Sunday, April 27, 2008

Think Th!nk - Please Help Me Get One

Due to the skyrocketing cost of gasoline it is inevitable that Americans will soon be driving a radically different kind of car. We already have the Prius, and other hybrids, and we’ll have plug-in hybrids within a few years, but all of these have one thing in common; they still use gasoline. They all have an internal combustion engine, adding to the weight, cost, and complexity of the car. The gas engine is necessary to extend the range of the vehicle. Without it the car is impractical for long trips.

I had pretty much decided to wait until 2011 or 2012 for a Chevy Volt (plug-in-hybrid) until I learned that the “Th!nk” is coming to the USA sometime next year. The Th!nk is a plug-in-electric car that can get up to 110 miles on an overnight charge, and can reach speeds of 65 mph. It doesn’t have an internal combustion engine, so long trips are impractical, but it’s perfect for my daily work commute of 64 miles. Since the wife and I both work outside of the home, we’re a two-car family by necessity. Our other car can be used for long trips.

I understand that the Th!nk will first be offered to fleets, and then to consumers in California. I’ve recently sent several email inquiries asking how I might be able to be among the first in the USA to own or evaluate a Th!nk. I expressed a desire to test the Th!nk here in the Mid-West where we have an extreme range of temperatures and driving conditions. I explained that I want to use the Th!nk for my daily work commute, evaluate it’s performance, and publish the results on my blog. I mentioned that I intend to enlarge my PV system to the extent that I’ll be able to drive entirely off of free energy from the sun.

The only response I’ve received so far was a form letter. My questions went unanswered. For that reason I’m turning to you, my readers, for help. I’m asking that you write or email those involved with Th!nk in North America on my behalf. I’m just one person, easily ignored, but I doubt that they’ll ignore a large number of requests from all parts of the globe. To make this as easy as possible, I’ve composed a sample message, and I’ve listed the email addresses of those who might be able to make this happen. Just copy and paste the email addresses into the “To” line of your “New Message” window. I’ve included my own email address so that I’ll know how many messages have been sent. Next, copy and paste the suggested subject into the “Subject” line, and then copy and paste the message into the “Message” area.

In case you prefer to contact Th!nk by mail or phone, Vicki Northrup is the North American Operations Manager. Here is the information for her:

Vicki Northrup, Operations Manager
Th!nk North America
2750 Sand Hill Road
Menlo Park, CA 94205
Direct: +1 650 561 0243
Cell: +1 650 892 5068

Let’s let them know that we’re serious about eliminating our use of fossil fuels, and we want to do it now. Thank you very much for your help.


Please send the message to the following email accounts:;;;;

Suggested Subject:

Th!nk testing in the Mid-Western USA

Suggested Message:

To Whom It May Concern:

I am a regular reader of Solar John’s blog (, and am writing at John’s request. I’ve learned that the Th!nk City car is coming to California next year, and John would like to be among the first to test it in the Mid-Western United States. Unlike Southern California, the Mid-West offers a wide range of weather extremes and road conditions, making this an ideal venue for an extended test and evaluation of the Th!nk. John’s test would include using the car for his daily 64-mile round trip work commute. Additionally, John plans to use his solar photovoltaic (PV) system to charge the car, perhaps driving it entirely off of free energy from the sun, and to publish the results on his blog. John is not involved in the Alternative Energy industry, or the Automobile industry, and therefore I expect unbiased reporting from him.

John is not asking for a hand-out, he’s willing to pay full retail price for the car if necessary. He simply wants to be among the first in North America to have the opportunity to evaluate the Th!nk. Sadly, John’s inquiries have gone unanswered. Can you please help? You need not respond to this message, but please work directly with John. You may contact him at this email address:

Thank you in advance,

(Your Name)
(Your City, State, Country)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Energy 12-Step Program

When President Kennedy made it America’s goal to put a man on the moon, it happened within ten years. But America is in a technology “funk” today. We have a president who tells us we’re addicted to oil, while at the same time underfunding projects that would help to solve the oil crisis. Instead of developing solutions, our president implies that the American people need a 12-Step program. With that in mind, let’s examine the 12-steps:

Step 1. Admit that we are powerless over oil, and that our lives have become unmanageable.

Absurd! If you believe that you’re powerless over oil, and that you can’t manage your own life, you’ll never accomplish anything.

Step 2. Come to believe that a power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity.

Ridiculous! You’re not insane.

Step 3. Make a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of God.

Bolderdash! Don’t expect God to solve your problems. Solve problems with the help of God.

Step 4. Make a searching and moral inventory of yourself.

Finally, some good advice! Applying your knowledge and skills to this problem is morally appropriate.

Step 5. Admit to God, to yourself, and to another human being the exact nature of your wrongs.

Silly! You did nothing wrong in the context of oil use. It was wrong of our president to tell us we’re addicted to oil.

Step 6. We’re entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Asinine! Your use of oil does not represent a defect of character.

Step 7. Humbly ask God to remove your shortcomings.

Good advice, but remember that your use of oil is not a shortcoming.

Step 8. Make a list of all persons you’ve harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.

Don’t feel guilty for your past use of oil, it was thrust upon you.

Step 9. Make amends to such people whenever possible.

You harmed no one, and therefore need not make amends.

Step 10. Continue to take personal inventory, and admit when you’re wrong.

Good advice, but don’t list your use of oil as a wrong.

Step 11. Improve your conscious contact with God.

Good advice, but remember that God doesn’t solve your problems; you do that with God’s help.

Step 12. Practice these principles in your affairs.

You’re not addicted to oil no matter who says you are, and you don’t need a twelve-step program. Use your time and talents to make better use of the resources you have, and don’t expect God or anyone else to do it for you. Someday we’ll have leaders who will actually work with us to solve problems, instead of calling us “addicts”, but for now we’re just going to have to rely on our own efforts. God bless you, keep up the good work, and don’t listen to those who say you’re an addict. God gave us a limited supply of oil, and we could have used it more responsibly. More than anyone else, this was the fault of our leaders. If we’re “addicts” in our president’s mind, then he’s the “dealer”. He himself may need a 12-Step program, but we don’t.


Monday, April 07, 2008

You'll Buy an Electric Car Someday - You'll Charge it!

Has anyone else noticed how expensive gasoline is these days? Ten years ago a gallon of gas could be bought for under $1.00. Gasoline hit the $2.00 mark in 2004, and we were paying $3.00 per gallon in 2006. Now it looks like gas might hit $4.00 per gallon before the end of this year. If this trend continues, we’ll be paying $6.00 per gallon in 2012. Car manufactures are taking notice of this, and several have electric cars in the works.

Since the days of cheap gasoline seem to be gone forever, a sudden shift to electric cars is inevitable. With the automotive industry already working on electric cars, and battery manufacturers competing to see who can make the best batteries, we’re well on our way. The first generation of electric cars will be equipped with a small gasoline engine, included to extend the range of the car. These are called plug-in-hybrid-electric-vehicles, or PHEV’s. And while the PHEV is a great intermediate step, the gasoline engine will eventually be eliminated altogether. Quick charging batteries, and the emergence of battery charging stations, will make that possible.

It looks as if the transition to electric cars will be more of a landslide than a trickle, a scenario that will create some problems. The electric grid, which is already strained in some parts of the country, may not be able to handle the additional load of charging all of these vehicles. Fortunately, most of these electric cars will be charged at night, when other demands on the grid are low. V2G technology (cars that supply power to the grid during the day), will help, but infrastructure upgrades are needed before that can happen. We’ll pay for improvements, and for the upgrades needed for the implementation of V2G technology, through higher electric rates.

Another problem created by a sudden shift to electric cars is that there will be less money available for highway maintenance. Federal and state taxes on gasoline pay for road improvements, bridges, and maintenance. A sudden switch to electric transportation will reduce gasoline tax revenue, and it’s likely that we’ll be required to pay our share of road-usage taxes in some other way. If you use 25 gallons of gas per month, enough to drive about 500 miles, you’re paying about $150.00 per year in road-use taxes. Many of us are paying much more than that. To make up for the loss, we might see additional taxes on our electric bill, but that isn’t the best solution. There is no easy way of determining how much electricity is used for charging our car(s), and how much is ordinary household use. It’s likely that we’ll calculate our share of road-use tax via our state and federal income tax forms. Tax forms will include questions designed to determine how much electricity we use for charging our electric car(s).

The sudden need for more electricity does more than just strain the electrical grid, it means that coal-fired power plants will burn more coal. This will drive up the cost of coal, and you’ll pay for that on your electric bill. Any way you look at it you’re going to have to pay for electricity at an ever-increasing rate, and you’ll soon be taxed for the electricity you use at a much higher rate than you’re paying now. Just as gasoline prices have skyrocketed in recent times, the days of cheap electricity will end as well.

What can you do about it? I’m glad you asked!

Most of the country pays about ten cents per kilowatt hour for electricity now, making it possible to charge an electric vehicle for less than $1.00 per night. You’ll be able to drive 40 miles or more on an overnight charge, instead of burning five to eight dollars worth gasoline at today’s prices. What a deal! But with the likelihood that electric rates will soon mimic the steep increase of gasoline prices, it would be wise to consider other options. For many, a solar electric (PV) system is a great way to deal with the expense of, and problems related to, a sudden switch to electric transportation. It seems that those who already drive electric cars are aware of this, since 50% of them also use solar electric systems.

Off-grid or Grid-tied?

A grid-tied PV system may be the best choice for those served by a robust electrical grid. Electricity is fed into the grid during the day, offsetting electricity pulled from the grid at night. With a large enough system, the user contributes more than he withdraws, and therefore pays nothing for electricity. An off-grid PV system may be the best choice for those with marginal electric service, but system inefficiencies and the added cost of batteries will result in a much higher system cost.

Size matters:

While it’s alright to start out small, it’s going to take a substantial PV system to charge an electric car’s battery bank. GM’s Volt PHEV can be charged via a 110 volt standard home outlet, and a full charge will take 6 ½ hours. I suspect that the charge current will exceed 10 amps, or about 1100 watts, representing a pretty hefty load on a PV system. A 2kw grid-tied system will produce enough electricity (on sunny days) to offset the charging power supplied by the grid at night, but an off-grid system will need to be substantially larger than that in order to compensate for system inefficiencies. If you opt for an off-grid system, and if you’re able to charge your PHEV during the day, you’ll achieve efficiencies similar to those who implement a grid-tied system. An off-grid PV system operates much more efficiently when power flows directly from the solar panels to the load, instead of temporarily storing that power in PV system batteries and retrieving it later. Another thing to consider is that a two-car family will need a PV system twice as large as a one-car family. Still, you can start out with a small system that will generate a portion of your needs, and upgrade later.

PV system cost vs. savings:

As you do your homework you might be shocked by the high cost of a PV system, but don’t forget to do the math. By switching from a gas-powered car to electric, you might be eliminating $3600.00 worth of gasoline per year from your budget. If you apply those savings toward the purchase of a PV system, the payback period will be 2 to 5 years. And better yet, you’ll be driving on FREE power from the sun once your solar equipment is paid for. Any economist, I suspect, would call that a good investment.

Something else to consider:

Once your PV system is in place, you’ll use it as much as possible to charge your PHEV. During times when the sun doesn’t shine, you’ll need to charge your PHEV in some other way. For most people, that other way will be the power grid. This will be the best option as long as electric rates remain reasonable. Charging can be done by wind power, micro hydro, or even a bio-fueled generator after that.

A bonus:

If you don’t drive much on the weekends, you’ll have a surplus of electricity for household use at a time when you’ll need it most.


Like the invention of radio, TV, and the personal computer, the plug-in electric car appears to be the next great invention that will change the way we live. The sudden switch from gas to electricity will trigger an increase in the price we pay for electricity, but those who use PV for some or all of their needs will suffer the least. The surge in the cost of electricity will result in a greater demand for solar panels and equipment, leading to shortages and price increases. To avoid dealing with those shortages and price increases, now is the time to install solar electric panels and systems. And as an added bonus, the massive shift away from internal combustion engines, combined with an increased use of solar panels, will have a positive affect on the quality of our air. You gotta love that!

How will you charge your electric car?

With a credit card of course.