Solar Boat

Two years ago when I bought my Hartley TS16 sail boat I dreamed of converting it to solar power. In January I installed a Torqueedo electric outboard and a 24V, 100AH Lithium battery back. That’s working really well. Next step was to work out a way to mount some surplus 200W solar panels on the boat. The idea is to (temporarily) detach the mast, and use the boat on the river Murray, a major river that passes within 100km of where I live in Adelaide, South Australia.

Over the last few weeks I worked with my friend Gary (VK5FGRY) to mount solar panels on the TS16. Gary designed and fabricated some legs from 40mm square aluminium:

With a matching rubber foot on each leg, the panels sit firmly on the gel coat of the boat, and are held down by ropes or octopus straps.

The panels maximum power point is at 28.5V (and 7.5A) which is close to the battery pack under charge (3.3*8 = 26.4V) so I decided to try a direct DC connection – no inverter or charger. I ran some tests in the back yard: each panel was delivering about 4A into the battery pack, and two in parallel delivered about 8A. I didn’t know solar panels could be connected in parallel, but happily this means I can keep my direct DC connection. Horizontal panels costs a few amps – a good example of why solar panels are usually angled at the sun. However the azimuth of the boat will be always changing so horizontal is the only choice. The panels are very sensitive to shadowing; a hand placed on a panel, or a small shadow is enough to drop the current to 0A. OK, so now I had a figure for panel output – about 4A from each panel.

This didn’t look promising. Based on my sea voyages with the Torqueedo, I estimated I would need 800W (about 30A) to maintain my target houseboat speed of 4 knots (7 km/hr); that’s 8 panels which won’t ft on my boat! However the current draw on the river might be different without tides, and waves, and I wasn’t sure exactly how many AH I would get over a day from the sun. Would trees on the river bank shadow the panels?

So it was off to Younghusband on the Murray, where our friend Chris (VK5CP) was hosting a bunch of Ham Radio guys for an extended Anzac day/holiday weekend. It’s Autumn here, with generally sunny days of about 23C. The sun is up from from 6:30am to 6pm.

Turns out that even with two panels – the solar boat was really practical! Over three days we made three trips of 2 hours each, at speeds of 3 to 4 knots, using only the panels for charging. Each day I took friends out, and they really loved it – so quiet and peaceful, and the river scenery is really nice.

After an afternoon cruise I would park the boat on the South side of the river to catch the morning sun, which in Autumn appears to the North here in Australia. I measured the panel current as 2A at 7am, 6A at 9am, 9A at 10am, and much to my surprise the pack was charged by 11am! In fact I had to disconnect the panels as the cell voltage was pushing over 4V.

On a typical run upriver we measured 700W = 4kt, 300W = 3.1kt, 150W = 2.5kt, and 8A into the panels in full sun. Panel current dropped to 2A with cloud which was a nasty surprise. We experienced no shadowing issues from trees. The best current we saw at about noon was 10A. We could boost the current by 2A by putting three guys on one side of the boat and tipping the entire boat (and solar panels) towards the sun!

Even partial input from solar can have a big impact. Lets say at 4 knots (30A) I can drive for 2 hours using 60% of my 100AH pack. If I back off the speed a little, so I’m drawing 20A, then 10A from the panels will extend my driving time to 6 hours.

I slept on the boat, and one night I found a paddle steamer (the Murray Princess) parked across the river from me, all lit up with fairy lights:

On our final adventure, my friend Darin (VK5IX) and I were entering Lake Carlet, when suddenly the prop hit something very hard, “crack crack crack”. My poor prop shaft was bent and my propeller is wobbling from side to side:

We gently e-motored back and actually recorded our best results – 3 knots on 300W, 10A from the panels, 10A to the motor.

With 4 panels I would have a very practical solar boat, capable of 4-6 hours cruising a day just on solar power. The 2 extra panels could be mounted as a canopy over the rear of the boat. I have an idea about an extended solar adventure of several days, for example 150km from Younghusband to Goolwa.

Reading Further

Engage the Silent Drive
Lithium Cell Amp Hour Tester and Electric Sailing

Lithium Cell Amp Hour Tester and Electric Sailing

I recently electrocuted my little sail boat. I built the battery pack using some second hand Lithium cells donated by my EV. However after 8 years of abuse from my kids and I those cells are of varying quality. So I set about developing an Amp-Hour tester to determine the capacity of the cells.

The system has a relay that switches a low value power resistor (OK some coat hanger wire) across the 3.2V cell terminals, loading it up at about 27A, roughly the cruise current for my e-boat. It’s about 0.12 ohms once it heats up. This gets too hot to touch but not red hot, it’s only 86W being dissipated along about 1m of wire. When I built my EV I used the coat hanger wire load trick to test 3kW loads, that was a bit more exciting!

The empty beer can in the background makes a useful insulated stand off. Might need to make more of those.

When I first installed Lithium cells in my EV I developed a charge controller for my EV. I borrowed a small part of that circuit; a two transistor flip flop and a Battery Management System (BMS) module:

Across the cell under test is a CM090 BMS module from EV Power. That’s the good looking red PCB in the photos, onto which I have tacked the circuit above. These modules have a switch than opens when the cell voltage drops beneath 2.5V.

Taking the base of either transistor to ground switches on the other transistor. In logic terms, it’s a “not set” and “not reset” operation. When power is applied, the BMS module switch is closed. The 10uF capacitor is discharged, so provides a momentary short to ground, turning Q1 off, and Q2 on. Current flows through the automotive relay, switching on the load to the battery.

After a few hours the cell discharges beneath 2.5V, the BMS switch opens and Q2 is switched off. The collector voltage on Q2 rises, switching on Q1. Due to the latching operation of the flip flip – it stays in this state. This is important, as when the relay opens, the cell will be unloaded and it’s voltage will rise again and the BMS module switch will close. In the initial design without a flip flop, this caused the relay to buzz as the cell voltage oscillated about 2.5V as the relay opened and closed! I need the test to stop and stay stopped – it will be operating unattended so I don’t want to damage the cell by completely discharging it.

The LED was inserted to ensure the base voltage on Q1 was low enough to switch Q1 off when Q2 was on (Vce of Q2 is not zero), and has the neat side effect of lighting the LED when the test is complete!

In operation, I point a cell phone taking time lapse video of the LED and some multi-meters, and start the test:

I wander back after 3 hours and jog-shuttle the time lapse video to determine the time when the LED came on:

The time lapse feature on this phone runs in 1/10 of real time. For example Cell #9 discharged in 12:12 on the time lapse video. So we convert that time to seconds, multiply by 10 to get “seconds of real time”, then divide by 3600 to get the run time in hours. Multiplying by the discharge current of 27(ish) Amps we get the cell capacity:

  12:12 time lapse, 27*(12*60+12)*10/3600 = 55AH

So this cells a bit low, and won’t be finding it’s way onto my boat!

Another alternative is a logging multimeter, one could even measure and integrate the discharge current over time. or I could have just bought or borrowed a proper discharge tester, but where’s the fun in that?


It was fun to develop, a few Saturday afternoons of sitting in the driveway soldering, occasional burns from 86W of hot wire, and a little head scratching while I figured out how to take the design from an expensive buzzer to a working circuit. Nice to do some soldering after months of software based DSP. I’m also happy that I could develop a transistor circuit from first principles.

I’ve now tested 12 cells (I have 40 to work through), and measured capacities of 50 to 75AH (they are rated at 100AH new). Some cells have odd behavior under load; dipping beneath 3V right at the start of the test rather than holding 3.2V for a few hours – indicating high internal resistance.

My beloved sail e-boat is already doing better. Last weekend, using the best cells I had tested at that point, I e-motored all day on varying power levels.

One neat trick, explained to me by Matt, is motor-sailing. Using a little bit of outboard power, the boat overcomes hydrodynamic friction (it gets moving in the water) and the sail is moved out of stall (like an airplane wing moving to just above stall speed). This means to boat moves a lot faster than under motor or sail alone in light winds. For example the motor was registering just 80W, but we were doing 3 knots in light winds. This same trick can be done with a stink-motor and dinosaur juice, but the e-motor is completely silent, we forgot it was on for hours at a time!

Reading Further

Electric Car BMS Controller
New Lithium Battery Pack for my EV
Engage the Silent Drive
EV Bugs

Engage the Silent Drive

I’ve been busy electrocuting my boat – here are our first impressions of the Torqueedo Cruise 2.0T on the water.

About 2 years ago I decided to try sailing, so I bought a second hand Hartley TS16; a popular small “trailer sailor” here in Australia. Since then I have been getting out once every week, having some very pleasant days with friends and family, and even at times by myself. Sailing really takes you away from everything else in the world. It keeps you busy as you are always pulling a rope or adjusting this and that, and is physically very active as you are clambering all over the boat. Mentally there is a lot to learn, and I started as a complete nautical noob.

Sailing is so quiet and peaceful, you get propelled by the wind using aerodynamics and it feels like like magic. However this is marred by the noise of outboard motors, which are typically used at the start and end of the day to get the boat to the point where it can sail. They are also useful to get you out of trouble in high seas/wind, or when the wind dies. I often use the motor to “un hit” Australia when I accidentally lodge myself on a sand bar (I have a lot of accidents like that).

The boat came with an ancient 2 stroke which belched smoke and noise. After about 12 months this motor suffered a terminal melt down (impeller failure and over heated) so it was replaced with a modern 5HP Honda 4-stroke, which is much quieter and very fuel efficient.

My long term goal was to “electrocute” the boat and replace the infernal combustion outboard engine with an electric motor and battery pack. I recently bit the bullet and obtained a Torqeedo Cruise 2kW outboard from Eco Boats Australia.

My friend Matt and I tested the motor today and are really thrilled. Matt is an experienced Electrical Engineer and sailor so was an ideal companion for the first run of the Torqueedo.

Torqueedo Cruise 2.0 First Impressions

It’s silent – incredibly so. Just a slight whine conducted from the motor/gearbox pod beneath the water. The sound of water flowing around the boat is louder!

The acceleration is impressive, better than the 4-stroke. Make sure you sit down. That huge, low RPM prop and loads of torque. We settled on 1000W, experimenting with other power levels.

The throttle control is excellent, you can dial up any speed you want. This made parking (mooring) very easy compared to the 4-stroke which is more of a “single speed” motor (idles at 3 knots, 4-5 knots top speed) and is unwieldy for parking.

It’s fit for purpose. This is not a low power “trolling” motor, it is every bit as powerful as the modern Honda 5HP 4-stroke. We did a A/B test and obtained the same top speed (5 knots) in the same conditions (wind/tide/stretch of water). We used it with 15 knot winds and 1m seas and it was the real deal – pushing the boat exactly where we wanted to go with authority. This is not a compromise solution. The Torqueedo shows internal combustion who’s house it is.

We had some fun sneaking up on kayaks at low power, getting to within a few metres before they heard us. Other boaties saw us gliding past with the sails down and couldn’t work out how we were moving!

A hidden feature is Azipod steering – it steers through more than 270 degrees. You can reverse without reverse gear, and we did “donuts” spinning on the keel!

Some minor issues: Unlike the Honda the the Torqueedo doesn’t tilt complete out of the water when sailing, leaving some residual drag from the motor/propeller pod. It also has to be removed from the boat for trailering, due to insufficient road clearance.

Walk Through

Here are the two motors with the boat out of the water:

It’s quite a bit longer than the Honda, mainly due to the enormous prop. The centres of the two props are actually only 7cm apart in height above ground. I had some concerns about ground clearance, both when trailering and also in the water. I have enough problems hitting Australia and like the way my boat can float in just 30cm of water. I discussed this with my very helpful Torqueedo dealer, Chris. He said tests with short and long version suggested this wasn’t a problem and in fact the “long” version provided better directional control. More water on top of the prop is a good thing. They recommend 50mm minimum, I have about 100mm.

To get started I made up a 24V battery pack using a plastic tub and 8 x 3.2V 100AH Lithium cells, left over from my recent EV battery upgrade. The cells are in varying conditions; I doubt any of them have 100AH capacity after 8 years of being hammered in my EV. On the day we ran for nearly 2 hours before one of the weaker cells dipped beneath 2.5V. I’ll sort through my stock of second hand cells some time to optimise the pack.

The pack plus motor weighs 41kg, the 5HP Honda plus 5l petrol 32kg. At low power (600W, 3.5 knots), this 2.5kWHr pack will give us a range of 14 nm or 28km. Plenty – on a huge days sailing we cover 40km, of which just 5km would be on motor.

All that power on board is handy too, for example the load of a fridge would be trivial compared to the motor, and a 100W HF radio no problem. So now I can quaff ice-cold sparkling shiraz or a nice beer, while having an actual conversation and not choking on exhaust fumes!

Here’s Matt taking us for a test drive, not much to the Torqueedo above the water:

For a bit of fun we ran both motors (maybe 10HP equivalent) and hit 7 knots, almost getting the Hartley up on the plane. Does this make it a Hybrid boat?


We are in love. This is the future of boating. For sale – one 5HP Honda 4-stroke.

New Lithium Battery Pack for my EV

Eight years ago I installed a pack of 36 Lithium cells in my EV. After about 50,000km and several near-death battery pack experiences (over discharge) the range decreased beneath a useful level so I have just purchased a new pack.

Same sort of cells, CALB 100AH, 3.2V per cell (80km range). The pack was about AUD$6,000 delivered and took an afternoon to install. I’ve adjusted my Zivan NG3 to cut out at an average of 3.6 v/cell (129.6V), and still have the BMS system that will drop out the charger if any one cell exceeds 4.1V.

The original pack was rated at 10 years (3000 cycles) and given the abuse we subjected it to I’m quite pleased it lasted 8 years. I don’t have a fail-safe battery management system like a modern factory EV so we occasionally drove the car when dead flat. While I could normally pick this problem quickly from the instrumentation my teenage children tended to just blissfully drive on. Oh well, this is an experimental hobby, and mistakes will be made. The Wright brothers broke a few wings……

I just took the car with it’s new battery pack for a 25km test drive and all seems well. The battery voltage is about 118V at rest, and 114V when cruising at 60 km/hr. It’s not dropping beneath 110V during acceleration, much better than the old pack which would sag beneath 100V. I guess the internal resistance of the new cells is much lower.

I plan to keep driving my little home-brew EV until I can by a commercial EV with a > 200km range here in Australia for about $30k, which I estimate will happen around 2020.

It’s nice to have my little EV back on the road.

Torturing the Clutch in my EV

My 17 year old son recently been given a drivers license, and has, like his sister before him, taken over my EV. Free driving (Dad pays the electricity bills) is kind of irresistible. And also like his sister before him – I was full of fear and angst. You see my EV is something of a prototype, and likes to be babied by it’s Creator. Lots of traps for the unwary. If you want an EV fit for general consumption talk to Tesla.

Sure enough, just 4 weeks later, I get “the phone call” from my son. The EV has died. Motor running but making nasty sounds and won’t move. Fortunately, it stopped a few blocks from home. I attended the scene, and all I could hear was a grating sound from the front. We pushed it home and I consulted my motor vehicle brains trusts (friends Kyle and Scott) who pronounced a likely transmission failure.

I prepared to drop the motor and gearbox, something I haven’t done since I blew up the armature 6 years ago. Looking forward to the project, as doing something mechanical is a welcome change in my lifestyle. Feeling determined as well, my EV must be kept running!

I was talking about the problem on the local repeater when Gary, VK5FGRY popped up and said he might be able to help. Gary has a fully equipped workshop and years of experience with car repairs. He also has the most important resource of all – time. Gary came around this morning at 9:30am to assess the situation. He suggested we make a start, so we could at least work out what the problem was.

Within a few hours the gearbox was on the ground and the problem found – a stripped spline in the hub of the clutch plate. The noise I could hear was the stripped spline being filed away by the (somewhat harder) gearbox input shaft. Gary also discovered a few minor issues with stripped or missing gearbox mounting bolts. Note the filings on the inside of the hub, and splines mostly gone:

This was a lucky escape – I thought I was up for a new gearbox ($500 second hand). We guessed the torque of the electric motor (200Nm, about twice that of the original infernal combustion engine) had caused the fault. Well it’s been Electric for 8 years and 50,000km, so I guess I can’t complain.

We headed out and bought a new clutch plate ($100), some bolts, and transmission oil. After a nice lunch of home made bread and condiments, we picked up the tools again and by 6pm my little EV was on the road! Yayyyyyyy. Thank you so much Gary!

Here is the clutch (purple) re-assembled and attached to the electric motor, just before the gearbox was re-installed. Silver metal is the adapter plate. Lots of cables all over the place:

It was a great day. Nice change from my usual keyboard and laptop filled life. Lovely summer day, working outside with the tools, getting a bit dirty (but not oily – this is an electric car so no grease under my bonnet). So much nicer to do it with good company – especially someone as experienced as Gary.

I do live an interesting life. What did you do today Dad? “I worked with a friend to fix a home brew Electric Car!”


My EV page

My EValbum page. Lots of pictures and technical stuff.

Self Driving Cars

I’m a believer in self driving car technology, and predict it will have enormous effects, for example:

  1. Our cars currently spend most of the time doing nothing. They could be out making money for us as taxis while we are at work.
  2. How much infrastructure and frustration (home garage, driveways, car parks, finding a park) do we devote to cars that are standing still? We could park them a few km away in a “car hive” and arrange to have them turn up only when we need them.
  3. I can make interstate trips laying down sleeping or working.
  4. Electric cars can recharge themselves.
  5. It throws personal car ownership into question. I can just summon a car on my smart phone then send the thing away when I’m finished. No need for parking, central maintenance. If they are electric, and driverless, then very low running costs.
  6. It will decimate the major cause of accidental deaths, saving untold misery. Imagine if your car knew the GPS coordinates of every car within 1000m, even if outside of visual range, like around a corner. No more t-boning, or even car doors opening in the path of my bike.
  7. Speeding and traffic fines go away, which will present a revenue problem for governments like mine that depend on the statistical likelihood of people accidentally speeding.
  8. My red wine consumption can set impressive new records as the car can drive me home and pour me into bed.

I think the time will come when computers do a lot better than we can at driving. The record of these cars in the US is impressive. The record for humans in car accidents dismal (a leading case of death).

We already have driverless planes (autopilot, anti-collision radar, autoland), that do a pretty good job with up to 500 lives at a time.

I can see a time (say 20 years) when there will be penalties (like a large insurance excess) if a human is at the wheel during an accident. Meat bags like me really shouldn’t be in control of 1000kg of steel hurtling along at 60 km/hr. Incidentally that’s 144.5 kJ of kinetic energy. A 9mm bullet exits a pistol with 0.519 kJ of energy. No wonder cars hurt people.

However many people are concerned about “blue screens of death”. I recently had an email exchange on a mailing list, here are some key points for and against:

  1. The cars might be hacked. My response is that computers and micro-controllers have been in cars for 30 years. Hacking of safety critical systems (ABS or EFI or cruise control) is unheard of. However unlike a 1980’s EFI system, self driving cars will have operating systems and connectivity, so this does need to be addressed. The technology will (initially at least) be closed source, increasing the security risk. Here is a recent example of a modern car being hacked.
  2. Planes are not really “driverless”, they have controls and pilots present. My response is that long distance commercial aircraft are under autonomous control for the majority of their flying hours, even if manual controls are present. Given the large number of people on board an aircraft it is of course prudent to have manual control/pilot back up, even if rarely used.
  3. The drivers of planes are sometimes a weak link. As we saw last year and on Sep 11 2001, there are issues when a malicious pilot gains control. Human error is also behind a large number of airplane incidents, and most car accidents. It was noted that software has been behind some airplane accidents too – a fair point.
  4. Compared to aircraft the scale is much different for cars (billions rather than 1000s). The passenger payload is also very different (1.5 people in a car on average?), and the safety record of cars much much worse – it’s crying out for improvement via automation. So I think automation of cars will eventually be a public safety issue (like vaccinations) and controls will disappear.
  5. Insurance companies may refuse a claim if the car is driverless. My response is that insurance companies will look at the actuarial data as that’s how they make money. So far all of the accidents involving Google driverless cars have been caused by meat bags, not silicon.

I have put my money where my mouth is and invested in a modest amount of Google shares based on my belief in this technology. This is also an ethical buy for me. I’d rather have some involvement in an exciting future that saves lives and makes the a world a better place than invest in banks and mining companies which don’t.

8 Mega Watts in your bare hands

I recently went on a nice road trip to Gippstech, an interstate Ham radio conference, with Andrew, VK5XFG. On the way, we were chatting about Electric Cars, and how much of infernal combustion technology is really just a nasty hack. Andrew made the point that if petrol cars had been developed now, we would have all sorts of Hazmat rules around using them.

Take refueling. Gasoline contains 42MJ of energy in every litre. On one of our stops we took 3 minutes to refuel 36 litres. That’s 42*36/180 or 8.4MJ/s. Now one watt is 1J/s, so that’s a “power” (the rate energy is moving) of 8.4MW. Would anyone be allowed to hold an electrical cable carrying 8.4MW? That’s like 8000V at 1000A. Based on an average household electricity consumption of 2kW, that’s like hanging onto the HT line supplying 4200 homes.

But it’s OK, as long as your don’t smoke or hold a mobile phone!

The irony is that while I was sitting on 60 litres of high explosive, spraying fumes along the Princes Highway and bitching about petrol cars I was enjoying the use of one. Oh well, bring on the Tesla charge stations and low cost EVs. Infrastructure, the forces of mass production and renewable power will defeat the evils of fossil fuels.

Reading Further

Energy Equivalents of a Krispy Kreme Factory.

Fuel Consumption of a Pedestrian Crossing

WTF Internal Combustion?

At the moment I’m teaching my son to drive in my Electric Car. Like my daughter before him it’s his first driving experience. Recently, he has started to drive his grandfathers pollution generator, which has a manual transmission. So I was trying to explain why the clutch is needed, and it occurred to me just how stupid internal combustion engines are.

Dad: So if you dump the clutch too early the engine stops.
Son: Why?
Dad: Well, a petrol engine needs a certain amount of energy to keep it running, for like compression for the next cycle. If you put too big a load on the engine, it doesn’t have enough power to move the car and keep the engine running.
Dad: Oh yeah and that involves a complex clutch that can be burnt out if you don’t use it right. Or an automatic transmission that requires a complex cooling system and means you use even more (irreplaceable) fossil fuel as it’s less efficient.
Dad: Oh, and petrol motors only work well in a very narrow range of RPM so we need complex gearboxes.
Dad thinks to himself: WTF internal combustion?

Electric motors aren’t like that. Mine works better at 0 RPM (more torque), not worse. When the car stops my electric motor stops. It’s got one moving part and one gear ratio. Why on earth would you keep using irreplaceable fossil fuels when stopped at the traffic lights? It just doesn’t make sense.

The reason of course is energy density. We need to store a couple of hundred km worth of energy in a reasonable amount of weight. Petrol has about 44 MJ/kg. Let see, one of my Lithium cells weighs 3.3kg, and is rated at 100AH at 3.2V. So thats (100AH)(3600 seconds/H)(3.2V)/(3kg)=0.386MJ/kg or about 100 times worse than petrol. However that’s not the whole story, an EV is about 85% efficient in converting that energy into movement while a dinosaur juice combuster is only about 15% efficient.

Anyhoo it’s now possible to make EVs with 500 km range (hello Tesla) so energy density has been nailed. The rest is a business problem, like establishing a market for smart phones. We’re quite good at solving business problems, as someone tends to get rich.

I mean, if we can make billions of internal combustion engines with 1000’s of moving parts, cooling systems, gearboxes, anti-pollution, fuel injection, engine management, controlled detonation of an explosive (they also make napalm out of petrol) and countless other ancillary systems I am sure human kind can make a usable battery!

Internal combustion is just a bad hack.

History is going to judge us as very stupid. We are chewing through every last drop of fossil fuel to keep driving to and from homes in the suburbs that we can’t afford, to buy stuff we don’t need, making plastic for gadgets we throw away, and flying 1000’s of km to exotic locations for holidays, and overheating the planet using our grandchildren’s legacy of hydrocarbons that took 75 million years to form.

Oh that’s right. It’s for the economy.

New Charger for my EV

On Sunday morning I returned home and plugged in my trusty EV to feed it some electrons. Hmm, something is wrong. No lights on one of the chargers. Oh, and the charger circuit breaker in the car has popped. Always out for adventure, and being totally incompetent at anything above 5V and 1 Amp, I connected it directly to the mains. The shed lights started to waver ominously. Humming sounds like a Mary Shelley novel. And still no lights on the charger.

Oh Oh. Since disposing of my nasty carbon burner a few years ago I only have one car and it’s the EV. So I needed a way to get on the road quickly.

But luck was with me. I scoured my local EV association web site, and found a 2nd hand Zivan NG3 charger, that was configured for a 120V lead acid pack. I have a 36 cell Lithium pack that is around 120V when charged. Different batteries have different charging profiles, for example the way current tapers. However all I really need is a bulk current source, my external Battery Management System will shut down the charger when the cells are charged.

Using some residual charge I EVed down the road where I met Richard, a nice man, fellow engineer, and member of our local EV association. I arranged to buy his surplus NG3, took it home and fired it up. Away it went, fairly hosing electrons into my EV at 20A. The old charger was just 10A so this is a bonus – my charging time will be halved. I started popping breakers again, as I was sucking 2.4kW out of the AC. So I re-arranged a few AC wires, ripped out the older chargers, rewired the BMS module loop a little and away I went with the new charger.

Here is the lash up for the initial test. The new Zivan NG3 is the black box on the left, the dud charger the yellow box on the right. The NG3 replaces the 96V dud charger and two 12V chargers (all wired in series) that I needed to charge the entire pack. My current clamp meter (so useful!) is reading 17A.

Old chargers removed and looking a bit neater. I still need to secure the NG3 somehow. My BMS controller is the black box behind the NG3. It shuts down the AC power to the chargers when the batteries signal they are full.

Pretty red lights in the early morning. Each Lithium cell has a BMS module across it, that monitors the cell voltage, The red light means “just about full”. When the first cell hits 4.1V, it signals the BMS controller to shut down the charger. Richard pointed out that the BMS modules are shunt regulators, so will discharge each cell back down to about 3.6V, ensuring they are all at about the same state of charge.

This is the only reason I go to petrol stations. For air. There is so little servicing on EVs that I forget to check the air for a year, some tyres were a bit low.

The old charger lasted 7 years and was used almost every day (say 2000 times) so I can’t complain. The NG3 was $875 2nd hand. Since converting to the Lithium pack in 2009 I have replaced the electric motor armature (about $900) as I blew it up from overheating, 2 cells ($150 ea) as we over discharged them, a DC-DC converter ($200 ish) and now this charger. Also tyres and brakes last year, which are the only wearing mechanical parts left. In that time I’ve done 45,000 electric km.

Electric Car Running Costs

While enjoying a coffee with my 18.5 year old daughter the other day I mentioned a friend’s car was for sale. At only $3,000 it seemed like a good deal. However then we started adding up the costs of running a car. She uses my EV all the time, so we decided to compare.

It occurred to me that my daughter is a pioneer – a young person who has done the majority of her driving in an EVs. She is making history.

I have been driving my EV for 5 years and 40,000 km so we have some long term data. Now my car is a recycled 23 year old carbon-burner, not one of the new breed of factory EVs. However I think the year-year maintenance would be about the same.

Annual running costs:

Item Infernal Combustion Electric
Registration $700 $700
3rd party Insurance $130 $130
Servicing $700 $0
Repairs $300 $300
Fuel/Electricity for 15,000 km $1,800 $900
Total (annual) $3,630 $2,030
Total (weekly) $69.80 $39.04

Assuming Petrol is $1.5/litre, ICE car does 8l/100km, electricity is $0.3/kWh, EV does 0.2kWh/km. If you save up the $2k/year you save with your EV for 2 years you can install a PV array. Now it costs $0 for electricity and we are down to $1,130/year or about 25% of the ICE vehicle. You aren’t ever going to make petrol on your roof for free, and with depleting fossil fuel reserves it will be forever getting more expensive. It’s non-renewable so every litre you use means one less for your grandchildren.

The average income for my daughters peer group (most of them studying) is $200/week. They generally have old cars that need constant repairs. Nothing goes wrong with EVs. If it does, it’s trivial to fix. Only wearing parts are brakes and tyres. No servicing. They don’t pollute.

That’s why she loves my EV.