1,500-Mile Nissan LEAF Zero-Emission Road Trip – How We Charge On The Go

3 years ago by Tyrel Haveman 16

Nissan LEAF CHAdeMO Port

Nissan LEAF CHAdeMO Port

Traveling hundreds of miles from home in an electric car that has an EPA rated range of 84 miles generally isn’t very hard, but that can depend on a few different factors. Several people have asked about how we’ve accomplished this on our trip.

Our Nissan LEAFs can be charged in three ways. The most common (the way we charge at home) is called Level 2 charging. This uses a 208-to-240-volt circuit, and the LEAF (model years 2013 and newer) can pull up to 6.6 kilowatts (kW), allowing it to charge the battery from empty in about 5 hours. All new electric vehicles support charging at Level 2 using a connector called SAE J-1772. There are tens of thousands of Level 2 charging stations throughout the country.

The second is called a Direct Current Quick Charger (DCQC). These chargers can charge the car from empty to 80% charge in about 30 minutes; although we’re rarely completely empty when we arrive, so typically we spend about 20 minutes at each charger. The connector used on the LEAF for this is called CHAdeMO. Another type of connector now emerging is called the SAE J-1772 Combination Charging System (CCS), called “Combo” by most of us.

Charging on the West Coast Electric Highway. Ridgefield, WA.

Charging on the West Coast Electric Highway. Ridgefield, WA.

The third charging method is called Level 1. This is what we get when we plug our vehicle into a standard 110-120 volt wall outlet like you have all around your home. Because these outlets are typically rated for a constant draw of 12 amps (or 15 amps instantaneous), the charger that comes with the car will only draw 12 amps through this method, which results in a draw of 1.4 kW or less. It would take the car approximately 20 hours to charge from empty to full using this method.

Luckily, for the majority of our 1,500 mile road trip, we are able to utilizing DC Quick Chargers, although we have also used Level 2 and Level 1 charging along the way.

Most of the quick chargers we’ve used are part of a network of chargers called the West Coast Electric Highway. These chargers, built and operated by AeroVironment, are placed at businesses along major highways in Washington and Oregon. California was supposed to participate but has not yet built any chargers on the network as of this writing. This is why when we reached the California border, we immediately turned around. Washington has about twelve chargers on the network, and Oregon has about 43.

Because these AeroVironment quick chargers are placed near highways, and they don’t take very long to use, they facilitate long-distance travel in a Nissan LEAF (and a couple other electric car models). They are typically placed every 20 to 40 miles, which makes it easy to hop from one to the next, or even skip every other charger.

Celebration while charging at Magic Nissan, north of Seattle

Celebration while charging at Magic Nissan, north of Seattle

Major metropolitan areas, including the areas around Seattle-Tacoma, Portland, and Salem, do not include any chargers on the West Coast Electric Highway, because a company called ECOtality was given an exclusive government contract to build quick chargers in these areas. Unfortunately, ECOtality, which operated the Blink Network, did not fulfill its obligations to place all the chargers in these areas, and then filed for bankruptcy, leaving the Blink Network in disarray, and making it difficult to travel in these areas.

Blink Network has since been purchased by another company and they have restored service to the majority of the chargers in these areas. However, they still haven’t built the additional chargers required by their government contract, which would allow for easy travel through the area.

As a result of this, and other factors, when traveling through the Seattle-Tacoma area we depended instead on chargers located at Nissan dealerships. In the Portland area, we charged at a charger operated by Portland State University for research purposes.

We could have relied on these quick chargers for the entirety of our travels. However, we chose to also do some Level 2 and Level 1 charging in order to save time and to reach one of our goals.

Plugged in to a TT-30 outlet at a camp site

Plugged in to a TT-30 outlet at a camp site

When we were in downtown Seattle and downtown Portland, we used Level 2 charging because we had stopped to either shop (Seattle) or visit (Portland) and didn’t actually need much charge to get to the next quick charger. We also did this in Centralia, WA. Along the very southern end of the Oregon coast, there are no quick chargers, so we used a Level 2 charger to be able to get to the California border and back.

At our campsites, we’ve used either Level 2 or Level 1 charging where possible. Ahead of our trip, we purchased a couple things to make this possible.

The LEAF comes with a Level 1 charging adapter (called an EVSE, Electric Vehicle Servicing Unit). We sent our unit to a company called EVSE Upgrade. This company replaces the internal electronics of the unit so that it can also support Level 2 charging, and faster Level 1 charging. The stock unit will support Level 1 up to 12 amps, as I stated before. The upgraded unit will support Level 1 up to 16 amps, and Level 2 up to 24 amps. We also purchased an adapter from them that will allow us to plug in to the outlets at campgrounds (NEMA 14-50).

Some of our campgrounds have had a plug called a TT-30, which provides up to 30 amps of 110-120 volt service. We have an adapter from TT-30 to the standard outlet and set the EVSE to the maximum of 16 amps to charge with this. Others have the 14-50 so we can charge at the full rate supported by the EVSE, 24 amps. A couple of the camp sites have had no power at all.

Charging at camp allows us to start off the following day with a full charge. Some days this allows us to cruise around and explore the area. Other days it allows us to skip a quick charger along the route, in order to get to our next stop faster.

Electricity is easy to find if needed, and having lots of options for charging also means that if any emergency situation should come up, we would be better prepared to deal with it. However, so far we haven’t found ourselves with less than even 25% charge, so we’re far from experiencing such an emergency situation.

Let us know if you have any questions!

*For Tyrel’s first InsideEVs post on the ZE Roadtrip, click here.

*For Tyrel’s second InsideEVs post on the ZE Roadtrip, click here.

*For Tyrel’s third InsideEVs post on the ZE Roadtrip, click here.

*For Tyrel’s fourth InsideEVs post on the ZE Roadtrip, click here.

*For a recap of Tyrel and Trish’s 2013 road trip, click here.

**Editor’s Note: Tyrel Haveman is President of the North Sound Electric Vehicle Association. The North Sound Electric Vehicle Association (EVA) is a chapter of the Electric Auto Association (EAA), a non-profit organization that has promoted electric vehicles since 1967. North Sound EVA was formed to enhance awareness of electric vehicles in Northwest Washington State, including the counties of Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Island, and San Juan.

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16 responses to "1,500-Mile Nissan LEAF Zero-Emission Road Trip – How We Charge On The Go"

  1. Brian says:

    Thanks for the update! Your trip is more than enough to make anyone not in the PNW at least a little jealous. The closest CHAdeMO to me is nearly 200 miles away, and across the border in Canada.

    Keep the updates coming, and thanks for sharing your adventure with us!

    1. Assaf says:

      Yup, we’re spoiled around here – and yet we still complain. Just pushing the envelope 🙂

  2. Assaf says:

    This summer we got a Clipper Creek HCS-40 with a NEMA 6-50 plug (which fits my wife’s pottery kiln, and thus saves the need to set up a separate line for charging). It is rated at 7.2kW.

    In our experience so far (2-3 times), it pumps at least 30% battery per hour into our 2014 Leaf. If you do the numbers, this suggests that despite being rated 6.6kW, the 2013-15 Leaf’s onboard charging apparatus is apparently able to operate at higher rates, at least mid-battery.

    I wonder if anyone else has had a similar experience.

    We intend to get a 14-50 adapter and thus turn it into a potentially portable charger in a pinch (even though it is rather bulky). You can also get the charger with 14-50 to begin with.

  3. Surya says:

    I have also found that traveling with an EV is mostly worry free if you have adapters to charge at camp sites. Recommended 🙂

  4. ggpa says:

    I never heard of a 24A EVSE before. Could you please give details about the make and model of EVSE?

    It is a size makes a lot of sense, because it only needs a 30A connection, rather than 40A.

      1. ggpa says:

        Nope … LCS-25 charges at 20A

      2. ElectricRocketShip says:

        The Clipper Creek LCS-25 is nice and compact. It is suppose to pull 20 amps max, but I think if may be able to draw slightly more. I have mine hooked up to a NEMA 14-50 outlet, and when charging my 2013 LEAF to 80%, I routinely see 20 miles of range added each hour.

    1. The JESLA can be configured for 24 amps, or 12, 16 or 40 amps, done mph simply changing the plug. JESLA also world from 100-250 volts.

      JELSA ships with a NEMA 14-50 and NEMA 5-15. Additionally, you may want the correct plug for your dryer or motel air conditioners:

      …………………………………………….VOLTS / AMPS…….kW
      *NEMA 5-15 …….Standard Outlet.. 120 V / 12 A…… 1.4 kW
      NEMA 5-20 …… Motel air conditioner 120/16A……. 1.9 kW
      NEMA 10-30……Older Dryers…… 240 V / 24 A…… 5.8 kW
      NEMA 14-30……Newer Dryers….. 240 V / 24 A…… 5.8 kW
      *NEMA 14-50……RV Parks ……….. 240 V / 40 A…… 9.6 kW

      The JLong is the perfect compliment for JESLA, which can extend the length of JESLA by 20 or more feet. Plus, it helps when you’re at a public charge station and it’s blocked, and also for charge stations where the cord won’t easily reach the back of the car to plug in.

      I don’t leave home without either a JESLA or JLong.

      1. Thanks for your advertisement, Tony.

        One thing I like about the EVSE Upgrade is that it allows me to somewhat easily select any amperage to charge at. This is useful if I’m on standard 110V outlet, for example, but I know there’s another load on it so I shouldn’t be drawing 12 or 16 amps, I can turn it down as low as 5 amps. The same can be done for 220.

  5. Tyrel Haveman says:

    Our EVSE used on this trip is just the upgraded unit from EVSE Upgrade for a 2013 or newer LEAF.

    1. ggpa says:

      Thanks … the standard unit is rated at 12 Amps, did you have change to thicker cabling on that unit for 24A?

      1. Stimpacker says:

        What the author is referring to is a non-Nissan approved service from a small company in Berkeley, CA called EVSE Upgrade. You send in your standard 120V Leaf EVSE, they pop it open, change the electronics to allow up to 240V, 24A. The internal current carrying components are not changed but Phil, the engineer who runs EVSE Upgrade has tested everything and deemed 24A operation to be safe. There’s a forum that talks a lot more about this and what to do if your Leaf is leased.

        I did not do this to my Leaf, I simply bought a Clipper Creek 20A unit. With the tax credit, it came to the same price as the EVSE Upgrade mod (you are paying for a mod) but I end up with 2 EVSEs now (that are fully certified for what they are rated at).

        1. In our case the modded EVSE we have was purchased separately. The units that came with our cars actually remain unmodified.

  6. Stimpacker says:

    Great write-up. Thanks, Tyrel.

    Quote:
    “These AeroVironment quick chargers are placed near highways, and they don’t take very long to use, they facilitate long-distance travel in a Nissan LEAF. They are typically placed every 20 to 40 miles, which makes it easy to hop from one to the next, or even skip every other charger.”

    The above is the right away to do L3 charging. Here in California, there is none of that. I keep lamenting the waste of money going towards DCFC at auto dealerships. So even if Nissan were to produce a 150mile next-gen Leaf, I am still forced to keep a second ICE car or simply buy a Tesla.

  7. Gary says:

    I’ve charged my 2013 Nissan Leaf at 25 Amps at 120 Volts (3 kW at 120 Volts!) using a Juicebox EVSE. In other words, you should be able to charge at up to 3.3 kW from a TT-30 outlet at 120 V.

    In fact, I’ve charged my Leaf under various experimental conditions and it appears you can charge at up to 30 Amps at any voltage 110 V – 250 V, 50/60 Hz. The current draw appears to depend only on the J1772 pilot signal, independent of the Voltage provided.