Thursday, April 30, 2015

Month 11, Harvesting America’s New “Gasoline”

Picture provided by Tom Moloughney.

Ubiquitous, equally available to all, zero emission, zero cost, powerful enough to provide the energy for all the cars in the country, and it will last forever.  The only question is…. 

Will you harvest it?

There’s a popular phrase that says,  “As goes California, so goes the rest of the nation” Perhaps a bit boastful, but in the automotive context; the pressures, regulations and trends, the forces that will shape the future of transportation in America, it rings absolutely true.

While most Americans only know of Solar PV as way to offset their home or business utility bill, Californian’s increasingly are becoming acutely aware that Solar PV’s highest and best use is as a transportation fuel.

Californians are harvesting sunshine to replace gasoline.

Solar PV is spreading faster than gasoline on fire...

According to the Center for Sustainable Energy and it’s last EV owners survey,  39% of California’s 125,000 plug in drivers (based on respondents to the survey) are making their own fuel on the rooftops and backyards of their homes with solar energy.   Surprisingly, the percentage of solar PV + EV combos over the years is growing not shrinking as more and more capable EV’s and PHEV’s come onto the market, and solar PV becomes more affordable and more attainable.  

With an electric car, you can make your own fuel. Try making and refining gasoline on your rooftop and let me know how that works for you. I'd love to see a picture.

Californian’s know that sunshine is a transportation fuel.

A fuel that when harvested is 1/10th the cost of gasoline, a fuel that when paired with an electric vehicle eliminates the largest source of emissions that American cities face.  In many cities, emissions from gasoline and diesel powered transportation contribute to over 50% of the man made pollution in that city. 

When a person in a city makes a decision to drive electric powered by renewable energy, each and every breath of air that we all share as a great “commons,” that we all inhale,  becomes cleaner for all, and health related issues of air quality are improved for all.  

Solar PV when used as a utility offset is good. Solar PV when used as transportation fuel is an enabler of financial savings and family wealth building due to tremendous gains in efficiency.

How, Why, What's the difference?

Solar PV when used to power the home, powers the same appliances, light fixtures and electronic devices that the utility supplied energy powers.  These appliances and devices are no more or less efficient whether powered by solar or utility supplied electricity.   Solar may be less expensive with zero emissions, but there is no inherent efficiency savings for the devices and appliances it powers.

Solar PV when powering a car enables an efficiency savings of between 300% and 400% as compared to gasoline powering a car.   Simply stated, a gasoline car will go 25 miles on average, and an electric car will go 100 miles on average using the same amount of energy.  Said another way, the electric motor is 3 to 4 times as efficient as a gasoline engine in converting energy to power the wheels.

In large measure because of these efficiency gains, the economic return of sunshine being harvested as a transportation fuel, is twice as great as when it is used as a utility offset to power a home or business. Even greater is the environmental benefits which are four times as great, as the emissions in our cities from our cars is four to five times greater  than the emissions from our homes.

It is for these reasons that Solar PV should be first and foremost thought of as a transportation fuel and secondarily as a utility offset for a home or business.  

Both are awesome, both are needed, but there can be no doubt that the greatest environmental benefit and the greatest financial savings are when solar PV is used to replace gasoline. 

As goes California, so goes the rest of the nation.  Bet on it.

We are demonstrating with this challenge that if you have an efficient home, efficient cars and solar PV, you can power your home and cars with sunshine zeroing out utility bills and gasoline bills.

As we progress forward, our experience and example becomes easier to do for others as solar becomes less expensive, efficiencies continue to improve, electric cars become better, less expensive and homes including the appliances, gizmos within, continue to become more efficient.  Energy storage via home and grid size batteries, on the near horizon, will also give a huge boost to solar and EV adoption rates.

We are just at a beginning.   But harvesting sunshine as a transportation fuel is spreading rapidly across America and it will not be stopped.  

Sunshine is America's new "gasoline."

May your days be filled with sunshine, onto the month 11 "Driving to Net Zero" energy challenge results. 

Our best month ever generating 235 more kwh's than we use.
Roughly 35% or our solar PV is used to power the cars, 65% to power the home.
We are now at 20,000 miles total of both BMW i3's, We have used
4.74 megawatts of electricity.  4.2 miles per kwh.

Imagine that your 2 car fuel cost and the cost of utilities for your home,
 could be below zero
We are already below zero in both cost and usage this year and the peak season
has not yet started.  The world leading efficiency of our two BMW i3's
are the main reason.

Next month will be the conclusion of our 12 month "Driving to Net Zero" energy challenge.  What an amazing year for us.

Thanks as always for reading and your comments.


(Past "Driving To Net Zero" articles)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The 2014 BMW i8, Electronaut Edition.

It’s a very, very special car for Julie and me.

The Electronaut grill location is the same as the i3.

Subtle and beautiful on the door

In the i3 this badge is located in the front under the media center
When the doors are open, everyone can see the Electronaut Edition
The EE is on the door sill of the i3 and the bottom of the door on the i8
It's like a jewel case for the Electronaut badge that you can see when walking around the car.


We have spent the past six years of our life exploring the electrification of cars and powering those cars and our home by solar energy.  While I never considered owning such a car, it became possible as our careers benefited by our efforts and our cost of powering a home and cars was greatly reduced. 

It’s our life and our experience… our walk as it were… that we celebrate with the 2014 Electronaut Edition of the BMW i8.

What is an Electronaut?  

There were several hundred drivers across the globe that field tested the BMW Mini-E and the BMW ActiveE, contributing to the development of the BMWi brand, the BMW i3, the BMW i8 and all the BMW's with plugs that will follow these first two cars.    At the release of the BMW i3, a Special Edition was made that was only available to these few drivers. A few hundred of these drivers including Julie and I transitioned to the BMW i3 Electronaut Edition.  

Naturally through the years, many events and activities, we formed a warm relationship with the leadership of the BMWi division in the USA.  As we contemplated getting the BMW i8, I asked if we could do an Electronaut Edition to memorialize our journey.  Julie and I wanted a 2014 first year Electronaut Edition of both the BMW i3 and the BMW i8.

Although no official Electronaut  program exist for the BMW i8, once an Electronaut, always an Electronaut, and BMW enthusiastically agreed to allow us to have an Electronaut Edition consisting of the exact same components of the BMW i3 Electronaut package minus the DC fast charging as this is not offered in the BMW i8.

We are grateful and thankful for the assistance of BMWi in helping us bring this special car to our home.   The BMW Electronaut accessories (available only to Electronauts) look simply stunning on the BMW i8 with the blue stitching,  blue seatbelts and frozen blue trim elements of the car.

Thank you BMW!

Here’s the long version of the story.

The year was 2008, a couple of years prior,  Julie and I had built our home in Carlsbad California, as a net zero energy home powered by solar energy.

In 2008, BMW announced that they were going to be entering the electric car world with a hand built prototype and were seeking a few hundred private individuals to become Pioneers, to become divers of the BMW Mini-E.

Our minds raced with the possibility of partnering our home and existing Solar PV system on our roof, with an electric car such as the BMW Mini-E, being charged by sunshine in the garage.  Can it work for us?   Can it work for others? I wanted to push the envelope of this new frontier, to explore what was possible in sunshine powered transportation.

Can sunshine become a viable transportation fuel? 

Today, just 6 years later, the progress has been nothing short of amazing, from a few hundred cars and just two models by two companies (Tesla Roadster and  BMW Mini-E) in 2009, to nearly 300,000 cars with plugs representing most of the major automotive brands.  Today BMWi , not yet conceived in 2009, is a worldwide recognizable brand.  Today our home with two BMW i3s is  powered 100% by sunshine.

My advocacy remains largely the same as 6 years ago.  The vast majority of Americans only know of Solar PV as a way to offset and save on home utility cost.  I know that Solar PV has its greatest value both environmentally and economically, when used as a transportation fuel.

Kind of weird that we both dressed in the colors of our car. We did not plan that!
BMW should most justifiably, be very proud of their efforts and risk taking (who else has asked several hundred everyday drivers to help drive their hand built prototypes?) culminating in their first two retail offerings, the 2014 BMW i3 and the 2014 BMW i8.   The marketplace is greatly rewarding BMWi with wonderful reviews and robust sales.  It’s a historic pivot point towards electric mobility for this 100 year old company. 

It has also been a very personal journey for the drivers, the Pioneers and Electronaut’s that preceded the launching of the BMWi retail offerings.

It’s easy to be dismissive or derisive of BMW for putting these few hundred drivers, who paid via a lease payment, to be in the driver’s seat of the prototypes.  Some called it a PR stunt, a marketing effort or a CARB compliance ploy.  Some called the drivers fanboys, cheerleaders, dupes, shills, or worse.  History now records that it wasn’t a CARB compliance ploy, but rather, it was BMW charting a logical path towards its global future and the future of transportation.

What we drivers were was pioneers and pilots, we played a crucial central role in the development of electric mobility for BMW.  I have no doubt that it was our collective positive experience as drivers that helped convince BMW to push the green button on billions of dollars of investments launching BMWi, and that we helped shape the trajectory of the company.

I have no doubt that if we as drivers had a poor experience in the Field Trial, if we had come to the realization that these cars did not work for us in our daily lives, that BMW would have ended the experiment right there and “parked it on the shelf” for another decade or so, thus a tragic repeat of the GM EV1 program.

We weren’t cannon fodder, unknowing helpless lab rats… we were pilots.   We Pioneer’s and Electronaut’s drove these incredible machines, the BMW Mini-E and the BMW ActiveE. We lived with them 7/24 for almost 5 years and out of all the individuals working in various ways to bring these cars to the marketplace, it was the pilots of these cars who had the most intimate and knowledgeable understanding of electric mobility. We were poked, prodded, researched and studied to see how these cars integrated into our households and daily life.

We followed the rules, we broke the rules, we made new rules, we went fast, slow, far, short, high and long, we stuffed our cars, we pampered, we abused, we used them in both intended and unintended ways, we broke them, they broke, we competed East Coast against West Coast, we put millions of miles on these machines collectively. We suffered, we celebrated and we bonded in this common experience that we undertook.  We partied and we met up….a lot, still do.

Like any real and healthy relationship, It was not all peaches and cream. We had fan, PCU, Darth Maul, neutral, spline, KLE, CEL, and software failures.  We even had a magical locked box with a padlock, a golden box that was to remain unopened. If opened and the genie escaped, the driver was barred from the program and teleported to a life in exile on Gilligan’s Island.

Don't even think about it!

For many of the drivers, myself included, the experience altered our own trajectory through life. We knew of something great and we wanted to bring it forward. We became involved in legislation, politics, we demonstrated, we advocated, we held rallies and meet ups.  We EVangelized.

So our individual history as pilots of these great cars that preceded BMWi, is equally as important to us as BMW’s corporate history.

It’s not the time to fly the “Mission Accomplished” banner across the flat top of our Interstate Highways.  It is time to say “Mission Started”  We’re just at the beginning, peering out the front windshield towards an electric future. Sunny & clear days ahead.

Bravo BMW, Pioneers & Electronauts

Thank you to all who drive with a plug
Respect and admiration to those that came before.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Month 10, Back to the Future, Back Below Zero

The day in our collective technological evolution is here when you can live in a home and drive two cars typical mileage with no utility cost and no gasoline cost.  All powered by the sunshine harvested on the roof of the home.

More importantly you can do so at 15% the overall cost as compared to utility supplied electricity, and gasoline purchased at the gas station.  With this emission free combination, you can reduce your overall GHG emissions from 40 tons per year per household to two or three tons per year.

The info chart that the Koch Brothers don't want you to see.

It’s clear to us after month 10 and once again going below the zero line (we are producing more than we are using for our home and cars) that we will end the year with credits for 9 months and cost for 3 months resulting in an annual energy credit of $650 - $700.  Our overall net usage will be around 600 kwh. 

You can see when we took a 4 day vacation away from home

It's also clear that in in the near future, batteries will hold higher densities of energy and will be less expensive, electric cars will become less expensive and go farther, and Solar PV will become less expensive and produce more electricity. 

So this is not mission accomplished and as good as it gets... but rather mission started and it will become even better in the future.

As the year unfolded it became clear that we would be driving 23,000 miles not 20,000 miles as planned, and we had a French exchange student living with us for several months. A few other anomalies in the year led to higher usage than anticipated.  These extra miles and extra persons will in all likelihood push us just slightly in the plus category for overall energy usage for the year.  Life is a grand adventure and unpredictable.

Still two months to go so we will see :)  Feeling awesome!


For the last several years we have been a two EV family and we have not used any gasoline in our day-to-day lives.  However, the rest of our transportation system is not at the same place we are, so when we vacation three or four weeks a year, we are using gas. 

Planes, trains, boats, buses and car rentals we take when on vacation and when we do we are burning fossil fuels.   During the past several years we have taken one or two road trips a year renting or swapping cars with a family member.

BMW i8 in the house!

It’s rather like a dream, but this month we took delivery of our third car, the BMW i8.  Yes it uses gas and yes we have taken it on an epic road trip across the Southwest during a vacation. This is no different than any previous years road trip except for the i8 is a plug in hybrid with better gas milage.

For the remainder of the year the i8 will be a weekend car with the i3 as my daily driver.  In a few weeks I’ll post about why we bought a BMW i8.

Sunshine is a transportation fuel.