Thursday, November 27, 2014

Return to the Magic Kingdom

Oh, well. I guess like anything else that's done on a grand scale, it's just not the same the second time around. Back in April when we first charged up at Disneyland, The sight of ten dual-port Chargepoint EVSEs serving one long row of  EV-dedicated parking spaces was truly glorious. Now, seven months later, as I approached that hallowed ground in the Mickey and Friends parking garage, the wonder and amazement just wasn't there. Perhaps after seeing it once, such creations become reduced from a surreal dream-come-true experience down to mere expectations. And with so many EV parking spots available, my expectation was to pull in, swipe in, plug in, lock up, and then head toward The Magic Kingdom. Just like last time.

No such luck. As we approached, it was painfully clear that we arrived a few minutes too late. The last EV spot was just taken by the driver of a Fusion Energi that had just finished plugging in. Of the twenty or so spots, about a third were occupied by Volts. My older son was in awe...  our Volt is his favorite ride of the family fleet, so seeing seven in a row in the wild pretty much made his eyes pop out of his head. There were about the same amount of Prius plug-ins, a couple of LEAFs, a couple of Teslas, and a couple of Energis. All the plug-ins were plugged in, except for one - a white Model S. That Model S blocked one of the two spots that was within reach of an unused EVSE port. The other spot, which was all the way at the end of the row next to the motorcycle parking, was ICEd by a Toyota Camry.

I was a bit miffed, to say the least. There should have been two more spots left, but I was denied by an ICE that couldn't charge and a Tesla that didn't need a charge. I'm not sure which ticked me off more.

Improvised! Thankfully, Guest Services was okay with this.
I figured it was time to improvise. So I created an EV spot using three of the fifteen or so open motorcycle parking spaces, backing the RAV's charge port as close as possible to the unused EVSE without invading the Camry's personal space, ignoring my wife's egging on to inch right up to its front bumper. After swiping in, plugging in, and locking up, we were ready to go. But my wife was worried.

"What if you get a ticket?", she asked.
Confusing signage may have been a factor.

"By whom? Goofy? Pluto? Dumbo?", I responded.

"The police," she said, sternly.

"This is private property, and I don't see a posted sign giving them jurisdiction," I said, as if I really knew what the heck I was talking about. I actually didn't.

"What if they tow us?", she prodded.

"Oh, you mean with Mater?"

There was a long pause, a sigh, and a cold stare. So I backed off.

"Okay, I'll write a note to Disney Security, put it on our windshield, take some pictures, and then show the pictures to the good folks at Guest Services.We have to go there anyway. If they want me to move the car, I'll come back and move it while you and the boys enjoy the park. By then we'll have over an hour's worth of charge, which will top us off enough to get home as long we obey the speed limit and don't make any detours."

She was good with that, so we headed for the trams. Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed two familiar headlight patterns rolling past the row of plug-ins - one was a Model S, the other was the distinctive Angry Birds expression of a Focus Electric. As the Blue Candy Focus Electric passed us, I tapped on the window and told the driver that we have the improperly parked RAV4 EV back there, and that we can text her in about four hours when we're fully charged. She smiled and thanked us, then said she has just enough to get home, holding her thumb and index about an inch apart. "Good to hear," I said. She thanked us again as she pulled away.

The Guest Services representative was very understanding. She said she will radio the parking folks to make sure they are aware of our situation. I offered to give her our cell phone numbers in case she  needs to ask us to move our car, but she said not to worry and to just enjoy our time at the park. So we did.

Turns out the park was pretty packed, which partially explains the high demand for EVSEs. According to the Mousewait app, the crowd index was at 91/100...  almost full, on the Monday before Thanksgiving. In contrast, the crowd index was only 51 during our Spring Break visit last April; back then the EV spots were less than half-full. Despite the huge crowd, everyone had a good time. My wife got to see the Christmas parade at night and enjoy the Holiday decor. My older son met Captain America, flew in a Mark 42 Ironman suit, and mixed it up with pod racers after being chased by Imperial Forces because Darth Vader identified his brother as a Rebel Spy. My younger son (younger by two minutes, they're twins) got his fill of sensory overload on Space Mountain and Indiana Jones. And at the end of the day, we were swept into a different time and place while strolling down Main Street on our way out. The street gently darkened, leaving only Christmas lights and the castle illuminated. Snow started falling, dancing in the breeze above the buildings before fluttering down onto the heads and faces of smiling parents and delighted children. In the same fashion that we were immersed, the glimpse into the past was swiftly and softly lifted, returning Main Street to its bright, bustling normalcy. Disney magic at its best.

Back at the Mickey and Friends parking structure, every EV space was still occupied at 8pm, albeit with noticeable turnover. And from what I could tell, there were at least a half dozen plug-ins of various marques scattered amongst the non-charging spots that are shared between EVs and those with disability parking permits. Our RAV4 EV was still there, butted up against the nose of the Camry that denied us a proper space seven hours earlier. As I unplugged, my wife eyeballed that Camry and said I should write a note.

"I'm tired. Not worth the effort. And besides, I think it's your turn to write a note," I said, pointing to my message to Security on the RAV4's windshield. She took my note, ripped it in two, scribbled on the blank half, then stuck it under one of the Camry's wiper blades.

"So... what did you say?" I asked, curiously.


"Ah, good one," I said. "Short and sweet."

Just then, off in the distance, a young woman evidently watching us smiled and yelled, "Good for you!". She was unplugging a very cute sky blue 500e, and said she had to come back to the parking structure in the late afternoon to plug in when one of the spots opened up. She said she was glad to see that we figured out a way to work around that ICEd spot.

 Although the journey ended well, I do have a few lessons learned for next time, which could perhaps serve as guidance to those that haven't been there yet with their EV:
  • Think twice before heading to Disneyland in a BEV when the Mousewait app says the park is nearly full. Chances are that demand for the EVSE spots will exceed capacity.
  • If you still have to go, try to get there much earlier than 1pm, otherwise all the EVSE spots will  probably be taken. However, there should still be plenty of space to park in a non-EVSE spot.
  • Don't completely trust the Chargepoint app when it comes to EVSE availability. There may be spots that are ICEd or occupied by plug-ins that aren't plugged in.
  • Plan a break from the action in the park, if possible, to unplug and move to a non-charging spot after you're charged up. Even in the late afternoon, there may be wonderful folks like the driver of that 500e, monitoring their Chargepoint app, hoping for an open spot so that they can juice up to get home. 
  • With a BEV, always have a Plan B.  
Yup, good ol' Plan B. Plan B on this trip was to crawl home in the slow lane in the unlikely event that we couldn't charge up at all. Or in my case, if I forgot to tell the RAV4 to override delayed charge settings, so it would charge immediately when plugged in at Mickey and Friends. So the ride home took a bit longer than planned, but we did get home without stopping. More on that later....

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Choosing a Rate Plan

Okay, so the good news is that when it comes to energy costs, driving an EV is way cheaper than driving an ICE. In my case, replacing three ICE vehicles with two BEVs and a PHEV is saving me about $400 every month in gas. The bad news is that charging up isn't free... yet. Most of my charging is done at home, and I have yet to go solar, so for now Southern California Edison is reaping the benefits of my vehicle choices.

Fortunately, SCE offers a few choices as far as rate plans... stay with the current residential rates, go with a time-of-use plan, or dig deep into my pockets ($2000 or so) to install a separate meter for the EVs and enjoy the lowest rate possible on my charging sessions at any time of day. After bringing home my first EV almost two years ago, a Focus Electric, I did a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation and tried out SCE's EV rate assistant tool, then switched to the time-of-use rate plan, figuring I'd never have a reason to charge during peak rate hours.

Twenty-two months and two additional EVs later, the TOU plan still seems to be the most cost-effective plan for me. To this day, I've never had to plug in between 10am and 6pm on a weekday, and most charging is done during the super-off-peak hours of 12am-6am. Based on my November bill for 1238kWh used in October, the TOU plan saved me over $80 when compared to residential rate plan.

I'd save even more if I could do all of my charging at the super-off-peak rate, which would be entirely possible if I had just one L2 EVSE. Right now I'm running with two L1 EVSEs on any given evening. Swapping out one of those L1 units with an L2 would enable me to fully charge the FFE or the Volt in less than 6 hours, after using 10kWh to 12kWh of energy on the homeward bound leg of my daily commute.

Typical daily electricity consumption
On a typical weekday, our electricity consumption look like this... about 3.5kW to 5 kW every hour during super-off-peak times, and less than 0.5 kW per hour on average during prime time. The off-peak usage at the 6am-7am and 11pm-12pm hours are higher due to charging of one of the commuter cars; the RAV4 EV is typically charging 12am-6am since it's typically only used close to home during the week.

Heaviest daily electricity consumption (once per week)
Our heaviest daily consumption occurs when the RAV4 EV is needed to run errands out of the Valley or clear across town; on those days our consumption during off-peak is much higher since I have to start charging it at about 9pm instead of midnight to replenish as much of the charge as possible and as cheaply as possible before the weekend starts, which is when we usually go on longer treks with the RAV4.

Hopefully in the next month or two I'll finally have a L2 EVSE. I've signed up for the submetering pilot program that comes with a free Juicebox. When that happens, all of my charging should happen between 12am and 6am.

If you're staring at the graphs and checking my math, you're probably wondering... if I'm only running two L1 EVSEs, why is the consumption peaking at well over 4kW at night? Well, the extra 1 to 2 kW is from running a pool pump. Since we're on a time-of-use plan, I've reprogrammed the pool pump to run between 12am and 6am only. We've also moved other activity to late night, such as running the dishwasher.

So... is time-of-use right for you? Well, if your on-peak usage is already minimal, or if you can move a good chunk of your current on-peak consumption to the off-peak times, and you have no need to charge up during on-peak hours, then yes, the TOU plan is probably your best bet. Check out your daily usage profile online, and if it bathtubs like mine does on the weekdays, I'd say go for it.