Electrical System Vehicle

Powering Your Electric Car With Solar – The Ins and Outs

November 23rd, 2017

It seems like electric vehicles (EV) are producing a lot of buzz lately! From President Obama visiting an electric vehicle battery plant in Michigan to Nissan reporting it has over 16,000 reservations for its new plug-in vehicle, there is no stopping this new electric car! According to the Department of Energy’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Department of Energy will help deploy 13,000 new, grid-connected vehicles and put 20,000 charging stations in residential, commercial and public locations nationwide during the next few years 1. What will the era of the electric car bring? While the electric automobile could indeed free us from dependence on foreign oil and save us a few bucks at the pump, it could also represent the dawn of a cleaner, greener source of transportation. One of the main ways electric cars can be truly green is to have them be solar-powered.

Here at Cool Green Solar, we have specifically designed some of our customers’ solar electric systems to suit the needs of an electric vehicle. That might seem a little premature, but according to Douglas Greenhaus of the National Automobile Association, most electric car owners will rely primarily on home charging stations. Electric vehicles either require a slow charge which takes 4-6 hours or a fast charge at a charging station which takes 15 minutes. While the infrastructure for these fast-charging stations is developing rapidly, home charging will still be the focus of the electric vehicle owner. That means that owners of the electric vehicle may need to upgrade their residential electric systems.

What better and more affordable way to do that than with solar? The utility company charges more for larger amounts of consumption, but a solar system drastically offsets the electric usage, thereby reducing one’s bill. In addition, the payback period for an investment in solar is usually between 4-9 years. Imagine the benefits of having a solar electric system that is not only powering your house but your vehicle as well! You can eliminate two major bills in your household with the application of solar energy.

1 Department of Energy, The Recovery Act: Transforming America’s Transportation Sector, Batteries and Electric Vehicles, July, 14, 2010.

How Safe Are Electric Cars?

November 21st, 2017

Safety is a top concern for everyone. Understandably so. With the staggering number of accidents and deaths on our road systems, it’s a wonder we even have the guts to get out of bed in the morning, let alone hop in a self-guided, land-bound missile made of metal and glass and full of combustible liquid — only to merge onto a freeway teeming with thousands of other similar missiles, all going to different locations. (Bet you never thought about driving to work in those frightening terms before).

The point is, we’ve grown accustomed to the safety measures that have been adopted over the years to make sure we don’t run into each other on the road (although some people still haven’t learned them yet). We are oblivious of the painstaking measures that manufacturers take to make sure our gas tank doesn’t explode, or the door doesn’t fall off or accidentally open, or the wheels don’t fall off, or that the brakes actually bring the car to a stop before we hit the car in front of us. The quiet comfort of the cockpit has lulled us into a blase attitude toward normal highway speeds. Even the speeds we travel in our neighborhood would be nerve-racking, if not terrifying if we were on roller skates.

So how do we relate with new technologies as they enter our normal transportational lives? We panic! “OMG, is it safe?” We eye it with careful suspicion and ask the begging question: “what happens if I crash?” These are relevant questions, especially if you’re talking about a home-built or converted EV.

So how safe is an electric vehicle (EV)? Does it emit fumes? No. Does it require special attention? Not really. Does it drive differently? Not especially. What happens when you crash? About the same thing as any other vehicle. The main difference is that there are no combustible liquids to deal with. This should be a relief to everyone, especially emergency response and rescue workers. About the only things to consider in an accident are the batteries — still the EV’s equivalent to the gas tank. If it uses lead-acid batteries, then at worst there will be a corrosive fluid to deal with if the acid leaks, with a slight chance of a small fire. But nothing is going to approach the kind of explosion we’re accustomed to seeing on TV when a car crashes. In fact most modern EVs use either a sealed, or gel battery fluid, in which case there is little to worry about. If you go to the extra expense of getting high-tech batteries, such as Lithium Ion (Li-ion), make sure you get them from a reputable dealer, preferably one that knows what you are going to do with them and approves them for that use. Li-ion cells need to be stacked together efficiently so as to distribute heat well.

OK, so there’s a lot of voltage sitting under you. That’s something to consider. Can I get electrocuted? Not likely, but you could get a really bad shock if there aren’t some safety measures in place. And there is the remote chance of a fire if there is a short in the system somewhere (but that’s the case with anything electrical, including the electrical system in your car right now). A good electric vehicle design includes in-line fuses, isolators and emergency disconnects as safety precautions. This is electricity we’re dealing with. Don’t go poking around if you don’t know what you’re doing. But don’t worry, a good electric car kit or conversion plan will include the necessary safety measures.

Lead-acid batteries may need to be vented in case of overcharge, but safeguards in the design will eliminate any problems there. For example: If you are converting your own vehicle, don’t mount your batteries in the passenger compartment; or if you absolutely have to, make sure to attach a venting system with a fan that will draw any possible noxious gases out of the vehicle. You need not worry about this if your batteries are mounted under the hood or under the body with direct venting to the outside. A carefully calibrated charging system will all but eliminate the possibility of overheating the batteries, which will extend the life of your batteries. Again, a good kit, book or plan will cover this.

The other possible safety issue in an EV is weight. Batteries are heavy. Again, we’re talking mainly about lead-acid variety, since they are most readily available at this time. A lot of lead-acid batteries means a lot of lead, which means a lot of weight. Weight poorly distributed can cause a vehicle to handle poorly, corner badly or wear parts down prematurely. In other words, if you are converting a vehicle to electric, don’t mount your batteries on the roof (duh), and keep the weight ratio as close as possible to the original specifications. In general, keeping the center of gravity low and… well, centered… will keep your vehicle upright and handling properly. Replacing the suspension and the brakes with new ones, and maybe a little beefier will also help. If done right, an electric vehicle can actually have less of a chance for rollover if the weight is mounted low.

Introducing new technology always makes people a little nervous, especially when it comes to safety. But remember, there is no combustible fluid to worry about, so in that case, I would consider an electric car safer than an ICE, or even other alternative fuels for that matter. Other than that a new or converted EV is about the same as any other car. Sure, it may feel a little different (smoother) and sound a little different (quieter), but I think we can get used to that.

Electrical Repairs Demystified – How to Troubleshoot Your Vehicle Charging System

November 19th, 2017

Vehicle charging systems haven’t changed much over the last few decades. But with the increasing complexity of the modern automobile, along with the addition of many aftermarket accessories such as cell phones, DVD players, high-power audio systems, alarms etc., the role of the charging system is now more important than ever.

The charging system on your vehicle can be thought of as a small power plant which does exactly what its name implies – charges and maintains a good state of charge on the battery. The charging system will normally consist of two major components: An Alternator which actually supplies the necessary electrical current in order to charge the battery, and a Voltage Regulator. The latter insures that the system does not overcharge the battery, and that the correct system voltage is maintained. Most vehicles produced within the last 20-30 years use a voltage regulator which is an integral part of the alternator itself. This article assumes that your vehicle uses this type of alternator.

If your vehicle is showing symptoms such as dim lighting, “dragging” during engine starts, or frequent dead batteries, then the charging system may be at fault. Although it may seem obvious, the first item to test is the battery itself. A defective battery in an otherwise healthy electrical system can cause any of the above mentioned symptoms. Testing the battery is a simple procedure, and can performed quickly by most auto parts stores, repair shops, dealers, and even some large department stores. You can also perform the test yourself if you have access to a Battery Load Tester, a device which is made for the purpose. The load tester works by placing a specific amount of electrical load on the battery for a specific amount of time while monitoring the available battery voltage. The battery should be fully charged before the test in order to insure accurate test results.

Assuming that the battery is known to be good, then the next item to check is the battery terminals – the actual points at which the battery is connected into the electrical system. It is very important that these connections are clean and tight. This simple thing is often overlooked as a source of trouble, and is also a frequent cause of such trouble. Visually inspect the terminals, and clean and/or tighten them if needed. To clean, use a small, stiff wire brush or a terminal cleaner which is made for the purpose. You can buy these at nearly any auto supply store, and most hardware stores. You will also need an appropriate sized wrench with which to remove the battery terminals. Important: Always disconnect the negative (-) battery terminal first, and reconnect it last. This will help to keep from shorting the battery while connecting or disconnecting the terminals and possibly causing damage and/or personal injury.

If the battery terminals are clean and tight, then the next item to check is drive belt tension. If the belt which drives the alternator is too loose, then the alternator will not produce enough electrical current to keep up with demand. Many modern vehicles utilize a single belt which drives the alternator and other accessories. This system usually also has an automatic belt tensioner which always maintains correct tension and is not adjustable. If your vehicle uses a wide, multigrooved or so-called “Serpentine” belt to drive the alternator, then it likely also has an automatic tensioning device.

If your vehicle does not use an automatic tensioning device, then check belt tension as follows: With the engine turned off, grasp the belt at a convenient point about 8 to 10 inches from the alternator pulley. Move the belt slowly up and down. The belt should not move more than about 1/2 inch. If the belt seems to be excessively loose, then of course it will require tightening and/or replacement.

If belt tension is correct, then the next item to check is the alternator itself. You now have two choices – you can test the alternator yourself with a simple test using a voltmeter, or you can have the test performed by a professional. If you choose to do the test yourself, then you will need a DC voltmeter, or a multimeter. Such a unit can be purchased at most auto supply stores, hardware stores, department stores, home improvement stores, etc.

The test procedure is quite simple. Set the meter to read DC volts, and set the correct range if needed. Some meters will select the correct range automatically. Nearly all meters will come with instructions on how to set them to read DC volts. Next, connect the meter across the vehicle battery, positive (+) to positive (+) and negative (-) to negative (-).

With the engine running at a moderate idle – say 1200 to 1500 RPM, the meter should read approximately 13.8 to 14.8 volts and be steady. If the reading is substantially outside these figures and all other items mentioned have been tested and verified good, then the alternator is likely defective.

By having done the simple tests which are outlined in this article and further isolating the cause of your charging system trouble, you can often save money at the repair shop by specifying which part(s) need to be repaired or replaced.