Friday, July 15, 2011

Leaf Beliefs

My younger sister is a professor of religion, who focuses on environmental ethics, so she has been really interested in hearing what I am feeling about the ethical implications of owning and operating an electric car.  Since I have had it for a grand total of nine days, I of course feel inherently qualified to discuss all the ethical implications of the Nissan Leaf. (*grin*)

As I said before, I felt a strong ethical impulse to buy the car, and it went further than simple carbon footprint reduction.  I have enough disposable income that I can afford more than just the basic necessities, and I like to choose ethical ways in which to spend my money.  This is why I buy a share in a local farm -- I support the local economy and get tasty fruits and veggies to eat.  I also want to spend my money to encourage more good works, which is why I donate to good causes (e.g., GLBT equality).

I feel that buying a Nissan Leaf helped me to further both these goals.  It is ethical to avoid buying gasoline -- the instability in the Middle East is fueled by our insatiable appetite for petroleum.  (Of course there are ethical issues with the way that electric power is generated, but I think this is the lesser of two evils.)  By being one of the earliest adopters of the technology, I am monetarily encouraging a company that is taking a bold ethical step.

My sister also asked me whether I felt "less-polluting joy" every time I drove the car.  I told her that yes, I do feel a certain sense of joy every time I get into my coal-powered car.  (Most of our electricity comes from coal.)  Sometimes I just feel like, "Oh hey, I can drive anywhere I want!  I am not polluting at all!  I will never walk anywhere again!"

Except, yeah, I'm still polluting.  It's not coming out of my tailpipe.  It's coming out of a smokestack instead.  While it is less than what would come from a tailpipe, even if it's 100% coal powered, that doesn't mean you are absolved of responsibility for pollution.

But since it is hard to see those emissions, it is hard to feel guilty when you step on the pedal and accelerate a little more than you would have otherwise.  And it does accelerate so smoothly and so instantaneously...

Monday, July 11, 2011

More About Leaf

I have been enjoying the new car immensely.  Scarlet drives like a dream.  This weekend my dad came for a visit and I took him for a spin in it.  He was very interested in how it all worked.

I have discovered some more cool features on the owners' portal website.  First, you can plan routes, making sure that you have enough range to do the entire route, and then send those routes to the car's navigation system.  Tomorrow I have to go somewhere unfamiliar for work, so I availed myself of this feature.  I'll let you know how it turns out.

Second, you remember the little trees you can earn for driving efficiently?  Well, it turns out that it records the number of trees you earn and then rates your performance. I apparently drive okay but there is a lot of room for improvement.  I am ranked number eight-hundred-something out of all the drivers.  Number one gets nearly an order of magnitude more miles per kilowatt than I do.  I don't know what I'm doing wrong or they are doing right.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

All About Leaf

I am pleased to report that as of Tuesday afternoon, I am a proud owner of a Nissan Leaf! We named her Scarlet, because she is a beautiful red. The car is a she, because it is awesome, innovative, and pioneering.

I'm not usually one to just jump in and be an early adopter of technology. After all, I've had a text-enabled cellphone for less than a year. But I feel so strongly that electric vehicles are the only thing that will help our transportation-related carbon emissions to cease, that I wanted to support the effort.

I am fortunate enough that I have a good job that allows us to support ourselves comfortably and still afford this car. It is not cheap. There are some tax breaks (including a $7500 federal income tax rebate) but that only goes so far. The cost of charging up is a lot less than the corresponding cost of gasoline, but even then, since I drive so little (the Beetle just crossed the 35,000-mile threshold) this saves me maybe $40 per month. I anticipate that we will take this car on errands around town, instead of our other car, so we should save a little more than that. Still, less than $100 in savings.

Anyhow, onward to the car!

This is Scarlet, parked in our carport. You can see the home charging station installed by two electricians beginning at 7:30 am this past Tuesday. I had to get the charger installed before I was allowed to bring home the car.

Another view of the car.

Check out that headlight. It has a fin on it, for aerodynamics purposes I assume.

Another view, trying to show that fin.

I think the fin is pretty clear in this photo. Maybe the cars of the 1950's had something going for them!

A view from the driver's seat.  That little window between the side and the windshield doesn't buy you much.

Here's a view across to the other side.

Between the seats.  That is one tiny shifter as we will see later.

The console can show a cool map telling you how far you can go without running out of charge, and a bunch of other things.

To start the car, depress the brake pedal and push the power button!

Here's the view you get: On the left is the battery temperature. On the right is the battery charge and the number of miles it estimates I can go. At the top center is a gauge for how much power I am drawing (or regenerating). In the center it tells me how long it will take to recharge at various voltages, and the odometer.

At the top, above the steering wheel, you can see the speedometer in the center.  On the right is a clock and temperature gauge, and on the left is a gauge telling you how efficiently you are driving, and rewarding you for your efficient driving by generating little trees.  The more trees, the better.  Unfortunately, they all get reset every time you turn the car off.

Here I am shifting into reverse by moving the shifter to the left and forward.  You shift into drive by going left and backward.  Of course this all makes perfect sense!  I double check which gear I'm in every time before I release the brake because I am so confused.

When you put it in reverse, a rear-view camera comes up on the console.  This is handy because the rear window is tiny.  The stripes are not part of my driveway decor; they represent distance.

A little light reading that came with the car.  I've made it through one of those books so far!

So I made it to work now.  I am a cheapskate and since my workplace provides free charging, I am going to take advantage of it!  So, I pull the lever to open the charging compartment, located on the front of the car just under the place where you open the hood.

Here's what it looks like when it is open.  On the right is where you plug in the 240V charger, which is what we have at home and at work.  The one on the left is for the 480V charging stations, which do not actually exist yet, but when they do, I will be able to drive this car to see my Dad, with a short stop to recharge on the way there.

I opened the cover for the 240V socket, and this is what it looks like.

Here is the charging station, which looks almost exactly like what I have at home...

...except that, for this charger, you have to activate it with your magic card.  The electrons are free in exchange for tracking my usage information.

It's ready to go...

So I remove the plug from the dock...

...start plugging it in.

... and I push it in until I hear a click...

It's in!

We are charging!

A view of the trunk.  It is pretty big.  That black bag is a 120V trickle charger that you can plug into a regular wall outlet in a pinch.  There is no spare tire, but there is a tire repair kit in the left wheel well.

As you can see, I am not the only person with a Leaf at work.  The Head Honcho has a Red one like mine, and several other VIPs have them as well.  My car schmoozes with other cars belonging to important people!

Nissan has an owners' portal, where you can check the status of your car.  You can also program it to start the climate control while plugged in, saving your battery from doing all that work.  It's handy if you want your car to be comfortable just before you leave work, for example.

Here I set the timer to start cooling the car at 3:45 this afternoon...

...and it's set.

Huh?  There's a message on my cellphone!

It's from Scarlet, telling me that the vehicle's status has been updated.

It's 3:45 and the AC is on!  Nice of Scarlet to let me know!

Time to go home!  If you get in the car while it is still plugged in, you will see this warning on the dash.  It won't let you go anywhere while still plugged in, but as I found out this afternoon because I was too obsessed with snapping pictures to pay enough attention, it will let you go with the charging door still open.

I unplug the charger, and notice as I am putting it back on the dock that I have received a text message:

The climate control stopped when I unplugged it.

I hopped into the car and came home.  It is really a great car.  It has good acceleration and other than being so quiet, it really seems just like a regular car.  In fact, it is so quiet that at speeds of 19 mph or below, it generates noise so that pedestrians can hear it coming.  Another interesting thing is that because it is so quiet, you can hear a lot of noise coming from the other cars around you.  At stoplights I hear everyone else's music.

Anyhow, it is great and I am really enjoying the car.  I hope you enjoyed a vicarious taste of this awesome car!