Driving on Sunshine - EV Diaries

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Shirley Jahad in a Mitsubishi electric iMiev prototype with the steering wheel on the right side.

We’re just months away from seeing electric cars for sale in the U.S. The Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt will be out by the end of this year. By next year, you’ll have a half-a-dozen EV models to buy and drive.

One of them will be the Mitsubishi iMiev. KPCC’s Shirley Jahad has been driving an iMiev prototype – and she’s sharing the story in “EV Diaries.”

I am looking for a charge. That’s what I do the first time I drive the electric car into my condo building garage to park.

And I am walking around looking for a simple wall outlet. And I don’t see any outlet. So this could be a problem. The little EV looks cute in the parking space. But much better if I could charge it.

There are three ways to charge an electric car. You can plug your car into a wall outlet like a toaster. That’s Level 1: easy and convenient, but it takes 12 hours – so good for charging overnight. Level 2 puts power in twice as fast: only six hours to charge. Most homes with a washer-dryer outlet have Level 2 power.

The Level 3 fast charger takes about half an hour to boost the battery up to 80 percent. It’s coming soon to a roadside near you. The nation’s first and only Level 3 fast-charging station could open in the Bay Area this summer.

At this point the iMiev is fully charged, so I hit the road.

I’m going to be riding on the freeway for the first time.

Beep beep.

We’re backing up. So here’s how things are going so far. I love the car. It’s cute, it’s quiet, it’s zippy. I am heading to Santa Monica to see Paul Scott. He is the plug-in guy. He is the head of Plug-In America. The problem, the question, the challenge is: I’m in Pasadena – and I have to get to Santa Monica and back. And I don’t know if I can do that on one charge. That’s questionable.

Most people drive 40 miles a day. The range of the Mitsubishi iMiev is 70 miles. Mitsubishi says it’s an all-electric good for urban commuters and two-car families.

Each electric car is a bit different. The Nissan Leaf goes a hundred miles on a charge. The Chevy Volt goes 40 miles on electric and then turns on the gas to recharge the battery. In the end, the Volt takes you about the same distance as a full tank in a gasoline-powered car.

When I call ahead to Paul Scott, he says I can charge up as his solar-powered house. Then he shares some EV driving tips, offering advice for the drive down.

"I would just keep it at 60. You don’t need to go any faster than 60. Whenever somebody in front of you brakes, don’t brake; just coast. Allow a lot of room between you and the next car. Accelerate very easy, anticipate stops. Try to come all the way to us without braking, hardly at all."

OK. I hang up the phone – and the first thing I do is laugh. He just told me to drive from Pasadena to Santa Monica without braking. Ha! That sounds nuts. But I give it a try.

I keep a good distance behind the car in front while I try not to annoy the car in back of me. I stay in the slow lane, keep a steady speed. Coast a lot. It’s a smooth, gentle ride. By the time I get to Santa Monica, I’m excited.

"How do you think I did? I think I hit the brakes only a couple of times!"

"Excellent," said Scott. "Now you are becoming a 'hyper-miler' like the rest of us."

"What do you call it? 'Hyper-miling?'"

“Hyper-miling. It’s a series of techniques to increase efficiency of your driving."

Driving an electric vehicle takes a different mindset.

"We’ll throw it on the charger for a little while, while we’re inside talking."

I said, "Well, that’s a relief, because I got the car home and realized there’s no outlet in the condo garage."

"Oh, well, that will change in the future. But right now that’s one of the things we’re working on is the charging infrastructure. And so people will have to start looking around where they park their cars and see if they can install a plug. So that’s all we need.

"So, we’ll throw the car on the charger and you’ll be getting direct sunlight kilowatt hours right into the battery."

"Green on top of green."

Tomorrow: How far can you drive on two hours of sunshine?

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