Category Archives: Electrification Coalition

EV Roadmap 4- Getting to a Million

Sponsored by Portland State University and PGE, the EV Roadmap series recently completed its fourth iteration. George Beard, Strategic Business Alliance Builder Extraordinaire, constructed the conference around the theme of “Getting to a Million” and interwove the pragmatic with the aspirational.
I have been attending them since the beginning (Nov/09) and always find something intriguing and hopeful in the two days. This time was no exception.

Of particular interest was the conference’s use of electronic polling of the audience the results of which were displayed on the big screen.  Questions ranged from factual knowledge (how much oil does the US import each year?) to subjective conclusions (how likely is Oregon to meet its EV objectives?)

Most provocative was Sam Ori’s presentation of Oil Shockwave, designed to to incite awareness of how precarious the perch is of the United States when it comes to global oil production interruption.  Oil Shockwave is designed to bring seasoned domestic security decisionmakers to confront a terrorist attack  at Saudi Arabia’s Abaquiq oil refinery compounded by geopolitical intrigue.  As a country, we are only 3% (of global oil production)  away from massive price spikes and severe economic damage.   Sam also related that the Saudi’s recently let slip they do not want to cause such price spikes because it will hasten the developed world’s transition to renewable energy sources.

In Oregon’s case, we have assigned for ourselves the goal of achieving 30,000 EVs sales by 2015, tripling our pro rata share of Obama’s national goal.  This means that 2012 will be a BIG year if we are to stay on track to meet those numbers. According to Charlie Allcock, PGE’s Director of Business Development,  we will be facing formidable challenges including ongoing unemployment, high MSRP, and diminishing tax credit incentives.   If we are to meet just the one percent goal of 10,000 vehicles, we will need to sell 2000 new EVs by the end of 2012.

How do we get there?  The solution lies in a multi-pronged approach. 

We must stress consumer education and outreach.  [Oregon’s Governor’s Transportation Electrification Executive Council  (TEEC) is promoting a strategy of “eyeballs and seats” which presumes that the more vehicles out and about in public, the more people will begin to entertain EVs as an alternative to conventional vehicles.  Providing visibility, driving experience, and broadcasting a positive message using all forms of media (including blogs!) will help inspire change.  The focus group that was videoed live at the conference showed many EV myths remain, including perceptions that the vehicles are prohibitively expensive, have limited range and speed, and take too long to charge.]

We must assist fleet managers in running the numbers to show the long-term operational cost advantages presented by EVs, especially when fuel price volatility is introduced.

We must get people to begin to assess their driving habits, operational costs and routines so their next vehicle purchase  is based on choice of electrified transport that accounts for these realities.

We must start our own social movement by engaging social networks and creating toolkits to promote social engagement with the personal and public virtues of EVs. [Check out Nathan Pinsley, a strategist at, who provided one of the more interesting presentations on bridging the gap from early adopters to mainstream]

We must continue to subsidize technologic innovation to fuel progress in battery development and continued downward trajectory of pricing.

We must build strategic partnerships between electric utilities, smart grid technologies, and regulatory authorities.

We must NOT rely upon Washington to solve our energy problems given the partisan divide and gridlock.  No more federal loan guarantees or manufacturing tax incentives are imminent.   States and regions must provide their own set of solutions.

If we truly aspire to greatness on behalf of our nation and the environment, maybe 30,000  EV sales in Oregon by 2015 isn’t such a daunting number.



Zero Means Zero


There has been some press lately calling into question the actual carbon footprint of operating a battery electric vehicle (BEV).  There is logic behind this.  Utilities quite commonly generate carbon emissions from their portfolio of generation sources, whether natural gas driven turbines or coal plants.  They (the investor owned utilities like PGE or PacifiCorps) are obligated as regulated monopolies to provide power on demand to our society, no matter that demand’s daily and seasonal peaks and troughs.  As a result they have devised an ingenious system that includes baseload power generation sources (those which can economically and reliably provide most of our power needs, day in, day out) and peaking plants to cover exceptional power needs.  The source of this baseload power is highly dependent on the region served.  The Southeast and Northeast have had little historic choice but to rely on fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, to feed their demand.  They lack cheap, natural resources.  The Northwest has the happy fate of enjoying a deep bench of low or zero emission generation sources starting with the Columbia River Basin Hydro-system (which generates almost 50% of the region’s power depending on snowpack) and extending out into the Gorge through Sherman and Morrow Counties where currently 2300 mWh of wind generation (valued at $4.5b) has been installed.

So how do you respond when someone says an EV’s electrical use is not “clean”?

First, zero emission vehicles are simply defined as emitting no combustion byproducts from their tailpipe.  At this level, and it is a reasonable level, all BEVs qualify as zero emission.  In congested, urban settings, preventing the introduction of additional emissions has tangible environmental and health benefits. Of course, the argument then turns to the generation source of electricity, often located far away from the urban centers who benefit most from the generation,  and whether that contributes CO2 emission and merely displaces its impact to rural settings. An analysis requires each EV owner to be familiar with the source of his/her region’s baseload electrical generation (which you should be able to get directly from your electricity provider.)

“Even in the worst-case scenario where 100 percent of that generation is from coal, there is still a net positive emissions trade-off,” Glenn Stancil  of NRG Energy VP said. A 2007 study found that a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle charged with electricity from a coal plant would result in 25 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than a conventional gasoline vehicle, he said. The study was conducted by Electrification Coalition, a trade group of which NRG is a member.

A study by Jan Kreider, founding director of the University of Colorado‘sJoint Center for Energy Management, found similar results.

It bears noting that EVs are much more efficient in converting energy to movement compared to their gas counterparts, which means they still create less carbon emissions per mile.  In that sense, even if we kept coal and natural gas electric generating plants, and added to them, as a country we would still experience a net decline in carbon emissions if our light-duty/passenger fleet converted over entirely to BEVs.

We can do better.  In the Pacific Northwest we have the unique ability to charge our BEVs with truly clean electric power. Portland General Electric sponsors its Green Source Program, which adds 1.2 cents per kWh on my monthly bill.  For this, I receive a 100% renewable energy mix ranging from low-impact hydro, to wind to geothermal.

Zero can truly mean zero.


The Strait of Hormuz… and Our Spending Habits

Have you ever really looked at your electric bill? Take PGE’s monthly bill and look at the line items of charges that comprise it.  There are roughly thirteen categories of energy charges and adjustments on my monthly bill, ranging from transmission and distribution charges to energy efficiency funding adjustments to city taxes to even rate charges derived from repaying the debt on mothballed nuclear reactors from the seventies.  Now consider what you know about your gasoline “bill” when you fill your tank. Do you know what the state taxes per gallon you pay for  road maintenance and repairs?  Do you know how much the gas company pays to import, refine and ship it for distribution?  Would you even want to know?  What if you had to limit yourself to one energy bill, what would it be and why?

Despite the thirteen line items in my electric bill, I see that much of the money actually goes to a local electric utility and hence my state’s economy; more if you fall within a public utility district rather than an investor owned utility (like PGE or Pacific Power).  Of the money we spend on gasoline each year, how much stays local? Where does the oil come from and what is its real cost?  What would happen if your car’s gas tank was paid through your utility bill and it cost less than a 1/5th  per mile to operate than a similar mile traveled using gasoline?  Would this awareness change how you viewed energy?  How would each dollar you spend impact your community differently?  What would you do with the money you save on transportation?

Well, the Electrification Coalition published the Electrification Roadmap and it contains many of the answers to these questions.  American households spent on average $3,597 on gasoline in 2008. Our transportation system relies on oil for 94 percent of its fuel source.  In 2008 the United States spent more than $900 billion on gasoline, diesel, and other petroleum products.  I think we know where the vast majority of this amount goes.   Add to this, the cost of defending the oil transit routes which amounts to another $67-83 billion annually.  The Strait of Hormuz is perhaps the most expensive piece of real estate on Earth.  This means the real price of gas per gallon is easily $2 more than the pump price.  In addition, the Department of Energy estimates that every $1b of the U.S. trade deficit that accrues from buying imported oil equates to the loss of 27,000 jobs.

I have been driving my EV for five days and saved on  having to purchase 7 gallons of gas for a total cost of $27.  I have used 49.9 kWh at an avg cost per kWh of .14 cents  for a total cost of $3.50 (and I subscribe to the more expensive Green Source program which uses renewable energy generation sources and which allows me to say I am truly a zero emission driver).  That means I now have $20.00 in my pocket that I would have spent on defending the Strait of Hormuz (see inset Nasa Photo circa 2000) or a combination of other nefarious interests.  I might take it down to my local farmer’s market (forget about Whole Foods when the growing season is under way) or almost buy a share of stock in PGE ($23.17 as of today); they pay a dividend.  More importantly, it makes me wonder how much money will I save after a year of driving and what would happen if we spent it on each other?