Tag Archives: grid

Counteracting EVs’ Impact on the Grid

Let’s just say that the Enertia is a bit of a conversation piece. I literally have 3-4 “green” conversations every day. Most of the time the people that approach me are very friendly and supportive. Every now and then you’ll run across someone that starts out friendly, and then ends up in debate mode. I’ve often wondered why people get like this..and why debate the merits of EVs with me? I’ve got a theory, and is has something to do with their guilt surfacing a little then their pride overcompensating and immediately putting them on the defensive…even if I haven’t said a word.

That's a lot of cars to plug in.

Is Electric That Much Better?

Regardless of my pseudo-psycho-babble, this is one thing that I hear a lot from these “debaters”.

“Is electric that much more efficient? I mean there are heavy losses due to transmission. Much of America’s power generation is from coal still. And ICE engines are way more efficient than they ever have been.”

Well, I was one of the lucky engineers who’s curriculum didn’t require him to take thermodynamics, so I really can’t comment on the efficiency gains in ICEs. My EE background is awfully weak too, so I have no idea how much energy is lost to heat radiation in our nations long distance transmission lines. However, the topic has been tackled by bloggers and scientists alike here, here, here, and somewhere in here.

Sometimes, people talk about more specific issues, such as the strain on the nation’s power grid. They realize that the power has got to come from somewhere, and Nuclear Fusion isn’t here yet so it comes down to picking the lesser of several evils. Motorcycle.com recently posted a great Electic Motorcycle Primer and summed up the sentiment nicely.

However, while EVs can appeal even to conservatives, another concern is over where all the extra electricity would come from if the EV phenomenon really took off.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. That’s not to say that I’ve done any kind of research into powerline losses to radiation or even whether or not I get my power from the local nuclear fission plant or from coal. Honestly, all of that seems a little out of my control, but then inspiration hit. Why not look at what is in my control… The beauty about electricity is that it’s readily available to us. It’s readily available for me to use at home and work…but perhaps more importantly, it’s there for me to not use.

Offsetting My Enertia Energy Consumption

I love it when I get inspired. I set out to try and recover my daily energy consumption from my Enertia charges by doing some very simple work around the house. When I mean simple…I did most of this stuff at home while drinking beers one evening. I grabbed my trusty Kill A Watt, and went to town.

Best $19.99 you'll ever spend.

The first thing that I did, was to look for anything that’s plugged in that is rarely used. I was ashamed at what I started to uncover. I basically just took instantaneous reading to see what the power draw was for various appliances.

I started in the garage looking at my “garage theater system” and anything else I could find.
3.4 W * 24 h – PC Speakers in the Off position.
2.4 W * 24 h – DC Transformer for unplugged Wifi Bridge.
3.8 W * 24 h – Unused Motorcycle Battery Tender for Racebike.

Then I moved inside to the den, AKA my man cave.
13.4 W * 24 h – Home Theater Subwoofer accidentally set to On instead of Auto-On
1.4 W * 24 h – Home Theater Receiver
0.0 W * 24 h – Sony PS3
0.9 W * 24 h – Nintendo Wii
23.5 W * 24 h – HD Cable DVR
1.9 W * 24 h – 42″ LCD TV
22.0 W * 24 h – Uninterpretable Power Supply
1.3 W * 24 h – Empty Glade Plug-in Air Freshener

I didn’t find much in the kitchen.
1.3 W * 24 h – Another empty Glade Plug-In Air Freshener

And I don’t have much in my living room, save for my Mame arcade cabinet with the MythTV server.
6.2 W * 24 h – Broken Roomba Docked on its Charger
19.73 W * 24 h – Savings on MythTV Server through running Granola

There wasn’t much in the office as far as vampire appliances. But there was the rather obvious light fixture…duh!
45 W * 3 * 4 h – Replaced 3 60 incadescents with 3 13 W CFLs in my light fixture

OK, that was pretty ridiculous. I spend a few hours maybe twice a month in my den, unless I’m caught up in a video game. All of those items in the den can easily be turned off with a power strip when not in use, and they take no time to boot. The only exception is my cable box, but I so very rarely use it. I watch 98% of my TV on a Linux desktop in the office streaming from my MythTV backend. I can get the other 2% (motorcycle racing) through bittorrent. I’ve been meaning to cancel the HD DVR service and return it…I’ve just been too lazy.

Speaking of my MythTV server, I’ve been giving myself a lot of grief lately for running that puppy 24/7. I recently saw something pop up on digg.com about Granola. It is supposed to do more aggressive voltage and frequency scaling on Linux and Windows machines by providing proprietary algorithms that switch cpufreq governors back and forth based on performance need. I suspect they’re just watching things in /proc and responding to it in some sort of way that more intelligent that the “ondemand” governor. Anyhow, the savings that I report for my MythTV server come from Granola’s calculations/estimations, and not my own measurements.

So the grand total daily saving for my home improvements is: 2.97 kWh per day.

Savings in the (Work) Office

I could have called it quits with my savings that I found at home, but I charge up at work (for free) too. Furthermore, I tend to spend more waking hours at work than I do at home. So I decided to count the charging that I do at work, and to try to see how much energy I save during the day. Now I loosened up the rules a little bit. I’m already rather conscious about my energy consumption at work, so I’ve decided to count the things that I’ve been doing for quite a while along with a few new things.

17.66 W * 24h – Saving on Windows Desktop through running http://grano.la/
~3 W * 24h – Saving on Linux Desktop by setting “ondemand” governor (cpufrequtils)
25 W * 3 bulbs * 8h – Keeping my fluorescent lights off and using natural light

I couldn’t get Granola installed on my Linux workstation. I was having some problems due to the fact that I don’t have enough admin rights to add a new user to the machine. But that got me thinking…what I could talk IT into installing this on all of our Linux and Windows machines. As it is, by personally installing Granola on one machine at work, I might be in violation of their TOS. I’ll consider it an experiment at this point. I did get some savings on that machine through changing the cpufreq governor from “performance” to “ondemand. I measured about a 3 W difference when running the two cores at 2.0 GHz instead of 3.17 GHz.

The story might get a little better if I can get some measurements on my Linux desktop, but this is my savings in the office so far: 1.09 kWh.

How Did I Do?

With my latest Enertia efficiency calculations, I use 3.22 kWh to charge for my 30.4 miles commuted a day. And it looks like I’ve saved 4.06 kWh of energy a day through my changes at home and at work. That’s a net savings of 0.84 kWH.

Finally I have some “ammo” for the debaters that question if the Enertia is that much more efficient than an equivalent ICE motorcycle. I’ve offset the Enertia’s charging requirements…and then some. The only way I could get a Ninja 250 to be that efficient, is to slap some pedals on it. And what about the Enertia’s impact to the grid. I’ve actually found enough savings so that I’m actually lessening the impact to the grid.

I’m starting to think of the Enertia as an “ease-over” vehicle. I consider the Chevy Volt and other PHEV (plug-in hyrid EVs) as ease-over vehicles as well. They are solutions that help us bridge the gap to all-electric transportation without impacting the grid too heavily. These low-impact vehicles are going to be incredibly important to help us buy more time. The way I see it, our energy is running out, but in order to make sure it lasts we need to invest a tremendous amount of it to build renewable power plants, new long-range EVs, and smart grid infrastructure. The only way we’ll be able to afford the energy for such a massive build up, is to start saving energy now through the use of these ease-over vehicles and through energy conservation.

Geeks: Our Planet’s Saviors?

Nerds and geeks have come a long way since Weird Science. While the term “nerd” is still a bit derogatory, “geek” has taken on new meaning. After the .com boom, geeks all over Silicon Valley were vaulted into the millionaire club by the hundreds…(maybe thousands?). It seems that just overnight geeks were cool[-ish]. Of course, many of these Internet millionaires didn’t survive the .com bust with enough of their fortunes intact to make it to the Web 2.0 boom. Those that did were likely smart enough to not lose it again in our Great Recession. Many of these veterans are still quite young and looking for projects with deeper meaning.

Green Twilight Careers

Several of these notable tech entrepreneurs are using the global environmental crisis as their call to action to do something significant and long lasting. Tech veterans like Craig Bramscher are reinvesting their .com fortunes [along with other investors] into passionate ventures like the the Brammo Enertia. Even long-time geek philanthropist Bill Gates is redirecting his efforts towards fighting carbon emissions.

Bill Gates

And they’re not the only ones. Successful Baby Boomers who have retired early after great careers are now looking towards the new green economy for a twilight career, something a little more altruistic. Of course, you could argue that it’s that same generation that led us to the brink…but who’s pointing fingers. At least my Dad let me have that 1978 GMC 3/4 ton pickup with the 350 complete with a four barrel carburetor that moved the needle when I opened up all four barrels. Regardless, these are experienced professionals with the technical, managerial, and business skills to make a difference. It’s not just their skills that they’re bringing back to the industry, either. Green investing is on the rise and there are even several simple Green ETFs to get you in the game.

Geek-Friendly Administration

Perhaps the country’s most powerful geek is President Obama. I voted for him because I thought he was the more intelligent and rational of the two. I trusted that he would listen to his advisers, understand them, and make smart decisions. Sure I researched his voting record, stance on issues, and his campaign platform. Who knows how much of that can you trust? The only thing I was a little concerned with was foreign policy, since that’s hardly a rational game. Seems like he’s doing all right. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev thinks he’s a pleasure to work with.

US Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu

And when it comes to our nation’s energy needs, he’s doing exactly as I had hoped. Brilliantly, he appointed a serious geek as Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu, a man well poised to lead us in an energy revolution. Fossil Fuels have been at the forefront of the World’s energy infrastructures and government policies since the Industrial Revolution. Fossil fuels powered our country’s tremendous development, and now they are at the center of our very way of life. The cabinet position of Secretary of Energy has long been filled with lifetime politicians with backgrounds in law, finance, political science, and the military. The office has dealt with oil crises, the rise [and stagnation] of nuclear, and global warming, and yet this is the first time that we’ve appointed a scientist. Although, to call Dr. Chu a mere scientist is a bit of an understatement. He’s a Ph.D. from Berkley. He’s a physicist, professor, the former director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and a Nobel Prize winner.

I want that to sink in a little bit. This man is likely smarter [by an order of magnitude] than anyone you’ve ever met…or will ever meet. It’s not like he’s a barely functional super-genius either. He was a director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory after all.

Energy Revolution, the Start-Up

America’s administration and tech/financial talent are all rallying behind the environmental cause, and I find it very promising. During my tech career, I’ve worked for a few companies, worked with numerous other companies, and worked on many different teams throughout. I’ve seen the way defense contractors work, and I’ve seen the way start-ups operate. Of the two, the utility companies operate somewhere nearer to the defense industry on that spectrum. They operate enormous legacy systems where uptime is absolutely vital. Therefore they innovate at a ridiculously cautious pace. If it were up to these utility companies to bring about a revolution, we’d be doomed.

However, the new breed of green start-ups in Silicon Valley and Central Florida come from a very different background. They know the importance of uptime as well, but they use a mixture of today’s most advanced software and hardware to solve today’s problems. They’ve been operating like this for years, because the start-up game is fast and vicious. It’s literally innovate now or shutter up your swanky new office. The utilities have been in operation for decades and aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

Coulomb Technologies ChargePoint Charging Station

Coulomb Technologies is a perfect example of one such green start-up. As more and more EVs and plug-in hybrids make their way onto American streets, it’s going to put a tremendous burden on our energy infrastructure. I’m not just talking about the increased power demand, but simply the demand for places to plug in away from home. We’ve been building up our supply of corner gas stations since the first ICE (internal combustion engine) cars made their ways onto our streets. We can’t take that long to build up our network of charging stations. The answer getting these charging stations out quickly may be as simple as enhancing our many businesses and workplaces to accommodate charging instead of building massive banks of charging in special facilities. One thing that I’m learning on my Enertia, is that 45 minutes of charging can sometimes make the difference between getting home under my bike’s power…or under my foot power. Hence the rise of opportunity charging.

Coulomb Technologies is enabling such a system by selling charging stations to businesses and allowing them to set their own rate to charge for usage. This way companies like my employer can put them in and open them up to anyone for free, for a charge, or even just to employees. The brilliance of their design is that these charging stations are [relatively] inexpensive / dumb clients with the logic for all of the access control and billing done on their servers.

The door lifts to reveal the outlet, a 120V level 1 in this case.

The keep these charging stations cheap, they have developed an ingenious design using rather inexpensive wireless technologies. The station can be activated with a phone call from your mobile, but more importantly they use an RFID reader to allow access if you have an RFID enabled credit cards or a key from Coulomb. I’m not certain, but I’m assuming that even employers might be able to give access with the employee’s badges. Although, I’m not sure if they would want to share that information with Coulomb.

The stations are managed via a wireless modem (CDMA or GSM). To keep costs low, only one unit on a site needs a modem. The remainder of the units talk through the main unit over a low cost ZigBee link. The reliance on wireless technology makes the deployment of these units incredibly simple. There’s not need to patch into a wired network or phone line, they simply need to be hooked up to the facility’s power and their ready to go. The system is designed with some good physical security as well. A session is started via the RFID or phone call. Initiating the session opens the door giving the user access to the outlet. Once they plug in, the door is then allowed to shut and is locked again starting the session. It remains locked until the user unlocks it again with their credit card, key, or mobile call. This not only protects the user’s cord from being stolen, but it also prevents someone else from charging on their bill.

Even if your Hybrid doesn't plug in, you can park at this McDonald's lot.

The web 2.0 aspect of their technology is their client / server architecture. It enables them to deliver great features, such as email or SMS notifications when your vehicle is done charging. This allows you to free up the station early if you want. Although chances are, you’re just parking your vehicle there because it’s the next best thing to a handicapped spot and you drive a non-plug-in Prius. Please resist this urge. Some poor smuck on an EV might desperately need access to that charger to make it those last few miles home.

I'm third in line here...but they aren't even charging!

OK, so I didn’t really need this charge, and they actually had another charging station on the other side of the parking lot. I just thought it was hilarious that these to Prius drivers parked right there. And isn’t it remarkable that all three of our vehicles are gray?

While the email / SMS notifications are nice, I wasn’t really blow away. I was, however, floored by their Google Map mashup and their iPhone app. They provide users a way to find charging stations near them and to know important details about them such as public accessibility, type of station (1 or 2) and whether or not they’re in use. I speculate that they might also having billing rates in the future. Features like this are exactly the kinds of ideas that start-ups come up with and that a power utility might never.

Google Maps Mashup. There's an iPhone app too.