WINTER EV SERIES PART 2 | Driving a 62kWh Nissan Leaf at -25°C

Posted on Jan 27, 2021
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Posted on Jan 27, 2021

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Reading time: 9 min
In Part 2 of our winter electric vehicle series, we take a 2020 long range (62kWh) Nissan Leaf e+ on a weekend backcountry skiing adventure near Sapporo in Hokkaido, Japan. The trip included 80km of pre-dawn driving at -25°C. Overall, we were happy with the extra range this bigger-battery version gave us compared with the 40kWh Leaf. Given Hokkaido's dirty electricity, however, we calculate this more high-performance Leaf is actually slightly worse for the environment than a hybrid vehicle of the same size here in Hokkaido, unless you're charging predominantly on a carbon-offset residential electricity plan.

In this post we report Hokkaido’s per-kWh emissions to be 656g. This was 2018’s figure. 2019 is 601g, which makes the Leaf just break even with a similar sized hybrid. See Part 3 for a more thorough analysis.

Last updated Jan 29, 2021

In Part 1 of our winter EV series, we took a rented 40kWh short-range Nissan Leaf on a daytrip. This time around, we rented a 2020 62kWh long range Leaf for a weekend (15,730yen for 48 hours from Nippon Rent-a-Car), hitting two backcountry ski touring routes on two consecutive days. The skiing was fantastic. The car was good but not outstanding. The emissions, however, were disappointing.

Read on for the full low-down.

Other reports: Winter Part 1Winter Part 3 | Summer Battery Torture Test

WEEKEND DETAILS
Car:
2020 Nissan Leaf e+ G 62kWh 2WD | 217bhp (160kw)
Distance: 325km (Ascent: +1979m/-1979m)
Air temperature: -25°C to -4°C
Battery level | Start: 97% | Finish: 21%
Fast-charging time (44kWh): 55 minutes
Fast-charging time (30kWh): 27 minutes
Slow-charging time (1.1kWh): 11hrs
Efficiency: 4.2kWh/km (2.6 mi/kWh)
Tires: Dunlop WinterMaxx winter tires
Passengers: 3 people (including driver)

Key Points

With skis on the roof and driving at -25°C (-13°F), real-world range of a Nissan Leaf e+ (62kWh) is 190km. Hokkaido’s electricity is some of the dirtiest in the OECD, so a 62kWh Leaf is slightly worse for the environment than a similar sized hybrid here. If you’re charging at home on a carbon-offset electricity plan however, emissions will be much less. It’s possible to charge the car on residential mains, but the 110V charging will take three days or more. Even in very small villages fast-chargers (30kW) are available in Hokkaido. Nissan Leaf rentals include free charging in Hokkaido.

Our Route for the Day

DRIVING A 62kWh NISSAN LEAF E+ AT -25°C (-13°F)

So, can a Nissan Leaf function at far, far below freezing? Short story is that we found battery performance drops up to 30%, but is still tenable at a range of around 200km. We drove the car 80km with skis strapped to the roof to a very rural backcountry ski touring location north of Sapporo City here in Hokkaido, northern Japan to test it all out.

We left Sapporo City before dawn. It was -13°C (9°F). The temperature just kept dropping as we drove. It was soon -25°C (-13°F).

As you can see in the images above, we started at 95% battery. The typically optimistic onboard computer estimated a hefty 320km range.

63.2km later, we’d burned through 33% of the battery. Extrapolating that real-world performance, that gives us a total range of 190km if the battery had been 100%. How much of that diminished range is due to air resistance due to the skis on the roof, and how much is due to the cold, it’s hard to say. Note, however, that we were driving at an average of 30km/h. We were cruising at about 70km/h at times, but certainly not highway speeds.

Either way, this is the reality for backcountry skiers here in Hokkaido. Ideally skis will be in a ski box on top of the car. Realistically, you’ll be driving early morning at temperatures well below freezing. Therefore, one can only realistically expect around 200km range on a single charge in a long-range Nissan Leaf.

NISSAN LEAF 2020 62kWh CARBON-EFFICIENCY IN HOKKAIDO

So the car is useable despite the cold. But what about this so-called “Zero Emissions” car’s actual emissions? We mentioned in Part 1 that the smaller-capacity 40kWh Nissan Leaf was at least 25% more carbon-efficient than a similar sized hybrid. What about the 62kWh version?

Spoiler: it’s bad. One of the huge drawcards of an electric car is the potential greenhouse gas emission reductions they offer. However, given Hokkaido’s dirty electricity mix (656g CO2/kWh), this higher-capacity, higher-performance Nissan Leaf logs slightly more lifetime emissions than a similarly sized hybrid vehicle.

Using the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology’s comparison tool, I compared a 2019 Nissan Leaf e+ (62kWh) with a 2017 Toyota C-HR Hybrid. We set the winter battery performance to 70%, and the electricity mix CO2 emissions to 656g, but left everything else default.

Results were not encouraging, with an overall lifecycle emissions of 182g/kWh for the all-electric Leaf and more climate-friendly 171g/kWh for the hybrid Toyota (source). Based on these calculations, you’d need to drive the 62kWh Nissan Leaf for over 400,000km before it becomes as carbon-efficient as the hybrid.

WHY IS A LONG-RANGE NISSAN LEAF SO DIRTY?

It’s only dirty for us here in Hokkaido because Hokkaido’s electricity is very carbon-heavy. For every kWh of electricity produced by Hokkaido’s sole electricity monopoly Hokuden, they spew 656g of CO2 into the atmosphere. This is considerably worse than even the EU’s worst offender Poland. Hokkaido is still better than China and Australia, but that’s not saying much.

If Hokkaido switched on it’s sole nuclear reactor (mothballed since 2011 due to public pressure), this would immediately reduce fire-powered electricity production by 25%. Nuclear-power headaches notwithstanding, this might bring Hokkaido electricity-production emissions down to under 500g/kWh. Still not great, but it would reduce an electric car’s impact on the climate here.

It’s not just Hokkaido’s electricity mix that works against this large-capacity Nissan Leaf. The Leaf e+ gets a larger battery, but also gets a higher-power motor than the shorter-range 40kWh version. 217 horse-power (160kW) versus 147 horse-power (110kW) in the smaller-capacity Leaf.

This makes the 40kWh Leaf tip the scales to better carbon-efficiency than the similar-sized Toyota C-HR hybrid, but tips the scales to worse for the 62kWh Leaf. The long-range e+ version simply uses more kWh per km than the less powerful 40kWh version.

This is disappointing for us in Hokkaido, where the extra 22kWh of battery capacity is essential for longer forays into the far corners of Hokkaido’s outdoor places.

A GLIMMER OF HOPE

For those solely renting electric cars in Hokkaido, there’s no getting away from the emissions issue. However, for those who choose to own an electric vehicle, it may be possible to drastically reduce emissions by switching to a low- or no-carbon residential electricity plan. In our apartment in Sapporo, we’re currently contracted not with Hokuden (Hokkaido’s main electricity provider) but Shizen Denryoku 自然電力. They have a a 100% carbon neutral plan, which offsets the carbon emissions using carbon credits (or, more specifically, Non-Fossil Fuel Certificates 非化石証書).

If we owned an electric car and drove it even 50% of the time on charge from our apartment supply (with the rest charged on the road), we’d essentially halve the emissions.

CHARGING INFRASTRUCTURE

So a 62kWh Leaf is dirty in Hokkaido. So let’s talk next about charging.

In our Part 1 post, we mentioned that we were impressed by the number of EV charging spots even in relatively rural areas around Sapporo City. This held true for this slightly more remote foray north of Sapporo City. We were happy to see a 30kW fast-charger outside a Seicomart convenience store in the tiny village of Hamamasu (浜益村 pop. 2,104) on the wild and remote Japan Sea coast (here).

As a testament to how little use the charger sees, we had to dig the cable out of the snow.

We charged here for 28 minutes, for a total of 12.3kWh added to the battery (about 40km extra).

As mentioned in Part 1, one really nice thing about renting electric vehicles in Hokkaido is that they come with a free charging card. Drivers can use these cards at all public charging spots around Hokkaido, including the faster 44kW chargers at Nissan dealerships.

SLOW CHARGING FROM 110V MAINS

All Nissan Leaf rentals in Hokkaido come with a standard 200V mains charging lead. With a plug adapter (you’ll need to have your own, like this), this can also be used on 110V mains, which is the standard voltage in Japan. This will allow 1.1kW charging from any outlet, such as at campgrounds, hotels without 200V charging facilities, and of course residential outlets.

We gave this a go overnight, charging from 86% using our garage power supply (110V). The charging cable was flashing a ‘Fault’ light, but the car was undoubtedly charging, apparently at a rate of 1.1kW. When we plugged it in at 5pm, the onboard computer predicted 11 hours to charge to 100%.

12 hours later at 5am, we had 95%, with the dash now predicting an additional 5 hours for the remaining 5%. Not bad, and better than nothing. But on a long multi-day road trip, you’d be hoping accommodation providers had 200V charging facilities. 200V should provide 3kW charging, versus only 1kW on 110V.

As an aside, our apartment is 100% electric, running on Shizen Denryoku’s SE100 plan, which is 100% carbon neutral (due to purchase of carbon credits).  So those 5kWh or so of charge we got overnight, at least, were clean.

2WD DRIVING IN THE SNOW AND ICE

Once again, we had no issues with the fact the car is 2WD. Taking off from lights, the car’s traction control would sometimes kick in, but not worries there.

There was one occasion I needed to get the shovel out to get unstuck though. I parallel parked into a dug out snow bank on the side of the road, to get the car off the road as much as possible while we were out on a 6 hour ski tour. The dug-out was clearly off the shoulder of the road somewhat, as the front wheel dropped a bit into softer snow, off the side of the road. Had we been in an AWD vehicle, we would  have had no issue to back up and pull out. As it was, the front left wheel had dug itself a nice divot, so I had to clear some snow away from the front of the wheel. We were then able to drive away.

I’m accustomed to driving Chris‘s epic 4WD Honda Elysion 3.0L V6 people-mover, which will drive over and through anything. A 2WD Leaf forces one to adjust expectations somewhat, but the lack of 4WD even on this longer trip has so far not been a deal-breaker.

PUTTING A ROOF-RACK ON A RENTAL NISSAN LEAF

We’ve talked about this rental car hack elsewhere, but for carrying skis on a rental car, we’ve found the most straight forward method is using strap-on foam racks and some long Voile ski straps.

The same goes for the Leaf. Strap ’em on and away you go.

It’s unlikely that a rental car company would explicitly authorize their use, but they don’t leave any marks on the car, and are a great way to free up space in the car.

If you get really inventive, it’s possible to extend this hack to a rack that will take two Canadian canoes.

HOW WAS THE SKIING?

After all is said and done, this is no more than a tool to get us and our equipment to trailheads. We want that tool to have as little impact on the climate as possible, and unfortunately the Nissan Leaf 62kWh version just doesn’t quite deliver on that, unless one owns the car here in Hokkaido and charges mostly on a carbon offset residential electricity plan like Shizen Denryoku

We did get some excellent ski touring in though. One 6 hour mammoth ski tour north of Sapporo to the diminutive but impressive Bekkari-dake 別狩岳 (726m, location), and one to Shirai-dake 白井岳 (1301m, location) near Sapporo Kokusai Ski Area.

We’re not sure when Part 3 of this Winter EV Series will be, but we’ll keep you posted.

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