Results filed under: “electric car”

jesse
@ April 5, 2010


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1
With electric cars soon to be flooding the market, the ways in which they will affect the energy and transportation industry are starting to come into sharper focus. First, a little horn tooting: back in August of last year, I said this:

Imagine this. You are home from work for the day with your electric vehicle plugged in in the garage. You've programmed your smart meter to charge the vehicle when electricity is cheap, and then discharge the vehicle back into the grid when electricity gets expensive. Your car battery has become the reservoir, and you make money while it sits there.  The demand for dirty-burning peaking generation is reduced and the cost of electricity drops. Smart grid technology makes this possible.
Last week, Ford and Microsoft announced this:

The companies said Wednesday at the New York International Auto Show that this is the beginning of a smart system that will help utilities and customers manage energy costs and electrical generating capacity.
"Manage electrical generating capacity" is another way of saying "We're going to use the storage capacity of your electric cars to make a shitload of money.
 

To understand why, think about how you use electricity. During the evening when you are at home, you've got the TV on, every light in the house on even though you are only in one room, the A/C blasting, maybe you are listening to your jambox. Then you go to bed and turn almost everything off. Let's say that in the evening you were drawing 2 kW of electricity, and when you go to bed you are drawing 1/4 of that. The electric company has to have at least 2 kW of generation capacity to meet your needs - they had to buy that equipment. But when you turn everything off, 3/4 of that capacity is sitting there collecting dust.

If you have an electric car without the Microsoft program, the car starts charging as soon as you get home. If it draws 2 kW while charging, you've doubled your home peak electricity usage. That means the electric company now needs 4 kW of capacity instead of just 2. And when you go to bed and your car is done charging, you are only using 1/8 of that capacity.

What the Microsoft program will do is let you plug in the car, but not charge it right away. It will wait until your electricity draw drops, and THEN it will turn the charger on. Now you are using the 2 kW of capacity the electric company installed to cover your needs while you are asleep.

In other words: without the program, electric companies need to spend money to expand capacity to cover your needs. But with the program, electric companies better utilize the equipment they have already purchased.



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jesse
@ August 26, 2009


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1
Alright, I get it. You don't want to hear about electric cars anymore. That's fine. My lips are sealed.

Done.

Really, who cares, right? It's not like its the most important technological innovation in the transportation industry since the invention of the internal combustion engine. I'll just zip it.

What. Ever.

I'll just be quiet and you can get all your information on the future of electric vehicles elsewhere. Like, say, The Economist. Sure, that information may be coming from some brain dead hack who doesn't even know what he's talking about WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU EDITORS OF THE ECONOMIST WHY WOULD YOU LET SOMEBODY SAY THIS

The EPA has yet to reveal its draft methodology for testing the Volt and other plug-ins. It clearly takes into account some contribution from the vehicle's petrol-powered generator. It also seems to factor in the cost of the electricity (a national average of 11 cents per kilowatt-hour is quoted) used to recharge the battery. But how 230mpg can be claimed for the Volt is difficult to fathom*.
OR THIS

Then the Volt's 1.4 litre petrol-engine has to kick in to cover the extra ten miles--not to drive the wheels directly, like the Prius's engine does, but to recharge the battery, which then feeds juice to the electric motor, which, in turn, drives the wheels. If that were an efficient way of delivering torque to the wheels, all cars would have electric transmission systems instead of mechanical ones. They don't, for good reason**. So expect no more than 20mpg*** for a car the size and weight of the Volt when running under petrol power.
That is not only demonstrably wrong, but monstrously stupid. Hey, let's get rid of all these inefficient wires and power our refrigerators with drive shafts tied to windmills! Because its so much more efficient that way like in the cars driven by Economist authors on their way to "how to be smart" classes in opposite land****.

My point is, there is a lot of stupidity in the world. Stupidity that wraps itself in smart sounding words, like "Economist" and "The". So maybe next time you think, "oh there goes Jesse again, talking about some stupid science shit," your next thought will be, "Well, it could be worse. I could be reading The Economist."

With that said, sit back and read while I calculate the equivalent miles per gallon of a pony-electric hybrid.



Guess how many horsepower the engine is?

* It isn't difficult to fathom, its pretty fucking easy. I'm not saying that everybody can do it, but maybe if you can't do it right, don't fucking write about it.


** That good reason is because it is expensive, not because its inefficient. That's how trains work. Its called a diesel-electric. You are called an idiot.

*** Try 50 MPG. Not 20. I guess the vehicle lost some efficiency while you were digesting the facts and then pulling them out of your ass. I hear that can be an inefficient process.

**** Oh snap!!


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jesse
@ August 15, 2009


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This popped up on Twitter last Tuesday, but didn't come to my attention until yesterday:

Nissan Leaf = 367 mpg, no tailpipe, and no gas required. Oh yeah, and it'll be affordable too!
This message was obviously aimed right at the stomach of Chevy Volt's announcement of a 230 MPG rating from the DOE. Unfortunately it missed, and instead went right into the logic center of my brain, causing it to rattle and spark. This cannot be true, I thought.

Truth begins to reveal itself in the weasel wording of the next message from Nissan, posted about 90 minutes later:

To clarify our previous tweet, the DOE formula estimates 367mpg for Nissan LEAF.
Which begs the question: what is the DOE formula for estimating miles per gallon for an electric vehicle?

If you are thinking you are not interested in reading this, or think its going to be too long or boring, I cannot stress enough how much you should finish this, and how upset you'll be when you are done. Think of this like an M. Night Shyamalan movie: its going to have a twist ending that will leave you confused, angry, and possibly both.


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jesse
@ August 14, 2009


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0
Yesterday, after my third consecutive day spent picking apart the Chevy Volt, I promised to provide some insight into how I thought GM could have avoided some of the problems they were having. I planned on explaining that, instead of forcing their electric vehicle to meet the expectations of today's consumers by putting an expensive internal combustion engine on top of an already-expensive battery driven vehicle, they should have modified consumer expectations of what a car should be. They should have gone all electric.

The extra cost and expense of the IC engine could have gone towards increasing the battery capacity, extending the range from 40 miles up to nearly 200. Or, they could have slashed the price of the vehicle instead. Or both! Offer a range of ranges with a range of prices.

But then I thought that these suggestions seem obvious. Some other smart guy must have already thought of these things, right?


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jesse
@ August 13, 2009


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5
Since Chevy announced that the Department of Energy has anointed the forthcoming Volt with an official efficiency rating of 230 MPG, I have been methodically picking apart the methodology by which this rating was determined. By my reckoning, based on information made public by Chevrolet, the most optimistic rating that should be given to the vehicle is 185 MPGe (that Ge is short for gallon of electrons, the unit of energy I invented to compare the efficiency of electrically powered cars to gasoline powered ones.)

By advertising that the vehicle will get 230 MPG, Chevy is obscuring the true cost of operating the vehicle in both environmental and economic terms. More importantly, they are setting themselves up for a public backlash when people actually start driving the thing and find out most determinedly that they will not get 230 MPG. We know this because the same backlash happened with the Toyota Prius. Except instead of seeing a drop from 65 to 40 MPG based on driver behavior, Chevy Volt owners could see a drop from 230 MPG all the way down to 60.

Or maybe not. It's possible that this backlash will not occur, since in order to determine the fuel efficiency, people need to drive in. And in order to drive it, somebody will need to buy it. And the best estimate is that it will cost $40,000.

Forty. Thousand. Dollars.

How many people are going to line up to buy an experimental $40,000 car? I honestly don't know. But here's a question I can answer: if they do buy it, will it be worth it?


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jesse
@ August 12, 2009


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[Part one is here.]

Yesterday, I stated repeatedly that miles per gallon is a stupid way of rating a plug-in electric hybrid like the Chevy Volt, which is now claiming an EPA estimated 230 MPG for city driving. Let's take this apart one piece at a time.

1) In a gasoline car that gets 30 miles per gallon, you can drive 30 miles and use one gallon of gas. In the Chevy Volt, based on our estimates of 40 miles of electric range and 50 MPG on gasoline backup, you will actually consume 3.8 gallons of gasoline if you drive 230 miles.

2) The EPA rates gasoline engines for city and highway driving for two reasons. The first is that city driving involves idling, which consumes fuel while not actually moving. The second is that the efficiency of gasoline engines varies with speed. However, electric motors have much more forgiving efficiency-speed curves than gasoline engines, and do not need to consume energy while idling. If you drove 100 miles on the freeway or 100 miles in the city, there will be little difference in how much fuel you've consumed.

3) Rating the engine based on gasoline consumption alone ignores the cost and environmental impacts of the electricity consumed during the first 40 miles of travel. Just because you've used no gas after 40 miles doesn't mean you haven't used energy, spent money, or emitted carbon. Its electricity, not pixie dust.

And its this last point that is most important. What is the fuel efficiency of the electric batteries? And how does this compare to the fuel efficiency of a gasoline engine?


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jesse
@ August 11, 2009


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3
General Motors announced today that the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid car has received a 230 MPG rating for city driving. Compared to the 40-60 MPG boasted by today's high-performing hybrid vehicles, it is in another league. But even more importantly, it is a stupid, stupid way to rate the efficiency of a plug-in vehicle.

In a hybrid vehicle, batteries are used to store and recapture energy that is otherwise wasted during braking and coasting. The result is a more efficient use of the energy stored in the gasoline. Even though there is an electrical component to the utilization of the energy, gasoline remains the sole energy source. That's why MPG makes sense as an efficiency rating for hybrids. When you can plug in your vehicle, this is no longer the case. Electricity comes from the grid, gasoline from the pump; you have a dual fuel vehicle. Moreover, the energy is not used at the same time. Stored electricity is consumed before any gasoline. So, why would you rate a vehicle on miles per gallon if it need not use any gallons at all?

The answer is marketing. And 230 miles per gallon is a pretty nice marketing chip for GM to have. But what does it mean? And here is today's question: How did they come up with that number? I'm not exactly sure, but I have a pretty good guess.


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jesse
@ August 5, 2009


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1
[Part one, two, three.]

During this series, I've had one refrain: in comparing the electricity grid to the water distribution system, I've said that there is no reservoir. What that means is: in the water distribution system, water is stored in reservoirs and lakes. When it rains, these fill up. When you turn on the faucet or the shower, they drain out. Because there is storage capacity, you don't need to have your faucet or shower turned at the exact moment that it is raining.

In the electric grid, there is no reservoir. When you turn on your electrical device, somebody, somewhere, has to provide power at that exact moment. When you turn your device off, somebody turns off the supply. That's a simple concept, but doesn't address the underlying question: why isn't there a reservoir? Haven't utility companies ever heard of a battery?


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jesse
@ May 22, 2009


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3
OC tipper yaworm sends me the following link, under the subject line "Fury bait". It's scary how well he knows me.

The name of the article is Plug-In Electric Cars Are Not The Future. The name of the author is Michael Kwan. The name of the magazine is Mobile Magazine. You, dear reader, have hopefully read enough of my articles on this subject that you will know how I respond to this nonsense before I actually respond. In fact, it is my hope that one day a response to such nonsense is no longer necessary. Since we do not yet live in such a world, let's begin with the vivisection of this bullshit.


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jesse
@ April 2, 2009


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1
Tesla Motors has finally unveiled their Model S, an all-electric sedan.  This is the long-awaited follow-up to the Tesla Roadster, their souped-up all electric sports car (with the souped-up price tag to match) that made a splash on the red carpet at the 2007 Oscars, and was never heard from again.  A work colleague asked this question:

Can someone help me understand how charging an electric car with power generated from a coal-fired plant is a good thing? I understand that CO2 emissions from gasoline internal combustion engines are less than coal-fired power plant emissions.  I get the part about buying oil from foreign countries, I'm just talking about net-net emissions.
Ignoring for a moment that this person with an engineering degree was unable to do the math themselves, let's take a look.



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jesse
@ January 16, 2009


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2
Greg asks: What's the deal with this guy?  I don't know if it's going on everywhere, but he's on DC TV and radio a lot, advertising his plan for energy independence.  Is he full of crap?  Is he just trying to get people to buy T. Boone Pickens Brand windmills?  ObscureCraft readers want to know! (and are too lazy to figure it out on their own).

Greg, what are you doing in here?! You are not the Suze!

I'll answer this question, but only because I never got around to actually sending you your prize for winning the ObscureCraft.net Obamaganda contest.  Consider this your winnings.

There are two schools of thought on environmentalism.  I'll call the first one the altruistic view; that is, there is not necessarily a personal immediate benefit to making choices that help the environment, but you do it because you feel it is "the right thing to do."  Call this the Al Gore school. 

The other school is the capitalist view.  Can I make money off of being an environmentalist? That isn't to say that you use being "green" as some bullshit marketing campaign, but rather, is there an inherent competitive advantage to being green? An example would be building an electric car.  You don't build one because you give a shit about the environment; you build one because people will buy it.  This is the T. Boone Pickens school.


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jesse
@ November 14, 2008


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We are about to take a long, dizzying trip through some current events.  We're going to start at oil prices, make our way through fuel conservation, take a brief rest stop at the pork store, and eventually find out way to the auto maker bailout.  Does that sound like fun? It doesn't?


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jesse
@ September 24, 2008


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4
Tired of waiting for the electric car that you won't be able to afford anyway? Wanting to start biking around town, but daunted by the distances, physical exhaustion, and buckets of awkward sweat?  Ladies and gentlemen, your chariot as arrived.

tresterra_europabike.jpg
That, my friends, is an electrical-motor assisted bicycle. 

With a twist of the handlebar, the 400 W motor on the back wheel hub scoots you forward at a top speed of 20 miles per hour for up to 20 miles.  Want to extend your range? Save the battery and give it a little pedal every now and then.

I racked up nearly 2000 miles on my old bike when I was commuting in the northeast.  When I moved to Texas, I was confronted with two problems. First, it is pretty much hot as balls here all the time.  It's almost October, and its nearly 90 degrees outside right now.  And second, there are no shower facilities at my current place of employment.  So, I could either show up for work covered head to toe in sweat, or drive and be covered in shame.  Unpleasant as shame is, it smells much better.


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jesse
@ September 17, 2008


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Recently, my commute has become a bit more stressful.  Gas is hard to come by these days in southeast Texas.  Most of the gas stations in the Houston area are still without power, and the ones that do have power have lines up to 3 hours long.  Supplies are tight - 20% of the gas refining capacity in the US is located here, and has been knocked out of operation.  Even once the power is back, it will take a week or two for supply to get back to normal. 

I've been spending much more time than usual thinking about where the needle on my gas gauge is pointing.  Also, I've been thinking about how much it sucks that a huge metropolitan area like Houston has such an embarrassingly sparse mass transit system.  How bad is it? Well, according to the Houston Metro trip planner, it would take me almost an hour and half to travel the 8 miles between my office and my apartment by bus.  By train... oh right, there is no train.  If only I had a car that didn't need gas...

Against this backdrop, Chevy unveiled the production model of the long-awaited Volt.  The Volt is another step in the stutter-step evolution of the electric car, some of which has been documented on this site.  The short version: GM introduced the EV1 in the 90s, but quickly killed it off to focus their efforts on the production of highly profitable SUVs.  As the 00s have progressed and cheap plentiful gas has become a thing of the past, consumers have turned on GM, shunning their SUVs and turning fuel efficient hybrids like the Prius into sensations.  Oops!

The Chevy Volt is supposed to correct this mistake, and be the next step forward in the evolution of transportation.  A plug-in hybrid, the vehicle has the ability to run for 40 miles without using any gasoline at all.  When the batteries are tapped out, the gasoline engine kicks on to charge the batteries and keep you moving.

chevy-volt.jpgSo, apart from my distaste for zombies, what is my problem with this new electric car?  Well, nothing, really - except that by compromising, they've doomed it to failure.

The EV1 had a range of 75 to 150 miles on a single charge, and the estimated sale price was $34,000 for the base model (EV1s were never actually sold - this was the price used to compute the monthly lease price). 

The Chevy Volt, on the other hand, will only have a 40 mile range, and retail for $40,000.  The problem is the inclusion of a gasoline engine.  Electrical energy storage has been sacrificed to make room for the gas tank and engine, and the added complexity of the system is adding to the cost.

The potential for an electric vehicle based on today's battery technology is staggering.  A vehicle with the same energy storage as the EV1 would have a range of 180 miles! Or, conversely, put in less batteries, drop the gas engine altogether, and decrease the cost. 

The problem is, this calls for a change in how we think about our vehicles.  We want the cars we buy to be everything for every occasion - take the kids to soccer, drive it to work, have sex in the back seat with prostitutes, go on vacations, vent your frustrations on the roads at high speeds, get the groceries, and make up for the insufficient size of your genitals. 

This is an American attitude.  The car, as demonstrated by the success in Europe of Smart Fortwo, does not need to be all things at all times.  The Volt is trying to conform to pre-conceived notions of what a car should be, instead of changing them.  That's too bad, because the Chevy Volt will likely be just another promising failure.


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jesse
@ April 15, 2008


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Well, its the guys who make electric cars.

Tesla Motors made a splash in 2006 with the Tesla Roadster, an all-electric sports car that was named Best Transportation Invention of the year by Time Magazine.   The good publicity continued when the Roadster escorted celebrities to the red carpet of the 2007 Oscars as part of a "green limo" service that included the Toyota Prius and cars that run on compressed natural gas.

Tesla-Roadster.jpg
Sexy.

But now, according to the New York Times (them again!), Tesla Motors is suing a rival car company for stealing their designs and trade secrets. It's so tempting to think of people working on alternative energy like this as the good guys, isn't it? But it turns out they can be just as petty, incompetent, and short-sighted as everyone else in the world.  Let's recap:

The Tesla Roadster, a sexy little minx with a get-up-and-go that rivals the fastest cars in the world, is a year behind schedule.

The Tesla sedan, codename "Whitestar", is going to cost over $60K and the designer, Henrik Fisker may have botched the job on purpose to sabotage it. 

Fisker then took his Tesla earnings and used it to design his own car with the same series electric-gas drive train as Whitestar uses, and called it the Fisker Karma.

Now Fisker and Tesla are in a bitch-slapping match over the designs the Karma.  Or, as one of Tesla's lawyers put it,

"I think it's ironic that Fisker chose to name his car the Karma, when what he's done is very bad karma."
Oh snap!  Although the lawyer does have a point, naming a car the Fisker I'm A Car Design Stealing Douche doesn't quite have the same ring to it as the Karma, does it.


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jesse
@ April 3, 2008


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ev1.jpg

Ethics has an underrated role in science and engineering.  When the Challenger exploded despite advanced knowledge that booster rocket seals could fail in a cold weather launch, that was a clear-cut failure of engineering ethics.  While it may be fortunate that every ethical failure doesn't end with a billion dollar rocket exploding with 5 people inside, some that go less noted are even more damaging.  I recently watched a documentary of such a failure, "Who Killed The Electric Car?"  It turns out I did.  And so did you.

The short version: California passed a law in the late 90's requiring a certain percentage of all vehicles sold in California to be zero-emissions vehicles.  Faced with fighting the law or complying, American car companies decided to do both.  So, while taking the state to court, GM also developed and started leasing the EV1.  Other companies began following suit.  However, when George W. Bush won the White House, the car companies were able to get the federal government to back them in their lawsuit against California; the state finally caved and scrapped the law.  Rather then continue marketing and developing the electric car, which could potentially eat into sales of gas-guzzling, high margin SUVs, GM stopped production, recalled all vehicles when the leases ended, and crushed them into cubes.  You have 30 minutes to move your cube.

crushed-ev1.jpg

The irony? The Toyota Prius and Honda Insight hybrid vehicles were a direct result of the Japanese companies playing catch-up to a perceived threat from electric vehicles coming out of Detroit.  Instead, the short-sighted brass at GM squandered its technological and development head start with electric vehicles.  Now, gas will hit $4 per gallon this summer, "An Inconvenient Truth" is an Oscar-winner, and the Prius is a best-seller.

Instead of acknowledging the necessity of reducing carbon emissions, improving air quality, reducing oil imports from middle eastern autocracies and developing a lead in new technologies, American auto companies spent their money on lawyers and on marketing SUVs to soccer moms in the suburbs, all with the White House's backing.  

When the Challenger exploded, the scientists had told NASA management that O-ring seals could fail before the launch took place.  Canceling the launch took managerial courage which they did not have.  GM could have shown that same courage by sacrificing some short-term profits and pursuing their head start in electric car technology.  Remember, not every technical failure is a result of bad engineering,  and not every failure ends with an explosion.  Don't let this failure slip by you unnoticed just because there is no fireball.  If a car company had the vision (and there is one that does) you could be driving an all-electric car to work tomorrow at a fraction of the environmental and economic cost.

I killed the electric car when I didn't apply my technical skills to solving the problems, but instead worked on fuel cells.  You killed it when you bought an SUV, or thought an electric car couldn't meet your needs, or if you are Alan Lloyd.   Thanks, us.

Want to learn more? Here are some relevant links.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is the lobbying group that spear-headed the legal fight against the ZEV (zero-emission vehicle) standard.

The California Air Resources Board is the oversight group charged with promoting and enacting legislation governing air quality in the state.

If you want to feel like part of the solution without doing anything, you can sign a petition here.




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