Saturday, October 29, 2011

It takes a lot of energy to make gas.. A Bright Idea...part four.

It takes 6 kwh of energy to refine one gallon of gasoline to drive one car 22 miles. 

250 million electric cars (our US total of cars and trucks)  can drive all year without one new kwh of electricity generated.  Read on!

I don’t know about your home, but ours has approximately 150 light bulbs inside and out. Gone are the days when a square room had one bulb in the middle of the room and the outside of the home had one porch light.

So here’s a quick and easy way to fuel your electric car for the next 30 years, I love the dimmable LED bulbs that Home Depot sells.

50 Dimmable LED bulbs at Home Depot = $500

Each LED bulb is comparable to a 50 watt incandescent bulb. (it’s much brighter than a 40 watt bulb)

Each LED bulb saves 41 watts an hour.

Assuming the bulb is illuminated for four hours a day on average, each bulb would save you 164 watts a day, approximately 60 kwh a year.

50 bulbs would save you 3000kwh of electricity a year.

The 3000 kwh you saved by replacing the 50 incandescent light bulbs, will drive a BMW ActiveE 12,000 miles a year for 30 years which is the rated lifetime of the LED bulb.  (46 years or 50,000 hours)

You can drive an electric car 12,0000 miles per year for $16.66 per year of saved electricity. (The $500 in light bulbs divided by 30 years)

In an equivalent gasoline car the cost of gas would be about $2,000 per year or $90,000 (assumes 3% annual increase) for 30 years.

Another interesting electricity factoid is that just four 100 watt light bulbs on 24 hours a day will use more electricity in a year than driving an electric car 12,000 miles a year.
Did I mention that our country exports its weath and is dependent on imported oil?
Did I mention that these LED lightbulbs are made in the USA?

In Summary,

We don’t need to generate a single watt of new electricity in this country to fuel our entire electric vehicle fleet. Simply by using more efficient light bulbs, appliances, and electronic equipment like computers, TV’s and DVR’s in our 114 million households as well as our stores, offices and factories we can save more electricity than the electric cars will use.

It truly is that simple.

It’s your choice,
$16 a year to save the electricity or $2000 for gasoline.
50 light bulbs or 15,000 gallons of gasoline.


Mini-E #183 34,000 sunshine powered miles

Mini-E Diary, June 12th 2009: Driving on Sunshine

It's getting to be sentimental time as I contemplate returning Mini-E #183 in a few weeks and accepting the new BMW ActiveE. What was supposed to be a one year test drive for me, has turned into a guy-car love affair with the Mini-E over 2.5 years and has resulted in an altered view on life and our future.

 Nearing the end of the Mini-E trial, I once again love cars and the joy of driving, that passion was lost for over 20 years. My views on our collective future are very optimistic as I can see a clear path towards energy independence, cleaner and healthier cities and a much lower cost of driving.

For me, the Mini-E is more than just a hugely successful field trial of a car technology, it is an answer to questions far beyond just the car, that have concerned me about our future.

I am sure we will love our ActiveE; however the Mini-E will always be the car that altered my views on driving fun and an optimistic future. It belongs in a museum like the San Diego Automotive Museum, if it can no longer stay in my garage.

The Mini-E is the best and most fun car I have driven in my 34 years in the driver’s seat. I have driven the Mini-E more miles per year than any other car in those 34 years. So much for range anxiety and a limited functionality.

After two and half years and 34,000 miles, the words of my first post in June 2009 (see below) still ring true, a deeper truth based on a longer tenure.

Put that magic in a bottle and sell it to the world BMW.

June, 12th, 2009

WEEK 1: The tires struggle to maintain their thin connection to asphalt as you mash the pedal to the floor, racing down the freeway onramp from 20mph to 80mph in a knats breath of time. BMW/Mini has detuned the drive train so as not to let their drivers do something really stupid, or break the test mule that is the Mini Cooper. The car is on the perpetual edge of control, tires sounding off, steering wheel twitching as there is so much power and torque in that speed range.

The car is ultra responsive letting you get a little out of line but not to far as BMW has the Dynamic Stability Control permanently on (smart move on their part.) You are not driving a typical small car and the sooner you realize that you have a beast underneath you that requires your full attention as if on a race track, the better off you are.

Cruising the freeway at 60 you turn off the stereo so you can hear the quiet. You decide to pass a truck. Damn! That is the first thought that comes to mind as in ‘torque now” and loads of it as the car aggressively assumes the spot in front of the truck.

Before I go any farther, I should clarify that it is very easy to drive the Mini-E like a regular car, really no different than a gas car, (except no gas, brake pads, rotors, oil changes, transmission work ….) and you don’t need what it can give you in spades to simple cruise from point A to point B. Why would you drive like that? OK now that the “car is normal” disclaimer is over, back to the fun world!

Driving as an enthusiast the car gets about 90 miles per charge with 10 miles in reserve. Driving freeway speeds 65 to 75, the car gets 110 miles per charge and in the city about 130 to 140. Charging at home is an hour to a couple of hours typical as I plug the car in a 50% or lower state of charge. A quick 30 minute top off gives me an additional 25 miles.

I have range anxiety!

In my G35 I drove about 18 mile a day, In My Mini-E I drive about 80 miles a day, I am anxious that I may never be able to drive the short range of 18 miles again. It’s a trip to Space Mountain only ten times better every morning as I simply must sneak in a 20 minute drive around the lagoon on twisty roads while the wife is in the bath preparing for her work day.

Driving around the lagoon which is located on the Pacific Flyway migratory bird route, you literally hear the birds! It is an unreal experience to drive on a fun twisty road with windows down and hear the birds! OK it sounds corny but when you drive full electric new experiences come to your senses and you notice them immediately.

I’m driving on sunshine, sunshine that powers my home and provides the sun fuel for my Mini-E. Try that in a gas car!

I am liberated, dependent no longer on the mandatory drug of oil from foreign land. I invite you to join me. For more info on the car and home,

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Thanks for reading and commenting!

A record day yesterday for this blog.  More and more people are interested in electric cars such as the Mini-E and they're  interested in saving energy and energy security.  Thanks for reading, it's why I write :)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Solar Energy Beats Gasoline By A “Clean Country Mile” It takes a lot of energy to make gas... Part three.

Continuing on with my financial analysis of the energy cost to power gasoline and electric cars.

As you know by now, I power my BMW Electric Mini-E by solar energy. I drive on sunshine. My overall system size is 7.5kw and that system powers both our home and car. It is a balanced energy use and energy generation solution, We generate 11,700KWH a year and we use 11,700KWH per year.

Each KW of a solar PV system cost approximately $3700 when part of an average sized residential system. The space required for that one KW is about 60 sq feet, about half the size of a small bedroom.

In California and other sunshine states, that one KW will generate approximately 1550KWHs of electricity annually. The solar PV warranty is 25 years, thus generating 38,750Kwhs over the 25 years. It should be noted that there is a slight degradation of annual generation over that time, and that one inverter replacement will most likely be needed as well. However the system will last a far greater lifetime than the 25 years of warranty (think of a pane of glass and how long that last) so we are going to call those data points a push.

The cost of driving an electric car powered by sunshine 7,750 miles per year.

Electric cars are evolving quickly, electric cars such as the Mini-E are returning between 3.5 and 4.25 miles per kwh. The upcoming BMW i3  will be pushing the 5 miles per Kwh threshold. For this analysis, as it looks at the next 25 years of driving, we will assume a 5 miles per Kwh efficiency.

5 miles per kwh multiplied by 38750 KWHs equal 193,750 miles driven for the energy cost of $3700. This works out to to 7,750 miles per year, and a cost of $148 per year, per kw of generation. It also provides absolute certainty of energy cost, as the sun never increases it’s price.

The cost of driving 7,750 mile per year powered by gasoline.

Over 25 years the gas at today’s mpg efficiency, a car travelling 7750 miles per year will consume 8800 gallons of fuel. Using the US fleet average of 22mpg, driving 7750 miles a year, a gasoline car will consume 352 gallons of gas or $1442 for the first year at $4.00 per gallon. And no you’re not reading this wrong, a solar pv system cost is the same or less than buying gasoline for three years ($3700 total cost for solar vs. $1422 annual cost for gasoline.).The next 22 years of driving the EV are on the "house of the rising sun" :)

Let’s be generous and assume that the gasoline car fleet averages 40 mpg during the next 25 years beginning at 22mpg of today and ending at 60mpg in 25 years, That would be an average of 194 gallons annually and 4850 gallons of fuel for the nest 25 years. With a modest multiplier of 3% annually for the increase in gas prices you’re looking at $35,000 in fuel cost for the next 25 years. If gas prices and cars maintain their current 22mpg fleet average, that number would be approaching $80,000. If crazy stuff happens in the oil supplying regions and  global consumption increases dramatically, your guess is as good as mine. This is the uncertainty of energy cost.

To summarize,

At a fleet average of 40mpg, a gasoline car will use 4850 gallons of gasoline which will cost $35,000 to drive  7750 miles per year for the next 25 years

An Electric car driving on Solar will require 60 sq. ft. of space, $3,700 in cost to drive  7,750 miles per year for the next 25 years.

"The answer my friend, is blowin in the wind." The answer is the ""sunshine on my shoulders."  It cost 1/10th (and is dropping in price) as compared to gasoline.



Mini-E #183, 34,000 sunshine powered miles.

Song title credits:
The Animals
Bob Dylan
John Denver

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It takes a lot of “Energy” to make gas... Part Two.

I used coal in the title of the first post as a cheeky reference to the favored argument by EV naysayers that electric cars replace a tailpipe with emissions from a coal powered electricity plant.

They still might want to look in the mirror :)

The previous blog post has been picked up by Autoblog Green and by the Washington Post and dozens of other sites.  This has led to well over 100 comments from individuals debating the statistic  and offering input as to how much electricity and how much energy is required to make a gallon of gas.

Some agree with my conclusions some don’t.   Some say it’s higher some say its lower.   All kinds of data is offered in the comments usually with several zero’s behind it,  cherry picked data depending on the  point of view of the author pro or con.

I wish there were an Energy information Agency FAQ that answered this simple question, How much energy is used to make a gallon of gasoline?

Unfortunately there is not a simple answer and it’s very complicated to find the information to make a compelling case either way. The various nature and different qualities  of crude and the various efficiencies of refineries add to the complexity.

So let’s keep this simple shall we?

Step 1
Let’s begin with the price of a gallon of gas and the percentage of that that goes to refining.   According to the Energy Information Agency on this page
16% of the August 2011 gallon of gas cost of $3.64 goes to refining cost thus  resulting in $0.58  a gallon in refining cost.

Step 2
According to the EPA and the Petroleum energy guide on this page
(abstract page 3, first paragraph) Refineries spend typically 50% of cash operating costs (i.e.,, excluding capital costs and depreciation) on energy,

So we have 50% energy cost for a refinery, which would result in a cost of energy to make a gallon of gas of $0.29  per gallon.

From here we split off into energy types or feedstocks used to make gasoline.

Step 3
According to the Energy Information Agency,
Just less than  50% of the energy cost come from Natural Gas and about 33% come from electricity,  Also much energy is generated by co-generation, with an undisclosed amount of Natural Gas used to provide electricity for the refinery.

Using the energy cost to refine  of $0.29 and dividing that by 33% gives you $0.10 of electricity cost per gallon of gas.

Step 4 What do refineries pay for electricity and energy?  Good question.  The most they would pay is the wholesale cost of electricity. 

As an energy plant owner myself that has over generated for the year, SDG&E is paying me 3.7 cents per Kwh of generation . You can bet the power plants pay between two and three cents per KWH.

Congratulations, you were a net energy generator!
Account Number: 582687++++
You generated more electricity than you consumed when you trued-up earlier this year. As a result your Net Energy Metering (NEM) account will be credited for the excess generation.

Excess generation:
1607 kilowatt-hours (kwhrs)
Credit per kwhr:
Amount Credited:

With a cost of $0.03 cents a kwh we can come to the conclusion that refineries use around 3 kwh of electricity per gallon of gasoline. 
Furthermore, refineries have nearly 50% of their energy cost in Natural Gas, about $0.14 cents per gallon, If that Natural gas were used in a plant to make electricity an additional 2kwh of electricity per gallon would result for a net total of 5 kwhs of electricity per gallon of gas. 

Using these simple government non biased information websites of the US Energy Information Agency and the EPA, as well as my own payment from SDG&E, the information resulted in a 5kwh of electricity used  to make a gallon of gas. Not to far off of my original estimate of 6kwh per gallon of gas.   Throw in unknown energy cost to extract, pump, ship, store, truck and sell, I am confident an additional kwh or two would be added to that figure.

I stand by original conclusion that a gas car with an average fleet 22mpg will use more electricity (or if you prefer, electricity equivalent in energy units) used just in the refinery process to drive 100 miles as compared to an electric car.

Add to the discussion, what do you say?  


Mini-E # 183, 34,000 sunshine powered miles.

Friday, October 7, 2011

It takes a lot of coal to make gasoline

BP Oil refinery in Long Beach California

Quick draw critics of the electric car often (miss their target) criticize EV’s because in their words “Electric cars simply replace a tail pipe with a smokestack” The gist of their argument is that the emissions still occur, not at the tail pipe but at the electric power plant. That great observation is usually followed by the statement that 45% of our grid electricity is coal and coal is dirty thus the EV provides no net gain.

The critics may want to look in the mirror…..or in their garage.

In California, refineries are the second largest users of electricity. Moving water around the state via water authorities is the single largest user of electricity. You guessed it, refining crude also takes a tremendous amount of water!

It is a simple fact that just the refining of gasoline requires approximately 6 kwh of electricity per gallon of gasoline. In fact electricity and natural gas cost are estimated to be 43% of the US oil refineries total expenses. If you tack on the energy required to extract and transport the oil to the refinery and then to the gas stations as well as the energy cost of the gas station, I’m sure that number jumps a few more kwh per gallon.

So let’s be conservative and cut the oil guys a break and say it takes 8kwh to extract, ship, refine and transport each gallon of gas.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  Drum roll…….

It takes more electricity to drive the average gasoline car 100 miles, than it does to drive an electric car 100 miles. A gas car at the US fleet average of 21mpg will consume approximately five gallons of gasoline which took 40kwh (5 times 8)of electricity to make, to drive 100 miles. An electric car will use approximately 30 kwh of electricity (3.3 miles per kwh) to drive the same 100 miles.

In summary,

Gas cars use more electricity than EV’s, thus polluting at the smokestack, They burn that refined gasoline in a very inefficient engine, thus polluting at the tailpipe. In our large urban cities in the US, the emissions caused by our transportation fleet accounts for 70% or greater of our man made emissions and visible particulate matter (smog) and related health care cost. Think of that as smoking two packs of cigs.

Electric cars run on electricity created by a mixture of energy sources. Many electric car drivers like myself quickly discover that making your own via solar PV is the best and cheapest way to fuel (about $0.40 per gallon of gas equivalent) Think of that cleaning up the air in our major cities, saving money and as not smoking,



Mini-E #183, 33,000 solar powered miles

Source material below.

Petroleum Refining:

The United States uses more petroleum than any other energy source. Petroleum provides the U.S. with about 37 percent of the energy we use each year. Petroleum can’t be used as it comes out of the ground. It must be refined before it can be used.

Oil refineries use a lot of energy to convert crude oil into gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil, chemicals, and other products. Almost half of a refinery’s operating costs (43 percent) is for energy. (US Energy Information Administration)

In a 2008 report, Argonne National Lab estimated that the efficiency for producing gasoline of an “average” U.S. petroleum refinery is between 84% and 88% (Wang, 2008), and Oak Ridge National Lab reports that the net energy content of oil is approximately 132,000 Btu per gallon (Davis, 2009). It is commonly known that a barrel of crude oil generate approximately 45 gallons of refined product (refer to NAS, 2009, Table 3-4 for a publication stating so). Thus, using an 85% refinery efficiency and the aforementioned conversion factors, it can be estimated that about 21,000 Btu—the equivalent of 6 kWh—of energy are used per gallon of gasoline refined:

The documents referenced are as follows:

US Energy Information Administration

Wang, M. (2008), “Estimation of Energy Efficiencies of U.S. Petroleum Refineries,” Center for Transportation Research, Argonne National Laboratory,

Davis, S., Susan W. Diegel, and Robert G. Boundy (2009), Transportation Energy Data Book, edition 28, National Transportation Research Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory,

NAS (2009), Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use, The National Academies Press,