Category Archives: MItsubishi

The EV Project- It’s Time to Grow Up

We had lived in a world of petroleum-based energy for so long that we could not see the horizon through its particulate-laden fog- until President Obama diverted part of his ARRA-funding and solicited bids for overseeing the first national scale investment into electric vehicle charging infrastructure promising deployment and data collection- the EV Project.  Enter ECOtality, the winning grantee. What followed has been nothing short of the jumpstarting of a new transportation technology and the construction of a foundation for this technology–the beginning of this immense national transformation of our transportation/energy system.  And we must be grateful for ECOtality’s efforts to seed public infrastructure into various politically receptive ecosystems. This has been a tremendous start on the path to the future.

Now that the 2012 Presidential election has been held, and energy independence will NOT mean fracking, pipelines, and drilling, what is the best path forward for EV infrastructure?  Well, its time to grow up.

We need to stop providing unilaterally allocated federal subsidies benefitting a narrow slice of the industry (i.e. ECOtality, Coulombe, AV).  Infrastructure should expand beyond the heavily weighted models favoring public charging, with expensive telecomm networked fees and consumer subscription based business models, with level 3 chargers hosting TV screens that can cost a hundred thousand dollars to install, risking unsustainable demand charges to the host sites if electricity consumption exceeds a certain level.  EV drivers do not need to be taught to associate public charging with rummaging around their glove box for the proper key fob only to find they failed to pre-register and create an account!  We have made it all seem so complicated, costly, and inconvenient.  Infrastructure should mean you charge primarily at home or work.  It should mean you can pay at any public station with a credit card.  If you need more energy during a particularly hectic week, you find it in the public forum and you pay for what you need and move on.  It may mean the host site uses a simple keypad or RFID  reader to activate the charger at your hotel or apartment complex.  It doesn’t have to be touchscreens, key fobs, hassle and headaches.

Companies such as ECOtality and Coulombe have been banking on laying the framework for what they see as a self-sustaining public infrastructure revenue stream- even before the ramifications of their data on consumer behavior  becomes clear.  One ostensible value of the EV Project was to get Idaho National Lab to parse out the actual numbers to begin to answer fundamental questions about charging infrastructure- how to incentivize off-peak charging? When do most consumers charge?  Where do they charge?  What is the proper ratio of public chargers to vehicles? How much will people pay? Building a networked infrastructure model before the data analysis was completed was a calculated business decision made by ECOtality and Coulombe- that model now needs to be tested in the marketplace and improved upon.

None of these questions are simple. Indeed the process itself can skew the results.  For example, Don Karner, then-President of ECOtality, reported to the DOE  that the initial residential installation subsidy of $1250 was causing most installation bids to come in at…$1250.  Accordingly, there was no clear data on the actual installation costs and they would be gradually phasing out the subsidy.  My experience shows that is twice the actual cost for the average home install.  We did need to invest in the technology- and make mistakes.  And now we need to start learning from them in order to reach escape velocity.

Giving away residential charging stations to customers of two auto manufacturers (Chevy and Nissan) may have made sense to get the data collection points in the field immediately, and now we have them.  That has been done and we should not extend the EV Project further. We did need to get chargers out in the field and afford utilities the opportunity to learn about linkage to their distribution system.  We did need to educate public utility commissions and the energy community about time of use rates for EVs and their grid-based benefits.  We did need to help auto dealers sell the vehicles by having the infrastructure come pre-packaged and added in for no extra cost.  However, we now see the Chevy Volt selling over 2500 units per month- and increasing- with a current annual sales of over 19,000 units domestically.  We now have added  Ford, Honda, Toyota, ThinkCity, Fisker, Tesla, Audi, Coda, Mitsubishi and all the other major automakers offering vehicle models with a plug. We even have electric motorcycles- Brammo, Zero, Motorczysz.  None of them currently qualify for of any the EV Project subsidies.   If we are to get to the next level of deployment, we now need to level the playing field, to embrace the notion of competitive neutrality (a term which ECOtality ironically embraced in its comments before the Oregon Public Utility Commission when seeking to prevent electric utilities from having a role in supplying their own charging infrastructure).  This will decrease costs, simplify installation, provide consumers with options, and benefit the total industry.

Quite simply, no one can compete with free.

Free is now inhibiting the evolution of the charging station industry, stifling competition, and preventing consumer choice.   It’s time to end the EV Project subsidies and extensions and let the market provide the full range of infrastructure solutions available.  Infrastructure needs to be unchained, especially in those markets where ECOtality has had a dominant presence because those regions are poised to become self-sustaining and offer the model for the rest of the country.  Consumers need to see that infrastructure can be simple, cost-effective, and scaled at a variety of levels to meet a variety of needs.  Its time to let us grow up.  And reach for the sun.

 

 

Los Angeles Hosts 26th Electric Vehicle Symposium- Lessons Learned

 

I recently returned from the EVS26 Conference sponsored by the Electric Drive Transportation Association.  My goal was to see how Oregon compares to other regions and introduce myself to a plethora of charging station providers as a resource to help them in their business development and sales in the Pacific Northwest.  The quick profile might read like this- 47 Countries, 200 Exhibitors, Plenary Session speakers like Bob Lutz and Brian Wynne, ride and drive opportunities for twenty PHEV/BEV vehicles and  thousands of delegates from every continent.  Its easy to get jazzed from that degree of energy and stay jazzed for months.

My lessons learned:

For the first time the auto manufacturers share the same customer with the electric utility and charging station provider; the customer experience crosses all these business boundaries and one bad experience with one translates into a bad experience with all of them- in legal terms we call this joint and several liability.

Auto manufacturers are playing defensively with the EVSE/EVSP folks and each other by delaying and re-doing the charging connector standard for the DCQC.  While CHAdeMO is the current installed connector, the resistance to it by all the other major auto manufacturers  except Nissan And Mitsubishi seems designed to slow the roll-out and stay ahead of the infrastructure in order to control it.  It also signals market share in-fighting as GM tries to prevent Nissan from a commanding early market lead.  I am not pleased with the double connector aka combo plug because it is cumbersome, unwieldy, and women will not be able to handle it easily.  I also see the outcome of this defensive play as not promoting the value of standardization but rather the value of one product over the industry.  Can we afford to derail progress in infrastructure?  The real question is -What’s wrong with the CHAdeMO standard?  Has GM really answered that?

Oregon is well positioned relative to the other states- it will have 80 DCQC along its I-5 travel corridor by the end of the summer and be in a position to jumpstart other EVSPs besides ECOtality when the ARRA funding runs out.  It will create sufficient backbone to allow gap-filling by L2 Public chargers along its more heavily traveled spur roads.   Its regulatory streamlining continues to offer quick, cheap infrastructure permitting.  PSU’s Electric Avenue project shows how clustering creates buzz and an opportunity to learn about everything from signage to EVSE/Car communication issues.  Oregon is in a leadership position relative to other states and can begin sharing lessons.  Governor Kitzhaber is due to release his Future Energy Plan on June 1st, which is anticipated to further buttress state political support for transportation electrification.

EVSP have not yet demonstrated what the successful business plan will be for charging.  Many of them have overly aggressive hourly or monthly subscription rates relative to the amount of kWh to be purchased.  People will pay for fast charging and convenience, but the EV Project data shows many are relying on level one charging much more commonly then was originally forecast.  In fact, according to Britta Gross of GM, the Chevy Volt owners are charging their vehicles more than Leaf owners, perhaps reflecting their desire to avoid initiating the gas generator on board.  Will vehicles onboard technology continue to increase charging speed such that L2 become almost as fast as DCQC?  Do consumers want to just keep billing simple and pay as they go?  Do they want networks and subscription based plans? When the public funding ends for infrastructure, who will be left standing?

Nissan sold 27,000 Leafs worldwide last year, and projects another 40,000 this year.  Thereafter, it will reach capacity of 150,000 units per year when its plant in Tennessee opens in a few months, all of which should eliminate the supply issue for dealers and really test consumer interest and dealer marketing.  At the same time there will be 45 PHEV/BEV models released over the next two years, including the all electric Ford Focus, Audi e-tron and BMW.  With the range of choices, consumers can feel confident that this technology is road worthy and here to stay.

Battery costs/efficiencies will improve by 7-8% per year.  Battery technology remains the biggest hurdle to cost-effective pricing, although the new MSRP sticker will show fuel savings equivalents for the first five years of use.  This means you will see that the Leaf can save you thousands of dollars in gas over the short-term and help you to see how the upfront costs pencil.

European countries are pulling away.  Norway has 1000 leafs in circulation and they comprise 2% of all new vehicle sales.  Lisbon, Portugal has over 500 public charging stations.  Amsterdam’s new Car2Go fleet has over 300 BEVs and wants to see its EV reputation eclipse its reputation for hash bars and prostitution(!)

And lastly, I want to attend the next EVS27 in Barcelona, Spain in November 2013!