Nissan Leaf: an update

Nissan Leaf

It’s been a little while since I first wrote about my new (to me) car, which is the fully electric Nissan Leaf. So I thought the topic was worth an update.

Nissan Leaf: and all the other questions

I was warned from the outset that I would be bombarded by questions from friends (and complete strangers) about driving my Nissan Leaf. In fact, I’d been pretty well briefed as to exactly what questions I would face!

The fact that I’m driving a car which to most people is totally different is the reason why this happens. And the media has a lot to do with this. One the one hand it’s futuristic and special. On the other is all the worries/concerns which have been hyped up, mostly by people who don’t understand the topic. Journalists, I think they’re called.

Preamble about my own usage

I thought it might help to explain how I use my car.

I drive roughly 12000 miles per year, mostly in respect of work. My work doesn’t take me very far, rarely more than 5 miles away from home. In the 3 months I’ve had it, I’ve covered just under 3000 miles. Aside from two trips to Longshaw Moors, that’s all been driven in and around Stockport.

I do a large number of home visits during the week. Getting around Stockport area is a challenge; it’s nearly impossible to go from A to B directly. The result is that in peak season I can be doing 50 miles daily, yet being within a 5 mile radius of home.

Sure I do make a few trips further afield. However, a journey of any distance will generally be done by public transport. I drive all day for a living and I don’t really want to do it in my holiday too!

Preamble about my Nissan Leaf

My Nissan Leaf is a 2015 model with the 2nd generation 24kWh battery in it. The 1st generation batteries (pre 2013) had a relatively poorer longevity. Which is why they were replaced.

On board is a 3.3kWh Type 2 charger alongside the 50kWh rapid charge port. Generally you’ll find the rapid chargers on the motorway network and the Type 2s everywhere else (including for home charging).

So now without further ado let’s go through a few frequently asked questions!

Question 1: How long does it take to charge

This depends on whether you’re using a rapid charger or the Type 2 charger.

A 30 minute blast on a rapid charger will generally give about an additional 60-70% into the battery. So if you’re doing longer journeys then you’ll probably be using this approach. A lot of the motorway services stations have the rapid CHAdeMO chargers installed. Tesla have their own network which is growing. At this time, only Teslas can use their network although they’ve made announcements to suggest that they are happy to open up their network to other companies.

The type 2 charging is a slow trickle charge. 3.3kW per hour (as per my Leaf) seems to translate to about 15 miles range added per hour. A 24kWh battery would take all night to charge from completely flat.

So yes, a ‘fuel stop’ takes longer than filling up with petrol/diesel and you’ll have to do it more often. If you’re regularly banging out 100+ mile motorway journeys then this will take longer than your petrol car. So at this time, this particular vehicle may not be for you. I’m still in the ‘early adoption period’ and batteries are getting bigger and battery technology is getting smarter. Things will change.

As for the trickle charging, that sounds terrible doesn’t it? But let’s look at it another way. Say I do one of my 50 mile days and get home in the evening. I plug the car in at home and set the charger to come on after I go to bed. 2.5 hours charging done whilst I sleep and I get up in the morning to a full battery again.

So I’m not hunting around for a petrol station before I go to work.

Question 2: How far will it go before the battery runs out

That tends to be the way this question is phrased!! It’s funny, just because people are used to getting 300+ miles out of a tank of fuel (often a lot more), they are petrified by the idea that this isn’t possible on this current generation of batteries.

Headline figure, I reckon I get about 85-90 miles out of a fully charged battery on my 24kWh Nissan Leaf. Bigger battery cars will get a bigger range.

The question itself actually boils down to a mindset based on current petrol/diesel vehicles. Whilst it may be possible to get 300-500 miles out of a tank of fuel, how often do you need this? How many of your standard journeys require a 300 mile non-stop drive? Or a 200 mile non-stop drive.

Whether or not this is a deal-breaker, an inconvenience, or an irrelevance depends on what you use your car for.

The Sales Rep

If you are a traveling sales rep, doing a huge motorway mileage daily, the idea of having to stop regularly to recharge is probably a deal-breaker. No point pretending otherwise. Whilst the frequency of stopping probably isn’t a bad thing health wise, the length of the stops would be an issue. In a 24kWh Leaf anyway. A Tesla 85D (4x battery size of my Leaf) would do it no sweat. And they’re available now. I digress.

The Commuter

If you drive to work, stay there all day and then come home again, even the lowly 24kWh battery may be sufficient. If you’re commuting 30-40 miles each way, you could plug in over night to wake to a full battery each day and manage your commute on that. It doesn’t matter that, for this purpose, the car isn’t doing 300 miles on a tank of petrol. Every day is a full tank if you can charge at home.

The business driver

This category is the most diverse and the most difficult to cover. Because it depends on the daily mileage the driver is doing. For me, it’s more than sufficient. If your visits take you much further afield then it might not work for you. Although that’s not to say that you couldn’t charge at a public charging place whilst you’re at a visit / at lunch etc.

A corollary

Perhaps what you need to try to do is imagine a time before mobile phones were ‘smart’. When your Nokia 3310i sat proudly in a charged situation for weeks on end regardless of what you did to it. Anyone with an iPhone (or other recent smartphone) probably charges daily. Does it mean the world has stopped turning and nobody is able to cope? No, didn’t think so. It’s just a different way of operating. Would it make a difference, all other things being equal if you charged your iPhone only on a Monday and wouldn’t need to do it again until next week? Battery life is lamented, but most people are happier to have increased functionality rather than a longer lasting battery.

This whole area is going to change massively over the next couple of years with a lot of research focusing on future battery technologies. I’ll be surprised by 2020 if new electric cars were available with less than a 200 mile range. There are new technologies being developed where the batteries can be ‘recharged’ incredibly quickly and I’m sure we’ll see those in the next few years.

Question 3: You’ll have a huge electric bill now?

Basically it costs money to run a vehicle. You have to pay that money. It just depends how you end up paying it.

There’s two parts to answering this.

  • There’s no denying that my electricity bill will have increased due to me charging my car overnight.
  • That said, whilst I’m paying more on my electricity bill, I’m not paying for a tank of fuel every week/fortnight.

So money is being spent, but it’s being done differently. I’ve still got a car to fuel and it’s still going to cost me money to do so.

Let’s do some maths. I like maths.

I’m going to use my old Ford Fiesta numbers in my comparison, because I know what they are. You can do your own calculation using your fuel experience by following the same approach.

Let’s suggest that I could get 400 urban miles out of my Ford Fiesta full tank, and that would cost me £45. And to keep the numbers simple lets say I filled up 3 times in a month.

  • Ford Fiesta – 1200 miles costing £135 (3x£45) at the pump

Assuming my 3.3kWh charger increases range at 15 miles per hour charging, it would take 6 hours to charge the battery from 0-100% and get 90 miles from it. That’s a bit of a hypothetical calculation as I’d never be in the situation of leaving it to 0. But then I rarely went to the petrol station on fumes alone……

My electricity tariff is part per-unit cost and part standing charge. The latter part I pay whether I draw power or not, so it can be discounted for the purpose of the calculation (as I’d pay it even I if I was driving my Fiesta still). The per-unit charge I think is 16p per kWh.

So to ‘fill-up’ for 90 miles of electric cruising it would cost 6(h) x 3.3(kW) x £0.16 = £3.17

  • So for 1200 miles the cost would be 1200 / 90 * £3.17 = £42.27

That £42.27 would then end up (in theory) on my electricity bill rather than £135 on my credit card bill. But that’s only part of the story.

As it stands at present, there are opportunities to charge for free at my dealership’s rapid charger. Stockport MBC also have a setup in place whereby the purchase of an access card allows for charging in the town. So whilst the headline figure is £42, in practice I’m currently paying only a proportion of it on the electric bill.

Question 4: If I charge my car and so much as look at my electric kettle, my house will explode!

This one seems to run and run. Let’s dig into this myth.

It all comes down to the big fuse that sits just behind your consumer unit. It does the same thing as the fuse in a 3-pin plug, but it’s for your whole house. And it’s big. It might be 60Amp rather than a 13Amp fuse in your kettle.

The fuse is to prevent a huge surge of power overloading the system. And the myth comes from the fact that if you have a large enough number of heavy drawing appliances, you could blow your master fuse. It’s a real fact.

However the myth is based on the draw from one of the type 3 chargers, which draws 11Amps (I think). These chargers would be used to operate with industrial units and office blocks. Not domestic houses.

It could still be possible to draw enough current to blow the fuse though. You may have to have the car charging (on a bigger home charger than mine), the kettle boiling, a couple of electric ‘fires’ on full and someone taking a shower using a high current electric power shower, depending on your house fuse.

I know when I had my home charger installed the chap double checked the house fuse to confirm it was sufficiently large, and highlighted the danger of using several high-draw appliances simultaneously.

The reality is to think about it. There’s a risk you could blow yourself up if you lit a cigarette whilst filling up your car! They didn’t ban petrol cars on the basis that some people smoke cigarettes!

Question 5: Electric cars are dangerous because they’re silent!

OK that’s a statement, not a question.

Now this is a bug bear of mine. Not that electric cars are silent. More that so many people are too busy not looking where they are going. People stepping out into the road without looking, despite wearing headphones. It wouldn’t matter if it was an HGV or my Leaf, they wouldn’t hear it anyway!

You may think I’m sounding harsh on this. However, bear in mind I used to drive emergency response vehicles for a living. Despite things flashing and horns & sirens blaring, people still pushed their pushchairs into the road without looking. People stepped into the middle of junctions without looking up from their mobile phone. This isn’t a problem with electric cars. It’s a problem with people not taking responsibility of their own (and their families’) lives. These weren’t one-off situations. This was a daily hazard.

Rant over!

Next Time…….

The next blog post on my Nissan Leaf will be more about the car itself, what I like about it and what I’m less keen on. This one’s long enough without delving further down the rabbit hole!

Any other questions you may have? Drop me a line!

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