Merry Christmas from Tesla

I just received a software update for my Tesla Model Y today – just in time for Christmas.  Among many other changes and additions, it now includes the light show for all of their current models.  As a friend noted, it appears to be possessed by a ghost of Christmas:

Apparently it’s now possible for owners to create and load new light show arrangements.  The provided one is set to the tune of Carol of the Bells.

Update (12/27): As expected, folks are already making tons of new song and light show arrangements, like Eye of the Tiger, Star Wars Imperial March, Darude’s Sandstorm, Daft Punk “The Grid” from Tron: Legacy, etc.  Here’s a repository coming together to find and download them.

If you’re interested in buying a Tesla, using someone’s referral link will give you a discount (the amount varies over the years) and grants redeemable credits to the person who referred you.  Here’s my Tesla referral link.

Model Y vs Model 3

I decided to go ahead and replace my Tesla Model 3 with a Model Y – both are Performance versions but both have the standard wheels and suspension for added clearance.

I’ll miss the Model 3 – the Model Y doesn’t feel quite the same.  The Model 3 is definitely more fun to drive just because of how it sits lower and feels more planted, like driving on rails.  However, the Model Y is easier to get in and out of, you have much more space for loading stuff and it’s much easier to load our two mountain bikes inside than it was with the Model 3.  Also, I like the integrated factory hitch option that’s at bumper level, as opposed to the aftermarket hitches for the 3 which had to mount underneath.

The Model Y’s suspension feels a bit “jouncy” (it could really use an air suspension option) and, somewhat strangely, under full launch acceleration the Performance Y doesn’t feel as stable as the Performance 3, presumably because of the taller stance.  It’s still nice to drive though – and it’s still a Tesla, with all the delight that implies.  I’m very happy with it but I would’ve been fine with keeping my Model 3 if only it had a full hatchback design for easy loading of bikes and gear, or if the Model Y had never come out.

Besides the obvious additional rear cargo space, the rear under floor and side pocket space and the frunk are all also larger.  There’s extra room in the rear seats and easier entry/exit all around due to the higher seating arrangement.  The Model 3 is of course more aerodynamic but the Model Y now has a heat pump and an inventive valve system to direct heat to/from the motor, battery or cabin as needed.  This gives the Model Y very similar range as compared to the Model 3 despite being larger, at least until this heat pump/valve system is carried over to the Model 3.

Update: Yup, as of late 2020 and along with some other changes and additions, the late-2020 Model 3 has gained added range from the new heat pump system.

If you’re interested in buying a Tesla, using someone’s referral link will give you a discount (the amount varies over the years) and grants redeemable credits to the person who referred you.  Here’s my Tesla referral link.

Click through for more comparison pictures:


Update (June 2021): I decided to get some sportier-looking wheels as well as upgrade the tires.  The stock Continentals don’t do that great on snow.  Here’s my Model Y now with Replika R241 alloy wheels (19×8.5) and the highly-rated Vredstein Quatrac Pro XL (255 R45-19) all season tires:


Tesla Powerwalls Installed

My two Tesla Powerwall 2‘s were installed last week and now I’m running on my own solar-generated power after dark!

You see, Powerwalls not only keep the lights on when the power goes out but they also let you automatically time shift energy daily to avoid using power from the grid at peak demand times – not something you get from a traditional backup generator.  Plus they don’t need any maintenance or fuel.

And yes, this does mean that now I will still have power for the whole house and, most importantly, running water the next time PG&E needs to shut down the power grid for fire safety.  Yay!

Avoiding Peak Demand Usage

It used to be that daily peak energy demand occurred through the mid to late afternoons but with the widespread adoption and installation of solar photovoltaic panels, that afternoon demand has evaporated and the peak demand now comes in the evenings.  As a result, power companies have been adjusting their rate schedules to reflect that, with the highest cost of energy running well after dark to 8 and 9 pm.

With battery storage, you not only get backup power for the whole house in the case of outages, but you can also automatically store energy generated during low demand periods of the day (including from your own solar panels) and automatically use that stored energy during the later peak hours, even after the sun goes down.  This means that your existing solar PV system ends up being even more effective and cost-efficient.

Time-shifting energy usage with battery storage works so well that Tesla and other companies have been actively deploying massive, utility level battery storage systems around the world, in place of traditional, expensive peaker plants. (Peaker plants are power plants whose primary purpose is to cover periods of high demand.)

Powerwall Configuration Options

I really like the Tesla app for configuring and monitoring your Powerwall and, if present, your solar PV system.  It continually displays the flow of power between your home, Powerwalls, solar panels and the power grid – in real time.

You can specify to keep the system in a “backup only” mode (keeping the batteries fully charged at all times), in a “self-powered” mode (where it stores any excess solar generated and uses it to power the home as much as possible each day), or in one of two time-based control modes where it forecasts your future energy usage and time-shifts your energy use and solar production to fit the peak, off-peak and shoulder periods of your particular electricity rate schedule.  And all of these modes operate under a “storm watch” feature that will automatically override the normal behavior of the Powerwall to prepare for forecasted storms or other events that may result in an outage.  All very cool!

Balanced vs Self-Powered on two cold, partly cloudy days with the heat pump cycling over much of each day.

I tried running in the “balanced” time-based mode for most of March but then switched to “self-powered” mode because, during the non-summer months (October – April), there is no peak rate and the difference between partial-peak and non-peak is only a couple of cents.  In “balanced” mode, the system would make a point of exporting any excess solar generation during the partial-peak period for credit rather than continuing to charge the Powerwalls.  This would mean it would be more likely to need grid power overnight.  Now in “self-powered” mode, the Powerwalls are charged more and usually able to handle the entire house load overnight – depending on the weather (solar production and house heating need).

Update (June 2020): Well, it’s not even summer yet and the Powerwalls are already letting the house run completely self-powered most days.  And by “house” I mean everything (central heating, water heater, cooktop/oven, washer/dryer, well & pressure pumps, septic system pumps) plus the cars (we’re both driving electric).  There were a couple of days that were a bit stormy and cold enough to want to heat the house and a couple days of heavier charging of one of the cars, but every other day required no power from the grid (day or night) – and yet the system still exported plenty of excess solar generation by the end of the day.  Having a couple of Powerwalls really does sort of double how much you get out of your existing solar panels.  (I’ve got a 9 kW solar system.)

During the summer months, when there’s a daily period of much higher peak pricing, I expected to make use of the time-based “balanced” mode to optimize how much credit I get for excess solar generation.  As it turns out, in the “balanced” mode the Powerwalls will switch to exporting solar power during the peak period even if the batteries aren’t yet full.  So I switched back to “self-powered” mode to let the batteries fully charge each day to be sure to have plenty for overnight usage.  They tend to fill up by early afternoon on sunny days and plenty of excess solar power gets exported at the peak rates anyway.  This excess solar generation during the spring to autumn months will still make up for the power I need from the grid over the winter when the house uses much more energy for heating.  (My panels were installed to optimize for summer peak rates – 75% of them are oriented to the west for summer afternoons.  Now that I have the Powerwalls, I almost wish I had optimized them more for the winter sun.)

If you’re interested in buying a Powerwall, using someone’s referral link will gain you (and the person who referred you) a small rebate.  Here’s my Tesla referral link.

Installation Issues

My installation by Tesla wasn’t without issues. Read more “Tesla Powerwalls Installed”

Fire and Smoke (and air filter test)

Lots of wildfires in California lately and over 100 in the Santa Cruz area this year so they’ve closed many of the county parks to try to reduce the risk.  This one a couple of weeks ago (the Rincon fire) was quite visible from my place but happily they were able to get it under control in a couple of days:


After seeing someone test the air filtration of Tesla’s Model X and its “biodefense mode” against the heavy smoke we’re getting from our wildfires this month, I decided to pick up an inexpensive air quality sensor to test my home’s air as well as my Model 3’s more mundane filtration system.  (The Model 3 doesn’t have the Model X’s fancy “biodefense mode” or huge HEPA filters.)

With the PM2.5 sensor reading 150 μg/m3 (unhealthy) in the San Jose area (due to smoke from the Camp Fire that burned through Paradise, CA), I found that the Tesla Model 3’s air filter would bring things down to the 20’s in the cabin in just a few minutes when recycle air was turned on.  Later, I stopped and made a video to record it falling from 135 to 5 μg/m3 in less than 10 minutes. It climbed back up to the 80’s pretty quickly though when I turned off recycle air and let it bring in fresh air:

This video was even picked up by Teslarati (“Model 3 protects owner…“) and re-tweeted by Elon.

Hi, Elon!  But they didn’t pick up on my follow-up test to compare the Tesla to a Toyota:

Comparison with Toyota RAV4 EV

I decided to repeat the test with my 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV.  This time the starting air quality wasn’t nearly as bad as my initial test but both the Tesla and the Toyota were able to filter the cabin down to a reading of zero from a start of 50 μg/m3 with recycle air turned on. At full fan speed, the RAV4 took about 10 minutes and the Model 3 was able to do it in about 3-4 minutes.

With recycle air turned off (fresh air intake on), the PM2.5 reading in both cars climbed up again. The Tesla was able to hold it around the low to mid 30’s but the RAV4 went up to essentially the outside reading of 50 μg/m3 again.  So the Model 3’s system does work better.

One other thing of note is that the RAV4 ended up with a much higher concentration of TVOC (total volatile organic compounds), even though the vehicle is five years old. Presumably this is off-gassing of some of the materials in the cabin.Oh, and I forgot to turn off A/C in the RAV4 for the test – hence the temperature drop.

Here’s more detail in screenshots – RAV4 start and finish with recycle on:

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Model 3 start and finish with recycle on:

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On a subsequent four-hour drive to Tahoe in the Model 3, I encountered much worse air along the way (San Jose, Central Valley, Sacramento, etc). I’d guess the PM2.5 count was easily at least 150 μg/m3 and probably much higher in places, but I avoided opening the windows to test it. I kept the air on recycle and saw that the particle count held down around 20 but sometimes climb to the 30’s. Not bad, given how bad it was outside.

If you’re interested in buying a Tesla, using someone’s referral link will give you a discount (the amount varies over the years) and grants redeemable credits to the person who referred you.  Here’s my Tesla referral link.

Finally Got Our Teslas!

I’ve been waiting for a mid-size, long range, all wheel drive electric car ever since I got my first taste of EV’s at Nissan’s LEAF test drive event in 2010.  I was so taken by how it felt to drive electric that I ended up putting a reservation down for Tesla’s still-under-development Model S soon after since Nissan was no longer taking reservations for the LEAF.  As it turns out, I ended up snagging a LEAF in 2011 before even getting to test drive the first Model S in 2012.  I decided to pass on the Model S (too big for my tastes) but eventually brought home “half a Tesla” in the form of Toyota and Tesla’s joint RAV4 EV effort in 2013 – as did Darlene when I sold my old LEAF out from under her.

When Tesla finally revealed the prototype of the smaller Model 3 in early 2016 and opened up reservations, Darlene and I and Dave and 450,000 other “friends” all jumped on it – and began the long wait as Tesla started development.

Well, here they are – we both finally got ours this past weekend (and Dave got his a few weeks ago):


And, oh boy, are these amazing and fun to drive – over 300 miles range on a charge, access to Tesla Superchargers all across the country, over-the-air software updates, incredible “spaceship-like” interior design with lots of customization controls, among the safest vehicles on the road and blah blah blah… okay, yeah, yeah….

Anyway, here’s the obligatory “Tesla launch” video:

Custom “Stealth” Look

I decided to get some detailing work done to give mine a more custom look.  I had XPEL Stealth self-healing paint protection film applied over all the painted surfaces to give it a satin matte appearance, a speckled dark gray 3M vinyl wrap applied to cover all of the chrome exterior trim pieces as well as the gloss black interior console, a Ceramic Pro hydrophobic ceramic coating applied over the body, windows and wheel covers for easy cleaning, a mild tinting (Huper Optik) applied to the side windows to give a nice contrast between the body and the glass portion and the front and rear chrome badges painted black.  Elite Auto Films in San Jose did the work and while it did take a couple of weeks and several follow-up visits to finish everything up, it came out looking great.  The satin effect is fairly subtle, particularly in photographs, but it looks quite sharp in person!  Darlene also had Elite Auto Films do some paint correction work and had a Ceramic Pro coating on hers.

Click through for more pictures in the full gallery:


If you’re interested in buying a Tesla, using someone’s referral link will give you a discount (the amount varies over the years) and grants redeemable credits to the person who referred you.  Here’s my Tesla referral link.

Brought Home a Tesla!

Okay, well… half a Tesla.  ;-)  Tesla Motors supplies the battery and drivetrain for this vehicle, Toyota’s second generation RAV4 EV.

Hey, but it’s shiny!  And fast!  And it goes much further on a charge than my 2011 Nissan LEAF:  folks say they get 120+ miles even at highway speeds.  This will be much more convenient since I currently give up half my range in my LEAF whenever I want to make a round trip over the hill from Santa Cruz.  And it has a 10 kW charger on board as compared to my old LEAF’s 3.3 kW (or 6.6 kW in 2013 or newer LEAFs).  Unfortunately Toyota chose not to include support for any DC fast charging.


Update after a couple of days:  Yup, it does 120 miles easily!  It’s great to drive the 40 miles to Palo Alto from Santa Cruz at normal highway speeds of 65-70 mph, picking up friends along the way, and find you still have 80+ miles of charge left!  Particularly when you see that the charge stations in downtown Palo Alto are all occupied anyway! ;-)

Or, as another example one month later, to drive the 95 miles to Fairfax at 70-75 mph (two passengers, two bikes and gear on board) and have 25+ miles of margin leftover.  Then plug in at a public charge station while out for a mountain bike ride and a meal and be fully charged for the return trip.  And using the heater all the way back seemed to only affect the range by about 10% – still plenty of charge leftover after getting home.  It’s so sweet to be able to easily make a 190 mile day trip without needing to burn any gas!  Looking forward to the clearer air as these gradually supplant most of those silly, old-fashioned internal combustion engines!

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This second generation Toyota RAV4 EV has an MSRP of about $50,000 before rebates.  However, Toyota has been offering large cash back deals over the year from between $10,000-14,000 off the list price (purchase vs. lease), then you also get $2500 back from California as part of their program to encourage EV adoption and, lastly, up to $7500 off your Federal taxes if you purchase.  (Update: As of Feb 2014, it’s $16,500 off with an essentially interest-free lease.)

All this brings the cost down to the mid-30’s before taxes – cheap compared to Tesla Model S, but still expensive compared to Nissan LEAF. But when you also take into account that there is no gas to buy or oil changes or regular engine maintenance, any pure EV becomes even more enticing.  Driving around without ever needing to burn gas and on power generated or offset by your own solar panels is a lot of fun!  Of course, the LEAF has all these EV advantages too and it is both a much more affordable and a more efficient vehicle.

As for the Tesla Model S, it is a beautiful car but it’s way too big for my tastes.  Ideally, I’d like a reasonably-sized, sport-performance, four door hatchback with AWD (for traveling in the Sierra winter).  Something like my old Audi A3, but all electric!  (And maybe a little bigger.) The LEAF is a good size and is fun to drive (all electric torque!) but this RAV4 will let me go further (and faster) while I wait for something more ideal.  But yes, this does mean I will be selling my cute little red LEAF…  awww….

My 240V Nissan LEAF charge cord (upgraded by EVSEUpgrade) isn’t compatible with the RAV4 (there is a known compatibility issue with these older units – a missing signal) so for now I’m having to rely on the Toyota-supplied 120V charge cord and, oh boy, is that slow!  It takes over two days of continuous charging at 120V to get back to full from empty.  In other words, it still isn’t fully charged from when I brought it home on Tuesday night even though I’ve been keeping it plugged in as much as possible.  But this is temporary.  I’m getting one of Tesla’s universal mobile chargers (instead of a wall-mounted unit) and have it adapted to use the standard J1772 plug that the RAV4 uses.  Then my charge times will become very reasonable and I’ll be back to being fully charged whenever I want to go out — and it will give me extra flexibility when away from home.  A lot of RAV4 owners have done this because the Tesla mobile unit is really compact and convenient:  It’s small and portable and yet it will charge at whatever the appropriate amperage is based on the plug adaptor you use.  (12 amps @ 120V vs. 30 or 40 amps at 240V, based on NEMA plug type)


Update:  I have the Tesla charging cord now (modified Tesla UMC).  Seems well built and it has a hefty, secure-looking wall plug.  And I can now gain somewhere around 30 miles of charge back per hour.  Woot! Hardly necessary for overnight recharging, but handy when topping off between day trips!

Driving a Tesla Model S

I went to the Tesla Model S test drive event today in Fremont.  As a Model S reservation holder, I was able to go to the factory tour last November (here’s my pictures and video from that) but this weekend, with the delivery of the first vehicles to customers, this was the first of several drive events being held around the country this summer.

The test drive route was a nice mix of private and public roads and highways over about eight minutes.  There’s lots of pictures, videos and commentary available on the web already from this weekend but I thought I would add my feedback comparing it to driving my Nissan LEAF (and the Audi A3 3.2 that I used to own).

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My first impression on pressing the accelerator and turning the wheel was “damn, this thing feels like a tank.”  It’s a beautiful, very fast tank, but oh does it feel big and heavy.  As a passenger at the ride-along last November, it wasn’t noticeable — because it is so quick and handles very well (even through the slalom course).  But when you’re behind the wheel and coming from the likes of smaller cars, you definitely notice the weight and the size.  I was disappointed by this.  I know it looks big but I had hoped to not be able to really feel it when behind the wheel.

Given that the Model S has a much more powerful electric motor than the LEAF, I think part of what I was feeling was how they’ve calibrated the accelerator.  (Or perhaps it’s really just the significant amount of mass you’re having to throw around!)  I suppose the LEAF’s accelerator is actually a bit touchy.  It leaps forward with just a slight press.  But then this contributes to the fun and lively feel of driving the LEAF around town.  And this despite it’s actually rather poor 0-60 time.  Of course, with full torque immediately available and no gears to shift, it is actually very quick at typical city speeds of 0-30/40 mph.  And its small size helps it feel more nimble than something like the Model S.  Of course the Model S is flat out faster (must faster than most cars and certainly most sedans) and it actually handles that speed and its weight far better than the LEAF.  Unlike the LEAF, it’s definitely engineered for performance.

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But the Model S is still a big, “executive-styled”, “BMW 7-class series” kind of vehicle and isn’t really my kind of vehicle.  So I still have a lot of doubt about following through with a purchase.  Yes, it is expensive, as Tesla’s business plan is built around the notion of starting on the luxury end and working to bring down costs to develop a more affordable mid-priced electric vehicle.  While the expense is understandable – we’re still on the leading early-adopter edge for all electric vehicles, much like cellphones and plasma TVs when they were first brought to market – for this kind of money, I need to really love the vehicle as it is.  I’m not canceling my reservation just yet as I’ll probably have until the fall before I have to commit, but what I really want is a smaller, sporty, all wheel drive hatchback – all electric, of course!  Maybe I’ll have to wait for the third generation Tesla, the supposed Model E.  Or maybe somebody else will step up to the plate?

New Shiny!!

Look at my new shiny! An all electric Nissan LEAF. Yay!

After a test drive of the LEAF at the SF Auto Show in November last year and discovering what a fun, surprisingly-roomy little vehicle it was, I knew I wanted to drive electric, even if it meant giving up my Audi A3.

Unfortunately, I also discovered that the waiting list was already closed, so I immediately jumped on the reservation list for the still-under-development Tesla Model S instead.  But this week I found out that I could take home an “orphaned” LEAF immediately despite the waiting list (though, for a premium).  This is a vehicle that somebody ordered but then decided to back out of – the dealers are selling them to other buyers willing to pay a little extra.  So I get to enjoy it while still waiting to see what comes of the Tesla Model S.

Awesome! Driving electric now!