Charging Ahead, Smartly

The charging ports for my car. The one on the right is for 110-volt and Level 2 charging; the one on the left, so far unused, is for the “high-speed” Level 1 chargers.

As most of you probably know, my car is electric. Not electric as in “exciting,” particularly — it’s a rather ordinary sedan, which is not anything I’ve ever sought out in a car — but electric as in that’s how it’s powered.

I didn’t specifically set out to own an electric car, although as a concept they intrigued me. Back before his fall from grace, bicyclist Lance Armstrong was stumping for Nissan’s Leaf, touting how he could ride behind it without getting a faceful of exhaust. And really, bike races should utilize electric cars because it would be so much healthier all around: for the riders, the spectators, the lug on the engine, which electric cars don’t even have. They are propelled by motors and yes, there’s a difference. No exhaust, for one.

My Geo Tracker, which I did like the look of and sought out, even though most of my friends took great joy in referring to it as a “Barbie Jeep,” was getting long in the tooth, me having had it for 24 years after purchasing it used. So when my mechanic told Lynn I needed a new car, I identified two used cars from dealers in town to go test drive.

One was a Subaru Forester; the other was a Nissan Leaf. Based on dealership logistics — the Forester dealer was open an hour later on Saturdays than the Leaf dealer — I went to test the Leaf first. And never made it to the Forester. I was electrified as I left the lot to start my test drive.

The really electric piece of my purchase was that I pretty much got a new car for half-price. The Leaf only had 500 miles on it and was in excellent condition. Now, thanks to me, a dog and some unknown thoughtless individual who bashed into it and then drove off, its condition is no longer so pristine. But I’m still infatuated with my electric car.

Since I bought it used, I wasn’t eligible for the federal tax credit that was on offer, but for 2020 it sounds like I might be able to get a credit for the Level 2 charger installed in our garage. Prior to that I was charging on basic household 110-volt current and using the city’s free Level 2 charger, which provides 240 volts. Had I waited just a little longer to install one here at the house, I could have received a free Level 2 charger and a credit toward the installation from my electrical co-op.

For some weird reason, Gunnison County Electric Association would like all of its members to drive electric cars and live in all-electric houses, and in all two years of my membership with this cooperative it has offered numerous incentives to drive this behavior.

I don’t know how well it’s working with the cars: the last count I heard for Gunnison County was 23 electric cars. This has not stopped GCEA from installing chargers all over the county, including a Level 1 in Crested Butte that will provide a complete charge in about 30 minutes (as opposed to the three hours it takes me at home, or the 12 hours on 110). Level 1 chargers themselves are so expensive that the City of Gunnison’s finance director couldn’t pencil out how it would ever pay for itself.

GCEA was apparently wanting to study charging habits, and this information was so valuable to them they were offering to pay for the charger. Alas, I had already installed mine. I meant to call to see if they wanted to monitor my charging habits anyway, but you know me and my intentions. But then GCEA changed tactics and offered $100 if electric-car owners would allow a monitoring device to be placed on their car. That proved to be the incentive I needed, so I signed up for SmartCharge Rewards.

So far, nothing about it has been smart at all.

A few days after I signed up I got a little plastic box, perhaps two inches by two inches, and a large instruction book showing all the models of electric cars and where to put this box. The part where the booklet was completely wrong about my Leaf should have been my first clue.

After much turning and twisting and consulting the internet, I located the plug-in, not really anywhere near where the instruction book said it would be. I forget what it’s called, but I think this plug-in will tell a mechanic, or IT person, everything in the world about your vehicle. Then I started my SmartCharge account online, which so far tells me this:

I charged my car on March 2 and 10. I knew that, and I also knew I charged it on the 17th, but my account doesn’t seem to know that. I don’t really need this program for this, because my account with GCEA and my solar panel online account will both show the spike in electrical use.

It is two miles to town, and that is what I do with my car, drive it to town and back. I’m pretty sure I already knew this, too.

Since installing the little plastic box, my car has consumed 56.3kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy, 29.3 of those in my utility service territory. This is wrong: all of the kilowatt hours have been in my utility service territory– unless we’re counting the City of Gunnison as hostile territory, since it has its own electric service. Even with that, most of my driving takes place in the county, so this number is suspect.

I am getting the equivalent of 149 miles per gallon. This would be great, if true, but since so much of the rest of this information is wrong or incomplete, I don’t know whether to believe this or not. I also don’t know how it’s measured, and there is nothing on the SmartCharge website that provides actual, useful information — like how an MPGeq is calculated.

And, my electric driving efficiency is 226.1 Wh per mile. While this sounds very impressive, the first thing I note is that we’ve dropped the “kilo” and are now only measuring in watt hours. The second is: I have absolutely no idea what this might mean.

On the display in my car is a number that tells me how many miles I get per kWh. When I lived in town and it was summer, I could get up over 6. Here in the country, where I’m driving at faster speeds with more wind resistance and it’s just past winter, I am getting about 4.3 miles out of each kilowatt hour. That seems like a fairly useful number to have; I don’t know what to make of this 226.1, especially since once again there is nowhere on the website to go for information or guidance.

Even the “rewards” piece. Somewhere in passing I thought it said my rewards would come to the Paypal account associated with my e-mail — note the automatic presumption that of course I have a Paypal account, which of course I don’t.

I can work around that: Lynn has one, somewhere, and so does my workplace, but when I first installed my little plastic box and went to the “rewards” page it told me they were working on it and I should check back after March 15 to see my rewards. After March 15 it told me they were working on it and I should check back after April 15 to see my rewards. I can hardly wait to see what it says on April 16.

So I hope somehow GCEA is finding all this wrong data about me and my car to be useful, because so far I don’t feel very smart, or charged up, or rewarded, which pretty much negates everything about “SmartCharge Rewards.”

But I do still like my car, and I suppose that’s really all that matters.

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