Saturday, April 30, 2011

Project Selection

My initial research into EV conversions made it clear that the first thing I had to do was some project planning.  In particular I had to decide why I was doing an EV conversion and what my objectives were.  It was disconcerting to find myself thinking "I don't want to spend a bunch of time planning this project, I just want to do it."  This was disconcerting because I realized that I sounded just like a bunch of my students.  I'm very good at criticizing them for failing to plan ahead, particularly when it comes to large projects.  It was rather unpleasant to discover that while I'm good at seeing others' failure to plan and calling them out on it, I don't like planning any more than my students do.  With this realization behind me, I started to plan the project.

The first essential question to be addressed is "What kind of car do you want your EV to be?"  The most important things one needs to think about to answer this question are 1) what are you going to use the car for and 2) how great a range do you need?  One of the biggest constraints on EV performance is the mass of the car.  The greater the mass the more batteries one needs which increases the mass and reduces range.  It didn't take a lot of thinking to figure out that I would be doing two things with my EV, commuting to work and back (10 miles round trip), and running errands around town (20-40 miles depending on the size of the errand).  The second thing I quickly realized was that when I was done I wanted a vehicle that was fun to drive around.  I didn't want to have another Civic in the driveway.  Finally, it was obvious that minimizing the mass of the vehicle was key.

Chris Cicotello and me in Bruce, my Z-3
With these three criteria identified, I quickly determined that there were two categories of cars that would suit my objectives.  The first category was a small sports car, light easy to convert, and fun around town.  But wait! I already own that car! What do I need with another roadster in the driveway?  This led me quickly to the second option, a light pickup truck. They're very light, easy to convert, and have plenty of room for batteries.  This would also be a great commute vehicle for me and also would please all my pickup owing friends who are tired of me asking them to borrow their pickup when I need to haul some over-sized item around town.  And, most importantly, I'm a guy who's never owned a pickup--certainly can't leave this work in that status!  So a pickup it will be.


So, I've been thinking about, and sometimes talking about, converting a gasoline power car to electric power for about a year now. It might be nice to say that my interests were about being green and reducing my personal contribution to global warming, but this would not be particularly accurate.  Mostly I thought it would be a fun project and I'm desperately in need of a fun project that has no connection to my work.  The self satisfaction of doing the right thing an jumping on the green bandwagon cloak covering my real motivation, but it's a popular cloak so I think I'll wear it and show it off a bit.

So, I've been thinking about this for about nine months.  In September 2010, I went to a meeting of a local electric vehicle (EV) club.  This meeting was helpful and mostly showed me that I had to do a lot of background work to scope out the kind of project I wanted before I got started.  So I spent the several week researching EV conversions via the web.  Then the fall quarter started and most all of my evening and weekend time went to grading, reviewing student projects, working with student teams and all those things I fill my time with.

This spring, something finally got me kicked out of background research mode and got me to take this project seriously.  Maybe it was gas prices on the other side of $4.00/gal. Whatever it was, the project is off and running!