Thursday, June 30, 2016

Long Term Driver’s Review, 2014 BMW i3 & BMW i8 Meet the Electronaut Twins

Part One:

Our 2014 BMW i3 is now 2 years old with 25,000 miles. Our 2014 BMW i8 is 18 months old with 14,000 miles. How are the non identical twins holding up to life in Southern California’s “mega-region” of 25 million not so gentle souls? I’ll answer that question in a bit.

First, what are the Electronaut Twins?

In 2006, Julie and I built one of the first net zero energy homes in the nation located in Carlsbad CA, powered by solar. In 2009 we became field trial drivers of the prototype BMW Mini-E.

We were mesmerized about the possibility of our homes solar PV system also providing the power for the electric BMW Mini-E. Can you drive on sunshine? Can this car be a reliable everyday driver? Can this car be a great drivers car, not a soul thieving neuter-mobile? Those questions now answered by over 100,000 folks, were theoretical and mind blowing in 2006.

The BMW Mini-E although much slower than the current BMW i3, remains one of the most fun crazy quirky cars that I have ever driven. I enjoyed every one of the 35,000 miles driven in my Mini-E #183, I badly want that twitchy heavy assed mini-beast back in my garage. 

The Mini-E was followed in 2011 by a second field trail car that was a BMW 1 series glider housing the electric bits of what was to become the BMW i3. This was the BMW ActiveE. Slower, not as fun to drive (the torque twitchiness was gone,) but far more practical than the 2-seat Mini E, luxurious and sexy as hell. Between the two cars, it was five years and 70,000 miles of prototype driving. We were “lab rats” helping to define the future of electric cars for BMWi.

About 600 copies of each prototype were hand fabricated and released to the crazies normal people of the world including us. At the end of the field trials, 350 or so of the field trial drivers in the U.S. transitioned into the 2014 BMW i3, BMW’s first mass market electric car.

The field trial drivers who were called "Electronauts" were the first to get the BMW i3 in special Electronaut Edition trim in May of 2014. We could have any combination of available color/options/rex we wished with some options thrown in for free. These cars also had special badging, a plaque and most importantly were titled as the Electronaut Edition on the Monroney label. No one else could order the Electronaut Edition BMW i3. Julie and I each bought an i3, hers an Electronaut Edition, white with the highest-level interior and mine a grey one with mid level interior.

In December of 2014, the first BMW i8’s began arriving in the U.S.. I had the professional pleasure to be a key part of a weeklong BMWi certification-training program held in San Francisco a month earlier in November 2014 for over 200 dealers and client advisors.

I was prepared, on guard, for a less than hospitable reception from the BMW elites, most of who wore BMW M apparel, ensconced seasoned veterans in the upper echelons of the petrol performance world.

I was the nerdy little brother that was there to teach the older-wiser-faster hot rod brother about electric mobility, solar energy, and plugging in to the grid. Would they laugh, would they cry at what was happening to BMW?

Surprisingly at least to me, they loved it, each person was intent on learning every little detail about the cars, BMWi and their future customers. They were drooling over the carbon fiber bodies that were present and admiring the foresight and investment into the future that BMW was embarking upon. They immediately got that this was just a beginning, a platform of advancements for the next 100 years of driving. That BMWi maintained the core DNA of BMW and that the future of the brand was as bright as sunshine. Many client advisors and dealers went on to become BMW i3 and BMW i8 drivers.

During this week of mostly lectures and classroom time, we also had some track time in both the BMW i3 and the BMW i8. We were allowed to thrash the i3’s around the course in anyway we wanted, sometimes sideways or circular. We drove the BMW i3’s against the competitive set including Mercedes and Tesla, and it was clear that the lightweight, fast, carbon BMW i3 was the class of the bunch and could run for hours on the twisty track.

BMW had also brought to the longer course several BMW i8’s, the only ones in the country at that time. We drove these great cars on the course albeit under the watchful eyes of our masters, if one of us hit a cone we were to be water-boarded and the whole event would end for everyone.

Seeing, then driving the BMW i8 on the course at speed was my big mistake, I was happily doomed. A lunch or two later with senior BMW execs who were encouraging me to get into an i8 and the hook was firmly set. I was on the phone to Julie letting her know that I “could” be buying a BMW i8. Her response was surprising, she was excited and supportive, but insisted that it be an Electronaut Edition of the BMW i8 or nothing at all.

For the first model year 2014, around 600 BMW i8’s were shipped to the U.S.. To my knowledge, I was the only field trial driver "Electronaut" to purchase a BMW i8. BMW while not having an official BMW i8 Electronaut program on the Monroney label, authorized the Electronaut Edition BMW i8 using the EE bits from the BMW i3 and developed a placement guide to assist in the installation of the bits. I was very happy as you can imagine at this middle ground allowing Julie and I to celebrate and commemorate our several years as field trial Electronauts with our 2014 twins, the BMW i3 Electronaut Edition and the BMW i8 Electronaut Edition.

It was our journey as a couple as much as it was BMW’s journey as a car company. We had spent several years beginning with the planning of our home in 2004, marching towards sustainability goals for our home and our transportation both now intertwined; we truly believe that the ultimate premium in quality of life must include sustainability.

This was our journey of trial and development filled with fault codes, splining, Darth Maul, neutralizer, being KLE’d and the occasional tow truck or help from firefighters after a slight miscalculation in range

It was our pursuit along with BMW’s pursuit. We didn’t just “buy” the BMW i3’s and the BMW i8, we celebrated our journey and our efforts through the years. The twins are part of who we are and what we’ve done. What a great ride it continues to be.

Where are we going next? The destination is unknown...The journey I can promise you, will be most excellent!

The Electronaut Twins.

Part Two is a review of the BMW i3 and the BMW i8.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Sunshine is the new gasoline.

It's about the economy and the emissions. 

My Fuel Station, 14 cents for regular, 9 cents for TOU.

1.   The cost to power our two BMW i3's by solar is the equivalent of $0.14 per gallon of gas.

2.   The GHG's caused by our collective transportation choices are the largest source of emissions in California.

3.   In California, there are over 500,000 solar PV installations and 50% of all EV's and PHEV's sold.

4.   The emissions reduction of driving an electric car powered by solar energy (solar used as a transportation fuel) is 400% greater than the emissions reduction of the same amount of Solar used to power our buildings (solar used as utility fuel.)

Sunshine is the new gas.  

Your home is the new gas station.  

California is the Golden State,  basked in sunshine and leading the world in solar PV and electric vehicle adoption, development and manufacture.

The  writing and case study herein is based on our "real world" experience as solar and EV pioneers over the past decade.  It just is what it is, put into practice in the real world, in our real lives.... and it's getting cheaper and better with more EV&PV combos every year.

It's a California located story, and this is not typical across the 50 states, but there is an old saying:  "So goes California, so goes the Nation.

Today, California has over 500,000 homes with solar PV on the roof tops (data here)  and over 50% of the National EV & PHEV sales, (data here)  both these numbers are rising exponentially.

Our state's success is a sweet California Cocktail mixed with portions of innovation, entrepreneurialism, regulation, legislation, adaptive utilities, risk, incredible cities and self reliance.   It's a cocktail best served warmed by sunshine.

This "California Cocktail" is slowly becoming popular in other states across the nation as renewable energy and EV adoption rates increase.

If you don't want to drink the Kool-Aid California Cocktail, feel free to abstain and mock, but know this:

The rigid status quo will yield to a better and cleaner future.


Julie and I completed our one year Driving to Net Zero energy challenge in May of 2015. (Article here) From the challenge we documented to the last kWh, the total miles and kWh's used driving our two BMW i3's for the year.

Here is the cost (in the image below and here) of a solar PV system in San Diego California.

The cost after Federal tax credit is $2100 per kW system size. 

When you add the Driving to Net Zero Energy Challenge data to the cost of solar PV this chart is the result.

The purchase of a Solar PV system when used as transportation fuel, has a payoff of two years and an ROI of 50%.   Simply take two years of gasoline cost and you arrive at the general cost of the solar PV system.  It's slightly higher than two years, however when Time Of Use Rates are factored in, it becomes slightly less than two years.  Of course your results will vary depending on location and the type of EV you drive.  The BMW i3 is by far the most efficient EV on the market (data here)    

The cost of Solar fuel is 4% of the cost of gasoline averaged over a 25 year span. This translates to $0.14 per gallon flat cost and $0.09 per gallon when SDG&E favorable Time Of Use rates are factored in.

The solar PV system is warranted for 25 years including the micro inverters, it will last much longer than that. 


One gallon of gasoline when burned in a car emits 19.64 lbs. of GHG's. (data here)

7 kwh of solar electricity (this will drive an electric car the same distance as a gallon of gas) emits zero GHG's.

The same 7 kwh of electricity from the current SDG&E grid mix when used in our buildings contains .7 lbs of GHG's per kWh for a total of 4.9 lbs of GHG's.
(data here) The SDG&E grid mix is 37% renewable energy with the remainder Natural gas, thus the reason for the lower .7 lbs number.

As cities in California and elsewhere make Climate Action Plans to lower their emissions, the 100% renewable energy platform as relates to our buildings energy use is a very popular tool with the public as the public understands solar as a utility cost savings.  What is lessor understood is the use of solar as a transportation fuel.

If we are to use emission reductions as our number one goal, and we use science and common sense, not populism, to guide us, we would come to a strategy that uses 100% of renewable energy generation to offset transportation emissions resulting in a reduction of total GHG’s that is 400% greater than a strategy that uses 100% renewable energy generation to offset utility supplied electricity for our buildings.  Of course doing both is the best answer, but the fastest and best path is clearly transportation.

Focusing on a strategy that targets the 59% source at a 400% greater yield in GHG savings is preferable to focusing on a strategy that targets the 15% source at a yield that is 400% less. 

Solar is getting less expensive, EV's are getting better and less expensive,  Range is going up across all models with 200 miles of range as a new standard. our homes are becoming our gas stations,  our cost of fuel is getting lower.

It's awesome :)