EVADC Outpost in Phoenix by Mindy Kimball

Mindy’s electrified Smart in the Phoenix electric light parade.

Hi EVADC! Hope things are well out there! It’s been a little more than a year since I left the energetic orbit of the beltway, and I thought I’d send a short update from my new home in the desert Southwest. Here in Phoenix, we have an abundance of incoming solar radiation, and are just starting to see residents and businesses taking advantage of the energy source. There are over 300 public chargers installed and online in the Phoenix metropolitan area, and a few Level III fast-chargers too! Not all of the public chargers are solar-powered, but many are. Phoenix generally has two power companies, and there is not a “choice” program like we have in most DC locations. You must get power through a single provider, and the only choice you have is to pay extra for a “renewables mix” through that power company. I have chosen to pay for this renewables mix (about 59% solar, 34% wind, 5% biomass/biogas, and 2% geothermal), which ensures that my energy consumption is bought from these renewables (it adds $.004 to my per-kWh electricity price). I also get a special rate from the power company because I own an electric vehicle. Between the hours of 11pm and 5am, I pay only $.06/kWh for the whole house! So, now I set timers to do a lot of stuff at night (laundry, dishwasher, charging my phone, and of course charging my car!).

My school, Arizona State University, has solar panels shading most of the parking lots and many of the roofs, and when I charge my electric car at school I can be guaranteed that the power is solar. ASU now has 15.3 MW of solar generation capacity (59 systems, 61K individual PV panels, and nearly 5K solar-panel-shaded parking spaces). The campus has a “campus metabolism” website where you can see building-by-building who is drawing how much power and which solar systems are generating how much power. All of the EV chargers on campus are Level II only (Blink), and are limited to 4-hours of charging (by campus policy) even if you have a parking permit for that lot. In a few places, the parking spot itself is free (no parking fee), but the charging costs you an hourly fee through Blink (I’m registered with Blink, so my fee is $1 per hour). I rarely use these chargers because it costs so much more than charging at home.

The smart electric drive now has over 16,000 miles and is running great! Despite the heat (two summers of commuting every day in 100+ degree heat, with up to 180 degree pavement temps), I have not seen any drop in my battery capacity and no drop in my range. I know several Leaf owners/lessees who have seen a drop in their battery capacity over the last year. One in particular is a hypermiler who takes very good care of his car – he was very disappointed when Nissan tried to tell him that the battery loss was normal and must have been from driving excessive distances at high speeds. The consensus out here tends to be that the EVs with liquid cooling should hold up to the heat better than those with passive air cooling. To give an idea of how the smart performs in the heat… on a day when temps are in the 60s and 70s, I use about 40% of my battery (about 10 kWh to re-charge) for a 32-mile commute, driving most of those miles at 60 mph on the highway. On a day when temps are over 100 degrees and I’m using my AC (set to 70 degrees on low fan), I use about 50% of the battery (about 12 kWh to re-charge) for the same 32-mile commute. The smart electric drive (Generation II) does not have a sensor that provides information on battery consumption (outside of the % state-of-charge guage), so the only numbers I have for kWh consumption are those that I get from my charger (and this includes the electricity the car used while running the fan to heat or cool the battery during charging). So, this explains why I say 50% of my battery is 12 kWh (even though my battery size is 16.5 kWh).

This past May my son and I competed in the 100-Mile EV Rally, run by the Electric Auto Association of greater Phoenix (photos). We rated second place for the most efficient drive of the day (105 miles!), and my son was an excellent navigator and travel companion! Truth be told I had to make a detour to take my son to a birthday party, so it added a few miles to the route and I charged during the 2 hours just in case… but when we finished the 105 miles we had over 20% battery left, so I think we could have made the whole 100 miles without charging! The first place winner was driving a Leaf, and hypermiled the whole time (he never went over ~25 mph and averaged 8.5 miles/KwH… he reported that he got home after the event with 151 miles all on one charge!). The EV club out here is really great, and we have some great folks. Our next event is the 26th annual electric light parade on December 1 (the parade is at night, and all entries have to have at least 1000 lights). We are always the quietest entry in the parade, since most of the floats run stinky/noisy generators to power their lights and we use our cars! Truly a fun evening!

As far as the car’s performance goes, everything has been great. The annual service went off without a hitch, and the only thing I needed was an air filter for the battery cooling system. According to my Coulomb (ChargePoint) account, I have used about 4.2 MWh of electricity for about 400 charges over the 16,000 miles. In DC I was paying $.09 per kWh for 100% wind, now I pay $.06 per kWh for 100% renewables. So, I estimate that I’ve spent about $300 in electricity to fuel 16,000 miles of commuting. That is about .26 kWh/mi, or 3.8 mi/kWh, or 1.8 cents per mile!!! My previous car was getting 26 mpg (meaning I would have bought ~615 gallons of gas), so at $4 per gallon of gas, that would have cost me about $2500 in gasoline (granted, the gas prices out here in Arizona have very recently dropped to $3.50 per gallon… but you get the idea).

And, I have some exciting personal news to share… I have passed my exams and am now “promoted” to a status of “Doctoral Candidate” instead of just a PhD student (in the School of Sustainability)! I have decided to do my research on “automobile path dependence” in Phoenix – in other words, how “locked-in” have we made ourselves towards automobile transportation, and what have we committed ourselves to in the future with urbanization? I will assess the cost, the energy consumption, and the environmental “footprint” of all this automobile transportation from 1950 to now, and see if there is anything we can do to change this trend in the future. Wish me luck!

Happy Trails to all you EV enthusiasts out there, and keep up the great work!

One thought on “EVADC Outpost in Phoenix by Mindy Kimball

  1. Wonderful to hear from you Mindy! That’s a cool photo of your Smart electric drive all decked out with 1,000 lights! Glad to hear that your car is still going strong out there in the Arizona heat. It was quite different weather that snowy week that you got it delivered. Hope you come back to DC to visit soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *