Driving on Sunshine – 3 month up-date

Driving mostly on sunshine is very fuel efficient!

We are just home from spending the Easter Long-Weekend in Canberra at the National Folk Festival. 5 Days of great music, camping out under the stars, catching up with old friends and drinking some very nice pear cider.

We drove down and back in our new plug-in, Electric car. The Hyundai Ioniq plug-in. Canberra is roughly 200 kms. away, so we drove the first 1/4 or so on sunshine and the rest on petrol. We get around 65 to 70 kms on a full charge of sunshine from our solar panels at home. This distance varies slightly, depending on how hard you push the car (I don’t ) and how much regenerative braking that you do, as regenerative braking re-charges the battery from the energy recovered from the braking system.
Instead of applying pressure on the brake shoes in the wheel hubs to slow the car. Regenerative braking engages the electric motor and uses it in reverse, so instead of using electrical energy to propel the car forward. The forward energy of the car is used to run the generator to charge the battery and this drag on the system slows the car. The disc brakes are only engaged when you press very hard on the brake pedal, such as in an emergency.
The car automatically swaps over to petrol when the battery charge gets very low, always preserving just a little battery power in reserve for when the car is just cruising and doesn’t need a lot of oomph to get along. Braking, when going down hill, recharges the battery, so the car is intermittently changing between electric mode from the battery and the internal combustion engine all the way along the trip.

Before setting of for home, I check the dash to see that we have a driving range of 111 kms, but home is 200 kms away, so I decide to buy some fuel.

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We have travelled 3,788 km in this car since new and we have put $50 in the tank so far. I can see that we still have 8% left in the fuel tank.
We fill up in Canberra before the long drive home and put in 36.95 litres into the tank, at $1.45 per litre.
On the way home Janine calculates that we have travelled 2,138 km on our first $50 tank full of fuel.
So this seems to indicate that we are averaging about 1.7 litres per 100km.
It crossed my mind when I bought this car that I would be able to achieve a bit better than 2,000 km on a full tank of petrol, and so it seems that we have done it.
We arrive home via the shops in Mittagong and are just short of 4,000 km on the odometer.
The first thing that I do when I get home is plug it into the solar PV system and re-charge the battery fully, ready for the next trip.
When we are driving locally, we mostly drive on 100% sunshine. The battery is sufficient to get us to the shops and back in any direction that we need to go.
We only use petrol when we go on long trips like this one to Canberra, or to Sydney, the South Coast or The Blue Mountains.
At the end of each trip, when I switch off the ignition. a small window in the instrument panel reports on the latest trip.
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This trip was 33 kms and I used 0.6 litres per 100 kms. Which means about 200mls. I’m not entirely sure as yet why the petrol engine fires up at unexpected times, even though I have chosen fully electric mode. I believe that it is something to do with charging up the 12 volt battery, that is used to power the dash, computer, air-con, head lights and other things that don’t involve moving the car forward.
We have achieved these very fuel-efficient figures in our driving, because we always drive steadily, and evenly, avoiding sudden stops and fast take-offs. The on-board computer tells me that we are averaging 390.64 kilometres per litre of fuel. This is because we usually drive mostly on sunshine.
The info below is down-loaded to my phone on the 1st of each month. This report is for March and doesn’t include the Canberra trip.
It is a very rewarding feeling to be able to drive mostly on sunshine. It fits in with our philosophy very well. This isn’t about saving money on fuel. This is all about attempting to live an ethical life with a low-carbon foot-print. Extracting our selves from the coal/oil based carbon economy as much as possible. It started 30 years ago when we stopped driving our old, but reliable VW beetle and bought a small, 3-cylinder 900 CC. engined, fuel-efficient Daihatsu car, slashing our fuel consumption, and then 12 years ago when we installed our first solar panels. Two years ago, ordering the Tesla battery when it became available in Australia.
Now we are driving on sunshine – well mostly!

A Hand Made Efficient Home

As the days get shorter and the evenings cooler, we are lighting the wood fired kitchen stove most nights now. This old stove, that I have lovingly maintained and repaired for the past 40 or so years, cooks our food, heats our hot water, through its bronze firebox boiler, which is connected to our kitchen hot water system. It also heats the kitchen and us while we work, cook and eat.

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In the hottest couple of months of summer, we cook on the gas stove and rely on the solar hot water panels to heat the hot water. We have had to cover the solar panels with wire mesh, as we had a pine cone drop onto one of them shattering the tempered glass.

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It may seem strange that we have our solar panels on the ground. I have a good reason. We have a full copper hot water system, with a copper hotter tank, a bronze boiler in the stove and copper solar panels, all connected in series, so that either or both heat sources can heat the tank depending on the weather and time of year. I used all silver soldered copper piping to connect the system, so there isn’t a separate heat exchanger needed in the system to eliminate electrolysis. A full copper system has no electrolysis issues. Eliminating the heat exchanger makes the system much more efficient. I designed the system so that the solar panels are on the ground, so that the hot water will rise up into the tank by natural thermo-siphon. No pump is need in the system to circulate the hot water to the tank. (as is necessary when the panels are on the roof.) This is another added efficiency and saving on energy. By designing systems like this and others in our hand-made home, we have managed to reduce our energy usage in our home to 1.7 kW/hrs per day for the house alone. If we add in charging the electric car and firing the electric kiln from the solar system, then our total usage rises up to 5.7 kW/hrs per day.

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When we add in our kiln and car, Janine and I still use only half of what a ‘normal’ single occupant household uses. Or just one-third of a ‘normal’ 2 person household. We are quite pleased with this outcome.

Just Another Day

We share our last meal of stuffed Zucchini flowers. This time with a somewhat asian flavour profile, less cheese and more tofu. Ms. Kang feeds the chickens, we say our goodbyes and deliver her to the train station. There is a train service, more or less direct to the airport. We come home and start to shell todays harvest of hazelnuts. Just another day with so many jobs to do.

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I spend a bit of time weeding and watering in the garden, then harvesting the endless procession of ripening tomatoes. Another batch of passata is on the way. I take the time to grab a handful of bouquet-garni from the garden along the way.

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I finally get some free time to sort out my glaze tests from our recent glaze firing in the solar-fired, electric reduction kiln. They are all quite good, actually very good. These are all glazes made from my local stones, collected around the shire where I live. I’m very pleased with the latest version of my Kangaroo Blue glaze (see earlier post, Kangaroo Blue. 12/12/18) and the Bindook Porphyry pale limpid celadon. Not too bad for a 5 hour solar-powered firing.

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Ms Kang has left the building. We’ll miss her.

From Garden to Glass jars, Preserving our Excess

Our international guest and pottery/environmental living intern, Ms Kang from Korea, is about to leave us. We spend our time in the pottery, garden and kitchen. We put in a big day from early morning through till late night, a 14 hour day. There is a lot to get done at this time of year.

We have glazed our pots and packed the kiln previously, so while we wait for the sun to get up in the sky so that we can start the firing. I get up on the roof and wash the solar panels. We live on a dirt road which is quite dusty in dry weather. We recently had a good rain storm and collected 75mm. (3″) of rain, but then we had 150mm. (6″) of wind and dust, This means that I need to wash the PV panels so that we achieve maximum efficiency. At this time of year, the shadow from the trees doesn’t pass off the last of the panels until 10.00am.

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By 10.00am the sun is up in the sky and we are generating good energy, it’s a good time to switch on the electric kiln. I wait until the PV panels are generating enough power before I start the firing. I like to start about 10-ish and finish by 5-ish, thus making the most of the sun. The kiln is very powerful and can easily fire straight through to Stoneware 1300oC in 5 hours if needed. Once the kiln gets to 1000oC, I start reduction with 2 small pilot burners running at 5 kpa. I can’t set the pressure any lower than this and expect it to be reliable. This takes the kiln through to 1300 in reduction using just 300 grams of gas. I’m still experimenting with this kiln.

If we want to fire longer, or on cloudy days when there isn’t enough direct sunlight, we have the Tesla battery to fill the gap. We can, if needed, fire the kiln and charge the car as well on the same day. On a good sunny day, we can charge both car and Kiln, fill the battery and still sell a little to the grid. On the off days when we don’t fire or drive the car, we sell everything to the grid. We sell our excess at 20 cents per kW/hr. occasionally when it is cloudy for a few days we buy back power from the grid. We chose a 100% green power contract and pay the premium price of 35 cents per kW/hr for the privilege. However, we are connected to the grid by a net meter, so we only have to pay for power if our imports exceeds our exports in any given month. It never does.

Once the kiln is on, It fires itself in semi-automatic mode. I only need to check it occasionally. Then its back into the garden to continue the harvest of more tomatoes, chilis, capsicums and aubergines. We are at peak tomatoes now, as we dealt with the last of the late-season plums last week. They are all safely vacuumed sealed in their jars, in the pantry, waiting for later in the year.

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While I harvest the tomatoes et al, in the vegetable garden, the ladies, Ms’s King & Kang collect hazel nuts and quinces from the orchard. We are all soon very busy in the kitchen, by the time the heat of the day sets in. All the tomatoes need to be washed and sorted. Even though we have set fruit fly traps all around our garden and orchards, we still get some fruit fly stings in the very ripe tomatoes in this late summer season of hot and damp weather. All the tomatoes are cut open, checked for fly strike and then sorted into two separate pans. A big boiler for the good fruit and a small sauce pan for the fly struck fruit. The spoilt tomatoes are all boiled to kill the grubs and then fed to the chickens, with the remaining skins and detritus composted or fed to the worms.

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While I’m cooking, Ms Kang is shelling the days pick of hazelnuts. This batch of tomato passata will be cooked with pepper corns, bay leaves and a bottle of good red wine. It looks great and tastes delightfully sweet and sharp, sort of tangy, with just a little bite and lingering heat from a few chilli peppers in the mix.

The quinces are washed, peeled sliced and then boiled with a little sugar, 300g in the big boiler + a couple of litres of water to cover them. I add a stick of cinnamon, a few cloves and two star anise. After they have softened. I transfer them to baking trays, pouring the sweet boiling liqueur over them and add a little bit of Canadian maple syrup into the mix I give them 45 mins at 180 and this reduces the liquer to a sticky gel and turns the fruit to a lovely red colour. I choose to cook them with a minimum of sugar. If I added more sugar, they would turn a deeper/richer shade of claret red. I love that colour, but don’t like the saturated sweetness.

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We preserve everything in our antique ‘Fowlers’ Preserving jars. We bought this old boiler and a few boxes of glass jars, 2nd hand at a garage sale over 40 years ago and they are still giving good service. We have only had to replace the rubber rings.

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It still surprises me that a basket full of quince fruit can fill the sink when being washed, then fill 2 baking dishes in the cooking and finally be reduced to just 3 jars of concentrated sunlight, colour and flavour after a days work. Two baskets of tomatoes fills two boilers, then makes only 4 jars of passata once it has been reduced on the stove for an few hour.

Such is the business of summer.

Our New Intern from Korea

We have a new intern working with us this January. Our visitor is Ms. Kang from Korea. She has come here to experience our sustainable approach to life and our ceramic work.

We have been working together crushing and grinding porcelain clay body and glazes from local rocks, throwing pots, working in the vegetable garden growing our food, cooking the food that we harvest and doing a little bit of sightseeing as well. The three of us have been doing some tourist activities together, like a trip to Sydney with a ferry ride on the harbour, and a trip to the local National Park and the south coast beaches.

Ms. Kang has been learning to use our foot-powered ‘Leach-style’ kick wheels.  We have just finished making sufficient clay work today to fill the solar powered electric kiln for a bisque firing. Last week we calcined some local white granite rocks, to make our local blue celadon/guan glaze.

Pretty-much life as usual, but with a hard-working and dedicated student-guest.

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Update on our solar powered car – driving on sunshine.

We have had our new PHEV electric car for three weeks now and have just passed the 1000 km mark. I have chosen to drive it in hybrid mode to get the petrol engine run in a bit before the first service.

The first 1000 kms in a new petrol engine tend to involve a bit of wearing in of some metal parts that rub together. So it is good practice to change the oil and flush out all the iron filings that would cause some unnecessary wear  if left in the oil for a longer period.

Consequently, I have been testing the car out in ‘hybrid’ mode as well as in ‘sports’ mode, which involves running the petrol engine at higher revs for short periods of time. This is thought to get a better result during the ‘running-in period, than just driving the car gently for the whole time.

So we have reached the first 1050 kms and we haven’t used half the fuel tank yet!

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This engine is very efficient and the makers claim it can achieve just over 1000 kms on a tank of fuel.

The cars computer is telling me that we still have 524 kms of fuel left in the tank and we have already done 1050. At this rate we will be getting over 2,000 kms to a tank full of petrol.  I can see us only buying petrol once ever 6 weeks at this rate. It’s quite an eye opener to experience this level of fuel economy.

Not the elephant in the room, but the EV panel on the roof in this case, is the sunshine that has powered about half of our driving. After the car has been serviced for the first time, I will be choosing to drive more in fully electric mode and less in hybrid, and definitely a lot less, if ever in ‘sports’ mode. I can see us getting 2500 kms occasionally to a full tank of fuel at some stage in the future. If we log up 10,000 kms in a year, that will mean going to the petrol station just once every 3 months.

I have worked hard to get us into this position. I’m really enjoying being here now!

 

Solar fired electric kiln, reduction glaze firing

We have fired the solar-powered electric kiln to stoneware in reduction for the first time.

This all happened a few weeks ago, but I got distracted by the arrival of the new electric car, so I’m a bit behind in writing all this up.

The kiln worked perfectly, just as I had hoped. No problems at all. I had it packed with domestic sized items, cups and bowls, plus a few clay and glaze tests to see how things worked. Plus a spread of cones to see the temperature variations throughout the setting. This is only the first attempt at a reduced stoneware firing in this kiln, so it is new territory for me. I will need to test out the many options available to me to get the most efficient firing time with the best results, using the least amount of gas for the reduction, while achieving the best reduced colour.

I decided to try a fast firing, just to check out how fast the kiln can fire. It took 3 1/2 hours to get the 1,000oC and then I set up the pilot burners to start the reduction atmosphere. The burners clipped into their mountings easily. I was careful because the kiln was quite hot already at this stage in the firing. I made the mounting so that  one simple bolt can be slid into a hole like a pin, and the mounting is secure.

The burners lit easily off the kilns heat, I didn’t have time to click on the lighter to get them started. I had built a few different sized flue holes in 3 separate damper tiles. I had made a few tests at room temperature with the different sized flue holes.

A 12mm hole with a 5 kpa pressure. A 25mm hole with a 10 to 20 kpa gas pressure and a 32mm hole with a 20 to 35  kpa gas pressure. These settings were made at room temperature in a cold kiln, so I expected to have to make a decision based on the new volume of expanded gasses at the higher temperatures.

I chose the damper tile with the flue hole outlet in the top of the kiln of 25mm sq , as a starting point. Then adjusted the gas pressure to 10 kpa. This established a slight back pressure at the burner hole and a small flame at the flue exit. I also tried 12 and 15 kpa. This achieved what seemed to be a good back pressure and reduction atmosphere with a small flame at the spy hole as well, but the temperature was still climbing slowly. I decided after an hour of this to increase the gas flow and use the larger flue hole of 32mm Sq. This kept the same reduction atmosphere and back pressure, but increased the rate of temperature rise.

The kiln reached temperature in just over 2 hours and consumed 700 grams of gas at a cost of about $2.00. The electricity cost was nil, as we are totally solar here and I fired in the middle of the day, at the greatest solar productivity. But the cost foregone of lost sales of kilowatts to the grid was about $4.75, so a total theoretical firing cost of $6.75

Total firing time of 5.25 hours. A very fast firing. Not the best for good quality glaze quality, but I proved to my self that it could be done. I can now choose to fire any length of time slower than this.

The glaze result was OK. The reduced glaze colour of the rock glaze celadon could be richer and deeper, but it is excellent for 2 hours of reduction. The translucency of the porcelain was very good – considering the very short maturation time at high temperature of approximately just one hour. It was a very light pack, just to try out the kiln and all three sets of cones went over evenly at the top, middle and bottom shelves. Cone 10 right over = more or less 1300oC

The next firing will be a slower one.

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