28 November 2017

Leaf Life

As promised in my last post, we've had the Leaf for over seven months now which I believe should be long enough to provide a decently reliable review of the experience of owning it and an EV in general. So without further ado, here goes.

Topping up on electrons.
Although the industry is rapidly advancing and this post may very well be outdated within a year, the current state of EV ownership likely will require some changes for most people to provide time to accommodate reshuffling the electrons around in the battery. That time can vary greatly depending on the source of power and the options available on the vehicle itself.  While this isn't intending to be a post completely about charging or physics, I'll go over the basics along with links to further resources.

In general, there are three recognized "levels" of charging for EVs: Level 1, Level 2, and DC fast, which is sometimes referred to as Level 3. The latter is known as Supercharging for Teslas and there is an emerging ultra-fast charging option as well, though no vehicle yet available can actually use it. Back to the levels, Level 1 is standard wall outlet and basically every EV sold comes with an adapter (technically called electric vehicle service equipment or EVSE) that will plug into the wall and direct power into the battery. However, most wall outlets provide a maximum of 12 amps which means a charging rate that realistically caps at a hair
Destinations with chargers are great!
over one kilowatt (kW). While that might be fine for operating a blow dryer, the battery on the Leaf is around 24kWh*. As a result, filling its battery requires nearly 22 hours when completely empty on a Level 1 charger. As such, Level 1 really isn't a suitable charging solution for those who drive enough to require more than 10 or so hours per day of charging and/or don't have access to an outlet where they park their car.

In contrast, Level 2 charging can go much faster. The early Leafs only were able to utilize 3.3kW L2, but newer ones improved that to 6.6kW and other options such as the Chevy Bolt and VW e-Golf have the ability to utilize up to 7.2kW. My 2013 Leaf can accept up to 6.6kW which means that it is able to be basically fully recharged from empty in about three hours.

DC fast charging (DCFC), uses a direct connection to the battery to pump power into it at a much higher rate. (L1 and L2 supply AC power which must first go through the inverter to be converted to DC before it can be stored in the battery.) On the Leaf, that's stated as a maximum of 50kW, but it's faster in other vehicles such as the Ioniq Electric and of course, Teslas. However, it was also an option and unfortunately, the original owners of my car did not choose it. As such, I've been unable to use DCFC thus far and never will on this Leaf because it's not worth the trouble to retrofit.

And that lack of DCFC ability has been the single biggest point of frustration that we've had with our Leaf. While more range wouldn't be unwelcome, the fact that it takes several hours to regain any meaningful amount of charge after going somewhere has been a bigger drawback than the range itself. Instead of taking hours to charge, we would be able to recharge it most of the way in 20-30 minutes. That change would've been welcome on quite a number of trips that we've made since getting the Leaf.

That is particularly true for trips that we might make into the LA or OC areas, which are located at a lower elevation than where we live in the Inland Empire. The journey out is downhill, so we generally don't have a problem getting there. On the other hand, the car notices enough uphill on the return to make it next to impossible for us to get back home from LA on one charge, thus necessitating a stop somewhere along the way for at least the better part of an hour. With DCFC, a stop of less than 10 minutes would provide enough juice to get all the way home with some to spare.

Otherwise, aside from the annoyance at not having the ability to use DCFC for quick recharges, EV ownership has been uneventful and exhilarating. We've gone from spending over $200/month on gas to around $20/month on charging. Many of our charges are completely free, though the money we end up spending on food while it's charging perhaps evens it out. However, we've started eating at home more, which will finally provide more of the promised savings.

*Except for BMW, companies state the battery capacities (for better or worse) in kilowatt-hours (kWh). As the name implies, a kWh is a measure of how much power, measured in kilowatts (kW), was used in an hour. (One kilowatt is equal to ten 100W light bulbs and leaving them on for an hour would consume one kilowatt-hour of energy.) Instead of kWh, BMW uses amp-hours (Ah) to measure the size of the battery in their vehicles. In the same vein as kWh, Ah measures how many amps are drawn for an hour instead of how many kilowatts. Amps is a measure of current, (kilo)watts measure power. The relationship between the two is determined by the voltage, with amps x voltage = (kilo)watts. If any of the two are known, then the third can be derived from multiplication or division. For reference, modern EV systems run at 400V.

18 September 2017

Zwarte Lief

A little over five months ago, my wife and I acquired a new (to us) vehicle: this 2013 Nissan LEAF SV. This was not only our newest vehicle yet, but also the first electric car that either of us has owned, so we'll be updating on our experience as we go along.

I'll be upfront and admit that we didn't get the best possible deal on the car. While the dealer ad promised a price of $6500, after arriving at the dealership, we learned that that was the cash-only price and we would instead have to pay an extra $1000 for the privilege of financing which came out to a few cents over $9500 after all the taxes and fees were added up. Unfortunately, we weren't really in a position to negotiate. As they say, "beggars can't be choosers" and we had few options at the time. After putting down $500, we left with a car and a payment of a little under $170/month.

As noted above, we acquired a Nissan Leaf which we've cheekily assigned the name of "Zwarte Lief". ("Zwarte lief" means "black darling" in my wife's native language and is also a bit of a play on words since the car is black.) The car had a hair over 30,100 miles when we bought it, but since that time, we've added more than 12000 miles to the odometer and are on track to probably double the mileage it had when we bought it within a year. This is despite the relatively limitations of a first-generation electric car that is rated for just 84 miles on a full charge.

Zwarte Lief is already saving us a bunch of money. The most significant area of savings is via fuel. As a fully electric car, Zwarte Lief uses no gasoline at all (some electric cars like the Chevy Volt or BMW i3 REX can operate solely on electricity, but have gasoline-powered range extenders) which means that we no longer have to make any stops at a gas station at all. Previously, we were spending over $200/month on gas, so this represents a not insignificant improvement to our finances. Additionally, while some public chargers do cost money and electricity at home isn't free either, there are charging opportunities that are completely free to use. In total, charging costs are in the neighborhood of $20/month, or around 10% of what we were spending on gas. So although we now have a car payment, we're still saving money based on the fuel costs alone.

However, we're not just saving money based on fuel costs. Our previous car was a well-worn 2000 Toyota Camry. The paint was oxidized and fading. The interior was falling apart and the rear windows wouldn't close completely, which resulted in water everywhere whenever it rained. The engine was beginning to exhibit signs of needing more attention and I had to replace the alternator and the battery in the months leading up to the purchase of Zwarte Lief (and ended up destroying a pair of good jeans in the process too). Electrical quirks were also present and not everything worked as it should. In other words, the Camry would've required at least half as much as Zwarte Lief was advertised for in maintenance just to be made presentable and mechanically sound. After taking stock of the situation, it became clear that there was no benefit to continuing to throw good (and scarce) money after bad and cut our losses, finally selling the Camry to a junk yard for $330.

Needless to say, we look forward to the continued opportunity to save that Zwarte Lief offers us and I am rather strongly inclined to say that we will never buy another car (for our main transportation, anyway) that isn't fully electric. They're simple and easy to use and the savings are immense, perfect for those on a budget. Of course, there are some limitations, but we're willing to trade them to save money and those limitations will likely also be reduced in the future. Speaking of the future, we'll provide a six-month review of Zwarte Lief and the general experience of owning an EV in the, you guessed it, future.

16 April 2015

Top 5 Ways to Hide Your (Money-Related) Depression

Those of you who are un(der)employed know the story well: the bills keep mounting with no end in sight because you don't have enough money coming in to cover them. To make matters worse, all attempts at finding employment are complete failures as well and then something catastrophic happens that wipes out all your reserves. While sure, you could take advantage of the mental health portion of Obamacare, that screams of desperation. Although the struggle is real, you're not actually desperate and you might even become an hero if left alone. Never fear, these five steps will help you to keep anyone else from knowing about your problems.

Smile so that no one knows.
PC: stockimages.
1. Act Happy

It shouldn't be a shocker, but if you start acting stressed and worried, people will ask all sorts of probing questions about if you're alright and what's wrong. To avoid this invasion of privacy, always make sure that you fake a smile when you're with people, especially family and friends.

2. Hang Out

Drastic changes in routine can sabotage the best attempts to keep the fa├žade together. Avoid suspicion and "serious talks" by continuing to do the same things that you always have. If you can't afford to participate in quite the same way, keep up appearances with cheaper-but-still-adequate alternatives.

Starting a drug habit will lead people to think you have
a problem. Don't do drugs. PC: marin.

3. Stay Away from the Four Horsemen

The four horsemen of personal finance can quickly burn a hole in your wallet, possibly even other parts of your body. Suddenly taking up a new vice looks suspicious and screams "help me". And it might be expensive. You don't want that kind of attention, so just make things easy and stay away.

4. Change the Subject

Inevitably, some people might think that something is really wrong and will try to pry into your privacy to get you to admit it. To keep that from happening, take extra steps to keep conversation from going that direction. If necessary, change the subject and follow step number one.

A change of scenery never hurt anybody.
PC: moggara12.

5. Leave

Cut off all contact and go somewhere where no one knows you and start a new life. Preferably to somewhere off the grid, as it will be hard to establish life in a modern society with lots of lodestones around your neck. There, you can participate in a sharing/barter economy that will value you based on your contributions.

09 April 2015

4 Careers that Automation will Render Obsolete

The integration of technology, robotics, and the Internet of things into everyday society provides some exciting opportunities for the betterment of all. At the same time, several industries that currently employ many thousands will no longer do so as those jobs become doable by a machine. While hardly the first time that has happened, it will probably result in the biggest shift since the Industrial Revolution. The list spans all levels of society. The loss of jobs in an industry certainly isn't great for those affected, but they can prepare for the inevitable by updating their skills as the industry changes, transition to a new industry, or plan to "retire early". But another big part of preparation is realizing that you're in the cross hairs to begin with. Below are four professions that should start planning sooner than the rest of us.

1. Taxi driver
This scene will become rare soon. PC: stockimages.

The rise of "ride sharing" services such as Lyft and Uber has already gotten traditional taxi services shaking in their driver seats. Just wait until Goober hits the streets. Some enterprising individuals will certainly buy a self-driving car, sign up as a driver on the service, then let the car loose on the streets. As the technology moves beyond just being autonomous to full artificial intelligence, the cars will also take themselves for service too. All without a human behind the wheel.

2. Cashier

While some merchants will undoubtedly always have a person behind the counter, many will increase the number of automated checking machines in their stores in the future. This one has been a long time coming, but interest may increase in the coming years now that minimum wage increases are in vogue again. Despite the fact that several high-profile notorious low-wage employers recently announced voluntary hikes in their minimum wages, they are almost certainly also looking at ways to increase productivity in tandem and get more work out of the current employees, including by hiring fewer of them in the future.

There will be fewer opportunities to
to scale ladders in the future.
PC: potowizard.

3. Firefighter

Firefighting forces of the future will feature fewer people jumping down the poles when the bell rings. The Navy has been working on robotic firefighters for years now. Additionally, advances in building codes as well as the Internet of things will make large conflagrations less likely in the future. But that ignores the fact that at present, most fire departments decidedly do NOT deal with fires on a regular basis at all. The vast majority of calls are instead for medical emergencies. While some fire departments do have actual ambulance companies (not just a paramedic on a pumper truck), a lot of emergency transport of many people is ultimately done by a private ambulance company.

There will also be fewer collisions for them to respond to on the roads of the future. Autonomous cars are part of a push to create safer streets and drastically reduce the death toll on the roads. Less collisions is a welcome part of that, but firefighters will find themselves twiddling their thumbs more often. However, as municipalities continue to search for ways to control costs, the necessity for firefighters in the current shape and form will continue to come under fire.

4. Transit Operator

Sorry folks, if you currently drive a bus or especially a train, your days are numbered. High-profile cases in recent years that resulted in many deaths have galvanized America to the "danger" of transit. But almost all of those were attributed to human error. Much like in driving, the controversial removal of humans will likely result in much safer operations. Many automated rail transit systems are already in use worldwide, including some that have human operators only as legacy positions. With more automated systems coming online and automation coming to even the freight railroads, it will become much harder to demonstrate a need for their to also be a human in the cab.


Eventually, the robots are coming for us all. Just as icemen and others have all found a reduced demand for their services (though milkman is making a comeback), many more of us will also find ourselves in the same situation. The great part about financial independence/retiring early is that it future-proofs against the loss of income such as when a position gets cut for good. It is imperative that one prepares for that eventuality by working toward developing an income stream that will fund their lifestyle. When that day of the pink slip comes, it will certainly be very emotional as people hang up their hat or close doors for the last time that are never to be done again. Nevertheless, it will be much easier to accept knowing that the end of an era is the beginning of a new and relaxed way to live, possibly even the beginning of a new adventure.

07 January 2015

Hump Day Haiku: Help

Congratulations and welcome to the new year! We made it and 2015 is already a week old. Still within the time frame where everyone slips up and writes "2014" on paperwork, so hopefully you get that figured out soon too!

Help is on the way!
A guide to get through this mess,
Look in the mirror.