Tag Archives: gasoline

Knocking it Out of the Park with EV Efficiency…Solar Not So Much

There are times when driving my second hand Nissan Leaf feels like I am working on cracking a code.  Change one behavior (e.g. turning on the heat) and relative efficiency takes a nose dive.  Adjust a few things (e.g. make sure to drive with the car set in “B” mode) and it seems like you can do no wrong.  Ambient air temperature, type of driving, route choice…on and on it goes.

I am certain that it is the same for a traditional ICE vehicle or even a Tesla, but when you are limited to a little more than 100 miles on a full charge there is a hyper heightened awareness to how quickly the “guess o’ meter” depletes.  However, it was a lot less of a concern this month as I averaged 6.1 miles per kWh for just a tenth of a mile over 900 miles.  That works out to a little less than 148 kWh of electricity consumed and ~1,053 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions avoided versus driving my truck.

Since January I have driven 4,607 EV miles at an average efficiency of 5.1 miles per kWh.  This correlates to ~5,234 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions avoided versus driving my truck.  As I have said before this assumes that I draw all of my power from the grid as opposed to generating it on site with my solar panels.  Based on gasoline prices I have saved about $650 just in fuel since January.

Speaking of solar photovoltaic production, July was a fairly good month:

Image-1 (3)

720 kWh for the month is good.  It is a little bit less than the same month during the prior year, but I would say that it is within the margin of error.  It is not like this is January and February where snow covered my panels up to a foot deep some times.

All in my household consumption ended up about 26 kWh more than my production.  Included in my household consumption numbers are almost all of my EV charging, so without the Nissan Leaf in the garage we would have ended up over 100 kWh.  Granted, that would mean I was spewing carbon dioxide from the tailpipe of my truck.  I will take the trade.

Unlike some summer months we were home for every weekend and took no trips.  Furthermore, for the entire month of July we went out to eat once.  I feel fairly good about making all but one meal at home, charging my electric car, running the air conditioning when it got really hot, and still managing to almost be even in terms of household electricity consumption versus solar electricity production.  It is my hope that in the next month I will adding about 60% more solar photovoltaic capacity to my roof.

The Inherent Efficiency of an Electric Vehicle

“But you’re still using electricity from the grid!” drunk Uncle Carl says at the family gathering he is invited to once a year.  “And that electricity comes from coal.”

On the whole, the United States produces ~30% of its electricity from coal.  Some states make considerably less electricity from coal.  California makes almost no electricity from coal.  Idaho makes almost no electricity from coal.  You get the idea.

The thing is that even if my Nissan Leaf is using electricity from the grid it is still more efficient on a per mile basis versus almost any other car or truck on the road.  It is more efficient in terms of carbon emissions per mile and cost per mile in dollar terms.  Let’s see how that breaks down.

A gallon of gasoline, when burned, produces approximately 20 pounds of carbon dioxide.  In 2016 the fuel economy of new cars and trucks in the United States reached 24.7 miles per gallon.  Therefore, on a per mile basis the average new car in the United States emits 0.81 pounds of carbon dioxide.

A kilowatt hour of electricity has a carbon intensity of approximately 1 pound.  This figure obviously differs depending upon your utility, grid operator, locale, etc. but it works as an average for the United States.  Over the course of the last couple of weeks I have averages 4.2 miles per kWh in my Nissan Leaf, which is probably low since I have been forced to use the relatively inefficient resistive heater.  Therefore, my EV “emits” 0.24 pounds of carbon dioxide per mile driven.

For those needing a refresher in math, 0.24 is less than 0.81.  In fact, it is about 70% less.  Now, imagine you are charging your EV in Idaho where each kWh of electricity has a carbon intensity of 0.2 pounds.  That would be a decrease in carbon intensity of about 94%.  As the grid gets cleaner the miles driven by your EV get cleaner as a result.  Your regular old car with an internal combustion engine will still emit the same old carbon dioxide year after year.  In fact, it will likely emit more as it gets older and less efficient.  Just saying.

Furthermore, imagine I am charging my Nissan Leaf with electricity derived from the solar panels on my roof.  This represents a decrease in carbon intensity of 100%.  Talk about demand destruction.  Take that Uncle Carl!

The Best Way to Cut Your Emissions is to Stop Driving and Start Biking

Depending upon how you calculate the numbers transportation is now the greatest source of emissions in the United States:

Transportation Emissions

No matter the degree to which we decarbonize are electric grid the effort will be for naught if we do not begin to address the emissions that are a result of our transportation choices.  Transportation emissions come from a lot of sources—personal automobiles, delivery vehicles, mass transit, etc.  The most direct control that we have over transportation emissions is to control how much we drive personal automobiles.  If we do not drive our vehicles do not produce emissions.  It is a fairly simple calculus.

A gallon of gasoline produces approximately 20 pounds of carbon dioxide when combusted. The average fuel economy for a new car is 23.4 miles per gallon.   Simple math gives you 0.85 pounds of carbon dioxide produced for each mile driven.  Considering that the U.S. is such a truck/SUV/crossover/whatever market I am going to round that up to one pound of carbon dioxide produced for every one mile driven.

Do not drive a mile, save a pound.  It is a direct, one-for-one relationship in my mind and it makes for a fairly simple accounting of progress.

The average American drivers puts 13,474 miles per year in behind the wheel or, according to my simple math, creates 13,474 pounds of carbon dioxide via combustion to drive.  That is a lot of carbon dioxide.  To put it into comparison, the solar array on my home that went active last August is calculated to have saved approximately 3,350 pounds of carbon dioxide in just over seven months.  If the average driver reduced miles driven by approximately 25% the savings would be roughly the same.  This is why we have to address our addiction to fossil fuels in the transportation sector in order to have any significant impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and arresting climate change.

My goal for the next nine months is to drive less than 2,500 miles in total.  Why 2,500 miles?  It’s the length of time, in miles, until my next oil change.  Why nine months?  It’s the length of time, in months, before my next trip to Colorado. Everything seemed to line up in such a way to make this an easy target to measure and understand.  This would also put me on pace to drive approximately 5,000 miles per year including regular trips to Colorado.

A goal of 5,000 miles per year or less would mean a reduction of almost 63% versus the average American driver and a similar reduction in carbon emissions.  Now imagine a world where the United States reduced its emissions from transportation by 63%.  Wow.

It is not just a story about emissions.  Personal automobiles are expensive.  Most people do not realize the full costs of driving in a way that is easily quantified.  You could spend a lot of time calculating the actual cost per mile of driving for your particular situation or you could just let the IRS do the leg work.  For 2017 the IRS has set the “mileage rate” at 53.5 cents per mile.

In my particular case nine months of driving will cost $1338.  However, every trip to work that I replace with a bicycle trip will save me $6.  Greenhouse gas emissions are hard to imagine.  Six dollars in my pocket every time I decide to commute to work on the dirt wagon is concrete.  Somewhere along the way I am going to translate these savings into a Chris King headset for my bike.

I anticipate a degree of failure, but I feel that I will make little progress toward an ambitious goal unless I make some sort of public proclamation.

MPG (Beer Equivalent)

The comments were lobbed across the common table at the local taproom:

How many miles per gallon do you get on your bike?

Is it really that efficient to ride a bike?

And so on and so forth.  The topic of conversation was the next step in the #myPersonalParis evolution.  In order to reduce my personal emissions of greenhouse gasses I have set the goal of riding my bike to work three days a week through the fall.  Sixty percent of my commuting trips by bike might seem a little aggressive, but I feel that doing more than half will be a sort of tipping point in my daily behaviors.  It’s a theory and I am going to test that theory in practice.

The miles per gallon question is a constant because there is always some smart ass in the room who says, “You aren’t carbon free because you are breathing.”  Sure enough, but I had to be breathing anyway so I consider that a moot point.

However, let’s spend a moment to ruminate on the relative efficiency of riding a bike to work versus commuting in my truck.

A gallon of gasoline contains 7,594 kilocalories of energy and a gallon of e85 contains 5,463 kilocalories of energy. [1]  On average my truck—a Ford F-150 equipped with a flex-fuel V-8 engine—achieves 15 miles per gallon using e85 fuel.  Simple math says that my truck uses approximately 364 kilocalories to travel one mile.

What about the bike.  Based on over 1,110 miles of riding tracked via a Garmin vivoactive HR the kilocalories expended to travel one miles via a bicycle is approximately 65.  The range is anywhere from 60 to 75 with the high end representing some serious pedal mashing on a long distance ride.

Based purely in terms of kilocalories the bicycle is around six times more efficient just to transport myself from point A to point B.

How does that translate to miles per gallon?  I do not care because I am not fueled by gasoline.  Beer on the other hand?  The average pint of beer—not the light lager swill—contains 200 kilocalories.  A gallon therefore contains 1,600 kilocalories.  [2] Therefore, I achieve approximately 25 miles per gallon beer equivalent or MPGBE.

It’s a ridiculous comparison, but sometimes we need a little folly.

 

Carburetors are Black Magic

For those of you not familiar with history there was a time when gasoline powered engines of all stripes did not easily start on the first attempt and, depending on the weather, required a particular dance to maintain a smooth idle.  Before electronic fuel injection made our lives easier by eliminating carburetors from our lexicon we were forced to adjust chokes to fine tune a fuel air mixture and worry about things like jets getting gummed up with deposits from gasoline.

Anyone who waxes nostalgic for the days of carburetors is either lying, has no idea what a carburetor actually does, or enjoys spending afternoons swearing at small brass tubes with small holes punctured in them.  I am going to posit that most people are in the first group.

Carburetors are like black magic.  Somehow this crude assemblage of bulbs, floats, jets, needles, and what not is capable of mixing fuel and air into the appropriate ration to ensure combustion in our small engines.  On most modern small engines the manual choke has been eliminated in favor of automatic chokes using a variety of bi-metal arms to ensure operation.

When it is spring time and you wander out to garage and the mower does not start.  Is it the spark plug?  Maybe, considering my spark plug looked like this compared to a brand new spark plug:

IMG_1023

A few minutes with a 5/8” socket yielded…nothing.  The same sad burble as before.  Maybe the engine was not getting any air?  Given the condition of my old air filter that would not be unthinkable:

IMG_1022

Less than thirty seconds later I got…nothing.  This is the point when most people give up and load the mower for a trip to the small engine shop.  I come at this from a slightly different school of thought that says, “If you can’t fix it, you do not really own it.”  Some take that to mean that you have the option of having the item repaired by a professional as opposed to the item being essentially disposable.  While this is a laudable goal for all products, I want to control a little bit more of my destiny.

When your mower will not “turn over” in the spring try this trick.  Remove the air filter and spray some starter fluid directly into the air intake.  If your mower starts, but dies after a few turns of the crank it likely means that there is a problem with your carburetor.  This, dear friends, is within the skill set of a decently mechanical person, especially given excellent videos like this one on YouTube.

Here’s the deal.  I do not really understand how carburetors work, but I can take the thing apart, clean out some gunk, and put it all back together again.  I do not need to understand the method of operation very well to complete that task.  It’s still black magic to me.  The carburetor in my mower was covered in all kinds of filth.  The bulb where the gasoline goes before being mixed with air looked like the inside of a forgotten Brita filter.  The jets were clogged with a residue reminiscent of Slimer.  No wonder the mower refused to work.

Less than twenty minutes of time with a 10mm socket, a Torx set, and a can of carburetor cleaner left me with hands that smelled of various petrochemicals, a serious mountain of dirty paper towels, and a mower that fired up on the first try.  I have not touched the inner workings of a small engine since my senior year of high school, which was more than twenty years ago.

I detail this not to beat my chest—okay a little chest beating is in order—but to suggest that the skills and knowledge to repair a lot of the stuff in our lives is well within our reach.  We do not to call someone to repair everything that breaks and we do not need to buy new things every time something breaks.  We bought it, so if we break it we should learn how to repair it.

Friday Linkage 10/29/2012

Two solid days of rain this past weekend and two more this week have really changed the drought landscape in eastern Iowa.  More than twelve percent of the state was classified out of the “severe” drought category this week.  That is a good thing looking forward to the 2013 growing season because a lot can depend on the soil moisture before winter sets in.  Here is to hoping that the forecast that calls for rain continues to be accurate.  Even if it makes for a miserable night game against Penn State on Saturday.

On to the links…

Ten Charts that Show the Planet is Warming—As if anyone needed any more proof about human driven climate change…oh wait, is that the crickets I hear chirping when looking for major political parties’ stance on climate change?  Yep.

Larry Ellison Plans to Turn Lanai into an Eco-Lab—I have always wondered why Hawaii is not even further down the road to energy independence through renewables.  The state has an isolated electrical grid.  The electricity rates are some of the highest in the nation.  Most of the power is generated from imported oil that is an accident waiting to happen.  Maybe good ol’ Larry Ellison can make some things happen.

The Great White Whale of American Cheesemaking—This is an interesting profile on someone trying to recreate Italy’s buffalo mozzarella in the United States.  No easy task.  The entire set of articles in the food centric article of the New York Times Magazine are pretty excellent.  Take a moment to read them all.

Eat the Goats to Save the Goats—It may seem counter intuitive, but when goats are raised as a dairy animal approximately 50% of the goats born in an operation will be of no use, i.e. the newborn goats are male.  With little economic value in the U.S. because there is a limited market for goat meat these animals are frequently euthanized.  What a waste!

Is the Search for the Perfect Aquaculture Fish Over?—I remember reading about barramundi in Paul Greenberg’s Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food.  Oh snap, I said people should also read his book.  The moral of the story is that instead of trying to engineer or breed a fish for aquaculture systems, maybe we should find a fish that does well in aquaculture.

Seed Diversity In Pictures—Farmers breed resilience into the system because they understand at the lowest level what resilience means for their own survival.  The more varieties of plants that we lose to neglect because Monsanto and their ilk are successful in destroying these systems the greater the chance for an epic collapse of a particular crop.

Inside Google’s Kitchen—All you have to do is move the M&M’s into the dark corners of your cafeteria and maybe your employees will eat better.  Or they will turn into characters in a zombie survival movie hunting down the last Twinkie on Earth.  Just saying.

By the Numbers, the Facts about Gasoline Prices—Mitt Romney is a serial liar.  Think Progress did a great piece running down the numbers about gasoline prices, oil production, and Mittens’ attempts to obscure the truth.  Or was he trying to disguise the fact that he has no plan?  I get so confused.

The Failure of “Drill, Baby Drill” as a Policy—Oil is a global commodity thus prices are the result of global supply and demand. I know this is hard for the sound bite portion of the Republican Party to understand, but merely increasing U.S. production will not necessarily provide price relief although it will enrich their donors.  What is the real game here?

Hybrid and EV Sales are Up—Each year brings more news about the success of hybrid and electric vehicles in the market place.  As these vehicles become more spread out across vehicle types and manufacturers the growth is only sure to continue.

Will Algae Ever Power Cars—Along with hydrogen, fuel from algae seems like the Holy Grail of transportation fuels in the United States and, perhaps, the rest of the world.  But will we ever actually fill our gas tanks with bio-diesel made from algae?  Good question.

Friday Linkage 9/7/2012

Back from vacation and I am ready to go…okay not so much.  Thankfully, it was a short week due to Labor Day and with direct flights home from Denver I no longer had to endure the drive across Nebraska.  It’s a lovely state, but no one needs to experience over 450 miles of I-80.  Ever.

On to the links…

New Zealand Grants Personhood to a River—Well, I guess if a corporation can have the rights of a person, why can’t a river.  I am sure Mitt “Corporations are people too my friend” Romney would find a way to disagree because he is a corporate shill robot.

Why Have We Fallen out of Love with Organic Food—It seems like the press is loving to sound the death knell for organic food because some studies have shown it is not healthier for you.  The goal of organic food, however, was to produce food in a system that was healthier for the consumer, the producer, and the planet.  It’s about more than just the nutrients in the end product.

Why do We Hold Renewables to a Different Standard—I am sure this has something to do with the fact that a large swath of our political space is essentially owned by the fossil fuel industry, but it seems silly.  Considering the amazing amount of externalities that would negatively impact fossil fuels if accurately priced into the products, why do we offer any subsidies?  Oh wait, these companies own politicians.  My bad.

How Americans are Subsidizing Pro Sports—It’s amazing when multi-millionaire or even billionaire sports team owners cry poverty and hold the gun of leaving against the heads of cities and states.  It makes me glad that Iowa does not have a major pro sports team located in state.

Oil Washing up on Coast after Hurricane Isaac—Speaking of externalities, it looks like the oil that spewed from the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon did not just magically disappear.  It just took a hurricane to stir things up on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and…presto…tar balls!

Renewable Gasoline, Diesel Right Around the Corner—I know we have heard this story before with biofuels, but there appears to be some real progress away from the first generation fuels, e.g. ethanol, toward better second generation biofuels that do not fall prey to the food versus fuel debate.

Who’s Afraid of Solar PV—This is a great look at the impact of solar photovoltaic on the energy situation in Australia.  Check out the charts and see what distributed solar is doing to the demand seen at power stations during peak load periods.  Amazing.

Destroying Precious Land for Gas—When will we stop destroying every piece of land in pursuit of fossil fuels?  Hopefully it will be someday soon.

Liberia has Sold One Quarter of its Land to Logging Companies—At least the oil and gas companies do not own one quarter of the land in the U.S.  It is unfathomable the degree to which private multinational corporations have been buying up huge chunks of Africa over the past decade.

Copenhagen Bicycle Culture—Here is Copenhagen’s bicycle culture in an infographic:

More and More Baby Boomers going Vegetarian—I have seen my father, right at the beginning of the baby boom, become a vegan in his sixties.  Usually when I talk about the baby boomers it is negative.

It’s not Just Young People Giving up Ownerhship—Are we turning the corner on our obsession to own everything?  It’s one thing when hipsters choose not to own.  But when middle class suburbanites pull the trigger you know there is some serious momentum.  Bring the car sharing to Cedar Rapids baby!

Blue Zones Offer Lessons in Longevity—So-called Blue Zones, where people tend to live longer and healthier lives, are getting a lot of play recently.  The concepts behind why these people live longer and healthier seem so simple when presented as fact.

And remember: