Monday, June 21, 2010

Adventures at the 2010 MREA Energy Fair!

I knew the 2010 MREA Energy Fair would be a big success from the moment I finally pulled out of the big traffic jam outside of Madison, Wisconsin, and was passed by a group of guys in a VW TDI, all smiling, pointing at my electric car and motorcycle, and smiling and waving.

I wasn't off to the best start.
The night before, I was up to at least Midnight working on burning, printing, and packaging my BUILD YOUR OWN ELECTRIC CAR instructional DVDs. The next day, general work obligations kept me from leaving when I wanted to, and when I finally was on the road traffic came to a dead stop.

Now keep in mind that I am driving a Chevy S-10 Pickup truck.
With the 2.2L, 4-cylinder engine.
Towing a ton of Electric Geo Metro.
With an electric motorcycle in the bed.
Oh, and I don't have a radiator fan on the truck...
And still have the grill-block from the winter.

I thought it was a bit odd that my coolant temperature gauge started going up. I always figured that with how oversized most radiators are, the only time I would ever need a radiator fan is on a hot summer day, stuck in a traffic jam, towing a heavy load...

Oh, right. That's exactly what I was doing.
Since the traffic was completely stopped anyways, I hopped out, and with one quick snip of a zip-tie, my grill-block was gone.
Back inside the truck, I plugged in the power connection for the ELECTRIC radiator fan that I removed from the Geo Metro and installed in the truck in place of the mechanical "propeller" fan. I use it about once a year. Today was that day.

A couple hours later, I was finally at the Energy Fair. Once I had unloaded and set up all my display, I headed back to the campground. On the way, I saw a Solectria Force getting dropped off for the show. It belongs to one of the tech schools, and had been beautifully restored.

At camp, it rained cats, dogs, and thunderbolts that night. Hard to sleep in a monsoon, but the weather was great the entire rest of the weekend.

Camping at events like that seems to somehow encourage do-it-yourselfers to go full-tilt, such as homebrew setups, or minimalist camping.

The best thing about the energy fair is the people. We had quite a few EcoModders show up. Besides me, Hondo, Ryland, OvalOverload, and Dave Koller were there, as well as a few people who should at least be honorary ecomodders, including Chuck with his modded rear-steer I-5 Elec-Trak, a guy who runs his Geo Tracker on homebrew ethanol, and an electric S-10 builder.

Saturday is always the busiest day of the fair. It was also the first time I gave a REAL presentation on building an electric car.
There I was, in the front of a tent designed to seat 100 people. It was standing room only. Someone told me they thought it was nearly 200 people there. Some folks couldn't get close enough to see or hear me, so they came back to the fair on Sunday for the other presentation!

I am not a professional speaker. Nope. Not at all. That many people staring at me, expecting me to be a professional EXPERT did give me a bit of stage-fright. So that's the first thing I told them - that it was just a bit nerve-racking to be up there, and that I was NOT AN EXPERT. What I was is just a regular guy who decided to do something a little different.

Luckily, that's exactly who they wanted there that day. I launched into my stories of Left-Turn-Only Test Drives, Electric Motor Scrounging, and my notorious appearance before Judge Stern for the speeding ticket, all while getting through the steps of a practical EV conversion.

I also wore my Open ReVolt t-shirt, (Well, one of several I have had made.) to help sell people on the idea of open sour projects, home-brew can-do, and making the project affordable. To help spread the word, I gave my buddy Ryland a silver-on-black shirt.

Later, an amazing amount of people told me how much they enjoyed my presentation. Several folks said that it was the most-well attended workshop of the fair!

I was also selling the very first copies of the BUILD YOUR OWN ELECTRIC CAR instructional videos. They sold out VERY fast, and I quickly had a waiting list for more.

Another highlight of the day was going to a test drive in a Wheego Whip
(Thanks Jimbo!) This Electric Smart Car look-alike was zippy and fun. I drove a few miles around Custer at 35 miles per hour without using a drop of gas. The headroom in the car is great! (I'm 6'0) and the bucket seats were very comfortable. At the end of the day, the Wheego was literally plugged into a windmill to recharge. How's THAT for point of use clean energy!?

Another idea that came up during the day was for a vehicle workshop next year. Several people said how much they liked my car because of the "hands-on" and "DIY" approach. I had also joked about how knowing what I know now, I could maybe convert a motorcycle to electric in a three-day weekend. So here's the idea: For next year - build an EV in a weekend. A motorcycle would be very do-able, and a car could be done with proper preparation. We would need some donations, and some labor help, but I think it could be done.

Just imagine the signs - Friday Noon: Pulling the Engine, Saturday 2PM: Installing Batteries, Sunday 5 PM: Driving Away.
We could even auction the finished vehicle off as a fund-raiser!

Sunday is usually the quietest day of the fair - meaning I only talked to 5000 people... I did a second BUILD YOUR OWN ELECTRIC CAR presentation, this time with a bit fewer people there.

I also did interviews with several camera crews, including two from broadcast TV, Channel 7 and Channel 9, both from Wausau, Wisconsin. Although both were full-length interviews with me and lots of video of my car, the only news story I could find had just a brief shot of me leaning over the car (I'm wearing a purple t-shirt) and an extreme close-up of my bad wiring!

The return trip from a long weekend event like this is always a tiring one. Once again, I hit traffic jams (at 11 at night!) due to road construction, but I finally made it back home, and slept soundly knowing that I was doing my part to try to make the world a little better.

Thanks to everyone who showed up, volunteered, presented, exhibited, and in any other way participated to make the 2010 MREA Energy Fair such a success!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Can I Autocross Race an Electric Car?

Electric Car Conversion DVD - COMING SOON!

Adventures in Filmmaking

Adventures in Filmmaking!
by BEN N on JUNE 3, 2010

Just recently, I announced that I am making an instructional video on how to BUILD YOUR OWN ELECTRIC CAR.

No sooner had I started than Murphy’s Law reared its ugly head.

To start with, I already had the Open ReVolt controller out of the car, so I thought I would film that as the very first bit of the video. Once done with that, I wash the car, and reinstall the controller. I went outside and started washing the car, only to realize there was A GIANT CRACK THROUGH THE WINDSHIELD! RIGHT BEFORE FILMING ALL THE BEAUTY SHOTS OF THE CAR! All I can figure is that the windshield must have had a chip in it I hadn’t seen. Hot sun, and cold wash water just made the tiny crack bigger.

I started shooting all the various sections of the video, explaining how the motor works, how to build an adapter plate and coupler, and rig up batteries and chargers.

Then, I had an idea for a cool shot for the beginning of the video – I would film the car in an empty parking lot, where I could rotate the camera around the car on a small wheeled cart. I threw the cart and camera in the back of the car, and zipped down the street to the local mega-church (they have a GREAT parking lot!)

I made a couple of takes of my rotational cart shot, until I got one I was happy with. Also, the sky was threatening rain, so I was quick to pack up.

Back to my house is up a big hill, on a fast section of road. Now keep in mind that in an electric car, you actually want to be in a HIGHER gear for greater power. The higher gear creates more resistance, which allows for you to draw more energy from the batteries. “What the heck, I’ll use 4th gear….”

So, just as I turn from the church parking lot to the main road, I see a car coming up quick behind me, just over the other smaller hill right there. So, I accelerate… In 4th gear – drawing 500 amps sustained for about 5 seconds…..

Pop! I instantly realized what happened, and cursed myself for it.

Now keep in mind that about a half-hour earlier, I was recording instructional video on the various EV components under my hood. When I pointed out the main fuse, it was pretty obvious that it was only 175 amps. ( Hard to miss the way I marked it with a Sharpie.) In the video, I mentioned that the smaller fuse is fine, as long as I am not sustaining a big heavy draw on the batteries.

So there I am on the side of the road, with a blown main fuse. Now I’m no fool. Of COURSE I have a spare fuse with me. What I don’t have is the right wrench to remove the old fuse and install the new one. Fortunately, I’m only a ten minute walk from home. I walked back to my house, got my wrench, socket wrench, a packing blanket, and threw it all on my cargo bike, so I could quickly bike back to the car.

That’s when it starts raining.

I think it’s safe to say that “You might be an Ecomodder if….” you have ever changed a 200 amp fuse in a rainstorm on the side of the road. When I was done, the car ran fine again. I padded the back of the car with the packing blanket and threw my Murray Santa Cruz in the back.

Everything was right as rain again. (And as wet!)

I’m hoping the rest of filming the instructional video is a little less adventurous.