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Yes Alice in Wonderland has joined the METOOS and has accused Donald Trump of unwanted sexual Solar Tarrifs. Other mythical animated female characters join in.

Or something like that.

Over 140 years ago, Samuel Clemens noted that those who didn’t read the newspaper were uninformed and those who did read the newspaper were misinformed. Not much has changed in the interim.
But the common campfire of news and information has exploded from primarily newspapers to a firestorm of video and of course Internet information streams. And so making sense of the world has become a little bit liking taking a tentative sip from a firehose. It kind of tears your face off just to attempt it.

I received a detailed e-mail from a long time trusted source of useful information and an intelligent guy all around, noting the devastation imminent to sustainable energy advances by the just released news of the “Trump Tarrif” on Chinese imported solar equipment. He provided several links to purportedly authoritive sources and was suitably grounded in the topic from the currently reported information.

By accident of birth, it was something I knew a little bit more than I wanted to about, as we have been importing solar panels from China for four or five years. These are kind of specialized panels suitable for boats and Recreational Vehicles but we do have a contingent of EV guys who just will NOT give up on the solar powered car thing. So these are 3.5 mm thick, weigh 6.5 lbs, and make 200watts.

Obama had long ago applied a 150% tarrif to Chinese solar cells. This is applied to the cells to prevent the inevitable attempt to import Chinese panels to Canada or somewhere, affix a sticker and claim to have “manufactured” them there, with the addition of a couple of eyelets and the sticker, and then import them tarrif free. The tarrif was against ANY solar product CONTAINING Chinese cells.

Our panels actually DO come from China, but use cells manufactured in the Phillippine Islands, by an American company, SunPower. And so we are able to import these without the tarrif, but the paperwork to PROVE the origin of the cells is irksome and tedious. And we have to go through it all over again with every shipment.

So the Trump Tarrif story just didn’t sound right and I agreed to look into it. Understand, this was not a career change. The information is readily available and easily discernable by anyone with any critical thinking skills. I doubt I spent 2 hours on it. But the results were VIOLENTLY in opposition to all the news reports on the topic and an almost hysterical knee-jerk response from the “green” camp. And I was stunned to see how dicked up the narrative on this had become and how quickly it had become so.

I listed my objections in response. And my correspondent found it surprising and illuminating and asked permission to share it. I of course noted no permission is necessary, everything I put out is for any use you might find for it.

And so the first part of our current episode is unnecessarily cluttered with a long diatribe on the “Trump Tarrif” but with all that effort, I fear it is like trying to put out a forest fire with a kiss. The deluge of misinformation is just overpowering. And I fear serious damage to the solar initiatives not from Trump’s Tarrif, but from the well intentioned and horrendously misinformed deluge.

Understand this is just not at all exceptional. It is now the rule. I cannot imagine how “reporters” have reached the point of 8 figure salaries while simultaneously proving incompetent TO A MAN to follow a story into the men’s room/ladies room/LGBTQ whatever crapper is appropriate.

We are not talking about Alex Jones, never Trumpers, or prepper fanatics here. Main stream media outlets that have traditionally provided our news and information have become totally incompetent vectors of misinformation, disinformation and just total bullshit.

Here’s a simple to get your arms around example. In this video, Errol Barnett of CBS News teams up with Dr. Derrick Pitts, Planetarium Director and Chief Astronomer of the Franklin Institute team up to deliver a very authoritive, very intellectual, totally condescending, and indeed patronizing diatribe against Musk’s launch of his first Tesla Roadster and Starman noting that it now joins 20,000 pieces of space junk floating in low earth orbit around the planet. They also note that it will be literally torn to bits within a year by the sun’s radiation

Of course, there is not only no factual basis for this, it is ENTIRELY bullshit made up out of whole cloth by people who don’t know and don’t know they don’t know anything about the topic whatsoever.

The intense radiation of the sun is not particularly intense, but in any event can’t tear anything to bits in a billion years, much less a year. I suppose without any filtration of the UV, you might see a bit of paint fade but it will have to do it in a hurry because the Roadster is traveling AWAY from earth AND the sun at a high rate of speed headed for the Van Allen belt. It can’t be space junk in orbit around earth because it isn’t IN orbit around the earth. The orbit is heliocentric elipsoid going out as far as Mars and then looping back in toward the sun and this eliptical orbit will continue forever. We need not worry about it colliding with the Chinese space lab they are referring to as it will never come within millions of miles of earth ever again.

Understand, I’m not talking about a minor technical flaw they missed. We’re talking about a lengthy detailed report delivered with sanctimonious arched eyebrow condecension, as if lecturing children from an august intellectual height, that is TOTALLY devoid of any useful information at all and the two principles in the discussion appear OBLIVIOUS to how ridiculous they appear on camera. The pronunciation and inflection and neckties of these guys are flawless. Their minds are vegetative brain stems and it is remarkable that they are able to breath. Darwin apparently erred unless he really meant survival of the silliest. The entire BASIS of the piece is simply and fatally inaccurate. But the delivery is flawless.

As of February 8, StarMan and Tesla Roadster were 470,000 kilometers from earth pulling away at about 9000 miles per hour. That should finally end the debate over who can build the fastest sports car, althougn no longer the fastest sports car IN THE WORLD as it is space bound. Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project in Italy and Michael Schwartz of Tenegra Observatory in New Mexico teamed up to combine 54 photographs of the moving roadster in space at 470,000 km into a GIF clip that we enhanced and repurposed for the video above.

As it so happens, I do drive the 1990 Volkswagen Doppelkabine pickup truck depicted in this episode and it is essentially my daily driver. It does have a Tesla drive unit in it and can do some remarkable things I essentially never do. Now I don’t somehow imagine that a 1990 VW pickup is a high performance vehicle. Or particularly appealing for that matter. In fact, I would nominate it as the ugliest, most ungainly and ridiculously mis-designed vehicle since the VW Beetle. It has little to recommend it. But like the bug, there IS something endearing about it. I don’t know if its the seating position, the steering, the outside view, or WHAT. But after driving it a bit, it really becomes endearing.

The juxtaposition of the advanced drive unit, the concept of it being electric at all, and the ridiculous boxy ugliness of the platform, with the outrageously yellow plasti-dip paint job, kind of combine into a magic thing that I can only describe as that it “suits my sense of whimsey.” And I truly DO treasure my whimseys, almost all of which retain some aspects of surprise, irony, humor, or just being outrageously out of place.

So, imagine my delight at learning that Elon Musk was going to spend a half billion dollars of his company’s money on a non-commercial test flight to prove that you could build a 5 million lb thrust enormous rocket and launch impressively weighty payloads into space BEYOND earth’s orbit and indeed all the way to mars. What a gutsy thing to do. And that instead of launching a concrete doughnut like everyone else does for a test payload, he would instead launch his own very first delivery Tesla Roadster, perhaps the most collectible car in the world at this point, AS the payload, is just too precious. Adding a spacesuit with a dummy onboard and David Bowie’s STARMAN song on the stereo is just playfulness. Indeed, there is no atmosphere to carry sound waves and most probably, the speaker would blow on the first note. It doesn’t matter. It all suits his sense of whimsey…..and mine…and apparently that of many of you. Indeed, I fully expect StarMan to gain popstar status and I would nominate him for Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year”. We’re talking StarMan after all.

And so beyond sense of whimsey, it was a masterful stroke of press management and marketing. A truly brilliant thing that rather distracts from the difficulties with the Model 3 product line production.

The video collage above is my take on it and note it is somewhat different from the presentation of the very superior Mr. Barnett. I hope you enjoy it. THe landing of the two side thrusters was probably the sickest thing I’ve ever seen.

This is not intellectual tourism. These things take on a reality of their own. If enough people BELIEVE the stock market is going down, they pull out of the market and guess what? It goes down. A self-fulfiling prophecy. And if enough investors BELIEVE it is going up, they buy into the market and guess what? It goes up. Misinformation has consequences.

Identically, if enough people BELIEVE a particular thing, it BECOMES an alternate reality that eclipses reality itself. It doesn’t MATTER that corn is not wheat. If enough of us point at corn and call it wheat, it becomes wheat. That’s the new word for corn. The grain didn’t change, but our belief system did and we are forever after destined to eat corn bread.

And that is the problem. Our subsequent ACTIONS and DECISIONS are based on the alternate version of reality – not on factual reality. And this can not only be unfortunate, but dangerous or even fatal. Self fulfilling prophecy only carries us so far. If we all agree and truly truly BELIEVE that power has been removed from the circuit, what will actually be the effect if you give it a 400v wet kiss?

So I suppose bias and point of view are inevitably intertwined in the process of gathering and delivering news. I’m ok with that. But we are now mowing intently into the grass of total gross incompetence across MOST of our information delivery medias and streams. The World Wide Web is quickly becoming the World Wide Wobble. Therein lie chaos. Total chaos. Information anarchy.

In the 1960’s a young boy living in the suburbs of London happened across an old family book titled Enquire Within Upon Everything. Published in 1865, this book was a collection of useful facts that had been assembled as a “common book” full of tips and tricks to run a household, everything from cooking tips to home remedies for headaches, how to bury a deceased relative, how to get married, etc. None of these “facts” were really related. It was just a collection of useful factoids and tips. They had been proven to the authors satisfaction, editorially SELECTED from all the hurricane of other information, and presented in the book.

Apparently it made an impression. Decades later he was working as a software consultant in Switzerland in a chaotic research lab where personnel turnover was very high. He developed an application containing and linking and indexing software snippets and facts useful there, often picked up from other coders who all to often moved on in just a few weeks. He titled this application ENQUIRE after the book he had been entranced with as a child. It allowed him to store small blocks of information and as nodes so you could pull up anyone’s name and see all the projects they were on, or conversely pull up a project and see the names of those involved.

He later resurrected ENQUIRE as a program he titled TANGLE but it too eventually died of neglect. But both programs gurgled in the back of his mind until he developed a concept of larger scope and more general application to link information nodes, using what he termed “hyperlinks” as they would link across a network to documents on other computers. He tried various titles for this including MINE and MESH but eventually settled on the term World Wide Web. He published a paper on it in 1989 and today we are all familiar with Tim Berners-Lee as the father of the web.

Today’s web has no proof of validity or even editorial selection process. It’s just links between whatever anyone puts out there. And so I would posit that it has morphed into the World Wide Wobble.

And in this deluge, how are normal humanoids to sort through this maelstrom of lies and errors to discern truth from lie, fact from fiction, accuracy from error? I don’t have an answer and fear this drives quickly to a societal inability to process. ALL sources, (including this one) claim to have the REAL story. So how to develop trusted sources? Good luck with that…

Beyond political diatribe, we did include some actual information in this episode. We connected two Tesla 85kW batteries and measured the current flows between them over the course of an hour. This is one of those areas where it seems like a useless exercise. Everyone knows what is going to happen. But interestingly, everyone knows differently. And the EV community has generally in the past dealt with such issues by having horrendous online arguments with all proponents furiously typing themselves smart.

EVTV has long advocated a different concept. It just isn’t THAT hard to hook it up and meter it. So we did.

And we have never done much in the way of such experiments without learning something, and I would say 90% of the time learning something we weren’t actually testing for. In this case, we learned that the Tesla Battery Management System internal to the battery pack will actually shut down the pack if it has a charge current exceeding 300 amperes or thereabouts. 300 A and 400v is 120kw, which happens to correspond to the absolute limit of a Tesla Supercharger.

Beyond that, connecting two Tesla battery packs without any intervening power switching electronics is uneventful. There is a serious transfer of power. But it doesn’t even threaten contactor contact weldment. The battery temperature barely increases 10C. Cables of 1/0 size do not even warm appreciably. And in an hour or so, you have one battery effectively of double the size.

I could not write a video advertisement for EVTV more effective than U.S. Representative Thomas Massie’s excellent adventure in driving to Georgia to pick up a Tesla battery pack, disassemble it, and use it and some control electronics and software from EVTV to power his home. First, he IS a public figure, a representive from Kentucky’s fourth district in the U.S. House of Representatives.

But more to the point, he isn’t a whacky “off grider” in a tiny cabin in Montanna using two solar panels and a car battery to run his four LED lights. He has a really BIG and really NICE home in Kentucky that he did build himself and it is totally offgrid. It doesn’t hurt that he has a degree in Electronic Engineering from MIT. And within a few days, he had replaced his very large lead acid battery plant with 16 Tesla Model S Battery modules. I would predict this will power his home longer and more effectively and last much longer than the Pb chemistry cells he was using.

He was upgrading an existing 48v system. I of course advocate using the full Tesla pack at it’s nominal 345 volts. But there are just a lot of legacy 48v systems out there and this is typical of what we are seeing a LOT of demand for.

I don’t like 48v systems for three basic reasons:

1. The vast majority of installed plant in U.S. residences is much higher voltage photovoltaics and grid tied.

The problem here is that we have a large body of invested owners just now waking to the fact that if their grid power goes down, so does their photovoltaic plant. They have $50k tied up in a solar power system. The grid goes down, and with the sun actually baking their solar panels, they don’t have any power. The problem is, these are 400-600v arrays, or enphase microinverters that would be most easily rewired in 400-600v arrays. And the matchup to 48v equipment is very poor. Not much out there to MPPT 500v to a 48v battery.

2. The existing equipment is Pb chemistry biased and hopelessly complex and a very poor fit for our charge/discharge curves.

All the inverters and charge controllers out there have hopelessly complex configuration schemes to accommodate bulk charge, absorption charge, equalization charge etc for lead batteries but lithium battery support is very slow in coming. Worse, all the Pb chemistry is based on a 2.1v cell while our EV batteries are almost all 3.6v cells. At 48v, that means 24 cells of 2.1v are nominally 50.4 volts but charge to 2.4v per cell or 57.6 volts. They are also considered fully discharged at 42 or 44 volts. This is basically the 50% SOC point recommended for Pb cells to maintain rated cycle life.

EV batteries are nominally 3.6v, charge to 4.2 volts, and can be discharged all the way down to 3v quite confidently. And so 12 of these are nominally 43.2v, charge to 50.4 volts and discharge to 36v. This is basically a charge curve mismatch and out of the range of most of the equipment which simply can’t be set to 36 volts to cutoff and normally doesn’t allow charging cutoffs as low as 50v.

3. Cabling and Heat.

Everyone is afraid of 400vdc. I get zapped a couple of times a week. It’s not part of the week I look forward to, but in truth I hardly notice it. But currents can be a problem in system design. You might be surprised to hear this as an EV builder as we routinely do 1000 amps or even 2000 amps. But all of our equipment is designed to do that for six or eight seconds, not six or eight hours. And certainly not 24×7.

A large house can do a continuous average of 6 or 7 kilowatts with peaks to 12 or 15 kW. Well six kw at 400v is 15 amps. But six kW at 48v is 125 amps with excursions as high as 300 amps to do 15kW. This means heavier cables, that produce heat from I2 losses. This be where fire arises. It may also be thermally an issue for our cells. Again,they are designed to produce large currents for brief periods. Not continously.

For these reasons, I think I’ll eventually win on this one. Ultimately the rooftop is easier at 400-600v, and the rest is easier at 300-400v and ultimately we want 240vac. But in the interim, state of the art circa 2018 for battery backup is 48v. So we have to deal with it.

This episode was a slick two hours and forty three minutes, longish even by EVTV standards. I actually cut an entire lengthy segment that we’ll no doubt include in a future video.

Our battery controllers, charger controllers, DC-DC converter controllers and increasingly almost everything we do revolve around CAN and an inexpensive board we developed several years ago we call the EVTV CANDue. We liked the Arduino Due platform with the 84MHz Atmel SAM3 microprocessor. It had CAN built right into the microprocessor. But there were a couple of omissions. The oddest was omission of the 4k EEPROM in almost all Arduinos. This gives you a place to store static variables between power cycles. We use this for configuration data and options for software programs we run. You don’t want to enter the charge voltage for your charger every time you charge your car. The Arduino Due simply doesn’t have an EEPROM.

So we added one.

Despite the microprocessor having CAN built in, the Arduino group really doesn’t care much about CAN. It just isn’t on the Arduino groups radar screen. And to actually DO CAN, you do have to add a transciever for the actual CAN transmission. They didn’t see any point in increasing the expense of the board with that device. We, on the other hand, are all about CAN as that is what controls almost everything in an electric vehicle. So we added the transciever and the termination resistors and a screw terminal for the CANHI and CANLO.

Finally, I just never liked the dual micro USB ports on the Arduino Due. They would routinely actually break off and ruin the board from EYE CONTACT. Just very fragile. So we replaced that with the much heavier and sturdier USB MiniB printer style port. We can kind of solder that onto the boards in a very strong and robust fashion. You can’t pull it off with a pair of channel locks.

And that gives us a handy microcontroller with CAN and we use it for nearly everything.

But innovation is a continuous process. Over a year ago Collin and I started looking at a new chip on the market – the Tensilica ESP32. It was a Chinese chip with very poor documentation, but some very interesting features. Others found it also interesting and Tensilica basically open sourced their software development kit.

And so a group of enthusiasts grew and began struggling with how to use this chip. And so a body of tribal knowledge has formed, and indeed a group has engineered a way to marry it into the Arduino Integrated Development Environment or IDE.

This is basically what ties the Arduino community together is this free software that allows you to compile C++ sourcecode and upload the binaries to the Arduino boards.

So Collin and I have been looking at this chip as a possible for a next generation EVTV CANDue. It is actually a huge steup up in some ways.

First, instead of an 84 MHz 32-bit processor, the ESP32 has TWO 240MHz 32-bit processor plus a third low power processor for wakeup/watchdog duties. This is about six times the horsepower and indeed includes FreeRTOS, kind of a mini Linux real time operating system that can do a couple of simple threads simultaneously.

Second, it has both WiFi and Bluetooth BLE built in. Recall our errant foray into Bluetooth BLE with the Adafruit module for the GEVCU. That didn’t work out well largely due to some eggregious errors by Adafruit and their insistence on NOT open sourcing the firmware. We actually volunteered, or more realistically, volunteered Collin to help them straighten it out. It just wasn’t a priority and they somewhat arrogantly declined.

But Bluetooth BLE is the pathway to Smartphone/Tablet connectivity and apps, both on the Apple iPhone/iTablet side and on the Android phone/tablet side.

WiFi of course is the pathway to the Internet. Both are BUILT INTO the processor. Indeed, the WROOM module we chose has a built in antenna for all of this.

We want to work with our Tesla BMS shield we use to control both full packs and Tesla battery modules. So we put it on essentialy the same Arduino Due form factor for the board. We repeated most of the critical pins, although forfeiting the entire end piece to allow the antenna. So we can plug the same shield into this board and it will work.

And we decided this version would have TWO CAN ports instead of one.

The result is the EVTV ESP32 CANDue. We just got our first prototype boards back from China, with the usual first prototype gotchas and glitches. But with some microsurgery, Collin has made a couple of them work and we’re both exploring the software side of working with this board. While it does use the Arduino IDE, there is a lot to learn and a lot to work out for a useable CAN library and the BLE features and the dual processors.

But I’m very excited about the possibilities and the new capabilities this chip opens up.

Like the Arduino Due, there are literally hundreds of ESP32 boards coming out at phenomenally low prices. But generally they seem fixated on tiny, kind of like Jeff Stoffregens TEENSY series. They require 5v and we live in a 12v automotive world. Again no one seems interested in CAN.. And nobody is making any attempt to accommodate existing 3.3v shields from the Due world.

So we think our approach offers some subtle, but unique features that could be very useful for those working with cars or solar.

These things are an iterative process. It typically takes us four prototype cycles to get these things going and it takes about a month per cycle. But by late spring, assuming the transition from the year of the Rooster to the Year of the Dog in February goes well in China, we should have EVTV ESP32 CANDue available. Migration into the rest of our product line may take a bit longer. But you will be able to purchase these within a few months to experiment with yourself.

Jack Rickard