Never needs batteries….

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A few years ago I got a really cool (black on black) Citizen Eco-Drive watch and it was  stolen out of my car when I left the doors unlocked! Since then I’ve bought a few more of these watches, mostly because they charge off of ambient light and you never have to think about replacing the battery. A few hours of direct sunlight will keep these watches powered for a few months!

… a solar watch…

I bought the silver model pictured above at a pawn shop for $150. The grey model pictured below was $150 brand new, I like to wear it when I’m meeting with clients. It looks nice, but understated.

The type of watch a partner at a solar company might wear…

Eco-Drive watches are not overpriced BLING like Rolex or Breitling.

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As a watch company Citizen has been around for over 100 years, and they have a gazillion Eco-Drive models to choose from, ranging from $100 on the more casual end up to $900 on the luxury side.

Some folks no longer wear wrist watches (because accurate time is on your phone) but I like the stylistic look of a nice watch, whether one is wearing a suit or just jeans and a polo shirt.

I’m 45 years old, and I’m at a point where I’m buying things that I want to keep for the long term, from well built furniture to quality motorcycles to solar panels. Citizen watches have an excellent track record for quality, so hopefully I can buy a model today and enjoy it for the next 40 years.

That same long term philosophy of quality and longevity applies to the relationships in my life as well, both personal and in business.

Going CHEAP will cost less in the short term, but it causes more headaches in the long term.

I know, this started as a blog post about watches, and morphed into something else. No one reads this blog anyway…

Ben Alexander

TampaBaySolar.com

December 2019

3 Simple Solutions to Global Warming.

tree

Plant another 10 billion trees.

The best way to remove CO2 from our atmosphere in the long term is to simply plant a tree. Trees turn CO2 into cellulose and continue to do so for at least a century, sometimes far longer. It costs a few dollars per tree and about 20 minutes of labor to plant a sapling.

Put solar on as many rooftops possible.

All the sunny rooftops within 2500 miles north and south of the equator are a good bet for solar. Every human in modern society will use electricity every day of their lives, and the traditional utility primarily burns fossil fuels to generate this electricity. Solar on every roof raises the inherent value of every home and business as well.

Electrify all ground transportation.

We still need fossil fuels for jet planes…. but not for trains, buses and automobiles. With solar on the roof and electric cars in every driveway it becomes far cheaper to fuel up our vehicles. I drive a plug-in electric car that charges off the solar on my roof. This system works, and my costs for the additional equipment is LESS in the long term.

These three steps are all practical and possible.

Ben Alexander

TampaBaySolar.com

December 2019

 

 

 

Hacking my Level 1 charger

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Level 1 = 120 volts.

Level 2 = 240 volts.

The Chevy Volt comes with a Level 1 (120 volt) charger. This is the narrow black box pictured above. This can be plugged into any standard outlet, anywhere. The 2017 Volt with a 55 mile electric range takes 12 hours to charge using 120 volts. That’s kinda slow.

I have the option of burning gasoline if the Volt batteries are empty, but the electricity at my home comes from solar on my roof…. which is free, versus a gallon of gas which is NOT free, and never will be.

There are Level 2 chargers on the market that run off 240 volts, but they cost $400 to $600 bucks. They look cool, but WHAT IF there is a less expensive option?

There were a few videos online that showed Volt drivers running 240 volts on their Level 1 charger… so I had an electrician wire in a separate breaker and 240 volt outlet and with $10 in parts from Lowe’s I built a converter plug, crossed my fingers, and plugged it in….

It works folks. No problems, no overheating, no tripping of circuits.

WITHOUT buying a Level 2 charger I’m now charging my Volt in 4 hours vs. 12 hours!

My only costs were some parts from the electrical aisle at Lowe’s and $290 bucks to the electrician.

My previous 2013 Volt only got 30 miles per charge, so I spent about $20 per week on gas, with the longer range on my 2017 model combined with the fat charging I’ll use far less gasoline. I work for Tampa Bay Solar, and we are building a new headquarters in East Tampa with Level 2 chargers, so I’ll be able to charge my car at work for free when construction is complete in 2020.

Ben Alexander

TampaBaySolar.com

December 2019

 

HVAC and a 2017 Volt…

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I live in a Florida home that was built in 1999. I’ve repaired parts of my HVAC over the last decade, but I knew the overall system was grossly inefficient because it was using 70 kilowatts per day in the summer months, to only cool 1900 square feet!

A typical home with a more efficient HVAC uses about 50 kilowatts per day.

On the same day that I purchased my 2017 Volt (pictured above) my heat stopped working. When the repairman showed me the corroded and rusted out components in my HVAC I decided to pull the trigger on a brand new system. It was $7700 bucks total,  but knew that this was money that I’d have to spend eventually.

So what does my HVAC system have to do with my electric car?

The 2017 Volt has a 50 mile range, while my former 2013 Volt only had a 30 mile range. This means the new car will use more kilowatts, less gasoline. My old HVAC unit was wasting electricity, my new (16 SEER) HVAC unit will be more efficient, so the power saved with the new HVAC will power my car, and I’ll buy less gasoline.

Kinda interesting how my electricity and fossil fuels use are connected.

In reality all of our energy use is interconnected, if you’re a normal human being you use electricity and fossil fuels every single day. Most of the electricity from the power grid comes from burning fossil fuels; coal, oil and natural gas. So if you don’t have solar but you power your electric car off the traditional power grid you are still burning fossils!

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Pictured here are the solar inverters in my garage along with a Level 2 charger for my Chevy Volt. Note that I can plug the car charger into my secure power supply (outlet in the middle) if I lose grid power.

This means that I can charge my car even if there is NO gasoline and the grid goes dark.

Eventually all homes will have some power generation and at least one electric car. Some folks have already done this, the true believers who voted with their dollars. Then there are the folks driving huge pick up trucks in a big inefficient home, wasting a ton of money and fossil fuels because they just don’t give a rip about anything.

Not me, not if I can help it!

Ben Alexander

December 2019

 

Transition from 100% petro to 100% electric.

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Pictured above is my 650 cc Kawasaki Vulcan S… most decidedly NOT an electric vehicle. There are some really cool electric bikes on the market but they cost $20,000. My little Kawasaki here was only four grand, out the door!

If you have a limited garage space but Jay Leno intentions you can start a motorcycle collection before you buy your McLaren…..

New fully electric cars are still expensive, until you factor in the used electric vehicle market. Case in point:

This past week I bought a 2017 Volt with 32,000 miles on it, for just under $20,000 including tax and tags (out the door, in other words). Back in 2017 I test drove the brand new Volts and loved ’em, but retail was $35,000, and even with a big tax credit it still would have cost over $32,000 out the door.

Do the math here, most modern cars will run to 200,000 miles without a major repair, so the 32,000 miles on my used Volt only represents 16% of the lifetime usage of the vehicle, yet $20,000 (cost of used Volt) represents 63% of the original price!

This is my quantitative economics brain at work here….

So, for 63% of the original price I get 84% of the usage of the vehicle. Those numbers make a ton of sense… and when we factor in the 50 mile electric range on the 2017 Volt, and the fact that my rooftop solar will power that need… this car might have the lowest cost of ownership (per mile) of any car I’ve ever owned.

If my Volt lasts until 2023 or 2024 I’ll be able to buy a used fully electric vehicle in great shape for around $20,000.

As for my motorcycles? I’ll keep the gas powered bikes, but if I get a deal on an electric bike I might need a bigger garage….

Ben Alexander

December 2019

Why I bought ANOTHER Volt.

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…. the 2013 Volt ….

On November 30th I was driving my 2013 Chevy Volt in Tampa and a random Dodge minivan turned into my lane and messed up the entire passenger side of my car. My Volt had 130,000 miles on it, and the Kelly Blue Book value was about $3,000, so when the other driver’s insurance offered me $7,500 for my old Volt I jumped on it.

Even if I sold my 2013 Volt privately I would never get $7,500 bucks for it, even before that accident, and the accident was not my fault, so why not get a newer car?

I did NOT expect to be car shopping 3 weeks before Christmas, but it seems the universe has a different plan altogether. For a hot minute I considered going back to a full gas powered car, simply because all the electric cars with a 300 mile range cost over $30,000, and I was trying to spend LESS than $20,000, out the door.

I test drove a 2015 Infiniti Q50 that was listing for just under $20K and I really liked it… but then I was talking with my girlfriend and she made a good point: “A luxury car is all about EGO, get another Volt and charge it off the solar on your house.”

I had test driven a 2nd generation Volt back in 2017 (my 2013 model was first gen) and I really liked it. So…. I found a few used 2017 Volts for sale across Tampa and went out to check them out. Brand new these cars go for over $30,000, but there were several used 2017 and 2018 models for sale in the low 20K range.

Yesterday I got a 2017 Volt at Dimmitt Chevy in Clearwater for just under $20,000 including all the tax and tag fees. It has a leather interior, 32,000 miles, and rides like a Lexus. My 2013 was very smooth, the 2017 is even smoother, quieter, faster and it holds a 50 mile full electric range vs. about 30 miles on the 2013 Volt.

The Volt goes into gas mode after the charge is exhausted, which means I can charge at home each night, but gas it on a longer road trip. BEST of both worlds, really.

Which brings us to the huge snorting elephant in the room…. why the hell did GM discontinue this model? The Volt is honestly a GREAT car, super reliable, rides nice, performs like a car with a V-6 engine…. AND I can use either gas or kilowatts.

If the Volt was made by Toyota it would outsell the Prius hands down. I owned a 2009 and 2011 Prius, both cars were slow and dopey compared to the Volt. Put any Prius driver in a Volt for just ONE DAY and they would not want to go back.

I think GM is being really shortsighted in getting rid of such a superlative model like the Volt. I’m glad they offer the (full electric) BOLT, but I feel like the dual fuel Volt still has a place in the car market.

Maybe I’m just different, I have a solar array on my roof that cost as much as a used car, 2 motorcycles in my garage, and a citrus tree in my backyard. I also went on Shark Tank for a frickin’ balloon company, so there’s that.

As for now?

I’m gonna drive this 2017 Volt another 150,000 miles or so and get a nice used electric car with a 400 mile range sometime in 2024…..

20191206_073141_resized… the 2017 Volt ….   same color was NOT intentional, but my other options were white.

-Ben Alexander

December 2019

 

 

A tale of 2 wheels…

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650 cc Kawasaki Vulcan S on the LEFT and Honda CB1000r on the RIGHT………..

I bought my first motorcycle when I lived in Taipei back in 1995. It was a 125cc  Taiwanese made Sanyang, with 4 speeds. I had no training and no one told me how to ride, I just rode out into the chaotic traffic endemic to Taipei and figured it out.

I almost died every. single. day. No traffic rules in Taiwan back in 1995, and hundreds of scooters, motorcycles and crazy taxi drivers at every intersection!

When I came back to the states after in Taiwan I found an old rusty 1978 Honda Hawk with a 400 cc engine and rode that bike from the 1990’s until about 2015, when I sold it on Craigslist. I was always impressed with the reliability of that bike, when I sold it the damn thing was 37 years old and still burst to life with 2 or 3 kicks on the crank.

Honda really knows how to engineer a motorcycle.

They don’t make motorcycles with kick-starters anymore. If you lose battery power those kick-starters will get you home without changing out the battery.

Fast forward to January of 2018. I had just finalized my divorce, college was already funded for both my daughters… so I decided to purchase a Honda CB1000r. The CB has a liter engine, with a close ratio six-speed shift. It revs to 14,000 rpm and goes like a scalded cat. When I’m merging onto the freeway it’ll be at 125 mph by the end of the ramp and 145 mph very soon after.

Any motorcycle with a 1,000 cc engine is too fast for a beginner. In the first few months of ownership I was very careful about learning how the Honda handled and how it felt on the road. An engine that powerful demands respect, an inexperienced rider would be dead in a month on a machine that fast.

I’m also a full gear type of rider:  helmet, boots, ballistic jacket, gloves… I even have a pair of riding pants lined with Kevlar! I recently saw a guy pulling wheelies on the freeway on a sportbike… he had a t-shirt and jeans on, no helmet. That dude is gone as soon as he goes off that bike at 80 mph.

Below: CB1000r….  gotta love that one sided swingarm set up on the rear wheel!

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This past summer I got a little blue (250 cc) Yamaha for my daughter Grace:

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Grace drove her Yamaha around the neighborhood, then took the local motorcycle safety course and earned her motorcycle endorsement…  On our first long distance ride Grace ran her Yamaha off a country road and high-sided in some grass. She was OK, but that experience shook her up so much she did not want to ride again.

Grace was wearing full gear when she flew off her Yamaha, so she walked away from the accident with only minor scrapes and bruises, thank God!

Riding motorcycles is dangerous, especially for first timers, but I learned how to ride when I was 21 years old, in crazy Taipei traffic, so I figured Grace would be ok if she had a slow bike, took the safety course and wore full gear. Guess I was wrong.

An old saying among riders:  there are 2 types of bikers; those who’ve crashed and those who are gonna crash!

I wiped out on my Sanyang on the streets of Taipei a bunch of times, then later on my 1978 Honda here in the USA. These were minor crashes that taught me major lessons. I’m a safer rider now because of all that road experience going back 24 years.

I fixed the broken parts from Grace’s crash and my girlfriend started to learn how to ride the Yamaha. The bike has a low seat height, it shifts easy and the 250 cc engine is pretty easy to manage, so that type of bike is easy for a new rider, especially one smaller in stature. The smaller engine equates to lighter motorcycle as well.

I would recommend that all new riders learn on a lighter and slower motorcycle.

This past week I was selling solar to a client and she showed me a 650 cc Kawasaki Vulcan in her garage. It only had 120 miles on the odometer (never been dropped) and she could no longer ride it due to her bad back. She was asking $4,000 for it, and when I looked up the same bike for sale on they were all selling for $6,000 to $7,000 new…

I had made a decent commission off that solar sale, but I already had 2 bikes……

My girlfriend bought the little Yamaha, so I used that money towards the Vulcan.

Love my new Vulcan, it has a low seat height, is nicely balanced, has a smooth shift and ride, and plenty of power from zero to 100 mph. I’m going to hold onto both bikes for a long time.

2 motorcycles is kinda excessive, but both are paid off, and the registration fees are only a few bucks each year. Some people are into boats or old cars, I figure that my motorcycle habit is not as expensive and takes up less space around my house.

Ben Alexander

11/24/2019