Category Archives: electric vehicle

It’s inevitable that U.S. consumers will plug into electric vehicles

This post was published in the Portland Press Herald on December 30, 2015:

BY BARRY T. WOODS – SPECIAL TO THE PRESS HERALD

Major automakers’ pledges to grow model offerings are good news for everyone from patriots to clean-energy advocates.

Old and New: English Linden tree, planted 1774 in Phippsburg, ME, and the BMW i3 made in 2015 and driven by the author

Old and New: English Linden tree, planted 1774 in Phippsburg, ME, and the BMW i3 made in 2015 and driven by the author

The Portland Press Herald recently ran two articles about electric vehicles that might lead a reasonable reader to wonder: What is going on with this technology? On the one hand, Mainers seem ambivalent about driving electric (“Electric car sales sputter as Mainers go for SUVs,” Dec. 6), but on the other hand, large investments are being made to promote it (“Tesla unveils supercharging station in Augusta,” Dec. 16).

Well, Mainers need to understand that change is in the air (as well as electricity). We as a country are poised over the next very few years to embark upon a new path in transportation and energy. There really shouldn’t be confusion about electric vehicles. The only real question is not “Will it happen?” but “How long will we take to let it happen?”

First, let the record show that Maine actually has far more plug-in electric vehicles than staff writer Tux Turkel cites in his coverage of electric car sales. He omitted data on an entire class of vehicles, plug-in electric hybrids, which use both battery and gas systems (such as the Chevy Volt).

What’s more, the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles lacks proper coding classifications for registering plug-in vehicles, causing many of them (including the Toyota plug-in Prius) to be lumped in with combustion-engine versions.

Our best estimate is that we have 1,000 registered plug-in vehicles currently in Maine.

Of course, the much larger story is not how many vehicles we have, but what is coming on the horizon and why it matters. Virtually every major auto manufacturer has pledged to grow its electric vehicle model offerings over the next few years.

Ford recently announced it was allocating $4.5 billion to fund its effort to add 13 plug-in electric vehicle model types, and Nissan, Tesla and General Motors are working to deploy the first affordable 200-mile-range all-battery electric vehicle. These investments in technology are critical to increasing vehicle options and meeting consumer expectations.

Of paramount importance to triggering this disruption and transition away from combustion engines is the improvement in the performance and cost of lithium ion batteries. Battery costs have been coming down 8 percent to 10 percent per year.

Meanwhile, worldwide production of batteries is poised to increase dramatically as a result of large manufacturing facilities being brought online. The Tesla Gigafactory alone may account for a reduction in battery prices of 50 percent or more, with some analysts suggesting that the cost per kilowatt-hour will drop from $250 to $38.

This will address the two biggest issues raised by skeptics: high cost and limited range. The cars do need to get better, and they will. Why is this level of investment occurring in the first place and accelerating? The real attractiveness of electric vehicle technology lies in its potential not just to provide better cars but also to solve a host of economic, social and environmental problems created by our existing reliance on oil.

An increasingly large and diverse group of public and private stakeholders, each with its own missions, are in agreement that this is a superior and more beneficial product.

Consumers find it cheaper and more fun to operate and convenient to charge overnight at home.

Utilities like the idea of growing new demand for electric load (as a counterbalance to emphasizing energy efficiency) and leveraging smart-grid investments to manage that load’s battery storage.

Clean-energy advocates like promoting the electric vehicle-photovoltaic connection, showing how their residential solar array can now power their cars.

State officials like keeping energy money in the local economy and reducing the public health costs of tailpipe emissions.

Patriots like making us less reliant on foreign oil (and not spending blood and treasure protecting it).

Any one of those solutions would be worth noticing, but when they are combined in one package, as they are with electric vehicles, it’s hard to remain ambivalent for long. Especially after you test drive one.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR –

Barry T. Woods is founder and Director of Electric Mobility NE, a Portland-based electric vehicle consulting firm.

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.

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.