Finally Going Solar!

I’ve been interested in Solar power since I thought of doing a solar thermal demonstration project for our school science fair project in 5th grade. That project didn’t quite get off the ground due to problems getting some of the parts in time, but my fascination with harnessing the power of the sun grew. Years later, I discovered portable thin film panels that could generate power and used them to provide energy for a project in the black rock desert and then created a solar powered Sukkah a number of years ago.

When my wife and I purchased a home just over a year ago, I began thinking about solar immediately. After getting settled in and taking care of some immediate projects I started investigating alternatives. I considered two local companies, SolarCity and Sungevity. Ultimately I decided on Sungevity for a number of reasons including my awesome salesperson (solar consultant), Nadia who really went the extra mile to address my questions and concerns. I also really appreciated the option to use American designed and manufactured panels from Suniva. I’m not opposed to imported products when they make sense to me, but the idea of using energy and carbon emissions to ship many panels from so far away as China seemed to at least partially negate the benefit of installing solar. Beyond that, it seems that as demand is growing faster than some companies in China can manufacture panels, they are often subcontracting manufacturing from smaller Chinese firms which are likely to use a more toxic and polluting process than American manufacturers can get away with. I also liked that the Suniva panels are lighter, smaller and generate more power reducing the load on my roof and increasing the amount of energy I could generate in limited roof space.

Sungevity has some awesome financing options. For those who can take advantage of it, the prepaid lease is the most attractive as it costs less than buying the system outright and includes both monitoring and a free replacement of the inverter in ten years. I’m also banking on the fact that my panels won’t be worth enough to warrant removing them after the 20 year lease expires so they will become mine for free or next to free.

I’ll share more details about our system in a subsequent posting and another will focus on solar financing and why it’s so compelling. In the meantime, here’s our system design layout:

Solar Layout Plan

Tesla Model S, It really is all that and more…

Driving Tesla Model S

I had a blast driving the Tesla Model S EV

I had the opportunity to test drive Tesla’s full size electric marvel a few weeks ago and it certainly didn’t disappoint! The car did an excellent job of delivering seemingly endless torque to the drive wheels and responded beautifully on my drive. For the most part, the car feels far smaller than it is with only subtle reminders that the laws of physics are still in place so it doesn’t hug the corners as well as a roadster might but it comes closer than one would have any right to expect!

The design of the car is even more stunning in person than in photos. Somehow it hides the fact that this vehicle is a true full size car eclipsing most SUVs in both length and width. Unfortunately, cost aside, those dimensions prevent me from even considering buying one as its too wide to fit in my garage and too long for my meager urban driveway.

If the promised future model that compares in size to the Audi A4 and BMW 3-series drives nearly this well, Tesla is sure to sell many of them and one of those will surely be to me!



Silicon Valley Driving Charged and Connected


I’m attending this symposium at SAP in Palo Alto, bringing together leaders in our effort to move towards clean energy powered vehicles.

From the Keynote by Geoffrey Moore: There is little question about whether the ev is here to stay. This is different from previous attempts, the unknown is what the pace of adoption will look like. When will fossil fuel powered vehicles be in the minority?

Easiest to have successful adoption in niche markets such as fleets. Overall positive for the future.

I will be test driving the Fiat 500e, Tesla Model S, and Honda Fit EV today. So hard to pick. love the style of the Fiat but will it fit a child seat?

Toyota RAV4 EV Test Drive at Downtown Berkeley, Toyota

I just test drove the 2012 Toyota Rav4 EV and I was in for quite the treat! In case you are wondering why the 2012 model in 2013, the vehicles are pretty much identical except for price as the 2012 as some huge incentives to help them sell. From a distance it’s hard to tell that this is an EV. The vehicle is more aerodynamic than the previous Rav4 but still looks like a Rav4. Thanks to the battery placement under the vehicle cargo capacity remains just as generous — a rare feature for an EV!

Acceleration is quick thanks to the power train, a detuned version of that in the Tesla Model S. It handles that power very well for an SUV and the suspension is firm but forgiving. From a driving perspective there was nothing to complain about. While it was quick in regular mode it felt like a performance car in sport mode! These strengths more than compensated for weaknesses such as the absence of an easy way to route to charging stations using the built in Nav system.

With the current $9,300 rebate from Toyota, and the combined federal/CA credit/rebate of $10,000, it’s quite a good deal. So did I buy it? No. For two big reasons. While the range is generous for a current generation EV, it’s not enough to go on a long trip and with the excellent cargo capacity that’s exactly what my family would want to be able to do with it. Toyota also left out the option of DC fast charge support so charging in route is not realistic unless one has the time to stop overnight. Add to that the fact that the fastest supported charging is through a 10kw charger and these are rather uncommon. Using a 6.6kW charger would make this truly an all night affair.

Next EV I’m going to look at is the Ford CMax Energi

Back in the shop

My scooter is unfortunately back in the shop to have a cell in my battery pack replaced. Seems that the voltage must not have balanced with the other cells and that led to failure of the cell. This is the risk of not using a full BMS system and using a more primitive balancing solution instead.

The new cell is replaced and I will be picking up my Z6000 from Electric Motorsport tomorrow. This time I’ll be hyper-vigilant in checking the cell voltages and will baby the scooter for a while till things look good.

Electric Vehicles (EVs) Already Dead?

Have you read the new article published by Reuters today? They are claiming that electric vehicles are at a dead end and that hydrogen powered cars using fuel cells are the real answer. You can see the article here.

I’ve posted my response and am waiting for it to be approved. In the meantime you can read it here:
Even if using hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is feasible, this article makes some big false assumptions. As others have mentioned, creating an abundant supply of hydrogen along with the means to deliver it is quite difficult — unless of course you use readily available fossil fuels to produce that hydrogen. Existing gas stations could generate hydrogen from unleaded gas, diesel, biodiesel, or potentially natural gas. All of these methods miss the mark as they will result in emission of greenhouse gasses.

Take this a step further and lets be super optimistic and imagine that we have found a way to produce an abundance of hydrogen without polluting our atmosphere. Well, even then we have two new problems. Some hydrogen will be leaked either through production, distribution or from storage tanks inside and outside of vehicles. See this article from Science Magazine:… which discusses the negative impact on our ozone layer from released hydrogen.

What about all the water vapor that will be created from these hydrogen powered wonder-cars? Not only is water produced, but very hot water vapor as steam. Whether the amount released will be enough to contribute to climate change is debated, it does warrant consideration.

Our biggest challenges seem to be cultural, not technical. People want to purchase a vehicle that offers the range that they rarely need. Most of our time is spent driving locally (for most of us, there are of course, exceptions). If we need to go further we can use an auto-train, take a bus, train, or plane. If we need one we can rent a car in our destination city or where available use a car sharing option.

Even with our existing culture (in America) EVs can assuage our needs and wants. Tesla has shown us that not only are EVs with 300 mile range possible, but they can be quickly charge in route — for free if you are lucky enough to be traveling in an area with Tesla solar charging stations. Battery technology will continue to evolve as will our ability to generate electricity from renewable sources. EVs are here to stay even if their acceptance takes a bit longer than many of us hope.

I want to also take a minute to clarify some things that other commenters have stated above. Firstly, the Boeing 787 uses a different battery technology than what is currently used in electric cars. The technology used allows for denser storage of energy but is less safe. I don’t believe anyone is questioning the fact that gasoline has a higher energy density then batteries.

Oilfield discoveries peaked in 1965 at approximately 55 billion barrels per year. The rate of discoveries of new sources of oil has fallen since down to 10 billion for each year from 2002-2007. The fact that we are getting better at exploiting past discoveries (the reason why production is increasing in the U.S.) is only good news in the short-term as it means that we are using it up faster. Add to this the global growth of vehicle sales, especially in China and we can see that more cars, more drives and less production of gasoline will cause a real problem. In our lifetimes the price of oil is likely to increase considerably as demand grows and supply wanes. In our children’s lifetime oil will not be a realistic alternative.

Some would say that future generations will deal with these problems and that technology will provide solutions. We say this in one conversation while discussing how to save money for our children’s college education in the next. Clearly we have concerns and responsibility for their future. Getting to the point where renewable alternatives to fossil fuels are as good or better will take a long time. This is why it’s so important for all of us to come together and support alternative technologies now.

We have been part of the problem for our entire lives (some less then others) as we depend on petroleum every day. Are you willing to be part of the solution?


New Tax Breaks for 2 and 3 Wheeled Vehicles including Electric Scooters, Motorcycles and eBikes.

By now most of us have heard about how the “Fiscal Cliff” was addressed in a new tax deal that raises some taxes and maintains some previous incentives.

The big news is that the minimum requirement is a 2.5kw battery back down from 4kw which makes this available to many more buyers. The incentive is 10% of cost up to a max of $2,500.

Unfortunately, the Electric Motorsports Native Z6000 falls a bit short of that. Finding a way to squeeze 60ah cells into its compact body would solve that problem and give an almost 50% range boost as well. The bigger capacity cells are similar in size but 4 inches taller which presents a big challenge. But the extra cost would be negligible after the rebate!

Read more about the new tax incentives for evs and other green purposes here.

4000 Miles on the Electric Scooter


4000 Miles on the Electric Scooter

Four thousand miles in two and a half years in a car isn’t much but on a scooter it’s a bigger deal, especially when it’s all on local streets! I took this photo over a month ago but have been busy traveling so haven’t ridden much since. My scooter has also spent a week of the time in the shop trying to figure out why my performance has so severely dipped. My guesses had included the controller and the possibility of a need to replace the brushes in my motor but the problem turned out to be even simpler. One of the sixteen cells in my lithium ion battery pack had failed, presumably due to a defect. The cell is under warranty so I just paid a small sum for the labor to replace it and my scooter is super fast again! A three volt+ drop is a big deal for a lithium ion pack so no surprise that it would have had a huge affect. It’s now quicker to hit 40mph then it was to hit 30mph with the bad cell.

There remains a possibility that the battery balancer that connect this cell to the adjacent one is at fault and if so the problem may recur. I’ll be bringing it back into EMS so they can check the cell voltages in a week or so just in case that is the problem. In the meantime, it’s great to have the peppy performance that made this scooter the awesome ride it is.

How well as the Z6000 held up in its first 4000 miles?

That’s the big question and the answer is quite mixed. The motor has been rock solid. The rear tire needed replacement but that’s the downside of sticky tires and well worth the trade-off in my book. These tires perform great in both dry and in wet conditions. The batteries are hard to judge given the likely defect so I’ll leave them out of my assessment. Here are the problems I’ve had to date:

  • Two welds came loose inside the scooter. One was re-welded the other was secured using zip ties. Not as good as a weld should be but it’s holding fine.
  • The controller failed and needed to be replaced (under warranty)
  • Kickstand cutoff switch failed, needed replacement
  • Throttle failed, needed replacement
  • Brake reservoir leaked and needed to be replaced, fluid that leaked damaged paint (see picture below)


Electric Motorsports has been good about all of the service and have been generous enough to only charge for a portion of the time they have spent working on my scooter. Fortunately, I’ve only needed to be towed once in those 4000 miles and with all of these issues. And it’s hard to find an electric scooter that would perform as well and be a better deal. The Vectrix Vx-2 for example would have cost me more and at that price would have come with silica-gel batteries rather than the Lithium ones I have now. The VX-1 is a completely different class of vehicle. The Zapino, imported by Zapworld, doesn’t perform as well (in terms of power and handling) and is known for it’s own quirks.

Until these scooters are made by major manufacturers who provide greater quality control I’m afraid dealing with some headaches will be inevitable. I still love my scooter and rely on it for my daily transportation, but if I didn’t have other options to fall back on including public transportation, zipcars parked just a block away, and the occasional chance to use the family car (which I my wife uses primarily), this wouldn’t be as practical an option.




Update on the Native Z6000 now 4000 Miles driven.

I’ve now been driving my Z6000 for over two years. It’s still a great way to get around town but has had its share of problems. One brake fluid reservoir corroded and had to be replaced. I’ve had one tire replaced — the stock tires are sticky which results in great performance and not so great tread life.

I also had the seat replaced which wasn’t expensive but really didn’t last long in part because it was parked outside for extended periods. Some of the plastic cracked when they were servicing it and they replaced it (EMS) without charging me for what was quite a bit of labor.

In summary, I like the scooter but it’s been a bit of a headache to keep up with the issues that have arisen.