Monday, September 9, 2013

Globally Positioning Charging Stations

Tesla Motor Company plans to triple the number of supercharger stations this fall from the current nineteen. These superchargers deliver DC power at 100-200 amps and provide half a charge in about 20-minutes, according to Tesla Motors. Presently, the majority of the current supercharger stations are on the west coast, between San Francisco and Los Angeles, or the east coast between New York City and Washington D.C. Only one is convenient for Arnie’s late summer, cross-country adventure--in Normal, Illinois.

Arnie’s Tesla Model S is equipped with a twin charger. According to Tesla Motors, driving distances vary depending on driving habits, the age of the battery and environment conditions--such as extreme weather and hilly roads. The time it takes to charge the battery is similarly variable. It is based on the voltage and current available from the power outlet. According to the owner's manual, "Charge time is also dependent on ambient temperature and the Battery’s temperature. If the Battery is not within the optimal temperature range for charging, the vehicle will heat or cool the Battery before the charging begins.” (Editor's note: Yes, the owner’s manual refers to the battery with a capital ‘B’. The author supposes it deserves to be a proper noun given the cost.)

Arnie’s new car came equipped with two adapters: a 110-volt standard household adapter and a 240-volt adapter common at RV campsites. (No adapter is needed for a supercharged station.) The 240-volt adapter generally charges at twice the speed of the 110. 

In Arnie’s suitcase among state maps are region-by-region books of AAA-approved RV campsites and a book of KOA campgrounds across the U.S. The books give Arnie a starting point when looking for places to recharge Tesla’s Battery.

In addition to the books, at least one mobile app exists listing various charging stations by city. This, Arnie and Reggie have yet to employ.  “I wouldn’t rely on it anyway, after what we went through in Richland, Washington,” Arnie said.

“Why don’t you search for charging station,” Arnie asked Reggie as they cruised into Washington State.
Their second day on the road was a Thursday—opening night of the National Football League. Arnie’s favorite squad was playing on national television that night; the team he flew to New Orleans last winter with his wife to watch win the Super Bowl; the team he has season tickets to watch in person; the team whose logo was advertised on the purple T-shirt he adorned that day—the Baltimore Ravens. The plan was to charge the Tesla then find an establishment to cheer on those black scavenger birds—5:30 pm kickoff.

Reggie touched the web icon on the navigation system and typed in “charging stations, Richland, WA”—the closest large town on the way to their campground reservation in Pomeroy. A handful of options popped up: Key Bank, Perfection Tire, Richland Toyota, a general electric store and used auto dealer among them. Miss Navigation System directed them to Richland by 5 o’clock. The closest charging station listed was the general electric store—but when they arrived it was closed. Circling the building they only found a 110-volt, household plug—too low to get them to their campsite that night. Next they tried Key Bank. They were also closed, with no visible charger as they circled the premises. Off to the used auto dealer. After circling the block of a busy commercial center they found the building. An employee was walking around outside.

“Excuse me; do you have a charger we could use for our electric car?”

“Wow! What kind of car is that?” the 30-something fellow said.

“It’s a Tesla.”

“Waaay cool.”

“Do you have a place we could charge it for a few hours? Our battery’s running low.” Less than a 30-mile range was displayed on the dash.

“No. Sorry. You might want to check the dealer down the street.”

Arnie drove off to the Toyota dealer. The sky quickly darkened. Bolts of lightning struck in the distance, seemingly touching the Washington plains. Six employees mingled outside the Toyota office under a pavilion smoking cigarettes and admiring the light show. No customers in sight. Reggie exited the Tesla and approached the group. Aged in their mid-20’s to 60’s, the group was as excited as school children at the sight of the electric car. Reggie entertained their questions until he ascertained if they could help. No luck—but they directed him to Perfection Tire about six more miles down the road. Arnie’s frustration grew like the gray storm clouds in the sky. Kickoff was an hour ago. It slowly began to rain. The Tesla’s windshield wipers engaged with no manual direction. The sky rained harder. Automatically, the Tesla’s wipers accelerated. After the third roundabout they spied the sign. Perfection Tire was closed—but Hallelujah! A 240-volt charger…in a steal cage…under lock and key. Arrrggghhhh!!!!

Giving up on the charging stations recommended by the web, Arnie and Reggie decided to leave the town center and drive to the KOA outside town in Pasco. Their mile-range was shrinking like the Ravens lead over the Denver Broncos that night. Maybe it was better Arnie missed the game.

An estimated 19 miles remained in the battery of the Tesla when they pulled into the campground. They had no reservation and the office was closed. Arnie's reservation was approximately 100 miles and two hours east. They plugged in the nearest 240-volt RV space. Tired and hungry with nowhere to go within a reasonable walking distance they rested as the Tesla charged at approximately 25 miles per hour. It was 6:45 pm. 

Many things made the Tesla stand out in a parking lot. Even more so when the luxury sedan was parked in an RV space connected to the grid. When connected properly, the power intake flashes green—superhero Green Lantern green. At dusk and under gray skies, a significant portion of the campsite took notice. 

“What kind of car you got there?” asked a 24-year old motor head who lived in an RV with his mother and dog. 

Arnie gave his usual answers and explained their situation. 

The kid’s name was Joe—a friendly fellow whose pride and joy was a 1973 sky blue Plymouth Duster. “Only one of six in the world with a sunroof,” he proudly exclaimed. Joe assured them that everyone in the park was friendly and that their car would be safe. He took them around the campground—which doubled as a trailer park—to stretch their legs and find a vending machine. Joe smoked cigarettes, told drag racing stories and showed off his wheels. The engine was massive by today’s standards, and clean as a whistle—but when it runs, it heats up like a tea kettle on a burning wood stove packed with logs. “You take this for a spin around town,” Joe said, “and you can’t touch that engine for hours later.”

Arnie and Reggie returned to the Tesla and another fellow approached them. “You mind if I get a picture? I’ve got stock in the company.”

Eventually, the commotion faded. Reggie wrote in his journal while Arnie tried to sleep. They powered out of Pasco at 11:00 pm with a 140-mile range—a 53-mile buffer to their destination.

Driving in the dark under a sporadic rain, it was tough for the weary duo to decipher the landscape once they exited the main highway. The hills climbed steeper and the turns bent windier. That they were far from a waking town was obvious.

The navigation system was working, but with enough mistakes to give them doubt.“Please turn soon,” the female voice said. Arnie didn’t turn thinking they should keep straight to stay on track. “Next turn 60-miles.”

Later, as they passed Dayton en route to Pomeroy, Reggie eyed a KOA sign with an arrow to turn right. The navigation system had us continue straight. Arnie gambled and kept straight. The blue line on the navigation system traveled north, then east, then back south, then back west. The Tesla’s mile-range decreased from 30, to 20…to 10…to (gulp) three. If the final turn ascended they would have been camping with the wolves. 

But alas, destiny was through teasing and dealt them a decline in elevation on a dusty, loose-graveled road. The Tesla charged on the descent back to a six-mile range as they pulled safely next to the campground office. 

The next morning, they arose and noticed the name of the KOA campground.

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