The Ford Model T is probably a Safer Choice for a Cross-Country Trip than an All-Electric Car

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 16th, 2014

Week in Review

The United States is no doubt tired of winter.  It’s been a long one.  Snow, ice and cold.  Especially cold.  With below-zero temperatures in northern states.  And freezing temperatures even in southern states.  In fact, it’s been such a brutal winter that every state in the United States but one has snow.  Florida.  It’s just been a long, cold winter.  But it’s been a good one for those in the snow removal business.  And for those in providing a jump-start for dead batteries.  For batteries just don’t like cold weather.  Which is another problem with all-electric cars.  In addition to finding a place and the time to charge them (see Tesla Model S Electric Car Versus … Ford Model T? A History Lesson by John Voelcker posted 2/14/2014 on Yahoo! Autos).

While the fast-expanding network of Tesla Supercharger DC quick-charging stations now permits both coast-to-coast and New York-to-Florida road trips by electric car, the magazine conducted its test last October…

And as it points out, in its area of the country (Ann Arbor, Michigan), there were no Supercharger stations last fall.

(There is now one, along I-94 in St. Joseph, Michigan, 26 miles north of the I-90 cross-country corridor–one of 76 operating U.S. Supercharger locations as of today.)

So it couched its Tesla-vs-Model T test as the equivalent, a century later, to the question it imagined potential buyers of the first automobiles may have pondered: How does this stack up against my old, familiar, predictable horse..?

In due course, small roadside businesses sprang up to sell gasoline for the newfangled contraptions, usually in the same place they could be repaired.

But travelers couldn’t be confident of finding gasoline until well into the 1920s, a result of the Model T turning the U.S. into a car-based nation almost by itself.

Imagine driving across a state the size of Michigan on a road trip.  From St. Joseph to Detroit on the other side of the state it’s about 200 miles.  Which it will take you over 3 hours to drive at posted speed limits.  Now imagine driving this with only one gas station to stop at.  One you’re not familiar with.  One that you will have to drive around a little to find.  While you’re running out of energy.  Now imagine you’re in an all-electric car.  And you find this one charging station and there are 4 cars ahead of you waiting for their 30-minute quick charge.  Which could increase your charging time from one half hour to two and a half hours.

Every gas station has electric power.  So every gas station could sell electricity for electric cars, too.  If someone had to wait a half hour to charge their car that is a lot of time they could be buying stuff from the mini mart all these gas stations have.  So why aren’t they building these things?  Is it that they don’t want the liability that might come from a faulty charger starting a battery fire?  Is it because there are so few all-electric cars to waste the investment on?  Is there a question of how to charge for electricity?  Or do they not want to turn their gas stations into parking lots with a bunch of cars waiting for their half hour of charge time?

Perhaps the reason Michigan only has one Supercharger station is because Michigan has long, cold winters.  Limiting electric car traveling to the summer months.  In fact, if you live in a northern state look for the charging stations some big stores have installed to show how green they are.  Chances are you won’t see a single car at them during the winter.  For when it comes to cold winters gasoline has it all over batteries.  Gasoline provides far greater range.  You can jump-start a gasoline engine in the coldest of winters and then drive home.  And if it’s cold you can crank the heat up to make it feel like summer inside that car.  Something you can’t do in an electric car without sacrificing further range.

The Model T was an improvement over the horse.  But the electric car is just not an improvement over the Model T.  Because a gasoline-powered car is superior to an all-electric car.  For if one was going to travel across a state the Model T would have better odds of getting you where you were going before running out of energy.  And even if you ran out of gas someone could bring a can of gasoline to you so you could drive to the next gas station.  Whereas an electric car would require a tow truck to the next charging station.

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Uninterruptible Power Supply

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 12th, 2014

Technology 101

The Battery in a Laptop is basically an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)

When working on a personal computer (PC) you’ve probably learned to save your work.  Often.  So if something happens you won’t lose your data.  For there is nothing more frustrating than writing a report off the top of your head without notes only to suffer a power interruption.  And if you didn’t save your work often everything you typed after the last time you did save your work will be lost.  Forever.

Of course if you were working on a laptop you wouldn’t have to worry about losing your work.  Even if you didn’t save it.  Why?  Because of the battery.  Laptops are portable.  We use them often times where there are no power outlets.  Running them, instead, on the internal battery.  Some models even let you change a battery with a low charge to a freshly charged battery without shutting down your laptop.  Which extends the time you can work without being plugged in.

The battery in a laptop is basically an uninterruptible power supply (UPS).  You can work on a laptop while plugged into an AC outlet.  But if someone trips over the cord and pulls it out of the outlet the laptop will switch over to the battery.  And the only way you would know there was a power interruption is if it was yanked off your lap when the person tripped on the cord.  Because thanks to that battery the computer itself never knew there was a power interruption.

The Main Components of an Offline/Standby UPS are a Charger, a Battery and an Inverter

A PC doesn’t come with a built in battery like the laptop.  But we can add one externally.  Which a lot of people have done.  Not only to prevent the loss of data.  But to protect the electronics inside their PC and other sensitive electronic equipment.  Like a monitor.  A cable modem.  A router.  Even a big screen television.  As sensitive electronic equipment can only operate safely in a narrow band of voltages.  And really don’t like things like surges and spikes coming in on the electrical utility line from a lightning strike.  Or under-voltages on hot summer days when everyone in the neighborhood is running their air conditioners.

A UPS can provide a battery backup.  And it can protect your sensitive electronic equipment from surges, spikes and under-voltages.  Which can cause great harm.  Something those surge protected plug-strips can’t protect you from.  They may take a spike or two.  But they are passive devices.  And can do nothing to protect you from an under-voltage (i.e., a brownout).  Only a UPS can.  Of which there are three major types.  Offline/standby.  Line-interactive.  And Online/double-conversion.

An offline/standby UPS is the least expensive and simplest.  The main components inside the UPS are a charger, a battery and an inverter.  It plugs into an AC outlet.  And the devices you want to protect with it plug into the UPS.  If the input voltage (the voltage at the AC outlet) is within a safe range the AC outlet powers your devices.  Also, the UPS controls circuit will monitor the battery voltage.  If it is too low the controls will turn on the charger and it will charge the battery.  When the voltage on the battery is at the level it should be the controls disconnect the charger.  If the UPS controls detect an over-voltage, an under-voltage or a power loss an internal switch disconnects the AC outlet from your devices.  And connects them to the inverter.  A device that converts the DC voltage from the battery into an AC voltage for your equipment.  It will power your devices from a few minutes to up to a half hour (or more) depending on the power requirements of your devices and the battery size.  If the voltage at the AC outlet returns to normal the internal switch will disconnect the devices from the inverter.  And reconnect them to the AC outlet.  If there is a complete power loss you will have time to save your work and safely power down.

The Online/Double-Conversion provides the Best Power Protection for your most Sensitive Electronics

An offline/standby UPS is an efficient unit as it only consumes power when it charges or switches to the battery.  However, switching to the battery every time there is an over-voltage or under-voltage can shorten the battery life.  A problem the line-interactive UPS doesn’t have.  Because it doesn’t switch to the battery every time there is a power fluctuation in the input power.  The line-interactive UPS is basically an offline/standby UPS with an additional component.  An autotransformer.  Which is basically a transformer with a single winding and multiple secondary taps.  If the input power is within the safe range the voltage in equals the voltage out of the autotransformer.  If the input voltage is too high the controls will switch the output to a different secondary tap that will lower the voltage back to the safe range.  If there is an under-voltage the controls will switch the output to a tap that will raise the voltage back to a safe range.  So that these over and under voltages will be corrected by the autotransformer and not the battery.  Which will remain disconnect from the load devices during these autotransformer corrections.  Thus increasing battery life.

The offline/standby UPS is a little more costly but it will have a longer battery life.  And it will also be efficient as it will take minimum power for the controls to switch the taps on the autotransformer.  But if you want the best power protection for your most sensitive electronic equipment you will get that with the more costly and less efficient online/double-conversion UPS.  This UPS is different.  It takes the power from the AC outlet and converts it into DC voltage.  It then takes this DC voltage and produces a pure AC voltage from it.  Free from any voltage irregularities.  Completely isolating your sensitive electronic equipment from the dangers on the electric grid.  For the electrical loads are not normally connected directly to the AC outlet.  They are always connected to the AC output of the inverter.  Which makes this unit the least efficient of the three as it is always consuming power to power the connected loads.

The battery is always connected in the online/double-conversion UPS.  So in a blackout there is no switching required to transfer the loads to the battery. Making for a seamless transition to battery backup.  Of course, sometimes the electrical components inside the UPS malfunction or fail.  In that case the UPS can switch the loads directly to the AC outlet.  Should imperfect power be better than no power.  They will also have an isolation bypass switch.  So you can switch these units directly to the AC source to service the UPS components.  Which may be necessary due to one drawback of the online/double-conversion UPS.  Because the components are always consuming power they generate more heat than the other two types.  Requiring additional cooling to keep these units operating safely.  But they can overheat and breakdown.  Which makes an isolation bypass switch handy to service these while still powering the connected loads.

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Electric Car Sales are so Bad that Nissan is giving away Free Rapid Charges

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 29th, 2013

Week in Review

The electric car was going to save the planet.  By getting gasoline-burning cars off the road.  Something the environmentalists and global warming enthusiasts have long wanted.  The only problem is no one but them wants this.  And there’s probably a large percentage of them that don’t want this, too (see Nissan Channels Tesla, Offers Free Leaf Charging in Texas by Alan Ohnsman posted 9/26/2013 on Bloomberg).

Nissan Motor Co. (7201), the most prolific electric-car maker, plans to offer free rapid charges for its battery-powered Leaf hatchback for new customers in Texas, experimenting with a strategy pioneered by Tesla Motors Inc…

Nissan, along with alliance partner Renault SA (RNO), has become the world’s largest seller of autos powered solely by electricity. A pricing reduction this year and low-cost lease deals have helped U.S. Leaf sales more than triple through August to a record 14,123 units…

“For the right person, near these charge stations, it could be a good thing and have some appeal,” Nerad said. “But it’s still striking me that in most instances, an electric car will mainly be a second or third vehicle for most people, because of the range limitations and how long it takes to charge them.”

The 2013 Leaf, built at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee, plant, averages 75 miles (121 kilometers) per charge. Repowering the car’s depleted lithium-ion battery pack takes about four hours from a 240-volt charger. EVgo’s direct-current fast chargers can repower the battery to 80 percent in 30 minutes, Brockman said.

The auto companies sell about 16 million annually.  That makes electric cars sales approximately 0.132% of all cars sold.   So no one is buying them.  Because of that poor range.  And long charge times.  This is why they’re giving away rapid charges.  Because the electric car is great and more people should drive them.  As long as it’s other people that drive them.  As most of us don’t want to sweat bullets wondering if we’re going to make it home before the battery runs out.

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The Tesla Model S is a Gorgeous Electric Car but You can’t take the Path Less Traveled in It

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 11th, 2013

Week in Review

The joy of the open road is taking the path less traveled.  How many of us taking a drive on a beautiful summer’s day turned down some country road on a whim?  Just because the scenery was beautiful?  Or because there was something interesting down at the end of that road?  That is the joy of the open road.  To travel without plans.  Where the driving is as good as the destination.  If not better.  This is what the electric car, though, cannot give us (see Tesla Model S receives near-perfect score from Consumer Reports by Eric Evarts posted 5/8/2013 on Consumer Reports).

There, we said it. The Tesla Model S outscores every other car in our test ratings. It does so even though it’s an electric car. In fact, it does so because it is electric…

The electric motor delivers impressive power, right now, and it is impressively efficient. The Model S uses about half the energy of a Toyota Prius every mile, and it has more than twice the range—about 200 miles—of any other electric car we’ve driven. Still,  you’ll have to plan ahead for longer trips; you won’t be taking it on a spontaneous jaunt from, say, New York to Cleveland any time soon. You won’t make it. Even with Tesla’s optional High Power Wall Connector, it takes about five hours to charge. On a standard 240-volt electric-car charger, it would take about 12 hours…

We paid $89,650 for our Model S, with the biggest available battery, the most seats available, and the fastest available optional chargers. Then we still had to pay another $1,200 for Tesla’s High Power Wall Connector.

That’s a lot of money.  And for what?  A range of 200 miles?  Which is something like 2-4 hours of driving time.  With stops of between 5-12 hours to recharge between those 200 miles.  That just doesn’t cut it.  The Model S is a gorgeous car.  But it has one serious flaw.  The joy of that beautiful car comes from driving it.  Not sitting at a charging station admiring it.

Cars are meant to be driven.  To take to the open road.  To go wherever that road may take you.  And when the weather or mood strikes you, you take the long-way home.  Instead of the 2 hours on the interstate you take the rambling secondary roads.  And get home when you get home.  Sometimes 4 hours later than you planned.  Because you could.  This is what people want from a gorgeous car.  They want to see the world from it.  Not just the commute to work.

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Internal Combustion Engine, Electric Motor, Fuel Economy, Emissions, Electric Range, Parallel Hybrid, Series Hybrid and Plug-In

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 5th, 2012

Technology 101

We started the First Cars with a Hand Crank and Nearly Broke an Arm if the Hand Crank Kicked Back

The king of car engines is the internal combustion engine (ICE).  We tried other motors such as a steam engine.  But a steam engine is a heat engine.  Meaning it first has to get hot enough to boil water into steam.  Which meant any trip in a car took a little extra time to bring the boiler up to operating temperatures.  Boilers tend to be big and heavy.  And dangerous.  Should something happen and a dangerous level of steam pressure built up they could explode.  Despite those drawbacks, though, a steam engine-powered car took you places.  And as long as there was fuel for the firebox and water for the boiler you could keep driving.

Another engine we tried was the electric motor.  These didn’t have any of the drawbacks of a steam engine.  You didn’t have to wait for a boiler to get to operating temperatures before driving.  Nothing was in danger of exploding.  An electric motor was lighter than a cast-iron boiler.  And an electric motor could make a car zip along.  However, an electric motor requires continuous electricity to operate.  Provided by charged batteries.  Which didn’t last long.  And took hours to recharge.  Giving the electric car limited range.  And little convenience.  For the heavier it was and/or the faster you went the faster you drained those batteries.  Which could be a problem taking the family on vacation.  But they worked well in a forklift on a loading dock.  Because of the battery-power they produced no emissions so they’re safe to use indoors.  They had limited auxiliary systems to run (other than a horn and maybe a light).  And when they were running low on charge you rarely needed to drive more than 20 or 30 feet to a charging station.

The first ICE-powered cars took some manly strength to operate.  They didn’t have power brakes, power steering, automatic transmissions or starters.  We started the first ICE-powered cars with a hand crank.  That took a lot of strength to turn.  And if it backfired while starting the kick of the handle could easily break a wrist or an arm.  Putting a damper on any Sunday afternoon drive.  This limited the spread of the automobile.  They were complex machines that required some strength to operate.  And they could be very dangerous.  Then along came the electric starter.  Which was an electric motor that spun the ICE to life.  Making the car much safer to start.  Expanding the popularity of the automobile.  For there was no longer a good chance that you could break your arm trying to start it.  And through the years came all those accessories making it easier and more comfortable to drive.  Today automatic transmissions, power steering, power brakes, headlights, interior lights, power locks, power windows, powered seats, a fairly decent audio system, heat, air conditioning and more are standard on most cars.  All effortless powered by that internal combustion engine.

Current Battery Technology does not give the All-Electric Car a Great Range

The reason why an ICE can do all of this is because gasoline is a very concentrated energy source.  It doesn’t take a lot of it to go a long way.  And it can accelerate you up a hill.  It even has the energy to pass someone on a hill. It’s a fuel source we can take with us.  A small amount of it stores conveniently and safely in a gas tank slung underneath a car.  And when it’s empty it takes very little time to refill.  A ten minute stop at a gas station and you’re back on the road able to drive another 500 miles or so.  Even in the dark of night with headlights blazing.  While keeping toasty warm in the winter.  Or comfortably cool in the summer.  Things an electric battery just can’t do.  So why would we even want to trade one for the other?  In a word—emissions.

The internal combustion engine pollutes.  The more fuel a car burns the more it pollutes.  So to cut pollution you try to make cars burn less fuel.  You increase the fuel economy.  And you can do that in a couple of ways.  You can cut the weight of the vehicle.  And put in a smaller engine.  Because a smaller engine can power a lighter car.  But a smaller car carries fewer people comfortably.  And can carry less stuff.  A motor cycle gets very good fuel economy but you can’t take the family on a Sunday drive on one.  And you can’t pack up your things on a motorcycle when going off to college.  So the tradeoff between fuel economy and weight has consequences.

An electric car does not pollute.  At all.  (Though the power plant that charges its batteries does pollute.  A lot.)  But current battery technology does not give the all-electric car a great range.  Typically coming in at less than 75 miles per charge.  Which is great if you’re operating a forklift on a loading dock.  But it’s pretty bad if you’re actually driving on a road going someplace.  And hope to return.  The heavier the car is the shorter that driving range.  If you want to use your headlights, heater or air conditioner it’ll be shorter still.  On top of this short range recharging your battery isn’t like stopping at the gas station for 10 minutes.  No.  What one typically does is pray that he or she gets home.  Then plugs in.  And by morning the car would be fully charge for another 75 miles or so of driving.

To Maximize the Benefit of a Hybrid you’d want to Carry the Absolute Minimum of Batteries to Serve your Needs

So all-electric cars are clean but they won’t really take us places.  The ICE-powered car will take us places but it’s not really clean.  Enter the gas/electric hybrid.  Which combines the best of the all-electric car (clean) and the best of the ICE-powered car (range).  There are a few varieties.  The parallel hybrid has both an ICE and an electric motor connected to a transmission that powers the wheels.  The ICE also drives a small generator.  Batteries power the electric motor.  And a gas tank feeds the ICE.  The generator keeps the batteries charged.  The battery powers the electric motor to accelerate the car from a stop.  After a certain speed the small ICE takes over.  When the car needs to accelerate the electric motor assists the ICE.  The small ICE has excellent fuel economy thus reducing emissions.  The electric motor/battery provides the additional horsepower when needed to compensate for an undersized ICE.  And the gasoline-powered engine provides extended range.

In addition to the parallel hybrid there is the series hybrid.  It has the same parts but they are connected differently.  The series hybrid is more like a diesel-electric locomotive.  Gasoline feeds the ICE.  The ICE drives a generator.  The generator charges the batteries and/or drives the electric motor.  The electric motor drives a transmission that spins the wheels.  This car drives on batteries until the charge runs out and then switches over to the ICE.  For short commutes this provides excellent fuel economy.  For longer drives (well over 75 miles or so) it’s more like a standard ICE-powered car with a roundabout way of turning the wheels.

Then there’s the plug-in variety.  In addition to all of the above you can plug your car into a charger to further save on gasoline use and reduce emissions (produced by the car; not by the electric power plant).  Letting you recharge the battery overnight in a standard 120V outlet.  In a slightly shorter time with a 240 volt outlet.  And quicker still in a 480 volt outlet.  If your commute to and from work is 50 miles or less you can probably charge up at home and not have to carry a charger with you (to convert the AC power to the DC power of the batteries).  Saving even more weight.  But if you plan on charging on the road you’ll need to carry a charger with you.  Adding additional weight.  Which will, of course, reduce your battery range.  Also, you can adjust the number of batteries to match your typical daily commute.  The shorter your commute the less charge you need to store.  Which lets you get by on fewer batteries.  Greatly reducing the weight of the car (and extending your battery range).  A gallon of gas weighs about 7 pounds and can take a car 30 miles or more.  You would need about 1,000 pounds of batteries to provide a similar range.  So range doesn’t come cheap.  To maximize the benefit of a hybrid you’d want to carry the absolute minimum of batteries to serve your needs.  Knowing that if you got a new job with a longer commute you could rely on the ICE in your hybrid to get you to work and back home safe again.

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