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Saturday, July 2, 2022

Ski Trip in Tesla Model X Gone Wrong!

In February of 2022, we drove our 2016 Tesla Model X on a little ski trip and things didn't go as planned. I've waited a while to tell this story. I wanted to have some perspective and not just gripe about the things that went wrong. 

We've taken the Model X on many ski trips. Our vehicle has the cold weather package and pre-heating allows you to stay comfortable even after the vehicle sits in a cold parking lot all day. The winter tires were on; we were packed and ready for snow.

We'd rented a condo with friends for a few days at Collins Lake Resort in the little town of Government Camp, Oregon on Mt. Hood. 

One Cold Night 

On the way there we charged up in Sandy, Oregon and arrived with no problems. We unloaded, schlepped into our temporary abode, and looked forward to hitting the slopes the next morning. That night, an Arctic blast made its way into the Willamette Valley setting record low temps in the region.

It's ironic to be discussing the coldest night of the year while most of North America is currently in the middle of a heatwave. I guess we all need to get used to more weather extremes. 

As you can see in the image above, it got down to 2F (-17C) where we were staying. Unfortunately, the condo didn't have a garage, so our car was out in the cold (not plugged in) getting covered with snow. 

No problem. The battery was ~70% full and the car knows to keep its battery comfortable. The next morning, I opened the app, noting that we had not lost much range overnight. I turned on the car's pre-heat function, grabbed the ice scraper, and headed out to the car.

While pre-heating, I brushed the snow off and scraped the windows, then we loaded up the car with gear and passengers, and hit the road. From the pre-heating, the car was nice and warm as we headed to the ski area.

Things Go Bad

After about 20 minutes on the road, the front window started to fog. In response, as I've done hundreds of times before, I double-tapped the front defrost button. Why double-tap? The first tap turns on AC to defrost mode, whereas the second tap uses the heater to defrost. Since it was cold out, I wanted to use the heated defrost mode. 

The defroster set the heat to "HI" and that's when things went awry. Error tones and a string of alert messages popped up.

Tesla Error Code BMS_w035

Most disturbing among these was a message that read the "vehicle may not restart." At this point in the drive, we were nearly at the ski area. What am I supposed to do? Do I ignore it and hope for the best, perhaps stranding my family and myself on the mountain if it won't restart? Do I immediately turn around and head to the Tesla service station (~65 miles away) even though we've paid for 2 days of lift tickets and 2 more nights in the condo? Do I call roadside service or a tow truck?

We made it to the ski area and parked. I pulled out the app and made a service appointment. The app made it easy since one of the reason-for-service options was "recent alerts." I selected this option, selected the alert, and then was given several dates to pick from. The earliest was March 18th. That was 23 days later. 

Rather than call a tow truck, I decided to take my chances. Maybe the 12V was cold and the alerts would clear up. The alert text said, "Vehicle may not restart." Which means there's also a chance that the vehicle may restart. I was putting my hopes on that word may falling in my favor. So we hit the slopes and hoped for the best. It was a great day for skiing with light snow falling most of the day. However, for me, too much of my mental energy was worried about the car to actually enjoy the moment.

Luckily for us, when we got back to the car, it started. The error codes persisted, but we were not stranded. As we made our way back to the condo, the heat was not working and there was ice on the windshield wipers which made it difficult to see. I had pre-heated the car, but apparently whatever had gone wrong had taken the heating system down too. I pulled over and scraped the ice off the wipers and the windows so I could safely make the return trip.

For day 2 on the slopes, we left the Tesla at the condo. We were on this trip with friends and we were able to all squeeze into their car for the short trip to the ski area. Day 2 on the slopes was excellent. It was a bluebird ski day. There was fresh powder from the night before and the skies were clear and sunny. 

Our bluebird day on Mt Hood

We had an excellent day on the mountain and I didn't have to worry about a ride back. After day 2 of our ski fun was done, we had another night at the condo, and then it was time to head back to the real world. Leaving the condo, we packed up the Tesla Model X, all the while I was wondering if it would get us home. I performed a "two-button reboot" to see if the errors would clear up. They persisted, but (just as it had in the parking lot) it started up. 

Leaving The Mountain, Heading Home

Heading down the mountain, there was no regenerative braking. This significantly changed the feeling of driving. I'm not used to using the physical brakes for minor slow-down moments; single-pedal driving is one of the nice things about EVs and I had lost this feature. With regen disabled, it just felt weird -- it didn't feel like my car.

We made it to the Supercharger in Sandy, Oregon and plugged in. The supercharging session started out fine and then stopped with yet another error message. The battery was far from full. The in-car nav said we had just enough to make it home but I had to wonder if it was including the fact that regen was disabled in this calculation? To be safe, I assumed this edge case was not covered in the nav's range calculation and I didn't want to end up stranded just a few miles from home. So, I unplugged from the Supercharger, rebooted the car, and tried Supercharging again. Again it started charging. We finally had enough to safely make it home with a margin of safety. Just as I was getting out to unplug, we had another round of alerts.

Here are the error messages we received this time:

Tesla Error Codes: BMS_u008, BMS_w172

These were different codes, but the same gist (somethings wrong, may not restart, get service). Despite these new error messages, the vehicle started and we were back on the road again. 


We made it home. Despite the "reduced acceleration and top speed," we had no problems driving at freeway speeds or taking hills. A nerfed Tesla is still more than enough performance for typical driving. After pulling into the garage, I shifted into Park and I had no intention of driving it anywhere (other than to the service center). So our X sat in the garage with the snow and ice melting off the wheel wells and undercarriage, leaving clumps of the red lava rock (used to 'sand' the snowy roads) on my garage floor.

Twenty days later it was our turn at the service department.  Even though we had to wait, the nice thing was that service was able to pull the logs remotely and, based on the specific error codes, order the parts needed for the repair (+1 for connected cars/computer-on-wheels). About a week before my appointment, Tesla service contacted me and told me the parts had arrived and if any spots opened before my scheduled appointment, they'd try to get me in early.

Since the car was going in for service, I decided to have a few other little things taken care of while it was there. It was the end of ski season and I was certainly not taking the X back up to the mountain this season, so it was the time to swap back to all-season tires; the wiper blades were worn; and my 12V battery was still the (now well-aged) 2016 factory installed battery. The 12V battery had nothing to do with these errors (according to the service center), but I had just been reading accounts of similar age 12V batteries giving up the ghost, so I wanted to replace mine before it started causing problems.

Sadly, no early slots opened, but our turn finally arrived. I dropped off the car and Uber-ed home on Tesla's credits.

A couple days later, service contacted me. While doing the repair, they determined that the traction battery contactors had to be replaced. This portion of the repair was covered under the HV battery warranty, but it meant that additional parts had to be ordered. They offered me a loaner, so I went in and picked up a white 2017 Model S.

Seventeen days later the additional parts arrived. I breathed a sigh of relief. Given the supply-chain troubles that are currently plaguing nearly every industry, this could have been a much longer wait time. 

Just 3 days after this, I was informed that my repairs were done and I went in and picked up my car. The vehicle was still dirty with mountain road grime (I miss the days when service washed your car), but I was happy to have my ride back. 

How Much Did It Cost?

Here's the snippet of the receipt: 

High Voltage Battery Coolant Heater Repair Bill

June Update

Just when I thought it was all over. Months later, a new error message popped up. 

Tesla Alert THC_w0105 (yes, I need to clean that screen)

The coolant system was just refilled as part of the coolant heater replacement in March and now, ~3 months later, it's low🙹 This is not a system that gets topped off frequently. I had a leak. 

My immediate suspicion is that something was not tightened down (or came loose) during the coolant heater service. I hoped this simply meant tightening it down, top-up, and done. I was not so lucky. 

This happened on a Sunday and I was able to get the car in on Wed at 4:30PM (much better than last time). I picked the car up at 3PM the next day. Good news, it was a quick fix; bad news, they had to replace the 3-way valve. They said this was the source of the leak and it had nothing to do with the work that was done in March. Hmmm. 

Nothing? Coincidences do happen. The part is ~6 years old (same as the coolant heater that failed). Maybe they were like the proverbial old could, where when one passes, the other is only a few months behind.

On the other hand, maybe the wrenching and pressure testing related to the work in March caused a micro-fracture that grew into this leak. It's impossible to know, so what we're left with is a car that needs to be fixed and a service center that should be paid for parts and labor. The 3-way value was $55 and the final bill was $551.50. 

I preemptively had the 12V battery replaced when the car was there in March; I wish I would've had this part replaced too. The majority of the bill for this June service was for dealing with the vacuum-sealed coolant lines; something that was already being done in March. So it would've been trivial to change this part too. I would've paid closer to the $55 part cost rather than 10 times that amount. 

Wrapping Up

In total, from the day of the failure to fully repaired (pre-leak), it was 44 days and we paid about $1100. Adding the costs in June and the total is over $1600. This is part of the 'pain' of owning a vehicle that's no longer under warranty. I've owned this vehicle for five and a half years, prior to this failure, it has performed excellently. I hesitate to call this a "major failure" since I was able to drive home (and even Supercharge). All machines break down at some point. I'm just glad that we were not stranded when this failure occurred. Time to start saving for my 2025 Model X upgrade. 

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Welcome to Summer

Summer 2022 has officially arrived in the northern hemisphere! The June solstice was the kick-off and, since that's the longest day of the year, I like to mark the occasion by sharing our solar production. 

Solar Generation On June 21st, 2022

Here in the NW corner of Oregon, the sun rose at 5:23 AM and didn't set until 9:04 PM. That's 15 hours and 41 minutes of daylight. As the graph above shows, our PV system was cranking out power from 6 AM until 8 PM. We generated a total of 76.5 kWh of energy. 

Destinations of our Solar Production

As you can see, about one-third of the energy was used to run our home. The bulk of the remaining two-thirds was sent to the grid, running our meter backwards for most of the day. 

How Much? 

On this one day, we generated 76.5 kWh of energy; just for fun, let's look at this amount of energy in several ways. 

76.5 kWh of energy is equivalent to: 

  • 2.5 days of use in a typical US household
  • 203 Million foot-pounds
  • 261 BTUs 
  • 65822 food calories (about 132 meals)
  • 306 miles in a 2022 Tesla Model 3 standard range

Obviously, this energy cannot be converted directly into food calories or meals. I'm just trying to put some perspective on the number. 

The 306 miles in a Tesla is interesting and the energy can be directly used in an EV. Looking at fuel averages, a 306-mile trip would typically use about 15.3 gallons of gasoline. At current gas prices, that's about $76 dollars. Not a bad day's work. :) 

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Tesla's Eye In the Sky

Tesla's vehicles are flush with sensors. They have 360-degree cameras, sonar, temperate sensors, GPS, accelerometers... These are intended primarily for Tesla's Full Self-Driving, but what other purposes could they serve?

What data could these computers on wheels gather? Here are a couple of ideas:

Collecting and reporting traffic is an obvious example. There are many smartphone apps that already have similar functionality. This would certainly help for route planning to avoid traffic (assuming you can't take a tunnel). 

Another suggestion that was posted on Twitter was for Tesla vehicles to collectively look for license plates associated with Amber Alerts and, if spotted, report the location to the appropriate authorities. This could save children, but it is also a little creepy to know that Tesla cars could be reading all the license plates around them.

What other ideas do you have for a massive fleet of internet-connected robots?

Friday, May 20, 2022

Saving Money with Solar


A friend said he was considering solar and batteries for his home, but the economics just didn't pencil out. The payback time would be more than a decade and that didn't seem worth it. He is looking at getting a 14 kW system. He then asked how much we saved with our 12 kW system (with 40kWh of batteries).

As you can see in the chart above, we generated $2193 worth of electricity in 2021.

The dollar amount is important, but it is far from the complete story. Before I jump into the complexity, here are some more easily digestible graphs from our solar app:  

We were 51% solar-powered in 2021. 

This included sending some electricity (about 5.2 MWh) to the grid for net metering, leaving us only 31% directly self-powered. Our solar app allows you to optimize for self-powering or lower cost. We have opted for lower cost.

We're on a Time-of-Use (TOU) electricity schedule. This means that we pay more during peak hours and less during off-peak. TOU is optional from our utility. We're on this program because it saves us money. The solar panels and batteries reduce our peak and partial-peak usage; while charging our EVs overnight shifts a major load to off-peak. As you can see above, our Powerwall home battery packs handle a majority of our home load during peak hours. The batteries allow us to time-shift our solar (primarily generated during partial-peak) to peak hours. So now the sun can power our home when it's best for us, rather than when the sun happens to be shining. 

The partial peak usage is higher than I'd like it to be, but this is just the "normal" rate (as if we were not on TOU), so the solar is primarily charging up the batteries during this time, rather than powering our home, so the batteries can then discharge during the peak hours. That's why we're primarily grid powered (58%) during this time. 

And finally off-peak. This is generally overnight, so we are not going to have any solar during these hours. The exception to this is Sunday (and some holidays). The Tesla solar app currently does not handle this very well. They only have a "weekend rate" and it does not allow Saturday and Sunday to be on different billing schedules. So this is not accurate since there should be 52 Sundays and 6 holidays worth of off-peak solar generation. They have made several TOU improvements in the solar portion of the Tesla recently; I hope this is improved soon too.   

And the last item before we jump into the exciting math of electricity bills: backup power. You can see in the list above that we had several minor outages and one big one in 2021. Having solar and batteries allowed us to keep the lights and the heat on during a cold night in February when our neighborhood lost power. 

Electricity Bills 

Call it your power bill, light bill (Eastern/Southern US), or hydro bill (parts of Canada); a lot of modern living is electrically powered. This is an essential utility that most of us pay (too much) for. Let's deep-dive into an electricity bill and see how much we really save with solar. 

It would be nice if electricity bills were easy to understand. A simple charge per kWh and perhaps a monthly connection fee, but the reality is far more complicated. As you can see, my monthly bill below has 23 line items

Let's make this bill understandable. First, we'll split things into fixed charges (items that will be there every month regardless of our use) and variable charges (items that change with use). And, just because nothing can ever be simple, a couple of the fees are a percentage, so they are variable, but not per kWh, applying to both fixed and variable fees.

Fixed charges: 

Charge Amount
Basic Charge $11.00
First Block Adjustment -$7.22
Smart Battery Reward -$20.00
Low-Income Assistance $1.04
Oregon Commercial Activities Tax Recovery
(portion applied to fixed charges)
Public Purpose Charge
(portion applied to fixed charges)
Fixed Cost Subtotal -$15.11

You can see that we're starting out each month with a negative $15 electricity bill. This is generally driven by the $20 credit that we're receiving for being in PGE's virtual power plant program. 

For the variable charges, we're going to collapse a few things. If a given kWh has a base rate, a transmission cost, a distribution cost, a regulation adjustment, ... and some are fees and some are credits, the waters get muddy quickly. To avoid this, we're going to bottom-line it; all of these will be rolled together for one per kWh rate for each TOU rate. Here are the fully adjusted rates: 

Off-peak  Partial-peak  Peak
Basic Rate 4.128¢ 7.051¢ 12.38¢
Fully Adjusted Rate   5.336¢   16.536¢  21.966¢

Looking at the table above, you can see that the off-peak price does not change much when adding in all of the adjustments. For partial-peak and peak, it's another story; each is about 10¢ more (per kWh) than their unadjusted starting rate. For Partial-peak that more than doubles the price. 

Now let's apply these prices and compare the "with solar and batteries" to the "without solar and batteries" versions of our house for all of last year's electricity usage. 

Is It Worth It? 

In 2021, we used a total of 25,400 kWh. If we didn't have solar, we'd have had to pay $3377 for this energy. As you can see in the first graph (repeated below), our solar panels generated $2193 worth of energy in 2021.

Additionally, because we have home storage batteries, we were able to join the PGE virtual power plant program. PGE pays the participants in this program. This further reduced our annual electricity cost by another $240 in 2021. So, rather than paying $3377 in 2021, we only had to pay $944. We also had some discounts for allowing the utility to control our smart thermostat, but that's not relevant to this discussion. 

If you pay twenty thousand dollars for a solar-plus-battery system and only earn $2000 in payback each year, it is going to be a decade before you break even (longer if you include opportunity cost or interest on a loan). 

You might end up selling your home before you recoup the out-of-pocket costs. However, the panels on your home also increase the resell value. So, I can see why my friend said this does not pencil-out as a no-brainer, but that does not necessarily mean it's not worth it. 

There are many more factors to consider (listed below), but before we go there, I want to finish the economic portion of this. I know that the price for energy from these panels will be fixed at zero going forward (assuming no out-of-warrantee failures). Yes, you pay upfront, but 5 years from now, when the electricity prices have gone up and up again, you'll be (somewhat) isolated from these price swings. My friend that started this discussion recently retired. Having a predictable expense is valuable, especially on a fixed income. You don't want to be deciding on buying groceries or paying for utilities that have significantly inflated in price while your retirement income has not kept pace.

More Than Just Money

For us, solar with batteries provides a level of independence. It means if the grid goes down during a heatwave, our AC can keep running. It means if the grid goes down during a winter storm, we can keep our furnace running. It means that we have little-to-no grid usage during peak hours when they're most likely to be using peaker plants (some of the dirtiest sources). Participating in our utility's virtual power plant program means that they can call on us to power our neighbors, rather than turning on a peaker plant. Having solar means that our (local monopoly) utility is not our only source of energy. 

If you want solar on your home (with or without batteries), you can use my referral code to get $300 off a system from Tesla.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

5 Years of Battery Degradation Compared (Nissan LEAF vs Tesla Model X)

In this post, we'll compare the battery degradation of a 2011 Nissan LEAF LE and a 2016 Tesla Model X 90D. Why these two vehicles? Not because they are comparable in any significant way, but simply because these were my last 2 EVs and I have collected years-worth of data on each of them.

Here's the chart:

First, I want to point out that the graph is not zero-based on the left side. The bottom of the graph is 75%. This is to zoom in and see the degradation in detail, not the make it look worse than it is. 

Looking at the Leaf (blue line), you can see that it had less than 80% of the original range at the 5-year mark. The Tesla (red line), on the other hand, has more than 90% capacity when hitting the 5-year mark. The Tesla has less degradation; additionally, the rate of degradation slowed significantly after year 3. Unlike the Tesla, the Leaf's degradation showed no sign of slowing. 

At 5-years old, the Tesla had about 42,000 miles. The Leaf had a similar 44,000 miles. Working from home the last couple of years has meant fewer miles driven for the Tesla; otherwise, the Tesla would likely have about 60k miles by now.

This result is not surprising. As the Leaf aged, I wrote several posts about my disappointment with the Leaf's degradation. I'm happy to see that our Tesla has aged much more gracefully.

Disclaimer: I am long TSLA

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Tesla Model S Turns 10: A Decade Of Evolution

2012 Tesla Model S

The Model S turns 10 years old this year. This is the perfect time to take a look at the evolution of this vehicle as it celebrates its Aluminum anniversary. 

The 2012 Model S was an award-winning car when it came out. A long-range, high-performance EV with a large touchscreen, self-presenting door handles, and over-the-air updates. There had never been a car like this.

Even from this high starting point, today's Model S is head-and-shoulders above its 2012 antecedent. For a now-and-then look, we'll compare the long-range version of the original vehicle to the one offered today. To keep this as apples-to-apples as we can, this is not the Founder's edition or the Insane or Ludicrous variants; just the extended-range version of each.

2022 Tesla Model S

Let's jump into it: 
Model S 2012
85 RWD
2022 Long Range
Dual Motor
Price (Long Range) $115,050 $99,990*
Price (inflation adj.) $144,069 $99,990
Range (miles) 265 375
0-60 MPH 4.3 sec 3.1 sec
Autopilot/FSD None - no cameras
(AP was intro-ed
in 2014)
AP standard,
FSD Upgrade
Charging Rate (kW) 150
(7.8 miles/minute max)
(11 miles/minute max)
Gaming Chess, Backgammon,
Some 80s arcade
Equivalent to modern
game console. Steam
client support planned.

As you can see in the table above, the Model S has improved significantly over the 10 years of its life. The current cost (esp. inflation-adjusted) is significantly less, yet you get a quicker car, faster charging, more range, better ADAS, and better infotainment technology. If you prefer to see it quantified: 40% more range, 28% quicker, 30% cheaper, 66% faster max charge rate; plus other improvements including far better battery thermal management, a tilting screen, and a yoke steering wheel.

Tesla was the first mover and they have a relentless pace of innovation. They are not going to be easy to catch. 

Disclosure: I am long Tesla
* price as of 5/1/2022

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Tailpipes Are The New Smoking

Image via KngEVrythINg

If you want to know the future of the vehicle tailpipe, a look at the history of smoking might provide a glimpse of what may come to be. The history of public smoking can give you a clue to the evolution of public sentiment and how the industry might resist. 

Smoking Heyday

When I was a kid in the 1970s, smoking was common nearly everywhere. When you went to a restaurant, most seats were in the smoking section. In most restaurants, there was a small non-smoking section, but the smoky air didn't obey the signs and billowed into these token areas as well as every other corner of the room. People smoked as they walked the grocery store aisles, they smoked while standing in line at the bank... it was ubiquitous.

Secondhand Sentiment

In the 80s this started changing. Driven by secondhand smoke concerns, the Smokefree Workplace Law passed in 1981. Many smokers were outraged. They were relegated to designated smoking areas instead of having free run of the place. Bars, casinos, and similar areas were excluded from this initial law, but the smoke-free zones continued to expand. 

Lighting A Fire Under The Tobacco Industry 

If the smokers were upset, the tobacco industry was livid. They had a cash cow and it was being threatened. They had made billions selling "coffin nails" and they were going to spend some of these funds to ensure they could make even more profits.

The tobacco industry used multiple tactics to delay and fight these laws. They hired PR firms, lobbyists, lawyers, and more. They attacked and attempted to undermine policies to protect people from secondhand smoke. They talked about smokers' rights ignoring the fact that the smoke was violating other people's right to clean air and, oh, not dying!

They used misinformation campaigns*. For nearly three decades, the tobacco industry had evidence that secondhand smoke was a health hazard, but they publicly denied it.

The strategy was to use a campaign of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD). 

Or is that what we see when you drive?

Fear - Putting the F in FUD

The fear aspects included telling people that their freedom of choice was being taken away. This was just the first step to the government telling you how to live every aspect of your life. The propaganda continued claiming that these laws would turn smokers into criminals. 

Another one of the fear tactics was jobs. That's right, if these laws passed, they said, people would lose their jobs. This propaganda was primarily aimed at the hospitality associations, such as restaurant, bar, and hotel associations. If one of these establishments became non-smoking, then smokers would go someplace else; the establishment would lose money and have to lay people off. In cases where such associations didn't exist, the tobacco industry created them “to serve as the tobacco industry’s surrogate in fighting against smoke-free environments.”* 

Uncertainty & Doubt 

The uncertainty campaign was multipronged. It included astroturf groups that the tobacco industry founded, influenced, and/or funded*. They had programs with lovely names such as “Living in Harmony,” “Working It Out Together,” “Respecting Choices,”  and “Preserve our Traditions.” These were designed to delay legislation, maintain the status quo, and allow the 'free market' to correct things. 

The tobacco industry promoted ventilation and air filtration technologies in hospitality venues even after these systems were proven ineffective against secondhand smoke's health impacts. 

The tobacco industry hired a cadre of consultants to discredit scientific evidence about the hazards. They lobbied against smoke-free policies and gave testimony before legislative bodies while purporting to provide a neutral voice. They undermined the credibility of health agencies and key public health reports. They prepared and submitted affidavits and offers of proof in legal actions involving secondhand smoke claims. 

The tobacco industry gave all-expenses-paid trips to journalists to “discuss” tobacco issues. They promoted research they'd funded to sympathetic journalists. They financially backed journalism schools to help ensure future journalists were sympathetic to the tobacco industry. They conducted press briefings, gave interviews, and wrote editorials and letters-to-the-editor to multiple newspapers. They published specious research in academic journals and other publications.

Legal Maneuvers

The tobacco industry mounted legal challenges based on many arguments including the following:

  • Smoking is a fundamental right
  • Local governments do not have the legal authority to pass smoke-free laws
  • Smokers and business owners were not getting “equal protection”
  • The public was not notified of smoke-free hearings
  • A business owner is entitled to compensation because a regulation renders their business unviable
  • In private clubs, the rights of members are violated by smoking regulations 
  • Smoke-free laws are difficult to enforce

The tobacco industry also sought to utilize their lobbyists and political clout to weaken legislation. The tobacco industry attempted to influence proposed smoke-free legislation by suggesting amendments to weaken the law. In some cases, these could be minor impacts such as changing a 'shall' to a 'may' that could go unnoticed, yet would greatly weaken the enforceability of the legislation. In some countries, the tobacco industry has even proposed to draft legislation itself for the government.

Smoke & Mirrors: A Tobacco Image Makeover (Greenwashing)

The latest tactic is an image makeover. Now, the tobacco industry is trying to present itself as an environmental leader (after all, the product does start by growing plants). They are also claiming to be leaders in social issues and corporate governance issues.

Tailpipes Are The New Smoking 
Image via KngEVrythINg

The Tobacco Results

Cigarettes have not been eliminated, but over the decades, their sales have been greatly reduced even as the population has increased.  

Year US Cigarette Sales
1980  628 Billion
1990  524 Billion
2000  414 Billion
2010  283 Billion
2019  203 Billion


As you can see, cigarette unit sales have been cut to less than one-third of 1980's volume. Of course, vaping and other alternatives have taken the place of some of this volume, but the trend is going down. Sadly, as cigarette sales fell year by year, the prices rose more than enough to maintain profit margins. They do sell an additive product after all.

Smoking in public places is no longer considered socially acceptable. The public mindset has shifted. There's still tolerance for people to smoke in designated areas, but there's a recognition that people that do not want to be exposed to secondhand smoke should not have to tolerate it while in public spaces.

* Tobacco Industry Misinformation campaigns


Now that we've looked at the tobacco industry in disgusting detail, let's see how this might relate to the exhaust of the auto industry. 

A Moment Of Clarity

Los Angeles and New Delhi before and after Covid lockdown 

The global pandemic of 2020 gave us the chance to see what the world looked like with our emissions drastically reduced. Skies cleared, mountain vistas (usually obscured by smog) became visible. Literally and figuratively, it was a breath of fresh air.

This moment of clarity has acted as the spark to ignite action away from tailpipe emissions similar to the way secondhand smoke was the catalyst for smoking reform. We have the right to breathe clean air. We have the right to inhale air while not taking in carcinogens. We have the right to breathe without taking years off our lives. 

The second kickstart to this movement was the high gasoline prices that resulted from the Russia-Ukraine war. If you want people to start thinking about buying an EV, raise the price at the pump.

The Snowball Begins

Change like this does not happen all at once, it starts slowly, builds, and then hits a tipping point when public sentiment shifts and serious change can occur. The groundwork is being laid for this change. Many schools have enacted idle-free zones in student pick-up and drop-off areas. This is an acknowledgment that the line of parents' cars and trucks belching out deadly fumes right where the children are is not a good thing. The first electric school buses are starting to be deployed. Electric car sales are continuing to climb. All of these are slowly changing the public consciousness. 

The Industry Response - Catch A Tiger By The Tail(pipe)

Just as the tobacco industry was not going to roll over and allow billions in profits to go up in smoke, neither is the oil industry. They are using tactics surprisingly similar to the tobacco industry. A little research explains why. The oil industry is using many of the same PR consulting firms that the tobacco industry used. 

The playbook is FUD, legal actions, greenwashing, and delay, delay, delay. Every day that things remain the same results in millions of dollars of profits, big executive bonuses; long term results to the public health and the environment be damned.


The FUD takes several angles. Deny and blameshift are a couple well-worn tactics. We've already seen claims of 'clean diesel' and 'cleaner-burning fuels.' This is like filtered cigarettes. They are polluting. These tactics allow someone to feel like they are taking steps to reduce emissions while ensuring that they continue to buy fossil fuels.

Use Legislation

As we've seen in the tobacco wars, no legislation or legal battle is too small to fight.

One advantage of driving an electric car is that it's cheaper to operate and fuel. Well, taxes can be used to take that advantage away. Here's one recent example: 

Electric vehicle owners say new Hawaii tax singles them out - KTVZ 

Greenwashing - All Talk, No Action

Oil companies have long been "talking the talk" of green energy, while not "walking the walk." A recent study compared the climate rhetoric to the climate actions of the world’s four largest oil companies – ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP – from 2009 to 2020. Researchers concluded that, despite their platitudes, the companies are not, in fact, transitioning their business models to clean energy. 

They have even gone so far as to make statements like, “producing more oil and gas while reducing emissions.” These are obviously statements intended to allow the profitable status quo to continue while managing the public so no real actions are required. 

Greenwashing - eFuels

Synthetic fuels and biofuels will be hyped as the future of combustion engines. This promise will be used to assure consumers that they can buy a vehicle with a tailpipe and not be abandoned when emission standards are increased. These fuels are incredibly inefficient to generate and transport. They are not a scalable solution; they can only offset about 5% of current oil use. This will not stop them from being dangled like a carrot on a stick to keep consumers on the current path.

Greenwash - Hyprogen (Hyping Hydrogen) 

Hydrogen is often touted as the fuel of the future. Claims such as, "The only emission is water from the tailpipe," and "Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe," are often touted. These claims are specious. Yes, hydrogen is abundant, but it's chemically sticky. It takes a lot of energy to pry it from these chemical bonds. It's true that the only emissions from an H2 vehicle is water vapor, but hydrogen generation is another story. The vast majority (99%) of hydrogen produced today is brown or gray hydrogen. This means that H2 production creates a significant amount of emissions.

From a costs perspective, today fueling with H2 is equivalent to paying about $8 per gallon for gasoline. This price ensures that oil will continue to be pumped from the ground for a long time if you expect H2 to be the fuel of the future. This explains why oil companies might want to promote hydrogen as the future of transportation. 

Wrapping Up - Chasing Your Own Tail(pipe)

We've seen all these moves before. The oil industry is using an old playbook. It's a multipronged approach. If a single strategy were used, it would be easy to take apart that one strategy. However, the multipronged approach is more difficult to tackle. Consumers need to understand who is backing various legislation, who is donating to legislators, the physics of various alternative fuels, as well as be willing to overcome status quo bias... none of these are easy; doing all of them is nearly impossible. 

The simpler, more straightforward, approach is to electrify transportation; use electric delivery vans and semi-trucks, use electric buses and school buses, and use electric vehicles for personal transportation. Any legislation that opposes this in any form should be scrutinized. This is the decade that EVs will cross-the-chasm and become the majority of new car sales in many markets.

This transition will spark a major change in how the public perceives tailpipe emissions. Once someone is driving a car without a tailpipe, they no longer have to suppress their guilt of being part of the problem and can help move toward a future free from fossil fuels. This will spark changes in how society will respond to emissions legislation, idling restrictions, no emission zones, and many other aspects. 

Maybe this will encourage the auto industry to tuck their tail(pipe) between their legs.

Disclaimer Disclaimer Disclaimer 

This blog is intended for entertainment purposes and everything presented here is opinion only. I've tried to present factually accurate information, but not all sources are reliable, accurate, or may not be correctly interpreted. My analysis could be wrong, make up your own mind. I strive to be less wrong; if you see something that is not correct or a significant omission, let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Tesla Home Products Coming Soon

Tesla already sells several products for homeowners. These include charging connectors, solar panels, solar roof, and Powerwalls. 

I think it's a fair bet that they won't stop there. At the time of this writing, Musk's secret master plan part 3 hasn't been released yet but we've had hints that part of that plan will be to move humanity off fossils fuels. Looking around a home, what fossil-fueled appliances do you see? Furnace, water heater, stove... 

I expect to see Tesla offer all-electric, highly efficient, connected alternatives to these and other products. Tesla offerings could include heat pumps and air filters, leveraging the expertise that Tesla developed for their vehicles. 

Another possible Tesla home product includes a smart circuit breaker box similar to the one from Span. This would integrate very well with a Powerwall allowing precise control over which circuits are active depending on the charge state of the battery and solar activity.

This post is conjecture, so let's push it. Since these will all be smart connected devices what if they had crypto mining capability built-in. Imagine a heat pump or water heater that could capture the heat from a crypto mining rig as it warms your home or water. Tesla could sell "My Home is Heated with Doge" t-shirts and mugs 😀 With all of this integrated into the same Tesla app/ecosystem, you could configure the mining rig to only run when you have surplus solar generation. This removes one of the big objections to cryptocurrencies.

Oh, and we can't forget, eventually, Tesla's most important home product, a domestic robot.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Musk's Secret Master Plan 33 1/3: The Final Insult

Elon Musk has said that he is working on Tesla's secret master plan 3. All of the Tesla-verse is abuzz with what it may entail. Well, I'll join the peanut gallery and throw in my 2 cents. 

Rather than discussing the first two plans and my rationale... I'll just jump to my guess for SMP3. Here it is:

  • Move the world's economy to sustainable energy (production, consumption, and storage)
  • Rid the world of traffic congestion
  • Create safe, general-purpose AI to expand the economy 
  • Start permanent, sustainable base on Mars 

These are wildly audacious goals, but we have hints from Musk himself that lead me to these guesses. 

  1. The next rev of the secret master plan will include SpaceX and The Boring Company
  2. Main Tesla subjects will be AI and scaling to extreme size, which is needed to shift humanity away from fossil fuels
The guesses we have above include all of these aspects and it would require massive scaling. 

The final bullet on my SMP3 list is a base on Mars. This would utilize all of Musk's companies. Getting there obviously utilizes SpaceX. The base would be underground (dug with TBC boring machines). The base would be powered with solar panels. And finally, much of the work on Mars will (eventually) be done with Tesla Bots. 

As posted here in 2017, Musk's real secret master plan is: 

Develop technologies to establish a sustainable population on Mars

While doing the above, deploy these technologies to make life better on Earth 

Each of the previous plans has been incremental steps towards the Mars plan.  

Sunday, March 6, 2022

What's In Your Frunk? Tesla's Front Truck Preparedness Items

Tesla frunk image via reddit

Frunk or front trunk. Some cars, like Tesla's, have a trunk in the front of the vehicle aka frunk. In the UK this could be referred to as the front boot or "froot." Regardless of what you call it, this is a good place to keep charging accessories and other things that you might need easy access to while traveling. 

What do you carry in your frunk?

You never know what you might run into on the open road and it's best to be prepared. Here are eight things that you should have in your frunk.

The above image has a pretty good list of items. I'd add a few things. During the winter, it's important to have traction control devices; I like Autosocks for this purpose. I'd add a few other items too. 

Here's a list of items that you might want to consider for your preparedness kit: 

1) A Door Mat

The first thing on the list is a simple outdoor rubber mat

Much like having a towel when you travel, this will be helpful in many ways. Anytime you need to get on the ground to change a tire, put on chains, or the like; this is handy. If you run an extension cord to charge up, you can also use this mat to cover the cord in a trip hazard area. Finally, the mat can act as a cover for all the other things in your frunk.

2) Ice Scraper / Snow Brush

Item 2 on our list is a snow brush and ice scraper. If you're parked in a snowy area, this is a must-have. I like the long handle type, they make it much easier to reach the center of those large Tesla windshields.

3) Traction Devices

Continuing with our cold weather theme, next on the list is Autosocks. There are a lot of traction device options. Tesla even sells chains specifically made for their vehicles, but my favorite is Autosocks. They are light, compact, easy to put on, and work really well. A modern traction system to go with your modern car and you don't get your wheel-well scrapped up. 

4) Tire Pump

One nice thing about Tesla's (and many other modern vehicles) is that they have built-in tire pressure monitoring systems. They will tell you when a tire's pressure is low and even which tire it is. In an EV, tire pressure can significantly impact your range. So a top-up whenever you see the orange warning light is a good idea. I've had a pump like this one for just over a year and one thing that I really like about it is the auto-shut-off feature. You just set the pressure you want (where ever you like up to 100 PSI) and it will stop when it gets there. Oh, and when you use it, don't forget to through your mat down to keep your knees and the pump out of the mud. If you get this model, you can even get the trim color to match your Tesla's paint (if you have a red or blue Tesla). 

5) Extention Cord

Next on the list is a heavy-duty outdoor extension cord. A plain old US household outlet is not going to get you a lot of range, but if you're staying someplace overnight, you'll have more miles than you did before you went to bed. Depending on the overnight temps, if you don't plug in you could lose 15 to 20 miles of range overnight as the batteries condition themselves. Plugging in avoids this range loss and adds a mile or two per hour. As they say, a plugged-in Tesla is a happy Tesla.

When you are shopping for an extension cable, most are only 8 or 10 amp. To use these you'll have the turn the current level down on the Tesla screen or app to prevent the cable from overheating. Instead, I recommend spending a little more and getting a 15-amp-rated cable. They can better handle the current draw that an EV needs. Make sure you get a 50'+ outdoor cable since you never know where you'll be parked relative to the outlet.

If you want to use more than just a simple household outlet connection, check out our guide to charging on the road for all the various outlets you might encounter and all the adapters you'll need to use them. 

If you get an extension cord, you'll want to get something to contain it or it'll sprawl through the space and tangle. A simple velcro strap will do the trick. 

6) Towels

If I said the mat could be nearly as handy as a towel, then, of course, must include an actual towel. You can wipe down the touch screen, the windows... thousands of ways this microfiber towel could help you.  

Towing. If you plan on towing with your Tesla, check out our towing guide here.

7) Be Seen

Last, but certainly not least is safety. If you are on the roadside at night or in poor visibility situations, you want to be seen. It can make the difference between getting home safely or a tragic event.

This vest is highly visible and the pockets are a nice place to put valve stem caps while you're inflating a tire (I used to lose these all the time). 

8) Safty Lights

Continuing with our safety finally, the last item on the list is roadside LED emergency lights. The side of the road could be a dangerous place to stop, but there are times it's unavoidable. When this happens, you'll want to give other drivers a warning that you're there. Old fashioned chemical burning flares just don't seem right in a modern EV. A battery-powered light that's bright with 12 spinning LEDs seems like a more appropriate option. Keeping you safe while not pouring smoke into the air. 

There's the list of ideas for your frunk. I hope you found something useful. What would you add to the list? 

This article contains affiliate links 
I am long Tesla

Sunday, February 13, 2022

2021 On Peak - A Year w/ Tesla Powerwalls

We just completed our first year with Tesla Powerwalls installed on our home. I thought this would be a good opportunity to review the year and see how they performed and how they impacted our energy use and electricity bill.

Some highlights from the year: Powerwall kept the lights on when the grid when out in February, in the summer we were under a heat dome and our AC ran for 5-days straight, we put our Powerwalls in our utility's SmartBattery VPP, our Powerwalls cycled about 94 times during the year (timeshifting our energy use), we saved far more on our electricity bill than with solar alone, we even had a negative bill one month. 

Peak Hours - Time-of-Use (ToU) 

With our electric utility, ToU is optional. If you sign up for it, then during peak you pay 5.3¢ more per kWh than the standard rate and during off-peak you pay 11¢ less per kWh. If you can use more off-peak than peak, this trade-off is a net win.

Below is a nice visual explanation of ToU. This is not from our utility but it's a good illustration of the concept. 

Our solar panels generate energy during mid-peak and on-peak times (reducing our peak load) and our EVs charge at off-peak times. This alone makes ToU worth it. Additionally, the Powerwalls allow us to load-shift by discharging during peak hours further reducing our peak load. Collectively, this should mean that we save money with ToU. How much? We shall see below. 

Solar Production and Energy use

We have 12 kW of solar panels on our roof. We covered every inch that we could. Sadly, we are not at net-zero. The panels only provide about 60% of the energy that we need on an annual basis. So we are definitely still dependent on our grid connection (especially during the winter months). Here's a graph of our 2021 energy production and use: 

Powerwall Usage 

During the year, we ran about 3.8 MWhs through our Powerwalls. This is about 94 full cycles of the batteries. If you look closely at the chart above, you can see a flat spot in late May. This is when the Powerwalls were in "Stormwatch" mode for due to fire danger in our area. Whenever a potential disaster is in your region, the Powerwalls charge up to 100% and go into standby mode in case you need the energy to keep the lights on.

Ironically, as I write this in January of 2022, the system is again in Stormwatch mode for high winds in the area. Stormwatch mode was used off and on during December due to snow and ice storms. It was reassuring to know that if we were hit by a regional blackout, our home would be spared; our frig and furnace would continue to operate.

In 2021, we did experience one blackout and the Powerwalls came through for us. On Valentine's Day, we had a 3-hour outage in our neighborhood. Everyone's lights were out except for ours. The Powerwalls kept our light on and our internet connection even continued to work. When the event ended, we still had an 80% charge. The dryer was running when the outage started and since the cycle was nearly done, we decided to let it complete; otherwise, we'd have had even more charge remaining.

2021 Grid Energy Usage

Ok, so let's finally get to the point of this article: how much grid peak-energy usage did we have in 2021? 

You can see in the chart above that the combination of solar, Powerwalls, and off-peak EV charging has moved the bulk of our billed usage to the preferred off-peak rate. For eight months (Mar - Oct), we had zero net usage at peak hours. I was surprised to see this since our air conditioner ran 24 hours a day for 5-days during the record-breaking heatwave

According to my calculations, if we were on the basic rate plan (paying the same amount for every kWh), we would have paid over one thousand dollars more in electricity bills last year. A couple more calculations show that with ToU, on average, we're paying less than half the typical rate per kWh.

So while we do still use the grid (and pay connection fees, taxes...), Powerwalls help us use it far more efficiently. The bulk of our grid usage (76% actually) is during off-peak times. This is when the grid has surplus capacity and when rates are cheaper. This means that we're helping to better utilize the existing infrastructure and saving money.