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July 24: Outlets at the Petersen and natural gas

Sat, 24 Jul 2010

Started the day driving to Burbank Airport to pick up some friends. That's only 20.53 miles, 41 miles round trip. Easy, right? Driving with the a/c on, three people and luggage I used up 10 kWhs. That left me with six kWhs.

Problem was, a few hours after that I had to drive to the Petersen Automotive Museum, another 21 miles each way, which would have exceeded the range of the car. So I plugged back in at home after the airport run, at a more expensive rate. Don't know exactly how much more expensive, maybe 14 cents a kWh. I accumulated an indicated 4 more kWhs in a little over two hours charging. An old, outdated list of charging stations that I found on the web and which I printed out and stuffed in the glove box listed the Petersen as having an electric vehicle recharging station. If worse came to worst I could always park it at my office and walk a few blocks to the Petersen.

When I pulled up to parking none of the security professionals at the museum had any knowledge of a charging station. All I needed was an outlet, I said, but they didn't know about outlets, either. I saw an outlet right near the entrance, in front of the Buckminster Fuller travel trailer and asked if I could use that. One guy went to check. He never returned. But in the meantime, former museum director Dick Messer came up and said, “Sure, go ahead and plug in!” What a guy. I love this museum.

Messer owns a number of great cars, from a classic Rolls-Royce on display in the museum to a King Midget. He could have his own museum. But for daily commuting, sometimes as far as 70 miles from Riverside to L.A., he uses a Honda Civic GX, powered by natural gas. It allows him to get in the high-occupancy vehicle lane (HOV), or carpool lane. With that he can make the trip in an hour. Without it, it's two hours, he said. Here is a guy who can drive just about anything he wants and his daily driver is a humble natural gas Civic.

When you consider remote power generating, i.e. you get your electricity from a distant generating station, an NGV is just about as clean, emissions-wise, as an electric vehicle. California just revised the kinds of vehicles it will allow in the carpool lanes with a single occupant. It used to include hybrids like the Prius but will soon be limited to inherently low emissions vehicles. That means EVs, NGVs and the four or five fuel cell vehicles actually driven in the state. I would like to ask Honda for a natural gas Civic to test after the i MiEV goes back. Who knows?

The two electrical outlets at the front of the museum used to be official EV recharging stations, but Messer said that in the 12 years of the museum's history, he only ever saw one EV plugged in and recharging there. He thinks it was an EV1.

Messer also mused about a method for charging those who are using somebody else's outlet to charge their EV. A reader suggested to me that to measure charging I use a device called a Kill-A-Watt, which is designed for measuring the electrical draw of household appliances. Your plug it into the wall and then plug the appliance into it. A readout tells you how much electricity your appliance draws. Prices for these on the internet ranged from about $30 to $50. Somebody should make a device that measures electricity use at an EV charging outlet and then automatically bills some account somewhere. Maybe electrical utilities or gas stations could offer the service for a fee. “Use our device, we get one percent and you get the rest.” Customers can plug in all over the place and pay 14 cents a kWh or whatever price you set. Pricing could vary by time of day and time of charge. It could be similar in networking concept to all those ATMs all over the place that charge you $3 to withdraw your money. Something like that.

So I became the second guy to plug in to the museum's EV recharging station, even though the station no longer technically exists and is just two 120-volt outlets in the wall next to the museum's entrance. I plugged in for a few hours to go see the big slot-car races upstairs. You will read about the slot cars and the Wienermobile as soon as I write them up. I plugged in at 3 p.m. and came back to the car at 6:47 p.m. In almost four hours of charging I got five bars, five kWhs. The trip mileage readout when I left the museum said 100.3 kilometers. With charging I'm up to 11 bars on which to get home. Easy. Used five bars to get home, having gone 135.6 kms or 84 miles in the course of the whole day, having plugged in twice to top off the tank. A little planning and it was all possible.

I waited until 9 p.m. when the rates were lowest to plug in and recharge overnight.

By Mark Vaughn