Energy Conservation and Human Nature

FEB 26 2013 BY MARC LEE 9

I remember the exact moment when I realized that electric vehicles were the inevitable destination for automobiles.  It was the late 1980s and I was an undergrad sitting in the stacks of Alderman Library reading the words of Geoffrey Ballard, he of Ballard Power Systems fame.   Before that he was the man in charge of the Conservation Research office in the 70s shortly after the oil crisis.  He had two firm beliefs.  One, lead acid batteries in EVs suck but one day electric motors will be the powertrain for cars.  Two, people will conserve in a time of crisis, for short periods of time, and when something is very expensive or scarce, other than that people will NOT conserve.  Ballard wasn’t optimist, or a pessimist, just a realist and I thought to myself, “you sir, are correct.”  I went into the library that day to research something completely unrelated to EVs, but I walked out convinced that one day they would be the mainstay of the automobile industry

Geoffrey Ballard, Founder Of Ballard Power Systems

Geoffrey Ballard, Founder Of Ballard Power Systems

Sadly, Mr. Ballard passed in 2008 just shy of the 2010 launch of what looks to be the transition of our auto fleet from fossil fuels to electrons.   When the Volt launched in December of 2010,  I told myself I would wait a year or so, see how things shake out, and make sure the Volt was as good as it seemed.  Who was I kidding?  I’d been waiting for this car over 20 years, the waiting was done.  By January 2011, a Volt was sitting in the garage.

For a year I drove the Volt and I loved it, and then it passed to my wife because she had the longer commute and it just made sense for her to have it for the longer commute.  Well, that and I was also “secretly” plotting to buy a battery only car, and figured I better turn the Volt over to her while it was still somewhat new before I went and loaded up on another new car.  Husband of the year, right?

So my evil plan worked, and I ended up in a Focus Electric.  And for a number of months the Focus Electric was driven in much the same manner as the Volt.  Which is to say moderately, very moderately.  Oh sure if some punk, engine revving kid needed to be put in his place he was, but for the most part I was watching even the blue hairs pass… by happy choice.

Like many others, I would fore go heat, even when its need was clearly indicated.  Hands numb from cold?  Suck it up buttercup.  It irked me that I had to run the heat because the windows would fog up.  When I read that another Focus Electric owner rode around with a squeegee to clear fog from his windows without the use of heat, instead of thinking “what a nut job” I was thinking “what a good idea!” At Volt Stats and MyFordMobile our vehicles where very near the top on the various leader boards.  Life was good.

Over Time, EVs (like the Focus Electric) Are Driven More And More Like A "Regular" Car

Over Time, EVs (like my Focus Electric) Are Driven More And More Like A “Regular” Car

And then something happened this Winter.   Bit by bit I found myself using more heat than I had in the past.  OK that was justifiable because the older I get the less I like the cold, and I never really liked it much to begin with.  One day, time was of the essence so the pace home was with the flow, instead of the posted speed limit.   It is amazing how driving the speed limit can make one something of a “speed bump.”  And then one day the pace home was with the flow, just because, and then the next and the next…

I have not gone back to my gasoline days where I raced to the next stop light and jockeyed from lane to lane to move up in the pack, but the pace is decidedly and consistently quicker these days, and the temperature control settings substantially more liberal.  On the Focus Electric the miles/kWh has slipped from firmly above 4 m/kWh to “I can see 4m/kWh from here”

Workplace Charging Goes Along Way To Driving Your EV With More Reckless Abandon

Workplace Charging Goes Along Way To Driving Your EV With More Reckless Abandon

This can be done because there is a charger at work and at a home and the commute is modest,  thus not having enough juice to go the distance is rarely an issue.  If I am really conservative on heat and drive the posted speed it costs me about 41 cents to drive to work.  If I bathe in luxurious heat and go with the flow, it costs me about 48 cents.  Why would anyone do without heat and drive at a snails pace for 7 cents?  The greater part of my wardrobe is outfitted from the clearance rack of TJ Maxx, so it is fair to say that I am tighter than a snare drum, but come on, for 7 cents?  Live a little! It is a wonder I did it for so long.

So electrons are not scarce or expensive for the Lee batteries and as Mr. Ballard and a whole host of behavioral economic theories predicted, we do not conserve them as well as we might.  And I am ok with that, because amends of a sort have been made.  The House of Lee is now home to two, count them two, Nest learning thermostats.  But wait, there’s more.  A diverter has been setup on the electric dryers so that during the winter they blow back into the house, and not outside.  Not only do you keep all the heated moist air indoors, but your house smells like fresh laundry!

Is anyone else finding there is downward creep in their miles/kWh?  How did you make amends?


PS: Notes on using a squeegee as a windshield “defogger.”  It does work, but of course it doesn’t last forever.   Billy Squier’s great hit, should get you in the proper frame of mind.  Narrower squeegees are easier to handle but require more strokes.  Wider ones less strokes but you really have to push on the thing to get it to conform to the curve of the windshield.  Narrower is probably better.  Eventually you will find yourself wondering, “how can I hook up a pair windshield wipers on the inside?”  Or maybe, just maybe you let loose of a nickle and run the defogger.


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9 Comments on "Energy Conservation and Human Nature"

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All worth reading for the complete breakdown of squeegee tactics:) Gotta say, I did not buy my Focus to coast back and forth to work. It had to meet my own criteria for driving reasonably. I needed to maintain my regular speed, similar ac and heat use and similar handling level. It has done that. 80 mile round trip commute. Fully charged at home and fully charged at work. Thus I have lost most of my range anxiety because I don’t have to worry about loosing juice. That being said it is impossible not to become a more reasonable driver. The built in gadgetry of the vehicle helps to improve my efficiency. Coasting in neutral is actually lots of fun and I am certain my brakes will go 60K miles plus because I rarely use them. So maybe one of the facets of Ballards arguement, “people won’t conserve for very long”, may be coaxed out of people by the dynamics of the automobile. I think Ford has done a pretty goog job of coaxing us to be more conservative drivers. Finally, no matter what I say, range anxiety does exist when the air is cold and I only have 52… Read more »

Great article and great topic Marc. In the Carolina blue skies, a heat pump is a good solution in your home, as well as your EV. Unfortunately, my 2012 Volt neither uses a heat pump nor is equipped with the Hold mode found in the 2013 models. Now of course, when using gas the Volt produces all the heat you want, but even Volt drivers like to squeak out as many electron miles as possible. I am currently trying to find a heated mat to try. If my feet are warm, generally I am comfortable. I am not one to suffer and southerners do hate to be cold! Again, great article!

I have had my Leaf for 20 months, and have maintained my 5.7 miles per kwh (reading from the dash) the entire time. I don’t find myself slipping at all. On the surface streets, driving more aggressively wouldn’t save any time–it’s the stop lights that determine how long it takes to get somewhere. On the freeway, I could probably drive the 14 miles each way a bit faster at 70 MPH than at 52 MPH, but there are frequent slowdowns such that much of the time 40-50 MPH is the speed of traffic. For longer drives on Saturday (50 miles each way) I allow myself the luxury of going 53 or even 54 MPH. The difference in time isn’t that significant.

However, when I drive my ICE vehicle 300 miles a few times a year, I drive 60-65 MPH. Slower speeds are unbearable for that length of drive.

Interesting to see other’s perspectives here. My Tesla Roadster is actually pretty good about heat since the Cabin is so small, it increases my operating cost only about 40%

The Volt on the other hand, with its 6000 watt battery and cabin water heater, can increase operating cost as much as 500%. So in very cold weather I run the gas engine since the heat is utilized and its much cheaper to run since my electricity here is 13 cents/kwh.

In my opinion theatrics like squeegeeing the windshield instead of using the defroster hurts the cause of EVs. I drive my LEAF in comfort. I use Carwings to preheat the cabin, then keep it at 77° in recirculation mode with the A/C off (to minimize power) until I either get too warm or the windows fog. If it is too warm i dial down the set temperature. At the first hint of fogging I turn the A/C on, which uses a negligible amount of power. Should the fogging not abate then I will switch to fresh mode or run the defroster to quickly get it under control.

Seeing someone freeze in their EV holding a squeegee in their shivering hands does not make most people say “wow, i want one of those!”. On the other hand when we use our EVs like the real cars they are then our neighbors can be enticed to enjoy similar experiences.

My EV, the Mitsubishi i, has a much smaller battery pack than Marc’s Focus EV, and poorer aerodynamics. While most of my driving is stop-and-go in-city driving, I have occasions where I need to get on the freeway. Aerodynamics is why I keep the speed down on the freeway. By safely following a big rig truck at 60MPH, I use about the same power as driving 40-45MPH in the city.

Since getting an L2 charger, I am much more liberal in my use of heating and air conditioning. I don’t worry about the L1 charger being able to fill the battery. My car does not have a meter to show me how many kWh I am using per mile, but I’m certain it’s still pennies that I’m spending using the heater.