Climate Change and the Election

The end of the 2016 was a challenging one for most Californians.  People have been in various states of shock, anger, disbelief, and sadness. During the fall I took a Stanford Continuing Studies class about the election.  I have a friend who is a political nut, and I thought the class would be interesting and had many renowned speakers.  David Plouffe, the campaign manager for Barack Obama’s successful 2008 presidential campaign, spoke to the class and said that he was 100% sure that Clinton would win.   So I believed an expert and was shocked when Clinton lost.

Since the election, I have chosen not to blog about some of the more mundane aspects surrounding owning a Tesla waiting to summarize my thoughts about this last month and a half first in this post.  Although politics is a challenging topic to discuss, I believe the current state of the U.S. is very relevant to both a healthy green environment and the long term success of electric cars including Tesla.  I won’t discuss many of the other horrific things that have been said about women and minorities during the election, but just focus in on our environment.

Elites and Technology Elites

During the aftermath of the election, many pundits spoke of the movement being a revolution against the elites.  Income inequality is higher than it has been since the 1920s, and the unorganized Occupy movement a few years ago tried to address the growing discrepancy.

The Industrial Revolution shifted society from an agricultural and handcraft society to a machine driven one.  The Technological Revolution has shifted society from a machine driven one to a highly automated one.  Many people who formerly worked in machine driven factories have lost their jobs to robots.  Additionally because of the ability to communicate globally, we have become a global not national economy, and jobs have moved to places with lower cost of labor.

My career had a direct affect on changing our society.  In Silicon Valley (outside of the defense industry) we always believed that what we were creating was going to be useful and not harmful for people.  Yes, some early chip companies had problems during the manufacturing process that resulted in some major toxic Superfund sites.  But by and large, the technologies we created have freed people up from mundane tasks and have allowed us to communicate in ways that we could not have imagined a century ago.  The large majority of people would be very upset if they no longer had the ability to use the internet or their smart phone.

I do not believe most technological elites realized the deep impact these changes had on some parts of the country.  Looking forward, the biggest change technology could be self driving vehicles.  3.5 Million people are truck drivers today.  If all these jobs were automated in a short period of time, how will these truckers be able to find jobs with comparable incomes?

The Environment and Global Warming

The reason I started this blog was because I care about the environment deeply.  By sharing my experience driving an electric car, I could encourage other people to make similar purchases.  My solar panels on my home are ten years old, and according to my calculations I have recovered all my upfront costs including considering the opportunity cost of the investment.  So my electricity at this point is completely free for both my house and Tesla.

Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.

– Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

I am baffled by how many people in the U.S. still do not believe that climate change is occurring and that it is man made.  I have a friend who is a scientist by trade, who watches Fox news and still refutes the fact that global warming is man made.  We had a long civilized discussion about it and now matter what facts he is presented, his only argument is “There are just so many factors that could cause these changes.”  In the end I concluded that talking to him about any facts was futile and he has a deep embedded story that he believed – akin to a religious or non-religious belief.  I also think if he admitted to the reality of climate change, his sense of personal story and ego would crumble.

Trump selected Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of the oil and gas-intensive state of Oklahoma, to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Pruitt has fought regulations on our environment and even defended ExxonMobil when it tried to deny climate change and disavow the oil companies’ evidence.  He also stated “The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.”

This quote is incorrect, a 2016 survey of the world’s major economies also found that strict environmental policies improved, rather than handicapped, competitiveness in the international market according to the growing consensus among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) economists.  For example, California has the strictest environmental regulations in the country and enjoys the most robust economy in the U.S.

How the environment became a political issue is bizarre.  Richard Nixon created the EPA, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, and George W. Bush signed the extension of the Clean Air Act.  The environment and the future of our planet should not be a political issue.


I am very saddened that my country elected a racist, sexist person without compassion who does not care about the environment.  I will do whatever I can to help make America a good place for everyone not just rich white men.

How does the election impact Tesla and the environment? I think Tesla does need to consider the impact of autonomous vehicles on those who depend upon driving as the source of our income.

My far my biggest fear is climate change as the U.S. needs to be the leader in solving global warming, and if we don’t act fast the problems may be irreversible.

Solar Roof Tiles

Tesla’s latest event was labeled as Powerwall 2 but the more interesting part of the event was when Elon announced a set of solar tiles for roofs.


These new solar tiles are available in a few styles including a Tuscan style one in an orange color and more modern grey tile ones shown above.  All the styles are made of glass that are stronger than conventional roof tiles.  Elon claimed that installing or replacing a roof would be cheaper with these Solar City tiles than a conventional roof!

Elon also announced Powerwall 2 with twice as much energy storage than the first iteration, along with PowerPack 2 for the commercial market.


The goal is to have solar on your roof, a Powerwall in your garage, and a Tesla in your driveway.


I have already had solar on my house for 10 years, and I actually have a flat roof where you cannot even see the panels.   My house is quite unusual, but if I had a conventional house without solar I would seriously consider these new panels.  I wonder if only Solar City can install them or can you buy them at retail stores like Home Depot?

Part of the timing of this event was clearly to influence the vote on the merger. My small number of Tesla shares will in no way influence the outcome, but I have not yet decided how to vote.





New Options for Buying Power

The electric bill you receive is actually for two products:  the infrastructure, use and maintenance of the physical wires between your building and the grid, and the second is the actual energy you use.   My county is now following the lead of a group of cities and towns in Sonoma County by looking to adopt a community choice energy (CCE) program.  A CCE program allows municipalities to seize control of the actual costs of energy.  With a CCE program in Northern California, PG&E will still maintain the physical infrastructure and send the bills to the end customers, but the CCE will buy energy from 3rd parties.

Energy Cost

The graphic shows two parts of the energy bill.  The infrastructure part is the set of physical power poles and wires allowing you to charge your home, and billing the customers electronically or by snail mail.

The actual energy can come from a variety of sources:  nuclear, wind, solar, conventional power plants, and hydroelectric.  A CCE program would offer residential and commercial electricity customers new energy options, including higher renewable energy content at competitive rates. If formed, electricity customers in San Mateo County would be able to choose between Peninsula Clean Energy and PG&E as their electricity purchaser.

At the moment in Northern California, the only option for both services is PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric), who owns the monopoly franchise for 2/3 of California from Bakersfield to the Oregon border.  PG&E rates are technically set by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), but the company is a for profit enterprise.  The California State Legislature is currently looking at an overhaul of the CPUC.  One recent controversy was a very damaging environmental leak in Aliso Canyon (Porter Ranch) by the Southern California Gas & Co releasing over 150 million pounds of methane into the environment.  Methane is approximately 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide to trap heat.

Why is a CCE an interesting alternative?  Four main reasons make a CCE a positive choice for all customers.  Customers can now select from a variety of energy mixes.  They can choose to have a percentage of their electricity strictly from renewables.  Secondly a CCE is a non-profit organization not accountable to public shareholders seeking a return on investment.  Any surplus funds are reinvested in local renewable energy.  A goal of the CCE in San Mateo County will be to achieve greater greenhouse gas reductions and a sustainable energy future.  Fourth customers will have energy rates lower than current for profit PG&E rates as demonstrated today in Sonoma County.

I attended one of their public meetings and found the concept very positive.  At a simple level because this will be a non-profit organization, rates will be lower.  The county is also very interested in moving towards more renewable energy, and securing power sources closer to the county to reduce the amount of energy lost in long transmission.  The Tesla Powerwall as a possible addition to the mix was also briefly discussed in the meeting.

9 Years of Solar

I just recently got my annual true-up bill for the net metering for the year and I owe $237.80 for the entire year. I have had a set of solar panels on my house now for a full nine years.  For 6 1/2 years, I have been powering Teslas with the panels. The diagram to the right shows a summary of the annual electricity charge or credit.

Summary of Annual Energy Bills

Summary of Annual Energy Bills

Last year my bill was $80 less, but in 2014, I traveled across country in the Tesla for an extended period of time.

Panel Cleanliness Test

I have paid to have my solar panels cleaned in the past.  The roof is very high and quite a challenge to get to the panels.  I’m not particularly fond of the challenging maneuver from the ladder to the roof, so I’d rather pay a professional a modest fee when needed.  He uses a soft brush and de-ionized water.  But I can quickly monitor the cleanliness of the panels on line before making an appointment.

The amount of energy I generated in early October is the same as in 2014.  In the graph below I just do a quick comparison of the amount of energy generated during an interval on a sunny day during the same time of the year when there is little to no use of electricity.  The panels may be a little bit dirty due to the extreme drought, but some El Niño rains should soon wash away any  dirt.

Year to Year Interval Energy Production Comparison

Year to Year Interval Energy Production Comparison

Free Energy in 2017 Onwards

I have only two more years to recoup the initial investment.  This calculation is extremely difficult as the electricity rates are very complex and constantly changing.  I’m assuming unless things change drastically my energy will be free in late 2017.  The panels themselves have a 25 year warranty but the inverter is out of warranty.  I may incur a cost at some point due to equipment failure.


Just recently, PG&E has managed to increase our minimum charges from just under $5 to a little over $10.  This monthly charge is our cost to be hooked up to the grid.  The only alternative would be an off grid solution which would be really challenging here as the solar production is so much lower in the winter due to the sun angle.    And the electricity use is relatively flat because the climate is so pleasant and the house well built and insulated, the air conditioner is only on a few days per year.  I have no use for a Powerwall.

Only two more years to drive and live on sunshine for free, or $10 a month.

7.0 Torque Sleep Efficiency

Today I drove the car and noticed a significant energy improvement on a regular route.  I live in the hills and when I drive down to the flats, I generate some energy and when I drive back up to the house, I use quite a bit of energy. The altitude change is about 300 feet.  My car’s average usage is typically about 330 Wh/mile in the local area.  My lifetime Wh/mile is a bit lower than that but I’ve been across country in the Model S.   The only time I experienced numbers close to 300 Wh/mile was driving on very flat freeways in mild weather.

With the new 7.0 software, rear wheel drive cars now have Torque Sleep.  Tesla developed this technology for the dual drive cars.  Torque Sleep is the Tesla terminology for turning off a motor  when it is not needed.  For the dual drive cars with a motor driving each axle, I would suspect there are many times that the car is more efficient with only one motor running.  With 7.0, Tesla has now added this technology to the RWD classic cars like mine.  Torque sleep on a RWD allows the only motor to go to sleep; effectively the car is in neutral but maintains control.

Getting Great Efficiency with 7.0 Software

Getting Great Efficiency with 7.0 Software

Today on my way down to the flats after 7 miles, my Wh/mile usage was noticeable and shockingly low – only about 183 Wh/mile.  I decided to return on the exact same route.   On the route home as you see on the first half of the screen I got 419 Wh/mile for the 7.1 miles to drive back home. I got an average of 301 Wh/mile on the short 14.2 mile trip.

A couple other owners have report similar improvements, although nothing in the 7.0 release notes indicates any quantitative change.  But I’m more than happy to use less energy and have effectively more range on my battery.

On steep downhills, energy can be regenerated by running the motor in reverse.  But Tesla must have figured out a sweet spot on a less steep grade where the car can continue at speed but can’t really regenerate energy so the software instead turns the motor off.   On my route down, I am assuming there are some shallow downgrades that fit this requirement.

I will continue to watch this data for a longer period of time. Torque sleep on a RWD car may only have a limited set of road conditions to work. It would be entertaining to have an indicator on the dash that the motor is sleeping.

Release 7.0 for Classic Teslas

Classic Teslas like mine do not have the hardware that enables the autopilot features.  The new software release that all cars received last Friday works for both the Classic Teslas and the ones with the autopilot hardware, which costs $2,500.  This release has a few significant highlights and unfortunately a couple of lowlights for Classic Cars such as mine.

1. The look and feel has changed in several small ways.  Some of the fonts and style has changed a little bit with the current fashionable flat 2-D icons.  When Apple first released their 2-D icons, I missed the older ones, but I largely think this is just a current style trend that will eventually change again.

Much More Useful Display of Driving Stats Since Beginning a Trip and Last Charge

Much More Useful Display of Driving Stats Since Beginning a Trip and Last Charge

2. For long road trips, the information on the dashboard for energy usage is much clearer.  Now instead of looking at a strange screen with Trip A and Trip B monitors, you are looking at the information since the last time you started the car on top, and since your last charge below.  On long road trips when I was running dangerously low on energy, I would always bring up the Trip screen to get this information since last charge.   The Trip A and B information is still available on the 17” screen if people plan their energy use that way.

I like this change because I can monitor how much energy I have used since my last charge very succinctly.  I like the kWh usage number and I can easily mentally compare that to my 85kWh battery and compare my Wh/mi usage to the 300 Wh/mile standard.  Here in the hills of California, I never average as low as 300 Wh/mile.  Only on some very flat freeways can the average be maintained at that low level.

Curb Rash Preventer With Automatic Window Tilt in Reverse

Curb Rash Preventer With Automatic Window Tilt in Reverse

2. Tesla has finally found a solution to my curb rash! Now the rear view mirrors adjust downwards while backing up.  I have only tried using this feature once but now I imagine I can parallel park much nicer even without auto-pilot. Of course, I could have done that manually in the past, but I couldn’t imagine messing with my mirrors every time before and after parallel parking.  I’m really excited about this feature because for some reason I’ve never been a great parallel parker.  In my entire life I just have never lived anywhere where I parked parallel with any frequency.

After visiting so many superchargers, I’m really good at backing up into tight spaces though.

Dash Display on Left and Center

Dash Display on Left and Center


3. The center of the dash has grown and changed to accommodate an area for the autopilot in the middle of the speedometer.   For those without autopilot the area is a bit excessive.  The car will have indication lights such as when it is braking as in the picture, but typically this information does not change much and can be a bit annoying.  Owners with red cars have reported they cannot really see the red indicator lights as it blends too much with their car color on the display.

To make space for the larger center display, the battery level was moved to the left and the date, time and temperature removed from the standard dash set up.  You can see the time at the far upper right of the 17” screen, and the date through the calendar app.

To appease those of us who may want to have an easier glance at the time, they added a new clock widget.  The response to the clocks widget is that it is almost universally esthetically displeasing.  And with all of that space, why can’t the date and day of the week also be listed?

Upper Left of 17" Screen Includes Lock / Unlock Button

Upper Left of 17″ Screen Includes Lock / Unlock Button

4.  Tesla added a tiny lock and unlock button on the top row of the 17” screen.

I like this improvement because it took a while to fiddle around the 17” screen to unlock the doors for someone who was trying to get into the car.   They moved the outside temperature reading up here too along with a new button for bringing up the charge screen.

I think the temperature needs to go back to the dash permanently.  I am a bit obsessive about the outside temperature.  I adjust the inside temperature control a lot depending upon the outside temperature and whether or not it is sunny.  This fall has been so warm here in California.  Today is the first day of the year that even feels like fall not summer so I’ve been watching the temperature this year a bit obsessively.

The new charge button brings up the charge screen, which to me is a bit strange.  I am always fiddling a bit to find the unlock charge port button more than anything else on that screen. I’d prefer that this lightning bolt just unlocked the charge port.

Other Details

The release also includes a few other minor changes on the dash board that I will not mention such as a full screen control of the media player.  There are also some efficiency improvements but I have not driven the car much yet to notice any differences.  Newer cars also get a full four wheel tire pressure monitoring sensors that will report on each four tires.  My car’s vintage is unfortunately too old.  I don’t know if there are any bug fixes to the bug challenged trip planner.

All in all, I think 7.0 is an improvement even with a few trivial mistakes on the UI.

Google’s Open Solar Calculator

Google announced a new free tool, Project Sunroof, that allows homeowners in a few select markets (parts of the San Francisco Bay Area), Boston and Fresno to analyze the cost and benefits of installing rooftop solar panels.

The process is very simple, you simply go to this page and enter in the address.  The software told me “Project Sunroof has not reached” my current house, but can show data for a house I used to own in Sunnyvale, California.   Using satellite data, Google shows an overview of your roof.   The tool estimates the amount of roof of your home that would receive direct sunlight.

Below is a screen shot of a satellite view of my former home in the center.  I had no large trees, and the entire house is colored yellow.  The slope of the garage facing towards the north is dark yellow.  No locations are purple, which would indicate shade.    Small sections of the neighbor’s house to the south are purple.

Source Google / Project Sunroof

Source Google / Project Sunroof

Google estimates the house receives 1,917 hours of usable sunlight per year and that 2,297 square feet of roof is available for solar panels.  The house was around 1,400 square feet but Project Sunroof also added in the garage roof and the very large awning along the west side of the house.  The name Sunnyvale indicates correctly that the climate is very sunny.

To get an accurate analysis, you also need to enter your average monthly electric bill.  That amount without air-conditioning and an electric car is relatively consistent month to month.  But this tool does not help you figure out what your bill would be if you added in an electric car.

Just for grins, I ran a test if the average electric bill for month was $100.  The system responded that the recommended solar installation size would be 3.75kW or 225 square feet and would cover 99% of the yearly usage.

The next section outlines the cost in terms of lease, loan or buy.

Cost Estimations on Sunnyvale Home

Cost Estimations on Sunnyvale Home

The tool lists the leasing costs first.  Sure there is no up front cost but your electricity will never be free.  If possible the best solution is to buy the panels and in eight years the initial upfront cost is recovered, and all electricity from then on will be free.  If someone does not have enough money to buy outright they can also take out a loan in order to eventually get free electricity from the grid.  The advantages of a lease over a loan is that the minimum maintenance and repair costs with solar are covered by the leasing company.

After the estimates are given, five solar companies are listed that you can contact.  Curiously enough Elon Musk’s Solar City is not on the list.  The press often states he is good friends with Larry Page of Google.

If the name Google (or Alphabet) was not behind this product, very little press would have occurred.  Many other solar providers have tools like this to determine the viability of solar panels, so this website is not new.  The only thing different is that you do not need to provide any contact information before beginning.    Any encouragement to keep people putting up solar panels is a great thing.