Category Archives: consumer

Electric Vehicles, Coal & Dirty Electricity

Coal in Stocking

Since it is the Holiday Season, and some traditions continue, such as busting PEVs because they allegedly use dirty electricity and can’t then be zero emission, I include this brief op-ed from last week for your reading pleasure.  The final take away is simple- where you live and how your local utilities get their electricity do play a role in how clean your PEV runs and since most states increasingly support alternative forms of renewable energy, your PEV will likely continue to get cleaner.  So enjoy the season and stop feeling guilty!

Tuesday’s Portland Press Herald Article by Seth Borenstein, titled, “For electric cars, it’s not simple to be green,” offers outdated and misguided commentary on the issue of “dirty” electricity and whether electric vehicles are more of a problem than a solution when it comes to transportation-based emissions.  As a study released by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2012, “State of Charge; Electric Vehicles Global Warming Emissions and Fuel-cost Savings across the United States” concluded, EVs are vastly superior in their emission profiles over most regions of the US.  It boils down to where the electricity comes from.  If you live in the Wyoming where coal is used for base load generation, your EV does contribute to GHG emissions on a par with a combustion engine.  That is one reason why coal-fired power plants are no longer viable for electricity generation and are being moth-balled.  Conversely, if you live in Maine, with an increasingly healthy mix of renewable energy generation sources, including wind, tidal, hydro, solar and biomass and the cleanest grid in New England, operating your electric vehicle is much less carbon intense than your neighbor’s gas-powered car.  The good news is most states, like Maine, have a renewable portfolio standard that has resulted in ongoing efforts to clean up their electricity generation, so an EV actually drives cleaner the longer you own it!  That is not true of your gasoline vehicle.  Mr. Borenstein chooses to highlight the coal connection rather than the clean connection.  I leave you with the final sentence of the PNAS study quoted by Mr. Borenstein, which reads, “Consideration of potential climate change impacts alongside the human health outcomes described here further reinforces the environmental preferability of EVs powered by low-emitting electricity relative to gasoline vehicles.” (Emphasis added).

Maine, and all the New England states, should be proud of their efforts to promote clean electricity and their EV-owners can drive with clear consciences.

Follow this link to go to my actual op-ed.

Which came first, the Chicken or the Egg? The Cars!

chicken or egg1Its hard to be dispassionate about the things we love, but to be successful we must constantly question and search for the truth.

It’s been an interesting week for two reasons.  ECOtality filed for Chap 11 Bankruptcy and GM released a story plans to create a PEV that travels 200 miles per charge and costs $30,000, to rival the success of Tesla.

Let’s discuss both developments.

ECOtality received over $110m from the US Dept of Energy to create the EV Project, designed to deploy private and public charging infrastructure in select U.S. markets in conjunction with sales efforts of Nissan and GM.  Providing Idaho National Lab with data from over 100m electric miles, that aspect of the project has been an unqualified success.  In addition, when the EV Project started, 17,000 PEVS were sold for the entire year (2011)!  By comparison, 10,800 PEVs were sold just during August 2013.  So the average consumer in 2011 didn’t see electric vehicles on the street and had no knowledge of chargers. With the EV Project, we now have regions of the country where charging is available, common and car sales are sturdy and increasing exponentially.  Can ECOtality get all the credit for promoting the technology?  Surely not. But they were an integral part in making charging conspicuous, and worked hard to streamline state regulatory structure, promote supportive policy and simplify  bureaucracy.

The real reason ECOtality’s business collapsed is that people were unwilling to pay for public charging (in Oregon, some of their level 2 chargers were used only 5x per month!), there are still too few cars and PEV owners do not rely on public charging routinely – they can charge at home, at night, daily. So in many ways the collapse of ECOtality is a message to charging station providers who are literally banking on creating large subscriber-based networks as a revenue stream that they best re-think their model. PEVs can be charged conveniently and cheaply at home or the workplace. Public charging needs to offer something competitive: better parking access, free electricity, advertising, features consumers and vendors are willing to support.

As cars improve, the need for a broad-based public charging will diminish. We need strategic DC fast chargers as insurance for those of us who forget to plug in the night before or who travel longer distances. But the longer we wait, the more strategic and appropriate our investments in charging technology will be, on the consumer and EVSE industry level.  The good news is – cars are NOT going away.  In fact, we’re seeing PEV sales at twice the rate of hybrids in their first 3 years.

Had ECOtality failed a year ago, we’d be in a different situation in terms of deployment – because a risk existed that consumers wouldn’t figure out that they really didn’t need public charging to fully use the vehicles. Now that they have,  I predict little impact on car sales as a result of any bad ECOtality press.  As a result we also may well have gotten full value from our meager public investment in the EV Project ($110m is frankly nothing in the scheme of government boondoggles and bailouts).

At the same time that we see the ECOtality business plan unraveling, we see GM brazenly step to the microphone to say it will create a 200 mile range BEV costing $30,000!  Besides the question of “when?,” my first thought was that the 200 mile number is apparently the Holy Grail of PEV range.  My wife and I debate the sweet spot of mileage range to accelerate a mass market for PEVs.  My thought is that a 150 mile range would be the threshold, provided all other costs are equal.  I now see 200 miles gets me to 99.9% of my annual destinations.  I don’t want to drive much more than 200 miles in a day if I can avoid it.  If I can drive 200 miles without needing to stop, the BEV’s usefulness dramatically increases.  This distance probably is sufficient to link most major metropolitan areas together, those sister cities where people commonly visit or commute to and from.  And the gas savings would be extreme.

Three years ago, here in Portland Oregon, we believed we needed the public infrastructure to jump start consumer demand.  Today, I believe we now see the cars are the place to put incentives and emphasis.  If cars arrive, infrastructure will follow organically to meet consumer demand.

ECOtality should be lauded for being first to test the public charging model. Now we are in the position to learn from this failure and push this technology to the next level.




Closing in on the Big One; EVs Reach 100,000

[Photo: BYU Bonneville Flats EV.  Although it isn’t the world’s fastest EV, the car uses 880 DeWalt Drill batteries which produce about 200hp.  The car set a record at 155mph but hit a top speed of 175mph.]

Soon, probably within the next six weeks based on recent monthly sales figures, somewhere in the US someone will purchase the 100,oooth electric vehicle.  But what does that really mean?

Being directly involved in sales/business development for an EV charging station provider has opened my eyes to a few of the realities of the market place and the relevance of this number.  Like most emerging technologies, but particularly ones that promise radical change to the existing system and the formidable interests invested in them, the road to deployment is not straight and flat.  Misinformation abounds- about the car’s cost, its range, its battery’s resiliency, an EV’s carbon emissions, the superiority of other alternative fuels, its”green” political pre-disposition.   Often the one with the bullhorn shapes the “facts”.  I read a mix of daily articles from news sources all over the world and it would be interesting to document the ratio of negative to positive commentary as an indicator of the market’s actual progress.

Even as recently as six months ago, when I would go into auto dealerships to sell chargers, they would listen politely and tell me they had sold very few Volts or LEAFs and their customers weren’t interested in charging stations.

Where are we today? We have Nissan, Tesla, Chevy, Ford, Honda, Mitsubishi, Toyota, BMW, even FIAT, manufacturing PEV models with their own branding.  Now when I go into auto dealers, they invite me back to speak to their sales staff and discuss charging as an issue and what their customers will need to make better use of the car’s range capabilities.  Anecdotally, last month in Portland’s metro area, Nissan dealers collectively sold more 2013 LEAFs than any other model- including the Altima- over 65 units between the four major dealerships. Tesla’s stock is up over 43% since the beginning of the year.  17,813 PEVs have been sold this year since March, practically matching the entire PEV sales for all of 2011.  While PHEV still account for a 2/3 share of all sales to date, March revealed that BEV purchases exceeded PHEVs for the first time since 2011, fueled in part by Nissan’s aggressive pricing and the Tesla S’s popularity.  Consumers are embracing both technologies- and no one can predict which may become dominant even in the short-term. We are on track create a passenger fleet of almost 100,000 PEVs in a little over two years, and the graph shows purchasing accelerating faster than the adoption of the Toyota Prius over the same timeframe- by some estimates soon to experience 48% annual growth.

From a grid perspective, we now have over 2,000 megawatts of battery storage associated with the domestic PEV fleet.  To provide perspective, Boardman Coal Plant, the largest remaining coal plant in Oregon, has a nameplate capacity of 550 mWh- and serves as base power generation for a service territory of over 800,000 people. Many utilities have now begun to consider the imminent prospect of using PEV related storage for direct load management to assist in smoothing their peaks and avoid triggering activation of older, dirtier generation sources.  This is shown by a number of pilot studies going on nationally and increased interest in pursuing them as part of smart grid planning and utilizing smart meters communication capabilities. I recently met with a representative of Puget Sound Energy, with a service territory in Seattle, who remarked that their DMV data showed purchases of over 300 PEVs in their territory- just for the month of March.  These numbers make utilities imagine the future is much, much closer- and spur investment in harnessing ancillary benefits for the grid.

So as we take stock in April 2013, and try to be objective and critical and dispassionate, we can admit that the reality of where we are is a great place compared to where we have been. Over 93,000 PEVs have now been sold. We were correct about the prospects for growth of PEV technology, as their sales progress outpacing the growth of the hybrid vehicle over its first three years.  And hybrids did not have “range anxiety” issues or the complex amount of information associated with them. We were correct in believing that the American consumer would accept an alternative choice besides gasoline if the technology delivered performance and savings over the long haul.  A virtuous market- and policy-based cycle has developed to bring down prices and spur R & D. We appreciate that these vehicles are not just “green,” they are advanced vehicle technology creating better transportation choices and superior driving experiences.  They can become the Car of the Year.

Most importantly we are now soon to celebrate 100,000 PEVs on the road in the United States.  When has that happened before?  Never.

So as we mark the 100,000th domestic sale of a car with a plug, which should happen in the next six weeks, we need to recognize that we are emerging from the fog onto a clear, flat, open expanse where we can stomp the accelerator and let the true qualities of what’s under the hood  be free and- as if that’s not enough-the posted speed limit just increased.