Monday, October 27, 2008

A Volatile Market

"I think $100.00 a barrel is a fair price" - OPEC oil minister on where he thinks oil should be priced.

Do they just pull these numbers out of their collective asses or what? What ever happened to "market fundamentals" like supply and demand? Hey Jack, if there's no demand for oil because the global economy has tanked, then oil is worth whatever the market will bear, not whatever you think is "fair". These guys don't even realize that by artificially raising the price, that they'll just delay an economic recovery, and thus demand for oil.

This kind of volatility is what drives me to drive a car that doesn't play the Oil Game. I'm so mad at energy producers that I'm really, really trying to figure out how to get my hands on some solar panels. I consume 360-400 kWh per month of electricity for driving. If I generated that much with a solar, grid-tie system, I am essentially driving on sunshine. Of course, if I were really bitter, I'd fork out $40k for a system that generates 1400 kwh/month and eliminate my electric bill completely and be off the grid.

I see 2 silver linings in the current economic failures:

1. People have not yet reverted to their normal, wasteful driving habits. SUV sales are still down, small car, hybrid sales are still up...for those who can actually secure a car loan.

2. People are listening to these assholes at OPEC talk about raising the cost of energy in the middle of a recession when people are struggling and it's making them angry. That means that alternative energy development hasn't yet collapsed in the face of cheap gas prices.

People definitely need to understand that the market is volatile, the pundits are lousy at predicting the future, and you could get pump shock again in the near future, especially if it's a really cold winter. We need to keep pushing, keep developing, and not slack off just because gasoline prices have dropped 40%. If anything, this is a welcome breather while we come up with solutions to wean us from the petroleum tit.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Talk Show of My Own...

"Right, sir and then we'll need you to email us a picture of yourself" - CNN correspondent in a request for an interview.

Pfft...yeah right, get knotted.

For fun, I've sent in a few "opinions" to CNN's iReport regarding my EV and my views on the latest crop of foo- er, I mean candidates. Someone at CNN thought my views were worth airing (sincerely or for entertainment, I'll never know which) so I received a call on my cell phone. He had me right up to the point where he asked for a photo of myself. I declined, stating that I'm not the one running for President and that I love my anonymity too much. I'm not posting my picture for all the world to see, while the media twists my words into something humorous or that supports some journo's point of view. I'm pretty opinionated. My supervisor routinely suggests that I start my own "Imus in the morning" type of talk show. I'm as offensive as Imus so that's probably not too good of an idea.

My mileage has increased over the last month or so. I'm driving 15 miles per day, 5 days a week with 40 miles on 3 weekends, and 100 miles during a drill weekend. That's 520 miles per month. I'm up to 3100 miles on the new pack so far. I've been very careful to keep the batteries clean, connections tight, and keep them well watered. My fancy new hydrometer shows the electrolyte to be clear and clean and all cells in good health.

Checking individual cells is kind of a pain and I'm glad it's infrequent maintenance. You have to pop the caps off of all the batteries and stick this "turkey baster with a gauge" down into each cell. Your check how far the float rises and note the reading. An 8 volt battery has 4 cells. If one of them is dead, then the battery is out of balance with all the others. I have a total of 64 cells to check. It takes me about 20 minutes, but that's because I have to crawl around and remove the engine lid to get at the last four batteries comfortably.

You can't place a volt meter on an individual cell, so this is a way of checking the voltage chemically. It's something easy that anyone can learn in a few minutes.

The paint on my motor was flaking off so I cleaned and re-painted it with Hi-Temp black BBQ grill spray. The motor's heat cured the paint and made a durable finish. Once the weather cools, I'll place the belly pan back on the car to protect the motor and controller from the winter road salt.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Election Fatigue

I'm too disgusted to start off with the usual entry quote.

We've got 60-odd days until Voting Day and I'm already tired. The issues are being defined by the criteria of whichever one makes the best weapon against a campaign opponent, not whether it's a national problem or not.

I think that neither of the current presidential candidates (or their running mates) are at all a good choice but I'll make a public statement...a bet if you will, that Barack Obama will end up being the next President. When I think of how I've spent 18 years of my life in the military supporting and defending this mess we call the "United States", I just wince.

Oh, and my favorite time of year is here- Hurricane season. It's fun to watch oil and gas prices rock 'n roll to the unpredictable pathways that these storms take. We've set our critical national infrastructure up in what is essentially a lane in a bowling alley and we've put what was one of our larger cities in basically a large soup bowl. Sweet.

Friday, August 15, 2008

For Every Action, there is an equal amount of Inaction to Ensure a Zero Rate of Progress

"People should just stop driving" - quote from a CNN reader

Well, I now understand why "Rome is burning"..or at least one reason. Because we squabble ourselves into inaction. We The People have no right to be angry at Congress for not accomplishing anything meaningful in the last couple of years. I don't think we could do any better for ourselves.

Read this article: , then scroll down to the comments.

For every person who said a DIY EV conversion was a "great idea", there were 2 who said "it'll never work", "it's not practical", "it's dangerous", "it pollutes as much as a gasoline car" etc, etc.

Let me school any of you who are reading my blog as to why these people are full of crap and I'll offer web links to back me up, unlike all the uneducated naysayers who commented on the article.

1. "It'll never work" Tell that to these 2,000 people: (These are just the folks who felt like sharing, not all of them do) I drive mine every single day, 20-40 miles.

2. "It's not practical" Hey asshole, don't presume to speak for me. I can't help it that you bought a McMansion that was a 90 mile round-trip from your job. Don't penalize me because I lived within my means. My EV hauls me, my groceries, my buddies and family to 90% of places that I need to go. You're right, it's not practical for everyone, just the 80% of us who typically drive 27 miles per day. Since it doesn't work for everyone, let's make it illegal so no one can do it.

3. "It's dangerous" No shit. So was sailing to America. So was landing on the moon. So is stepping outside and taking a deep breath. Gasoline is dangerous. So is your hydrogen fuel cell car. It might sound grandiose to compare an EV to the space shuttle, but the risk vs. gain is just as vital in our current situation. The reward totally justifies the risk, and the risk is minimal. The risk of sticking your head in the sand and wishing we could go back to the '50's is much more dangerous.

4. "It pollutes as much as a gasoline car" Another myth. Study after study shows that an EV powered by coal-fired electricity is still 2/3 cleaner than a gasoline powered car. Why? Because it's more efficient. EV's use less energy to do the same thing. They use less because they don't waste energy as heat, noise and friction. Because currently there is still enough spare capacity available that the power plant isn't burning any extra coal to charge my car. See:
And if you're still feeling guilty about your carbon footprint, feel free to install enough solar panels on your home to offset the amount of kilowatt hours that your car is using. Typically, 300kwh/month. You don't HAVE to make electricity from coal and you don't HAVE to get it all from your local utility. Stop being such a bunch of pussies. Spend some money on something meaningful instead of Madden '09 for your Xbox 360.

5. "All those batteries will cause worse pollution than gasoline cars" Another bullshit myth. Has anyone been tracking scrap metal prices lately? Lead, nickel, copper, steel and iron (the main components in most batteries) are going at record prices. We'll do the same thing with EV batteries that we've been doing for years: Recycling them. Every time you turn in your old, dead car battery at the auto parts store for a new battery, the old one is recycled. You don't really think that the auto parts store is just tossing it in the dumpster do you? It's worth money to them! Hell, people STEAL batteries for money. 97% of a lead battery is reused. Read here:

In conclusion, don't be stupid all your life. Too many people have "let perfection become the enemy of good". What that means is, people refuse to adopt a new way of doing things because it's not absolutely positively perfect. Since no one can agree on a single, new way to do everything, everyone wants to sit around, bitch and do nothing.

The single best reason to go EV is just "because I want to, and you can't stop me". If you don't like it, feel free to pass me in the left lane.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Too Good To Last (Again)

Still nothing clever to quote. My acquaintences have been quite bland lately.

I haven't had an EV failure, but the oil bubble has finally popped and fuel prices are deflating fast. This will drag out my return on investment on my battery pack considerably.

Based on the last two oil spikes, in '70 and again in the '80's, I'm sure that we as a nation haven't learned a thing and that America will soon return to it's "regularly scheduled program" of SUV's, excess and American Idol.

What a drag. I'm sorry for all the pain that recent energy prices have caused (especially low income folks) but there was real motion on energy development, and an increase in consciousness. I thought I was finally going to witness my country stepping into the 21st century.

Now, I'll be re-labeled as a non-conformist crackpot instead of a forward-thinking individual and resume my normal place in society.

Ah well.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

No Ill Effects...

No quotes today, I'm in a hurry.

I've installed a blower motor to send cooler air over the motor controller in the hot summer months. I'd like to make a "Y" splitter to send some cooler air over the motor brushes as well. The car continues to run without problems. I add water to the batteries every couple of months and scrub the green fuzz off of the battery terminals. I've driven some long commutes to my Navy reserve center.

I bought a quality battery hydrometer to check the condition of the individual cells. All batteries check out fine. The electrolyte is clear and clean indicating that the plates are not shedding any active material. So far I have 2300 miles on the new pack. I'm aiming for 10k-14k miles on this pack.

With gas around $4.00/gallon, I'm saving about $80.00/month, recuperating the cost of one new battery per month. Fuel prices are falling, so my advantage is slipping. I have no intention of abandoning the project if fuel prices fall however.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The real operating cost

"Kill-a-What? What's that? No dude, Kill-a-Watt" -discussion at work.

A Kill-a-Watt is a meter that you can buy which will tell you how much power any particular appliance in your house is using. You can calculate how much money something costs you for a day, a week, or a year. It's cheap and simple. The only limitations are that it's 110 volts only, and 15 amps maximum.

Guess what? My car's onboard charger draws 16 amps. The meter was very cheap so I plugged it in and babysat the affair until the bulk phase was over and the amps dropped off for the finishing phase. I didn't care if it melted down, I just didn't want to start a fire. The car has a bigger impact than I thought but it's still better than $4.09/gallon.

If I drive every day, the car uses 300 kwh (kilowatt hours) per month. My May electric bill was 1001 kwh, so the car was 1/3 of that. I pay .10 cents/kwh. That's $30.00/month, driving 20-40 miles a day.

Let's compare that to my DeLorean that gets 23 mpg combined city/hwy. 30 hwy.

20 miles a day for 30 days: 20 X 30=600 miles.
600 miles / 23 mpg= 26 gallons of fuel at 4.09/gallon, is $106.00


And yes, I probably drive 20 miles on the weekends too. All that errand running, grocery shopping, etc. Hell, it's more if you factor in my 98 miles of driving to and from my reserve unit in Baltimore once a month. So is it cheaper to operate? Yeah, now that gas prices are crazy. If the oil bubble pops, it might not be.

Now I have to recoup the cost of those damn batteries I bought. $1245.00 total, $83 each and I bought 15 of them.

A savings of $76.00 a month...that'd be 16 months.

Should be cake right?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Not a drop to drink...

"Gasoline everywhere, but not a drop to drink"

I'll be honest. When I embarked on this "mode" of transportation, I never in my wildest nightmares imagined that I would be so right, and that the cost of fuel would skyrocket to nearly $4/gallon and in such a short time. I'm not saying "nyah nyah" or "I told you so". I feel for people who can't afford to drive to work or to the doctor. I'm watching the American middle class disintegrate into people who drive their SUV's to the food bank. Truly bizarre.

That said, we have proven on world-wide news, that we are stupid people. Otherwise intelligent, educated people snared in crooked mortgages they can't afford, driving vehicles that they can no longer afford to operate, to jobs that are too far away. No savings, no Plan "B". Just indignation that someone didn't protect them from themselves. My friends and neighbors just shake their head at me in wonder now. One co-worker commented, "You really saw this coming didn't you?" I was honest and told him that I didn't. Worse, we have the nerve to send the President to Saudi Arabia to ask for a "fix" like a meth addict.

Ok, enough soap-box. I have mounted my ammeter shunt instead of letting it flop around in the motor compartment. All new batteries are installed, and I've been VERY gentle while I'm in the break-in period. No more than occasional 10 second bursts of 120 amps, normal acceleration of 100 amps, and cruising at 80 amps. I still make speed, but it takes longer to get there.

I still love the car. I enjoy driving it. It barely impacts my electric bill. I'll be taking it to the Virginia "Bug Out" to show in the "special interest" category.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Idiot Proofing

"Insert clever comment here"

Sorry. No one's said anything memorable, or witty of late.

It's often said amongst us EV'ers that one of the biggest barriers to production electric vehicles is idiot-proofing these cars. Even though it's quite easy to kill yourself or others with a gasoline powered car, electric vehicles hold a special fear in the American public's eyes. Aside from hazard-proofing them, the cars need to be self-destruction proofed so that the owners don't slag their motors, controllers and battery packs.

I haven't done any of this to my car but I've been wanting to. I've learned that my charger has a built-in relay that I can use to power a dummy light to keep me from driving off with the cord plugged in. I also want to dial down my motor controller to keep me from accidentally hammering my batteries with too heavy an amperage load. It'll be beneficial for the motor too.

I also abhor the way the builder wired in the DC-DC converter and the controller pre-charge circuit. I'm going to buy a terminal board and properly screw all this stuff down......IF the warm weather ever finally gets here.

I've replaced 10 of 16 of my damaged batteries so far. I only drive very gently on low speed roads. Once they're all replaced, I'll be back on the major highways.

Joke's On Me

"What's this solid crap?" -My comment after seeing metal chunks in my battery hydrometer.

That comment marked the very rapid failure of my battery pack. I managed to get 7,000 miles from them before I killed 'em. That's not very good for those of you who are wondering. Here's the how and the why:

1. In the early months of last year, I had no instruments and I was operating on the false premise that these golf cart batteries were good for loads up to 300-400 amps. Wrong-O. 8 volt golf cart batteries are good for steady currents of 120 amps and bursts of 180.

2. The winter here was very cold and dry. I ended up on a drive where I underestimated my range and really drew the pack voltage down past the minimum point. The result was dead battery cells scattered through out the battery pack. How could I tell? All the battery voltages were really weird so I used a battery hydrometer to check the electrolyte levels in the individual cells. A battery hydrometer has a weighted needle in it and a graph on the side. Where ever the needle floats to indicates how much charge that cell has. Lots of cells read "zero". I also sucked up a lot of metal bits. The metal is...was active material that was shed from the battery plates while I was pulling 350 amps from the batteries. Yummy...... so "don't do that".

An 8 volt battery has 4 cells. 2 X 4 = 8 volts. A single dead cell makes the battery 6 volts. Or, 8 volts with a lot less capacity if you prefer. I had dead cells in nearly every battery. My range shrank to 15 miles on the best of days.
I knew my ignorance of proper care would catch up to me. I was expecting to only get 10,000 miles from the batteries...but I didn't quite make it.

There is a correlation between how deep you discharge lead-acid batteries versus how many charge/discharge cycles you get from them. If you only discharge them 5%, then you get 1,000's of cycles from them. That can be years of life. If you drag them down to 80% discharged every time, you'll get about 800 cycles. If you hammer them down past the 80% safety threshold, then you lose even more cycles...600, 400, 200....until you might kill them in just a couple of months. Also, if you discharge lead batteries at rates they weren't designed for (which was my primary mistake), you'll have the same effect.

Ok, so I learned the expensive lesson. My cost/benefit analysis says that in the 13 months I drove the car, and the average cost of gasoline versus the cost of the batteries, I broke exactly even. Well...not exactly. I didn't recoup the cost of electricity which was probably only a couple hundred dollars. Half of my charging was done at the local mass transit parking garage for free.

So...I'm still not financially or technically ready to upgrade to Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries so I've settled on flooded golf cart batteries again. This time I've really cheaped out and bought Energizer 8 volt batteries from Sam's Club. How's this for global economy: The batteries are made by a Mexican company for Johnson Controls which then sells them to Energizer who slaps their label on them and sells them exclusively at Sam's Club. About the thing that makes me feel good about these batteries is the one year warranty. I've been in touch with technical support at Johnson Controls and they "assure" me that these batteries are durable and dependable.

I'm hoping that my increased knowledge will help me keep these batteries alive for 10,000 miles or better. Forewarned is forearmed they say...

Why did I buy a cheaper, maybe questionable replacement battery? Because the price of "commodities" has shot up in the last several months. The batteries I had were $83.00 each. Now they're $100.00 each. Trojan, the Cadillac of golf cart batteries are $140-180 EACH. The Energizer batteries were $74.00 each.

I'm hoping that the higher and faster that gas prices climb, the quicker I'll recoup the cost of my less expensive battery pack (and the cost of the car). Fuel prices are $1.00 per gallon higher than they were over the last year of driving with my old pack. It's all about cost/benefit analysis.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Right Tool for the Job

"The thing is so reliable, that it's almost boring." -Me to a curious onlooker.

I haven't made many entries of late because there's really not much to tell. I drive the car every chance I get. I travelled 5,200 miles in 2007, starting at the beginning of March on through to December. 2 full months of that, I did not drive the car because I was out of town on business otherwise I'd probably be up to 6,000 miles.

One improvement that I just made was to install the proper sized motor controller for my battery pack. I have been using a controller rated for 72-120 volts, but I've been feeding 128 volts to it, which is risky. I met a gentleman in the online EV community who has a car with a 96 volt pack but his controller is bigger, rated at 96-144v. So basically, he was at risk of his controller just shutting down if he ever dipped below the minimum voltage and I was at risk of blowing mine up by exceeding my maximum voltage. We arranged a swap plus a little cash on my part. So, as the title says- the right tool for the job, for both of us.

I've taken to driving the car for longer distances. I now drive 28 miles (one way) to my military reserve center and I plug it in when I arrive. It's ready to go by the time I'm done at the end of the day.

It's winter now and the cold weather really plays havoc with my lead acid batteries. My range has dropped to a very cautious 25-30 miles. I feel that my battery charger would really benefit from the optional temperature compensation probe. It lets the charger know the ambient temperature and compensate by altering the charging algorithim. Simply put: It charges the batteries a little more when it's cold out and a little less when it's hot out. It's better for the life of the batteries.

As the batteries age, they are beginning to require more water. I used to add distilled water every 3 months. Now it's every month and a half. It's not a big deal and water is cheap. It's merely an observation.

I enjoy driving the car immensely and I've loaded it up with Sirius satellite radio and a new GPS that I received for Christmas. I've shown the car at some vintage VW social meets and the car is always met with wide acceptance.