Going solar!

I have been considering solar panels for a long time. It came really close 7 years ago, but due to a back and forth exchange with my HOA (Homeowners Association, for those unfamiliar with the matter) the installation could not happen before the rebate from the city we live in would expire. So we had to scratch that idea for the time being, unfortunately.

Lots have changed since. While the technology saw only some incremental improvements in panel efficiency and energy output per panel, the price per Watt has dropped significantly in the last few years. Compared to the 7 kWh system (without battery backup) I was considering in the past, I now can have a 12 kWh system with battery backup for almost the same price. Also now that we have an electric vehicle, the incentive is even stronger to go greener.

After careful research I decided to go with Tesla for the solar installation. The process has just begun and there’s still a number of outstanding “ifs” and “buts” before we come to completion. For what it’s worth, I thought it would be beneficial to document the whole process here. If any of you are considering to follow a similar route, hopefully you will find this information useful. I will be updating this post as we get closer to having the system installed at our house. Fingers crossed that everything goes as planned this time round!

Day 1

I placed an order using Tesla’s website. The process is very simple. After providing your home address and average electricity bill, the website will offer suggestions regarding the size of the system and the estimated pricing:

You can modify the system’s size and opt in for the battery backup (which I did). Upon providing your particulars and placing a deposit of $100 your order is complete. The deposit is fully refundable should you change your mind throughout the process.

Within minutes, I received confirmation on my mobile phone. At the same time, I was asked to login to Tesla’s website and provide some additional information:

  • Copy of recent utility bill
  • Photos of the electric meter and its surroundings
  • Photos of the circuit breaker box, including the close up of the manufacturer’s label and the main breaker
  • Some photos of the garage itself
  • HOA’s name (if applicable)

The whole process is done online, no interaction with any human being. However, if anyone from Tesla is ever to read this, I have one feedback: it would be nice to have a checklist of all the pictures that you are expecting the homeowner to take, so we can avoid doing an Easter egg hunt. In some fairness, you suggested completing this process using a mobile phone – now I know why.

Day 3

I received a notification from Tesla that my initial layout is complete and to go to their website to review it. Tesla uses an online tool to streamline the process of designing the system for each individual customer. I believe that they use data from Google (Project Sunroof?) to aid their design process.
The layout includes the visual representation of how the panels will be distributed on the roof, plus some technical specifications related to the type of solar panels, inverter, as well as a description of what Tesla Powerwall is about. Once you acknowledge the layout, you are asked to provide a digital signature to get the process started. You are also asked to:

  • Provide a copy of the declaration page of your homeowner’s insurance policy
  • Acknowledge and digitally sign that you are responsible for liaising with HOA to get any necessary approvals (so much for the hope that Tesla will do it on my behalf)
  • Acknowledge and digitally sign your purchase agreement.

Day 4

Another notification on my phone. This time round I was asked to review and sign the permit application, so that Tesla can obtain the necessary approvals from the city before the installation can be performed.

Day 5

I found some discrepancies between the solar inverter shown on my proposed layout (SolarEdge) and the equipment listed on the permit application with the city (Delta). At this point, I also started having some serious doubts regarding the layout itself. My system would comprise of:

  • 36 x Q CELLS 340 W panels for the total maximum output of ~12 kWh
  • SolarEdge inverter
  • 3 x Tesla Powerwall for battery backup

The panels themselves were literally added to Tesla’s offering just few days before me placing the order (together with some additional discount on the overall installation cost, I might add).

The proposed layout displayed a majority (22 of 36) panels installed on the North-facing slope of my roof. From all the research I’ve done related to solar panel installation the consensus always was that as long as you are living on a Northern hemisphere, you should avoid placing panels on the North side of the roof, as it will drastically reduce the amount of energy they can provide.
My other concern was related to the model and capacity of the inverter, as well as the use (or not) of power optimizers. The Internet can be both a blessing and curse, so after extensive research and reading a horror story or two related to an improperly designed photovoltaic system I grew a bit paranoid to make sure that when I am ready to take the plunge, everything will be done right.
The concern was two-folded:

  • Solar inverter sizing – I wanted to make sure the inverter is chosen to match the peak production output of the panels
  • Optimizers – SolarEdge is known for using power optimizers as an alternative to micro-inverters. The are compact devices installed underside of each panel and help to ensure that the overall system production is not affected by deficiency or malfunction of an individual panel (due to different orientation towards the sun, partial shading, cell damage etc.)

My last concern, albeit smaller, was related to the placement of the Powerwalls themselves. As much as I would like them to be on the wall in my garage, the reality is that my garage doubles as my weekend warrior’s recluse, so the amount of free space around or on the walls is severely limited. I know that Powerwalls are designed for both outdoor and indoor installations, but I’ve heard some comments regarding the maximum distance from the power gateway. Just wanted to make sure that this won’t be an issue.

Here’s where the human-interaction-free process throws a serious kink: when you login to Tesla’s website to manage you solar project, you won’t find any direct link to submit your questions or concerns related to the process. I managed to scramble up a couple of email addresses as well as a phone number for Tesla Energy from the contact information on the copy of the permit application. I also found another email address while scouting Tesla related forums. I have sent my concerns to both addresses, hopeful to get some response from either of them.

Day 9

It was a long weekend due to a public holiday, so I didn’t expect any replies until Monday. I was hoping for at least an automated acknowledgement of my inquiries though. Crickets, unfortunately. I waited till mid-day Monday hoping that once the morning email backlog is cleared (assuming Monday blues applies to every IT and customer service department) I will get some reply. Nope. I decided to call the Tesla Energy phone number and hopefully get some answers from a real human being. It worked. Sort of. While my concerns related to SolarEdge vs Delta inverter, its sizing and use of optimizers were cleared, I haven’t gotten the answer I was hoping for regarding the panel placement. A very supportive and knowledgeable lady on the other side told me that the placement is hindered by steeper than usual grade, preventing the installers from placing the panels on the more suitable slopes (East- or West-facing). I was assured though that the estimated calculations regarding my annual output would still cover my home energy needs, even with the proposed layout. Not completely satisfied with the answers, I said “thank you” and decided to go with it, at least for now.

My HOA requires you to submit an application for any architectural changes prior to such change. Solar panels fall into this category. Part of the application is to collect signatures from the neighbors that will be directly affected by such change – either a noise/construction crew’s presence during the installation or any affect the new structure might have on them and their property (line of sight, aesthetics, noise). Under normal circumstances, this would not be a problem. Collecting a signature from a few neighbors is as simple as paying them a visit and explaining what you are about to undertake. Unfortunately, it is a bit more tricky during pandemic and when one wants to respect general social distancing guidelines. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so we have decided to print multiple copies of the HOA application and leave them with each of the affected neighbors, together with a short note on what it is about and how to return the (hopefully) signed application. It took a couple of days to collect all of the responses, but by Monday I was finally ready to submit my application with the HOA. Things have changed since I had to deal with HOA last time and now it seems that there’s an online portal where I can submit it. Done. Now waiting for a response. Hope it won’t take too long and that it will be an “OK, go ahead”.

I also found another email address (MyProject@tesla.com) that some customers were using for any follow up, so decided to forward my previous email to this one. I have received an automated response that someone will come back to me as soon as possible. A good sign.

Day 10

I did some further digging around the issue of panel placement. Turns out, the person I spoke to at Tesla wasn’t completely off suggesting that it is OK to have these panels face North. There’s a lot of information out there, so one has to be careful to separate what is a marketing ploy to get you sign a contract without any regard for your ROI from a science-backed research. In conclusion, these are the key points I found relevant to my project:

  • Photovoltaic panels have come down in price significantly in the past 5 years (some websites quote more than a 50% reduction in price), so much so that they are only a potion of the overall installation cost. The suggestion was not to worry too much about individual panel’s performance. As long as the overall output meets the expectations, mission accomplished.
  • If the panel orientation is of concern, sizing up the system by adding more panels should not add too much to the overall project cost due to increased panels output and reduction in price (as compared to 5-7 years ago).
  • Even when facing North and following the roof’s grade (not tilted up to face the Sun), the panels should still generate 50-60% of their nominal output. At least this is specific to the states that enjoy plenty of solar exposure year round (Florida, Texas, Nevada or California).

Still, since I am paying for it and hoping to cover all my energy needs, I would like the panels to be installed on the side of the roof that makes most sense. Call me stubborn. I decided to give Tesla another call, hoping to persuade my way through. The person I spoke to pretty much reiterated what I’ve already heard before: there is a maximum roof pitch that Tesla solar installers are not able to go beyond in concern of their safety. I asked if it is possible for someone to come and inspect my property in person rather than relying on satellite imaging and software only. I was told that they would request for that on my behalf.

Day 12

To my surprise, I saw a new notification on my phone that there are documents waiting for my review on Tesla’s website. There was an updated layout document waiting for my approval. This time round all the panels from the North slope were moved to the West side of the roof. Much better. I would still like to know if someone from Tesla will contact me and visit our property to examine it up close, but having all panels divided between South and West is a good start.

Day 13

I received a reply to my email and was assigned a Project Advisor. I have raised my concerns regarding the panel placement and asked if we could still reconsider and move some panels to the East. The Project Advisor forwarded me the response from the installation team that they would have to come and physically inspect the roof to reconfirm. Let’s see what comes in reply.

Day 14

HOA has officially approved our solar project. That was quick!

Day 18

Look who’s here!

I received a text message yesterday to schedule an appointment for a detailed site survey. The process focuses mostly on exterior of the house, so the presence of the homeowner is not required. Since I was at home, I have shown the Tesla engineer what I had in mind for the placement of the Powerwalls and inverter. Taking advantage of me being at home, the engineer asked if he could use the attic entrance to take some additional pictures (for conduit work etc.).

Day 25

A bit of back and forth with Tesla on the final system layout and number of panels. Long story short, to offset the less-than-ideal panel orientation (there will be panels on the North-facing part of the roof after all), I decided on adding some panels to the project. The new system consists of 41 Q CELLS 340 W panels producing output up to 13.94 kWh.

Day 33

Looks like Tesla is ready to submit a permit application with the city before the installation can be scheduled. I was sent an updated application form and asked to provide an electronic signature.

Day 60

I’ve been checking my project page on Tesla’s website periodically to see if there is any status update. It still reads “Permit”. I’ve been also in contact with Tesla personnel who works with my city on the application. The answer so far was “still waiting”.

Out of curiosity, I went to the city’s website that let’s you see and track any permits submitted for your property. My search results did not return anything. Getting a bit concerned I have forwarded a screenshot of the search results to Tesla. In response, I was advised that the permit application involves multiple departments within the city and can take some time. I was also copied on the email correspondence they had so far with the city. Reading through, I have noticed that there was a request for additional documentation request/requirement from the city that has not been answered to for a month (!!!). Tesla finally replied and submitted the additional document only a day after I inquired about the status and was included in the email chain. Coincidence? I think not. Someone has dropped the ball at Tesla on this one.

I’m glad I asked about an update then!

Day 68

City has approved the application. Next step: awaiting response from Tesla to schedule the installation.

Bonus perk: I requested a copy of the documentation that was submitted with permit application and the city coordinator sent it to me. I had most of the documents already, but I was missing the schematics/plans. Finally some technical questions I had are answered. Yes, I will be getting Tesla Power Gateway 2. Yes, the panels will be equipped with SolarEdge power optimizers. Finally, yes, ZS Comp mounting system will be used to secure the panels to the roof.

Day 70

Tesla has confirmed that all necessary permits were secured. I also received a prompt to proceed to their website and pick an installation date. Looks like the earliest available slot is on November 5. Ouch. I was really hoping that it is going to be sooner than that. There is a mention that Tesla will push the schedule ahead if possible, but at this point I’d rather not build up my hopes. As long as it happens this year I am happy (so I can qualify for federal tax incentive). We shall see!

The death of MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe?)

If you have owned a Tesla Model S or X for a while, you have probably heard about the dreaded issue of the MCU failure that is bound to happen after a certain number of write cycles committed to the on-board eMMC module. Typically, this affects older vehicles or ones with high mileage on them. I was surprised then that my car was starting to exhibit the symptoms that eventually led to complete MCU (main computer unit) failure. It was only 2+ years old and I barely crossed the 50,000 miles mark few months earlier.

It started with me not being able to connect to the vehicle using the mobile app. I contacted Tesla’s support online and we performed all the steps suggested by the associate, to no avail. The steps included:

  • complete restart of the MCU (with the brake pedal pressed),
  • powering off the vehicle and leaving it off for few minutes,
  • reinstalling Tesla app on the phone,
  • un-pairing the phone from the car and re-pairing it,
  • trying to install the app on the other phone.

None of the above fixed the issue, but I was not too concerned. I had an upcoming appointment with the Tesla Service Center for some unrelated concerns, so I just added this issue to the list of things to be addressed (this was also concluded and suggested by the online support).

As the date of my appointment was drawing near, I hadn’t observed any major issues with the MCU, other than the fact that it stopped displaying cover images for the music on my USB stick. Ironically, on the day of my appointment, the main screen went completely blank and the car took a minute to power on when I was leaving for work in the morning. The screen stayed blank though (yes, I tried to reboot it again, in case one wonders). The IC (instrument cluster) was working, so at least I had some visibility into the vehicle’s status. The A/C was running as well, so it didn’t seem like a big deal. For now.
Unfortunately, it was one of those rare days in Texas where the weather was very humid, misty and it started to drizzle. There was still fog on the ground when I was leaving and my windows were starting to fog up as well. Without access to advanced climate controls (which includes the sunroof – you are unable to control it with the scroll wheel when MCU is down!) it was quickly getting worse, so much so that I decided to get back home and drive to work using my wife’s car instead. My appointment with Service Center was not until later in the afternoon, so I knew the weather should clear up by then and I would be able to get there even if A/C would fail completely. In the worst case I could still roll the windows down :).

Not being able to control the sunroof or temperature settings using the scroll wheel was probably the biggest surprise, but here are some other things that I discovered:

  • no sound – not just the music playback, but no feedback from turn indicators, navigation or proximity sensors around the car when parking,
  • the energy efficiency information was not updating (the chart was gone, too),
  • the odometer stopped refreshing the mileage while driving,
  • TPMS information was not available,
  • the outside temperature was not showing either.

Overall, the MCU plays a more vital role than many realize. It is not just the entertainment console, but it controls many of the vehicle features. Luckily, I have purchased the Extended Service Agreement, so the parts have been replaced free of charge (minus the standard $200 deductible for each service visit while under ESA), but I was still baffled as to why it failed at the first place. The only reasonable explanation I could come out with is that my original MCU was already replaced once as a goodwill gesture due to screen discoloration. That was before the UV treatment was available. It must have been a refurbished unit (so was the one I received this time).

It is worth mentioning that if this happens under warranty, Tesla will replace the MCU for free and the replacement comes with 4-year warranty. If you are out of warranty, this can be an expensive proposition.

BlackVue dash cam installation on Model S – an update (video)

I have (finally!) put together the video describing the process of installing the dash camera on Tesla Model S. I know that there are plenty of how-to videos on the Internet on the very subject, but this one is rather unique: I have done all of it in a 3D modeling software.

The original write up can still be found here, but this should provide even more complete step-by-step procedure. Hope you enjoy it!

A Year of Tesla

It’s hard to believe that 2018 is coming to its end, as it surely feels as if it barely started. The end of the year is usually a time of reflection: on tasks we accomplished, on things that happened in our family or in the world surrounding us, on stuff we would have, could have or should have done, on getting older (I certainly am reflecting on the last one!).

The passing year was certainly full of exciting news related to electric vehicles, but the one company that deserves special credit is Tesla. What a ride it has been! In early February, Elon Musk’s personal Roadster had been launched into space with the help of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, a nice distraction from the flood of negative press surrounding the Model 3 production ramp up – despite its best efforts Tesla managed to produce less than 10,000 units in the whole first quarter of 2018 and had to adjust its production estimates numerous times to provide at least some answer to both investors and folks eagerly anticipating delivery of their dream car. To say “all hands on deck” would be an understatement, as the company was pulling all strings to boost the production output. In an act of both brilliance and desperation a gigantic “tent” was erected outside of Fremont factory building. All in order to get closer to the promised 5,000 units per week.

Celebrating a production milestone of 5,000 units of Model 3 per week. Photo credit and copyright by Tesla, Inc.

Elon has freely admitted that one of the reasons of the struggle was excessive faith in automation when dealing with tasks that human are just better at, even calling it ironically foolish. It was a hard lesson to learn, but yet another hurdle that Tesla’s team managed to overcome thanks to its dedication and ability to think outside of the box.

In July, Tesla had delivered its 200,000th vehicle, thus triggering a gradual expiration of federal tax credit. It also signed an agreement with China to start manufacturing cars there, essentially laying foundation for the Gigafactory 3 that, once constructed, will definitely ease the burden of keeping up with the demand for Model 3. It will also help to produce future Tesla models.

By August, Tesla Model 3 became the #1 best selling car in United States by revenue. It was also reported that Tesla was crushing its competition in terms of sales.

By then the situation surrounding the Model 3 was much better and Tesla
not only reported a steady increase in production output, but it also reported profit, first in a long time. All this while steadily increasing the battery production rate at the Gigafactory and shortening the time required to assemble the battery packs. It only gets better from there. The Model 3 has been awarded a top safety rating from NHTSA. Tesla later published on its blog that it also achieved lowest probability of injury of any vehicles ever tested by the very same institute.

Towards the end of the third quarter, Tesla has introduced the Mid Range Model 3, priced at $45,000 and being available for delivery within 2-4 weeks from the date of purchase.

Model 3 production numbers per quarter in 2018. Data source: Tesla, Bloomberg. Q4 estimates by Bloomberg.

According to Bloomberg’s Tesla Model 3 Tracker, we should see about 60,000 units manufactured in the last quarter, putting it on track to a sustainable 5,000 units per week. In the meantime, Tesla has finally opened up Model 3 ordering for reservation holders in Europe. All that mad dash effort is finally paying off!

Speaking of mad dash, one should not forget about Model 3 Performance with Track Mode. It already proves to be a force to be reckoned with and a competitor deserving a respect.

Despite all the negative press Tesla has received throughout the year (as reported here, here and here), the company keeps proving every skeptic out there wrong, staying on-course to achieve the mission of providing sustainable transport of the future. Such an achievement is only possible with help of extraordinary team of dedicated workers, willing to pull up the sleeves and work additional hours to make things happen. It requires an extraordinary management team as well, able to think outside of the box and apply unconventional methods as needed in order to accomplish the goals. Having a visionary such as Elon Musk at its helm helps too, of course.

As a long-time fan of Tesla and proud owner of one of its vehicles I am happy to witness the realization of the dream – a mass-produced car at affordable price, helping to convert people to electric vehicles, one person at a time. I’m smiling whenever I see another Model 3 on the road. It has been such a long journey for Tesla and everyone working for the company deserves the credit.

Since 2019 is has already started for some and is about to kick off for the rest in just a few hours, here are some of my wishes for Tesla and for everyone:

  • Get past the “production hell”, so Tesla can focus on sustainability of the company rather than constant firefighting. Enough of the stress.
  • Make the base ($35,000) Model 3 a reality. It cannot come soon enough.
  • Show off Model Y and the pickup truck at last – I’ll be hard-torn choosing between the two anyway!
  • Get the Semi on the road. It will change the trucking industry as we know it.

Happy New Year, all!

It’s happening!

While Tesla is selling Model 3 faster than it can manufacture it, the current Long Range variant might still be out of financial reach for those patiently waiting for the more affordable, $35,000 variant promised to be available sometime next year. If you are one of those people or were on the fence whether you should wait a bit longer or sell your wife and kids in order to afford one, Tesla just dropped a bombshell that might help you to make that decision sooner (sans turning the loved ones’ lives upside-down)!

As of today, you can order a Mid Range version, with a battery allowing 260 miles of travel on a single charge:

Model3_mid_range

The base version (solid black paint, 18″ wheels with aero covers, premium interior) will cost $45,000 before the tax incentive. If you order before the end of the year, you will be eligible for a full, $7,500 credit, making it essentially a $37,500 car!

Model3_mid_range_summary

The price will not include the Enhanced Autopilot package ($5,000 extra during purchase or $6,000 after delivery), but if you can live without it, it comes closer to the magic 35k figure.

I would say this is big news that deserves to be spread around! 260 miles is plenty of range, even for road trips. Our recent trip to California was accomplished in a Model S that comes with about 240 miles on a full charge, so I speak from experience. Rear-wheel drive is not an issue either, as Tesla offers excellent traction control that will easily surpass a gasoline powered car. Here‘s my recent encounter that can testify to it.

This should further inspire the confidence that despite all the recent negative press that Tesla does not deserve, the company is well on track to continue its mission and delivering on important milestones. If you are ready to support a sustainable future and be a part of this mission, hope this newly introduces configuration will help you to make that decision sooner.

California, here we come! (Road trip 2018 – epilogue)

So there we have it: 18-days-long road trip has officially come to an end. We traveled almost 5,000 miles in an electric vehicle, completely worry-free. Zero emissions and zero range anxiety. While every road trip we took was special on its own and provided its share of unforgettable memories, this one was truly epic. I repeat that word quite often when describing our recent journey, because there’s no better way to describe it. Not because it was the longest one so far (both time- and distance-wise), that is an achievement on its own. I think the expectations were high from the get-go, as we would be traveling to some of the most popular destinations that United States has to offer. Yet, every single landmark or attraction on our list proven to be worth it. As always, there were hidden jewels and unexpected surprises (Death Valley and Sedona quickly come to mind, but there were plenty more) which made the trip even better than expected.

When our daughter was little we had the freedom to plan our travels in the off-peak season, allowing us to beat the crowds. Now that we are bound by school year schedule as everyone else, I was worried that it might throw a kink into our carefully planned itinerary. Luckily, none of these fears were justified and we had an absolute blast.

Weather is always a factor and yet again, we were blessed with absolutely gorgeous forecast. We normally don’t worry much about the weather on our trips (watching for extremes, of course), but I’d never say no to sunny or partly cloudy skies with moderate temperatures :).

Last but not least, here’s a reference to all individual blog entries documenting each day of the trip:

Day 1: Denton, TX – Tucumcari, NM

https://evcharged.blog/2018/06/25/california-here-we-come-road-trip-2018-part-1/

Day 2: Tucumcari, NM – Flagstaff, AZ

https://evcharged.blog/2018/06/29/california-here-we-come-road-trip-2018-part-2/

Day 3: Flagstaff, AZ – Twentynine Palms, CA

https://evcharged.blog/2018/06/29/california-here-we-come-road-trip-2018-part-2/

Day 4: Twentynine Palms, CA – Carlsbad, CA

https://evcharged.blog/2018/07/02/california-here-we-come-road-trip-2018-part-3/

Day 5: Carlsbad, CA (Legoland) – Los Angeles (Getty Museum), CA – Anaheim, CA

https://evcharged.blog/2018/07/21/california-here-we-come-road-trip-2018-part-4/

Day 6: Disneyland California Adventure Park, Anaheim, CA

https://evcharged.blog/2018/07/30/california-here-we-come-road-trip-2018-part-5/

Day 7: Disneyland Park, Anaheim, CA

https://evcharged.blog/2018/07/30/california-here-we-come-road-trip-2018-part-5/

Day 8: Anaheim, CA – Huntington Beach, CA – Pacific Coast Highway – Lompoc, CA

https://evcharged.blog/2018/08/07/california-here-we-come-road-trip-2018-part-6/

Day 9: Lompoc, CA – San Simeon, CA

https://evcharged.blog/2018/08/11/california-here-we-come-road-trip-2018-part-7/

Day 10: San Simeon, CA – Big Sur, CA – Seaside, CA

https://evcharged.blog/2018/08/11/california-here-we-come-road-trip-2018-part-7/

Day 11: Seaside, CA – Fremont, CA

https://evcharged.blog/2018/08/23/california-here-we-come-road-trip-2018-part-8/

Day 12: Fremont, CA – Muir Woods National Monument, CA – San Francisco, CA

https://evcharged.blog/2018/09/02/california-here-we-come-road-trip-2018-part-9/

https://evcharged.blog/2018/09/01/tour-de-tesla/

Day 13: San Francisco, CA

https://evcharged.blog/2018/09/02/california-here-we-come-road-trip-2018-part-9/

Day 14: San Francisco, CA – Yosemite National Park – Manzanar – Lone Pine, CA

https://evcharged.blog/2018/10/01/california-here-we-come-road-trip-2018-part-10/

Day 15: Lone Pine, CA – Death Valley – Hoover Dam – Las Vegas, NV

https://evcharged.blog/2018/10/04/california-here-we-come-road-trip-2018-part-11/

Day 16: Las Vegas, NV – Seligman, AZ – Williams, AZ – Sedona, AZ

https://evcharged.blog/2018/10/09/california-here-we-come-road-trip-2018-part-12/

Day 17: Sedona, AZ – Winslow, AZ (Meteor Crater) – Santa Rosa, NM

https://evcharged.blog/2018/10/09/california-here-we-come-road-trip-2018-part-12/

Day 18: Santa Rosa, NM – Denton, TX

https://evcharged.blog/2018/10/09/california-here-we-come-road-trip-2018-part-12/

If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a note or a comment and I will be glad to respond. Thanks for checking in!

California, here we come! (Road trip 2018 – part 12)

Day 16 – Las Vegas, NV – Seligman, AZ – Williams, AZ – Sedona, AZ

We left Las Vegas behind and headed towards Arizona. Our first stop was in Kingman – to charge the car and grab a bite to eat at a nearby Carl’s Jr restaurant. For some reason this supercharger became one of my favorites. Maybe it’s because of the still-fresh memories of the journey through New Mexico and Arizona to California? We stopped here on the way there after a joyful drive from Tucumcari. Maybe because of an exceptionally friendly staff that greeted us at the restaurant last time? I don’t know, I just like this particular stop for some reason.

LasVegas-Sedona

Staying true to our mantra of not following the exact same route both ways we planned to check out some other parts of Route 66 that we haven’t before: Seligman and Williams. Ironically and sadly, the first is where it all started while the latter was the last one to be bypassed by modern Interstate Highway 40. So many people that travel trough here before, so many memories and stories to be told. I am glad that there are still folks that try to preserve whatever bits and pieces are left of this legend of the road, to capture its spirit and folklore. Some of it is cheesy and serves as a perfect tourist trap (thanks to the popularity of the “Cars” movie one doesn’t have to venture far to find yet another Mater or Doc Hudson), but could and should be forgiven to benefit the greater good – to keep the memory of the Mother Road alive and kicking.

As usual, we took our sweet time exploring the artifacts of the Road. Thanks to my wife and her planning we had ample of time to stop as much as we wanted and take pictures. In Williams we came across The Grand Canyon Railway – something we really want to try next time. Arizona is relatively close to us (at least as far as our family driving norms are concerned), so this should make for a fun excursion.

We finished our day in Sedona. I am glad that one of my coworkers recommended this place. The drive from Flagstaff through canyons on scenic route 89A is spectacular. The winding road requires proper attention, but there’s many spots to stop and admire surrounding mountains and famous red rocks. Sedona itself is a jewel well worth visiting. Many of the buildings reflect the natural hues that are present in the rock formations, thanks to the strict building codes that the city imposes on any land development initiative. The traffic can be heavy, especially during peak season, but the city deployed roundabouts wherever possible, which are way better than 4-way stops or traffic lights in my opinion. I would highly recommend Sky Ranch Lodge as a place to stay overnight. Placed on top of the mountain it offers great view on Sedona, day or night. Its well maintained garden (often used for wedding receptions) offers one of the best spots to admire gorgeous sunsets.

Charging stops:

  • Las Vegas, NV (138 miles left; avg 315 Wh/mi; charged to 175 miles)
  • Kingman, AZ (47 miles left; avg 351 Wh/mi; charged to 230 miles)
  • Flagstaff, AZ (42 miles left; avg 322 Wh/mi; charged to 125 miles)

Day 17 – Sedona, AZ – Winslow, AZ – Santa Rosa, NM

We woke up early, partly to catch the sunrise while surrounded by the beautiful red rocks, but also because it would be one of the longest drives on this trip – close to 500 miles to cover in one day. We didn’t want it to be mindless exercise in swallowing the endless miles, so we had some attractions planned along the way.

Before leaving Sedona we have stopped by the supercharger for a quick top up (we would go by Flagstaff anyway), mostly because it is one of the newest additions to the ever-growing network of charging stations. This particular one is equipped with the newer generation and style called Urban Superchargers. Unlike the traditional ones that have the maximum output of 125 kW shared between two stalls, these newer types are independent from one another, but top at 72 kW each. They also have a smaller footprint, being better suited for tight spaces such as city parking garages. The one in Sedona comes with another perk: it is located next to a colorful strip mall that matches the architecture of the rest of the area. Even if all the stores were still closed when we arrived it was well worth checking it out.

On the outskirts of Winslow lies probably the most famous “hole in the ground” – The Meteor Crater. Formed some 50,000 years ago by an asteroid colliding with Earth is one of the best preserved craters in the world, allowing scientist to evaluate various theories that are floating around in attempt to separate facts from fiction, as well as study the impact of celestial bodies that decide to end their life with a big bang on our planet. Needless to say, if you’re in the area it is well worth a slight detour from I-40 to check it out.

The only other significant attraction on our way to Santa Rosa was The Jack Rabbit Trading Post located in Joseph City. Despite the fact that Route 66 no longer serves as a main thorough-way, the post is still open for business!

We did our best to keep the returning journey unique. No matter how great and exciting our road trip has proven to be, we were slowly but surely sensing that home is getting nearer – the closer we were, the more we wanted to get back to our own beds already. Such is our nature that after long time on the road there comes a time that you start missing your own pillow in your own house. Not wasting any time then, we zoomed by familiar by now superchargers in Holbrook, Gallup, Albuquerque until we reached Santa Rosa for the night. It was getting late, so after a quick meal at DQ we were more than ready to call it a day. Our hotel was located right next to supercharger. It is true that this place gets busy at night and the spots are often blocked by various gas guzzlers belonging to contractors or other workers who happen to stop by on their way. Knowing this, I plugged the car in, allowing it to charge while we check in and settle in our room. I would come back later to re-park, so I didn’t hog the spot unnecessarily.

Sedona-SantaRosa

Charging stops:

  • Sedona, AZ (100 miles left; avg 142 Wh/mi; charged to 134 miles)
  • Flagstaff, AZ (65 miles left; avg 391 Wh/mi; charged to 195 miles)
  • Holbrook, AZ (94 miles left; avg 256 Wh/mi; charged to 191 miles)
  • Gallup, NM (96 miles left; avg 300 Wh/mi; charged to 200 miles)
  • Albuquerque, NM (64 miles left; avg 259 Wh/mi; charged to 190 miles)
  • Santa Rosa, NM (81 miles left; avg 259 Wh/mi; charged to 185 miles)

Day 18 – Santa Rosa, NM – Denton, TX

It’s official: this was the last day of our trip. It was also the longest distance to drive (600 miles). Knowing well what’s ahead of us we didn’t waste any time. Too bad there is still no supercharger in Wichita Falls, this would allow us to cut some of the driving off, skipping Oklahoma. Nothing against OK, it offers plenty on its own, but we live close enough to explore it some other time. So, whatever powers are involved in getting the charging infrastructure between Childress and Denton, please hurry up. The Tesla community will be eternally thankful to you!

SantaRosa-Denton

Other than some yahoo drivers serving as a reminder that we were indeed getting closer home, the day went by smoothly and free of unexpected events. As we were getting closer, it was hard not to reflect on the epic journey that we had, the vistas and places we were living behind and the memories that will hopefully stay with us forever. A random thought related to hundreds of emails and numerous issues that would require my attention once I am back at work tried to interfere and spoil the joy, but it couldn’t. There was just too much of the wonderful experience to savor, cherish and relive for as long as we remember that I would not be saddened by return to reality of daily chores and responsibilities. If anything, it would serve as a reminder that we work hard, so that we can step away every once in a while and explore the world around us. I feel truly blessed to be able to have a taste of it. Even more so when sharing it with the people I love – my wife and my daughter. I could not imagine experiencing it alone.

Charging stops:

  • Tucumcari, NM (128 miles left; avg 286 Wh/mi; charged to 176 miles)
  • Amarillo, TX (59 miles left; avg 302 Wh/mi; charged to 165 miles)
  • Shamrock, TX (58 miles left; avg 299 Wh/mi; charged to 167 miles)
  • Weatherford, OK (55 miles left; avg 317 Wh/mi; charged to 130 miles)
  • Oklahoma City, OK (65 miles left; avg 301 Wh/mi; charged to 171 miles)
  • Ardmore, OK (59 miles left; avg 295 Wh/mi; charged to 150 miles)
  • Arrived in Denton with 64 miles left, avg 311 Wh/mi consumption

The Epilogue…

Tesla vs Oil Patch

I have watched numerous videos showing off how the car handles varying weather conditions (snow, rain) in different hardware configurations (single vs dual motor). I have watched demos and read articles explaining the inner works of the traction control system that Tesla puts in its vehicles (one such example here). I’ve had my share of fun in a loaner P85D where it self-corrected its course in a split-second when encountering a wet patch of the surface. I knew the system works very well and thanks to much simplified mechanism as compared to traditional gasoline car it can respond much quicker, too. I was not looking forward to additional ways of proving its effectiveness, but the opportunity came without being asked for.

On one fine morning, while merging onto another freeway I ran over a patch of freshly spilled oil, most likely from a canister dropped by a vehicle that must have just passed that way. I saw a darker patch of the road, but thought it was a standing water (hard to differentiate, especially when it is still dark outside). Before it even registered, my car’s stability control quickly kicked in in two rapid successions: first one must have been due to a wheel slip when it came in contact with the oily surface, second due to both left tires now being covered in a messy grease and continuing to lose the grip. It all lasted only few seconds, all while traveling about 50 miles an hour on a curvy on-ramp. One scary experience for me, but my Model S handled it flawlessly and without hesitation, despite being equipped with just a single motor (rear wheel drive).

I have caught the event on my dash cam (one more reason to invest in one!). Here’s the edited footage:

Shortly after this incident I have found a patch of unpaved terrain, to get rid of the excessive oil from the tires. It also gave me a safe opportunity to scramble and find the local police department’s number, so I could inform them about the spill (they already knew and told me that the cleaning crew was already dispatched).

Thanks again Tesla for an extraordinary safety behind every vehicle you put on the road!

California, here we come! (Road trip 2018 – part 11)

Day 15 – Lone Pine, CA – Death Valley – Las Vegas, NV

Whenever planning our road trips we try to avoid following the same route there and back. It makes for a more interesting journey and allows for seeing more places. This trip was no exception. When the planning and preparations started we were considering a visit to Grand Canyon either on the way to or back from California, but we quickly abandoned that idea. For one, it would add a significant amount of driving to an already lengthy trip. Two, we don’t want to rush things unnecessarily, as you hardly have enough time to see a thing. The Grand Canyon is important of a landmark enough to make it a pivotal point of a trip all by itself. Arizona is not that far from us (we like driving, let’s leave it at that), so why not leave it for our next adventure? The question then: what else should we check out on the way back? I suggested Las Vegas, so my family can experience it at least once in their lifetime, even just to form their own opinion about this place. In order to get there from Lone Pine we would have to drive through Death Valley first.

LonePine-LasVegas

While driving along Highway 190 you only scratch the surface of this land. I was immediately captivated by its beauty. Many people would quickly associate Death Valley with desolate, flat sands, but there’s so much more to it. Yes, there are sand dunes here as well, but so is Rainbow Canyon (shaped in part by rare – at least in these parts – volcanic activity in the past) and Hells Gate. Each specific area has its unique landscape, but they all have one thing in common: it is really quiet out there. So quiet that one can almost hear their own heartbeat at times. OK, maybe I exaggerate a bit, but not by much. The air was very still during our visit, not even a breeze. There were hardly any cars passing by. The complete quietness that surrounds you can only be compared to an acoustic chamber that I experienced many years ago (part of a mandatory hearing test when applying for a job at manufacturing facility). The major difference: if not for the road that led us here I was surrounded by a vast terrain that seem to stretch all the way to the horizon, no matter which direction I turned my head. In some spots that view was only interrupted by a mountain range or a canyon, but the feeling of being there, in the middle of nowhere, with no other living soul as far as eye can see was something I haven’t experienced for a long time. This is the kind of place to be if one wants to escape civilization, even if just for a while. The place to meditate, heal or whatever our inner call might be. It was special. Magical. Sacred even.

Unfortunately, being creatures of a modern world, we had to get going. We were soon leaving California behind. Shortly after crossing the Nevada state line we stopped at the nearby town of Beatty to charge the car. Despite being a very small place (population of about 1150 according to a recent census) we stepped into one of the best candy stores we’ve even been to: Death Valley Nut & Candy Co. Not something you would expect to find in a remote place. They also have great beef jerky, ice cream and coffee, so something for everyone.

An interesting observation related to the supercharger location was that it also had some standard Level 2 plugs available, making it a universal charging stop, not just reserved for Tesla owners. The L2 charger was a standard ChargePoint’s dual port model, so I am not sure if this has been an initiative of Tesla to invite others to share the space or if the property manager had the necessary foresight. Regardless of which one it was, kudos!

Since there was not much of an itinerary left for the day, we decided to stop by Hoover Dam before entering Las Vegas (the initial plan was to do it the following day in the morning). I know my wife is not that much into admiring engineering marvels, but I really wanted to show it to our daughter.
It’s been several years since I visited the place for the last time and quite a lot has changed. The Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge (or Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge) is now complete and operational. There’s also a newly erected visitors center, offering guided tours of the dam. They also added more parking spaces in recent years, as it can quickly get crowded. The drawback is that you need to pay 10 bucks to park, but who would argue about that on a 100-degree day? Due to the latter our visit was rather brief. We were spoiled by now by the moderate temperatures that we were blessed throughout our trip. Even at Death Valley it never exceeded 80 F. So after a few minutes of exposure to the typical Nevada heat, plus the strong gusts of wind resembling a hair dryer, we were D.O.N.E.

One additional thing I have noticed is the ever shrinking water level of Lake Mead. It is clearly visible on the rocky walls surrounding the lake and it is definitely lower than the last time I was here. The major contributing factor is the population of Las Vegas that just exploded in recent years. Who’s idea was it to build a city in the desert anyway?

Before entering the city we stopped by the famous “Welcome” sign to take a family picture. I have been to Las Vegas many times before, but I have never had a chance to check it out. All my trips are business related and the events are held downtown, so I don’t ever rent a car. This was an opportunity for ticking it off the list finally.

We haven’t done much while in Vegas (not that we have planned to). I brought my girls for a walk along the strip in the evening, so they can experience it when it all lights up. Between the skimpily dressed girls inviting guys to strip clubs, people pestering you with business cards offering similar services, the ever present stench of pot and rather interesting crowds that the city attracts I really don’t think Las Vegas is as family friendly as the advertisements try to sell it. Neither my wife nor daughter were really appreciative of any of that. I wasn’t either, but I guess I was used to it after years of visiting. I regretted for dragging them into this though. On a positive side, that one is off the list now as well. Enough on the Vegas subject. Tomorrow’s another day of adventure!

Charging stops:

  • Departure: 215 miles of range (rated)
  • Beatty, NV (98 miles left; avg 273 Wh/mi; charged to 196 miles)
  • Las Vegas, NV (56 miles left; avg 298 Wh/mi; charged to 230 miles)

Continue to Part 12…