Spinning the PowerMeter Backwards

by Ben N on April 29, 2018

Spring has returned to Wisconsin.

Although we had a blizzard last week, we are finally in clear skies and warming weather. In fact, it’s been almost ideal weather in my area for solar power production lately.

My garage has 24 solar panels, each paired with an Enphase brand micro-inverter which can output up to 225 watts of AC (Alternating Current) power. On a clear sunny day, it’s possible to create about 5,400 watts. What’s really neat about that is it’s MORE power than my electric car uses while charging – a mere 3,300 watts.

With my grid-tie system, all power created at the panels goes to power my garage and my house. Should there still be any left-over power, it goes out “to the grid” and benefits my neighbors. The power is tracked at my digital utility meter, both pulled from the grid and exported to it. I get credited for any exported power.

IMG_8493In fact, on a day like today, my meter “spins backwards”, EVEN while charging my electric Mitsubishi. Because I’m exporting more than I use, I can actually end up with a NEGATIVE power bill! They owe me! The “bill” for the month of March was almost a three dollar credit – not much, but it marks the turning point from paying bills to becoming a net power creator.

Last month, I was involved in a traffic collision which left me not only with plenty of medical bills but also the lack of ability to work to pay for them. One day, as I was making it out to a doctor’s appointment, I saw the sun shining on the solar panels, and my car charing up. While I may not have a large income, MINIMIZING expenses can be a real blessing. Last month, I had literally NO Electric bill, didn’t have to pay for gasoline, and since I bought a used electric car and paid outright for it, I also had no car loan payment. (On top of that, I paid for college classes as I took them and have zero student debt.)
As busted-up as I was feeling, I just had to smile about having a solar powered electric car which costs me LITERALLY nothing to drive, and actually felt a little bad for the poor fools out there up to their eyeballs in debt, high utility bills, and other outstanding expenses.

Spring is sprung. The daffodils are finally coming up, and I’m happy to soak up the sun.

Until next time, keep it positive, and stay charged up!

-Ben

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April 28 2018 screen grab

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Hit by a Truck!

by Ben N on March 26, 2018

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Dear Friends,

I had recently been working on repairing a friend’s Brammo Enertia electric motorcycle. I had just completed it and was then doing a few road tests.

On Friday, March 16th, at some time in the afternoon, I was stuck by a lumber truck. According to the police report, we were headed in opposite directions and the truck simply turned directly in front of me.

I have no recollection of the incident.
Fortunately, I was wearing my helmet, jacket, gloves and boots.

I woke up in the hospital, surrounded by family, and in extreme pain.

I have a broken wrist, busted knee (fractured in 3 places), 28 stitches total in my knee and my chin, chipped mandible, and broken a molar. I’ll need ACL surgery on my knee and oral surgery to pull and replace my tooth. All in all, I consider myself lucky compared to what could have happened.
If you haven’t seen me on the web forums, have wondered why I don’t have a more recent YouTube video, or have a delay on an order from here, that’s why.

At this point, I am just clear enough from the pain medication to type a brief blog-updated one-handed. I’ll be talking all about this in the future more, once I’m at least partially recovered.

Hopes and prayers are fantastic, but I’m also the only breadwinner for my family, and will not be able to work for who knows how long. The vehicle which struck me was a commercial vehicle, so we hope their insurance to cover things… eventually…
In the mean time, I’m just out of the hospital, and medical bills are coming in.  Contributions are welcome.

A few dollars to DONATE would go a long way.

It’s a long road ahead.

Thanks in advance to help get me charged back up.

-Ben

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Solar Ammo Can

by Ben N on March 2, 2018

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With my recent work in solar, quite a few people have started asking me about designing small BATTERY-based solar systems.

I thought it would be nice to work on a project demonstrating basic solar battery charging principals, and at the same time, have a handy and useful project when I was done. Thus, the Solar Ammo Can was born!

I chose to use a 50 caliber plastic ammo can/storage container. It’s a nice size, has a sturdy handle on top, and is weather-proof. I’ve used a lot of these same containers as tool boxes and for storage. They are great for camping supplies.

Here’s an overview of the project and what it does.

Of course, actually assembling the project is a little more complicated. On the other hand, I really did mostly use off-the-shelf parts (or mail order at worst!) I did that to make sure that the project would be made from straight-forward components anyone could get. Here’s the step-by-step assembly video, followed by the list of components.

For this project, we used:

MTM 50 Caliber Ammo Can
http://amzn.to/2CUjBZK

Sealed Lead Acid Battery, 15AH capacity ​http://amzn.to/2HAhJZL

20A Solar Charge Controller  http://amzn.to/2F6olkZ

Four In One Socket Panel http://amzn.to/2CSEwg0

Banana Jacks http://amzn.to/2CUQjdM

12 AWG stranded wire in both black and red (From local hardware store)

Crimp on electrical terminals,

spade and 1/4″ ring terminal

Silicone adhesive or hot glue

Industrial type hook and loop fastener (Velcro) http://amzn.to/2F6smpV

Wire Nuts or Wago (Brand) Lever Lock Nuts. http://amzn.to/2CUlupi

Fuse Holder and Fuse. http://amzn.to/2taQYIq

6-32 and 8-32 nuts, bolts, and washers

PV Solar panel. Any 12V nominal solar panel of about 10 to 20 watts is perfect for this project. Here’s one which looks affordable, and it about the right size and style for the project. http://amzn.to/2CUu9rS

DC Power Adapter (Wall Charger) Any DC wall power adapter of higher than 12V (13.2, 14.4, 18) and one amp will work fine. I already had a 18V 1.3A power adapter handy. Here’s a similar adapter. http://amzn.to/2FdrFub

USB Gooseneck LED Light These small USB lights work great. They are very simple and durable. Fantastic for camping. http://amzn.to/2CUBJmi

100 Watt AC Power Inverter. This device converts DC power to AC power so that you can run typical household devices from a battery. A 100 watt version is very compact and inexpensive. I already had one, which I used for this project. Here is a similar version. http://amzn.to/2tcBVxS

Once I had all the components, it was just a matter of laying them out and fitting them all in the box. Rather than drilling through the side of the ammo can (and wrecking the weather-proofness!) I decided that all the components should go INSIDE the box. To do that, I’d have to make some sort of a faceplate for the parts to mount to. I scanned the components so that I could bring them into a vector graphic program where I could arrange them, and then use that to make a cut file for a laser-cutter. I then visited a friend, and used his laser cutter to make the faceplate.

Assembling the components to the faceplate is just a matter of putting components through the holes and adding a few screws, nuts, and washers.

For the electrical, I just followed the schematics on the Solar Charge Controller and the Four-in-One socket panel. The main thing to remember is that all the power goes through the solar charge controller. Besides controlling the charge, this device also acts as a low-voltage cut-off to prevent loads from over-discharging the battery.

A main fuse is connected between the solar charge controller and the Positive side of the battery. I used a 20A fuse, as the charge controller and other components are all rated at a maximum of 20A.

Wiring was completed with 12 awg stranded copper wiring, color coded red for positive and black for negative. Wago lever locks are nice connectors that can take the place of wire nuts. They make solid connections, but also allow you to add another wire later, or remove one. They are great for prototyping projects!

I glued down the battery inside the ammo can and placed a piece of self-adhesive industrial Velcro on top of the battery. A matching piece of Velcro went on the back of the faceplate. After plugging in the battery wires, I simply Velcro’d down the faceplate over the top of the battery.

At that point, the Solar Ammo Can is ready for action! It’s handy for camping and emergencies. The Solar Ammo Can will charge a phone or tablet, run a light or radio, and can even run low-power AC devices. The Solar Ammo Can weighs less than 10 lbs, and cut easily be lifted and carried by nearly anyone.

I already had a solar panel appropriate for this project. I looked around to see what’s out there for an affordable panel that would match and found this one. http://amzn.to/2CUu9rS
Here’s my video review and how to use it.

If you haven’t already, please take a look the YouTube videos, and feel free to comment either at the video on YouTube, or right here at 300MPG.org.
As always, please like, share, and subscribe!

Until next time, stay charged up!

-Ben

 

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Star Trek Doors Update Feb 2018

by Ben N on February 18, 2018

I’ve been working with my brother-in-law, Fred, for the last while, helping him out with a project. He’s always been a big Star Trek fan, and he wanted to upgrade a door he had to one done in the style of a space or sci-fi television show. We decided to make it air-powered, and I set to work learning about pneumatics and micro-controllers.

I shot this video last night to show you the current state of the project.

In a nutshell, this is a custom door (based on adding material to a hollow-core door) on sliding pocket-door hardware. Instead of manually sliding the door open, both halves are attached to air cylinders. The air cylinders have an air hose on each end – one to extend the rod, and one to retract it. A “Five Port, Four Way” air solenoid directs air from a compressor to one side or the other of the air cylinder, opening or closing the door. Power to the air solenoids comes from a pair of relays, which are controlled by an Arduino Uno micro-controller. Basic arcade style buttons send a signal to the micro-controller.

As it is, the air-powered doors work great, they just happen to be manually controlled by pressing a button.

The master plan is to fully automate the system. Since a micro-controller is already doing the actual control, all we need to do is add sensors and programing to make the doors open and close with some “IF…THEN….” programming statements. On the other hand, that’s actually harder than you think. This door is between a garage and a workshop. On the workshop side, the walking path is at a right angle to the door, but on the other side it’s a straight line. What happens when somebody pulls a car in to the garage?

It actually takes some clever design and planning to make the door open when you want it to, but NOT open the rest of the time. On television shows and movies, a human stage hand is usually pulling a rope to open the doors at just the right time. In our system, just a dumb computer will have to figure it out. Essentially, we’re trying to keep this from happening.

In the end, it might take several sensors of different types working together. Besides that, there should be some sort of safety mechanisms to keep pets or small children from opening the door as well as to prevent it from closing on them.

We HAVE experimented a bit with using a timer feature. By pressing one button, the doors open, pause for a set amount of time (a few seconds,) and then close. Overall, that worked well and was simple. The main downside is that didn’t allow for KEEPING the door open, and there was nothing stopping the door from closing on a person. (Just to be clear, the door isn’t so powerful that it will crush a person…)

Ideally, I think the door needs three modes – Fully Automatic, Manual Stay Open, and Manual Stay Closed. The Automatic version would keep the doors closed unless a person walked up to them with intent to walk through the doorway. The manual modes are self-explanatory, they would just be an override to hold the door open or shut.

As it is at the moment, the doors are working well for Fred. They are simple, reliable, and look cool.
Also in the video, the decorative trim of the door wasn’t installed. You can see it leaned against the wall to the bottom left of the door.

The door is very functional in that it is insulated and between a heated and unheated workspace.

Keep your eyes peeled for future updates when we add some automation! If you are a master of the micr0-controller and know of some good code for automation and ideas for safeties, send them our way!

Until next time, stay charged up!

-Ben

PS: The original information about this project is located at: http://ecoprojecteer.net/star-trek-doors/

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Tesla Model 3 First Viewing!

by Ben N on February 11, 2018

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Yesterday, I got my first chance to see a Tesla Model 3 in person! Let me say, I LIKE it!

This is the first Model 3 in the state of Wisconsin. We were holding a Wisconsin Tesla Owners and Enthusiasts meeting at a restaurant in Madison, the state capitol. The meeting was a social gathering, a technical meeting (talking about issues concerning Model S door handles,) and a chance to see the M3. I was mostly there to see the car.

I shot some video of the car being shown off. In it is some of my thoughts, and you can catch some other members saying what they like and what they notice about the car, too.

My first impression of the car is that it looks good! That’s to be expected of Tesla. All of their vehicles of attractive, aerodynamic styling. I loved the red color, and the proportions were nice. The hood design is a little different. The hood itself is actually just a little LOWER than the headlights. The headlights have a nice crisp line that flows from the lights to the front fenders. Likely, this is for aerodynamics, the same as the headlights on the Nissan Leaf, only Tesla makes it look good.

IMG_7829The nose is slightly different from the original announced version. It looks better, but it’s hard to say exactly what’s different. Perhaps just a softening of the radius?
Also on the front is an interesting “pass-through” on the bottom outside of the front bumper. These holes allow air to flow from the front of the car, through the edge of the bumper, and the create an “air-wall” past the front wheels, improving aerodynamics.

Another feature that I noticed right away is that the door handles are different. This was interesting, because at the meeting, the technical portion of the show was talking about the door handles on the Model S, and how they have become a maintenance issue. Those handles are electronic and automatically present themselves as the driver walks up to the car. They are also overly complicated and prone to problems. The Model 3 handle is much simpler. It’s still flush to the body of the car, but is on a swivel. Pushing the handle with my thumb, the other side of the handle levers out to be grasped and pull the door open. This greatly simplifies the handle and saves weight, complexity, cost, and maintenance vs. the Model S.

Multiple cameras are visible on the outside of the car. Modern cars are getting more and more safety features, and Tesla is famous for being a leader in autonomous vehicles. It’s easy to see how they would install as many cameras as possible.

TrunkThe trunk of the car is interesting, and not quite what I was expecting. For starters, yes, it is a trunk, NOT a hatchback. This allows for the piece of glass which is seamless from the middle of the roof, coming down and becoming the rear window, and finally ending at the trunk. The only distinction between roof and rear window is the gradient of heavy tint for the roof to very light tint for the window.

While small compared to a hatch, the trunk opening really utilizes the space available at the back end of the car. And the trunk is LONG – it goes all the wall up to the back seats, which are further up than one might expect at first glance. Besides that, there’s also a drop-down “hidden compartment” below the floor of the trunk. Lastly, a REALLY GOOD DESIGN ELEMENT of the trunk that I think everyone has overlooked is HOW the trunk lid is held open. It actually IS a hatch! Gas shocks hold up the lid, and those shocks are mounted OUTSIDE the enclosed trunk area. Traditionally, a trunk lid is held open from internal supports and springs. Unfortunately, those supports take up some of the interior room, and are notorious for pushing against suitcases. This always drove me crazy on my wife’s old Pontiac Sunfire. The trunk lid swings up very high, not unlike a mini-van hatch, preventing it from becoming something to hit one’s head on while loading cargo.

The “Frunk” is pretty unremarkable. It’s smaller than on the Model S. I guess what’s amazing is that we now have a car company where we EXPECT extra storage built in because of the lack of an engine! One neat little feature in the frunk is a pair of swing-down clips to hold the handles of shopping bags.

Once a few people had cleared out, I was able to hop into the back seat of car and check it out. I was pleasantly surprised that as a six foot tall guy, that I actually FIT in the back seat. Headroom can be SO bad in the back of many cars. When I tested the Chevy Volt when it first came out, the only way that I fit in the back was to lean all the way backwards until my head was inside the back window. On the Model S, the entire roof inside is a window! Not only that, but it’s a couple inches higher than I thought it might be.

27999101_10160364591725221_463720514_o_largeIn the front seat, the member testing the drivers position was 6 foot 8 inches tall. He sat with plenty of headroom to spare. Other people looking at the car all seemed to really like the glass roof. From the inside, it offers panoramic views. From the outside, the tint is so dark that you might not even realize that it’s glass!

I found the seats comfortable. They had a nice texture and just the right amount of squishiness.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to actually go for a ride in the car. The owner said that he loved driving it, and that it was maybe even MORE fun than driving the Model S. He said the cars just have a little different feel from each other.

Overall, this looks like a great car! I loved the color and styling. It has some nice lines. The dashboard is minimalist in a good way. The trunk is well-designed to really maximize cargo space. I think a lot of people are really going to enjoy these cars!

If you get a chance, definitely go take a look for yourself! These cars aren’t everywhere yet, but they are coming, and you will want to check one out.

Until next time, stay charged up!

-Ben Nelson

Photo Credits: I forgot to grab any interior photos, nor did I get a test-ride, so thank you to Brandon VanD for those. Here’s a phone vid of a test ride. Near the end of the video, you can see a 0-60 MPH test pulling away from a traffic light.

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