Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Panel on Electric Vehicles: "EVs in NYC: What Roll-out Strategies Work Best for the Big Apple?

Tonight, Clean Energy Connections ( held its sixth event, a panel entitled "EVs in NYC: What Roll-out Strategies Work Best for the Big Apple?" The event brought together speakers and panelists from NYC and Lower Hudson Valley Clean Communities, NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), Greentech Media, Green Charge Networks, Loews Corporation, Smith Electric Vehicles, and Con Edison.

PHEW! That's a long list of heavy hitters in the industry. I took a gamble and did NOT attend,. Instead I watched the webcast from home while eating leftovers. While I've attended several of Clean Energy's other events and thoroughly enjoyed them, I had a nagging suspicion I wouldn't gain too much from the event itself (though I imagine the networking would have been great.)

Turns out, I was right. The content of the panel was still very much EV's 101. I think that information about things like comparable fuel pricing for EVs versus ICE and payback periods for EVs is very important. The more the general public learns about these things, the higher adoption rates will be. However, I think I'm ready for an advanced discussion, and that just wasn't what took place.The audience's questions weren't much better, with quibbling about the location of the EV charging stations being the highlight. Might I suggest

I think the most educational and thought provoking part for me was having access to a full-sized keyboard and screen with which to do research and a follow the twitter feed. One tweet from @JaclynPatrice and a few subsequent PMs actually helped me learn bit more about the batteries in EVs. In short, she stated that the batteries would end up in landfills when they were depleted. Eager to unconditionally support EVs, I tried to explain how they could be repaired, reused, or recycled... but I realized I didn't know if they could be recycled. So I did a little research and found this blog post which made me think Lithium Ion batteries destined for our landfills. Until I read the comments. Two glorious smackdowns.

Some other comments during the panel and some more googling helped me learn about AAA's roadside assistance for EVs based on Green Charge Networks EVRoadside.

So, while I support the Clean Energy Connection events, and the general education of the public about EVs, I hope to one day attend an event where we discuss things like "What Roll-out Strategies Work Best for the Big Apple?"

Ahh, that would be nice...

Update: Here's a the video:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Model S Beta - Classic Car Club: Manhattan

On Sunday October 30, after a fun filled night of Halloween activities, I shot over to the Classic Car Club: Manhattan on Hudson near Canal in NYC. Having previously worked in the area for a while, I'm used to seeing impressive old Mercedez and Porches outside. On Sunday, there was an R8, an M5 and a Nissan GTR, all parked on the sidewalk completely unconcerned with any laws they might be breaking. As exciting as those cars are, I was there for something a bit less... noisy.

I've previously seen the showroom mint-green Tesla Roadster and the Model S at the event in Princeton, NJ, but this time it was different. Tesla has launched a tour of North America featuring the Beta version of the Model S. While the event in Princeton has the Model S prototype, built on a Mercedes chassis, this tour features a purpose-built Model S Beta on a Tesla chassis, and is said to be 90% production intent. Also different, this time we could touch- we just had to wait in line for 20 minutes.

Mike Sexton of Tesla worked the crowd, doing a great job of answering the questions while we all waited in line. Mike highlighted how aware Tesla is about getting charging stations set up along important corridors. Most impressively, I think, is that they are talking to their customers to help define these corridors, not government studies or marketing hype. It's the reason they've placed a charging station in the Omni Hotel in New Haven, CT (great write up here) as well as in Philly- so Roadster owners can make the NYC to Boston and NYC to DC trips with a single recharge. Tesla kept that same approach during the event, taking feeback from all of us about the shape, about the seating, and about that pesky slamming hatch - twice it came down with a loud BOOM as curious people tried to close it and let it go too soon.

The interior of the Model S was spacious and comfortable. We noticed the AirCon was on and the Tesla rep commented that the car had been on the whole time. The center console touch sensitive screen dominated our attention, though. Currently running on Linux, the rep suggested that Tesla is still considering having it run on microsoft, Linux or even a custom OS from Tesla. I'd prefer not having to reboot- Linux please.

As beautiful as the Model S is, I wasn't particularly fond of the dashboard. As the place (other than the road) that a driver will likely spend the most time looking, the dash was surprisingly bland. While it provides all the essential info, there isn't any texture or character to it. It's just a flat digital screen. For a car that has done such a great job merging form and function, the dash is decidedly functional. Definitely disappointing, but not sure it's a showstopper.

Here's looking forward to a few more close encounters- maybe on a test drive?

A few more shots:

My shutter was a bit to fast for these -

Some exterior shots

Monday, October 17, 2011

Plug In Day: NYC 2011

On Sunday October 16th I  headed out to Pier 54 in Manhattan for the first annual National Plug In Day. From Hawaii to New Hampshire, in 26 cities across the country, electric vehicle owners, city representatives and the inquisitive public came together to learn and share. It was interesting to hear how far along NYC is in the push to clean up its vehicle fleets. Agencies such as the Department of Sanitation, the NYPD and the Parks Department had vehicles on site to showcase the city's commitment. I was also impressed that the Department of Long Term Planning and Sustainability is being so proactive in its outreach to help educate consumers, even if their website ( is a bit difficult to find (try searching for the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability...)

Next time, I'll center the pic,
and leave Mike in the shot!
While it was good to see all of the positive energy and interest, I'll admit, the highlights were mostly geeking out with some EV enthusiasts. I first chatted with Mike from . He showed off his converted Miata and shared how he'd help someone convert a Mitsubishi Eclipse a while back. I started wondering if that was the best way to venture into EV ownership - to convert my 2000 Eclipse (affectionately known as Grimmy XP...don't ask), but then I noticed Mark from EnerTrac and his bikes.

If you can live without the roar of ICE motorcycles and instead want to focus on the freedom and speed, Mark can probably help you. The bikes he builds at EnerTrac are sleek, fast, and have variable regen braking! As always, range varies with your credit card limit, but they are still pretty compelling. Even with the more modest lead-acid battery packs, the range is still more than I could get for the same money on a conversion of the Eclipse. No surprises there- the Eclipse is a surprisingly large car - though you can't tell from inside. I thought I had it all figured out. I'd get a bike to weave in and out of NYC traffic, head up to Bear Mountain, it would be glorious...but I'd be alone. No passengers... On to the Mini E and Tesla Roadster...

I've already started planning
for my witty vanity plate

If you follow any EV blogs, Tom's Mini E #250 blog should be on your radar. It was great to be one of the many people who caused Tom's voice to go hoarse (see his coverage of the event here). While his Mini E could definitely hold at least one passenger, my girlfriend seems none-too-fond of the Mini (or Smart Car, or Fiat. See a trend?). So Michael Thwaite's Roadster seems like the likely winner for me- at least for now, while I am still in the dreaming stages of EV ownership.Nevermind the price tag or the fact that they've gone out of production. This is a day-dream blog entry. Leave real life for the next post.

It was great seeing so much interest from the public and chatting with so many great members of the EV community. Here's to a great kickoff event for National Plug In Day in NYC!

Oh, and thank you weather-gods. It was, indeed, beautiful out.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The sounds of driving

I was reflecting today on the first time I heard a Tesla Roadster power up- just this past weekend. It made me think of the BMW runs I went on back in '07, and my friends' BMW 645 with the modified exhaust. Then I came across this:

And now I have to say- I'm going to miss the sounds of driving. I fully intend to have an EV, sooner or later. But when the Tesla rep "fired up" the Roadster this weekend, all it did was click. It reminded me of the sound a ICE powered car makes when the battery is dead and you first turn the key. Nothing but a few electrical clicks. Probably relays of some sort. I think there was also a whirring sound from the battery cooling system. Yay.

Whatever the noises in the Roadster were- they were NOT sexy. They didn't make me giddy with anticipation of what was to come. In fact, they were quite laughable. I think Tesla and the other manufacturers should try to mask that sound. I'd rather hear nothing than giggle.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Portable EVSE? Inexpensive EVSE? You got it

Typically, electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) is installed at a specific location- in a garage. It becomes part of the home's infrastructure. This is an additional expense that drives up the cost of owning an EV.  Add the $2500 EVSE plus installation to the cost of buying a $10k battery, and potential EV owners probably get a bit discouraged. In addition, when he considers the limited public charging infrastructure, the would-be EV owner is likely abandon hopes of freeing himself from the grips of gasoline dependence.

Leviton and some clever modders have other plans.

Portable EVSE

As Nick Chambers reports over at, Leviton has released a portable EVSE that can plug right into a standard 220V receptacle. The Evr-Green Home Charging Station  This in effect means that EV owners will have access to a 120V portable charging as well as a portable $1049 level 2 EVSE thanks to Leviton.  Admittedly, owners do need to have a properly installed 240V NEMA 6-20R or NEMA 6-50R, receptacle, but the Evr-Green will provide additional options.

Inexpensive EVSE

And then there is the tuner's market- where people tinker and dabble until they come up with something quite impressive - a modified Nissan Leaf EVSE that can charge at 240V instead of the standard 120V.  Current stays the same at 15 amps, but you effectively get almost level 2 charging using a Level 1 EVSE.  Not bad for $239. Add in $25 for the 120V adapter (so you can still use it as a Level 1 EVSE) and you are pretty much set.

But wait, there's more! If you buy now you can also get a $48 upgrade to the EVSE's firmware that will allow the Nissan's onboard charger to pull 16 amps at 240V. So for $312 plus shipping, you can get Level 2 charging. Not bad, considering installing a standard Level 2 EVSE (not the Leviton mentioned above) could take months of permitting and cost upwards of $2500.

How is this possible? Many believe that the EVSE is a charger- that it actually controls the charging of an EV's battery. NOT SO!!! If that were true, we'd call it a charger! Instead, it is called an "electric vehicle supply equipment" because, well, it supplies power to the EV. The EV has an onboard charger that is responsible for making sure the batteries don't blow up. So why do we need these very expensive EVSEs? Because electricity is almost as dangerous and 15 gallons of explosive liquid swishing around behind your childrens' bottoms. So the EVSE does things like make sure that the EV's onboard charger only pulls the amount of juice that is safely available, and that when your clumsy self trips over the power cable, you don't set  yourself on fire or give yourself some serious palpitations. EVSEs are really just 99 cent extension cords with a $1000 computer attached.

And for those of you without an existing 240V line, I submit to you the Quick 220 Voltage Converting Power Supply

Just combine 2 independent 120V lines and, well, you're running out of excuses not to buy an EV...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Urban Solar - Take 1 Post 3

No, I didn't give up. Well, sorta. It became painfully obvious that I have VERY quality cells. I'm getting very little power out of them. Even if I don't break any more and get them all strung together, I won't even generate enough juice to activate my grid tie inverter.  Seems like a lost cause. I'm going to sell the cells on ebay (with an honest description!) and buy some new ones. This project is taking a back seat to my job search and home improvement projects, but isn't dead. I'll update again soon.

Model S Prototype - Princeton NJ

Today I had the privilege of viewing the Tesla Model S Prototype in Princeton NJ. Tesla has had the car on display for several months, and it was in Connecticut about a week ago, but I wasn't able to make it to that showing. So instead I sat in Jersey traffic for 45 minutes and eventually made my way out to D&R Greenway Land Trust where the showing was being held.

My initial posts about solar panels (I'll continue those shortly) highlighted a new interest of mine. As I've continued exploring various aspects of the green economy, I've become a bit of an EV nut. Tesla is an American company based out of California. They only make one car right now, the Tesla Roadster. It will stop being sold in September. The next vehicle will be the Model S. It is sick. 

The Model S is a 4 door luxury BEV sedan that boasts impressive (low 5s) 0-60 acceleration and comes with three battery pack options: 160 mile range, 230 mile range, and 300 mile range. Each pack upgrade adds about $10k to the base price of $57k. The option list is currently unavailable.

Things I learned today:
  1. The prototype Model S is built on a Mercedes chassis.  The production vehicle will have a roomier interior. 
  2. Tesla vehicles are equipped with GSM communication systems that allow the car to send diagnostic info to Tesla. If your car has trouble, Tesla will likely call you before you even know about the problem!
  3. The report that Tesla will be making battery swap/rental available seems not to have made it to the marking folks I met with today. Although they did confirm that Tesla is working with A Better Place to potentially come up with some solution to the range question. 
  4. Tesla is also working on plans to potentially build out DC fast charge stations along high traffic areas. I threw in a vote for the I95 corridor, specifically in the NYC area.
  5. Tesla batteries in the Roadster need to be kept around 72 degrees. If they get too hot, the car goes into limited power mode. Something to consider if you will be driving hard in hot climates.
  6. All of the first year's production (with the exception of the Signature Series) have been sold. Sounds like the earliest you'd be able to get one is 2013.

Here are some pics of the Roadster that was onsite. People who had reserved a Model S were permitted to drive the Roadster- once its batteries cooled down. Since the ambient temp was about 95 degrees, the batteries stayed warm for a long while. here you can see the rep plugging in the car to a standard 110V outlet in order to try to force the car to cool down the batteries and get the car out of Performance Limited mode.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Urban Solar - Take 1 Post 2


Went to an event at the New School in NYC today about Hydraulic Fracking and its potential effect on NYC water. More on that later. (Hint: It's freaking catastrophic!)

So where were we in our little solar adventure? Ah  yes. Broken dreams.

As you probably know, solar cells, like the 6" x 6" monocrystalline cells I purchased are REALLY fragile. To put it in perspective, imagine a thin sheet of glass- maybe the thickness of 2-3 sheets of paper. The sad part is that I knew this going in and still managed to break the first one. Here's how:

I watched several videos on how to tab solar cells. Tabbing is what you call soldering the tabbing wire to the cells. This tabbing wire ensures that the current along the negative side (front) of the solar panel travels along the entire cell and can be linked to the next solar cell. Monocrystalline cells like mine tend to have 3 bus bars going down the front.  Polycrystalline cells have 2 bus bars, and amorphous cells have no bus bars. The tabbing wire is slightly wider than the bus bar and has solder built in, right on the tabbing wire itself. Each strand of tabbing wire should be cut to about 2x the length of the cell so that it can be run down the length of the front of one cell, then down the length of the BACK of the next cell.

Before you can attach the tabbing wire though, you need to use flux. The flux pen should be run down each of the bus bars in turn. It cleans oils and oxides off of the bars and ensures a better solder.
I took the flex pen and "wet" it by pressing it onto a small piece of aluminum foil. Nothing special about the foil, it's just what I had nearby. The liquid in the pen came gushing out. Ok, not like Old Faithful or anything, just A LOT faster than I expected. I was able to rewet by dipping in the pool of smelly brown/yellow liquid in my aluminum foil.

Now, super eager to get to the business of actually DOING something, I placed the solar cell on top of a piece of cardboard, to protect the table from the heat of the solder.


Withing a few seconds, the uneven distribution of pressure (aka ME) on the cell caused it to crack. This leads me to my first gotcha of the process:

  • The surface behind the solar cell should be hard, sturdy and absolutely flat. I've heard good things about using a clean piece of sturdy glass that has been laid on a hard surface (table, work bench, etc). The reason for the glass is that it helps dissipate the heat from the soldering iron and prevent damage to the cell. 
And why did I need so much pressure to solder the cell? The second gotcha is:
  • Get a (wo)man's soldering iron. This cutesy little 23 watt p.o.s. did absolutely nothing. It was unable to melt the solder on the tabbing wire. With a good soldering iron, you should be able to run the iron down the length of the cell in about 1-2 seconds and have a good solder. The wattage doesn't indicate temperature, it's a measure of the "reserve" heat. When you touch the tip to the cell, heat transfers to the tabbing wire, the bus bar, and the whole cell. At 23 watts, the soldering iron couldn't make enough replacement heat to get the tab solder up to the melting point. Sadness.

    So yeah, no crappy soldering irons. I'm getting a 40 watt tomorrow. I'll try with that and see where it takes me.So far, I have a pool of smelling yellow corrosive stuff, a cracked cell, and zero tabbing.

    Maybe I should have tried melting concrete instead. Looks easier.

    Melting Concrete with the Sun

    Urban Solar - Take 1 Post 1

    There are probably hundreds of videos on YouTube relating to DIY solar projects. Sometimes elaborate, sometimes rather sparse, but almost always in some back yard, shed, garage or what have you. That makes sense, since typically, cities aren't exactly the best place to start trying to set up Solar PV panels. But I'm a geek. And I was bored.

    My goal is simple: Build a custom solar panel and use it to offset some of my vampire load in the apartment. Before you flame me:
    • Yes, I know the amount I offset will likely be tiny
    • Yes, I know that this will likely take 5+ years to pay for itself
    • No, I am not crazy. I mean, I don't think so.
    Why offset vampire load and not charge a battery for later use? First of all, deep cycle batteries, a charge controller, and DC/AC inverter can get pricey. This is meant to be a fun project with a tight budget. Plus, every time you convert energy from one form to another, like electric to chemical in a battery, you lose some power. Let's be honest, I won't exactly be producing gigawatts here. Every little bit counts. Lastly, who wants to deal with large heavy batteries? My "solution," if it works will pump juice right into my home grid. I should get some fire insurance.

    So that said, I have an apartment with generously sized windows in NYC. They face downtown and "West". If you are familiar with NYC, you know that "downtown" is South-ish. And "West" is "sorta-West", at least as far as the Earth is concerned. I'll stick with South and West, and in true NYC fashion, let you conform to my naming conventions. ; ) See below:
    (notice, no shadows! Unless Mr. Trump comes in to grace us with another one of his buildings, I think I will be shadow free for a long while)

    Now what? I don't have $1k+ to drop on a solar panel, an inverter, mounting supplies, batteries, etc. So I purchased some used supplies off of Ebay. These included:
    • 30 Grade B Monocrystalline solar cells (NOT panels)
    • Associated tabbing wire, bus wire, and flux pen
    • A really subpar, completely inappropriate and unusable 23 watt soldering iron
    • A dinky 300 watt Grid Tie Inverter
    • A multimeter (actually, I owned this already)
     If I laid them all out on a table, they might look like this:

    In my next post, I'll explain how I went from a bright eyed solar novice to this:

    Off to dream up my next post.

    Who, Why, What, Where etc

    The Green Frog. Who? Me!

    The name stems from a series of synapses firing in what seemed like a logical progression of thought. The trigger was that my actual name is already taken as a Twitter handle. I joined really late (4 weeks ago?). So I had to get creative. Take my first initial, few letters from my last name, throw in some Spanish and a nod toward my sustainability interests, and (E)LSapoVerde is born. Since I invested at least 18 seconds in the creation of that name for Twitter, I figured I should use it again, to get the best ROI on my time and ROA on the name.

    So here we are, but where is here? Well, this is my first ever blog entry. And this is the space where I intend to collect my findings, thoughts, and rants regarding CleanTech, Sustainability, the Green Economy, Renewable Energy, Alternative Energy (/shameless keyword plugs) and perhaps even my noisy Harlem neighbors. Maybe.

    So let's begin then. I'll start with my urban solar project. Who says that people living in a sardine can stacked 10+ stories up in the air can't do solar PV in their "homes" ?  Why do the private houses get to have all the fun? I'll show them.