Monday, December 14, 2015

A Tale of Two Planets - our Doomsday prediction and the way out.

We have heard about climate change, global warming, green house effect etc.. but among the general noise of work, advertisements, entertainment, gossip etc they also fade away as any other topic would. In todays well connected, busy and distracting world, nothing can maintain the scope or be in the center of attention for more than a week.

There are other philosophical questions/thoughts as well about who we are and what our goals, purpose are but they too have no chance keeping up with the changing, dynamic, eventful busy world. Human mind has this weakness.. even if it manages to identify what is the essence, most important issues and priorities (once in a blue moon that is).. it cant stay focused on those priorities for much long. If we finally manages to have a long term focus on something, they are usually the less important things like jobs, careers, profits etc.

How dare we say things like careers are less important ? Well, they are less important because there are simply more important things than them, whether we like that or not. However important they may be, once in a blue moon realizations don't have much more of a chance than a snow flake in hell to compete (in terms of grabbing and sustaining the attention and focus of our minds) against day to day issues, matters like economies and careers, gossip, news, hobbies. So we fall back to maintain the status quo and life goes on as usual....

However, there are those rare times when u hear a story..... stories are powerful. A proper story connects with you and your beliefs and values in a way that the message get sinks in like no other. These stories change the world.  Some of Ted Talks have done that for few people, so I have heard. Some of powerful speeches from influential people have done that for some others. It could be Martin Luther Kings 'I have a dream', or Mahathma Gandhi or Steve jobs 'connecting the dots' to some. For most of us, we probably haven't heard the story meant for us, not yet!

This is about such a story... I heard a part of it first from 'Cosmos' TV series from Neil de Grass Tyson

I later read the essence of it in the form of a quote from Elon Musk

See whether this is the one which was waiting for you!

Story goes like this....

Venus and Earth are sister planets, in that they are very similar to each other. They are close, about the same distance to the sun, similar sizes with hard surfaces and an atmosphere. Similarities were much numerous several hundreds of millions of years ago.

Like its sister Earth, Venus also was a beautiful planet. It had its own nice blue oceans of liquid water. It was a heavenly planet, conditions were very close to that of bearing life. However, there were violent volcanic actions on Venus which continuously put billions of tons of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon Dioxide levels in the air contributed to Green House effect where the sun light could come through the CO2 layer into the planet but can not get out of it, and hence it traps suns energy, raising temperatures higher and higher. much like how the high temperatures are maintained inside green houses.

When green house effect reaches certain level it becomes like a chain reaction, leading into rapid temperature rises, we call it a runaway green house effect. This is exactly what happens to the Venus, rising temperatures made the sea water evaporate into atmosphere and then leaked away slowly into the space. Venus never saw water again, and the beautiful blue oceans were no more. Meanwhile temperatures rose even faster... Fast forward to few hundreds of millions of years to the present day and we see Venus today is a much hotter planet than even Mercury (which, as you know is much closer to the sun). With high temperatures Venus has a high atmospheric pressure as well. It's dry, hot and very inhospitable to life. A hell, in short....

This was the natural path which was set for its sister as well. Earth also has high volcanic activity those days and writing was on the wall basically. However, a nice twist of things happened here on earth. A thing called trees appeared!

Trees had this habit of taking Carbon Dioxide out of the atmosphere, releasing Oxygen back and storing Carbon in its bodies. Rapid expansion of Trees meant slowly Oxygen levels in the atmosphere rose while Carbon levels were kept in check.

Of course the body of tree eventually die, decompose and Carbon Dioxide (via the activity of micro organisms) will go back into atmosphere. However, this decomposing process is much slower compared to expansion of trees, by the time one decompose, several more tress would grow into take more Carbon Dioxide out.  More importantly, large parts of Trees and Animal bodies got trapped beneath the earth surface and got stored as hydrocarbons. Since this was below the surface these carbon stores were there for millions of years. This made the carbon cycle to break and atmospheric carbon levels never grew into threatening levels capable of creating a green house effect.

Therefore, success of life as we know it on planet Earth is very much indebted to the fact that carbon being stored below earth surface (due to the activity of trees) without getting it into the atmosphere.

Without this storage, earth too would have very well followed its close sisters path.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what we have been reversing in past few decades. In our moment of madness and greed, we are digging up buried carbon, bringing them back up to the surface and burn them into the atmosphere! Currently we add as much as 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year!

Now to the dangerous runway green house effect.. this is the chain reaction when one thing leads to more of the same, until the cycle becomes unbreakable and too late to stop. We are seeing signs of it even now.. increased temperatures mean less ice in polar caps, less ice means less sun light reflected back into space, means further increases in temperatures. Methane (an even more dangerous green house gas than carbon dioxide) buried in the bottom of sea bed get released when sea water reach certain high temperatures, Methane trapped in perma frost get released when those areas in siberia get defrosted... etc. Once these actions reach a certain tipping point, there is no way back and it will be too late to reverse..

Imagine Venus... a hot, boiling, barren hell which was once a beautiful planet with a blue ocean.

Elon Musk has summarized this as follows.

"Burning Fossil Fuels Is the Dumbest Experiment in History, By Far."

Changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere and oceans by adding enormous amounts of CO2 that have been buried since the Precambrian Era is a crazy experiment indeed.

Once we see fossil fuels in this angle, we can never go back and see it as a precious resource or as 'black gold' anymore. The most important and possibly the only real use we can get from Fossil Fuels is to keep them safely buried under the ground, never to be dug up ever again! 

The greatest challenge in our generation is to battle climate change. That is to reduce and stop carbon emissions. In other words, to get away from fossil fuels! This is the most glorious battle field there ever can be in our generation, where heroes will be made and villains will be defined. 

Friday, December 04, 2015

DC fast charging, how bad are you really ?

This post is for electric vehicle owners and fans. The question asked is a frequently asked question in forums and discussions. I guess it is also one of those nagging questions every vehicle owner silently asking himself every time he/she waiting at quick charge station while the green car silently filling itself up...

There is a reason why this question is so frequent, it is because the EV industry, powerful all electric car batteries (they are generally more powerful than hybrid vehicle batteries) and specially the concept of fast charging at commercial scale were still a recent phenomena that there hasn't been enough time to do conclusive testing and arrive at conclusive answers.

However, this is no longer the case. Recently several research, tests and analysis with medium term data collection has been done, to such a degree that we now do have some data to answer this question. Yea, there could still be some nagging minor doubt here and there on exact numbers, but in general the question can be reasonably evaluated.

In older days (about 5 years ago or more), understanding was that fast charging may damage the battery a bit over long time but no one was sure by exactly how much by over 8-10 years of usage, since lack of data. Nissan and Tesla both now seems to be thinking that the long term battery degradation due to quick charging is not as bad as previously thought. Infact they now think that the total number of miles travelled is the main factor affecting battery life than the method of charging (L2 or L3). You can see this by comparing Nissan Leaf owners manual (UK) in 2011 with the one they issued in 2015

 2011 LEAF owner's manual:
Use the normal charging or trickle charging methods to charge the Li-ion battery and minimize the use of public Fast Charge or Quick Charger.
Avoid exceeding 70-80% state of charge when using frequent (more than once per week) public Fast Charge or Quick Charging.
NISSAN recommends that quick charging not be performed more than once a day
2015 LEAF owner's manual:
NISSAN recommends using normal charging for usual charging of the vehicle. Use of quick charge should be minimized in order to help prolong Li-ion battery life.
Avoid sustained high battery temperatures (caused, for example, by exposure to very high ambient temperatures or extending highway driving with multiple quick charges).

Note how soft the wording in 2015 version of the manual (compared to strict warnings in 2011), also they are putting more emphasis against high temperatures instead. Nissan web site actually goes further and even recommends fast charging.

See here Note this section specifically.


Rapid Charging at electric car charging stations allows a LEAF to charge from 0% to 80% in approximately 30 minutes.  Available across almost the entire UK motorway network, you can also find them in Nissan Dealerships, IKEA and Waitrose, plus various other locations.

Nissan recommend the use of the Ecotricity Electric Highway as it’s currently free (you will need to register first) and provides access to a wide range of Rapid Chargers to help you on those longer journeys. For example, using the Electric Highway on a journey from London to Bristol could cost you absolutely nothing!"

Word "recommends" is now used without restraint but at the same time they have managed to sneak in the "0% to 80%" just to make sure! This kind of summarises the present understandings and research stats.

Infact, even as early as 2012, they have got bit bolder. Speaker here is Mark Perry, Nissan North America's Director of Product Planning. 

At first he uses strong assured phrases such as "Nissan is designed with fast charging in mind', "2-3 times of fast charging daily, no problem", "car is intelligent enough to protect it self" etc but when grilled, says there could be small percentage difference over 10 years, so the optimal is to charge up to 80% but still he maintains there is no significant damage in 100% charging (except 'small percentages over 10 year') and go for it if we really need it. 

This is another section from the manual :

  • Info on charging in LEAF Owner's Manual: "Overview" / "Efficient use of your vehicle" / "Li-ion battery life" section.
    Nissan recommends:
    • Only charging to 80% in order to maximize battery life:
      "Long life mode
      NISSAN recommends charging the Li-ion battery using the long life mode to help maximize the Li-ion battery useful life. Long life mode can only be set using the charging timer function. The long life mode is set by changing the [% Charge] to [80% Charge (Improves Battery Longevity)] using the following procedure.[7]
      Furthermore, the LEAF's warranty includes an exclusion regarding Li-Ion battery being charged full on a daily basis "despite the lithium-ion battery keeping a high state of charge level (98-100%)." [8]
    • Allow the battery charge to be below at least 80% before charging.
    • Avoid leaving vehicle for over 14 days where the battery charge state is zero or near zero.
    • Allow the vehicle and Li-ion battery to cool down after use before charging.
  • If vehicle will not be used for long period of time, NISSAN recommends charging with "long life mode" (charging only to 80%, see above) and to charge once every 3 months
Here, there is an important piece. Note that the 0-80% rule is a general health guideline which is applicable even for L2 charging! It is not associated with quick charging only.

Anyway, Nissan may be interested in its business and if the battery died after 8 years, the burden will be on users so we need some neutral party to come up with test data. Given that it is still 5 years since the launch of commercial level EVs, those are hard to come by.

I managed to find one such at following : (Let us know if you find more.) Here too they agree that the long term impact is not significant.

Another angle to look at the issue is to ask the question 'what happens at quick charging which may cause problems for the battery'. The answer is, high power is associated with high temperatures! High temperatures as we know are not good for batteries. Larger the power, higher the temperatures can go while charging. This is why no body even asking the question of damage due to slow L2 charging. (however the 'optimal' habit of not charging more than 80% applies to the L2 charger as well as mentioned earlier.)

Therefore, if we are really concerned, it would be prudent to minimize whatever damage and risk by using less power as possible. 40KW would be better than 60KW, 30KW would be better than 40, 20 would be bette than 30, and L@ charging would be safest of all etc but we can not wait long period to charge the battery if we are to use our cars in practical day to day usage. So at some point we will have to draw a line and find the correct balance between practical usage and ultra safety over long term.

Personally, I myself of the opinion that 20KW provides us that balance. It is fast enough for most of our requirements (I'm yet to find a case that it exceeds one hour for a charge), cheap enough to afford fair prices to EV owners, safe enough for batteries against high temperatures since it uses less power. However, I would not write off 30KW either.

Using beyond that (40KW or more), I think is a mistake for Sri Lanka. Here are the reasons :
1) Our grid provides only 60A max with 3 phase, beyond that you need a dedicated paid transformer.
2) If you go for such a transformer, then that huge cost will usually come to the end customers but why should EV owners pay for transformers ?
3) If you do not go for a transformer then you can draw only 60A, meaning your 40KW charger is actually under utilized. If thats the case, why should end customers pay more for power they are not even using ?
4) Risks associated with long term battery life. (however minor they can be)

To summarize then :
1) When possible, charge only up to 80% (whether it is L2 or L3)
2) If you really have to charge up to 100% to get the range, don't worry too much over it but at the same time, try not to do it too often either, just to be on the safe side.
3) let the battery cool down after the drive before charging. (since we know that the temperature is the enemy)
4) less power the better for the battery so whenever possible, use lesser KW if you are very concerned about long term battery life.
5) Reduce amounts of occurrences where the battery is discharged very low. If it goes too low, let it cool down a bit and charge. Dont keep the battery in Low of High charge states for longer durations.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Electric Vehicles - Facts and Myths

I was out of blogging and social media for a long time (for good, so I thought). So many things have happened in last few years. Few years ago, I have written about Toyota Prius which got some discussion going on about the hybrid vehicles. Well, as they say a lot of water has flown under the bridge!

Just thought of coming back and write this since I have heard so many untruths recently about electric cars that it was almost hard not to have a say in some sort. So many have commented on these already, but I will just for the record add my 2 cents here as well.

1) Sri Lankan electricity grid can not take so many electric vehicles.
People who say this belongs to two categories, those who don't know enough and those who knows but knowingly and willingly trying to mislead others due to vested interests.

Some of electric car owners have already opted for net metering with solar panels, and many others are also planning to do so. Market analysis show that utilisation of solar power (via net metering) is so high among EV owners. So it is not correct to say that EV owners are a burden on the grid. Besides, Sri Lanka has a surplus of electricity at off peak hours (nights after 10PM) that anybody charging on those times are not a problem to the national grid at all. Not to mention the fact that new coal power plants are producing enough electricity for the country.

2) Electricity is produced using hydrocarbons so charging cars from electricity has no benefit in terms of environment or carbon emissions.

We can excuse people who say this out of lack of subject knowledge, however I suspect there are quite a few who propagate this knowing very well that it is not true at all. Compared to the combustion engines of motor vehicles, power plants are efficient by an order of magnitude! Even if we use electricity produced by a power plant using diesel or coal, it is still much more clean and will be using much less hydrocarbons than we pumping from the shed and burning in vehicle engines which are no way near the efficiency levels of industrial power plants. This can be so easily verified by a quick google search or from wikipedia that a further discussion on this is utterly unnecessary.

One last thing.. should we really need to mention that there is a seizable component of electricity produced without hydrocarbons ?

3) Importing more vehicles is not good for the national economy as we loose foreign currency.
True, but why then target EVs specifically! 2.5 million tax is not really a tax, impact of that is so huge that it cant be described any other way than as a measure to kill an emerging sector at its birth!

Surely, petrol/diesel vehicles could have been taxed more and some concessions could have given to environment friendly EVs and Hybrids. As a nation, we would have save money from petroleum imports. This is such a no brainer and something almost all other countries in the world are following.

4) EV owners who use solar power at home for charging will not be contributing towards the economy.
It is sad and disappointing to hear that some of learned businessmen and politicians have even entertained this thought! the argument goes like, EV owners if moved into using net metering with solar panels, will not be using petrol sheds and will not be paying electricity bills. So they can no be taxed and hence they are not contributing to the economy.

Do we really have to provide an answer to this argument ? When learned people comes up with this type of arguments we can just get an idea about how high the amount of vested interests could be.

Any sane person will not fail to see the huge positive impact a single person can make by becoming petroleum independent. Such a person will be an asset for an country and will be saving a huge amount of money annually which would otherwise be burned in a car or in a power plant to provide his energy needs.

Now, basic economics tell us that such a person will then spend that money (he has saved) in investments, savings or consume goods/services (which the others in the society has produced). That is certainly not a bad thing for the economy. Taxing should be a tool to improve a society, not to destroy one. If we still need to tax such a practice (instead of encouraging more people to follow that path, like other countries are doing), at least we should be finding some other ways to tax without killing off both Solar power and EV usage in one stroke. Almost any measure would have been much better than the one which has actually taken in this case!

Two good trends we have seen in Sri Lanka recently are the use of EVs and use of solar power (PV). Many people have opted for net metering which is a great save for petroleum importing developing country like ours. EVs seemed to encourage that trend further, at last it started to seem like some good things may happen to our economy and environment. It is very rarely one see something which is good for the economy and environment both at the same time. Sadly, this is the hope which is now made to go down in smoke, in favour of the petroleum importers, petrol/diesel car importers and few mega businessmen.

We may be engaging in many industries and businesses in many fields, some policy decisions may hit us on our profit margins here and there. As intellectually honest people we need acknowledge bad decisions and harmful decisions to the country/society even if they benefit us personally in the short term, vice versa.

If certain acts which are harmful for a country seem to benefit us, then that may be an indication that we may be in a wrong business, or engaging in some unethical, unpatriotic or anti-society business practices. This is what we need to say to those who trying to justify/promote the EV tax hike.