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Plug-In Drivers Not Missin' the Piston Electric vehicles are here to stay. Their market acceptance is currently small but growing...

Friday, July 30, 2021

Sunrise Applies Heat to ODOT

The Oregon Transportation Commission held a meeting on July 15th. One of the items on the agenda was i205 improvements and expansion of 7 miles from West Linn to Oregon City including the Willamette River crossing. This work would add a third lane in each direction and reinforce the Abernethy Bridge and the eight other i205 bridges in the project area to be able to withstand a major earthquake.

The commission says the project will make the section of i205 "safer and allow more reliable travel to access work and critical services, even after an earthquake or other major disaster as well as address congestion."

This meeting included a public comment section. Several members of The Sunrise Movement made their voices heard.

From their website: The Sunrise Movement is a youth movement to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. We’re building an army of young people to make climate change an urgent priority across America, end the corrupting influence of fossil fuel executives on our politics, and elect leaders who stand up for the health and wellbeing of all people.

The Sunrise members brought up several points:

  1. Expanding freeways increases traffic and does not reduce congestion (citing the Katy freeway in Huston with 26 lanes and yet it still has congestion)
  2. 40% of Oregon's emissions are from transportation
  3. Dollars spent on freeways are not available public transit (give people an option other than sitting in their car on a congested freeway)  
This commission meeting and testimony came right after Oregon's "once in a millennium" heatwave. At least 54 people died because of this global warming amplified heatwave. Other estimates put the number of deaths over 100. So there was a sense of urgency to do something to reverse this "global weirding" trend.

The Sunrise Movement is youth-led and one of the more galvanic testimonies came from a 15-year old that started by scolding the commission, saying that she should not have to wake up at 7AM to tell a bunch of adults things that they should already know. This same testimony ended by asking the commission how many people have to die before they take the climate crisis seriously. 

The commission handled this compelling and emotional testimony very professionally. 

So what do we do? What would you do? i205 is a primary path for goods moving up and down the west coast. I-5 runs through downtown Portland, so 205 is the bypass for freight heading north and south. This freight is typically on diesel semi-trucks. I don't want them stuck in traffic, polluting. Are the lanes the problem or the tailpipes of the vehicles that utilize them? If you allow this expansion, is it just one more slice in a death of 1000 cuts? 

The expansion takes this portion of 205 from 2 lanes to 3. This is far from the 26 lanes of the Katy freeway. Most of 205 is already 3 lanes, so it is not surprising that this stretch, where it's choked down to 2 lanes is a bottleneck. I think each action must be considered and, where reasonable, allowed. 

For me, I go back to the three ways to change the world. 
  1.  Pass laws to change/control behavior 
  2.  Set an example that some might follow 
  3.  Invent a better way that people will rush towards
Generally, I lean toward option three. I see electrified transportation as the better option. People want freedom of movement. People want things delivered to their houses. That means that we need freeways, highways, and roads that are kept up and maintained and yes, in some cases, expanded. I'd like to see a multimodal transit center and charging infrastructure added as part of the improvement plan. These would allow more public transportation options and electric vehicle charging. I wouldn't even mind seeing a few more tunnels to give people another option for personal transportation.

You can listen to the complete testimony (and the EV infrastructure presentation that immediately followed it) here.

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Portland VPP Supporting The Grid During Heatwave

Portland is having *another* heatwave. And our local utility, Portland General, is dispatching our Virtual Power Plant (VPP) to help alleviate the grid strain that the additional air conditioner usage will cause. 

As I pointed out during the last time the VPP was dispatched, in our situation, this dispatch operation can actually increase our grid load. That's because we are load-shifting and reducing our electricity bill

The VPP control software will improve. Next summer, they'll likely be able to account for our use case. In the meantime, our minor increase in load will be more than made up for by others in the VPP. 

Alternatively, I might disable the VPP temporarily to stay "islanded" so that we don't increase our grid load. After all, I volunteered our batteries to help the grid, not increase the burden on it.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

It Takes Talent - How Tesla is different #95

Most companies advertise their products. Outside of a college recruiting event, most companies don't advertise much if at all to attract talent.

The small amount of advertising that Tesla has done, has primarily been to recruit talent, rather than to sell their products. This is true at Tesla's "Day" events (Battery Day, AI Day...) as well as in their social media. This philosophy extends into other Musk-run companies too. The Neurolink Launch Event did demo the product but they spent an equal amount of time talking about the roles in the company and how they need to hire animal caretakers, programmers, chip designers, signal integrity engineers...

One recent interesting example of Tesla "advertising for talent" was a video that starred Tesla's chief vehicle designer, Franz Von Hausen. The video looks more like a cyberpunk video game than real life. It starts with Franz spraypainting Chinese characters on a wall. Someone hands him a tablet, as the glow from the tablet illuminates his face, you can see that he is both impressed and intrigued by the design. He asks, "Who did this?" as the caption asks, "What will you design?" 

Certainly an enticing thought. If you are a designer, you'd want to work at a company that's trying new things, this might catch your attention. The Cybertruck is featured prominently in the ad as an example of something that likely would have never been attempted at another company. 

Tesla plans to design an affordable car for the worldwide market in the Chinese design center that they are beginning to staff with this ad

The specifics of this effort are part of the bigger picture. Tesla knows that to achieve things that have never been done before, you have to hire talented designers and engineers. You have to hire people that are going to push things too far (in a controlled environment), see where they break, learn from that, and use that knowledge to make something that not just a derivative product, but a disruption.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

100,000 kWh!

We installed our first solar photovoltaic (PV) system in November of 2007. We used a local PV installer company called Mr. Sun Solar. Other than a few down days when an inverter needed to be replaced, the system has been in operation for 4975 days. In 2015, we added a second PV system to our home. This time we used SolarCity (now Tesla). 

In the 8 years from 2007 to 2015, solar costs had dropped significantly and PV efficiency had improved. Meaning that our 2015 system was twice the size at half the cost of our older system.

Today, these two systems have each generated about 50 MWh; collectively generating just over 100,000 kWh (100 MWh) from the sunlight hitting our roof.

Solar energy production on our roof

Looking at the above chart, you can see that, despite the older system having an eight-year headstart, each system has generated ~50 MWh. The smaller system took 13 and a half years to reach this milestone. Whereas the larger PV system arrived in just 5 years, 10 months. I been watching for this crossover point, where the larger system would eclipse the smaller one, but I didn't know it would happen so close to this major milestone of production.

How Much Is 100MWh? 

Okay, we've made 100MWh, but how much energy is that? Let's look at it a few different ways.

The average US home uses 10,399 kWh annually. This means that our 100 MWh could power the average home for 9.6 years. 

The 2020 Tesla Model 3 SR+ is a highly efficient EV with a 239 Wh/mile consumption rate. At that rate, 100 MWh could propel this vehicle for more than 400,000 miles; enough to drive around the planet 16 times.

Looking at it one more way, the EPA says that a gallon of gasoline has 33.7 kWh of energy. This means that our 100 MWh is equivalent to nearly 3000 gallons of gas (however, with zero emissions from our solar).

From 2015 to today, solar's price has continued to drop. If you want solar on your home, you can use our referral code.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

The Reason The Boring Co Will Win (That No One Understands)

The Boring Company recently unveiled the Las Vegas Loop. Riders will use an app and select their destination. The app will direct them to a stall number and car; riders pile in and they are whisked off to their destination.

Currently, the cars are human-piloted and only driving at a max of 35 MPH. This, of course, was trumpeted by the Musk detractors. The criticism goes something like this: A car can only hold a few people; a train would hold many more. So, they conclude, tracks should be installed and this should be changed to a tried-and-true subway like so many other cities. This superficial deduction concludes that cars in tunnels is a flop and that trains would work much better.

I find this train-thinking to be stuck in the 1900s. You might even say, they have "tunnel-vision." I'll explain.

Centralized vs Decentralized

Long ago, my day job was as a network engineer. I worked at a company developing network infrastructure products. We analyzed traffic flows (network packets) and methods to reduce latency and optimize throughput. We had contracts with NASA, The Olympics, most of the hyperscaler datacenters, and most of the server OEMs. The network traffic analysis I did there was not the same as automobile traffic, but there were some important lessons. When I started Token Ring was the cash cow, but things changed quickly.

Token Ring

This type of network is not all that different from a train route. Without going into the technology, nodes on this type of network are logically organized into rings. A circulating token controls access. This is not all that different from a train going around a loop, you can only get on the network/tracks when the train/token arrives. The nodes in this type of network are even called stations. This type of network eventually failed because it was not scaleable. As more nodes were added to the network, the effective throughput of any given station slowed. 

Ethernet (Half Duplex)

The technology that succeeded Token Ring was half-duplex Ethernet. This type of network allowed many more stations to be added to the network without choking throughput (with caveats). During those half-duplex days, networks had limited uses. On half-duplex networks, all of the nodes share a common communications media called the bus. Half-duplex networks function well when there are just a few, short-lived, traffic flows; which is why they worked well back then when most network traffic was periodic client-server activity (like fetching email or printing a document). However, as network communication became more essential with the rise of the internet and streaming, this type of common bus network collapsed under the pressure. Half-duplex is like a walkie-talkie network with everyone on the same channel. You can have as many people as you want on that channel as long as most people are just listening most of the time; however, as soon as everyone wants to start talking frequently, you just have a jammed-up unusable channel. 

Switched Ethernet

We've looked at two network types (Token Ring and half-duplex Ethernet) that didn't scale (albeit for different reasons). Switched Ethernet will be our third and final network technology. Both of the previous network technologies had a centralized control (the ring or the bus). 

Switched (full-duplex) Ethernet quickly replaced half-duplex Ethernet. With switched Ethernet, there was no bus, no shared walkie-talkie channel, every node has its own dedicated channel. When node A is talking to node B the traffic flows from A to B. If C and D are on the same network, the conversation between A and B generally does not interfere with the traffic between C and D. This is the technology that is used today in everything from your home network to massive datacenters around the world. It is far more scalable and has much less congestion.  

If switched networking is so great, why didn't we just start here? The idea of switched networks has been around since the 1960s. The problem was the technology. At the heart of a packet-switched network is a switch that must look at every packet that comes in, determine the packet's destination, and then send it out of the switch via the exact right port for that destination. Multiply this by every port on the switch that is both and sending and receiving and you have a complex forwarding table that has to dynamically update. Then grow the network by layering (attaching switches to other switches), and things (path discovery, forwarding tables...) get very complicated. The switches that allow this type of network to be possible have to be very advanced.

During the era of Token Ring and half-duplex, these full-duplex switches would have been prohibitively expensive (if even technically possible); whereas today, you buy a low-end one for less than $10.

Comparing Network Topologies to People Mover Topologies

So let's tie this back to the topic at hand, The Boring Company Loop system. 

Token Ring is like the train or subway. It has a fixed route; as more stops are added, more people can access it, but each stop lowers the overall speed. More throughput means more latency (longer travel time).

Half-duplex is like a bus. If you charter a bus and your whole party is going to the same place, it works great. But if you have a bunch of people boarding, all with different agendas, things fall apart quickly.  

The Boring Company's Loop design is a switched network. Riders select their destination and are assigned a dedicated car. That car goes to their selected destination directly. They don't stop at all the points in between to allow people in and out of the car. The Loop system computes the most effective route for your car to your destination. There's no stopping along the way.

The Boring Company's topology allows new routes and stations to be added to the network without adding interim stations at which all passengers must stop even when this is not their destination. 

Loop is a scalable transportation network. And it will get faster. 


Switched Ethernet started out at a speed of 10 megabits per second (Mbps). This grew to 100 Mbps, then 1000 Mbps or 1 gigabits per second (1 Gbps), then 10 Gbps, 100 Gbps, and now 800 Gbps is under development. I'm not saying that the vehicles in these tunnels will be 80 thousand times faster than their current 35 MPH speed, but they can get 3 or 4 times faster in long straightaways. To be fair, even at 35 MPH, this is far faster than city street traffic. With the stop and go of traffic lights and congestion, city traffic averages about 14 MPH door to door. So even the initial Loop speed is more than twice the speed a taxi / ride-share could offer (although with more limited destination options). 

Today, the cars in the narrow Loop tunnels are piloted by humans. This will change soon. Solving autonomous driving in this controlled environment will be far easier than solving it in city street driving. As regular readers know, our prediction is that Level 5 driving will not be solved until 2027. These tunnels, on the other hand, are the best case for self-driving cars. They don't have to deal with rain, snow, sun directly in the lens, cross-traffic... This Level 4 solution could launch as soon as next year. 

Scale-out vs Scale-up - How TBC Wins

Trains scale by going faster, adding more train cars, and/or more stations/stops. This is scaling up. There are limits to increasing the speed and limits to adding more cars. As the number of stations increases, it increases capacity and access at the expense of increasing the average travel time for everyone using the platform. Scaling up trains quickly hits real physical limits.

The Boring Company scales by adding more destinations, more tunnels, and more cars. This is scaling out and it allows for more parallel operation. It means that stations, routes, and cars can be added to increase capacity without impacting the throughput or latency of the existing routes. It also means that popular stops can increase capacity by adding more ingress/egress tunnels to/from that station, thereby forming superstations. Alternatively, popular locations could have multiple standard-sized stations (e.g., Convention Center North Station and Convention Center South Station). This is easy to do with the Loop system since additional stations don't burden the system. More capacity, means more stations, more tunnels, more route options, resulting in a better overall system.

With trains, more capacity decreases performance; whereas, with Loop, more capacity improves performance. This is the fundamental difference.

Scalability Adds Flexibility

If you add a stop on a train route that has low utilization, then you've slowed down everyone for the benefit of a few, if any, passengers. Similarly, if you add a bus stop in an out-of-the-way place, you add cost for the bus to periodically drive past this location, even if no one is getting on or off the bus. 

This is different with Loop. All rides are point to point. If a hotel or casino that has low traffic pays for a station, then the network has grown and no one has been slowed down and there is no on-going fuel cost to drive to this out-of-the-way low-utilization location unless it is actually needed. 

I've avoided diving into the network analysis (graph theory) math for this article; instead, trying to articulate the common sense case. If you view each station as a vertex and each tunnel as an edge, there's a vast amount of analysis that can be done to understand the traffic flow within the system. The Boring Company will know every ride that occurs within the system. They'll be able to use graph theory and congestion information to determine the best paths for vehicles to take and which areas need additional capacity. 

If you have n number of stations, the possible number of station-to-station connections is n * (n-1). They'll be able to use historical information to determine the best path for each new tunnel that they add to the network. According to the Vegas Unzipped image above, there are 17 stations currently planned for the Vegas Loop. That's a possible 272 tunnels that could be dug for full-mesh connectivity. This would, of course, be overkill at the start of the system, but it demonstrates their ability to scale capacity as needed.

The Time Is Right

If this is clearly the best method for public transportation, why hasn't it always worked this way? The first answer is the same as it was for Switched Ethernet: technology. Imagine if everyone that got on a train told the engineer where they wanted to go and then the route was computed and the tracks were switched in real-time. That wouldn't have been possible with last century technology. Today, however, route planning is trivial. 

The second technology that makes this the right time is EVs. When a tunnel is designed exclusively for EVs, it doesn't need an elaborate ventilation system. This allows the tunnels to be smaller (therefore cheaper and faster to dig). The other reason that EVs tech is ready is range. Tesla's EVs will have all the range they need for a full day's service. And they have the performance to whisk you at speed quickly to your destination.

Our third item on this "this is the right time" list is Apps. Today, nearly everyone has a smartphone, with the LV Loop app, you'll be able to schedule your ride and pay on your own phone. The route will be calculated before you even click your seatbelt. There's no need to queue up to buy tickets... this is just another way that Loop systems will allow parallel operation.


Loop is in its beta phase, it will improve greatly over the next few years. As it matures, it will become the most efficient public transportation system humanity has ever built. This is not simply because it uses electric vehicles, it's because they have a significant technological advantage over the competing legacy technologies.

This is the same formula that other Musk Co. endeavors use. SpaceX's reusable rockets have a massive cost advantage over "disposable" rocket companies. Tesla's electric cars have a massive efficiency and performance advantage over their fossil-burning competition. 

The Boring Co. has "packetized" transportation and made a scalable "switched" network. This gives them a technological advantage over their last-century-based train competition. 

If you want an incredible transportation system, it's time to change from tunnel-vision to visions of tunnels.