Category Archives: Transportation

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.

 

 

 

 

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.