Monday, December 29, 2014

7 Months In…Old Man Winter Visits..Predictions for the New Year

A few family vacations had our mileage and energy usage down for this month.  Unfortunately, old man winter brought our energy generation down as well.

Our first month of a utility bill that does not begin with a minus sign.

It was a wet and rainy month so less Solar PV production.

Some travel away from home reduced the amount of kWhs used by the cars.

We continue on a great glide path for net zero energy cost for the year for the house and our two electric cars. We will achieve this milestone next month, four months earlier than expected, when we receive our utility true up bill for the year.  We anticipate a $50 refund from the utility, a $450 credit to our account for electricity, and a $270 natural gas bill for the entire year. 

Regrettably, our utility does not let us transfer the electricity credit to our natural gas bill.  The result is the credit goes as a gift to our utility.

A $40 utility bill, but still running a huge remaining credit over 11 months.
This may come as a surprise, but we calculate our saving to be somewhere between $150k and $200k  not adjusted for inflation, that's enough to buy a BMW i8 ) during the past 7 years and the next 20 years.  We installed the Solar PV system in 2007 and paid off the system with utility and gasoline savings in April of 2012.   Since 2012, we have been saving $8000 to $9000 a year in utility cost and gasoline cost.  

We are driving and living with zero energy or gasoline cost.

We are also on a good glide path for net zero energy usage. It’s important to emphasize that we do have some natural gas use.  Our hope was to be three or four thousand kWh more in generation than usage to offset the natural gas use.  As the year has unfolded, we are driving about 20% ( 4000 miles) more than planned and we have been hosting an exchange student for the year.  

We are demonstrating that it is possible, practical and economical using today’s readily available technology, to construct an energy efficient house, to drive amazing and practical electric cars and to provide the energy for the house and the two cars in the garage via solar PV, all while improving the quality of life and economic situation for the family.

We hope for the day in the near future where this is commonplace throughout the country. 

As old man winter settles in (yes we have winter in San Diego) we are enjoying the preconditioning aspects of the BMW i3 and occasionally the fast DC charge abilities of the car.  Last week for example we were on a 130 mile RT drive and used the fast DC charger in Fashion Valley San Diego to give us the range to return home with about 20 minutes of charging. Julie and I sipped on a beer in a nearby restaurant while we waited.  In the pre DC fast charge world, that would have been a 3-5 hour recharge. 

We are very fortunate in California to have a fast growing fast charger network that really enhances the practicality of the BMW i3 and all EV’s that can fast charge.   Fast DC is a game changer and should be standard equipment on all EV's.

A few predictions for the 2015 New Year and beyond: 

As a veteran of EV’s with over 110,000 miles of driving in several models beginning long before there was a level two J1772 standard or public charging infrastructure, I see a “One-Two–Three punch” on the near horizon that will end the dominance of the gasoline car.  

1.         The lowering cost of EV’s, Solar PV, and renewable energy sources.  This will continue to progress across the county with visionary utilities like NRG and other solar companies leading the way. EV’s will continue to be lower in price.  Car drivers will simple find it easier and cheaper to fill up at home. Happening now. (Bonus... this downward cycle will continue and accelarate over the next several years)

2.         The rapid deployment of Fast DC charging equipment across the country.    Beginning at both coastlines then moving to larger cities across the middle of the country, Fast DC chargers will appear seemingly almost overnight.  BMW and Bosch broke new ground with their relatively inexpensive fast DC chargers and other manufacturers will soon follow.   Happening 2015 to 2017. (Bonus…look for utilities to get in the charging game in a big way thanks to recent CPUC rulings.)

3.         The lower end “standard” electric car will have a  125-150 mile range. High end range and moderately priced models will offer double that range.  This nearly doubles the current norm of around 80 miles for most of the EV’s in today’s market.   Happening in 2016- 2017,  (Bonus…look for a shocker of a battery breakthrough in 2016-2017 time frame that will propel EV’s even farther by 2020)

These three advances will result in:
A 150 mile range EV that can be recharged to 85% in less than an hour when on a road trip,  and charged at home with electricity that is cheaper and more convenient than gasoline while you sleep.

…and the world of transportation and energy will then change rapidly and forever.

A Happy New Year filled with sunshine to all!

Thanks for reading and commenting.

(Past "Driving To Net Zero" articles)

Editor’s Note, Peder is the Chairman of the San Diego County Planning Commission. His wife Julie is Director of Curriculum and Instruction at the Solana Beach School District. They have been Field Trial drivers for BMW for five years. Together since 2009, they have driven more than 100,000 EV miles powered from roof top solar.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Month 6, Zero Cost, Zero Carbon, One Hell of a Car!

We're at the midway point of our "Driving to Net Zero" energy challenge and it's looking really good!   The simple premise of the challenge is:

Can we harvest endless sunshine from a small portion of a roof to provide 100% of the energy needed to power a home and two cars with zero utility cost, and zero gasoline cost for 12 months? The answer for us, is looking more and more like yes we can!

I imagine our world in the next two or three years, where EV's will have 150 to 200 miles of range, and where Solar PV continues to decrease in cost and increase in availability and it's use as a transportation fuel.   

We are at the beginning of a decades long transition that will ultimately culminate in a zero carbon system where we supply our own energy from the sun, wind, water, or earth, to power our cities, homes, businesses, and cars.  We are on the cusp of that transformation.

So, how are we doing at the halfway mark?

  • We continue to amass a large bill credit now at $-732.
  • We are very close to net zero usage of electricity.
  • We are driving 20% more than the 20,000 miles, now at 12,300 miles.
  • We have an unplanned for, exchange student in our home for the year.
  • We anticipate having 2 more months of pulling from the grid, then 4 months of making more power than we use. 
Julie is a lighter and more efficient driver than I am.
She is averaging 4.5 miles per kWh, and I am averaging 4.2

Still good Solar PV production

Total kWh usage from the wall for both BMW i3's
Our true up bill is in two months.  We anticipate to have a $550-$600
credit for the year that will go as a gift to our utility. What we expect is
a check from the utility for around $55 as our ending balance.

Our goal is also Net Zero Carbon.

We have reduced our carbon emissions to approximately  2 tons for our household per the EPA calculator.  The calculator is very basic and just considers the household and personal transportation.  It does not cover air travel or food or consumer purchases so our actual carbon production is much higher.

The average US household is around 40 tons of CO2 emissions,
our emissions are from our low natural gas use. 

If we produce carbon, how do we mitigate or offset our carbon emissions?

Our choice was not to purchase carbon credits, but rather to donate to our local Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation a brand new, 9kw Solar PV system.  This system will produce 14,000 kWh of electricity a year for over 25 years, eliminating between 7 and 10 tons of CO2 annually. 

BMW i3 Impressions after 6 months of driving. 

The 2014 BMW i3 is a carbon fiber…slingshot…slot car.

I am once again, just a teenager driving on a real life slot car track, except that now, the electric trigger/resistor has moved from my forefinger and thumb to my right foot.  Go fast, slow down, repeat.

Just like that slot car track of the 70’s, my BMW i3 is also plugged into the wall, now sipping the required kilowatt hours of electricity from the sunshine harvested on my roof.  Yes, you can make your own fuel; yes, you can drive powered by sunshine.   

Unlike any other production car in the world (except for the BMW i8)  BMW has pioneered the use of lightweight carbon fiber, CFRP, to make the life module of the relatively affordable BMW i3.   Lightness via CFRP is the secret sauce in my opinion, not battery chemistry, or the electric motor, that has BMW a full decade ahead of any other car manufacturer in the world.  

How “Badass” is that and tell me the world isn’t entering a revolution in transportation!    

That’s how it feels to drive the BMW i3.  

Does it… you know, drive like a BMW even though it’s electric and made from CFRP?  Heck yes!  Let me go farther and say it raises the bar and redefines what all BMW’s should drive like. 

Not to minimize the many other arguments that favor the electric car; the environment, carbon reductions, lower cost of fuel, no stops at gas stations, and many others, but allow me to go out on a limb and try to convey just one important fact to you the reader.  

The BMW i3 is simply a better and more enjoyable car to drive than its gasoline brethren.

Sacrilege to some, Heresy to others, I know.  But once you have tasted the fruit of electric driving in a machine designed for performance, there is no going back to the antiquity of the gasoline engine.  Forward to a faster and cleaner future thanks to the electric motor.

The BMW i3, according to senior BMW executives, is faster than gasoline BMWs to 30mph.  It’s also has one of the shortest stopping distances of any BMW period. Quick to speed with a ton of torque, an equally important short stopping distance combined with being lightweight are the hallmarks of any performance car, including the BMW i3 which is designed for urban and suburban life. 

That’s not to say the BMW i3 is hard or jerky to drive as the overall driving experience of the car is one of simplicity, quietness and ease, surrounded by luxury and quality materials, however it is a BMW to its core, and loves to be driven in an enthusiastic manor.

On a race track the i3 is fun, but it’s not designed as a track is depending on how you define “track.” I recently had the rare opportunity to drive my i3 on a stadium autocross circuit and also drive many of the other higher tier electric cars on the same course.
The car with the fastest time?  The BMW i3. 

The i3 excels in tight spaces and in the twistee’s, as the low weight, fast 0-30 speeds and short braking show their supremacy.  I have no doubt that on a longer track with longer straightaways, a car like the Tesla Model S would prevail. The Tesla is a beautiful sensational electric car but the relevant question is:

Where is your “track?”

My “track” is the 28 million populated urban jungle of Southern California where I live, I don’t need to drive 250 miles at any one time,  and the BMW i3 is…(Que the music from the Disney Lion King soundtrack.)  Well, you get the idea.

Southern California as just one example of EV nirvana, is where the BMW i3 thrives.  28 million people living in a geo area sized roughly a two hour drive north and south by a two hour drive east and west.  An area filled with thousands of chargers and dozens of fast DC chargers allowing an i3 driver the ability to go anywhere they choose. 

More importantly, So-Cal is an area that has a grossly polluted air quality due to our love affair with the heretofore, gasoline automobile.  Electric cars like the BMW i3 offer the promise of a better path towards an emission free future.   Think about that with every breath you inhale and our cumulative contribution to the health of that air.

Overall specs of various trials of the BMW i3 are 0-60 in 6.5 seconds, and a weight of 2700lbs.  Range is 70 miles freeway at 80 miles per hour and 115 miles city in a more typical freeway stop and go and city streets speed of 35mph.   This has proven through our experience with the BMW Mine E and BMW ActiveE Field Trial program to be more than adequate for our lifestyle. 

Pay attention to the weight, as it is several hundred pounds lighter than other cars in its class and a full ton lighter than a Teslsa Model S.   This is what makes the i3 so easy to toss around the corners and to stop. This is what makes it the most economical production car on the planet to drive with a world beating EPA rating of 124 MPGe.  

But no two experiences or drivers are the same. For those with longer trip requirements, BMW makes the i3 with a gasoline Range Extender option (REX) thus effectively doubling the cars range and offers the convenience of filling up at any gas station.  BMW i3 is unique as compared to any car other manufacturer in the world, as you can have your choice, a BMW i3 fully electric, or one with a gasoline REX.

I can’t predict the future, but I can drive futuristic cars and there is no finer representation of what that future looks like than the BMW i3 and i8.

Bravo BMW.

Thanks for reading and commenting. You can live & drive on sunshine.

(Past "Driving To Net Zero" articles)

Editor’s Note, Peder is the Chairman of the San Diego County Planning Commission. His wife Julie is Director of Curriculum and Instruction at the Solana Beach School District. They have been Field Trial drivers for BMW for five years. Together since 2009, they have driven more than 100,000 EV miles powered from roof top solar.