Category Archives: Transportation fuel

Time to Join the Party: Early Data on Plug in Adoption and Industry Investment

By choosing to employ regulatory streamlining and supportive policies and incentives on consumer deployment and in-state industry development, Oregon and California now have evidence that those dollars leverage high economic value.

In late 2009 in Oregon, a few EV oriented businesses, manufacturers and professionals created an industry cluster in a third floor conference room of the Portland Development Commission, and concocted a strategy to harness state funds to promote its development.   Now called Drive Oregon, the group convinced the Oregon Innovation Council of its value and successfully lobbied state legislators to invest $1.2m of state funding at a time when the state’s budget left many lawmakers on the retreat, cutting public safety measures and teacher salaries.  The pitch, that Oregon needed to have a means of fueling its EV industry cluster’s growth and have a conduit for federal and private grants funding alternative fuel technologies, was persuasive but not without great uncertainty.  Should Oregon gamble on using state funds to fuel development in a sector that many, even today, dismiss as doomed to fail?  Recently the Northwest Economic Research Center (“NERC”) released the results of its first study designed to define what companies constitute Oregon’s EV cluster and measure its strength and economic impacts.

Tom Potiowsky, director of NERC and former Oregon state economist, concluded that: “Our research indicates that the electric vehicle industry generates gross economic activity of $266.56 million, total value added of nearly $148 million and provides more than $89 million in total employee compensation.  The industry continued to grow during the Great Recession, while other transportation industries suffered enormous losses.”

NERC estimated that EV economic activity created a ripple effect, adding 1169 jobs to the economy in addition to the 411 full-time EV jobs.  Tax revenue to the state amounted to $11.9m and $20.8m to the federal authorities.   More importantly, in a little over a year DriveOregon has gotten over forty businesses to join the cluster and leveraged over $2.5 million dollars to date through its matching grants program.

Why has the EV industry taken root in Oregon?  Sophisticated local demand may explain some of this phenomena, a population given to a willingness to try new things for the benefit of themselves and the planet.    Oregon’s skilled workforce, supportive legislative and regulatory policy atmosphere, and a diffuse EV industry structure involved in manufacturing of different types of EVs, parts and components all contribute to its health. But it is more.  It took impassioned individuals and courageous political leadership.

What of the other side of the coin- deployment? What benefits might be achieved through a state’s aggressive measures to foster consumer purchasing of PEVs?

In the UCal-Berkeley study released in September 2012, titled, “Plug-In Electric Vehicle Deployment in California: An Economic Assessment”, focused on providing an economic assessment of the state’s accelerated deployment of PEVs.   Its author, David Roland-Holst, who employs a long-term economic forecasting model, concludes that:

-Light duty vehicle electrification can be a catalyst for economic growth, contributing up to 100,000 additional jobs [in California] by 2030.

-On average, a dollar saved at the gas pump and spent on other goods and services that households want creates 16 times more jobs. (Yes, read that again).

-The majority of the new demand financed by PEV fuel cost savings goes to in-state services.

Individual Californians gain from economic growth associated with fuel cost savings due to EVs, whether they buy a new car or not. Average real wages and employment increase across the economy and incomes grow faster for low-income groups than for higher-income groups.

(Emphasis added.)

In essence the type of savings achieved through PEV adoption are quite different than those expenditures on the fossil fuel supply chain, creating stronger multiplier effects on state product and job creation and providing a positive net value to those states that adopt them.  PEV-related transportation efficiency also stimulates job creation across all economic activities, not just in the  “green collar” sector, through this expenditure shifting phenomenon.  Quite simply, “a dollar saved on traditional energy is a dollar earned by 10-100 times as many new workers.” (p.17)

The importance of these studies should not be underestimated.  They add yet another analytic block to the foundation supporting the business case for society’s investment in PEV technology and adoption and, perhaps most importantly, for the ongoing political support of policies designed to assist its rapid ascent.  When read in conjunction, these studies make clear that we have ever more to gain by the acceptance of EVs then “just” GHG reduction, balancing the grid, and a better driving experience.   We have local jobs to gain and, with them, hope for a sustainable energy future.  For California and Oregon, the gamble appears to be paying off.  Can other parts of the country afford to not to invest in a technology sector whose odds get more favorable all the time?

 

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.

 

 

Energy and Transportation- Oregon Provides Fuel for Thought

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in Oregon’s Ten Year Future Energy Task Force as part of its Transport Design team. Oregon’s  Governor Kitzhaber is endeavoring to make a coherent vision going forward that promotes decreased petroleum consumption and increased economic activity.  This was my first serious task force and I found the exercise both stimulating and daunting.

As a state, Oregon has in place carbon emission reduction policies that require us to reduce our GHG emissions to below 1990 levels by the year 2050.  One way to visualize how we get there is to pick this number and then, using the tools we have, work backwards to see what will get us there.  Which of these tools must we use to reach the goal we have set?   The short answer is that there are a number of tools  we can use  to reach this goal… and we must use all of them .

Enter transportation electrification.  Oregon spends more than $2b per year for transportation fuels. Transportation relies on fossil fuel for 99% of its energy.  As a sector, efficiency and alternative fuel choices have dramatic effects on GHG.  In addition, all the fuel use we displace through these efforts gets translated into money spent domestically and locally.  We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by aligning energy policy behind electric vehicles.

What is the future for Oregon in this? We have four recommendations pending:

  1. Build Oregon into a Center of Excellence for Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS).  We have all the pieces to improve vehicle and freight movement through advanced technology, from the universities and research centers to information technology companies.  Encourage businesses to test new ITS products in Oregon.
  2. Accelerate vehicle and fleet turnover by building the needed alternative fuel vehicle infrastructure with charging stations at home, at work, in public areas and for commercial fleets.  Follow that up with making energy efficient vehicles more visible and more attractive to purchase at the point-of-sale.  This includes the right mix of financial and non-cash incentives to get the older, more polluting vehicles off the road and into the junkyard.
  3. Resolve financing and funding barriers that inhibit the market growth of highly efficient vehicles.  As federal CAFÉ standard increase, zero emission vehicles hit the road and fuel use decreases, there will be challenges to a transportation system funded by gas taxes.  Flexible revenue and financing models will help the state achieve its energy and emission goals.  Current plans such as Complete Streets also need to be funded.
  4. Develop complete communities and re-affirm the benefits of Oregon’s land use system.  Oregon’s transportation and land use strategies have evolved over the last 40 years into a model for strategic planning, community-centered decision­-making and efficient outcomes.  The next 10-to-20 years will require renewed efforts to keep a focus on community development within urban growth boundaries.
These are recommendations, at present, and we await the final draft which then goes out to public comment.  I introduce them to you to get YOU thinking about what matters  during the next ten years- because you will be asked to contribute those thoughts during the spring.  This is, after all,  a process, and not intended only for a select few to issue dictum as part of a “secret cabal”.
So, as you commute from home to work or school and back, as you consider what changes in transportation would make the most difference in your life, make your opinion known.
This is an opportunity to touch the future of transportation, here in Oregon, which is what sustainability-conscious people must do (and I say “must” because our children will have no choice but to live in the world we leave them; wouldn’t it be nice if they had some faith that we considered them in our decisions?)