See you at the Energy Fair!

by Ben N on June 19, 2023

Hello friends!

I’ll be at the Midwest Renewable Energy Association Fair this weekend, near Stevens Point, Wisconsin!

At 2:00 PM on Saturday, you can see me in the Red Tent giving a presentation about how you can power your home with your electric car!

The Energy Fair really is a fantastic event, and I hope to see you there!
June 23-25, 2023.

Details of the event at their web page:

Until then, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson

PS: You can see a copy of the PowerPoint I use for my presentation at:

You can see a detailed video that I made about installing a 12V inverter on a 2023 Chevy Bolt EV at:

If you were talking to me at the fair about Electraks or other items I have for sale, please see:


Stick Shift for Electric Car

by Ben N on June 14, 2023

While I love our 2023 Chevy Bolt EV overall, it IS missing something…
Can I fix it with a DIY solution?

One thing a bit unusual about the later version of the Chevy Bolt is that it does NOT have a traditional gear selector. Instead, it has a number of “power-window-style” switches to pick the gear. In my opinion, this takes up more space than some other options would, such as a small rotary dial.

In front of the gear selector buttons is a pair of cup holders. And finally in front of that is the center console arm-rest. The issue is that all the space taken up by the gear selector buttons and cup holders is that it pushes the arm rest rather far towards the back of the car. Even though I’m relatively tall and have my seat slid back quite a bit, I still have to “chicken wing” my arm back to use the arm rest. Otherwise it’s an “elbow rest” at best!

On top of that, since there’s no gear selector stick, the entire rest of my arm flops down uncomfortably in an awkward position. Since this car is so narrow, it would actually be better WITHOUT the center console! Most cars of this width that I have owned before have NO center arm rest and instead have the hand-brake and manual gear selector only in the middle.

So, I decided I needed at least a place to rest my hand. Since the car didn’t have a gear selector, I’d just have to make one.

My hand comes out to just over the front cup holder, so that’s a perfect position for it. I’d simply make a stick shift that goes right in the cup holder!

At first, I thought I might simply use some disposable cup as the base of it. Searching around, I didn’t find one that fit really well. Then I got to thinking that making a casting of the cup holder would give me an EXACT fit!

I had some Durhams Water Putty, which is more or less a Plaster of Paris type product. I whipped up a batch, lined the cup holder with aluminum foil and plastic wrap, and started to scoop in the putty over a piece of 3/8″ threaded rod which I had cut to about 9 inches long. The 8-Ball was already threaded for 3/8″.

To make sure the rod would stay centered while the putty dried, I cut out a circle of MDF for the bottom of the cup holder and a circle of cardboard for the top. Both had a hole in the center for the threaded rod.

After curing overnight, I pulled out my casting, knocked off the rough edges, and hit it with a coat of black paint. I wrapped some electrical tape around the side and glued on a piece of non-slip material to the bottom. I also cut a piece of black foamcore as a cover for the casting.

Lastly, I put some heat shrink tubing over the threaded rod and screwed on the ball.

The stick shift fits perfect in the cup holder. It’s also easily removable, such as for when my wife is driving the car.

It’s the right height and position for my hand, so my entire arm now gets supported while driving.

Sure, I know most electric cars use single-speed gearing, so they don’t even need a multi-gear transmission, let alone a manual one, but it’s still a nice feeling to have a “gear-shift” in an electric car!

Until next time, Stay Charged Up!
-Ben Nelson


Ryobi Automatic Emergency Light

by Ben N on April 3, 2023

Check out the video above for a quick look at the project. The video below shows you in detail how to build it!

Recently, I had been thinking about emergency lighting. In the case of a blackout, the first thing a person needs is light, even if it’s just to get to your junk drawer to find a flashlight, which probably has dead batteries anyways!

So, why not use some good quality rechargeable batteries I already have!?

Ryobi 18V cordless tool batteries are excellent for all sorts of projects, and have quite the dedicated following. I have plenty of these batteries and chargers to match.

For this project, I’m using an all-purpose LED light which is commonly sold as off-road lights for trucks. One important feature is that they can run off a wide range of voltage. For example, these LED pods can run anywhere from 9 to 30 volts! Perfect for our 18V batteries.

Next, I needed some way for the light to turn on automatically.
A simple automotive-style 12V relay provides the solution. Relays typically use a low current to activate a higher power second circuit. BUT some relays have both a Normally-Open AND Normally-Closed. The Normally-Closed terminal COMPLETES the circuit UNLESS power is running to it.

I used a low-power, generic 12V DC power supply to convert AC wall power to DC power to keep the circuit open (OFF) UNLESS the power is lost! Then, the spring inside the relay pulls the conductor inside to complete the circuit. When power goes out, the light comes on!

3D Print
To house all the parts, I created a 3D print.
I didn’t start from scratch. Rather, I began with an existing design which already did a nice job of mounting a Ryobi 18V battery. From there, I modified it to add an area to mount the relay, a place for a 3-Way switch, and a hole for the DC input jack.

After printing, I removed the supports, and then added the switch, relay, and DC input jack.

A pair of Keystone 209 Battery clips ( connects directly to the 3D print. I simply had to solder some short wires to them to go to the switch and LED pod.

The wiring in the project is pretty light gauge. I only had to match it up with what was already on the LED pods, which appeared to be 20 AWG. The lamp only draws about half an amp, so no need for heavy wiring.

The wiring itself is pretty straight-forward. I mostly used 1/4″ crimp-on solderless connectors.
The positive battery connection goes to the center of the switch.
The two wires from the DC input go to the two side terminals of the relay. (85,86)
One of the outside terminals of the switch goes to the common terminal of the relay. (30)
The third terminal of the switch just needs a short piece of wire coming off of it.
Lastly a wire will go from the center terminal on the relay (87A) and then get soldered or wire nutted to the bare wire from the switch AND to the positive wire of the LED pod.
The negative wire of the LED pod is soldered to the negative Keystone 209 connector to the battery.

The LED pod has a 3/8″ bolt which goes through the smaller hole in the lid. Its power cable goes through the larger hole. It had more cable than needed, so I stripped back the sheathing and cut the power leads shorter before soldering them.

At this point, I could set the lid in place, add a charged battery, and test it out.

I plugged in the DC power adapter to the wall and the light.

Turning the switch from OFF to the ON position, the LED lights up! Flipping it to the other ON position does nothing, the light stays off. But if I then kill the power (either by unplugging the DC power supply or having a blackout) the light comes on with a click of the relay!

After testing it out and seeing that everything was working to my liking, I used a few drops of SuperGlue to glue the lid in place. If for any reason I still needed to get at the wiring, it IS accessible, as there is no bottom to the case. Everything is simply closed up when the battery is in place.

Home Use
After dark, I tested out the project in my kitchen. Our house has an open conception kitchen and living-room which is the main space of the home. I placed the light up on top of our cabinets and connected it to a switched outlet, so I could quickly and easily turn off power to the light for testing.

Sure enough, the light comes on and gives a bright, wide area of illumination. It’s just a single point of light, so perhaps not the most flattering, but it’s bright and very functional. I even made myself a grilled sandwich for dinner on our gas range, which could be match-lit in a power outage. The light was far more than sufficient for cooking and other activities.

So far, I’m really happy with this project!
I may still make a few more changes. In the first version, I had a hook on the lid which wasn’t very sturdy. It broke off immediately after I took all my photos of the project! I changed the design to a more triangular shape, which could use a carabiner or loop of rope for mounting. I figured that because the lid is the smaller part, it makes more sense to modify, and I may even do a version to mount directly to the wall.

Parts List:
LED Light:
ON/OFF/ON Switch:
1/4″ Spade Quick Disconnects:
DC Input Jack:
Keystone 209 Clip (Ryobi Battery Contact):
Any low-power 12V DC Power Adapter, for example:
Just make sure the size of the power adapter matches the DC input jack.

Also needed: Soldering iron, solder, 18-20 AWG stranded wire, wire stripper, wire crimper.

This project was printed on an Ender 3 S1 3D Printer:

The .STL files are posted at:
and also at:

A couple final notes about this project.

YES, it uses energy while “Off”!
A typical relay like this will draw 150-200mA. Coming through a DC power supply, that’s no more than 2.4 Watts. That little bit of energy use is the price we pay to always have a light ready to come on automatically. It’s also a TINY amount of energy compared to standby losses in off-grid inverters or any other whole home automatic emergency equipment.

Of course, devices like this already exist.
Ryobi makes a battery-powered area light which comes on automatically when the power goes out. ( Unfortunately, it also costs about $80 USD retail! Not only does my light cost a lot less to build, it’s also fun to figure out the design and actually build it myself!

Lastly, the DC power supply does NOT charge the battery. Designing it to do so would add another level of cost and complexity to the project. Besides, I already have plenty of batteries and chargers. All I need to do is put a charged battery into this light. If I want to take it with camping, etc., all I need to do is put in a fresh battery before restoring it to its job as Automatic Emergency Lighting. I would then put the used battery on charge and add it to the rotation with my other power tool batteries.

I don’t foresee any issues with standby losses or the like, but it’s probably a good idea to check the light once or twice a year. Maybe just test it while checking the batteries in the smoke detectors.

Until then, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson

PS: Some of the photos show my prototype version of the light.
The lid has the hook, and I was using a spot-light instead of a floodlight.


Bolt vs Volt Seats

by Ben N on March 12, 2023

I WANT to love the 2023 Chevy Bolt EV, but the one thing stopping me is the driver’s seat. It’s narrow, and the left side of it digs into my hip and left leg. It’s borderline painful. Not what a person wants when they have bought a brand new car! Could I replace the seat with something better?

I heard a rumor on a web forum that Gen. 2 Chevy Volt PHEV seats have the same bolt pattern.

I took some measurements to compare the driver seat of a 2017 (gen 2) Chevy Volt versus a 2023 Chevy Bolt.
Overall, the Volt seat is slightly wider – up to an inch. See photos for details

Both cars have leather seats. The Bolt EV has a triangular pattern to the perforations in the leather. Both have blue stitching. The Bolt EV seat has power controls and the Volt PHEV has manual seat controls.

It looks like the bolt pattern to mount the seats to the floor is the same – about 16.5″ from side to side and 15.5″ from front to back. I believe that the 2017 Volt seat could be a bolt-in replacement for the 2023 Bolt. It also looks like there’s actually MORE width from the center console to the driver’s door in the BOLT than in the Volt!

So, in theory, the seat should fit, but a person also needs to check the wiring for the air-bag to make sure that still functions properly. It seems likely that it’s just two wires, but probably with a different connector on it.


A Pleasant Charging Experience

by Ben N on March 1, 2023

Our 2023 Chevy Bolt getting a DC Fast Charge at a gas station

The other day, I had something that is unfortunately not as common as it should be: a pleasant charging experience.

First, let’s back up a moment and say that the VAST MAJORITY of all electric car charging is done at home. Plug the car in, walk away, DONE! It’s about as much work as plugging in a cell phone to charge.

What I am talking about here is charging out in public, at a remote location, because one has to in order to be able to return home.

Our 2023 Chevy Bolt EV has an official EPA rating of 259 miles per charge. Of course, that’s less in the winter for a number of reasons. How a person drives (lead-foot) and many other factors can (and DO) also shorten range.

In this case, I live in south-eastern Wisconsin, and needed to work in the greater Chicago, IL area for the day. Checking with Google maps told me it would be about 135 miles, each way (270 miles+ total.) Even on the best day, my car was simply NOT designed to go that far on a single charge.

So, I would need to be able to recharge while I was there.

Based on current driving, weather, etc. my car can go an estimated 192 miles on a full charge.
Not enough to get to Chicago and back from my place.

I was already going to head down the night before (AFTER working an evening shift!) and had a hotel room. Although many hotels now DO offer electric car charging, that one I was staying at DID NOT! The client was paying for the hotel room and it was already booked, so I didn’t have any say in going to a different hotel.

No problem! I had thought ahead and knew that at the corporate location I would be working at also had employee EV charging, and quite a few spaces too! I also checked PLUGSHARE and saw that there were a few DC Fast Chargers in the area I would be working. If needed, I could always hit one of those. I preemptively downloaded an app for the Volta chargers in the area.

The next morning, I drove to where I would be working for the day. Sure enough, there were LOTS of charging stations in the parking lot. Probably 2/3rds of them were already in use, but there were still several available for me. Unforunately, those Chargepoint stations wouldn’t show up in the app, so I couldn’t use my phone to activate one. No problem, I pulled out my worn-out old Chargepoint RFID card and held it to the machine… only to get a “CARD INVALID” error.

My understanding is that for companies who install Chargepoint stations for their employees, there’s a system where the employer can give out codes to the employees who then add them in to their account. Only then do the stations recognize that person’s card and allow them to charge.

It sure would be nice if guests and visitors could charge too! Maybe just have ONE station set up for guests to use!

Oh well, I had to get to work. I still had essentially half a battery, so no worries about having to charge all day. I’d take care of it when I was done.

The job went well, and since it was also an early start, we were done before 4 PM.
Getting ready to leave, I almost hopped in the wrong car! There was a blue Chevy Bolt parked just a few spaces closer than where I parked, with my car’s position obscured.

My car next to a slightly older version of the same.

I had to pull my car over to take a look at the minor differences between the two.
The different rims were immediately noticeable. After that, I saw that some of the trim was a little different, and the other car had the older “curly-cue” tail-lights. Other differences included the backup lights and looking into the interior, the inside color and gear selector.

Plugshare connects right to Apple Maps, which shows up on my car’s main display.
An easy couple mile trip to the nearest DC Fast Charger.

After geeking out over “twinning”, I followed the map in my Apple Car Play up the road to the nearest CCS DC Fast Charger. This was located at an Amoco gas station owned by the “Pride” chain.

The charging station was immediately obvious by its convenient location near the building and the LARGE video display. This was a Volta station – a brand I hadn’t used before.

The controls were pretty obvious. Some simple directions told the user to download an app. A giant QR code made that hard to miss as well. I did NOT see any RFID card reader on it, nor did I see any 1-800 phone number to call if needed. The good news is that it didn’t need it.

I just opened the app, clicked on the icon where I was on the map, and was pretty much ready to go. Since it was the first time I used this, I DID need to enter credit card info in the app. But with that, I just plugged in the car and started charging.

One thing that was extra nice was the app told me the first ten minutes of charging were free at this location. Perfect for a gas station! After that, the cost was $0.33 per kilowatt-hour. (It’s important to note to difference in paying for an amount of ENERGY versus an amount of TIME at a station! Some charge per minute! If your car charges more slowly, you essentially pay 2 or 3 times MORE than another car that charges faster!)

Since the car was now charging, I took the time to head inside. I used the restroom and was pleasantly surprised that the gas station had a rather nice seating area! There were power outlets around which included USB ports on them. Perfect location to spend a little time while waiting for a charge!

Not a bad place for a cup of coffee while getting a charge. There were several booth tables here as well.

The gas station didn’t have much for hot food, but since I still had a two and a half hour car ride ahead of me, I bought a cold sandwich and ate it in the cafe area. I would have grabbed a coffee as well, but I already had a canned energy drink in the car which I had brought with me.

Outside, there was also a number of picnic tables, which I would have tried if the weather was a bit nicer. Behind the gas station were many other businesses close by, including a pizzaria. Too bad it was after lunch hours, which is when they do pizza by the slice!

On the other end of the parking area was another Volta station – this one for J1772 L2 charging.

Level 2 J1772 station on the other end of the parking. Plenty of picnic tables and walkable to other local businesses.

In total, I spent about half an hour at the gas station, which was really more than I needed. I wanted to make sure I had plenty of extra juice to get home… just in case – change in weather, detours, etc.

The “Advanced” setting of the display in the Bolt shows three numbers on the “Guess-O-Meter”. Maximum range, estimated average range, and minimum range. I made sure the MIN number was at least what I needed to get back home.

After that, I pointed the car north and started driving.

I had already chosen my route partly because it was actually fewer miles, but also because it avoided tolls. The road ran through a number of towns, so the speed limit varied, but was 35-55 MPH for most of the drive. The weather was also on the warmer side for this time of year, so I had the heat completely off for part of the trip.

I also found that the ONE PEDAL DRIVING feature worked really well, since I was going through lots of traffic. This mode greatly increases regenerative braking. While that’s not always the most efficient way to drive, it works wonders in stop and start traffic!

I think that lower speeds, turning off the heat, and ONE PEDAL DRIVING all helped improve the efficiency of the return trip.

When I had finally made it home, the average range remaining was 65 miles. What’s really interesting about that is it’s approximately how much energy I put in at the fast charge station! In theory, I could have NOT recharged AT ALL and just barely made it home! But why would I want to do that, when there were charging options available to me. Having never made this trip before, I had NO IDEA exactly how much energy would be needed!

Still had 65 miles of range left when I got home.

Total cost at the Volta DC Fast Charger was $3.16. The sandwich cost more than that.

OK. So when it comes down to it, what did I actually like about this charging experience?

I just opened the app and then plugged in. I did have to add credit card info, but only because it was my first time ever using this brand/account.

Right on a main road on my way. The gas station was right there. It had clean bathrooms. There was a nice seating area. Electric outlets and USB. Plenty of food and drink. Other shops and restaurants in easy walking distance.

I only paid $3.16. The billing was also for ENERGY instead of for TIME.
I’ve seen other stations where a person has to pay a $10 fee simply to get started and then pay a fee per minute after that.

Really, the only thing I could think of is if there was MORE than one DC Fast Charge space. Tesla Superchargers are famous for having 6, 8, or 10 stalls in a single location. On the other hand, there were other DC Fast chargers around. If this one was occupied, I could have found another.

I guess what it comes down to is that it felt nice to have a charging experience that was a little more like how they ought to be. The charging station should be simple and just plain work. There should be facilities available for restrooms, food and drink, and it doesn’t hurt to have a nice seating area as well.

I’m looking forward to seeing more fast charging in more places for convenient and affordable charging when needed.

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson

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October Electric Bill and Time of Use

November 12, 2019

I just got my October electric bill! Let’s look inside and see what it comes to. Since I have solar on my garage, my electric bill is far less than it used to be. I typically look forward to getting my bill and taking my best guess as to what it will come to. Overall, […]

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Ford 8N Tractor for Electric Conversion?

October 29, 2019

Today, I stopped over at a friend’s farm property to check out a couple of tractors. I’ve recently been researching which tractors might make good candidates for an electric conversion, but what I really needed to do is just go out and see some. A family friend, Linda, had two old tractors on her property. […]

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DIY Teardrop Trailer Tour

October 9, 2019

About 15 years ago, I built a teardrop trailer. At the time, I never dreamed I would tow it with an electric car! But here we are, living in the future! A teardrop is a retro style of camping trailer with a shape, you guessed it, like a teardrop. These were popular after World War […]

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Tesla Implant!

October 1, 2019

I recently met up with John Olson. He implanted himself with an RFID chip which would allow him to unlock and drive his Tesla Model 3 just by holding his hand up to his car! I met him at the Milwaukee Makerspace for a video interview. One of the reasons we met there was that […]

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Solar Savings – August 2019

September 9, 2019

I just got my electric bill for this past month. Let’s open it up and see what it comes to! August was relatively cool, so we didn’t use the air-conditioning much. That’s important, as what I PAY for electricity is simply the difference between how much I make with the solar and how much I […]

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Wheelie Poppin’ Tractor for Junk Parade!

September 2, 2019

This year, I made it. I got my overpowered piece of junk electric tractor into The World’s Greatest Junk Parade! Last year, I took this old GE Elec-Trak frame and added a forklift motor and 6 Nissan Leaf Cell Modules. The driveline was a little complicated, and I didn’t get it working in time for […]

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Lithium Battery Communications

August 26, 2019

I just got my laptop to communicate with the Valence lithium batteries in the Ford Ranger EV pickup truck! The truck’s instrumentation is pretty basic – just a “Miles to Go” and “Percent Charged” meter, which were designed to work with lead-acid batteries. I wanted to be able to communicate directly with the lithium batteries […]

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Electric ATV Repair and Upgrade

August 11, 2019

Not long ago, a neighbor was cleaning out his garage. Among the things he was getting rid of was an old kids electric ATV. It was in poor condition, but looked like a fun “fixer-upper”! My daughter is also now eight-years old and has outgrown her Solar-Powered PowerWheels. So, a Razor brand ATV looked like […]

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Electric Truck Lithium Battery Upgrade

August 10, 2019

I upgraded the Electric Ford Ranger to Lithium Batteries!The truck had Group 24 Lead-Acid batteries in the bed. The batteries pulled from the Smith electric truck are Valence brand Group 27 batteries designed as 12V replacements. So, the logical thing to do was simply pull out the lead and put in the lithium in it’s […]

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July 2019 Electric Bill

August 8, 2019

I just got my July electric bill. Time to open it on camera so that you and I get to see what it is at the same time! In July, we finally started getting some nice summer days! (June was surprisingly rainy and cloudy!) But along with the sun was HEAT. We used our central […]

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Battery Pack Disassembly

April 18, 2019

Once we finally made it back from North Carolina, we needed to unload the batteries. While we had a forklift to LOAD the batteries, we didn’t have one at my place and had to resort to an engine hoist, furniture dollies, and finally, steel pipes. Getting 2,000 pounds of batteries off the trailer was no […]

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Removing the Batteries from the Smith Electric Truck

April 15, 2019

Well, it’s been an adventure so far…I was originally asked by my friend, Seth, to accompany him on a road trip to buy a commercial electric truck. The Copart auction had already taken place. He just had to drive 900 miles to get the truck and drag it back home. In the highlight of the […]

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The Incredible, Flexible, Ryobi 18V Battery

November 29, 2023

We sometimes take things for granted. One of those things is the modern cordless tool battery. Back in the day, we had to make do with CORDED power drills and the like. But a lithium tool battery is SO MUCH MORE USEFUL than simply powering a drill. Modern lithium batteries are much LIGHTER than lead […]

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Feb 2023 Electric Bill

March 15, 2023

I don’t tend to do “This Month’s Electric Bill” that frequently on YouTube anymore, but I thought this would be a good one. It’s March right now, so I have the bill for the previous month – February 2023. This is important because I have found that March tends to have very GOOD solar production. […]

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