Wednesday, July 6, 2022

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RVelectricity: The self-charging EV. (There’s no free lunch)

Dear Readers,
Wow! There are a lot of people interested in EV charging and driving costs. My article last week on putting a generator in the back of an EV to boost mileage has had more than 87,000 views already! Plus, there have been 34 comments and questions from our readers. If you didn’t see it last week, read it HERE.

I guess the skyrocketing cost of fuel is the main factor behind all these questions. I have limited experience driving and towing with electric vehicles. However, I’m working on getting a few more loaner EVs to test this summer. After all, to really understand how something works you need to test and verify the numbers.

Here are a few comments from last week:

Can generators in the wheels charge the batteries while driving?

Q: “These EV vehicles should have come with self-charging devices like others have on the braking and running of the wheels. Just think of the times all four wheels rotate and have a small alternator-type recharging system on each. Then you have no worries of running out of power.”

A: Actually, all EVs have motor/generators in the wheels, and this is what allows for regenerative braking when slowing to a stop or going down a grade. This technology does a great job of recovering perhaps 80% of the kinetic energy that otherwise would end up as heat in the brake pads or shoes. But TANSTAAFL (There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch). So having electric motors in two wheels and generators in the other two wheels will never make extra power. This is essentially like plugging your inverter into your battery charger and expecting to create extra energy.


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What about putting a free energy generator in my EV?

And the above question is essentially about a “free energy” generator that doesn’t exist. When I was 8 years old, I designed and built a free energy generator which consisted of an electric motor connected to a generator with pulleys that would then feed the generator output back into the electric motor.

I thought it would generate enough electricity to power my house and actually tied it into the fuse panel. But, of course it didn’t, and all I did was blow a bunch of fuses. Free energy generators didn’t work 60 years ago, and they don’t work now. And any videos you watch claiming to be free energy generators are just clickbait.

Why a gas generator in back of the EV won’t work

Q: “Hi, Mike. Everything is dependent on batteries these days. I think strip out the batteries altogether and go more direct. Run the EV or whatever electric vehicle it is with just a generator. It can’t be that hard and it would be cheaper than having to keep charging it up, and hanging around waiting and see how that works out.”

A: What makes an EV so much cheaper to drive is that electric motors are much more efficient than a gasoline engine. So the 75 to 100 kWH of batteries allows you to store energy that was cheaper to produce to begin with. Gasoline and diesel fuels take a lot of processing and transportation costs by the time they arrive at the pump. And then your vehicle is still only 30% efficient at turning that stored energy into driving it.

So putting a portable generator in the back of your EV in place of the batteries is the worst of all worlds. You now have a very inefficient generator without any emission controls powering highly efficient electric motors. Once the energy is lost, it’s lost.

Can this work at all?

What this does work for is a diesel/electric locomotive, where diesel engines with thousands of horsepower drive huge generators, which then power the traction motors/generators in the wheels.

But this really acts like an infinitely variable transmission that can transfer exactly the needed power to each wheel on the locomotive. And it also acts like an exhaust brake by feeding the wheel generator output while going down a big grade into huge resistor panels in the roof the locomotive engine. There’s no battery storage in a locomotive simply due to scale and cost.

So are EVs cheaper to run than an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle?

As I’ve written before, your mileage will vary (literally) depending on the local cost of electricity. If you pay 14 cents per kWh at your house, like I do, then an EV can cost less than 1/3 of what a gasoline engine needs at the pump. But some states like California can cost in excess of 40 cents per kWh, so it may not be much of a savings compared to gas or diesel, unless you put enough solar panels on the roof of your garage to charge your EV.


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What about internal combustion engine (ICE) maintenance costs?

And don’t forget about all the additional costs for ICE vehicles of regular oil changes, transmission and differential fluid, antifreeze flush and other ICE maintenance items not in an EV. I just got a $1,129.70 quote for my wife’s Kia Sorento for its 30,000-mile recommended maintenance schedule covering those above items (not including the oil change, which was on top of that). Here are some of the things they want me to pay for at the next service interval. Yikes!

Yes, the batteries in an EV will be expensive to replace, but many of the EV manufacturers are offering 100,000 mile battery warranties. And the brakes in an electric vehicle will last a lot longer since much of that kinetic energy can be used to recharge the batteries rather than heating up your brake. And that heat from your friction brakes is lost energy.

So are EVs a clear winner yet?

Not yet, because there’s still a lot of challenges to be overcome such as enough charging stations, renewable energy production and material availability (such as lithium for the batteries). But clearly the manufacturer push is in that direction.

I firmly believe that the American engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs who invented 3-phase power, mass production of automobiles and the internet are up to the challenge. I’m watching this closely, as so many of you apparently are, and I will keep you updated.

Let’s play safe out there….

Send your questions to me at my new RVelectricity forum here.

Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 50+ years in the industry. His excellent book RV Electrical Safety is available at Amazon.com. For more info on Mike’s qualifications as an electrical expert, click here.

For information on how to support RVelectricity and No~Shock~Zone articles, seminars and videos, please click the I Like Mike Campaign.

##RVT1053

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Wolfe Rose
1 month ago

I have some sense of the scaling issues, but do you have any rough figures to explain why the diesel-electric approach WON’T work for (modest battery) EV cars like it does with locomotives? People make the mistake of buying “extreme range” EVs for their once-annual drive cross-country, but I sometimes wonder how bad a small diesel generator charging at steady-RPM, maximum torque range would actually be? Obviously, genny could be sized half of realtime driving wattage (doubling range) since arriving fully charged is not a requirement. Current fuel prices are intentionally screwed up, so I’m looking for “if fuel resumed sane rates” type figures.

Last edited 1 month ago by Wolfe Rose
Mike Sokol
1 month ago

I’m now doing a casual study of Small Modular Reactor (SMR) nuclear power plants which could provide an interim power solution for local power grids needing to charge EV batteries. Of course, SMR operational safety and waste disposal are the two main concerns, but this is a technology worth exploring.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_modular_reactor

Richard Hubert
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Sokol

Great! Cannot wait to see what you uncover in this research as it seems to hold much potential. In my limited research what I have not really learned much about was how efficient these small plants are compared to much larger plants. But assuming there is not a huge efficiency penalty one benefit these small plants can offer is they can help reduce electrical losses which our current high voltage power lines have. Because smaller plants can be built closer to cities with high demand they can help relieve some problems with the current electrical grid.

EdG
1 month ago

On the point of the ICE Dealer’s recommended maintenance, many of them unjustifiable make the most out of ICE systems that need regular service: There’s a costly difference between the Manufacturer’s Recommended Service and the the Dealer’s Recommended Service. For example I currently own a Subaru. One local dealer publishes their own recommended intervals for a service sheet. Dealer says, replace engine and cabin air filter every 15,000 miles, Subaru manual says every 30,000; Fuel filter, Dealer 30,000, Subaru manual every 72,000; Front and rear differential fluid & tranny fluid, Dealer every 30,000 Subaru “Inspect” every 30,000 and only replace under severe driving conditions; Thermostat and coolant, Dealer every 30,000, Subaru 11 years. The list goes on. Fed up, I went to another local dealer and it was much of the same. When I confront them of the difference between their service intervals and the car manufacturer’s, they claim “These numbers are based on our experience.”

Mike Sokol
1 month ago
Reply to  EdG

That’s what I suspected as well. This particular dealership does a high-pressure up-sell every time we go in for an oil change. The Kia manual that came with the car has much longer service intervals.

Wolfe Rose
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Sokol

They are being completely honest with you… “In their experience,” they make a lot more money if they push services at double the real interval… 😀

Wayne C
1 month ago

Then there will be the eventual road tax on EV’s to keep the highway system funded.

Tom
1 month ago
Reply to  Wayne C

Alabama adds $400 for pure EV, and $100 for hybrid to tag fees for vehicles. I expect this to increase as numbers increase. Logic is replacing lost gas taxes.

Mike Sokol
1 month ago
Reply to  Wayne C

I’m sure that will happen. Death and taxes, etc….

Spike
1 month ago

Mike, what was the cost difference between your wife’s ICE KIA and an equivalent EV?

I am not against EVs. I believe it is necessary to pursue and improve this technology. But I also had a long career in Accounting, Finance, and Cost Engineering. Total lifecycle cost, including all initial investments, operational costs, disposal costs, etc. are what count.

Those solar panels you mention aren’t free, though the cost is coming down. And of course the KIA dealer wants you to pay for all those services at 30k miles…but are all those really necessary at that milage level and is the dealership even competitive? I’ve read that Lithium mines can be an environmental issue as well…perhaps not as much as fracking will prove to be.

Has anyone done a truly independent total cost analysis?

Warren G
1 month ago
Reply to  Spike

Consumer Reports has done cost analysis on several comparable passenger vehicles. The initial higher upfront cost of an EV is more than offset over the lifetime of the car by significantly lower costs of charging versus gas and much lower maintenance costs.

Mike Sokol
1 month ago
Reply to  Spike

No real study that I know of and trust. As far as lithium mining, if the Salton Sea Lithium Extraction Pilot program works, we could have all the Lithium we need while reducing the environmental impact of current mining practices by 95%.
Read this for what I know so far: https://www.rvtravel.com/rv-electricity-salton-sea-lithium/

Last edited 1 month ago by Mike Sokol
TexasScout
1 month ago

My work truck is a 2016 Toyota Tundra (310,000 miles BTW), this week I pulled into the gas station with 40 miles “left to empty” on the dash. I spent less than 5 minutes filling up and when I took off the dash said 465 “miles to empty” on it. When and until you can do that with an EV, they will be of viable use to the working and sales world. As for the RV world, just forget it.

Last edited 1 month ago by TexasScout
Mike Sokol
1 month ago
Reply to  TexasScout

Actually, I think that’s a possibility…. just not anytime soon. Consider Moore’s Law for computers:
“ Moore’s Law refers to Gordon Moore’s perception that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every two years, though the cost of computers is halved. Moore’s Law states that we can expect the speed and capability of our computers to increase every couple of years, and we will pay less for them.”
The same type of relationship applies to battery technology, albeit with more jumps rather than a steady climb.
I’ve looked at a number of battery density/weight/cost graphs which by 2030 predict a 3-fold increase in battery energy density at 1/3 of the current cost. So that could mean 1,000 mile EV range. Plus there are a number of charging technologies that have already demonstrated 15 minute recharging time.
Of course, decentralized energy sources are needed, as well as a charging infrastructure. Remember that America designed and built 3-phase power generation and distribution that the rest of the world adopted (at Niagara Falls). Our power distribution system is badly in need of an upgrade since much of it is 100 years old. None of this infrastructure upgrade will be cheap or easy, but I think it’s long past due.

Bob p
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Sokol

Right and just like Elon Musk said the present grid will not support massive EV sales. I’m sure part of his statement was to discourage people from buying competition cars, but he spoke the truth about the grid. I don’t see any power companies scrambling to spend millions of dollars on upgrading their part of the grid. Until that happens EVs will remain great commuters but not serious competition for ICE. AS Texas Scout said until an EV can be recharged in the time it takes to refill the gas tank, it will remain a fad that certain people buy just because it’s new.

Mike Sokol
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob p

Elon is my favorite mad scientist, but I don’t believe everything he says. However, I do believe he’s correct about the US power grid not supporting an immediate switch to EV charging.
But no matter what happens, it will probably take at least 10 years for the current ICE vehicles on the road to age out… This is not going to happen overnight.

Joe
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Sokol

In the year 2000 US Electric Utilities spent approximately $9 billion dollars in Operation & Maintenance (O&M), in 2020 they spent $40 billion dollars, that’s quadrupled in 20 years!.  This investment was not only on O&M but also investment in new power lines, the break down is about 60/40 in new transmission spending.  Depending on where you live the power grid could be worse off. As EV’s sales start increasing of course the demand will be increasing where will the power come from? In my area one 800 mw/ hour plant has permanently shut down and in a few years there will be another 3 unit plant producing apx. 1,600 mega watts/hour that I worked at will be shutting down in a few years, that’s a total of 2,400 mw/hour. Solar and wind will not be able to keep up with that and as far as I know there are no plans for replacement power. Gaven Newsom is now asking the NRC to extend the Diablo Canynon Nuclear Plant closing date beyond 2024 and 2025 because California needs the 2,250 mw of power. The plant sits on and near major faults, next to the Pacific Ocean and has been on the radar for many years to shut down.

Richard Hubert
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Sokol

I agree, but I think the real issue is that the free market needs to be left alone to do what it does best – experiment, innovate, invent, evolve, etc. There are obviously a lot of financial incentives to improving technology within many energy sectors – including batteries (energy storage), power generation, power transmission, H2 generation, electrical efficiencies in motors, generators, etc.etc. But it seems the government is only interested in pushing wind and solar, in spite of their high costs, unreliability, lack of universal application, inability to store any of their generated power, use of land, danger to local wildlife, etc. What I am saying is that the free market has shown unique abilities to progress technology, provide innovation and new products without government directing it to do so. Hence – development of computers, invention of cell phones and truly workable EVs. They should stop pushing 2 limited technologies at the expense of many other possible technologies. The free market will provide ample rewards to those who can make this happen – just look at Steve J and Elon as only 2 examples.

captain gort
1 month ago
Reply to  TexasScout

spot on

mike h
1 month ago

We have recently been installing car chargers for homes and car dealers. There’s a lot to know about EVs and the different charger levels, and the cost associated with each. The price of installing a level 2 charger can be into the thousands, depending on your home’s electrical system. 1 dealer that we work with will have us look at the installation and include that cost into the car loan, if the customer desires. Another not-so-known fact is that built into the car’s computer, there is a system that will not allow you to charge to 100% on a level 1 or 2 charger. A level 3 charger for home use is nearly impossible, unless your home has a 400volt+ service (yes, volts). And then we have the customers who don’t understand why we can’t install 2 Tesla 80 amp chargers on their 100 amp service. It also seems that the mileage testing was done in 70° weather on flat roads. Here in Pa, the mileage isn’t near as stated. There is a lot of growing needed in the EV industry.

Diane Mc
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Sokol

Californian here, sadly. We can’t even keep the grid running during our summers, which are pretty mild, all things considered. One year we had 6 or 7 days of 100ish, which is rare. Most 70’s/80’s with cool nights. What happens when everyone plugs in after coming home from work? Oh wait…we’ve been asked to not use power between 6pm and 10pm. How’s that going to work? I have no issue with EV’s. Loved my son’s Model S (which he sold and got an Ford Raptor. He/family moves from CA to TX in 2 weeks). We need new technology nuclear plants. Which will never happen in California with the current political powers that be.

Diane Mc
1 month ago
Reply to  Diane Mc

Forgot. CA is banning natural gas for new homes/remodels. So will need electric water heaters, stove tops/ovens, furnaces (ours are all gas). More electric to go with plugging in the car(s). If we weren’t old we’d move. May still do it, especially with son moving to Texas. Brother moved to AZ last November. Hairdresser/friend just arrived in Colorado. Her daughter & grandson with her. Beautiful state with beautiful weather with increased crime, major homeless and drug problem, highest taxes, home prices off the charts, bullet train going nowhere overrunning costs by billions.

Wolfe Rose
1 month ago
Reply to  Diane Mc

Let’s hypothetically say the government wanted the ability to switch off undesirables’ ablility to cook/heat/cool/light/travel instantaneously. Sounds like a good idea, right? No more long-distance pursuits of criminals, no more armed standoffs like Waco or Ruby Ridge, because we could just instantly starve those whackos right out and get them with the program. Of course, that sounds like delusional conspiracy theory, which is why that intent is written expressly right into the Build It Better plans… Ban natural and LP gas, ban clean woodstoves, ban private wells and septic fields (as much as possible), require electric cars. These are bullet items on the list. Oh, and ban bullets too.

And yes, everyone paying any attention fully expects this forced electrification to cause rolling blackouts… that’s just basic math. Luckily, we will have the government to step in and “help” the people who are affected by all this centralized strong-arming…

Joe
1 month ago
Reply to  mike h

I have been saying this for the last several years. Even a 200 amp service on an all electric home depending on the season and time of day would be taxed with charging a single EV with a level 2 charger and 2 EV’s could be impossible. Some seasoned home electricians fail to incorporate the 80% rule of power when installing branch circuits, never fill a conduit more that 80% and never load a circuit more than 80%. An average homeowner or handyman with some knowledge of electricity and not knowing the rule could be setting up the home for an electrical fire.
My son lives in Denver Colorado and has a business renovating and building gas stations. For the last several years he has been offering an option to install the conduits for EV chargers while the ground is opened up. He has now stopped offering it as an option on his bids due to running into a brick wall. He also has installed EV chargers in other locations. However, he said it’s a slow business.

Mike Sokol
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe

I’m reasonably sure that a 200-amp residential service can handle a 40-amp Level-2 charger overnight. And charging rates can be adjusted to decrease the charge current to have your vehicle fully charged by 7:30am or whenever you need to leave for work.

Joe
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Sokol

I agree however will most people be that smart to charge overnight? As you well know all home electrical services depend on duty cycle and not everything being on at one time, however in an all electrical home with 2-3 kids it would not be uncommon to have showers going with electric hot water heater working, a well pump (I live rural) a dryer running, mom cooking on a cook top with a separate oven going and the heat pump cycling on and off and other miscellaneous loads. Been there watching the meter just about spin off the wall. Now plug in the EV and one could quickly be into the 200 amp service factor.

Mike Sokol
1 month ago
Reply to  mike h

Actually, 480-volt 3-phase power is very common in industrial plants. And that’s what Level-3 chargers need to operate.

mike h
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Sokol

And we had to install 480 at a dealer. The electric company had to upgrade their transformers to do it. It took 5 months to get the transformers.

Mike Sokol
1 month ago
Reply to  mike h

I plan on more road testing as soon as I get another loaner EV. I’m located in central Maryland just 5 miles from the PA border and have lots of grades (Sidling Hill for example) for test drives.

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