“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Sunday, August 28, 2011


In a previous post I mentioned that I'd purchased (more accurately, my Company purchased) a Lexus CT200h hybrid. I've now run a few tanks full of fuel through the vehicle and, to a certain extent, gotten accommodated to its driving characteristics (not so good) and its technology (adequate but nothing special in 2011). One thing the photo at left doesn't reveal is that this car is SMALL!

The vehicle's propulsion system consists of a small (1798 cc) Atkinson cycle internal combustion engine with a maximum power output of 73 kilowatts (98 horsepower) and two motor generators - one that's engine driven and can charge the battery or provide additional power to the other, a drive motor. It features four "modes": Normal, Eco, Sport (amusingly), and EV. In the EV mode the car can go a bit under two miles at a bit under 30 m.p.h. on battery power alone.

The CT200h incorporates a couple of features that obviate some of the fuel economy measures I employed in the Land Rover LR3 HSE I previously drove. The internal combustion engine shuts off at stops. It also shuts off on downhills, converting gravitational potential energy to charge the battery. It also employs regenerative braking.

With all that, stated candidly, the vehicle is a dog. Why, then, did I select it? It's comfortable, it has a reasonable technology platform, it's quite reasonably priced (by Lexus standards - I got out the door for less than a Chevy Volt would cost before the tax credit), and it's capable of excellent fuel economy. It's EPA rated at 43 m.p.g. city and 40 m.p.g. highway using regular gasoline. In my five tanks full I've averaged about 52 m.p.g though I'd hoped for better. I've not tried the "pulse and glide" method - it's simply more work than I want to devote to fuel economy.

Above is the output of a (trivial) Mathematica program I use to estimate fuel economy. Its prediction in the case of both the LR3 that I used to drive (and my wife now drives) and the CT200h are pretty close to the numbers I actually achieved at the pump. Of course, the calculation is for 55 m.p.h., the fastest I drive.

In the news in the last month, we see that President Obama and "Detroit automakers" reached an agreement to raise the CAFE standards to 54.5 m.p.g. by 2025. Of course, this resulted in an outcry that this is another example of big government interference in the free market and an example of creeping socialism. Maybe it is. But impossible, or even impractical, to achieve, it is not. I'm driving a comfortable vehicle that, while by no means quick or fast, comes close to this without any radical driving techniques (I haven't even tried drafting). As you may have noted, it's currently 2011.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Anaheim Energy Field

The City of Anaheim, using a $350,000 grant together with internal funding, has taken what was previously an unused three acre (what's three acres? think three American football fields, including the end zones, and you'll be close - this helps me to visualize it) site beneath power transmission lines and installed a park facility with a walking path, a lunch/picnic area, and some open field area for recreation. The facility is now called Anaheim Energy Field.

56 kW Solar array
The unique aspect of this facility is the installation of two sets of solar photovoltaic panels. One set, consisting of 385 panels, is in a fenced off area and at ground level. The other set is integrated with the three sun shades for the picnic and play area. It also utilizes artificial turf and drought resistant plantings. I went to visit this park a couple of weeks ago to see how it looked and how it was being utilized.

Across field viewing shade structures
I was there on a beautiful Sunday afternoon from about 2pm until 3:30pm, and during that time I was alone for all but 15 minutes. For those minutes, one individual came by and did some pull ups on one of the park's installations. I took a bunch of photos (on my iPhone, so the quality is low) and explored the park. I'm not sure why it isn't being utilized, the artificial turf is quite nice, the picnic areas are well maintained, and it's altogether a nice place to spend some time. Perhaps people are afraid of the power lines, though I hope not.

The movers and shakers getting iCeL tour
(Photo credit: City of Anaheim)
When I got home, I dove a bit deeper into the park and its technology. As it happens, the City of Anaheim (where I live) and scandal-prone former Anaheim mayor Curt Pringle had worked out a deal with a "green energy startup" called iCeL Systems, Inc. This firm was to supply a system of "smart batteries" that can both charge and discharge simultaneously (don't ask me) and that would enable Anaheim Energy Field to deliver energy continuously rather than only when the sun shone. Anaheim paid iCeL nearly $100,000 for the pilot project. I won't link to their site as Google reports that there is a risk of virus infection by visting.

Unfortunately, the iCeL system was never implemented and the firm itself had an involuntary petition for liquidation under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code filed against it in May of 2010. As it happens, Chaz Haba, iCel's founder and CEO has what could be described as a colorful history as an energy and electronics entrepreneur. 

In any event, I wondered if the solar panels were operational. I sent an inquiry on the "Anaheim Anytime" web site and received a phone call the same day from Dina Predisik of Anaheim Public Utilities. Ms. Predisik was very open (though she couldn't speak on the iCeL matter) and assured me that the panels have been generating electricity since 2009.

The panels on the sun shades are rated at 20 kilowatts, and those in the field at ground level are rated at 56 kilowatts. They are expected to deliver 114,000 kilowatt hours/year, thus the "capacity factor" is 18%, not bad at all. Looked at another way, this is the power available from about a 22 kilowatt (NOT megawatt or gigawatt) generating station operating at 60% capacity factor (fairly typical for fossil fuel generating stations). Clearly, they are not massive energy providers. Without a doubt though, they're a good example of "distributed generation."

While I'm proud of my city for installation of what is clearly a positive development with respect to turning a vacant and overgrown field into an environmentally friendly recreation area, the cautionary tale here is that where non-expert governmental officials become enamored with cutting edge and ostensibly "green" technologies, the opportunity for malfeasance is great.