Archive for Family Joules

Eternal combustion

So Tam and her roomie are now running an electric lawn mower — a cordless electric lawn mower at that — and some of their peer group find this inexplicable for a couple of proper ‘Murrican girls; geez, what’s next, you two, those sissy electric cars?

Tam isn’t taking that from them, because of course she isn’t:

First, the electric car has come of age, at least as an urban/suburban commuter. It means that never again does the city or suburban driver have to go to a gas station or convenience store, which are, let’s face it, the watering holes on the Serengeti of crime.

Second, the Tesla seems to be marketed pretty well as … well, an urban commuter rocketship.

“But, Tam! You can’t take roadtrips in it!” In my experience, people in the Tesla-buying bracket usually fly, anyway. And when they do take roadtrips, they do so in rented vehicles so as not to run up the miles on their POV.

I haven’t been in the market for one of these ampere-swilling contraptions, mostly for the same reason Tam isn’t:

The Tesla’s not the kind of car for me, but that’s because I’m poor and need my own vehicle to be able to run to Texas as well as it runs to the corner store.

Which would seem to be a justification for the hybrid, which cuts your gasoline safaris in half while not requiring you to spend the rest of your life in search of an open two-twenty line. Maybe I won’t ever do another World Tour, but I’m not about to sneer at someone whose exhaust consists largely of electrons.

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Heavier light bulbs

Incandescents aren’t quite dead yet. It is still possible, for instance, to get G25 bulbs in 40-watt size. (The G25, not to be confused with an Infiniti sedan offered for a couple of years, is a clear sphere with a standard screw base; three of them glare from above the mirror in my bathroom.)

In the interest of stocking up, I hit up the pertinent Amazon pages, and found an oddity from Sylvania: a case of six G25 bulbs designed for 130-volt operation. A notice on the package:

This product is designed for 130 volts. When used on the normal line voltage of 120 volts, bulb life is noticeably increased but the efficiency and light output are reduced.

In effect, says Sylvania, this is a 35-watt bulb. Rated life, however, goes from 1500 hours to 3750. No mention of lumens on the box, but 300 sounds about right. First one was put into service last night.

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It seemed like a good idea at the time

Solar Roadways has installed a solar road in Sandpoint, Idaho for testing. There are 30 panels, which to me doesn’t sound like enough. It certainly isn’t enough for production, unless you’re serving ant farms:

The … project generated an average of 0.62 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per day since it began publicly posting power data in late March. To put that in perspective, the average microwave or blow drier consumes about 1 kWh per day.

And you can guess how much it produces at night.

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Large and quite charged

And really, I’d chuckle at this myself:

This is the P100D. I wonder if it has the Ludicrous Speed option.

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Cheap wheels at a price

The government would really like you to buy an electric car, and there are incentives in place. The result is something like this:

Fiat’s 500e can currently be had for roughly the same price as a decent pair of sneakers, continuing the trend of bargain basement pricing on small electric cars. At $69 per month for 36 months with no money down, it’s also a better deal than the shoes — which typically only manage a few hundred miles before becoming a tattered mess. With some evening reprieves to recharge, the Fiat can manage that in a week with only the slightest hint of tread-wear. However, this incredibly low leasing rate for the $33,000 EV isn’t even the best deal of the last few months.

On Black Friday Orange Coast Fiat in Costa Mesa, California, had the little electric listed at $49 per month with no money down — 20 dollars below the current unbelievable price.

Who could possibly object? FCA chair Sergio Marchionne, for one:

Why is the 500e going for so cheap? One big reason is that Fiat Chrysler never really intended to sell any. “I hope you don’t buy it because every time I sell one it costs me $14,000,” FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne said at the Brookings Institution of the 500e in 2014. “I’m honest enough to tell you that.”

The EV was developed by Fiat Chrysler specifically as a compliance car to satisfy emissions regulations in California and other states mandating the sale of zero-emission vehicles. The company never had any intent to make this vehicle a sales leader or profitable, it only exists to keep its other, less environmentally friendly, vehicles in those markets.

Still, if you’re in the right place and can deal with a maximum of about 87 miles range, this may be the around-town buggy for you.

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Fuels rush in

“Hey, wise man! You coming in?

“Oh, hell no. What kind of fool do you think I am?”

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Self-imputed cleverness

“How did I come up with this brilliant idea?” he’s probably asking himself.

Yahoo Answers screenshot: If I were to power a battery charger off the battery that it is charging, would it charge itself?

Apparently he’s serious:

So, in detail. Let’s say I take a marine battery (like the “Optima Batteries 8016-103 D34M BlueTop Starting and Deep Cycle Marine Battery” on amazon). I take this Marine battery and I were to get a female DC cigarette adapter (like the “TireTek TT-BCA-297 Car Battery Clip-On Cigarette Lighter Socket Adapter 12V” found on amazon) then I attach the adapter to the marine battery then attach a vehicle power inverter (like the “BESTEK 300W Power Inverter DC 12V to 110V AC Car Inverter with 3.1A Dual USB Car Adapter” found on amazon) into the adapter and run a battery charger (like the “Black & Decker BC15BD 15 Amp Bench Battery Charger with Engine Start Timer” off amazon) back to the battery. Would it charge itself.

Maybe he saw this and got his hopes up:

Either that, or he’s hoping Amazon will pay him for plugging, so to speak, their equipment.

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Shell and Jaguar, sitting in a tree

For now, with exclusivity:

The two companies partnered together to develop the system, which is part of 2018 model year updates to Jaguar XE, XF, F-Pace, and Land Rover models (when equipped with the InControl app system). It would seem F-Type and XJ owners do not need the benefit of in-car fuel purchases at this time.

Designed to simplify the life of the customer, the Shell payment system can also log trips and save receipts for those who use their Jaguar as a company vehicle.

It works by allowing the driver to drive up to the pump at a Shell station and use the vehicle’s touchscreen to select how much fuel they’d like to purchase. The transaction is conducted using PayPal or Apple Pay for the time being. Android Pay will be added as an option later in the year. Upon payment, the touchscreen will display the fuel receipt, and further send a copy to a driver’s email address.

A nice way to bypass sub rosa card scanners, anyway.

Still, given the price of a Jag these days, the system ought to actually pump the damn gas for you. Maybe next update.

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Bolts for dolts

The Bolt is Chevrolet’s Pure Electric Car: no gas engine and an estimated range of 238 miles on a full charge. When can you get one? Where do you live?

The first deliveries of the Bolt began right before 2016 came to a close, with 579 vehicles delivered — primarily in California. Oregon dealerships should receive their remaining cars later this month and a quick inventory search shows that some dealerships have Bolts already.

Following the model’s western launch, the next states to see the rollout are Massachusetts, Maryland, and Virginia. Those states should have the EV by the end February. By March and April we should see the Bolt cropping up in New York, New Jersey, and Washington.

Don’t expect to see one in sunny Soonerland until September; for the moment, Chevy is happily sending us Silverados, which do more for their bottom line but don’t attract the attention of the Media Machine.

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It even smells better

This may be the cleanest coal yet:

In the southern Indian city of Tuticorin, locals are unlikely to suffer from a poorly risen cake. That’s because a coal-fired thermal power station in the area captures carbon dioxide and turns it into baking soda.

This is elementary chemistry: you can combine sodium hydroxide with carbon dioxide and end up with baking soda and water.

Like most carbon-capture schemes, this one involves a proprietary solvent. Unlike most carbon-capture schemes, this one comes close to being cost-effective:

The Guardian reports that a system installed in the Tuticorin plant uses a new proprietary solvent developed by the company Carbon Clean Solutions. The solvent is reportedly just slightly more efficient than those used conventionally, requiring a little less energy and smaller apparatus to run. The collected CO2 is used to create baking soda, and it claims that as much as 66,000 tons of the gas could be captured at the plant each year.

Its operators say that the marginal gain in efficiency is just enough to make it feasible to run the plant without a subsidy.

Inveterate coal-haters will hate this too, but perhaps not as much. And as Dave Schuler notes:

I expect that we’ll see a lot more solutions like this coming out of India. They have a lot of clever, educated people, probably as many engineers per 100,000 population as anywhere in the world and they don’t have a lot of money to mess around with diseconomic schemes.

I wonder if I should send this to Scott Pruitt.

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Assaulted with battery details

Question of the day:

Why anyone would want to put a charging station for electric vehicles in Beatty, Nevada, is beyond me. You are on the road from Las Vegas to Reno. Your only other choice is Death Valley. Some kind of bullshit, this is.

No present-day electric vehicle can make it from Las Vegas to Reno, about 450 miles, on a single charge; Tesla, whose chargers these are, claims a mere 265. (Beatty is closer to Las Vegas than to Reno.)


I’ve been trying to figure out why I don’t like electric cars. Right now they have some shortcomings, but they are getting better every day and so it probably won’t be too long before they perform as well and are as cheap as, or cheaper, than a gasoline powered car. So why don’t I like them? There are a number of issues you could quibble over, but the gasoline empire has corresponding problems of its own, it’s just been around longer so we have learned how to cope.

Except for that business about charging, performance is pretty much on par. I put ten gallons of Shell V-Power in my car yesterday, which took me about four and a half minutes and cost me $27. I can drive a couple hundred miles on that, easy, and then, four and a half minutes later, I’m on the road again. No existing electric can do that. Then again, 200 miles in a Tesla, at Oklahoma electric rates, would cost between $5 and $10. If you don’t ever have to go 200 miles, electric makes a pretty good case for itself.

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Decaf for CAFE

Everybody except your friendly neighborhood treehugger — the ones who live near me are downright jovial, but your mileage may vary — can find something wrong with the government’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy scheme. So far, though, only Jack Baruth has figured out a simple solution:

Two weeks ago, the EPA announced that it would “finalize” its 2025 regulations earlier than expected. This action has no force of law; it’s merely meant to enshrine President Obama’s desires in writing before President Trump takes over. There is no reason that Mr. Trump could not change these regulations as he desires. Early indications are that he’s not terribly impressed by the EPA in general. He might choose to lower CAFE targets a bit. He might choose to abolish them altogether.

I have a different suggestion, one that will probably manage to enrage both the tree-huggers AND the red-state conservatives. I think he should set ambitious CAFE goals that apply to both cars and trucks equally. Instead of 60mpg for cars and 30mpg for trucks, how about 45mpg for everybody? Let’s stop playing favorites and picking winners. There should be one CAFE for everybody.

Cars are becoming increasingly trucklike, just to meet that lower standard: the late, unlamented Chrysler PT Cruiser had just enough truckitude in its design to allow the Pentastar to include it in the truck average, and newer vehicles from FCA and others don’t even pretend to be cars anymore. I don’t know about you, but I am weary of these so-called “crossovers” with jacked-up height and visual bulk.

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Cut ’em off at the C-pillar

Maybe even the B-pillar:

2017 SOLO by Electra Meccanica

The wee beastie apparently emerging from another dimension is SOLO by Vancouver-based Electrica Meccanica; it’s a single-seat electric runabout with a 100-mile range and three wheels. TTAC reports thereupon:

Electra Meccanica spent years working on the diminutive EV, which it says can accelerate to 62 miles per hour in about eight seconds. Charging takes three hours from a 220-volt outlet, or six hours from a 110-volt household wall socket.

The SOLO’s main purpose is to shuttle people to and from their workplace, while being easy to own and operate. With a length 19 inches shorter than a Fiat 500, parking shouldn’t be an issue. Weighing about 1,000 pounds (thanks to a composite body and aluminum drivetrain), the vehicle sports a 0.24 drag coefficient and draws power from a 16.1 kWh lithium-ion battery.

Available only in Canada for now at around twenty thousand loonies, this little darb tops out at around 80 mph. I wouldn’t want to speculate as to what it’s like in crosswinds.

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You call this heat?

This is probably less impressive than it sounds:

New research from British Gas has shown that one in ten people are cutting their energy costs by opting to go naked while at home.

Instead of using fans to cool off in the summer heat, ten per cent happily strip off — a move which is helping them to save up to £780 a year.

This is a shade over $1,000 a year, which is nothing to sneeze at; but I assure you, here on the Roasted Prairie, nobody’s turning off the air conditioning, whether or not they’re dressed.

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Here a nudge, there a nudge

If I encounter this thing, I’m going to assume that the throttle body is in need of repair:

Who’s to say whether I’m “overusing” fuel? (Hint: not you.)

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Assault trucks

Because that’s what she does, Roberta X does the math:

[A] couple of tons of vehicle moving at 20 mph — the upper limit for Pokémon Go — is a deadly weapon, packing more kinetic energy (72,518 Joules) than the total of every bullet in a 30-round AR-15 magazine (1,767 J x 30, 53010 J); and the truck doesn’t need to be reloaded for hours.

Bans presumably to follow.

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The air up there

The demand for nice-sounding fuel-economy numbers has led automakers to the wind tunnel, wherein a mysterious voice tells them to cut the aerodynamic drag or face the wrath of the marketplace. Then again, they can’t do a thing about the times when the marketplace messes up the drag coefficient on its own:

Automakers go to great lengths to make vehicles aerodynamic, adding grille shutters and painstakingly shaving off excess weight, but drivers are just blowing away the hard work with their roof racks, a new study reports (via CNET).

The effect of roof racks on fuel consumption was studied by researchers from Berkeley Lab and the National Renewable Energy Lab, who published their findings in the journal Energy Policy.

It turns out that showing off what an active lifestyle you have via a sporty roof rack (or just being too lazy to remove it after that one trip) accounts for nearly one percent of all annual domestic fuel consumption.

The study finds that 0.8 percent of light-duty vehicle fuel consumption in 2015 can be tied to the aerodynamic drag these racks asserted on the cars carrying them. That translates into 100 million gallons of gas burned needlessly every year.

In which case, you’ll perhaps be bewildered to hear that the single best fuel-economy reading I ever got from Dymphna, a 1975 Toyota Celica GT (2.2-liter SOHC four, 5-speed manual), was 29.1 mpg, achieved with a curio cabinet lashed to her roof. I am forced to conclude that the little Celica’s aerodynamics were so undistinguished that adding about a meter or so of wooden box actually improved them.

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Department of Subtle Reminders

For just about as long as I can remember, whenever OG&E has had a rate case pending, there’s been a note stuck into the electric bill with all the other detritus. And yes, there’s a rate case pending; the Corp Comm is scheduled to open hearings on the third of May, and my particular rate class would go up by about 6.6 percent.

Nothing too surprising here, except that on the bill itself, for the first time I can remember, there is a LARGE PRINT statement:


(They do have a few Arkansas customers, who would not be affected.) And the notice itself is marked SPECIAL NOTICE, so there’s presumably no excuse for missing it.

The April bill, for me anyway, is typically the lowest of the year, so the rate increase looks like a mere four bucks or so. In August, it’s going to hurt a little more.

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You’ve probably never heard of it

And I imagine there’s only one place on earth you can get it:

Of course, what I wanted to know was how small a batch, inasmuch as my tank holds 70 liters (18.5 gallons).

This operation is, I am reasonably certain, not related to Oakland Petroleum Operating Company, on Yale south of 73rd in Tulsa.

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Presumably at premium prices

Wefuel is an app (iOS only so far) that enables the stranded or lazy (or both) driver to have gasoline delivered to wherever his vehicle happens to be, assuming that it’s in their service area. For now, it’s strictly a San Francisco Bay area thing, but if it finds customers, it’s sure to expand.

I’m not quite sure what I think of this. I am far more often lazy than stranded, but I have a schedule structured enough to hit up a Shell every other week. (Road trips aside, I drive maybe 7,000 miles a year.) On the one hand, I have to agree with Pete Bigelow of Autoblog:

There are two kinds of people: those who like to save money and those who like to save time. Wefuel will appeal to the latter. The app lets workers fuel up while sitting at their desks rather than adding time to their commutes. It allows them to plan for the road trip without making a special trip to the gas station to fill up.

Then again, I can also see the point being made by Sebastian Blanco of Autoblog:

Wefuel is the epitome of Silicon Valley nonsense. No one needs this (emergencies excluded), but now some people will want it. Silicon Valley wants us to think that our phones will solve all of our problems, but when that “solution” means that you get lazier and someone else does your work for you while adding extra pollution to the air, that’s an easy pass. Still, it makes someone else do your work for you, so Wefuel will undoubtedly be a tremendous hit.

Wait a minute. Our phones won’t solve all of our problems?

I’m thinking, we don’t flinch at paying $3 (plus a tip) to have $30 worth of pizza delivered. I’m pretty sure we won’t flinch at paying something comparably nominal for $30 worth of gas. And now I wonder if they can do custom octane blends.

If this premise has any possibility of hitting it big, there should be a rival, right? Here it comes.

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You say you have more than one room?

I swear by the antique Honeywell Eyeball thermostat, one of which I’ve lived with for at least half my life, including twelve years here at Surlywood. It is not programmable in the least, unless you consider twisting its dial a form of programming. But the newer ones that talk to your smartphone suffer from one of the same limitations as the Eyeball:

[T]hey only measure temperature in one spot. Now this wouldn’t be a problem if you had only one room in your home, but chances are your house is a little bit bigger. If you do have a home with more than one room, you inevitably have hot and cold spots.

Yea, verily. My bedroom (with windows on three walls, mind you) is about 2°F warmer than the rest of the house in the summer, 2°F cooler in the winter. If I were sufficiently exercised about this to want to do something about it, there’s this contraption:

I’m not sure I want a thermostat so smart that it knows when I’ve moved from the office to the bedroom and tweaks the system accordingly, but rampant gadget-happiness might counteract at least some of my paranoia.

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Holy flurking low-octane schnitt

This needs no introduction:

Never mind what I paid for it, several hundred miles away.

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Unearned earnings

Believe it or not, there are those who will simply not accept such things:

I expect some readers to have to tweak their Suspension of Disbelief glands to be able to grasp all this.

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Bulbs for the future

And they’re incandescent, as God and Tom Edison intended:

Scientists in the US believe they have come up with a solution which could see a reprieve for incandescent bulbs.

Researchers at MIT have shown that by surrounding the filament with a special crystal structure in the glass they can bounce back the energy which is usually lost in heat, while still allowing the light through.

They refer to the technique as “recycling light” because the energy which would usually escape into the air is redirected back to the filament where it can create new light.

“It recycles the energy that would otherwise be wasted,” said Professor Marin Soljacic.

You’d get your colors back, too:

Traditional incandescent bulbs have a “colour rendering index” rating of 100, because they match the hue of objects seen in natural daylight. However even “warm” finish LED or florescent bulbs can only manage an index rating of 80 and most are far less.

And you might even get the goddamn Gaians off your case, too:

Usually traditional light bulbs are only about five per cent efficient, with 95 percent of the energy being lost to the atmosphere. In comparison LED or florescent bulbs manage around 14 percent efficiency. But the scientists believe that the new bulb could reach efficiency levels of 40 percent.

No estimated price was given, but my immediate reaction was “Twenty bucks each? Gimme a dozen.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

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Screwy at both ends

The Sippican Cottage experience with the compact fluorescent light bulb:

We ran out of 60 watters, and I unwisely took a flyer on some CFLs, which I detest. There was one CFL in my house when I moved in. It was in my basement. In January, that light bulb doesn’t come on, period, so I find it amusing to picture it outside, where it is occasionally 20 below zero. Not coming on does save energy, one must admit.

So, as I was saying, we were finally out of 60s, and we bought curlicues this summer. The first CFL I tried, the very first, I dropped, it shattered, and I freebased mercury for five minutes. How eco. The second one we put in my older son’s table lamp, and the base of the bulb caught fire, real fire with flames and smoke and whatnot. He calmly unplugged the lamp, came down the stairs with the thing still smouldering, and we freebased burning plastic together for five minutes. How eco. We’re all done with CFLs now.

Anything proclaimed as being good for you that requires a hazmat team to clean up after is not, no matter what they say, good for you.

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Keeping the sun on the straight and narrow

A planned solar farm in rural North Carolina has been axed:

The Woodland Town Council rejected a proposal to rezone a section of land north of town to M2 (manufacturing) from RA (residential/agricultural), essentially denying approval of a solar farm.

The Planning Board had recommended the property be rezoned to allow Strata Solar Company to build a solar farm off U.S. Highway 258.

Citizens assembled took a dim view of the facility and its prospects:

Jane Mann said she is a local native and is concerned about the plants that make the community beautiful.

She is a retired Northampton science teacher and is concerned that photosynthesis, which depends upon sunlight, would not happen and would keep the plants from growing. She said she has observed areas near solar panels where the plants are brown and dead because they did not get enough sunlight.

She also questioned the high number of cancer deaths in the area, saying no one could tell her that solar panels didn’t cause cancer.

Apparently fear of diverting sunlight is a thing in this part of the Tar Heel State:

Bobby Mann said he watched communities dry up when I-95 came along and warned that would happen to Woodland because of the solar farms.

“You’re killing your town,” he said. “All the young people are going to move out.”

He said the solar farms would suck up all the energy from the sun and businesses would not come to Woodland.

The facility would be outside town limits, so there would be no particular gain to Woodland, though the town was offered $7000 a year to pay for fire-department training in solar-energy emergencies.

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Not quite off the grid

Old friend Dan Lovejoy (see this, for example) explains why distributed generation isn’t the cure-all everyone says it is:

People are going to be putting in their own solar panels left and right, which will definitely cut their power bills. But it won’t necessarily help with reliability. While photovoltaic (PV) solar power is getting cheaper and cheaper, battery prices are falling more slowly. And you really need a battery, a smart inverter which functions as a voltage source (if your battery does not) and solar PV to weather even a short outage. That’s right, solar panels on your house don’t work during a power outage. Crazy, I know, but you need all of the equipment I listed above to island from the grid in the event of an outage. (Actually, you don’t need solar at all if you have charged batteries during a short outage. But it makes sense to couple batteries with solar.)

(Emphasis added.) This is the first use I’ve seen of “island” as a verb.

Now in our latest Oklahoma ice storm, you wouldn’t have fared very well, even with a great solar/battery/inverter system because the days are short and it was mostly raining. But, you ask, what about wind power? Residential scale wind produces very little power, so that wouldn’t power much more than your TV. Also, it wasn’t windy over Thanksgiving.

Hardly renewable if it isn’t newable in the first place, am I right?

Still, in the absence of Cool New Stuff, people are screaming for all the power lines to be buried. I’m guessing I could get my line relocated underground for about $1000. The local utility has 800,000 customers, probably not all of whom can get their lines relocated underground for about $1000.

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This started out as a legitimate inquiry:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: What MPG does a 2004 Ford Expedition get?

And then it went downhill quickly:

Looking to buy an SUV and came across an ad for a 2004 Ford Expedition XLT NBX 5.4L 4WD. The first thing I wondered was what is it’s MPG? Online says it gets 14/18, but the same source says my Dakota gets 12/17 and it averages 16 mpg around town. I am hoping there is somebody out there who has/had one and knows the exact MPG … or what you get at least.

Anyone who believes there is such a thing as “exact MPG” deserves to get single-digit mileage. Or worse.

Incidentally, reports 12/16, so I have no idea what this character means by “online.”

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Existence on the margins

A gas station in northern Virginia explains how that $2.85 for a gallon of unleaded breaks down:

My one surviving brother, who runs a convenience store in the Texas Hill Country, has confirmed the profit margin, such as it is, on several occasions.

I’d like to see more of these around the country. The numbers will change slightly — except for the Federal excise tax, which is a constant 18.4 cents per gallon for now — but the overall breakdown would be about the same.

(Via Lisa De Pasquale.)

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The Gas Game (rebooted)

Last year about this time, I signed up for Oklahoma Natural Gas’s Voluntary Fixed-Price Plan, which guaranteed me a price of $5.349 per dekatherm no matter what the spot price might be. Since I pay only cursory attention to the spot price — and since ONG’s gas contracts can date to pretty much anywhere in the calendar — I have no good way of knowing how the Plan is going to work out a year in advance, so it’s pretty much a crapshoot based on a gut instinct, and let us not mix that metaphor further.

Spot price, as it happens, is hovering around $3. This means that at any given moment, ONG’s gas supply can be billed at anywhere from $2.99 to about twice that. This year’s Fixed Price offering is $3.751 for twelve months, which I’m going to take, based on last year’s experience:

Last winter [2013-14], which was a sumbitch by any standards, my worst-case consumption was 12.3 Dth over 32 days, including several days which dipped well below 10°F. At $5.349, including all the taxes and charges and fees and whatnot, this volume works out to about $110, which I consider in the bearable range.

Exclusive of all those taxes and charges and fees, 12.3 Dth would be $15-20 cheaper still. And spending less, I submit, has a great deal to recommend it.

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