Saturday, December 8, 2007

4000 Miles!

I noticed last night on the way home from work that I have put 4000 all electric miles on the Saturn since its inaguaral commute back in March/April of '07. I thought I would share my observations after driving the car for the past 8 months. First off, I drive it just about every day. During the workweek I'm able to drive up to a Park and Ride that is 15 miles from my house and vanpool the remaining 35 miles up to work. You'd be surprised how rare of an occasion it is that I need to drive all of the way up there myself, since I've owned the car I think it has been less than 5 times. On those occassions I've taken a gas powered car and been stuck in traffic far too long!

It has been a long time since I last filled up a car with gas, in fact months. My wife drives our gas-powered car and usually fills it up every couple weeks. One thing we've noticed is that we need to fill up our gas-powered cars far less as well since we usually use the electric car on weekends for all of our errands around time. This morning (Saturday) we took it the zoo, and then over to get some lunch in downtown Tacoma and put about 20 gas-free miles on it. It is incredible how quickly those miles add up.

Overall, I really have enjoyed the car. It is reliable, fun to drive, and fun to show off when people realize there really is no gas engine inside. I think the main downside is that my battery pack range is right at the edge of my 30 mile commute, especially as it starts getting colder. This means that I usually take it pretty slow to conserve electricity and make sure I can make it the full commute. Other than that, no complaints for the first 4000 miles, just a happy electric car driver.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Chance to see electric vehicles in Tacoma

For those readers that live near Tacoma you may want to check out the Washington State Recycling Association/LeMay Automobile Museum EVent going on Sept. 21st from 5-9 p.m. The address for the event is 325 152nd St E Tacoma, WA. I'm hoping that I can make it down with my Electrc Saturn. There is supposed to be more information for this event posted here: shortly.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

How much does it cost to drive an Electric Car?

I often am asked how much it costs me to charge my electric car and how that compares to a gasoline powered car. There is no question that the electricity required for my 30 mile commute costs much less than the gasoline required for the same commute. This is largely because an electric vehicle is much more efficient than a gasoline vehicle, but also because electricity in the Pacific Northwest is not nearly as volatile as gasoline prices. Using my latest bill from Tacoma Power I see that our electric rates are .03 cents per KH for consumption and .03 center per KH for delivery. I have no idea why they break the bill up like that, I don't think I'd feel any better if they charged me $1.00 gallon for milk and $1.00 for delivery to the grocery store, but oh well, I'm sure there is a great reason for it. I know from a recent cool device I purchased for $20 called the "Kill-o-watt" how much electricity it takes to charge the car on a daily basis. Using the "Kill-o-watt" which plugs in to your wall, and then allows a device to plug in to it, and measures the current passing through I know that it takes 14 KWH of electricity to charge the Electrc Saturn. So, my total daily cost is $0.84 for the 30 mile round trip. Hmm, now lets compare that to what I got in my 1996 Plymouth Voyager which gets 22 miles to the gallon. 22 miles to the gallon, at $3.50 per gallon (yes I know that regular has dropped below that, but who believes it will stay there long? And I'm a physicist so I believe in liberal rounding) I find that the same trip cost me $4.76 per day. So, I have a savings of $3.92 per day when driving my electric vehicle. Wow, not bad!! Since I drive at least 30 miles per day 6 days a week (usually I drive between 30 and 40 on Sat/Sun combined) I find that my weekly savings is: $23.52.

Is that the last word? No, because I still have to factor in regular battery replacement, but that is still good enough for today, and I'll factor in the batteries when I have a better idea of how long they will last.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

How much cleaner is an electric car?

How much cleaner is it to drive an electric car than a gas powered car? That is an important question to ask, since the main reason I started driving electric was to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas production my commute was responsible for producing. How much cleaner an electric car is than a gasoline powered car is highly dependent on how clean the electricity is to produce. This EPA chart shows that using the average "cleanliness" of electricity in the US, electric powered vehicles are about 47% cleaner than gas powered vehicles. However, the State of Washington (where I live) has some of the cleanest electricity in the country because of our reliance on hydropower. So, plugging in the #'s to this EPA "Electricity Cleanliness Calculator" I found that electricity in the Tacoma area code, 98407, is about 2-3 times cleaner than the national average. This means that overall driving an electric car is somewhere between 90 and 120% cleaner than a gasoline powered car. To put this in perspective I can drive my car roughly 300 miles and pollute less than a gas powered car pollutes in 30 miles. Cool!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Electric Commuting!

Well, I'm happy to report that I've been doing my 30 mile round trip commute for the last two weeks in the electric car, now affectionately known as "Electrc" after the vanity plates that I now have on the vehicle. I'm averaging around 55 amp/hours for the total 30 mile round trip. I think I am pushing the pack pretty hard since by the end I'm sitting at roughly 144 volts with no current being drawn. I'm continually looking for a fast/easy on the pack route home, but getting to our house without going up a hill somewhere is pretty tough since Tacoma is built on a bluff. Here's a picture of the car down on the Ruston Way Waterfront:

Thursday, February 15, 2007

On the road!

My maiden voyage was a success and there was remarkably little that went wrong on the 46 mile round trip journey from Woodinville to Everett to the SEVA meeting in the newly electrified Saturn. We set off in the car for the 23 mile journey with myself driving, Dave riding co-pilot and the designer of the prototype E-Gauge, Bruce Sherry, driving behind us in case we had technical difficulties. We rolled out on to Woodinville-Duvall road with no problems, accelerating to speed, though I kept it at about 5 miles below the speed limit (according to Bruce) since the speedometer isn't working. There was little need to use the speedometer on the freeway since it was typical stop and go traffic on northbound 405. Using the E-gauge we measured a burn-rate of 2.1 Amp Hours per mile, or 49.7 total Amp hours. I don't have the stats on the T-875, but am guessing we have somewhere around 90 total amp hours available. Since we were well over 50% discharged we plugged in when we reached the SEVA meeting at Pacific Battery. The prospect of waiting 5 hours to get fully charged was thankfully short-lived when the truck that had dibs on the 220 outlet popped the breakers every time it was plugged in. We took over the 220 outlet and had the Saturn charged in about 2 hours. The SEVA meeting was great, we pulled the Saturn in the warehouse and opened the hood and I spent most of the 3 hour meeting explaining the various parts of the car. We then packed things up and headed home, doing around 60 mph all the way home. The only concern was as we headed up a pretty steep hill at about 20 miles in to the return trip and the car slowed down to probably 20 mph as we hit the top and the volts dropped to almost 100 volts. Things rebounded as the road leveled out and we made it back to Dave's house at a pretty good clip.

I'm still not sure whether I'll be able to make it the 30 miles to Federal Way and back, based on this experiment I know the car runs at between 2.1 and 2.6 amps/hour per mile. Based on the slower trip in rush hour to Everett and the theoretical capacity of 90 amp/hours for the battery pack I should have a range of 35 miles. Assuming a 2.6 amp/hour rate I'm looking at exactly 30 miles, so a lot depends on the the terrain, which has a lot of ups and downs between Tacoma and Federal Way. Things are getting close, a couple more tweaks to the engine mount, some cleanup of the wiring, and fixing the speedometer and the car should be ready to go! Things are getting very exciting!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Getting closer...

I just got off of the phone with Dave Cloud this evening and it looks like the car is pretty close to being finished up. He took her on the maiden voyage this afternoon and the overall test was successful. He has a couple of last minute tweaks to make (the amp meter is not working, some scraping on the axle, and there seems to be an overall lack of power). It sounds like the axle and amp meter may be fixable by tomorrow, which would be great since we'd like to drive it up to the SEVA meeting up in Everett tomorrow. The lack of power is expected since we are using a 400 amp curtis controller instead of the custom controller that is not yet finished but that should give us a lot more power once it is installed.

I'm hopeful that the Curtis controller will get us up to freeway speed and that we can successfully make it from Woodinville to Everett and back. If not, it's going to be a long walk home to Tacoma :)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Conversion Pictures and Update 1/20

I'm jumping out of order chronologically, but rather than describe how I and the car got to where they are today in detail, I'll just describe where things stand right now. The car that is being converted, a 2002 Saturn SL is in the process of being converted by a professional electric car converter, Dave Cloud. I'm not sure what makes one precisely a professional, versus a hobbyist, but I think converting 20+ cars safely puts you the professional ranks (as well as having people paying you to convert a car). Dave has not only converted that many cars, he's also built numerous electric race cars, electric hydroplanes, and even electric racing reclining chairs. In fact he built the worlds fastest electric hydroplane (reaching over 70 mph) that is currently in the Guinness Book of World Records.
I stopped by today to check on the progress of the car and he provided many insights in to the intricacies of building an electric car correctly. Here is a shot of the rear of the car, not much to notice other than there is no longer an tail pipe, that was removed a long with the gas tank.

Here is a shot of what is under the hood now. I've added some close-ups below so you can see the various components in detail. A couple of interesting components, the 8 inch electric motor is on he left coupled in to the transmission. On the left hand side you can see the smaller motor driving a pulley that pumps the power-steering hydraulics.
Below is a shot of the main contactor, this is where the ignition switch hooks in to the main battery pack. This switch has to be heavy duty since you've got the full 144 volts and 500+ amps running through this switch when the car starts moving. You can see the throttle cable above the contactor which is hooked in to a potentiometer. As the peddle is depressed the throttle cable is pulled and the pot-box resistance changes and the current flowing through the wire (going out the left hand side to the controller) changes.

Below is a close-up of the safety kill switch. This switch is like a fire extinguisher, you hope you never have to use it, but are glad you have it when you do. The controller in this car will be "experimental" since it is being built by a guy that Dave knows who has rebuilt many controllers before, but never built his own full-fledged EV controller before. You want the safety kill switch to be easily accessible since when a controller fails (i.e. blows up) it could short out fully open. This would be a bad thing if there was no way to cut the current manually. The kill switch allows you to do this easily and quickly.

Below is a close-up of the power-steering setup. Dave has rigged a small motor (it takes about 13 amps) to the pulley that powers the power steering pump. He is going to hook this up to a switch on the dash so I can turn it on when I'm travelling at slow speeds and need the extra assistance, but then turn it off when I'm running at faster speeds and don't need assistance turning, but would rather be conserving energy.

Below is a picture of the front battery box that Dave built. This may well be the highest tech part of the car since the sides of the box are made from fiberglass paneling that is surplus from Boeing plane construction. The paneling is super light and strong, with an reinforced inner support structure. The orange panel on the bottom is made from Kevlar, also courtesy of Boeing.

Below is a close-up of the Manzanita Micro battery charger (the big green box) and the vacuum pump for the brakes (blue pump with gauge on top). The battery charger can work off of either 220 or 110 voltage, I just have to dial in the amperage I want to draw. Directly in front of the pump is the Curtis Controller which is not the final one that the vehicle will use, but a temporary one till the experimental controller is finished.

Here is another under hood shot, this one with the charger, pump, and controller all placed in the vehicle, though not actually fastened down. Dave just wanted to show me what everything would look like when the vehicle was actually put together.

Below is a picture of Dave, and further below is a picture of the ripped apart console and the red emergency disconnect button, and then there is a picture of where the back seat used to be that Dave will be cutting out for a battery box. I'm really excited about the big red button, I've always wanted a big red button on my dash. I think it comes from seeing cars with ejection seats in the Bond movies, or maybe just to many Sci-Fi movies with Red Buttons to go in to warp speed, or sound the emergency sirens. Anyways, now I will have one. We are still trying to figure out where to put the gauges, there isn't enough room in the dash to put them in without covering up the tachometer, which we hope to still use when Dave puts a rev-limiter in to keep the motor from spinning itself to death.

Well, that is all for now. Dave is hoping that if all goes to plan it should be finished off in about three weeks time. I'd love it if it was, I can't believe it was over seven months ago already that this endeavor began! I'll fill in the gaps on how I got to this stage in a later post. But it was so exciting to see the car where it is today that I had to post the pictures and the progress.

Monday, January 1, 2007

How do I get an electric car?

This post is largely a braindump of all of the research I've been doing over the last several months (actually almost 6 months) trying to figure out for myself how I could get an electric car built. There are really 3 different ways to get in to an electric car:
1. Build your own electric car (either from the ground up or converting a gasoline powered car to electricity)
2. Buy an electric car already manufactured/converted
3. Pay someone else to convert a car to electric for you

The route that most people go, building their own electric car, really only works if you have all of the conditions below:

1. Plenty of free time on your hands
2. Good electrical skills, or the desire to learn the skills you don't have
3. Good mechanical skills, or the desire to learn the skills you don't have
4. Someone to teach you all of the tricks of doing a car conversion, or the ability to follow pretty extensive directions from one of several books on the subject, or websites for hours on end.
5. A suitable location and tools for the conversion (sidewalk in front of your condo won't work)

If you do meet all of these conditions then by all means go ahead and do your own conversion. There are many great resources for doing conversions including: Convert It by Michael Brown and Build Your Own Electric Car by Bob Brandt. Both are must have books if you are doing your own conversion, are just interested in how conversions are done, or have bought an already converted car or are having someone else convert a car for you. Build Your Own Electric Car was my favorite, having a lot of great electromotive theory and great graphs showing the relationships between battery capacity and temperature and type of battery. There are some good sites on do-it yourself conversions as well. Some simple Google searches should be all you need to find them.

Option #2: Buy an electric car is probably the fastest way to get your hands on a car. However, it is probably also the most expensive. All of the hype about the Tesla Car is warranted, it is a pretty amazing car, however, it is also a pretty pricey car at $100k. Other places to look for cars is on Ebay. They occasionally will auction off S10's or Ford Ranger OEM trucks that were built by subcontractors of Ford and GM back in the late 90's or early 2000. These vehicles run in the $15-$25k range and are based on NiMh or Lead Acid. They are AC systems so some more advanced electronics knowledge is needed to maintain and work on them, but they are more efficient and generally more reliable than do-it-yourself conversions.

On the subject of do-it-yourself conversions the best place to buy one of those is on the EV Tradin' Post where new cars are usually added every several days or so. The selection is limited, but you might just get lucky and find what you are looking for.

Option #3 Is the route I'm going for my electric car. I did a lot of research online, talked with some people in the local Electric Car Users Group here in Seattle (SEVA) and got some recommendations on who to talk to locally that might be interested in converting a car for me. This route is usually cheaper than buying a commercial conversion, but also more expensive than buying a conversion that someone else has already done.

My next post will be on how I went about selecting someone to do my conversion and the process of selecting the vehicle to convert, as well as an update on the progress of my conversion.