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, 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]