Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dong slams the box in the Danish electric car adventure

Google translate sure knows how write a headline.

Seems the deal between Better Place and its Danish partner Dong Energy has gone south. BP Denmark has gone through the initial investment of 400 million kroner, and Dong denies an obligation to loan more.

"There are eroded cooperation between DONG Energy and Better Place Group," according to the story in epn.dk

Regarding additional funding of Better Place Denmark, "it  is our choice. Not a promise, "says Torben V. Holm, Project Manager at Dong Energy. 

[Source: epn.dk]

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Missing EV opportunity: Sell Cool

Huffington Post blogger Carol Pierson Holding just got in her friend's LEAF. It's the coolness that impressed. Read it here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Transmission Losses: Shell tries to halt North Sea oil spill

"An oil spill in the North Sea is estimated to amount to several hundred tonnes, making it the biggest such leak in more than a decade, according to UK Government figures."

"...the energy firm is still trying to "completely halt" any further leakage."

[Source: The Independent]

Monday, August 8, 2011

What's the matter with Costco?

Costco, the big box retailer, has for over a decade been the business with more electric vehicle charge stations in more places around California than any other. Put in service during California's Zero Emission Mandate between 1997 and 2003 when about 6000 EVs roamed the streets, these charge stations have continued supplying power to the RAV4 EVs and other electric vehicles saved by Plug In America when it was known as DontCrush.com, a struggle chronicled in the film Who Killed the Electric Car. Costco's own magazine proudly reported in 2006, just as the film was being released, that 64 stores had a total of 90 charge stations.

Now, Costco has the opportunity, thanks to the California Energy Commission's ReConnect California program with ClipperCreek, to upgrade legacy AVCON charging equipment to J1772 at no cost. As I see it, Costco's noteworthy and foresightful participation in California's earlier electric vehicle program will give them a deserved leg up on all the national retailers now looking into providing electric vehicle charging stations for their customers. While their competition is trenching through concrete and striking costly deals with new businesses long on promises but short on experience, at Costcos a quick swap-out could quickly give them the opportunity to tout the most extensive retail network of EV charging stations.

It seems, however, that Costco has chosen to look this gift horse in the mouth. The company has refused to consider the CEC grant to upgrade their charge stations for free. And it has actually begun to take out the chargers that it has, despite the fact that they have been used a lot by their own customers. Just take a look at an evchargermaps.com entry for a Costco with chargers. For example, the Mountain View location, a place I've charged and shopped at a few times a year since 2004. It has 44 reports going back to 2008. And dozens more going back to 2003. (This doesn't include every time someone charged, merely the times a driver made the effort to confirm the condition of the charger for other drivers.)

It has been reported that some store managers would rather not be removing chargers right when we see plug-in cars coming to market. Providing charging fits well with the company's sustainability efforts, including both the physical stores and the products they sell.  President and CEO Jim Sinegal touts Costco as "one of the early companies to embrace many of the earth-friendly technologies, such as skylights and recycling" in it's Corporate Sustainability Report from 2009. 

Why Costco isn't embracing their early support for plug-in cars now that the rest of the world is jumping in is beyond me. Given that it will actually cost the company more money to say no than to say yes makes this a no-brainer for me. It should for Costco as well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Keepin' it simple

Plug-in cars are being delivered at long last. Yet there remains confusion about the necessary infrastructure and its expense. Electric Vehicle Service Equipment (EVSE) home wall units are priced at between about $1000 and $2500. Plus installation. Need it cost this much? Is it as complex and time-consuming a process as has been experienced by many new owners of plug-in cars?

All plug-in cars these days come with a 120-volt charge cord. This will actually be sufficient for many if not most Volt drivers, and quite a few LEAF drivers. An empty Volt pack will take 10 hours to fully recharge; an empty LEAF about 20 hours. That may seem like a long time, but the relevant questions are: How long will the car be sitting anyway? Until the next morning or just an hour or two? How full is the battery when it gets parked? And where are you going next?

For most folks most of the time, chances are the battery isn’t near empty when it gets plugged in, perhaps at work, perhaps at home after work. Recharge time will usually be much less than what it takes to go from empty to full.

And the cost to the consumer to enable the 120V cordset? If you’ve already got a grounded 120V outlet in the garage or carport, zero. If you need to put an outlet in a convenient place, it would likely cost about $100.

Surprising to many, including I suspect Tesla Motors itself, they found that about half the charging of Roadsters at home in the U.S. is at 120V. Despite the fact that it takes 38-60 hours to charge a Tesla from empty to full at 120V. One can’t presume the peculiarities of a Roadster tell us too much about plug-in cars with much less range, but I think we shouldn’t write off 120V charging just yet, as many involved in readying infrastructure for EVs would have us do. The cord that comes with the car just might suffice for many, especially plug-in hybrids which have smaller battery packs.

Still it remains true that most will want the ability to charge their car at a faster clip at least some of the time, which is what 240V charging stations provide. With the 16 amp charger both cars have today (the actual charger is located in the car, not the box on the wall,) a 240V EVSE takes about four hours to fill an empty Volt pack. It takes about seven hours to fill a near empty LEAF, ensuring a complete charge overnight. If a complete overnight charge is the goal, 120V will still suffice for a Volt, but a 240V EVSE will be essential for most who buy an all-electric car.

Nissan and GM have each had their preferred provider for home charge stations in an attempt to streamline the process, but many customers have had complaints about the cost and scheduling. Dozens of manufacturers seem to be selling equipment at a range of prices, but few actually are available now. The situation for new owners has also been complicated by the various government infrastructure programs, including the DOE-funded EV Project (Ecotality) and ChargePoint America (Coulomb,) which have differing requirements and benefits depending on one's vehicle and location. If eligible, most people accept a free 240V charge station, of course, as I did. My installation was pretty simple, so it cost me nothing. But government support for infrastructure won’t last forever. Coulomb and Ecotality sometime soon won’t be able to leverage taxpayer money to keep other manufacturers at a disadvantage. Quite likely not beyond the current programs.

I am pleased to participate in the EV Project, which came late to the San Francisco Bay Area, and happy to get my tax-payer funded charger and DC Fast port. I believe in government support for electric vehicles (and many other things also on the congressional chopping block at the moment.)

However, for the last month my Blink has been on the blink. Something about firmware, they said. An email on June 8th said they’d get back in touch to schedule a visit. As I write on July 13th I’ve recently been contacted by the contractor who installed the unit, but I’m still waiting for the service call. However, I remain unconcerned. Not because I always charge at 120V mind you. Rather, because I’ve had the 120V cordset provided with the car upgraded to 240V. EVSEupgrade.com offers the upgrade, which allows the Volt or LEAF to charge at their maximum 240V capability of 16 amps. Cost of upgrade: under $300. (For this to work in place of a wall-mounted unit, you still need a dedicated 240V 30 amp circuit and outlet, which would cost a few hundred dollars of an electrician’s time and perhaps $50 in parts.)

The point isn’t simply to plug the good folks at EVSEupgrade.com, although I’m happy to do it. They’ve kept my LEAF juiced, after all. Something Ecotality couldn’t do even with $100 million in federal grant money.

I am not alone in my concern that there is some level of unnecessary complication, excessive cost, and unhelpful mystification going on around electric vehicle infrastructure. It isn’t helpful to the “cause,” those picking up their new plug-in cars or those who are considering it.

For the electric vehicle project, broadly speaking, to be successful, we need to be mindful to keep it simple and keep it cheap. This is not rocket science. We are adding yet another electrical appliance to our ever increasing array of devices, from light bulbs and cell phones to refrigerators and HVAC systems. It needs to be done safely, of course. But it needs to happen. To do it right, the focus needs to be on consumers’ interest. The result will be simple, safe and cheap. Thank you evseupgrade.com for pointing the way.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Using leverage

To ensure effective and tough federal CAFE standards for 2017-2025, enviro groups are holding on to the California card - the state's right to set its own auto emissions standards - according to Jim Motavalli in the NY Times. Read the full story here.

[Source: NY Times]

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Think goes down

Think has declared bankruptcy in Norway. Sad.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Think in trouble as Norwegian EV market booms

Think, maker of the Think City, is in trouble, Norwegian business newspaper E24 reports. It's not paid it's bills since February, according to Swedish parts supplier AQ Wiring Systems.

At the same time, sales of electric cars are booming in Norway. The iMiev has become the fastest selling car in its segment, beating out gas vehicles. 764 new electric cars were registered in the first five months of the year. During the same period last year, the number was only 123.

[Source: E24]

Thursday, June 9, 2011

From Scooters to High Speed Rail, China is Electrifying

I’m sure I’m not the first to say it. China is electrifying.

When I was studying China and Mandarin Chinese 35 years ago, “Red” China was unrecognized by the US, literally, and dark in a way difficult to imagine now. Who knew what was going on over there? Was “reality” that the world’s oldest civilization was throwing off the shackles of Western domination and its own past to offer a new vision of civilization, or was it bodies floating downriver to Hong Kong during the Cultural Revolution?

Just as today we can look at a nighttime satellite image and see the black void that is recalcitrant, unelectrified North Korea, once that was China. Today China is as illuminated as the rest of the world, and they are carrying electrification further. I can’t cite the government decree, but having just returned from two weeks that took me from Beijing to Changsha, Hunan to Shanghai, it is evident that a national transportation system is being implemented, and electrification is at its core. From two-wheeled scooters, a mainstay of urban mobility, and urban mass transit, to high-speed inter-urban rail, China will soon see the day most people move about most of the time on electricity. Fifteen years ago Shanghai was a city of diesel busses and bicycles. It had few private cars. For a while, gas scooters held sway piled high with people and products. It had no subway system. Today Shanghai has the world’s largest. Smoother and quieter than any I’ve ridden anywhere. And three types of electric busses - legacy trolleys with catenary wires, battery busses, and super capacitor busses. And most of

the scooters are now electric. (And they are headed directly at you, at night, with no headlight.)

Not very many years ago, tens of millions of Chinese packed themselves regularly into unairconditioned, slat-seatted box cars to get to work and visit family during holidays, enduring trips of more than 24 hours. I’m sure there are still plenty of old-school trains about, but today Chinese are boarding comfortable, high speed electric trains coursing on unimpeded raised trackbeds at over 200 MPH between cities large and ever-larger. Last year it took 24 h

ours to go from Beijing to Guangjou. Next year it will take 6 or 7.

With these dedicated high speed electric rail lines crisscrossing the nation, and the huge, attractive new train stations being opened to serve these inter-urban lines, it becomes clear China has decided most long distance passenger travel will be by electric trains. And these trains are being integrated with existing and new subway systems. Step off one system right onto the other.

Cars will undoubtedly be the last piece of the electric transportation matrix in China. The week I was in Shanghai, the Electric Vehicle Test Drive Center opened to the public in Shanghai Automobile City, a far suburb still reachable by subway. Plug-in cars from a half dozen Chinese automakers were on display along with charge stations in an attractive setting amidst a winding course for test drives. The BYD plug-in hybrid I drove performed well. I have no doubt we will see Chinese brands in the US when they are ready to make a move. While I think selling gasoline cars by the tens of millions to the domestic market is perceived to be of prime economic importance, I hope they choose to forgo following the Japanese and Korean model of aggressively competing on the low end in the export market. We really don’t need more cheap gas cars. With some attention to fit and finish, the Chinese could use their low-cost advantages (labor and a huge battery industry) in a market segment that sells at a premium outside their borders. Once EVs are cool in the West, the Chinese domestic market will follow.

China is very much a work in progress. As progressive and foresighted as they seem to be on the transportation front, they’ve got huge challenges ahead regarding electricity production. Largely dependent on domestic coal, cities are smothered in smog. Beijing, which systematically restricts automobile usage and moved a lot of factories out of town for the Olympics, had clearer skies than I expected. But it is an anomaly. Shanghai and Wuhan are enshrouded in poison.

Factories, including a solar panel plant I know of, have had to curtail production because coal can’t be shipped fast enough to supply electricity generation plants. Transportation of freight, including coal, will be relieved by moving passengers off the freight path and on to the growing high speed rail network. But that only postpones the reckoning that will come with the growing power demands of a burgeoning consumer culture.

China may end up with the world’s most efficient electric transportation system powered by the world’s most toxic electrical generation.

We, in contrast, may end up with an efficient, relatively clean, partially renewable electrical grid, while still burdened with a transportation “system” dependent on trucking freight and moving passengers on petroleum.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The approaching Tesla dry spell

Interesting piece by Katie Fehrenbacher about Tesla and the period of limited revenue that approaches. "...this latest funding underscores how Tesla will be transitioning into a period where the company will be generating a lot less revenue for several months — hence part of the reason it needs to raise more funds now."

Fehrenbacher had thought components sales might provide a backstop until the Model S appears, but points to the recent S-1 filing. "Tesla doesn’t have any signed agreements for powertrain component sales after 2011." As interesting for what it says about Toyota. There's no evidence yet of a deal beyond 2011 regarding the heralded, new RAV4 EV. And Daimler is committed to German batteries going forward for Smart and Mercedes, and has a deal with BYD for China.

Tesla has weathered dry spells before with Elon Musk's money, as it appears will be the case again.

[Source: GigaOM)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Transmission Losses: 4 killed in Chevron UK refinery blast

The Independent reports four workers at the Chevron refinery in Wales were killed yesterday in what is being described as a "tragic industrial accident"....
Billowing black smoke gushed from the refinery and spread across the sky in what some have described as a "mushroom cloud"....

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fukushima oil spill and explosion

A oil spill has been detected, and another explosion occurred, at Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, here.

How Japan uses public works projects, including gyms and swimming pools, to buy acquiescence for its nuclear projects, here.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Atomkraft? Nein, Danke.

Germany calls it quits on nuclear power.

Last plant to close in 2022.
Today about 25% of Germany's electricity comes from nukes.

The U.S. gets just under 20% of its electricity from nuclear.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Thursday, May 26, 2011

War is Peace dept.

It seems in Foxland if Obama didn't cause the problem, George Bush found the solution. Check out "George W. Bush -- Father of the Modern Electric Car?"

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2011/05/26/george-w-bush-father-modern-electric-car/#ixzz1NWHup7DX

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Missed Charge Station Opportunity in San Francisco

ClipperCreek, an Auburn, CA based manufacturer of electric vehicle charging equipment, has just announced the shipment of its 5,000th unit. Some of those units are being paid for by a California Energy Commission grant to upgrade existing Avcon charging stations across California.

Seventeen Avcons eligible for replacement are located at San Francisco city-owned parking lots. With the city budget constrained just as investment in EV charging infrastructure has become warranted, one would think the City would jump at the opportunity for seventeen n0-cost new units to serve LEAFs, Volts and Teslas now. These ClipperCreek chargers would be simple to use - just park and plug in. No card to swipe, no phone call to make, no network to join. Just as they have been for over ten years.

Instead, the Department of the Environment has opted to utilize a federal grant to Coulomb Technologies' ChargePoint America to pay to upgrade these charge stations. What's the problem? The CEC grant is restricted to the replacement of legacy units. $50,000 to $100,000 was left on the table. The Coulomb grant could have been utilized anywhere. The City has sacrificed early expansion of charging beyond the downtown core which today contains the lion's share of the charging stations.

There were undoubtedly considerations beyond the mere efficient use of available public resources involved in the choice made. Coulomb touts the sophisticated capabilities of its "networked," revenue-producing solution, but it is only one of numerous business models for EV public charging. With the ClipperCreek/CEC chargers, for example, the City wouldn't be on the hook for ongoing networking charges with Coulomb once the federal grant runs dry in a year or two. Will there be enough usage of a pay-to-charge statioin to justify the annual fee to Coulomb?

Once there are enough cars and enough public infrastructure, we'll begin to understand what will best serve drivers and the development of useful public charging at appropriate charging levels. Might be a monetized, networked system. Might look quite different. The ubiquity of electricity offers many options if the playing field stays level. Consumers will decide.

It seems obvious to me that government ought not prematurely buy into a "business plan" when we mean to buy charging stations. Especially when the opportunity presents itself at no cost to the City and greater simplicity of use for consumers.

Friday, May 6, 2011

iMievs do their bit in Japan

Mitsubishi iMievs have played a roll in the petroleum deprived region around Fukushima. New York Times Wheels blog has the story. The picture tells the story.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Downtown South San Francisco electrified

Four electric vehicle charging stations were unveiled today at a new parking structure in downtown South San Francisco. The Coulomb J-plug/120V units were installed under grants to ChargePoint America (DOE and CEC money). For the time being, there is no charge for either the parking or charging for vehicles that plug in.

The opening of the new parking garage and office complex one block off Grand Avenue was a big deal. Miller Avenue was blocked off as dignitaries gathered to celebrate the
delayed opening of this large project for
this small city in the shadow of San Francisco. Hoping the parking will contribute to the revitalization of
Grand Avenue, SSF now offers a convenient spot to stop for a bit of juice just off 101. Lots of
restaurants, a Peets coffee, and many banks and shops are within a few blocks. If you've always driven past the Grand Avenue exit, pull of the highway, plug in, check it out.

One caveat to an otherwise positive report. With very limited signage, and a prime location right by the entrance, we'll have to see how long before these spots begin to be ICED.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

More SF Bay Area Charge Stations....some work

Once again, charge station serendipity.
I arrived a couple of days ago at the parking garage beneath One Montgomery Tower in the LEAF with Peter Van Deventer, Dutch EV guru, and a couple of professors from Holland. Jay Friedland, Plug In America Legislative Director, followed in a RAV4 EV with some more profs, who had come to learn about California's EV efforts. Lo and behold, we spy two Coulomb J-plug/120V units, one with a plug-in Prius conversion plugged in. I waved my Coulomb card only to find the unit gave us a fault and wouldn't release the J-plug. The other unit however, was in working order and I plugged the LEAF in.

As we walked away, pleased to have given this unexpected real-world demonstration of public charging to the visiting Dutch scholars, we saw a Tesla plugged in to a
random 120V outlet. Believe it or not, and we didn't, there were two plug-in cars in the lot before we even arrived!

Later I checked, and the charge stations do appear on the Coulomb/ChargePoint America maps. They are listed as "Not Available" and "Free." (This is of course a pay garage.) I suspect the map hasn't caught up to reality on the ground.

Last week I went to the opening of the charge stations at a new San Rafael municipal pay lot at 900 C St. Two Coulomb J-plug-only units located right by the entrance. A grand opening ceremony attended by the mayor saw many EVs, although only one could charge at a time, as one unit here didn't work either. Furious phone calls during the event couldn'tget the machine to allow the juice to flow after waving the Coulomb Card.

We'll see how this all plays out, but in the short term, the added technical complexity of these charge stations that require activation with RFID cards dependent on
remote connections not only add a barrier to usage they present another point of potential failure. For now, drivers and the EV project broadly speaking, would be better served if one could confidently arrive and simply plug-in, as you can at some charge stations - public chargers upgraded to J-plugs, for instance. Like the one I used yesterday at the Vallejo Ferry Terminal. Once The EV Project (the other DOE-funded program) charge stations begin to appear (hello Ecotality, anybody home?), will Coulomb cards work, or will drivers need to collect every network's proprietary card?

Now I learn from fellow LEAF driver and long-time EV driver Danny Ames (he loved his Th!nk
City, too, and also built a conversion) of yet more ChargePoint America charge stations. A brand spanking new South San Francisco municipal parking garage one block off Grand Ave. sports four J-plug/120V units. Three are currently listed as "Available" and "Free." (Metered pay parking.) One is "Not Available." (I won't presume why.) There's a great Korean restaurant near there. I'll visit soon.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

FIRST-EVER plug-in prius! Really?

A story on Toyota's announcement that an ordering system for the plug-in prius will be coming later this year prompted me to check out the site. I find it rather funny and rather sad.

"THE FIRST-EVER prius plug-in hybrid," it says. Really? Ask Felix Kramer of CalCars. Ask any of the hundreds of individuals and fleets driving around in prius converted to have plug-in capability.

It's not even Toyota's first plug-in prius. They've been showing variants around for more than two years. The only thing that's "first" about it is that they will have a system for selling them sometime later this year in a baker's dozen states give or take.

Also headlined on the website: "the prius everyone's been waiting for." That they got right. Their own customer polling a long time ago showed a plug was at the top of Prius drivers' wish lists. Surely there's a market for their plug-in hybrid. But the bar has been raised in two unexpected directions. Nissan has begun to put a real all-electric car on the market. And GM has extended the electric range expectation for a plug-in hybrid before Toyota's even in the game.

Toyota has passed on the opportunity to be the plug-in leader, given up the lead they'd accrued from the RAV4 EV and the Prius as much as GM postponed its rendevous with destiny when they jettisoned the EV1. Someone from Toyota once told me they are "never first, always best." Time will tell.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Who knew, part 2, 120V edition

Some more places to plug in. SFO now has 120V plugs available in each of its public parking garages. You'll need to provide your own cable; of course every new EV comes with one.

Airports are one of the places 12oV makes lots of sense. Most cars sit for many hours, some for days at long-term parking. And it's very cheap to install, probably less than 10% the cost of a Level 2 unit.

A few Level 2 charge stations would be useful in short-term parking, as well.

And more importantly, I'd suggest a DC Fast Charger, perhaps at the Cell Phone lot. The airport is a crossroads, and folks with an EV driving over 40 miles to pick someone up at SFO could charge up quick allowing them to not use a gas car.

Well done, SFO!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

CHAdeMO DC Fast Charge network coming to Norway

The Norwegian energy company Ishavskraft yesterday unveiled its plan to make the stunning vistas of Norway's isolated fjords accessible to vacationers in electric cars with a 2500 mile network of DC Fast Chargers using the CHAdeMO connector.

Displaying a stunningly Nordic prototype charger in downtown Oslo, Ishavskraft announced it is looking for partners, public and private, to make this electric highway a completed reality within two years.

The Mistsubishi iMiev, with a CHAdeMO connector, is currently the best selling
small car in Norway. It is also available rebadged as the Citroen C-Zero and Peugeot Ion.
The Nissan LEAF will arrive in Norway soon, and is also available with the fast charge connector.

California, Oregon and Washington, too, are working on creating a west coast DC Fast Charge corridor through some rather picturesque scenery. With any luck we'll soon argue over which country has got the best views while getting a quick charge.

[Source: ElectricAid]

Monday, April 11, 2011

Who knew?

A few more J-plugs have appeared in the San Francisco Bay Area, tho I challenge you to find out where they are. They are not listed on the DOE funded charge station project sites. Not on ChargePoint America/Coulomb's charge station map. Nor on The EV Project/Ecotality's map.

I did find one of the three on recargo.com, one of a number of outfits aggregating charge station locations. Good for them. And one on Google's map.

The units I found quite accidentally are Free Juice Bar dual-connector units. Free Juice Bar, as the name implies, dispenses electricity to cars without networks to join, credit cards to wave, or phone calls to release the precious, if not dear, electrons. Charge cars, not people is their stated philosophy.
Now of course these days free doesn't necessarily mean free. These three charge stations are located in places you'll have to pay to park your car. And probably not cheap. There's a carpark at touristy Beach and Hyde; the Park 55 Hotel downtown; and the Expresso long term parking near the Oakland Airport that could run $15/day for the valet service. But it could just as easily be a shopping mall, a municipal lot or employee parking.

The notion here is that once a business buys and installs a charge station, the running costs (electricity) are too low to give much value to the operational complexities and expense of participating in and paying for a "network". The opportunity to gain some "green cred" for your hotel or shopping mall or parking lot company might be all that's required to make the sale. At first glance the cha-ching of a revenue stream of EV drivers charging up is enticing to the host, but it may take an awful lot of $2 charges to be significant or even earn back the ongoing charges to remain in the network once the DOE grant contribution disappears.

I'm obviously not sure how this will all play out, but there is more than one way to skin a cat.

A side note about infrastructure. Lots of mistakes will be made as public infrastructure is deployed. Charge stations will appear where cars don't. Bad siting or signage will lead to empty or ICEd spaces. And 240V charge stations will appear where 120V outlets would suffice. I've publicly pondered when the first J-plug would appear at an airport long-term parking lot, as there would seem to be little benefit to charging faster if the car is sitting for one or more days. If you're parking in a long term lot, your Tesla will fill up at 120V before you return.

So for all that I like about the Free Juice Bar business model, this is one case where they are not a model to follow. While I suspect the Expresso charge station has the "added value" of Valet Service, I'd rather see a wall of 120V outlets at half the cost. At least this charge station wasn't paid for with public funds.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"Transmission Losses" - The Cost of Bio-fuels

The Times has story of the consequences of crop production for bio-fuels: higher food prices and tragic irony.
...last year, 98 percent of cassava chips exported from Thailand, the world’s largest cassava exporter, went to just one place and almost all for one purpose: to China to make biofuel.
...It can be tricky predicting how new demand from the biofuel sector will affect the supply and price of food. Sometimes, as with corn or cassava, direct competition between purchasers drives up the prices of biofuel ingredients. In other instances, shortages and price inflation occur because farmers who formerly grew crops like vegetables for consumption plant different crops that can be used for fuel.

China learned this the hard way nearly a decade ago when it set out to make bioethanol from corn, only to discover that the plan caused alarming shortages and a rise in food prices. In 2007 the government banned the use of grains to make biofuel. [emphasis added.] ...Although a mainstay of diets in much of Africa, cassava is not central to Asian diets...

“For Americans it may mean a few extra cents for a box of cereal,” she said. “But that kind of increase puts corn out of the range of impoverished people.”

Higher prices also mean that groups like the World Food Program can buy less food to feed the world’s hungry.

[Source: NY Times]

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Public Transit or Private Cars, It's All About the Fuel

[The following is an article I wrote in Earth Island Journal last year to answer the question "Public Transit or Electric Car?." ]

Greater support for mass transit and appropriate land use policies that make mass transit accessible are essential. They are essential for more livable communities and more efficient use of resources, including energy. However, we have created a nation that is dependent, for the foreseeable future, upon the automobile. And many of the rest of the world’s inhabitants aspire to automobile ownership. China has opened up high-speed rail lines while the United States fiddles. Yet simultaneously, China has overtaken the United States in the number of automobiles sold annually.

ChargePoint-CityofSF_BW.jpgCity of San FranciscoSan Francisco recently became the first city in the country to mandate plug-in charging stations
for all new buildings.

Despite billions of dollars of investment, in most of the United States only a tiny percentage of people use mass transit regularly. The latest report by the American Public Transportation Association documents a 3.8 percent decline in ridership overall in the first nine months of 2009. Designing our cities and regions around mass transit is something we must do, but it is a multi-generational project.

In other developed countries – in Europe and Asia, for example – clean, electric public transit is the principal means of transportation. In most of the developing world, public transit remains the only viable means of getting around. But the commuters in poorer nations usually travel in a haze of pollution created by petroleum-powered trains and buses. The basic problem that faces transportation today isn’t whether people travel on mass transit or in automobiles, but rather the technology and fuel employed.

The question that faces us is how to ensure that our mass transit and private cars minimize the negative environmental impacts of travel. To do that we must set our nation, and the world, on a path to eliminate petroleum as the predominant fuel for transportation. To continue to rely on petroleum is to accept as inevitable the immense political power of the world’s wealthiest corporations and the resultant pollution, climate change, and war. There is no catalytic converter that can fully scrub the toxics that result from burning oil. And there is no way to democratize the production and distribution of petroleum.

There is, however, an alternative path: Electricity. It’s been around a long time and powers just about everything we use except transportation. It’s ubiquitous, relatively price stable due to government regulation, and is created in many ways, increasingly including renewable – such as solar, wind and geothermal – sources.

Of course we need energy to create electricity, and just as we’ve been burning petroleum for a century to move us and our stuff around, we’ve been burning oil and coal and natural gas to create electricity. While burning all those fuels has caused pollution just as surely as gasoline cars and trucks, we have options. As aging, filthy coal power stations are retired, they are often replaced with cleaner-burning natural gas generators. And now we are making a commitment to renewable electricity generation. Multiple sources of electricity generation make the grid reliable. In contrast, there is no effort to protect our transportation “grid” from vulnerabilities to petroleum’s monopoly.

While our electricity generation is becoming cleaner and more renewable due to state and federal mandates, switching to electricity for transportation immediately lowers emissions. On the existing US electric grid, half of which is powered by dirty coal, an electric car already is less polluting and emits fewer greenhouse gases than the average gasoline car. In the worst cases, like some nearly 100 percent-coal-powered states, the emissions profiles may be a wash. In others, like California and Texas, which use a preponderance of natural gas, it’s truly a slam dunk for electric transportation. Given our commitment to ever more solar, wind, and other renewables, electric transportation will only get cleaner.

Only with an electric car could you aspire not only to zero-emission driving, but to making your own zero-emission electricity to feed it. Putting solar PV panels on one’s roof is not rocket science, nor out of reach for millions of homeowners. With renewable power and plug-in cars, we can begin to get control over our energy destiny.

A central goal of the twenty-first century must be to bring the revolution of electrification to transportation – and that will include both mass transit and personal vehicles.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Transmission Losses: 100 mile oil slick in Gulf

The Coast Guard is investigating reports of a potentially large oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico not far from the Deepwater Horizon site. According to a knowledgeable source, the slick was sighted by a helicopter pilot on Friday and is about 100 miles long. A fishing boat captain said he went through the slick yesterday and it was strong enough to make his eyes burn.
[Source: Huffington Post]

Automakers continue to face challenges caused by quake

  • Nissan may have to ship engines from Tennessee to Japan.
  • Honda is extending the shut down at its shuttered plants.
  • Worries about Prius supply has already increased the average price by the consumer by $1,800.
  • GM and Nissan production in the US is being disrupted by lack of Japanese parts.

[Source: NYTimes]

Monday, March 7, 2011

PlugShare creates guerilla network to charge electric cars

For years we've been hearing there's a chicken/egg situation with EVs. Consumers, it's often suggested, have rejected plug-in cars because there is no charging infrastructure. No, I've always said, we have a chicken problem. No plug-in cars. The infrastructure, ubiquitous electricity, exists.

Volts and LEAFs are being slowly delivered, but the public charge station rollout paid for by the feds is coming even more slowly, especially in places getting early vehicle allocations. And those that do exist are often encumbered by restrictions and fees.

PlugShare launches today, just in time. Radical democracy for plug-in cars. One doesn't even need an EV to participate. Strike a blow against Big Oil by letting cars plug in at your place.

Stories today in the SF Chronicle and NY Times.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The trials of public charging, part 2 (of many to come)

I wrote back in December about my unhappy experience attempting to charge my loaner LEAF at San Francisco City Hall's electric car charging stations. Parking in these Coulomb charge stations is restricted to city-owned vehicles and Car Share companies under threat of towing. A threat taken seriously in San Francisco.

I wrangled a few hours of charging back in December from Bob Hayden, the SF Department of the Environment's EV Czar. And I wrangled time again while Tom Dowling and I met more recently with Bob at the SFDOE (this time to charge my own, recently delivered LEAF.)

But one shouldn't have to know Bob to plug in your new car. It's city, state and federal policy to enable electric cars for the emissions and petroleum reduction they provide. I'd hoped the City would find a way to open up the opportunity for the people beginning to obtain plug-in cars to more freely use these rare, public charge stations. Publicly plugging in is an act of coming out, of civic responsibility. Plugging in to public charge stations is part of the process of introducing Americans to electric cars.

Unfortunately there are still damn few J-plugs (the new standard for plug-in cars) publicly deployed, despite the expectations created by the federal grants to the EVProject (Ecotality) and ChargePoint America (Coulomb) and ex-Mayor Newsom here in San Francisco. The situation is similarly bleak in Southern California. And the fact is that the cars, however slowly, are being delivered. San Francisco's Department of the Environment just received its first LEAF, which now uses one of these spaces. It sits over the weekend, long since fully charged, demonstrating the city's greenness, I suppose, while preventing anyone from using the charge station. Making one spot available over the weekend would be one way to demonstrate a commitment to public access to this publicly funded infrastructure.

Here in San Francisco there are three sites (6 J-plugs) listed on Coulomb's/ChargePoint America's/MyChargePoint.net website, including the three at City Hall. At one you pay for parking and for plugging in, one is free, and one is restricted. In fact, there is another pair of J-plugs I know of in the Hilton's garage on Kearny St., but since they aren't Coulomb product, they aren't listed. Problem #1, Who's going to aggregate this information to be useful for drivers?

Problem #2: It needs to be noted (especially by new drivers) that the electrons don't just flow from many of these public J-plugs when you plug into the car as they do for the previous generation - EV1s and RAV4 EVs. They need to be activated with a phone call, a Coulomb card (one-time $10 per card), or in some cases a credit card. For a while, the electricity will be free with a phone call or Coulomb card, but eventually - probably sooner rather than later - there will be a cost to charge at many charge stations.

There is a cost to charging. Take that every way it can be taken. What I want to focus on is the unintended consequences of near-term monetization of public charging. Only half the story about public charging is providing juice: enabling drivers to extend the range of their vehicles beyond their night-time "fill-up" at home when necessary and overcoming newbie "range anxiety." The other half, for the next five years or so, is outreach and education. An opportunity to demonstrate to the 99+% who have no experience with plug-in cars that the cars are real. "There one is," says Mr. Jones to Mrs. Jones as they walk pass one plugged in at the shopping mall. And if the Joneses ever wondered about electric cars, they just might get to ask the owner some questions.

Monetize that charge station during the first few years the cars are appearing, and we lose 90% of the opportunities to talk with Mr. and Mrs. Jones. Here's what's going to happen: You get your new LEAF or Volt. A charge station appears at the grocery store you frequent. You plug it in, but nothing happens. You see the credit card symbols. If you happen to have a chip-enabled credit card (I have no idea how prevalent they are), you wave it. Juice flows. A small crowd gathers. You answer questions about the car. This is exciting. But after getting the monthly bill, you decide to forgo the recurring $2 charge for 50 cents of electricity you didn't need anyway. And maybe you'd begun to tire just a little of the attention.

Now that your new plug-in car is parked discretely with the gas burners, what happens to the charge station? It waits patiently for someone to really need it. And everyone entering the store passes the empty space, the "charger" standing sentry inconveniencing the "real" cars while suggesting government waste on another failed project.

Near-term monetization also threatens needed expansion of charging infrastructure, as the early installations become underutilized. It is already ironic enough that the two companies pushing monetization as the necessary component for a successful rollout of public charging infrastructure have taken the lion’s share of the public funding in order to develop their “free market” solution. It would be doubly ironic if low usage caused by early monetization resulted in insignificant amounts of revenue suggesting a poorer profitability picture than projected creating an impediment to necessary further expansion of both public charging stations and their own business.

The federal funding should have come with strings attached. For a certain period, say two to five years, the electricity should just flow. No connecting to a network, no payment. The host - the city parking garage or shopping mall - would agree to cover the cost of electricity in exchange for the charging unit and all the green cred and good will they can muster. After a few years, with lots of experience, let the hosts decide if they want to monetize. At that point hopefully there will be enough plug-in cars around that they will no longer be a novelty needing explaining, and we will actually want to discourage purely opportunistic public charging to ensure their availability when someone really needs the juice. At that point, we'll all be willing to pay.

But if PlugShare catches on, we may not have to.

"Transmission" Losses: Billion Dollar Fuel Theft

After nearly a decade of mismanagement, theft and fraud, the U.S. military still hasn't found a way to staunch the flow of what is likely hundreds of millions -- if not billions -- of dollars in lost fuel in Afghanistan, some of which is sold on the black market and winds up in Taliban hands, a TPM investigation has found.
[Source: TalkingPointsMemo.com]

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The electricity in gasoline

I just ran across the latest available data, from 2007, for the electricity consumption by petroleum refineries. The US is, hoorah, #1. Over 49,000,000,000 kWh.

One electric car, roughly speaking, will use about 3000 kWh to go about 12,000 miles.

That means the electricity alone we use to refine petroleum each year could drive over 16,000,000 electric cars 12,000 miles each year.

And that doesn't include the electricity used in oil extraction and pumping.

[Source: Energy Statistics Database | United Nations Statistics Division under "Total Electricity" then "Consumption by petroleum refineries"]

Thursday, February 3, 2011

iMiev #1 in Norway

Norway's EV enthusiast site Electricaid reports that iMiev is #1 in Norway. In its small car segment in January, the little electric outsold each of its gasoline competitors. 99 iMievs sold.

[Source: Electricaid]

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"When money flows from the ocean floor"

In January 2007 it was reported from Davos that Shimon Peres was in talks to bring an electric car factory to Israel. I wrote:
It's about time. If there's one country that ought to have long ago developed a domestic electric car industry it is Israel. No oil of its own should be reason enough. Every drop purchased on the international markets propping up its sworn enemies should be reason enough. Not very far to drive in this very small country should be reason enough. Lots of high tech brainpower should be reason enough. Dayenu.
The beginnings of Better Place, of course. Also, one could hope, the beginning of the transformation of Israel from a vulnerable fossil-fuel deficient and dependent nation into a 21st century renewable energy beacon.

Now it seems the discovery of natural gas off the coast may have moved Israel's eye off the prize.
"The beautiful vision evaporated in the bureaucratic grinders, and the prime minister fell into the very trap against which he had warned. When money flows from the ocean floor, who has time to think about correcting the world?"
Read the interesting tale here.

[Source: Ha'aretz]

Obama rolls out EV strategy

At EnerDel's Indiana battery plant today, VP Biden outlined the administration's EV strategy. The Obama administration is calling for raising the number of plug-ins that qualify for federal incentives from 200,000 to 500,000 cars per manufacturer. In addition, Obama is looking to convert the federal tax credit into a rebate available at the time of sale. More here.

[Source: Detroit News]

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mercedes Pleads for More Handouts for Hydrogen

While governments scrape together money to roll out a public charging infrastructure for the plug-in cars that are already being delivered to customers, Mercedes is pleading for more money to enable hydrogen fuel cell vehicles they have failed to deliver for a decade.

[Source: AutoBlogGreen]

Monday, January 3, 2011

LEAFs arriving by the truckload

LEAFs are beginning to arrive by the truckload. Seven drove in to a SoCal dealership this morning.