The other day, a friend of mine posted his “latest gadget” – It was a box containing a basic mechanical timer and a hacked ON/OFF remote. The idea was to have some control over the basic EVSE (electric car charging station) for his car. Mostly, he wanted it to turn off automatically after a certain amount of time, but he also wanted manual ON/OFF control. He built all the parts into a project box and it looked and worked GREAT!

That got me thinking…
I already have a Samsung Smart Things home automation system. (https://amzn.to/2LiYjKy)
So far, I’ve really only used it for a few basic things such as automating my front porch light to turn on automatically at sunset. Some of the other neat features include timers and control from a smart phone.
Hey, could I set my electric car to charge automatically at a certain time, or turn it on and off from my phone! It sure would be cool to do that with the Samsung Smart Things system.

I still had one more “smart switch” leftover from the Samsung “kit” which I had purchased. I quickly wired up the switch to a short piece of cord with a 120V plug end on it. On the other end of the switch, I wired an electric outlet box. On my smart phone, I used the Samsung app to “Add a Thing”, and quickly had remote control over the switch and thus electric outlet.

Recently, I’ve been testing out a Duosida EVSE. (https://amzn.to/2NhJEj8)
One advantage of that unit is that it runs on either 120V OR 240V. I plugged it in to the switched electric outlet, and the other end in to the car. By controlling the switch, I could turn the EVSE on and off, and the car would start charging. I tested a few different aspects of it, and it worked great!

The main downside at this point is that the switch I was using is actually a dimmer. Even though I had it set to “Full power ON, Full power OFF”, it’s not quite the right device. On top of that, the full power of the EVSE was being drawn through the switch. But as a proof of concept, it worked great!

The next step will be to get a project box and mount a 240V contactor inside of it. I’ll use a “Smart Switch” to turn the contactor on and off to make or break 240V power to my EVSE. I’m also planning on adding a small multimeter to the project box so that I can always see how much power the car is drawing. I’ll also likely add a small power indicator light as a nice visual cue as to whether power is on or not.

When I’m done, I’ll be able to plug in my car whenever I get home, but have it programmed only to turn on after a certain time (such as PAST peak power use in the evening) and still have manual control to immediately turn power on and off.

While some of those types of features are built into apps that come with certain cars, some of those apps are slow or unreliable. Besides, I already have the Smart Things system, so expanding it to control my car seems like a natural fit. Lastly, while I have NOT worked with any of the home automation assistants or smart speakers, those could be interesting to experiment with as well.

Just imagine, “Alexa, Charge my car!”

Stay tuned! Over the next week or two, I’ll be working on the 240V, properly built interface for Home Automation control of an electric car!

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben

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Solar Monitoring

by Ben N on July 9, 2018

I LOVE my garage solar array! The only thing I don’t like is the fact that I can’t see how much power it’s making RIGHT NOW! Sure, I have software which gives me TONS of info about the system, but it requires a computer or smart phone, internet access, and username and password. Can’t I just have something simple to show how much power I’m making?

A while back, I saw that a friend installed a simple an inexpensive panel meter to track how much power his electric car charing connection was using. It sounded like a great solution for me to display my solar power in real time. So, I went on Amazon and ordered a versatile 100A display. (https://amzn.to/2zzkuLh) This unit displays Voltage, Current, Power, and Energy – all in real time on a nice little back lit display.

Not only that, but the dimensions are pretty close to fitting right inside a single-gang metal electrical box cover. By grinding away a little of the tabs on the box cover, the multi-meter display should snap right into place.

I started the installation by turning off the power – Solar AC Disconnect, 30A load-side connection breaker, and my 100A main breaker. Next, I took off the breaker panel cover so that I could get at the wiring. The current transducer (CT) goes around a wire to measure the current going through it. It works on the principal that the flow of electricity (current) creates a magnetic field. The CT picks up this magnetic field and converts it to an electrical signal. I disconnected one of the legs of power from my solar circuit breaker, slipped the CT over the wire, and then connected the wire back up.

On the side of the breaker box, I removed a 1/2″ knock-out and installed a short connector. On the 4″ metal box, I removed a matching 1/2″ knockout and connected the box to the breaker panel. Since the box was a bit away from the wall, I slid a wood block behind it for support.

I ran the small and short CT wires into the 4″ box.

Next, I added a 15A 2-pole breaker to the breaker panel. This supplies the 240V power for the multimeter. I connected two pieces of 14 AWG wiring from the breaker into the 4″ box.

Next, it was time to make the panel meter fit the single gang metal cover. I used a Dremel rotary tool to grind away almost all of the two tabs which would normally take the screws of a single-gang device. Once done, the panel meter can snap into place.

Back at the 4″ box, I connected the two small CT wires and the two 14 AWG power wires to the meter. I then pushed it through the single-gang cover, snapped it in place, and then screwed down the cover.

Finally, it was time to turn the power on. I turned on the outdoor AC disconnect, the 30A load-side connection breaker, and the 100A main breaker. Other than realizing that I installed the panel upside-down, everything was working well. I killed the power, spun the meter right-side up, and turned power back on again. At this point, the solar STILL wasn’t making any power. That’s because of the Anti-Islanding safety feature. With a “Grid-Tie” inverter system, the inverters will NOT send out power if they do not sense utility power. This prevents sending out power during a blackout and injuring or killing utility workers trying to fix the problem. Even after power is restored, the system waits five minutes before outputting power. (Often, when power is restored after a blackout, it immediately fluctuates in frequency goes out again, etc.)

After the five minutes were up, I the meter displayed the power I was now outputting. Unfortunately, it had turned into a cloudy afternoon, and I was only making about half the power I could on a sunny day. Still, I KNEW EXACTLY how much power I was making, and could watch it change in real-time as the clouds came and went!

I’m very happy with this display so far. The panel meter itself was very inexpensive, the backlight makes the display very readable, and it fixed the ONE thing I didn’t like about my solar array!

I’ve also played around a bit with using an Arduino to read current. The neat thing about that is an Arduino also has the ability to control outputs and run “IF…Then” statements. It wouldn’t be too hard to design a setup with a micro-controller which could turn power ON and OFF to an EVSE (Electric Car Charging Station) based on if the solar was making enough power to run it or not. Even more exciting, and Arduino could actually generate the signal that the EVSE sends to an electric car telling it how much current it could draw. Instead of a simple ON/OFF, a car could charge at a varying rate, depending on how sunny it was!

Make sure to subscribe to this blog and my videos so you don’t miss that future project!

Until next time, stay charged up!

-Ben

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June 2018 Solar Savings

by Ben N on July 6, 2018

I’m weird. I know it. I look FORWARD to getting my electric bill. On the other hand, it’s gotten much easier to take knowing that it’s most likely that the power company OWES ME!

In this month’s electric bill, not only did I NOT have to pay, but the electric utility owes me $18.07. That’s on TOP of the $60.92 they owe me from previous months. So, as it stands now, I have a nearly $80 credit while having NO electric bill for the past several months.

My garage solar array is 24 photovoltaic panels, each rated at 260 watts. Each solar panel has an Enphase brand M215 micro-inverter on it to convert the power directly to 240VAC. That power is used in my house, my garage, and charges my electric car. Any excess power goes back to the grid, where I get credited for it.
You can actually see live power production from my system at: https://enlighten.enphaseenergy.com/pv/public_systems/PqBp1213167/overview

I designed my system so that on average, it should produce about 600 kWh of energy per month. That’s about how much we use in an average month. The whole idea was that on average, we would PRODUCE as much energy as we CONSUME. In my area, electricity is $0.13/kWh. If I produced 600 kWh of energy, that’s a direct $78 savings. Overall, we’ve been saving closer to $100 per month. Often, that means no electric bill and a $20 credit.

Spring has some of the best solar production. Solar panels actually produce more power when they are cooler than when they are hotter. March has surprisingly good solar production! Not only that, but in peak summer, we are USING more electricity by running air conditioning. Spring and fall are the best times of year for us to minimize electric use.

For more information on the solar garage, please see this link.

If you are interested in how I designed and installed the solar panels, start with this video.

As I write this, it’s already been a year since installing the solar panels. That means my 6.5 year return on investment only has 5.5 more years to go! After that, it’s all gravy, essentially PRODUCING $100 a month for me for the life of the system.

Until next time, stay charged up!

-Ben

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Duosida EVSE Review

by Ben N on July 5, 2018

The Duosida Level 2 EVSE is one of the most popular aftermarket electric car charging units out there. I purchased one to see if it’s what it’s all cracked up to be.

To start with, you might see the Duosida advertised under other brand names – Duostar, Orion, Maxx-16, etc. Don’t worry, they are all the same unit.
You’ll see the first feature of this unit when buying it – THE PRICE! Hands-down, it’s one of the least expensive EVSEs out there.
https://amzn.to/2KAHaj9

The second big selling point of the unit is that it’s both Level 1 AND Level 2 compatible. That’s right! It will run on 120 OR 240V! Of course, you want to charge from 240V power whenever possible, but having the OPTION of 120V power makes the Duoside much more versatile. With a single unit, a person has the ability to make use of either charging voltage. This is ideal for a travel EVSE that you keep in the car.

The Duosida features a 25 foot long 14 gauge cable. Don’t be fooled by one of the sellers offering a 28 foot cable. The main body itself is about a foot long and the short lead cable to the wall is about 2 feet long, so yes, 28 feet in total, but only 25 in the main section of cable.

The J1772 connector itself is UL listed, although the unit as a whole is not.

Four LEDs on the body give a useful amount of information, telling if it’s connected to power, connected to the vehicle, if there is an error, and whether the vehicle is charging or has completed charging.

Mounting options are very basic.
A keyhole on the top back of the unit is designed for single-screw mounting. Just run a wood screw into your garage wall and hang the unit up. It won’t fall off, but neither does it feel very solidly mounted. It is easy to hang up and take down for when you want the Duosida to go with you. If you want the unit mounted just a little better, I would recommend adding a heavy tie-wrap with an eye as a secondary point to screw to the wall. Otherwise a one-hole conduit strap would also work well to secure the cable.

Not included:
The other disadvantage of this class of smaller, more portable type EVSEs is that they lack a holster for the J1772 connector and a cord wrap. The cord wrap can easily be replaced with any kind of utility hook. You just want a place to wrap up your cable out of the way and keep it off the ground. Some small hose-holders work well for this too. Some people also like having a holster for the end connector. If you do, there are plenty of dedicated holsters available for sale as well.
https://amzn.to/2MTN0ci

Overall, it’s easy to see why people like the Duosida – it’s inexpensive and dual-voltage. That’s a great combination for a second EVSE or one you keep for travel.

So, what’s lacking? The big shortcoming is simply the fact that it’s only rated at 16 amps. That’s fantastic for cars like the base model Nissan Leafs and other vehicles with a 3.3kW charger built in. However, more and more cars are featuring larger batteries and more powerful chargers. If your car has a 6.6kW charger, you might want a more powerful EVSE to maximize your power in and minimize your charging time.

If you are interested in a more powerful EVSE, Clipper Creek makes some excellent units.
https://amzn.to/2KzhGTo

Lastly, we ARE starting to see more EVSEs available that do both 120 and 240V. The 2018 and newer Nissan Leaf has the option of an upgraded EVSE which does both voltages. (A removable end connector swaps between a standard outlet and a NEMA 14-50 connector.) Also, the 2nd Generation Chevy Volt includes an EVSE which is capable of 240V power. It simply needs an adapter on the end to go to your favorite 240V outlet.

You might also be interested in the Amazing-E EVSE.
https://amzn.to/2IUq1eI
It’s a well designed unit and the internal circuit board is actually made by Clipper Creek. Unfortunately, it does NOT do 120V charging. Read the review here.

Make sure to choose whatever EVSE will work best for you, but for a basic, portable EVSE that is 120/240V compatible, it’s hard to beat the Duosida.

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2018 Nissan Leaf

by Ben N on June 25, 2018

On my way to the MREA Energy Fair this last weekend, I stopped at a Nissan dealership to top off the battery on my electric car. While there, I got to take a look at a 2018 Nissan Leaf with pretty much all the bells and whistles. What a nice car!

Pulling into Bergstrom Nissan, I drove around the back of the building and plugged in my car. After that, I headed straight to the 2018 Leaf, which was parked right out front. First off though, I did NOT take it for a drive. The car was parked in, and we would have had to do quite some shuffling to get it out.

Starting from the outside, the 2018 got a complete restyling of the exterior. The rear hatch area looks sporty and the front now has lights that actually LOOK like Nissan headlights.

The particular car that I got to see was the SV trim level with the All Weather and Technology packages added. Essentially, it’s the SL trim, only missing the “Birds Eye View” camera system.
The big specs on the car are a 40kWh battery pack which is good for 150 miles per charge, powering a peppy 110 kW electric drive motor. The car’s internal charger is capable of up to 6.6kw charging, and it also includes CHAdeMO DC fast charging. Another neat upgrade is that the included EVSE (charging cord) is capable of 120V OR 240V charging! It has an adapter for the popular NEMA 14-50 connector, meaning that you could use the included EVSE for home use at 120 or 240V or for travel, including charing at RV park connections.

IMG_9287The Technology Package adds a number of advanced driver assist features, including Lane Keeping and Intelligent Cruise Control. That gives the car the ability to automatically come to a complete stop in a traffic jam, and then accelerate again (automatically) once traffic begins moving. Lane Keeping will keep you between the lines on the interstate no matter how curvy the road gets.

Standard on the Leaf is the “E-Pedal”. A switch near the gear selector activates this feature. Once enabled, the driver can pilot the car completely with just the accelerator. Letting off the accelerator will automatically slow the car, activate the brake lights, and can even bring the car to a full stop. It feels a bit strange to drive a car like this, but a person can get used to it really quick! It certainly makes for a different driving experience, and I imagine it would be fantastic for city driving and traffic jams. (Please forgive me, but the video clip covering this feature was accidentally deleted, so it didn’t make the cut into the video!)

IMG_9338Once I was at the Energy Fair, I met Jeff, who was showcasing his 2018 Leaf. His was the SL model, but otherwise happened to be the same color, also have the cloth seats, and by any other stretch of the imagination, his car and the one at the dealership were identical (except for the birds-eye-view cams!). Jeff told me a bit about the advanced driver assistance tools on the car, ending the conversation with “It’s basically an autonomous car.” He was thrilled to have a car with those types of features WITHOUT the expense and waiting period of a Tesla Model 3.

This particular car comes in at a MSRP of $36,855. $900 of that is the All Weather package (heated seats, heat pump, heated mirrors, etc.) and $2,200 for the Technology package. Beside the driver assist features, the Technology Package also upgrades the headlights to LED, the EVSE to 120/240 compatibility, and gives you an 8-way power driver’s seat. Assuming you can benefit from the $7,500 tax credit (consult your tax professional,) that brings the cost down to just under. $30,000. Although Wisconsin doesn’t offer any additional incentive, some other states do and some utilities or other parties can also add discounts.

I also have to say that I was impressed speaking with the sales person at the dealership. It actually turned out that he was also the general manager there. He was more than happy to speak with me about the car and was knowledgable about all it’s features. Unfortunately, MOST dealerships just DON’T know how to sell electric cars. It was refreshing to have professional staff who knew what they were selling!

If you haven’t yet seen the new Nissan Leaf, please take a look. The larger battery pack and autonomous features are nice upgrades. While it doesn’t have the range that the Chevy Bolt or Tesla Model 3 have, it’s certainly a contender, and it’s the flagship electric car of the first mainstream car company to really throw their weight behind a full 50-state release of an all electric vehicle.

Until next time, stay charged up!

-Ben

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MREA Energy Fair 2018

June 19, 2018

This past weekend was the MREA Energy Fair. I always look forward to the event, but this year was more of an adventure than usual… One of the big things I was looking forward to is the new solar car-port, a nearly 20,000 watt array of solar PV panels OVER the top of the electric […]

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The Cow Car Rides Again!

June 6, 2018

Why would anyone cover their car with COW SPOTS!? There’s gotta be a story behind that. Yes, there is. This is that story. My first car was about what everybody’s first car should have been – small engine, manual transmission, good fuel economy, and NOT cool. It was a brown 1987 Geo Spectrum, a rebadged […]

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Ikea Solar and EV Charging

May 17, 2018

Yesterday was the Grand Opening of the Ikea Store in Oak Creek! Was I there for flat pack furniture or meatballs? Nope! Although I did try the meatballs… I was there to show support for their EV Charging stations, and nearly 5,000 solar panels on the roof of the store! This store is not particularly […]

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DIY Electric Motor Mount

May 9, 2018

Recently, I’ve been posting to YouTube some video instructions that I made about how I converted a 1996 Geo Metro to electric. A viewer asked about how the electric motor was mounted – whether it simply bolted to the transmission, or if it was additionally supported in some other way. Great question! The motor IS […]

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Handi-capable Solar Mower

May 6, 2018

Spring is here, and it’s time for yard work! Unfortunately, I was rather badly hurt some weeks back, including a broken wrist and multiple fractures to the leg. How was I going to do something like mow my lawn!? Fortunately, my lawn tractor is actually pretty handi-capable! To start with, the mower uses exclusively HAND […]

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