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Leafing Around The Islands

“Leave sooner, drive slower, live longer.” -Unknown

In September of 2019 we purchased a 3-year old Nissan Leaf with 11 bars of battery capacity. For just over a year before that, I had been using public transit to get to work and back logging over 3 hours a day of my time. The carbon footprint of the bus portion was relatively low compared to using a car for a single person and the train was electric. In all those hours of standing on a 50 minute bus ride out of the city, running for and missing the bus and jamming myself into the packed train cars, I wondered if there was a better way to commute.

We knew it was going to be a science experiment to switch from the convenience of a gasoline powered car. It was the first EV passenger vehicle we had owned and I was going to commute 90 kilometres round trip from White Rock to Vancouver, about 5 days a week. Given the range of the predictor at 140km the math worked. I didn’t want to need charging while I was at work in order to get back home at night. We finally found the right car for us and brought her home. My EV journey had begun.

Stage one of our time together was 6 months long. I accessorized her with a special sticker which allowed us to ride in the HOV lane avoiding so much time at the Massey Tunnel on the way into Vancouver in the morning. On the return journey, this special lane gave us a little advantage over one of the traffic bottlenecks I encountered. For those early days I was able to charge at home overnight with the level 2 charger my husband installed which carried us for the whole 90km commute.

Then the weather turned and a little snowflake appeared in the morning darkness. That is what I see on the dash which warns me that the weather outside is cool and the temperature will effect the battery performance. At least that is my real-life interpretation. As the season shifted to winter, I was forced to top up the battery at work. That was good for the 3 days per week I could get charging in my companies parking lot. The other 2 days I had to plug in down the street, charge for 3 hours and then move my car to another remote parking lot and walk back to work. Not ideal, but this routine forced me outside for a walk. Eventually, the 4 charging spots became so popular the allowable limit moved to 2 days a week. I have a lot of thoughts on how to better run that system but the weather was getting warmer by March of 2020 when the covid-19 lockdown hit.

My commuting EV turned into a neighbourhood EV, which she is perfectly designed for. For many months she carried us on every trip we made when we left home. Our gasoline powered vehicle was getting a much needed rest. Then as the weather got even better and we thought about a summer holiday, we decided to put our EV to a new test of performance. Could she take us hundreds of kilometres, hopping from island to island where the charging infrastructure was unknown? Would she be up to this kind of adventure? We were going to find out.

July 25, 2020 From home, around Salt Spring Island to Sidney for the night = 120.3 km

We left home early with a 100% charge and made our way to the BC Ferries terminal at Tsawwassen for the journey to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island where we would simply offload and follow the u-turn route to get back in line, bound for Fulford Harbour on Salt Spring Island. What an adventure, I had never been to this Southern Gulf Island before and I heard so much fanfare about it.

Upon making landfall we located an available and operating level 2 charger at Ganges and sought out lunch. After this refuelling for both us and the car, we spent the day checking out the island before heading back to the BC Ferries dock and our hotel for the night at The Sidney Pier Hotel and Spa.

July 26, 2020 From Sidney to Campbell River for the night = 258.8 km

Thanks to our granny charger and the underground parking garage at the hotel, we were able to leave Sidney with a 100% charge. But, we did not get an early start on this day. We had a “lie-in” as the Brits call it. When we got underway, it was for a short stint to the ferry at Brentwood Bay which is a shortcut over to Mill Bay. This saves many kilometres of driving around if you are making the journey to Nanaimo.

There are many interesting places to stop along the Trans Canada Highway including Cowichan Bay, Duncan, Chemainus and Ladysmith, but we had a long travel day ahead of us. We used a CHAdeMO at Petro Canada which has the capability of charging up to 100kW, allowing a typical EV to charge in 30 minutes or less. In our 2016 Nissan Leaf we drew about 45kW to an 80% charge and then the speed tapers down. It took about an hour to almost fill us up. This was the only location we charge at that required us to pay for electricity.

Just outside of Nanaimo we kept to the old highway which serves a couple of objectives. With the outside air temperature at 29 degrees C and a fast charge in the system, the battery was starting to warm. By meandering along the slower route, we didn’t exceed the 90km/hr mark of speed which keeps the battery operating at best efficiency. This way of travel is just a little less frenetic. Because it follows the Strait of Georgia in the Salish Sea, it is also beautiful beyond compare.

At Buckley Bay there is a rest stop with EV charging. (Oops, we parked just to the left of the charging unit in the handicap spot – sorry about that!) This is an interesting charge point with a 25kW Delta DCFC. This means that the power is delivered at half the speed of what we got at the Petro Canada station. That is good for our car as this charge did not heat up the battery as much as what we experienced with 45kW charges.

Then we continued North on the old highway. We had an idea that maybe by finding a rest spot, deep in the shade of the trees, the car battery could cool down and we could stretch our legs for a nice long walk. The place we discovered at Seal Bay Nature Park was amazing and we really enjoyed our time there, but the car battery heat bars were unchanged. Evidently the cool down period is overnight.

By now we had recovered from any range anxiety we had previously experienced. We had been warned that by Buckley Bay, the 2016 Nissan Leaf would be ‘running hot’. Now we knew what that meant. We also realized that the outside temperature contributes to the heat situation but not nearly as much as the fast charging + continuous driving. As we finished driving for the day and arriving into Campbell River for dinner, we reflected on how much we had learned.

We took a day off from long distance driving and visited many places around Campbell River. Not to be missed is The Museum at Campbell River, the suspension bridge at Elk Falls Provincial Park, watching the boats navigate the current and tide at Discovery Harbour Marina and Painter’s Lodge where we stayed for 2 nights.

July 28, 2020 From Campbell River, day tripping on Quadra Island to Cortes Island for the night = 59.7 km

On our send day at Painter’s Lodge we discovered power in the parking lot and broke out our granny charger once again. Since there was no level 2 or 3 charging on Quadra Island, we needed to start the day at 100% charge. We set off for the ferry early in the morning and toured many properties before narrowly missing the intended sailing at 3:05pm from Heriot Bay. After a little stress discharging we decided to walk the marina and look at sailboats. We re-looked at the cost-benefit equation between buying a sailboat or land. We had 2 hours wait for the next ferry to contemplate this topic. Finally we arrived into Whaletown and the magic of Cortes settled into our bones.

August 2, 2020 From Cortes Island back home = 236.5 km

This day was the confirmation that the 2016 Nissan Leaf battery will run hot with fast charging and distance driving, even with outside temperatures ten degrees cooler than our previous road trip heading up island. On the Nissan Leaf Group my husband came across this advise:

Early in July, I took my 2016 30kwh Leaf to Alberta and back. A few tips:
* It’s possible, even fun, but not speedy. Expect 6 hours of driving to require 6 hours of charging
* This is because your real limit won’t be range, or charging time, it’ll be managing battery heat. So it takes exponentially more time as you go beyond about 2x the car’s full range.
* There are four ways to control heat: (1) don’t drain below about 50% charge. The lower end of the battery SOC % heats it more. (2) Prefer 34kw or 25kw chargers over 45kw, they heat it less (3) plan L2 charging stops, ideally somewhere nice to rest. (4) Don’t drive hard up steep sections. The car can do it just fine, but at the cost of some heat.
* The Crowsnest route is better than #1, mostly because between Hope and Chase keeping to the speed of other traffic will result in poor efficiency.
* The AC won’t use much power if you set it to 2-3 fan notches, recirculate, and about 24c.
* This all adds up to 90-110km hops, starting the day with L3 charges, and mixing in more L2 later. I’d research what to visit at those stops, so it’s more fun.
* Instead of stopping in Osoyoos, try the Anarchist Mountain Rest Area. It’s a very nice, cool spot with 25kw chargers.

Maybe that is our next adventure…

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