We received a few e-mails over the past couple days from GM-Volt forum member Captbently about his efforts to acquire a portable level 2 charger, and with his permission, are turning his account into a story for others to learn by, as well as offer their knowledge and opinions.
Captbently – whose first name is Kurt – lives in Connecticut, and has access to 240-volt outlets at his son’s house, a barn, and his office in New York. In choosing a solution, he had to tackle several issues.
Kurt leases Volt number 2161, he said, and has been interested in electric propulsion for 20 years since his dad first got an EZGO golf cart.
“I really believed the Volt was going to be something special and it has not disappointed,” Kurt said.
We have observed some of you have previously said you do not see as much need for 240 (aka 220)-volt charging for your Volt – at home, let alone on the road.
Since the car has gasoline power as well, it enables flexibility, and assuming drivers stay within all-electric range (AER), they can make due with the standard 110-volt home charger overnight.
This said, some drivers – like Kurt – may want more daily AER and ability to charge on the go.
“The Volt is about three times more efficient when operating on electricity from the grid (about 120 MPGe),” Kurt said, “rather than from the gasoline powered generator (40 MPG).”
At issue is what charging resources or facilities you have access to – if any.
As we are still in the early days of electric vehicles, even in the middle of some cities or suburban areas it might as well be the boondocks for the lack of public EV charging stations.
This is changing as more facilities come online, but it is still a hit-or-miss proposition to find public charging, so being resourceful helps for EV drivers – and others in charge of implementing solutions too will need to make decisions for the future, but we will get to that …
Problem and solution
To charge Volt No. 2161 at home, Kurt installed an SPX level 2 in his garage. In seeking to order a portable level 2 charger from SPX, he was told it could not deliver in a timely manner, he said.
“About one month ago, I noticed on their Web site that the portable charger was showing a price of ‘not available,’” Kurt said, “I called thinking I would place an order, but they said it would take at least 60 days to receive and that they would be charging my credit card immediately.”
So, rather than being charged and made to wait, he contacted Clipper Creek and paid an extra $200 for one of its small home chargers ($995).
“I ordered their LCS-25 and received it in about three days. While they don’t market it as a portable charger, it is about the same size as the level 1 charger that comes with the Volt, and it is in a NEMA-4 Outdoor enclosure,” Kurt said, “I simply put a plug on the end of the cord that came with the unit.”
As mentioned, the LCS-25 is not designed for this application, but Kurt played MacGyver and re-tasked the simple, compact home charger – that is ordinarily meant to be hardwired – into one he could plug into a 240-volt outlet.
Which brings us to another twist Kurt had to overcome.
“Many of the ads for portable chargers state that they will plug into a standard 240-volt outlet. However, there is no such thing as one standard outlet. Clothes dryers typically use at least two different common 30 amp receptacles. A welder might use one of two different 50-amp receptacles,” Kurt said, “Shop equipment such as a table saw would again use different 15 and 20 amp receptacles. Marine and generators have their own types. Different amperages and voltages dictate the choices and there are both straight blade and twist lock versions for these applications.”
Does this sound kind of complicated? Even if not, it is at least clear that standards vary, and the EV driver will have to wend his or her way through a plethora of choices if wanting to do something like Kurt did.
“I chose a 30 amp three wire (ground plus two feeds) twist lock plug as my personal standard. It is not too large and I think the twist lock makes sense. It is a NEMA L6-30P. The matching receptacle would be a L6-30R,” he said, “A matching female that would go on the end of a cord would be L6-30C. You might find them at Home Depot of Lowes, but if not, any electrical supply company that sells to electricians will have them. Expect to pay about $20 for the receptacle, $16 for the male plug, and $43 for the corded female end. My dealer in New Cannan, Conn. also chose these plugs for their chargers.”
Clipper Creek’s view
Just to check, we called Clipper Creek in Auburn, Calif., and spoke with Technical Customer Specialist, Will Barrett.
Kurt’s installation of a three-prong plug onto the wiring did not raise any red flags from a product liability or warranty standpoint, Barrett said, as long as he did not open the electronics’ housing.
The sturdy, simple, indoor-outdoor LCS-25 should work fine with a plug, he said, even though it is intended to be permanently installed at a fixed location.
Clipper Creek has been a dedicated EV charging station maker since 2007, Barrett said, and got started helping Tesla customers which require more powerful chargers. A Tesla can handle up to 70 amps at about 17 kW, far higher than the 15-16 amps or so of a Volt at 3.3 kW.
The Volt’s on-board charger, like the Nissan LEAF’s, is an effective bottleneck to quicker charging, but its battery is much smaller than the Tesla’s, so that is OK. The Ford Focus EV however will come with a faster 6.6 kW charger.
To make his home-grown solution work with a different configuration 240-volt receptacle, Kurt also created a patch cord to mate to his twist-lock connector.
“If this is to be your only charger, then installation would be as simple as having a L6-30R receptacle installed in a convenient location for charging your car. Since I have a 50-amp welding receptacle in another building on my property, I made up a patch cord. It has the welder male plug on one end (about $54) and the L6-30C on the other end,” Kurt said, “I used two feet of 10 gauge (30 amp) extension cord, although 12 gauge would be fine. Adapter cords are easy to make up. The female would always be the same, but the plug would be for whatever receptacle would be used.”
Issues to consider
For our part, we believe Kurt’s thinking makes sense, and his resourcefulness helps maximize the AER from the Volt, which is the whole idea of an EV in the first place.
His initial experience has shown having access to 240-volts is useful, and he recommends it for public access in addition to the public charging stations being rolled out.
“If you are at a store for 45 minutes, you could expect the range on your Volt to increase by about 3.5 miles,” Kurt said of just plugging into 120-volts, “whereas a level 2 charger would increase your range about 8.5 miles. So my point here is that the cost differential to install a 240-volt outlet vs. a 120 volt outlet is minimal, while the cost to install commercial charging stations with a J1772 plugs is substantial and would be prohibitive in most cases.”
We have been hearing the industry is talking of standards. We think many more standards and issues will need to be sorted, and this is one of them.
Kurt said that not long ago he heard a local Whole Foods had installed charging stations. He was excited to try one for the first time, he said, and expected to see a J1772 plug connected to a charger in the parking lot. Unfortunately, what he found were 120 volt receptacles.
“Okay, this was better than nothing,” he said, “but not the Level 2 that I was expecting to find.”
What is needed are 240-volt receptacles for people with their own chargers, he said. There ought to be enough installed where people park EVs during the day.
And here is a question to ponder, Kurt raised:
“Why not shift some of the cost to the owners in the form of portable chargers? But, this only works if everyone is using the same 240-volt plug,” he said. “The industry needs to adapt the use of a one 220/240 volt plug that would become the standard for 30-amp level 2 portable chargers. Perhaps we can get the ball rolling here in this site.”
We would add if common 240-volt receptacles were available – such as already found at RV parks – even if someone did have a different plug, perhaps also patch cords like Kurt made could also add to the flexibility of the concept.
The question Kurt has, is what do you GM-Volt readers think?
“One suggestion that I have would be to get some consensus on a standard plug that would be used on portable chargers,” he said, “This could vastly reduce the cost for the commercial charging station installations.”
Would the EV-driving society we are working to create benefit from commonly available, public-access, 240-volt plugs?
Would this not be an expedient solution in addition to the rollout of more costly charging stations with J1772 connectors ready to go?
Should businesses charge for access?
At the very least, it looks convenient for Kurt, and others who have access to 240 volts at various locations in their regular orbit.
To those of you technically-minded who may have a view, what plug standard would make sense for 240-volt receptacles into which drivers could plug their own portable level 2 charger?
Or is this not a good idea for any reason? … like theft and vandalism worries?
“One concern that I did not mention in my original email is protecting one’s $1,000 portable charger while in a public parking area,” Kurt said, “So here is a brand new business opportunity – make special locks for portable charging stations.”
That is one security solution. Surely there would be others that could work too – including installing fast chargers in the car.
In all, we like the idea of being more independent.
Thanks to Kurt for pioneering one solution. More constructive feedback is welcome.
This entry was posted on Thursday, July 7th, 2011 at 5:55 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.