue to be for some time to come. However MINI-E #250 was barley fazed by the widespread power outages and continues to provide reliable transportation and a great driving experience regardless of what is going on around it. If nothing else the MINI-E program has definitively proven to me that EV's are ready for primetime, regardless what some others that have no real life EV experience will try to tell you.


  1. Tom,
    Really well-done entry -- very interesting and informative, and, as usual, you're able to kill a couple of myths about EVs as well.

    Hope the traffic/roads start clearing up soon for you!

  2. Tom,
    Glade to hear your alright and the MINI E is doing well on 110 power. I've been without power for 6 days now, we dont have a Generator, but my Volt is ding well, its gone about 400 miles without plugging in using the gas engine. Killing my lifetime gas mileage but no problems driving.

  3. I was wondering if you were using the air conditioning as you were stuck in traffic. I suppose that would use up a lot of energy

  4. Glad to hear you are alright it was a terrible storm. Are there long lines at the gas stations that do have power and are open in your area?

  5. This is so exciting to hear... i can't wait till i am having my own adventures like this.

    my friend took this footage of a model S burning a BMW Z4:

  6. Tom, were you not wired to charge the Mini E at 240 volts from your home generator (you might be able to at 12 amps) or did you try and the Mini E refused to charge, as so many have reported when trying to charge from a generator?

  7. Marcus: No I wasn't using the A/C. It wasn't necessary. It wouldn't have made that big a difference, but if I was stuck for a extended period of time, like 5 or 6 hours, I might consider turning it off to conserve.

    Anonymous: Not really, but they are longer than usual. There were long lines before the storm as everybody was filling up just to be safe.

    Jim: I installed the generator before I had the MINI's EVSE so I didn't have the available circuit for it on my generator panel. Yes, I did have problems. It would stop charging intermittently. I guess the generator doesn't supply a consistent voltage and the car is viewing that as a problem. I wonder if I could get some kind of line conditioner like I use for my computer and plug into that?

  8. Hi Tom,
    In order for me to have some practical real world data to help in my discussions with naysayers could you please tell us how many miles of driving are typically given up if you were to sit in stopped traffic with the AC on for one hour?

  9. Craig:

    I've never really measured it precisely, since I'm rarely stuck in traffic. I commute during off hours, so I don't typically get stuck in traffic. However I do keep detailed driving logs and using the A/C can reduce my range anywhere from 5% to 15% depending on the fan speed.
    The MINI-E is a prototype, not a production car and BMW didn't spend much time trying to make the heating and cooling systems energy efficient as they knew this was a short-term program. Using the heater is ore of an energy hog, and if it's really cold outside and I have the heater on full the entire time I drive, it can sap as much as 25% of the range from the car. This however, shouldn't be used for comparison of all electric cars for the reason I just gave. BMW will not use "off the shelf" heating and cooling systems for their production EV's like the did with this car. They are designing systems that use much less energy, specifically made for their electric cars.

  10. Thanks Tom. That helps to know those facts. Many of use thank you for being a detailed pioneer- Lewis & Clark style complete with diagrams :)
    Good luck with the death icon. You seem to have BMW's ear, perhaps recomend a white skull and cross bones overlayed on the red battery icon just for affect.
    All kidding aside I hope you get your 250 back soon. I'm transitioning into an electric car by now commuting 15 miles into DC each day on an electric bike (A2B Velociti) and absolutely love it! It's that feeling that results in the involuntary "EV grin" and may it return to you shortly!!

  11. Anonymous: What you are describing (EV grin) is something that I think is very important in the proliferation of electric vehicles. It's difficult to really put a finger on but I think it's just the feeling that you get when you realize that electric mobility does work.

    I have been at many meetings, focus groups, round table discussions, town hall meetings, etc and one question I have been frequently asked is "Why will people want to drive an EV? They cost more, they take about 100 times longer to refuel, they have 1/4 the range so you can't go far, the batteries will cost thousands of dollars to replace...and you will have to replace them eventually, and there is no place to charge them!"

    These are all valid questions. The best thing I can point to is the cell phone. Back when they first came out most people look at them as a joke. You had to carry a huge suitcase like battery pack which only gave you about a half hour of talk time, you needed a map from your service provider to find the areas of coverage because there were so few cell towers. They were extremely expensive and there were land lines and cheap payphones everywhere if you needed one, why bother carrying this thing around with you all the time? Yet look at where the cell phone is now.

    I don't doubt for a minute that if the automakers continue to pour money into R&D for EV's and battery makers continue to work tirelessly to make batteries smaller, lighter, more energy dense and less expensive, that in ten to twenty years or so electric cars will outperform internal combustion engine vehicles in nearly every aspect. Will they get the chance? I think they will, and I think a big reason is that the people that have the opportunity to drive them now have that EV grin that you are describing and they tell others about it. I've heard dozens of people talk about it, but you can't really put a finger on what it is. Maybe because it could be there for different reasons on different people. You may be a hardcore environmentalist and love that you can commute without spewing pollutants out a tailpipe as you drive. The next person may feel liberated by not having to go to the gas station anymore and I may have the grin because I know my energy dollars all stay local and aren't shipped overseas to the sheiks that sit at the board of OPEC. There are many reasons, but most people that I know that have had the opportunity to drive electric, don't want to go back to oil. That's why these cars will win.

  12. Hi Tom, the last Anonymous post was me thanking you for the info. You are ABSOLUTELY right about all those points and especially how you summed it up in the last sentence. It's an intangible that HAS to be experienced to be understood. I first heard the EV grin term at an electrict vehicles association DC chapter ( meeting when I joined this year. I knew immediately what they were talking about from my test ride in a Leaf this summer. My nieghbor and I both still have our Trans Am and Charger from our youth but couldn't help but grin every time we floored that EV family sedan! They used his lovely marine biologist daughter in a web Leaf commercial. She had a great smile that said it all! What a great experience and its not like we were at a Tesla test drive. As you said, there are many reasons to grin driving an EV and as Americans get a taste and technology does its exponential thing the future will be bright, quiet, fast and pure fun!