– Ben Martens

Electric Vehicles

Energy Sources

When power plants churn out electricity, it gets integrated by a “balancing authority”. There are a few dozen groups that handle this in the west.

I recently found a site that shows live stats from the Bonneville Power Authority Balancing Authority. On the map, this is represented by the medium blue that covers much of Washington, Oregon, northern Idaho, and western Montana. Every five minutes, the site is updated to show where the power came from those previous five minutes along with the demand level. (Note that VER stands for Variable Energy Resource which means wind, solar, etc. In this case it’s mostly wind.)

So the last five minutes of power were 75% hydro, 9% fossil fuel, 9% nuclear and 6% wind, but for the last couple days, wind was actually producing more of the power than nuclear.

The power at my house comes through PSE so this isn’t exactly applicable to me, but I still find this fascinating. If anyone knows how to find similar data for PSE I’d love to see it! Thanks to Cliff Mass’s excellent weather blog for setting me off on this side track with his post about why energy production declines during heat waves.

Identifying Tesla Models

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the current prices for the various models, but how do you tell them apart when you see one in the wild? It takes a little practice, but here are some identifying characteristics:

Tesla Model 3

If you don’t know, guess Model 3. Today, this is the most common Tesla on the road (but going forward the Y is expected to overtake it.) The 3 is the smallest of the four models. It’s a four door sedan and, like the Y, it has no main grill openings on the front aside from the opening on the very bottom of the bumper.

Tesla Model Y

The looks like a bigger version of the 3. In fact, they share ~70% of their parts. The Y doesn’t have any grill openings either. The Y is a bit taller (~7 inches) and is a “crossover” style. It has a full liftgate instead of a trunk. It’s easy to get these confused with the Model 3.

Tesla Model S

Like the 3, the S is a sedan, but this one looks a lot fancier. You can differentiate the S and X from the 3 and Y by the grill “opening” with the Tesla logo. The rear end of the newer S and the X models also have a chrome accent that runs between both tail lights. These models usually have an emblem in the lower left of the rear that says “Model S”.

Tesla Model X

The X is BIG. It’s a full size SUV, but like the S, it has a grill “opening” and the chrome accent between the tail lights. If you see it in a parking lot, you’ll notice the gull wing doors. The door handles for the front and rear doors are also centered along the line between the doors.

Charging Costs vs Gas Prices

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

Before we did the car, I did a lot of research and math to compare a Model Y’s long term cost of ownership to the Ford Escape that we likely would have purchased instead. As part of that, I estimated that gas was going to average $3.50/gallon over the life of the car. That was about the average around us when I was doing the research and while I knew prices would go up a bit, I wanted to be very conservative (favoring the Escape over the Model Y.) Obviously the world has changed a lot since then and gas costs an average of $5.44 around us. How does that affect my calculations?

First let’s talk about how I’m collecting data. Finding “average gas prices” is a bit tricky. Most sites that you’ll find show averages for the state by month. That’s better than nothing, but our area is typically more expensive than other parts of the state, and we should be able to do better than monthly data. The GasBuddy website has daily updates on gas prices at a lot of gas stations. I wrote an app that checks the price for regular gas at the 6 closest gas stations to our house. I log that data to a database every day.

The next piece of the puzzle is figuring out how much gas I would have been buying at those processes. Obviously that’s a little tricky to get exactly right, but I’ve estimated it by looking at the total miles driven per day in our new car and assuming that I would just pay for that much gas each day. I get the daily mileage from the Tesla APIs and log that to the database as well. I’m left with a query that shows X miles driven for a given day when the gas price was $Y. I use the average MPG from our last Escape and do the math to estimate how much we would have paid for gas that day.

The Tesla API also gives me a record of every time I’ve charged the car. It tells me not just how much energy was added to the battery, but how much energy I pulled from the wall to account for a small amount of loss in the charging process. We have a tiered electricity cost based on total usage for the month so I assume that all the charging costs are in the highest tier.

When I was working out the math to see if an electric car would be cheaper, I had planned on saving $12.72 on gas per 100 miles. But that as planning at $3.50/gallon, so what does all the data show? After putting 2100 miles on the new car, I’m happy to report that we are saving $18.68 per 100 miles!

Tesla Prices

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

Let’s talk about price, but first let’s set some context. Car prices are increasing rapidly in the entire market. The average car price in May 2022 was $47,148 and prices are up ~15% compared to just 12 months ago. It’s not a great time to be buying a car.

Teslas are obviously more expensive than the average car, but there are a lot of misconceptions out there about how expensive they are. It’s not uncommon to hear people talk about how they don’t have $100k to spend on a car so they can’t get a Tesla. Yikes.

Tesla makes four models: S, 3, X, and Y. (Yes, that was intentional. The “Model E” trademark was owned by Ford.)

Starting on the low end, we have the Model 3. It’s the cheapest way you can get into a Tesla at $46,990. The Model Y is a crossover version of the Model 3. They share a lot of parts and styling. The Model Y starts at $65,990. The Model S is a premium luxury/sports car. It starts at $104,990 but they also offer the Plaid trim for $135,990 which gets you 0-60 in under 2 seconds. The Model X is the most expensive one, and it’s the one with the fancy gullwing doors. It takes the speed and luxury of the Model S but also gives you room for 7. $120,990 or $138,990 for the Plaid trim.

Those prices have gone up… a lot. Two years ago, you could have bought a Model Y for almost $20,000 less than today. Tesla keeps raising the prices and people keep ordering them. The wait list is still 4-12 months long depending on what trim level you buy.

I’m usually the guy who gets into a line right as it stops growing, but this time we did much better and placed our order early in that price ramp. Frustratingly it did jump $2k as we waited an extra three days to take one more test drive before putting in our order, but still, I’m glad we got in when we did.

When you look at Tesla’s website, the pricing is a little tricky to figure out because the prices they show by default are the prices with “potential savings.” They’re guessing about fuel savings, tax credits, etc. And that’s where pricing gets so complicated. When you buy a gas car, you’re just getting started on your total cost of ownership. You still need to pay for things like gas and service. When you buy an electric vehicle, you’re sort of prepaying for a lot of that total cost of ownership. The initial purchase is higher, but the long term costs are lower since electricity is much cheaper than gas and there is very little maintenance or service required on an electric car. So yes, the prices are expensive (especially now) but to truly compare your total cost, you need to think about the full lifespan of your vehicle and see how that math works out for you.

I had spreadsheets galore when I was researching all this before our order and I was confident that we’d at least break even buying an electric car versus a comparable gas car, but I’m not stopping there. I’m keeping good records to see how that plays out. I recently set up a spreadsheet that looks at how much energy I used to charge the car every night and compares it to the average price of gas at the six stations closest to me so I can estimate what I would have paid to put an equivalent amount of gas into my car. So far we’ve saved $391 over the first 1500 miles.

A couple years ago, it seemed like we were hitting he point where electric vehicles were going to get popular and prices were going to come down. Well, they got popular, but now everything is getting more expensive so prices have gone way up. Thankfully the popularity of these cars is still increasing, but for them to truly take off, we need $20-30k more models to be available (and good.)

Tesla Model Y – One Month Review

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

“How do you like your new car?” A lot of people have asked me that question and as a thousand thoughts rush through my head, I try to come up with something quick that won’t overwhelm them. There’s the obvious “It’s nice not paying $5.60/gallon for gas,” but it doesn’t seem nice to rub their face in it, so I usually talk about how nice to not worry about it dripping oil or needing service beyond tire rotations and brake checks.

But here on the blog, let’s dive in a bit deeper and share more thoughts after about a month of ownership. Let’s start with the pros:

  • Cars lose a huge amount of their value as soon as you drive them off the lot, but Kelly Blue Book says that my car is currently worth $4000 more than I paid after taxes, and that’s just the trade-in value. So even if all the naysayers are right, I can change my mind and make money on the experiment.
  • We have the car set to a schedule so it automatically wakes up before we leave the house and warms or cools the interior to our preset temperature. It’s convenient, but it also helps save battery since it can do this while plugged in at home.
  • Traffic Aware Cruise Control and Autopilot are awesome! We’ve never had a car with fancy cruise control before, so just being able to have the car speed up and slow down based on traffic in front of us is a treat. But then Autopilot takes it to another level by handling the steering for us too.
  • There’s no key for a Tesla. It’s paired to your phone so you just walk up, get in, and drive away. And when I walk up, it knows it is me and loads my profile which includes standard things like seat and mirror positions, but it also logs into my personal Spotify account, adjusts steering and throttle responsiveness the way I like it, applies my climate control preferences (including vent positions), and the list goes on and on.
  • The storage space is amazing! There’s a “frunk” in the front where we keep emergency supplies and stuff that isn’t accessed as often. The rear trunk has the space you’d normally expect from a small SUV but then you can lift up the floor and get lot more space. Elijah can fit down there with the lid closed!
  • The car has a permanent 4G cell connection. I’ve written before about how that allows me to collect a lot of live data through the API, but it also means nice features in the car. As you’d expect, the giant screen has live traffic in it, but it also streams music from Spotify or Slacker Radio. If you’re parked, you can watch Disney+, Netflix, YouTube, etc if you subscribe to those services. Some of those things require a $10/month Tesla fee to cover the extra bandwidth, but we were paying close to that much for Sirius XM in the last car and this is so much nicer that for now we’re going to pay it.

There are some things that feel different but aren’t pros or cons:

  • One pedal driving takes a while to get used to. When you lift off the accelerator, the car immediately starts to slow down through regenerative braking to recapture energy. If I let all the way off the accelerator, it slows down faster than I would normally decelerate, and it will come all the way to a stop. So that means on most trips, I never touch the brake. It was REALLY weird on the test drive and initially when we got the car. I wouldn’t say it’s second nature yet, but it’s getting there.
  • The entire roof is a window. Unfortunately, as a driver, I almost never notice this. It’s cool for Elijah though. One day we were driving to school, and I spotted a bald eagle flying at us. He couldn’t see it out the windshield, but he clearly saw it through the roof as we crossed paths.

And finally, there are some things in the “con” column:

  • A common complaint among Tesla owners is that Spotify locks up sometimes. I’ve experienced that too. The quick fix is to switch to another music option and then come back to Spotify and it works fine. It’s annoying when it happens.
  • I wish I could use the giant battery in my car to power my house or charge another car. Ford is making a big deal about how their F150 Lightning’s can do this and while it’s a feature that would hardly ever be used, I’d pay to have it just like I paid money to have a generator wired into my house.
  • Wiper controls are done via the screen so they aren’t as convenient as having them near the steering wheel. If you’re using cruise control or Autopilot, the wipers must be on Auto so the computer can make sure that the windshield cameras are clear. Most of the time that works ok, but sometimes it seems like the wipers go too fast. I prefer when they are going to slow because there is a “single wipe” button on the turn signal stalk.
  • There isn’t much visibility out the rear window. It’s enough, but it’s by far the least amount I’ve had on any vehicle I’ve owned.

Maybe I should have started the post with the cons so it ends in a happier state, but honestly, none of those “cons” were surprises to me. I found them all in my research before we ordered and none of them were showstoppers.

My overall review is “Two thumbs up. 5 stars. Would recommend.” I love this car! And as the gas prices continue to rise, it makes the price we paid even easier to stomach. When gas was $3.50/gallon, I calculated that we’d at least break even compared to buying another Escape. At $5.60/gallon that just makes it even more likely that this is going to save me money eventually, but I’ll keep you posted on that as we rack up some miles.

Tesla Road Trip Planning

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

I was hoping to write this post after going on our first overnight road trip, but that got canceled because COVID. (More on that later.) I had done a lot of planning and calculation prep work so I think I can still share some info.

Charging time is something I almost never think about in daily life, but it comes to the forefront on road trips. If you’re the type of person who can burn off a tank of gas without stopping, there’s no getting around it: an EV will add time to your trip. Maybe cutting your fuel costs by ~90% still makes it worth it, but it’s definitely going to change your planning.

For our family, I don’t expect charging to impact our total trip time because we rarely go more than two hours without stopping for a bathroom break. Our trip to Oregon was 3 hours and 50 minutes so I had a planned stop at the 2 hour mark where we would charge for 15 minutes and use the bathroom. There was a supercharger less than 2 miles from our rental house so I would have charged for about 15 minutes there when we arrived too. I doubt the exact plan would have held up and I would have stopped at other chargers as needed. I could have made it all the way down there in one charge and arrived with 17% battery, but being our first road trip, I wanted to see how it worked to combine the inevitable bathroom breaks with supercharger stops. Also, note that charging would be cheaper on the way back because I can roll into my house with a low battery state and charge for quite a bit less money than doing it at a supercharger station.

The Tesla road trip planner is ok, but if you’re a big planner, you’ll find it lacking. I prefer to use A Better Route Planner when I look at road trips. You can specify which types of chargers your happy to use, the efficiency you typically get in your own car, the amount of charge you plan to leave with, how much charge you want to arrive with, what amenities you want to have at a charging stop, and much more. You can even give the site/app access to your Tesla’s data and have it update your plan on the fly.

So yes, road tripping with an EV is different and will probably slow you down depending on your personal situation. Maybe the gas savings will make it worth it for you, or maybe you’ll still prefer to take your gas vehicle on longer trips. We certainly aren’t getting rid of our truck anytime soon and I’m sure we’ll use it for some road trips in the future too, but I’m also looking forward to our next overnight trip so we can try all this planning out in the real world!

TeslaMate Review

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday! The series kind of losing a bit of its luster when it’s the only set of posts happening on the blog right now, but let’s stick with it.

I’ve had a lot of fun reading data from the OBDII ports in our cars over the years, so you can imagine my excitement when I learned that Teslas have an API you can access to get tons of data. There are a variety of apps that can connect to the API and pull down data for you, but I chose TeslaMate specifically because it runs locally and I am in control of all my data. When you see how much data it collects, you can see why maybe it’s good to take a little extra precaution in who can access the data!

So just what do you get to see?

  • Drive and charging reports
  • Driving efficiency report
  • Consumption (net / gross)
  • Charge energy added vs energy used
  • Vampire drain
  • Projected 100% range (battery degradation)
  • Charging Stats
  • Drive Stats
  • History of installed updates
  • See when your car was online or asleep
  • Lifetime driving map
  • Visited addresses

You can check out the documentation link for a full set of screenshots but here are a couple:

Flipping through those dashboards should quickly give you the idea that there is a LOT of information being collected and it is collected multiple times per second! The data comes in live as the car is driving through the car’s built-in LTE connection and it is stored locally on my server in a database. If you want to see a demo the dashboards that sit on top of the data, check out the first ~14 minutes of this YouTube video.

Setup requires a bit of intermediate to advanced geekery. It runs in Docker containers, but there are some tutorials that walk through the config file manipulation and command line jobs to execute. It has been an interesting way to learn some additional technology. It’s my first time running my own Docker containers locally, my first time using Grafana, and my first time working with a PostreSQL database.

I set it up the first day we had it and I feel like I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of what it can do. For now I just like knowing that I’m collecting the data so that I can do more with it in the future.

How Long Does It Take To Charge A Tesla?

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday! I hope you’re ready for more of this because now that we have it in our garage, I have a few weeks of post ideas queued up.

This week let’s talk about the question “How long does it take to charge?” I get it. I asked the same question when I was researching. The questions is a bit flawed though. Driving a gas vehicle, we think in terms of stopping to fill up. When you’re driving an electric vehicle, it’s most economical to arrive at home empty, not full. It’s significantly cheaper to charge at home. The goal is to make sure that your home charging solution can supply enough juice to let you leave with a full battery in the morning.

When I was doing the math, I kept thinking about how long it would take to charge from 0% to 100%. My home charger adds about 14 miles of range per hour so it would take almost a day to go from 0 to 100%! Is that ok? It turns out that yes, this is fine, because in the entire life of your vehicle, you’ll almost certainly never do 0-100%. Running down to 0% is bad for the battery and charging to 100% isn’t great either (though it’s ok when you’re preparing for a long drive.) A much more likely scenario is that overnight you’ll simply be replacing the charge that you used during the day. We drive around 80 miles per day so in less than 6 hours, I’ve recovered my lost charge for the day. That leaves a LOT of leeway for longer trips on weekends, and even if I didn’t completely refill from an exceptionally low battery state, I’d have plenty for my normal day of commuting.

But charging speed DOES matter when on a road trip. If you’re traveling more than one charge form home, and if you’re not charging at your destination, then you’ll be supercharging. All Tesla superchargers are faster than home chargers by there are a variety of speeds ranging from 72 kW to 250 kW. My 220v 20amp circuit at home is good for 4 kW so these Superchargers are significantly faster. We did a test at a 150 kW charger and added 17% to our battery in 7 minutes. That supercharger was adding around 10 miles of range for every minute we charged and it wasn’t even the fastest charger version!

Further complicating the original questions is that batteries charge fastest at lower charge states and they get much slower as you approach 100%. So if you’re really trying to optimize your stops (like on an EV Canonball Run), you would keep your charges in roughly the 10-50% range. Here’s a chart showing how much juice you can shove into a Tesla battery at various states of charge:

So how long does it take to charge the battery? I don’t know, and most of the time, I don’t pay any attention to charging speed. If I’ve got enough juice to get through my day then I’m good to go and I know it will be full again the next morning. I’ll think about it more on a road trip, but even then, if I’m stopping for the bathroom or food, it’s going to be ready for the next leg of the trip before I am. Stay tuned for a future post about what it is like to plan and execute a road trip on battery power!

Tesla Model Y Delivery Experience

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

We ordered a Tesla Model Y on October 18, 2021. The original estimate was that we’d receive our car sometime in May 2022. 210 days later, almost exactly in the middle of the original estimate range, our car arrived! While we waited, the estimated delivery date changed many times. I kept track of all the changes and plotted it as the number of estimated days until our delivery window.

Less than a week before the delivery date, we got a call to talk about our trade in. Via a combination of text messaging and the phone app, we shared some basic information and photos of the car we wanted to trade in. They gave us a quote which seemed reasonable compared to other sites like Carvana and CarMax so we went with it. In Washington state, trade in value is deducted from the new car’s price before sales tax is collected so that’s a significant advantage.

The next day we got a text message asking us to choose a date for delivery! We picked the first available spot and then it was time to start filling out forms… online. Everything was done through the app! We got PDFs of all the sales documentation along with a full breakdown of exactly how much we owed. Once I texted back and forth a bit to understand some of their calculations, we completed the payment via the app. Payment is all done via the app whether you’re financing, paying cash, or getting a third-party loan.

We’ve ordered cars from other manufacturers in the past and when they were “delivered”, we had to go to the dealership and spend 2-3 hours going through paperwork and attempted upselling of paint protection film, interior sprays, extended warranty, service plans, and more. With Tesla, it was a true delivery experience. A driver arrived at our house within the two-hour scheduled window and dropped off the car. We did have to do some paperwork for the DOL, but then I signed a form on his phone and he transferred ownership to the app on my phone. (With a Tesla, your phone is your key.) The driver inspected our trade-in to make sure it matched the condition that we had shared earlier and then drove away. That’s it!

The entire process from ordering it online to getting daily updates on the estimated delivery window via the app to texting our sales advisor periodically with questions to the streamlined delivery approach was a joy! I can’t begin to compare it to some of the bad experiences we’ve had buying cars in the past.

Now it’s time to go through that semi-awkward period where we are the “new car people”. It’s a tradeoff between being super excited about this new purchase but also feeling a bit embarrassed about it. Even though I’ve done the math that shows it will pay out eventually compared to what we would have bought instead, that’s not totally true because we could have bought a much cheaper used car to get us from point A to point B.

A lot of the frequent questions I get about owning a Tesla are covered in my original “Why we bought a Tesla Model Y” post, but I’ll update one of them: “How much does it cost to charge it up?” That question is a little easier if I convert it to “What is the energy cost to drive 100 miles?” Our Escape consistently got 22.7 mpg and gas at the six closest stations around my house averages $4.89 today so the Escape would cost $21.54 in gas to drive 100 miles. For the Tesla, if I consider average kWh/mile and a small amount of energy loss to heat while charging, it would be $2.88 to drive that same 100 miles (87% less).

Will this really save us money overall? Only time will tell and even then, we’ll be guessing since we won’t be driving a comparable internal combustion car on all the same trips. It will probably come as no surprise that I have detailed data about the exact cost per mile for all our vehicles over the years (purchase price, trade in value, service costs, registration fees, fuel costs, inflation, etc.) so I’ll be able to make a good comparison. But in the meantime, I’m going to be happily driving around our new computer-on-wheels and thoroughly enjoying not wasting my time waiting in line at slow gas pumps or wondering what the oil drip on the garage floor means!

The Wait

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

We’re eagerly awaiting the delivery of our Model Y. We ordered in mid-October and our original delivery estimate was May 2022. I have the Tesla app installed on my phone and I check it at least once a day. It has changed many times (both forward and backward) but it was holding steady for May 8 – June 12. As we got closer and closer to May 8 our hopes were going up that it was going to happen. But this morning, the date range got pushed back to May 24 – June 20. (Tuesday seems to be a popular day for them to change the estimated delivery dates.) So the wait continues…

There is an online spreadsheet for eager Tesla owners where people record when they ordered and when it was delivered. As with most crowd-sourced data, it’s noisy and full of obvious errors, but looking at similar orders in my area, people who ordered around the same time as we did are starting to receive their cars. Hopefully we’re not too far behind!

While I wait, I continue to soak up Tesla content, and while this video didn’t teach me a lot that I hadn’t read elsewhere, I thought it was a good summary of what it’s like to own a Model Y for a couple years: