Saturday, July 31, 2010

130.1 Miles on a Single Charge

After hitting "----"miles left at the 120 mile mark, I was able to push 9 more miles out of the battery pack before I got the warning icon that means you are just about done!

Today was a perfect day, 75 degrees and clear. I had gone for a short drive with my wife in the morning, then I drove to work. When I got there I realized I had to run some errands so I did and as I was driving back to work I looked down at the range meter and saw that I had already driven 96 miles and had 18% SOC left which is unusually high. The driving conditions were perfect, the temperature wasn't hot enough to need A/C and I had driven about 90% of the 96 miles off the highway at speeds under 45mph. These are the perfect conditions for driving electric and the range was the proof.

Since I wasn't in a rush to get back to work I figured I'd continue to drive and see how far I could go without needing to plug back in. I drove an 8 mile loop around the restaurant a few times before I reached 120 miles which is when the range meter finally displayed "----" which means zero.

I continued to forge on, driving about 35mph until I got to 129 miles which is when a large battery icon appeared. This is your final warning in the MINI-E. This means "Get to where you are going ASAP because you're about to shut down" Only a few MINI-E pioneers that I know of have even seen this icon as they dare not push the car to the point of needing to be towed. The car goes into reduced power mode at this point and you can only go about 25mph which was fine because I was only about one mile from Nauna's and the speed limit on this residential street is 25mph. I'm not sure how far it will go in this mode but I don't think it's much further than a couple miles.

This was a new record single-charge distance for me, besting my previous 128 miles. I have heard or some other MINI-E pioneers getting into the 140's on a few occasions and I do believe it's possible. If I drove the car all day with the intention of saving the battery and going as far as possible, I bet I could have gotten at least another 10 miles out of it. I did drive about 12 miles on the highway, going 65-70mph and I'm sure that cut some miles off my total, and I really didn't try to conserve energy until I realized I was going to try to push it at 96 miles

I keep saying that one day I'm going to set out with the intention of driving the car the most miles I ever have on a single charge. I'm sure I can beat 130 if I keep my speed down and the outside temperature is right like it was today. But for now, 130.1 will have to stand for MINI-E #250's personal best.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Four Months of Driving on Sunshine

MINI-E roof graphics and my house & solar system in the background

It's been almost four months now since I installed a 8.8kw solar photovoltaic electric system on my roof. The system has generated nearly 5 megawatt hours of electricity and roughly half of that clean, renewable energy has gone into my MINI-E's battery pack to allow me to drive about 10,000 miles.

The great feeling of driving an electric car and not using oil has had even greater meaning to me recently with the disastrous oil leak currently in the Gulf of Mexico. Charging the car with electricity I produce myself takes it up even another notch. One of the arguments against electric cars is that a majority of the electric generated in the US is made from coal fired powerplants and that EV's just displace the pollution from the tailpipe to the smokestack. There is some truth to that but it still doesn't mean the electric cars aren't better for the environment. Every comprehensive study that I have read that compares the amount of pollution from electricity generation to the pollution from burning gasoline shows how much worse it is to burn gasoline. Then if you consider the cradle to grave supply chain of oil it becomes even more obvious. From wars over oil to oil supply chain disasters like what we are witnessing off the coast of Louisiana, there really is no comparison. Then consider the fact that you can make your own clean renewable electricity, as I do and the argument isn't even worth continuing, it's game over.

Hopefully with electric cars like the Nissan LEAF, the Chevrolet Volt and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV coming to dealerships in the very near future, I won't be such an aberration. I'm pretty sure as more and more people buy electric cars they will see the environmental and economic benefits of installing a home based Solar PV system to generate their own fuel. I'm not the only one that thinks that either, there even is a website that is dedicated to combination of electric cars and solar electric systems. It's called Solar Charged Driving and you can check it out here:

Another thing I've heard is that our current infrastructure can't support the charging of hundreds of thousands and eventually millions of electric cars. This point has been countered also by people that point out that the majority of EV charging will take place at night when there is a great surplus of electricity. I can't really say one way or the other since I don't have the data that would support either argument. I can say it's true that most EV's will charge at night and you can program your EV to charge whenever you want so you can take advantage of off peak rates and charge when there is a surplus. Now if people follow my example and decide to install a solar PV array, they will be helping the grid instead of hurting it. By supplying electricity to the grid during daylight hours when demand is highest, and charging at night when demand is low and there is a surplus, I am actually helping the grid, not creating a problem with my EV. Now imagine if there were hundreds of solar arrays in every town, supplying electricity locally and reducing the strain on the local power grids. I think EV owners will be much more inclined to install solar systems, as I did. I had always thought about it, but it wasn't until I got the MINI-E and realized that I wanted to be driving electric cars from now on that I actually decided to install the system.

Soon we will see if the public embraces the electric cars that are coming to market. If they are received as well as I think they will be, than you can bet you'll start seeing more and more shiny black panels popping up on rooftops across America.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

35,000 hard miles: No reduction in range yet

It's been thirteen months now that I've been driving MINI-E #250 and I just passed 35,000 on the odometer driving home from work last night. Long gone are the days that I would worry if I could make a destination, if the car had it in it to make a certain range. Once I had the car for a while and I understood it's range and the relationship between speed and range, I very rarely have to wonder if I can make a particular destination. Recently I started thinking how I haven't noticed any reduction in the cars range yet, but I wanted to take a quick look at my trip logs to make sure. If there were any reduction that I didn't notice myself, it would be there in the recorded numbers for me to see.

I drive the car hard, I don't pamper it at all. Actually I drive it harder than if I owned it because after all, I don't own it and I get to hand the key's back to BMW next June and I'm really not responsible for the condition the car(or the batteries) are in. One of the first thing I looked at was how many times I charged the car since I picked it up June12th, 2009. That would be 623 times in 396 days. Since I charge at work, many days I plug in when I arrive at work even if I don't need the extra juice, just to top it off. This was especially true in the cold winter months when I plugged in just to help keep the batteries warm. I also noticed that I plugged in when the cars state of charge was at or below 5% 52 times. I mention that figure because it is commonly accepted that deep discharge is not a good thing for these lithium ion batteries and below 5% would qualify as deep discharge. Additionally, 52 times in 13 months would also definitely constitute "abuse" and I would not want to do this if it were my $25,000 battery pack. You should know, although I keep talking about how I'm abusing the car, I'm not driving it hard to be spiteful or malicious, I'm test driving this prototype vehicle to find the problem areas and help BMW recognize what works and what need to be improved so I'm doing exactly what they want me to do with it; beat it up and find the weak links.

So, after taking a thorough look at 35,000 miles of trip data I can conclude there has been no recognizable reduction of range, even though I have charged the car way more then would be expected in 13 months, driven about double the miles you would normally drive and had frequent deep discharges of the battery pack. The only pattern to range reduction I can see is temperature related. Both extreme heat and cold weather cause the range to drop. I believe it's primarily due to the extensive use of the heater and the air conditioning because they both use a lot of energy, however the extreme ambient temperature does have it's own direct effect on the batteries also.

So thirteen months in the car is still performing as well as it did when I picked it up. It will be interesting to see it this continues or if the excessive driving and charging that I do with the car starts to get the better of it. Stay tuned...

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Rolling Political Statement

When I first agreed to lease the all electric MINI-E, I really did it because I thought it would be interesting to drive a car so different than everything else on the road. I thought electric cars might be a viable alternative to internal combustion cars but I wasn't really sure if they were ready to take on the established oil burners just yet.

Driving the car for a year taught me a few things, not the least of which that we have the technology to build these cars now, not ten years from now, and that they can compete head to head with their ICE counterparts. Of course there are things they do not do as well as gasoline powered cars can, like drive long distances between refueling and this will make a lot of folks hesitant to buy one until the single charge range increases. However there are a lot of things these cars do well and even better than gas burners like the simple fact that they do not use oil for fuel.  I proudly display that fact in more than one way on #250 and it garners a lot of attention from passers by.

I always see people taking pictures of the car, the emblems and the license plate, sometimes even with their cell phone while they are driving. A wave and a thumbs up usually follows. Recently, I ordered some new magnets from Robert at TwistyBiz offers all kinds of t-shirts and magnetic badges for all MINI Coopers, and he has a whole line of MINI-E specific stuff like the badges you can see in the picture above (No Oil, No Gas, Plug in & Powered by Sunshine) which would be good for any electric car.

Somehow over the past year I turned from someone that thought driving an electric car would be a fun thing to do to someone that advocates energy independence for financial, environmental and security reasons. How'd that happen?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Energy Independence Isn't a New Idea

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
An Energy-Independent Future
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party
A recent video from The Daily Show where Jon Stewart points out how all we have been getting from the past eight presidents is rhetoric and empty promises. Why should we think President Obama will do any better? We need to demand more from our leaders. Status quo will not work any more when we are talking about our energy needs and dependence. I think battery electric vehicles are a huge step in the right direction. Hopefully the current movement will continue to gain steam as cars like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf hit the market this year. Other electric cars like the BMW Megacity will follow shortly after. We can break the grip that the oil industry has on the world if we continue to invest in and improve battery electric cars.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy Independence...

The picture above is a Chevy Volt, an electric car with a small gasoline engine that generates electricity to recharge the batteries while you drive. This allows the car to continue to drive for as long as you want, all you have to do is continue to fill it up with gasoline. Kinda goes against the whole electric cars have no tailpipe and don't use any oil thing, but it's not as bad as it sounds.

The Volt will be going on sale, in limited numbers and in limited states starting this November. For those of you that don't know how the Volt works you are probably scratching your head about now wondering why an electric car needs gasoline and oil products to run. Well it does and it doesn't. The Volt has a 16kwh lithium ion battery pack (8kwh usable) compared to the MINI-E's 35kwh with 28kwh usable. So obviously the battery is  much smaller so it wound not be able to drive the Volt nearly as far as the MINI-E can go on a charge. Actually, GM is saying the Volt will go 35-40 miles per charge in battery only mode. Battery only mode? Isn't "battery only" how electric cars drive. Until the Volt, yes that's how they worked, but GM has brought a new twist to EV's. After you deplete 8kwh of usable battery, the small ICE turns on and acts as a generator to sustain the charge so you can continue to drive. It will not fully recharge the battery, but simply allow you to continue to drive. It is called an Extended Range Electric Vehicle or EREV. GM is betting that people will not want to live with the fear that they will be left stranded by their fully electric BEV so they will opt for an EREV. They do have a point, people that have not experienced living with an EV like I have are concerned that they will run out of power and get stuck. I have said many times here that that fear is way overblown and that once someone actually lives with an EV they quickly realize they really don't have to worry about it. Still, there are some people that will definitely need the added comfort that the car can continue for as long as necessary if need be. Then there are people that live in rural areas that drive 50 miles just to go to the supermarket. a 100 mile BEV just won't work for them and until battery technology gets better an EREV will be a great choice. Plus for those that frequently drive less than 40 miles a day, they will hardly ever need to buy gasoline. There are drawbacks though, as you will now need to maintain the whole internal combustion drivetrain; meaning oil changes, fuel filters, air filters, fuel pumps, water pumps, spark plugs, tune ups, mufflers, etc. All those moving parts wear out over time, which is why BEV's require so little maintenance. They have almost no moving parts and are extremely simple mechanically. The long term costs of a BEV will be extraordinarily  lower than that of an EREV with with you need to maintain BOTH systems.

That being said I do like the Volt and I will considering buying one when they become available in my area and the supply increases. I fear the initial buyers will be paying a premium for these cars because of the limited supply and I'm not going to pay a dealer over MSRP for any car. I don't even want to pay MSRP let alone more. I would use the Volt as a second vehicle that my wife will drive and for the few times we need to travel further than my electric car will take us. From now on I plan on driving a BEV for all my commuting and personal use as I have found it to be a very enjoyable driving experience as well as very economical. Whether an EREV like the Volt or a BEV like the LEAF is better for you and your style of driving, to me it doesn't matter. Both will help us begin to reduce our dependence on oil. The LEAF and other BEV's do it more dramatically, but the Volt is definitely a big step in the right direction and can be driven by many who simply couldn't use the LEAF because of their driving demands.

This year I am celebrating my personal independence as well as Americas. I have been driving the MINI-E for almost 13 months now and have driven close to 35,000 miles free of oil! I am no longer dependent on oil for my personal transportation! I charge my car from the sunlight that I capture in my solar PV system so I don't even need the grid to provide my fuel either. Independence, it's a wonderful thing!

Friday, July 2, 2010

BMW Rendering of Megacity vehicle

In today's NY Times there is an article on BMW's future plans to develop electric cars.There have been a lot of speculation and artist renderings about what BMW's 2013 Megacity car will look like. Remember, the MINI-E is the first electric car produced by BMW's Project I, and was meant to gather information used to help ultimately develop the electric Megacity car. This is the first time a rendering has actually come from BMW and not just some magazine or artist, so it is sure to have some styling cues as to how the Megacity will basically look. It's obviously a concept rendering, but it does tell us what BMW is thinking.