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A new kind of car

Our new Nissan Leaf

After much waiting, our new Nissan Leaf is finally here. I picked it up this afternoon. It’s definitely a new kind of car — not only is it fully electric, but in many respects it seems a bit like a computer on wheels. It goes faster than any computer, though. Driving on Oak Ridge Turnpike, I noticed that I was going too fast — my guess is that since there’s no engine noise, I wasn’t getting the auditory feedback that I’m accustomed to.

One thing that will take some getting used to is the fact that many of the major controls of the vehicle seem to be closely related to the controls for the radio — it’s all about communication, I guess.

The Nissan Leaf dashboard display is both totally familiar and totally strange.

The dashboard display behind the steering wheel includes the speed and the odometer reading (just like a gas-powered car), some interesting symbols that measure current power utilization — how hard the car is either using power or regenerating the battery while decelerating or braking, a display that looks like a gas gauge but indicates how much charge is left — measured in miles remaining on the battery, and a temperature gauge that shows the temperature of the battery. I don’t yet know what we are supposed to do if the battery starts getting “too hot.” There’s a coolant reservoir under the hood, but I still don’t know where the coolant circulates and what part of the car it cools (maybe it cools the battery — or maybe it’s part of the HVAC system).

There’s a touch screen with a complicated collection of displays — far more than in our Toyota Prius. I think that it’s probably best to ignore this touch screen while driving, as the Google navigation maps, energy use details, radio station displays, heating/cooling details, etc., could be very distracting. The touchscreen display is where I saw a readout indicating that the car was getting 3 miles per kilowatt-hour, on average.

Electronic display on the EV charger mounted on our carport wall.

Both the car and the plug-in charger are programmable devices that can be told when to charge the car (I don’t know which device takes priority if they have different programming), so the battery is scheduled to get recharged in the middle of the night, when baseload electricity generating facilities (nuclear power plants, plus some coal-fired plants) typically crank out more electricity than the grid needs. At this time, Oak Ridge residential customers pay the same price for that off-peak power as we do for peak power during the day, so we’re not saving any money by charging at night, but over the next few years that’s expected to change. TVA recently started charging the city a dual rate that has both a monthly usage (kilowatt hours) component and a peak demand component (based on the hour each month that the city had the highest usage). Over the next several years, they’ll introduce peak and off-peak rates, and the city will begin to pass differential rates on to consumers — encouraging us to shift the timing of some of our electric use. Until then, I guess we’re practicing for that future — and our car and our charger will be sending data to Department of Energy researchers to help them understand and model how electric cars will interact with the electricity grid and the transportation system in future years.

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7 Comments

  1. Dan Terpstra says:

    So Ellen –
    What *is* that TVA residential rate?
    We just got our Leaf today and want to program our Blink charger to tell us how much we’re spending for transportation electrons.
    The CORED site has a “Rates” link, but it goes to a “404 Error”.
    – dan

  2. Ellen Smith says:

    Congratulations to Dan and the whole Terpstra family on finally receiving your car! I have learned to find City of Oak Ridge electric rates for calendar 2011 on a webpage called Retail Rate Schedule, which I can get to by looking under “Residents” and then “Utilities” on the city website. The rate per kilowatt hour for July 2011 is 9.935 cents, up from 9.589 cents in June.

    The webmasters of the city website need to hear about bad links at their contact page. (Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person who reports them — please join me!)

  3. Dan Terpstra says:

    Thanks, Ellen. I contacted the city webmasters to register this broken link, and in the course of making the contact, discovered two other broken links!
    They’ve been reported. At UTK, we run something called Checkbot automatically every month. It detects a wide range of website problems like broken links. Maybe the city webmasters need to know about this!

  4. Ellen Smith says:

    It looks like it’s time to nag the city webmaster again. http://www.cortn.org/utilities is still a broken link…

  5. Hal Hoyt says:

    From our OR Utilities bill I take the amount charged for electricity and divide that by the number of KWH used during the month. In August when we got our LEAF and I programmed the charger it was 11.6 cents/KWH. The November bill has it at 12.0 cents/KWH. What we’re actually charged seems like real numbers to me.

  6. Ellen Smith says:

    Hal, we had a philosophical discussion at my house about the components of the electric bill. It consists of a flat charge per customer of $9.70 (the same from one month to the next) plus a per-kwh charge for usage that fluctuates slightly from month to month based on TVA fuel costs (during 2011 it ranged from 9.505 cents in February to 9.991 cents in August). After discussion, we concluded that we should not consider the base charge in calculating the cost of operating the LEAF — since we have to pay that regardless of our usage, it’s part of the cost of home ownership. Accordingly, we have considered only the per-kwh rate when we compute the cost of operating the LEAF.

  7. Hal Hoyt says:

    Hey Ellen, I didn’t realize that there was a base charge included in the bill. You’re right about including only the per-kwh rate in figuring the LEAF operating cost.

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