What Elon Musk got Wrong

by Ben N on May 1, 2015

Now I happen to be a pretty big fan of Tesla Motors. They’ve done more work than anyone to show just how cool Electric Vehicles can be.

So, when the video premiere was released of Elon Musk revealing the new POWER-WALL, I was pretty excited. That is, until the end of the video….

Near the beginning of the presentation, Musk shows a chart of atmospheric CO2, with the classic “hockey stick” projection of exponential growth now and into the future. Of course, this is NOT what we want. The presentation then shows how renewable energy, combined with home battery technology (Tesla’s new product…) can get us off fossil fuels and stop the increase in CO2.

However, the last slide of the presentation shows exactly that – a flat line in CO2 production in the not-so-distant future. However, even in that prediction, CO2 is still going up in the near term. CO2 levels are ALREADY TOO HIGH. We need to get them DOWN! It’s generally thought that we need to be around 350 parts per million for long-term climate stability, whereas we are already above 400ppm.

So, Elon Musk got it wrong.



Not to be one of the neigh-sayers here. There are some folks out there who drive me a bit crazy, saying that nothing is ever good enough. “Why bother driving an electric car, you are just burning coal that way?”

Nope. I’m not going to be one of them. I love the work Telsa Motors has done, and I’m pretty sure Musk is now up there with Edison. (Not technically a genius, but an AMAZING business person who can assemble an incredible team to change the world.)

We NEED big corporations to be able to make technology that’s affordable and “off-the-shelf” that everyone will want to use. But we also need EVERYBODY doing something. Seriously – every solar panel that goes up, and every lightbulb you turn off when you leave the room helps.

So, yes, Thank you Tesla and Mr. Musk for the work bringing home battery systems to the masses, but let’s ALL get out there, plant a tree, conserve some energy, and save the world.

For some more ideas on DIY home energy use, check out the Poor-Man’s Smart Grid and the Solar-Powered Swing-Set.

Stay charged up!


PS: A PowerWall is likely the quickest way I will every have a Tesla in my garage! In the mean time, I’ll just have to settle for my 400-watt swing-set. Look for posts this summer about my Solar-Powered Garage!





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LEAF Batteries are in the Vectrix!

by Ben N on April 20, 2015

IMG_3018Well, this past Saturday was a big day for the Vectrix upgrade project!

I got the battery in and the Vectrix IS NOW RUNNING ON NISSAN LEAF CELLS!

In my last video, I showed you how I got the battery together – 18 LEAF cell modules sandwiched together with spacers and threaded rod. This time, I installed an ammeter shunt, wired up the pack, got the batteries actually INSIDE the cycle, connected power, hooked up a Cycle Analyst, and got all the covers and trim back together.

To start with, the Cycle Analyst bike computer that I purchased uses a shunt, which needs to go on the negative end of the battery pack. I had some scrap fiberglass angle material and decided that it would be good to mount the ammeter to. I measured the fiberglass, then cut it and drilled a hole so that it would be mounted to the top two threaded rods of the battery pack.

IMG_2988 IMG_2989Next, I mounted the ammeter shunt to the fiberglass angle  with a pair of 1/4-20 bolts. To electrically connect pack negative to the shunt, I repurposed one of the original Nissan LEAF pack bus bars. I removed the orange protective cover, bent the bar to shape, drilled a hole in it to match the shunt, and added a section of heat-shrink tubing. Then I connected the bus bar from pack negative to the shunt, and tightened down both bolts.

IMG_2991On the positive end of the pack, I planned to reuse one of the LEAF pack main power cables. I also needed to attach a very small wire to the positive end to power the Cycle Analyst. I noticed that the original Vectrix NiMH battery pack used the same size bolts as the LEAF cells, and that a few of the terminal bolts were tapped for tiny screws that mounted the temperature sensors. I removed one of those bolts and used it to attach the cable to the LEAF pack. The tiny screw in the head of the bolt will later be the power connection for the bike computer.

IMG_2995I was also trying to decide if I wanted anything between the cells and the bare frame of the scooter. I had some fancy “Tool Box Anti-Slip Material” and cut some out to fit the bottom of the box. I also cut a piece to go in the far front of the battery box and held it in place with some 3M Super 77 spray adhesive.

That was about the time that my new friend, Nick, showed up. Nick also has a Vectrix, the same make/model/year/color as mine. Essentially, he has THE EXACT SAME BIKE. He purchased 18 of my LEAF modules from the pack and is planning on doing the exact same upgrade I am. By showing up and lending me a hand, he’s also learning how to do this on his own cycle.

IMG_2998With an extra set of hands there, it was time to put the battery in the bike. We hooked the lifting strap on to the battery, connected that to the chain hoist, and started lifting. With the cycle centered under the hoist, we got the battery right where we needed it, and then lowered it back down, making sure that the pack was ALL THE WAY FORWARD in the compartment, and not letting the extra bit of threaded rod hit on the motor controller or anything else.

There’s only a very small gap on either side between the battery and the frame. I took an old political sign (corrugated plastic) and cut a pair of one-foot by one-foot pieces to slide in on either side of the battery.

After that, we ran the positive cable along the metal bracket that was on the top edge of the battery, and zip-tied it down. I even happened to have “High Voltage” Orange zip-ties! We connected the black negative cable from the motor controller to the other side of the ammeter shunt and tightened it down as well.

The next big moment is “Pre-Charging” before making the final connection to the pack, in this case the positive cable. I had a 100 watt / 120V lightbulb which I used to complete the circuit BEFORE connecting the positive cables. This lets the capacitors in the motor controller fill more slowly than they otherwise would, preventing a blown fuse or worse. After that, it was just a matter of tightening the connections, making sure they were insulated, and then protecting them from physical vibration (which mostly consisted of zip-tying things in place….)

To wire the Cycle Analyst, I threaded the cord through the glove-box hinge, through a frame grommet hole, and into the battery compartment. The Black and White wires connect to one side of the shunt, and the Blue wire to the other side. That only left the Red wire, which had to be all the way in the FRONT of the battery box. I stripped out the red wire, only to find that there was also a yellow and green wire cut off and hidden inside. Pulling on one of those wires was an easy way to split open the cable sheathing. I had another cord which was two conductors. I stripped both ends of both conductors of that cord. I then crimped the red bike computer wire to that cord, and then a very small ring terminal to the same end of the other conductor. That way, I could add a switch to the opposite end of the cord to turn the Cycle Analyst on and off. I screwed down the small ring terminal to the positive end of the battery pack on the fancy little temperature sensor screw on the + terminal. Both the Cycle Analyst and its power switch are temporarily going in the glove box until I decide where I want to permanently mount them.

After that, it’s just the less exciting process of reinstalling the battery cover, trunk switch, trunk release plate, trim cover, and seat. I DID remove the fans from the underside of the battery box cover. The LEAF cells do NOT heat up the way the original Vectrix NiMH cells did, and the upgraded charger software actually disregards the fans and the temperature sensors.

The project still isn’t done. Items of note that still need work are upgrading the main fuse from a 125A to 200 amp and connecting the BMS wire harness to some sort of connection that I can use to hook up a balance charger. Neither of those had to be finished this weekend, and were’t stopping me from going for a spin around the block. I hopped on the scooter and took it for a very mild ride around the neighborhood. Everything seemed to work fine. The Cycle Analyst was on and working, even though it’s temporarily stuffed in the glove box and still needs calibrating.

After the ride, I plugged the cycle in to charge and was AMAZED as how much quieter it is without those two  large fans under the seat.

That’s it for now! There’s a local Clean Transportation event tomorrow that I wanted to have the cycle ready for, and I’m feeling pretty pleased to have met that goal. You can still look forward to more on this project as I figure out how to balance charge the cycle, mount up the Cycle Analyst, and eventually put a new fuse in there.

Til next time, stay charged up!
-Ben N

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The next step in the Vectrix battery upgrade with the Nissan LEAF cell modules is to figure out how to hold them together in the motorcycle.

Since I started off with an entire Nissan LEAF battery pack, I had a few of the components that originally held the modules together inside the pack. That included the threaded rods, nuts and bolts, and flat steel plates the cells mounted to. I was hoping to reuse as much of these materials as I could; not only does it save money, but it’s less materials to go out to the scrap bin as well.

IMG_2949To start with, I cut one of the bottom plates from the battery pack down to just one cell module wide. These plates originally held four stacks of cells on either side of the battery pack. A cut-off wheel in an angle grinder zipped through the steel pretty easily. The plate already has threaded holes in it – 6mm – for the long bolts originally used. The rear section of the battery pack had a set of long threaded rods (also 6mm) but the threads were only on the ends. If I cut the rods short, for my 18 module battery pack, the threads would be gone on one end or the other. Also, I don’t have any equipment for machining threads on to rod. In addition, metric parts in the United States are still oddly expensive at any local hardware store. Threaded rod measured in fractions of an inch is cheap, but in mm it’s pretty pricey, and that’s only if you can find it.

IMG_2957Interestingly enough, quarter-inch is just a hair larger than 6mm when it comes to threaded holes. And since I DID already have a 1/4″-20 tap, all I needed to do is just tap RIGHT THROUGH the existing 6mm holes – no other drilling or machining needed at all. Once I tapped out the four holes in the plate, I could thread cheap 1/4-20 threaded rod in place. Since the finished battery itself will be 24 inches long, I cut the threaded rod to 25.5 inches to allow for the end plates, the nuts and washers, and some room to get all the cell modules in place before compressing them. Again, an angle grinder with a cut-off wheel works great for cutting metal, including the threaded rod.

I had also ordered a Cycle Analyst, which just recently arrived by mail. I opened it to take a look and it’s pretty straight-forward. The main two things I need to decide are where I want to mount the display itself, and how I want to mount the ammeter shunt on the negative end of the battery pack.

Once my basic plate-and-threaded-rod was together, I could start stacking the cell modules onto the framework. I had already done sort of a mock-up, loosely assembling the cells with the original smooth rods, making sure I had enough spacers, and that I had the cells in the right order. There are “Right-Handed” and “Left-Handed” modules. The polarity is opposite between the two and I needed to make sure that they alternated so that the bus-bars and electric connections would all correctly place the cells in series.

After assembling the cells, I made sure they were all straight and square (I used a nice large old carpenter’s square to check this) and then tightened down nuts on the back end until the pack was back to the original 24 inches. Before I originally disassembled the LEAF pack, I counted how much space was taken up by 18 modules all squeezed together, and it came to exactly 24 inches. I figure that by now recompressing 18 of them to 24 inches, that the cells are held together nice and solidly in the exact same way as they were in the LEAF.

Once the modules were together, I put the bus bars with their orange plastic insulators on top, snapped them in place, and installed the terminal bolts and the center tap screws. Oddly, I accidentally broke a bit of the orange plastic while installing the terminal bolts. Right after I did it, I realized that the first bolt I put in spun the whole bus bar clockwise, which was to the OUTSIDE of the plastic, where it hit and broke the relatively brittle insulator. On the rest of the terminals I installed the bolt on the end of the bus bar where if it did spin, it would push the bar to the INSIDE where there was considerably more material to resist any breaking. Of course, it was only just that one bus bar that moved at all. The orange plastic covers still snapped over all the terminals just fine when all was said and done.

So, what’s next?
I need to figure out where the ammeter shunt for the Cycle Analyst will go. It needs to be on the negative end of the battery pack. Part of the reason I designed the pack with + to the front and – to the back was knowing this and that I would have a little space at the back, but not the front. I also allowed a little extra threaded rod with the idea that maybe I can mount the shunt right on the rod going through the battery pack. That should hold it in place well, and it will be in a convenient location between the battery and motor controller.

I’m also hoping that my new friend, Nick, can stop over this weekend and lend a hand. With him and the chain hoist, it should be pretty easy to put the entire pack at once into the cycle.

‘Til next time, stay charged up,


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Asheville, NC Mother Earth Fair

by Ben N on April 14, 2015



A big thank-you to everyone who came out to the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, North Carolina!

It was my first time being in the state and you made me feel very welcome. Turn-out for the Electric Vehicle presentations was great! If you are coming here after seeing one of my presentations, thanks for stopping by and having a look around! Electric Vehicle Instructional DVDs can be purchased through the links in the top bar. On the right are links to blog entries, and on the far right are project links.

Besides being a presenter at the Fair, I also had a good time going to see some other people’s presentations AND checking out what was at the booths. Here’s a few booths that stuck on in my mind, and I added links too in case you want to check them out!

Giant bees
Ok, so not actually a booth, but the weather was great for the event. Spring comes sooner to North Carolina than it does to Wisconsin, so I was enjoying the sunshine, buds on the trees, and the beautiful flowers. I have no idea what this purple-flowered tree was, but the BEES LOVED IT! Also, I think the bumble-bees here are twice as big as the ones back home and they were VERY busy going about their work.


IMG_2916_2Thermal Boundary Log Wall System
Unfortunately, these guys don’t have a web page, but I really think the time for their idea has come. When I first looked, I just saw a log-cabin – nice, but nothing earth-shattering. But when I saw “Thermal” as part of the name, I knew I’d have to get a closer look. The idea is pretty simple; take squared-off logs, hollow them out, and replace the interior with insulation. The cut-out material even gets reused for other parts of the cabin. When finished, it’s a traditional log cabin that is anything but.


IMG_2909_2Lazarus Woks


My friend, Greg, is the one that got me turned on to rocket stove technology, and he also made a great Wok out of an old agricultural disc. Looks like some other people had the same idea. At Lazarus Woks, they resurrect old ag. equipment into modern cooking vessels. The Woks looked pretty indestructible and heirloom quality.

Rocket Stove in an Ammo Can
peaking of rocket stoves, one booth had a very nice portable version – built in an ammo can. The MinuteMan Rocket stove is made from a modified ammo can, but it’s also insulated for thermal efficiency, and all packs up to the original size, complete with a carrying handle. The design looked very well thought-out, and the insulation also means you can use it while set right on top of a wood picnic table. Great for hiking, camping, and the Zombie Invasion.

Hang-A-Pot Clips
Some of the best ideas and inventions are accessories to popular existing items. The Hang-a-pot clip is exactly what it sounds like – just a plastic clip that lets you hang a pot agains a wall, a post, or any other vertical structure. However, the finished effect can be very nice. You can easily turn a fence into a hanging garden, or repurpose an old pallet into a flower display that will make everyone else on Pinterest jealous.

IMG_2923_2John C. Campbell Folk School
The local folk school had a really nice area set up with a blacksmith, wood carver, brick wood-fire bake oven, and plenty of “Olde-Time” demonstrations. In enjoyed speaking with the Blacksmith. I still have no idea how the wood carver made that toy propeller spin…..

IMG_2908_2Land of Sky Clean Vehicles Coalition had a nice display of alternative vehicles. While most of them were commercially available vehicles from local dealerships, it seemed like most of the attention went straight to the ELF – an unusual pedal/electric four-wheeled bike car. Another new favorite was also on display, the BMW i3, an all electric car with styling unusual enough to catch people’s attention, including rear “suicide doors”.




IMG_2904_2KCOR Solar


KCor Solar had an interesting display of a self-contained solar water heating system. While it looked like something from a 1970′s vision of the future, it was a clever design and included an integrated pump system and a buried 200-gallon storage tank.

I had a great time at the Fair, and I hope that you did too!  I even got to meet up with a relative I haven’t seen in a long time, and we went and saw downtown Asheville. On the way out, I saw a Nissan LEAF on the freeway with the custom license plate “4GETGAS”. What a trip!

Stay Charged Up, and see you next time!


The DIY J1772 Charging Adapter

by Ben N on March 31, 2015


Not long after I purchased the Vectrix, I started wondering “If it’s an international vehicle, what would it take to charge on 240V (instead of 120V) and from a public J1772 Level 2 EV charging station?”.

Everything I had heard lead me to believe that the charger on the bike is much like a modern computer power supply – it will run off AC power from a range of somewhere between 100-250V or so. I already have a 240V electric outlet in my garage, used for a welder. It’s a 30-amp twist lock connector. I looked around, and sure enough, I actually already had all the parts I needed to build an adapter that would physically connect the 30 amp twist lock to a typical 120V electric outlet.

So, I sat down in my living room one night last week and built the adapter. Afterwards, I went out to the garage, plugged everything in, crossed my fingers, and flipped the circuit breaker on. A moment later, the Vectrix booted up into charge mode, exactly as it normally would. It worked! I just charged the cycle on 240!

For some of you hard-core DIY electric car folks out there, you’ve been running on 240V for years, but I’ve never had a 240V charger before. So, it’s still pretty exciting.

The other part of this is that there is a shocking LACK of 120V charging available. Some of the few public chargers that appeared in my area originally had both 120VAC power AND a 240V J1772 connection, but the more recent ones ONLY have J1772. That doesn’t help out a person with a Hymotion Prius with a standard plug on it OR most electric motorcyclers.

But getting my bike to charge from a plain 240V outlet is one thing, and charging from a “smart” Level 2 EVSE is another! Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment actually communicates with the vehicle and only activates power after a handshake and confirmation that everything is connected. It goes something like this..

“Hi, how ya doing. I’m an EVSE.”
“Uh, good. I’m an electric car. Can I get some juice?”
“Sure thing, let me turn that on for you….”

Ok, perhaps I’m anthropomorphizing a bit, but the point is that it’s not JUST as simple as plugging in a cable. On the other hand, it’s not rocket science either. I browsed through a few forums and asked a few friends for advice. After an evening of research, I had a pretty good sense of what I needed to do.

For me, pictures always help, and one of the best ones I found was over on the EVTV blog. http://evtv.me/2011/01/j1772-2009-charging-for-your-ev/  I also found another good article and diagram at: http://www.aprs.org/charging-DIY.html

In a nut shell, the magic of the J1772 connection is just a diode, two resistors, and a switch. Pin 4 of the connection carries a signal from the EVSE. It goes through the diode, through a 2.7K ohm resistor, and then to ground. A second resistor, of 1.3K ohms is connected in parallel with the first when a switch is connected. When that happens, the total resistance is 877 ohms. Pin 4 on the EVSE responds to 2.7K ohms as “Hey hello there” and 877 ohms as “Okay, sure, let me turn the power on for you.”

IMG_2668I set to work by first removing the power inlet power from my salvaged Mitsubishi iMIEV. Yes, that’s still sitting in my garage. Needs parts? I’ll give you a good deal, but you can’t buy the power inlet because I just built an adapter from it.

IMG_2737I had already hit the hardware store and purchased a 4″x4″x4″ marine grade electrical junction box. I drilled a hole in it’s lid with a hole saw that matched the J1772 connector.

I also purchased a regular old 120V electric outlet, except that this one happened to be rated for 20 amps and was only a single outlet instead of two. I didn’t need a second plug, and it saves space inside the box. I drilled a hole in the side of the box to fit that single outlet.

I cut the very end off the wire harness of the Mitsubishi power inlet. I stripped the end of the two hot wires, and then connected them to the two main connections of the electric outlet. I did NOT connect the third pin to the ground on the electric outlet. It would act as the electronics/communications ground as well, so I added a short pig-tail to the electric outlet ground, knowing that there would be several other wires going to it as well.

IMG_2770Next, I had to tackle the electronics – if you can call a diode and two resistors electronics. Of course, I didn’t actually have two resistors of those exact values, so I had to put several together to come up with those total values. That meant I had 5 resistors instead of 2. Oh well. Since I was going to have several connections, I first tested it all out on a bread-board. Only after I had it all worked out did I transfer the components to a small project PCB board and solder them. On one side of the board was a 1N4003 diode, going to 2.7K ohms of resistors. On the other side was 1.3K ohms of resistors, the a switch, and then the parallel connection to the end of the other half of the circuit.

I soldered Pin 4 from the J1772 connection to the front of my circuit board, going to the diode. On the back end of the circuit, I soldered on a ground wire, then wire nutted that to the Pin 3 on the J1772 and the ground wire on the electric outlet.

I drilled a small hole in the side of the box, pushed the toggle switch through, and mounted it in place by tightening the nut.

I mounted the circuit board inside the box, against the side, with hot glue. The J1772 connector was hot-glued to the inside of the lid, and the electric outlet to the side of the box.

IMG_2778With the components all mounted in place, the next trick was to fit all the wiring inside. The J1772 connector still had several feet of wire on it. Part of the reason why is that there was already some properly done splicing of a ground cable part way down. Also, who knows, maybe I will need some longer wire for a different version of this adapter. The point is I still had several feet of wire to wind around and squeeze into this four-inch-square box.

Once I wrangled it in there, I attached the lid with the four screws that went with it. The last step was to add labels, so I would remember which direction was ON and OFF for the switch, and a warning that the 120V electric outlet would actually have 240V going to it.

I hopped on the Vectrix and zipped over to a friend’s house, several miles away, who has a home electric car charger right on the side of her house. I opened my truck, plugged the Vectrix cord into the adapter, and then plugged the EVSE cable into the box. On the EVSE, a light turned on, indicating that it registered that it was plugged in, but not yet providing power.

I flipped the switch on the box. KA-THUNK!

Yipes! I thought for sure something was wrong, that the EVSE faulted out. Nope. It took me a moment to realize that it was just the contractor inside the EVSE turning on. It sure sounded loud though, and I guess I just wasn’t expecting the noise. In all that time that I’ve been working on electric cars, I realized that I have never even ONCE plugged in a car to a commercial 240V EVSE.

Of course, a moment later, the Vectrix booted right up into charge mode and began charging as usual.

IMG_2796I played around with the position of the adapter box in the trunk of the Vectrix. I was able to arrange it so that I could have the adapter in the trunk with the EVSE plugged into it AND fit my helmet in there, AND close and lock the trunk. The cord goes out through a notch in the edge of the trunk designed for such a purpose. The EVSE cable is thicker than the regular charging cord, so it’s tight, but it does fit!

I let the bike charge for a few minutes, and then flipped the switch on the adapter box back to off. The bike stopped charging, and its fans spun down.

So, the adapter box worked! The best part is that it worked the first time! No building/fixing/tinkering/makingversion2 and THEN having it worked.

Sometimes things just work the way they are supposed to.

Stay charged up, I know I will.