Thursday, October 20, 2016

The i-MiEV is a workhorse

Owners of the deceptively diminutive Mitsubishi i-MiEV quickly discover it to be the "little car that can", as it has 50 cubic feet of flat-floored storage when the rear seatbacks are folded flat.  That's enough to carry for example; two 55 gallon drums, a dozen nested 32 gallon garbage cans, a 50" LED TV, or an adult bicycle on the inside.  More intrepid owners add roof racks for items such as rooftop tent camping, bicycles or, perhaps a boat.

Really intrepid owners add the 2" receiver hitch from Torklift Central, enabling both towing and cargo platform use.

Virtually Started

Thanks to collaboration with Mr. Thompson, four leading students of introductory engineering are taking on a real-world project in Computer Aided Design, in which they are taking measurements of the Ranger EV battery box, modeling it in the computer, and then modeling the fitment of our different battery pack options!
For suspenders to compliment this virtual belt, students in Mr. Culpepper's Wood Shop are cutting and gluing wooden blocks as stand-ins for Nissan Leaf modules.  With just two wooden dummy modules, it should be easy to check lid clearances and tape off outlines or even create wire frames of how the battery will fit in the box.  

As an added bonus, both techniques were started today, so we get to have a race of old-school craftsmanship versus new-age technology.  Which do you think will find the final solution faster?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Speaking of great weights, how about a battery sponsor?

Longtime Karmann Eclectricians will recall that the 2014-15 Grumman KurbWatt project came together thanks to the generous sponsorship of and several local hobbyists who shared spare and/or used parts.

The Ranger EV does not yet have a funding source identified for batteries.  The students and I are running the numbers on different battery options, both new and OEM salvage.  Our goal is a solid 100 miles of range, which means at least 35 usable kWh with a pack voltage that ranges between 300 and 370V.  A pair of crashed i-MiEV, a couple of original LEAF packs that are already down their depreciation curve,  some orphan Think packs, a couple of Volts or a crashed Smart ED or Spark EV- the list of possibilities is very long.  Who out there in the ether cares to step up?  I have truck and will travel!

  Image result for LEAF battery packImage result for volt battery pack
Image result for Spark  battery packImage result for Enerdel  battery pack

A great weight is lifted...

After a quick orientation to the vehicle and the inherent hazards herein, we commenced to removing the pack of dead lead.  All 1950 lbs of it...
What the shop manual declared to be a 40 minute task was accomplished by our crack team in about 20 minutes, and removal of the coffin lid's 22 bolts took under 5 minutes; light work with many hands!

Underside orientation and discussion of the designated lift points.

The sarcophagus will reveal its secrets

The battery lift is certainly earning its keep!

38 custom-sized lead-acid 8 volt batteries.  WHY, Ford, WHY!
The upper stack has heat pads bonded to the sides, rest have them below.  Battery heating was activated in freezing weather only when connected to a charging station.  This would be a useful feature to retain with the lithium pack.

Monday, October 10, 2016

A Lonely Ranger is coaxed out of hiding...

One of the more mythical EVs out there is the factory Ford Ranger EV of the 1990's.  Approximately 1200 of these were made to meet the first California EV Mandate, and about 800 of them were sent to the crusher when the automakers won their hollow victory, ceding the electrified space to Toyota and then TESLA for nearly two decades.  Thanks to and other protests by the RangerEV, S-10 EV and EV-1 leaseholders, one third of the Rangers were spared and went into private hands a decade ago.  Many of those vehicles saw good service in their second life, but a few fell through the cracks.  This is one of them.  A former Georgia Power fleet demonstrator, this lead-acid Ranger EV wound up with a nonprofit in Washington State in 2006.  They drove a victory lap straight off the transport truck, but then later discovered that it would not recharge.  A thorough diagnosis was not performed until so much time had elapsed that the battery pack was hopelessly dead.  The truck passed through two more sets of hands that never actually started on a revival, which brings us to today.   Sumner School District has received the vehicle, and we will be resurrecting it in the High School Auto Shop as this year's advanced class project.  As an extra-special bonus, this vehicle came with the huge hydraulic battery lifting jack, which will be very handy, considering that we have a 1950-lb battery sarcophagus to remove and rebuild.
The battery lift is harder to keep on hand than the truck itself

On a trivial note, the Ranger EV was one of the very few production vehicles ever to use the DeDion tube rear suspension, and another is my daily-driver i-MiEV.  This allows a lightweight but rigid rear end for heavy loading and a close-coupled motor and gearbox that is fully suspended.  The Ranger EV rear suspension is made of Aluminum forgings and aluminum tube.
Notice the dimples in the Ranger EV-only lightweight aluminum hood!

Offloading the Dead Lead Sled

Friday, August 26, 2016

Adopting a Unicorn.

One-owner 1983 Mazda RX7 GSL Aztec Gold Electric Vehicle Conversion
Built by an electrical engineer and driven daily for 18 years.  
2 year old flooded lead-acid battery pack
Vehicle Garaged and rain-tight
All systems in good working order.

This imagined advertisement describes the situation that came to me via the grapevine this week, and now it is indeed mine.  Having passed muster as a worthy adoptive father to this antique love child, I brought it home to the genuine surprise of my wife, who couldn't believe that someone would give away such a beauty.  But then of course, she's never tried to sell a unique but low value used car on Craigslist, inviting all sorts of unsavory time wasters to your inner sanctum....  My great gratitude goes out to the builder, who did not desire publicity.

Vital stats are a 108V battery pack, Curtis 1231 controller, 9: ADC motor, high quality workmanship.
The top-of-the-line GSL included a limited slip differential, steel sunroof (with good seals and drains that aren't clogged), electric windows and solenoid-actuated hatch and filler door release, along with a leather interior and unique aluminum alloy wheels.

This car includes amazing documentation, from notes on the builder's first ever trip to an EV Assoc. meeting, to a log of all build progress and repairs, to the original window sticker and brochure, sales receipts for EVerything, engineered drawings, and EVen a typewritten RX7 EV Maintenance Manual complete with color photos for each procedure, such as battery pack replacement.  

The jury's still out on how healthy the battery pack is and whether it'll make my round-trip commute, but it'll definitely be a fun errand-runner and show car.  It also fits into my Karmann-Ghia sized car trailer, and most of all, it was ready to roll!  No work needed, it can simply be driven leisurely and gradually upgraded over time.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

The Grumman Gets Going!

After this chump got stumped for weeks trying to wake up the motor controller and diagnose faults, EV Expert Dave Barden came over for a visit from Vashon Island and solved my woes in one quick computer session.  I've gotta get a dedicated old laptop or Palm set up for this purpose, as the Zilla seems to be stuck in an old world of 9600 baud serial port communication, and USB to serial port adaptors are a wily bunch.....

Driving 17 miles home, the battery pack didn't sag much when kept under 400 amps, and I've resolved to take it easy while working out the bugs.  For example, there's a nagging noise coming from the right front corner that I erroneously diagnosed as a bad constant velocity joint, so the students and I put on two new axles, complete with stub axles and four CV joints.  However, that didn't include the wheel bearings, which are part of the front hubs that the stub axles are inserted through.  Off it all came again today and we pressed new bearings into that olde hub, still bearing the May 1982 inspection sticker!

The old bearing seemed good, but the first test drive seemed to prove us out.  Then we noticed a missing circlip that serves as the bearing retainer, so out came the hub again and during this reassembly, we noticed that a brake pad had delaminated during the test drive and the backing plate was bent.  SO, after that one short test drive, the Grumman went back on jack stands, awaiting new front pads and the retainer bolts that the pads slide on...

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Sylvester chomps at the bit...

Our Grumman Kurbwatt rebuild at Sumner High school is nearly complete, and just in time for the end of school.  There's an annoying no-start error light flashing on the Zilla controller's hairball (brain), caused by critical low voltage on the 12V circuit, according to the error code extracted.  However, after wiping the error code and doing a couple of disconnections of both 12V and the traction pack, the hairball just lights up red with an error again upon attempted restart.  No fuses blew, big or small, but research reveals that early hairball firmware could be corrupted by this very condition. I spent this week rounding up equipment to talk to the 9600 baud serial port on the hairball, which has become a challenge in the modern era.  (I've dredged up a serial terminal that just spit out code that I couldn't comprehend, and now a Palm Pilot with a serial cord, as well as a USB-serial adaptor for my laptop, and a couple of programs to try.  To further complicate matters, the hairball is no longer flashing codes or resetting using the simple 'shorting plug' signals of last resort.  Oh well, if all else fails it's good to be close to Manzanita Micro here in WA for repair.

The main activity of the past couple of weeks was to go ahead and install the second battery pack: ten more modules in parallel with the ten installed in the slide-out battery tray.  These are tucked away in body cavities below and behind the seats, and though permanently paralleled, one can run one or both packs with selective use of the Anderson SB350 connectors.  Replacing the terminal posts with contactors would enable series/parallel switching of the packs, for 240V 'strip' or 120V 'street' operation, but from the initial road tests, it may be that 120V will be plenteous power, given a doubled-up pack rated for 1000 amp discharges!

We also replaced the rusty sideview mirrors and both of the driveline half-shafts complete with four CV joints, but that turned out to not be the source of an annoying clicking sound when making left turns.  More diagnosis to come once it's running again next week.  Lastly, I finally found replacement gaskets for the round stop/turn/reverse lights and sealed in some really bright LEDs that should be a snazzy safety enhancement.

Speaking of safety, one student demonstrated the value of safety glasses after carefully removing a window, cleaning and lubricating the chain-drive regulator, and reinstalling it, only to have the window shatter when he turned the crank.  No good turn goes unrewarded, but that window was luckily a match to all of the big brother Grummans, and replaceable for only $30 from Mill Supply!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Solar Washington, Part Trois.

Part Trois?

Well, more of a patois really, because this array is completely nonstandard and much less conventional than the first two!  Via Craigslist, I happened upon a remarkable creation on the back lot of a local farmer.  His son built a large solar concentrator quite a few years ago by laboriously glueing hundreds of hand-cut mirrors to a ten-foot diameter C-band satellite dish (state flower of West Virginia, common 1980's yard art).  This aluminum mesh dish took the liquid nails perfectly, and very few little mirrors had been knocked off during its years of neglect.  The dish mounting pole was welded to a very beefy base of heavy steel tube and channel, which was mounted on casters (which could even still roll after being encased in a turkey manure slurry for the past decade!  The young man's creation can still set fire to green wood in seconds and melt aluminum.  Though it has a focal length of about five feet (meaning that at ten feet away the un-focused sunlight is no stronger than what's already pouring down from heaven), the local high school's science fair administrators refused to allow the device on campus, fearing it would burn the place down.  Such small-mindedness is no doubt a contributing factor to that lad now being a grown engineer working far from home...

Anyway, good neighbor Tom loaned a wide-decked trailer and good buddy Tim helped me haul the device home, which we did under cover of darkness to avoid undue attention to our oversize load, but it sure got the attention of stopped motorists at the crossroads, when their headlights were reflected back at them by the passing monstrosity.  To stimulate discussion with the neighbors, I left it parked out front for a few days, declaring that we'd all have free TV very soon.....
After arousing sufficient curiosity, I managed to unload it without flipping the dish, thanks in no small part to its sturdy foundation.  
The dish was dubbed "Archimedes' Death Ray", and served to entertain and roast food during Jason's 8th birthday party on a partly cloudy Saturday in March.  Word to the wise- sunshine doesn't really roast marshmallows, it just turns them into an iris-searing white blob of incandescence before they melt and slide down the skewer...  Hot dogs, on the other hand, blister in seconds.  Patience was required to warm the core without burning the skin!  
After our fun with the sun it was time to get serious about making greater use of said solar energy, so removed the dish (again, without flipping it even though the thing weighed a ton!).  It awaits reincarnation as a padoga roof over our hot tub, complete with a disco ball hanging from the center!

The antenna base was refitted with a uni-strut frame and grid of aluminum solar rail leftover from my salvaged Kaneka array, and topped with the 18 BP modules that were originally mounted on the WattSun dual-axis tracker (sidelined in favor of more productive and powerful made-in Washington Itek Energy PV panels).  The original 36" linear actuator is plenty powerful to move this new array, even after hibernating in a barn for a decade after being removed from the salvaged satellite dish during it's first afterlife. My current plan is to just manually adjust the elevation on a seasonal basis with the original elevation screw, and  use the actuator for daily east-west action, which does the most to maximize production.  I'm using the Axe-Tracka controller from Australia again on this array after a good experience with this hand-built unit on my first array and excellent customer service from the actual man who designs and builds 'em at home, rather than some nameless corporation or Ali-Baban. You'll also notice that I added wheels and a removeable tongue (which also serves a the removeable hitch for the Karmann Eclectric!).  That allows repositioning of the array and trailer loading with minimal effort.  The frame was cleverly welded so as to allow pass-through outriggers for stabilization.  I haven't found the ultimate solution yet, but will start with some timbers inserted through the steel for safety and added stability.  The tip-tilt motion of a satellite dish is not as refined as the WattSun tracker, which keeps modules parallel to the ground as the array is rotated about the pole, but the mechanisms are much simpler and robust this way.  

After this assembly and testing, the frame was painted (green, of course) and the new-old-stock Outback Power PS-1 installed on the base.  Next comes 48 Volts of EV-salvaged batteries, which will ballast the array against wind loading while also providing backup power for critical circuits in the home.  It doesn't get much better than this!!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Gotta big new Green Box, but where should I stick it?

Ten years after getting my first Zilla (John Wayland's old Godzilla 1800, S/N 003), and then a Z1k, I've finally graduated to a Z2k for the Karmann Eclectric!  

Mounting this 2000 amp monster poses a quandary.  Do we saddle it directly to the 9" motor case?  My first controller endured some fairly violent clutch chatter before I got that all sorted out, and it died mysteriously while the car was tied down in a trailer, but with the telltale smell of popped capacitors.  Otmar had warned that extra vibration is something to avoid.   So- I seek consensus.  Is the eye candy of a color-matched controller riding atop its motor-mate with very short input cables worthwhile, or should the controller sit a foot away mounted vertically on the firewall, possibly even on rubber isolators for maximum vibration dampening?  In the past decade, many other motors have been ridden by their controllers- any regrets out there?  The other option is to mount it to the firewall, where there's plenty of space and probably enough structure to support that 24 lb chunk of copper.  

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Sylvester Lives!

On this sunniest and warmest day yet of 2016, we made the final wiring connections, and after a couple of minor hiccups, Sylvester took his first drive on Lithium with Zilla Power!
Only for a few blocks, as the pack needs to be recharged and there remains a lot of wiring clean-up and adjustments to be done, but we DIDN'T BLOW ANYTHING UP.

Must be just a little luck o' the Irish in there, if I don't say so myself.

And it just so happened that I found a couple other ice cream trucks to park next to too!
(Yes, generic white trucklets in front of generic white houselets, Sumner really is more interesting that it looks!)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A month is a long time

So, we have much progress to report on the Grumman Kurbwatt!
Installation of the following components has been accomplished.

  • Manzanita Micro PFC-20 battery charger with J1772 compatibility upgrade, along with an external dc-rated input circuit breaker and output fusing that bypasses the 'Run' contactor.  
  • Zilla 1k motor controller, coolant pump, radiator, reservoir, and fan.
  • 53 amp 13.8 Volt output DC-DC converter and 'house battery' using a spare Valence XP-27
  • Two Kilovac contactors, one for "Run" and one for safety.
  • A Gigavac manual disconnect, essentially a rotary version of their vacuum-sealed contactors
  • An LED dome light with red "night vision" auxiliary function.
We re-energized the 12V system yesterday to re-verify function of all original components and begin the commissioning of the 12V control and instrumentation wiring.  

After that comes the first high-voltage tests; first of the charging system and then propulsion.  Having a rear-mounted pack with a rear disconnect has been a blessing, in that we can work freely without any high voltage present in the motor bay.  

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Batteries Are In and Baby Got Bling (just some new shoes).

We kept it simple and put a single string of ten modules in the tray for, 120 V nominal and 15.6 kWh of capacity.

There's a couple of awkward-looking long jumpers in there, but it was the only layout that placed most positive and most negative at the back of the pack without placing any modules on edge.  
The rearmost compartment has one battery in it in this photo as a counterweight, but that cavity will remain empty for Phase 1.  It may be used when a second string of modules is added.  This shot was taken while filling the gaps with foam insulation board.  

After cabling up the battery pack, freshening up the Anderson disconnects and re-mounting them with stainless hardware (yes, the corrosion risk is tiny compared to the old flooded pack, but I don't like rust!), we turned our attention to the outside.  

Through creative dealmaking, I wound up with a couple of parts cars: a 1985 Nissan Pulsar converted by Dave Cloud in 1996, which the last owner had never gotten around to modernizing, so we're reusing the Valence battery pack that never got installed, along with the battery charger and a few other components to reuse on this project, and the motor, etc. for others.  

That car also came with some very shiny aluminum wheels that were good as new and period-appropriate for the Grumman.  Besides- everybody knows that little Japanese cars use a 4x100 lug bolt pattern, right?  Confident in that fact, I mounted new LRR tires and brought my prize to the student mechanics.    
Time for another lesson.  The Pulsar had 4x4.5" lug spacing, aka 4x113.4mm.  So no fit.  There's room in the solid centers to re-drill the 4x100 pattern, but machine shops willing to take on that work are rare, and I found a set of billet adaptors for less than redrilling should cost.  
The adaptors add 1" of track to each side, but the front tires still fit within the wheelwells and there's no chance of rubbing, even at full suspension travel.  In the rear, the sidewall bulge is barely wider than the body, but there won't be any rubbing either, due to the generous wheel openings.  All the tread is inside the wheelwell, but some fender flares might be in order down the line.  I'm not worried about extra stress on the spindles from a wider stance, as this battery pack is 484 pounds lighter than the original one, and even adding a second string will be 40 lbs less than original, and more evenly distributed.  Lastly this van was designed to carry a full load of mail in addition to the lead-acid batteries, so there will be durability to spare.  

Lastly these new wheels brought our attention to a bit of camber, probably because the suspension is riding higher to the tune of 484 lbs.  It's not bad, so I'll wait for the weight of a second string before adjusting the ride height.  And of course, if this project wraps up well, the kids would love to airbag Sylvester!  

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Stuffing is the hardest part

After rebuilding the Grumman battery tray rollers with technical help from the capable countermen at Motion Industries, we discovered that though the tray could hold 14 batteries with a few rows set on end, two of those rows would just barely interfere with a floor beam, and the cabling gets difficult any time you set batteries on end.  Also, the manufacturer may allow it, but they're never quite as comfortable with any installation where the batteries don't sit on their base as designed.
That and other factors is pushing us towards a simpler pack layout with ten in the main tray, and ten in the forward body cavities.  Those two parallel strings at 120V nominal will still provide over 30 kWh of capacity, yet be a very safe voltage for student mechanics to work with.

BUT, when adult entertainment is desired, a simple switch could unite the two strings in a series circuit of 240V for higher performance.

Also in the interest of speed and simplicity, I'm leaning towards getting the van rolling with a single 10-battery pack to start off with, and then add more once the bugs are worked out of EVerything else.  placing batteries is tough work, especially when safety is job one!

The charging inlet has been changed from a jury-rigged industrial plug that was placing 12 VDC on two pins and 144 VDC on the other two, all in close-proximity exposed blades, to the modern J1772 standard.  The original inlet mounting plate was reused, so of course a billet aluminum inlet was used to match!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Stuffing the KurbWatt

The original Grumman battery tray will hold 11 Group 27 batteries after removing some of the center partitions Yes, that weakens it somewhat, but in the long and strong direction, but we reinforced the floor and have reduced battery weight by over one third.  We've also found another battery donor, one of the few local users of Valence batteries, for a total of 24 U-Charge XP27 batteries available, which adds up to 39.9 kWh!   This would give the truck a 39.9 kWh pack weighing only 1056 lbs.

 Three batteries will fit in an unused body cavities ahead of the rear wheels on the passenger side, but only two behind the driver due to cable routing.  The seat platforms are nice boxes that will also hold two batteries apiece.

 Add up to five batteries in the motor compartment, and the count stands at 24.   That should be good for up to 200 miles at low speed around town, or no less than 114 miles on the highway!

Battery placement is still being decided, and we may use fewer batteries to KISS, but we also have two Valence U-Charge BMS systems, each originally set up for 12 batteries.  Running two packs in parallel would extract the maximum energy at minimum stress, while operating at safer voltages (144V nominal rather than 288V).  Power delivered by the controller would be greater at 288V, because then the motor could be fed with 170V, which the maximum voltage for decent brush life, and not sag below that 170V during high current (1000 amp) accelerations.  That 170 kW would be 240 instantaneous horsepower, probably more than the Rabbit clutch could tolerate!

144V or EVen 132V is our likely course since students are involved, but it leaves an option open for putting the sub-packs in series when daddy goes to the track!

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

The Grumman Gets Gutted...

Though we were able to get the Grumman Kurbwatt running in very short order, it was due for an all-around update, so as soon as all systems were go and the brakes were road-tested, it was time to take the electric parts apart.

The battery pack is being replaced with donated set of used first generation Valence U-Charge Lithium Ion modules, which match the outgoing Group 27 lead acid batteries.  Our plans are to replace the controller with a Zilla 1k, and the Lester "boat anchor" battery charger with a Manzanita Micro PFC20, complete with full J1772 interoperability for public charging stations.

The Valence cells are probably a half-measure, being of uncertain capacity and remaining life, but will enable extensive road testing and tuning of all the other upgrades before building the ultimate battery pack.

Sure enough, once we managed to pull the control board (with the controller, main contactor and auxiliary relays mounted) it became apparent that there were about twice as many wires as necessary, and every time we opened up a bundle of electrical tape, we found either an ugly splice or abandoned, dead-end wires.  Plan A is to use a multi-pin Amphenol connector to have a single disconnect point on the new board for all small-gauge wiring, enabling easy removal of the board, along with a couple of Anderson connectors for the big stuff.

Charge On!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Solar Washington, Part Deux.

Why should a solar installation be a one-time thing, and why would one have one 2160 Watt Array, when you could compare it to another 2160 watts of of solar right next door, but using different technology in a different manner?
Our 2015 project involved assembling 400 square feet of solar atop a sturdy steel frame, once again courtesy of Boeing Surplus Sales.  The clearspan structure was built from thirteen 20' sticks of SuperStrut steel channel, literally a big boy's erector set!  There's no substitute to vastly overbuilt when it comes to amateur engineering, as each of those sticks could support 5000 lbs!

The modules came from electric vehicle co-conspirator Matt Moreno, who has limited area with solar exposure on his home, and decided to upgrade from these Kaneka 60 Watt thin film modules to the Iteks that dominate our Made in Washington market.  These thin film modules are sometimes superior in our low light conditions, and the panel has complete coverage with active material between the frames, with no gaps as appear on mono or poly crystalline modules.  Thin film can outproduce crystalline during diffuse, indirect or the low-angle sunlight that we often have here in the cloudy northwest.  However, in terms of annual production per square foot, crystals are where its at.  So, I got 32 of these at depreciated and friendly pricing, plus found six more new-old stock modules to square out the array and stock two spares from a depressed "Prepper" who never put them into use (which doesn't matter much because the world didn't end after all).

In order to not be too obtrusive on the neighbors and to maximize my covered storage space, (at the cost of  8% less annual production than optimal tilt of 34 degrees). I set this array at the minimum 6 degree angle required for drainage, and came up with a mounting method that made the roof rain-tight using continuous strips of aluminum to bridge the longitudinal gaps, and the steel channel frame catches rain from the horizontal gaps and channels it to either side.  Like any simple shed, there is still dewfall below, but it is an improvement over sun and direct rain.  Note that optimal tilt does not equal latitude here in the cloudy PNW.  Most of our insolation comes during summer, so optimal tilt is biased towards summer production.

It was a nice bit of luck (that I pushed, of course) to get two arrays of the same rating; 2160 Watts from 36 Kanekas and 2160 Watts from the 8 Iteks!  But wait, there's only one inverter, isn't there?  Well, to maximize the state incentive scheme, I'm switching the Iteks over to Made in Washington Blue Frog microinverters, which apply maximum power point tracking to each single module in the array while producing grid-tied 240 VAC at the array.  Normally this would be overkill on a dual-axis tracker, but my modules do see some shade in the early mornings and late afternoons, so this will squeeze a few more electrons out of it.  This approach also fits into the theme of comparing technologies, and it will be interesting to watch the performance under different conditions and over different timeframes, as well testing as the long-term reliability of each.  This will also allow reuse of both the AC and DC wires already passing under the lawn, without expensive rewiring.

Solar Washington

It is often feared and now well-shown that electric vehicles are a gateway to other subversive activities, such as a drive towards energy independence.  With that in mind, I started solarizing the Donnaway homestead last year.  Never one to choose the simple solution or pay retail, I found an orphan, the overbuilt WattSun 1200 dual-axis solar tracker, which was discontinued after a corporate takeover, but I can hardly blame them, as the falling price of panels no longer justifies the added cost of a mid-size tracker.  It's usually cheaper now to get more production with more fixed-position panels than to point them properly at all times.

This tracker was an orphan because the original owner accidentally encroached on his property line with it, which was discovered during a pre-sale survey.  So, I got a bargain and learned the technology through manual dis-assembly and reassembly.  Part of the deal were 18 12-Volt nominal panels, which I saved for an off-grid application and replaced those 1835 Watts worth with 2160 Watts of Made in Washington Itek 270 Watt modules.  These eight panels will pay off better due to the state incentive structure.  Construction didn't commence until mid-summer, and final electrical inspection was accomplished on 12/28/2014, just in time to cement my tax credit!

PapaJoe Donnaway assisted in the engineering as we set sixteen feet of 8" steel pipe into a six foot borehole, six feet deep and six feet across.  The pipe was good galvanized Schedule 80, but a Boeing Surplus bargain, having spent its first 20 years as a parking stop..

We poured a whole pallet worth of concrete mix, applied in the following lifts:
First, a 6" floor with rebar threaded through the pipe base, topped by 2' of  native gravel and cement mix, then another 6" of  rebar and concrete, topped with another 2' of  "localcrete" and another slab, then topped off with the cobblestones that I had dug out of the hole, for a natural but weed-resistant and heavy base.

In addition to two wiring conduits that I trenched in at a good 36" below the back yard, I ran a 1" water pipe to a frostproof hydrant n order to have both water and power on the far side of the yard, and all the way back to the spa house.  Kind of a long round trip, but the water doesn't care.
Like many summertime construction projects, I kinda pushed the schedule on this one, and was working on it right up till the end of the year...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sylvester Signs a Sponsor!  

Longtime friend and fellow eCo-Conspirator Tracy Farwell has seen fit to invest substantially in Sylvester's rehabilitation through his Better Energy, LLC. enterprise.   Better Energy seeks to bring about change in light and medium-duty truck fleets by repowering mid-life delivery trucks with proven battery-electric drivetrains.  Most EV conversion efforts have been short-lived due to their pursuit of extremely expensive AC drivetrains and their attendant complexity.  Better Energy believes that a simple series-motored BEV is the key to maximized economic utilization, and a far more attractive equation when paired with a local delivery truck that may not do many miles per day, but delivers lousy mpg, noisy and noxious onsite impacts, and is maintenance-intensive.  A battery-electric truck with a modern lithium-ion battery pack and a basic drivetrain make a powerful and affordable combination.

The classic Grumman Kurbwatt with an upgraded battery pack will demonstrate this concept at the small end of the scale, while John Lussmyer's electric 4WD Ford F-250 MegaCab Longbed amply demonstrates this concept in a very popular package.

Thank You Tracy!

Introducing Sylvester

As a result of my EVangelism and attempts to mentor EV newbies in the local area, I received the donation of a very special vehicle; a pristine 1983 Grumman Kurbwatt postal truck, one of only fifty built.
Here's the story if its creation, courtesy of

The Electric KurbWatt and Gasoline/Diesel KubVan were the United States Postal Service's answer to the 1970's Oil Crisis. The Electric KurbWatt and Gasoline/Diesel KubVan were designed to save the United States Postal Service 500,000 gallons of fuel per year. The Electric KurbWatt and Gasoline/Diesel KubVan were ready for mass production, and was being tested by the USPS by 1983. The KurbWatt, and the KubVan were to replace the converted army jeeps that were used to deliver the mail door to door. The KurbWatt and the KubVan have the same mail delivery capabilities as an army jeep, but would save the USPS 500,000 gallons of fuel per year. The Electric KurbWatt, and the Diesel/Gasoline KubVan are the only vehicle to pass all of the USPS endurance tests. The KurbWatt and the KubVan were not mass produced because they were determined to be too small. The USPS needed a vehicle in a hurry, so Grumman designed the Long Life Vehicle (LLV). The LLV was larger, but got the same fuel economy as an army jeep. No fuel was saved.

Somehow, one of these wound up in the Washington State Dept of Transportation Fleet, where it was well-cared for and received an upgraded GE motor, larger than the original 7" Prestolite, as well as an upgrade to 156 Volts and a compatible Curtis controller!  A nice handwritten note from the WSDOT mechanic accompanied this trucklet into private hands at the surplus sale.  After two private owners, the Grumman was sitting in the weeds with a dead house battery and unknown other concerns when offered to me.  Thankfully, it turns out there were few other concerns, as the traction battery pack still had some life in it, being a bunch of Deka Dominators that were salvaged from a crashed Solectria Force.

It took one day to resurrect the Grumman and give some test drives, winning school district consent for the idea of training high school auto shop students in EV basics.  Sylvester, as we'll call him, has a five speed 1983 VW Rabbit front end, and a VW Dasher (Passat, Audi Fox, Audi 80) rear axle.

First order of business is making sure the binders are good, so off came all the wheels, and as usual, removal of the rear brake drum cylinders  resulted in a rounded-off brake line nut and we had to replace the hard line.  This was an excellent educational activity that will certainly result in safer stopping!