Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Charging toward independence (of gas)

The 240-volt charger for my old Mini-E.
Happy Fourth of July!

Given the day off, I've decided to tackle the issue of charging my Ford Focus Electric at home. And thankfully, it's not that much of a chore!

You see, as a BMW Mini-E Cooper electric pioneer back in 2009 I've had a 240-volt charger already! As part of the program, BMW had an electrician come in, inspect my home's main electric panel (to see if it could handle the load of 240-volts at 40 amps!), and arrange for all the paperwork with the city of New York.

And although I have a (detached) garage, BMW had the certified electrician to come, run the (maximum of) 30-feet of wire from my panel to the outside side of my house next to the driveway and install the Clipper Creek CS-40 electric vehicle charging station (EVCS)—for free! That's a savings of over $1,750, folks! (Although many will contest that "free" meant paying an exorbitantly high monthly lease price for BMW's experimental car!)

The J1772 connector for EVs (left) and the old Mini-E plug.

The problem? Back in 2009, there was no standard connector for electric cars so Mini-E #339 (and all the other electric Mini Coopers) were using BMW's proprietary connector. (And if you look at the pics, it was a robust, industrial-grade thing that looked of high quality—and something that belonged in Dr. Frankenstein's lab!)

The $400 conversion kit from Clipper Creek for its CS-40 EVCS
The $400 kit (after shipping) comes with instructions. And bolstered by assurances from No. 1 BMW Mini-E pioneer Tom, who had done his own Clipper Creek conversion for the BMW Active E, that the work was simple... Off I went today!'

And over an hour later in the hot sun... Bingo! The old charger is ready for the new car!

Now, some caveats!

First: You are dealing with 240 volts of electricity at 40 amps! That kind of power will kill youif you are not careful!!!! Thankfully, my electrician installed an outdoor cutoff circuit near the charger, so ensuring the power to the charging station was dead... Well, that was simple.

Inside the Clipper Creek CS-40 electric vehicle charging staion
What's more, while the charger conversion is easy, you sort of have to have to be little bit of a "handyman." And while I am certainly no Bob Villa (my fingers are too fat to handle and sometime I have little patience for delicate work), I managed. But essentially, if you can change a standard household wall outlet or lighting fixture, you should be able to do this. (Just remember you're dealing with bigger wires and extra electrical safety precautions because you're working on a piece of equipment designed to work with 240 volts at 40 amps!!!!)

Second: I was fortunate enough to keep the Clipper Creek charger after I finished my year with Mini-E #339 in 2010. BMW offered to remove it—or replace it with an AeroVironment charger (the same unit used by Nissan Leaf) if I chose to graduate to an Active E.
My home EVCS is ready for the Focus!

But for those that don't have any electric vehicle charging station at all, expect to pay about $2,000 for a charger like the CS-40 or AeroViroment used by the Nissan Leaf. Or in the case of the Ford Focus, you're suppose to get the Leviton modelmdash;for $1,500

And while it has some neat features, such as being able to plug into any 240-volt wall outlet (meaning you can take it with you), you have to deal with Best Buy's Geek Squad to get it and have it installed!!! (Uh, thanks but no thanks, Ford. That's an epic fail, in my book!!)

Finally: It looks good. But will it charge? One way to find out... Time to get the car from my office!!

In conclusion...I feel good. 

I've taken one more step toward being free from, or less dependent on, gasoline and oil... You know, the stuff that comes from parts of the world that are less-than-friendly—or downright hostile—to America and its allies? Places of the world where we're constantly sending young men and women in uniform to in order to ensure safe and ready global access to that commodity??

Anyway... If you're an American, I hope you have a happy and safe Independence Day!!! Celebrate the freedoms this country affords you and remember the prices that are paid by those in uniform to give you those liberties!

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