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Electric cars gaining ground in Iowa

More charging stations as ownership increases

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CEDAR RAPIDS — When Gary Scott arrives for work each morning at Schneider Electric in Cedar Rapids, he plugs his 2012 Nissan Leaf into one of two charging stations in the company’s parking lot.

“I live in Mount Vernon and I can charge at home and at work,” said Scott, an engineer at Schneider Electric who helped design the control circuit board in the company’s EV Link, a Level 2 electric vehicle charger. “One of the reasons I bought the Nissan Leaf was to use our company’s product at home and at work.”

Scott is one of a growing number of electric vehicle (EV) owners in Iowa. From 41 “pure” electrics registered in Iowa in December 2012, ownership of all-electric vehicles has grown to 164 registered in the state as of March 11, according to Andrew Lewis of the Iowa Department of Transportation.

“Most of those are Nissan Leafs,” Lewis said. “There’s also a few Teslas, a couple of Mitsubishi i-MiEVs, a Ford Focus EV and a BMW i3.”

Scott picked up his Nissan Leaf in May 2012 at Dave Wright Nissan in Hiawatha after putting down a $99 deposit in 2010.

“I felt that I had to do it because I believe electric cars are a way for us to get away from fossil fuels,” said Scott, a member of the Iowa Renewable Energy Association advisory board. “If you look at the cost of a kilowatt-hour of electricity in constant dollars over the last 30 years, it has stayed about the same.

“Gasoline would have to drop to about $1 per gallon for the price to be comparable with electricity.”

If electricity is 12 cents per kilowatt-hour — the national average — it will cost $2.40 to fill up the battery of an EV requiring 20 kilowatt-hours to fully recharge.

Scott said the 2012 Nissan Leaf is his “everyday” vehicle. With a range of roughly 60 miles on a full charge, he can drive the 15 miles each way to and from work as well as take short trips around town.

Scott also owns a gasoline-powered Mini Cooper to take long out-of-town trips.

“In four years, I’ve never been caught where I couldn’t get to a charging station or get a charge at a friends’s house where I was visiting,” he said. “As charging stations become more plentiful and they put in places where you can hang out for a couple of hours, electric car sales will rise.”

The 2016 Nissan Leaf has a starting price of $29,010 before federal tax credits. It has a range of between 84 and 107 miles. Cold temperatures and highway driving speeds reduce the car’s range, according to Scott.

“Unlike a gasoline-powered vehicle, the electric motor in a Nissan Leaf does not generate heat,” he said. “It has an electric heater and defroster that runs off the battery. I tend to cycle the defroster when it gets really cold in the winter months.”

One of the advantages of owning an EV is the low cost of maintenance. There is no oil to change, and the motor is directly linked to the drive wheels, eliminating the transmission and related fluid.

“I have needed to remind myself that the oil needs to be changed in the Mini Cooper,” Scott said. “I’ve bought a set of winter tires for the Leaf because I drive to and from work on Highway 30, but that’s just about all I’ve had to buy over the last four years.”

While Scott uses electricity from Alliant Energy to recharge the lithium-ion battery in his electric car, Marc Franke uses a source of renewable energy to recharge his 2013 Nissan Leaf.

“I already had a solar array installation underway for my home, so I decided to buy an electric car and make my own fuel,” said Franke, a retired engineer who lives south of Cedar Rapids outside of Ely. “There’s a wire that runs from my solar panels to my garage. I plug that cable into my car and the electrons flow into the battery.

“If I need to charge at night, my house is connected to Alliant Energy’s electric grid. I usually generate more electricity than I can consume during the day, so the excess electrons flow into the grid and Alliant lets me ‘bank’ those kilowatt-hours. At night or on a gloomy day, I can draw out of that bank.”

About five months out of 12, he said, “I don’t buy any electricity from Alliant Energy because I either produce my own electricity or use what I’ve banked. During the other months, I underproduce because the air-conditioning is running.”

Charging stations

At the other end of the EV spectrum is the Tesla X, a seven-passenger all-electric “crossover” that sells for between $80,000 and $132,000. With a range of about 260 miles, Adam and Brigette Ingersoll ordered it two years ago to accommodate their family.

“This car is a legitimate seven-passenger vehicle,” Adam Ingersoll said. “We have four kids and we were looking for something that could carry all of us. We’ve always been interested in cars that use little or no gasoline. We owned a (Toyota) Prius in 2004 when they were fairly novel.

“At the rate that electric cars are becoming mainstream, in five years, none of my kids will ever drive gasoline-powered vehicles.”

The Ingersolls put down a large deposit on a Tesla X two and a half years ago, believing they would be driving it in about a year. The longer-than-expected wait ended on Jan. 13 when the vehicle arrived in Coralville by trailer from the closest Tesla Motors dealership in Lombard, Ill.

That brings up one of the drawbacks associated with Tesla ownership. The closest Tesla dealerships are in suburban Chicago or Minneapolis.

When the vehicle’s distinctive gull-wing doors needed adjustment, Tesla sent a Tesla loaner on a trailer to the Ingersoll home in Coralville, took the Tesla X back to Lombard, Ill., for the repair, and returned it without charge.

“It’s great for driving around town,” Brigette Ingersoll said. “We had hoped to be able to take it on road trips, but with the range and the lack of a Tesla Supercharger network, that’s not going to work just yet.”

Tesla Superchargers provide 170 miles of range in as little as 30 minutes at no cost. The company has announced plans to build out its Supercharger network this year with a station located roughly every 150 miles.

Until then, Tesla owners such as the Ingersolls can use their onboard charger to convert alternating current from a wall charger to direct current that’s stored in the battery. As the battery nears full charge, the car’s onboard computer gradually reduces the current to the optimum level for topping off cells.

The number of charging stations in the Corridor has grown in recent years as more electric cars have been purchased. From a total of eight in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City in December 2012, the number of charging stations has expanded to 15.

Most of the charging stations are Level 2 units and the majority do not charge drivers for electricity at the present time. Many EV owners such as Gary Scott register, for free, on www.plugshare.com to offer fellow EV owners a free charge at their home or business.

“I had a Tesla S owner who was driving from Chicago and knew he needed a charge in order to get home,” Scott said. “He was able to stop by, we talked while his car was getting a charge, and then he went on his way.”

PlugShare.com also lists public and privately owned charging stations by location. Nissan Leafs and Teslas also are equipped with global positioning system software that shows the driver the location of the closest charging station.

Tesla is expected to unveil its much-anticipated Model 3 mass-market vehicle in Los Angeles at the end of this month. With a projected base price of $30,000 to $35,000, EV ownership will become more comparable to the purchase of gas-electric hybrid such as the Toyota Prius ($24,200) or Chevrolet Volt ($33.200).

EV Chargers

Level I

• 120 volts AC standard outlet

• Delivers power from the wall to the vehicle’s on-board charger

• Time from fully depleted to fully charged: average 7-29+ hours

• Typically provided with electric vehicle

Level II

• 208-240 VOLTS AC installation

• Delivers AC power from the wall to the on-board charger

• Time from fully depleted to fully charged: average 2-10+ hours depending on vehicle.

Level III

• 400-600 volts AC installation

• Delivers DC energy bypassing the on-board charger

• Time from fully depleted to fully charged: about 30 minutes

Source: AeroVironment Inc.

On the web

• Private and public charging locations:

Free, but registration required, atwww.plugshare.com

• Pros, cons of electric vehicle ownership,click here.

• Rules of electric vehicle etiquette,click here.

• Vehicle charging stations,click here.

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