Monday, May 14, 2012

Efficiency I Can't Quite Explain

With the exception of the few months the Z3 has been off the road for repairs or upgrades, I've been driving the car for just over 26 months.  During that time, I've kept detailed records of every charge/discharge cycle of the batteries.  Every time I plug in, I note the mileage on the odometer, and the number of amp hours I've drawn out of the pack.  I then take that data and plug it into a spreadsheet that calculates a number of things for me, including how much money I've saved because I wasn't burning gas, how much the electricity I'm using is costing me, and most interestingly, how many Watt-hours per mile the car is using.

I've reported in the past the the car averages about 320 Watt-hours per mile on surface streets.  That's the number I've used to calculate the range of the car: 19,400 Wh / 320 Wh = 60.625.  This is why I've always stated the car has a 60 mile range.  And I've proved that out once, driving 62 miles on a charge once, in preparation for doing a bottom balance on the batteries.

Of course, once I go on the freeway traveling between 65 and 70 mph, that 320 Watt-hours per mile begins to look like a distant dream.  The aerodynamic drag on the car causes energy consumption to quickly rise to around 420 Watt-hours per mile at 65 miles an hour.  That meant that my round trip to work, a 23 mile journey, which includes 7 miles of surface streets and 16 miles of freeway, averaged between 370 and 380 Watt-hours per mile.  I've made this trip a few hundred times, I know the numbers.

It's no secret that I've had a few problems with the motor in the car.  The balancing putty has come off for a some inexplicable reason, twice.  Just recently it developed a short to the case that no amount of air blown through its guts could resolve.  George Hamstra at Netgain has been a champion through all of this and ultimately had a new motor sent to me.  In addition, we swapped out the brushes from the standard H-49 brushes used for high current applications like drag racing, to H-60 brushes which are better suited for street use.  A cool feature on Helwig H-60 brushes is the split, Red Top design, which helps to ensure better contact on the commutator.

At any rate, I got the new brushes seated in the motor properly, put the car back together and launched it back onto the streets about 3 weeks ago.  The car is my daily driver, so once I began driving it to work and other places, and recording the energy consumption, I was a bit surprised to notice it was more efficient.  At first I thought it was maybe just an anomaly, but it's clear something has caused the car to make much better use of the energy in the batteries.  My round trips to work are now averaging about 280 Watt-hours per mile.  Compare that to the older 370!  That's more than a 25% improvement in efficiency!  I made one trip where the average dropped to 266.

Today I took a bit of a longer trip out to Scottsdale.  A total of 38 miles, with 30 of those miles on the freeway, traveling around 70 mph.  The average consumption for the entire trip was 274 Watt-hours per mile.  In the past, I would have estimated this trip to be a 400+ Watt-hour per mile trip.  But that's not all!  During the entire trip, I had the AC system on (which draws about 9 amps) and of course, I've configured the power steering pump to run all the time now adding another 2 amp continuous draw.  BTW, the change to the power steering is interesting, but that's another post.  So there are more parasitic loads, yet, efficiency is up.

The one thing I haven't done yet is to see what average I would get if I traveled at 40 or 45 mph.   There's no reason to think the gain in efficiency that I'm seeing wouldn't appear there as well, but I simply don't have those numbers yet.

It seems like an obvious conclusion to draw that the increase in efficiency can be attributed to the new motor, or brushes, or a combination of them both.  But I really can't say that with certainty.  Perhaps I'd made some error when installing the drive line in the past which caused some binding or friction that I simply wasn't aware of.  I kind of doubt that, but who knows?  There's no question I've gotten better at disassembling the drive line of the car, but there really isn't much room for error here.  I have no reason to doubt the numbers the meter is giving me; after all, it's the same meeter with the same set up I was using before the motor swap.

What ever the cause, the car does seem to be more efficient.  At an average draw of 280 Watt-hours per mile, it's gone from a 60 mile range to nearly a 70 mile range.  I'll take it.

Update 5/20/2012:

I've continued to see the gains in efficiency I detailed above, but I've realized I've let myself fall victim to insidious creature that is over optimism.  I've always maintained that the Z3 had a 60 mile range.  That was based on the fact that it consumed about 320 - 330 Watt-hours per mile when driving at ~45 mph in normal traffic.  What I really hadn't done is take an average over multiple trips to get a more balanced number, a real world number you can take to the bank.  Well since I've seen this improvement in efficiency, I've gone back  to my spreadsheet to see if I could mine some more useful, accurate data from the numbers.  Here's how it works out...

Since the car was put on the road, up until the motor/brush replacement, it has averaged 376 Watt hours per mile.  That is the real world average.  Sure there were many trips that were better, but there were also many that were worse.  I can't get out of my neighborhood without consuming something like 480 Watt-hours per mile.  It's all about stopping and starting.  With no regenerative braking, stop signs and stop lights really affect your range.  The more of them per mile, the worse your range.  Well, there's 6 stop signs on one of the routes it takes to get from my house to the main streets, so you can imagine what that does to energy consumption.

The average after the motor/brush swap has dropped to 321 Watt-hours per mile.  Compare that to the old 376, and you note a 14.7% improvement.  That is huge!  Interestingly, and I've mentioned this above, virtually all of the trips I've made in the car since putting it back on the road have been on the freeway at 65 - 70 mph.  Meaning, that as more trips on surface streets are recorded I expect that 321 number to drop even further.

The bottom line is that I've been misrepresenting what the car's range really is by skewing the data toward the happier, more optimistic lower numbers.  Not intentionally or maliciously mind you.  The old average was 51.6, the average now seems to be 60.4.  A painful thing to admit, but there you have it.  Just as I could have easily squeezed 60 miles out of the car before, sticking to surface streets and avoiding stops, I expect I could squeeze 70 miles out of it now, doing the same. 

I've brought all this to Jack Rickard's attention at EVTV, and just like me, he was skeptical and ultimately amazed.  He's been doing some tests swapping out the original H49 brushes for the split, Red Top H60's and he's finding the same results.  I have a feeling this is going to be a hot topic in the EV community for a while.