Tag Archives: DC Fast Charger

What Price Too High? NRG Settlement Highlights Industry Tension

 

Despite the need to remain starry-eyed and romantic about the potential of electrified transportation, it is in the end a business that will either succeed or fail based on profitability.  ECOtality‘s involvement in the EV project allowed the consumer to benefit not only through installation of government subsidized infrastructure but also, and most importantly, as a result of Idaho National Labs access to the data about consumer behavior that will better inform the entire industry.  ECOtality’s interest in sharing is strategic.  It wants to use its early market penetration to give it first mover advantage and capture a larger share of charging station business going forward.  Data is the price it has to pay.

ECOtality’s advantage has now been directly challenged in the largest, and most profitable short- and long-term market: California.

NRG, a Texas-based investor owned utility with an aggressive gameplan for its “Freedom Station” charging network, negotiated a settlement with the California Public Utility Commission that could provide it with an exclusive franchise like entry into one of ECOtality’s most profitable territories.  The seed for this network, bizarrely enough, stems from NRG’s acquisition of Dynegy, Inc., a company rooted in the Enron scandal and found liable for over a billion dollars of overcharges to California consumers.  Rather than having the settlement money be returned pro rata to those consumers, the CPUC negotiated an agreement with NRG. Under the agreement, the company will spend $50 million to build 200 DC fast charging stations, $40 million for electrical infrastructure to support 10,000 level 2 charging stations, $5 million for research into EV charging services, and $4 million to develop EV car-sharing programs.  Here are the specifics:

NRG will also install infrastructure for plug-in units, or “make-readies”, at multi-family housing, workplaces, and public interest sites, which will over time support the installation of Level 1 and Level 2 chargers from all charging companies. Further, to meet the CPUC’s goal of ensuring that the electric vehicle charging infrastructure is available to Californians of all income levels, NRG will ensure that mixed-income housing locations are identified, evaluated, and pursued for the make-readies.

Other provisions of the settlement intended to support the roll out of electric vehicles and expand their availability include:

·        In consultation with The Greenlining Institute, NRG will pay an additional $4 million to support low income car-sharing, workforce training, and related programs;

·        NRG is required to spend $5 million to collaborate with researchers and stakeholders on technical demonstration projects that will test new charging and related technologies;

·        NRG will solicit competitive bids for third-party services and equipment, and will provide preferences for employees that are graduates of pre-apprenticeship training programs applicable to the trade or trades to be performed, as well as provide preferences for hiring and retaining employees from the historically disadvantaged or underrepresented classes, including women, minorities, and disabled veterans; and,

·        The fast-charging stations will be compatible with electric vehicles on the market today as well as new models to be introduced beginning next year. Initially they will all have a CHAdeMO charger and a SAE Level II unit; they will be upgraded to accommodate the forthcoming SAE (Combo) DC standard within six months of when chargers using that standard become commercially available.

“The lack of recharging infrastructure and the concern about the range of electric cars have been identified as a barrier for the proliferation of electric vehicles.  This settlement creates that needed infrastructure, which will open the market to many electric vehicle stakeholders,” said CPUC President Michael R. Peevey.  “Devoting one-quarter of the total settlement value to electric vehicle charging infrastructure is a strong, creative idea that will bring California incalculable public benefits.”

Said Commissioner Mark J. Ferron, “The settlement, in combination with the earlier settlement Dynegy reached with the state in 2004, brings closure to our case against Dynegy for its role in the energy crisis of 2000-2001.  In total, Dynegy together with NRG will have returned to the people of California more than $400 million in consideration.  Of this total amount, three-fourths, or $300 million, will be paid in the form of cash to offset the electric bills of customers in California. The remainder, more than $100 million, will be paid by NRG in the form of electric vehicle charging equipment. This will bring cleaner air, local jobs, and a much needed jump-start on what we expect will be an industry of the future.”

“This settlement captures significant value for California under circumstances where contentious and expensive litigation would otherwise have continued for many years and with uncertain results,” said CPUC Commissioner Mike Florio.  “The CPUC is committed to ensuring that the settlement not only makes electric vehicle infrastructure available to Californians of all income levels, but that it also creates job opportunities for California’s diverse communities.”

The fast charging stations will be owned by NRG’s subsidiary eVgo, which already operates a charging network in Texas. The stations will be compatible with the CHAdeMO charging standard, and will add equipment compatible with the new SAE standard when it becomes official. They will be located in retail areas near highways around the state’s four largest metro areas. Users will pay with a credit card, and the company envisions getting between seven and 15 bucks for a charge.

The network will also include 10,000 level 2 charging station locations, or “Make Readies,” as the settlement calls them. NRG will install the necessary wiring for these sites, then turn them over to property owners. NRG’s eVgo will have the exclusive right to install charging stations for 18 months, after which the sites will be open to competitors.

After trying, unsuccessfully, to get the CPUC to re-open its decision and provide public comment, ECOtality has now filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court alleging  that the PUC made an illegal agreement with NRG  that gives it  18 months of exclusive rights to operate charging stations in certain locations.

“This so-called ‘punishment’ is like a restaurant failing a health inspection then being given an exclusive franchise to open and operate every restaurant in the city, subsidized by public funds,” said ECOtality CEO Jonathan Read. “This is an illegal giveaway, negotiated without public input, that will not only impede the development of the electric vehicle market in California and ultimately cost consumers more — but it also denies California rate-payers any refunds from the nearly $1 billion in overcharging that occurred during the energy crisis.”

NRG spokesman, David Knox, maintains that the settlement benefits California’s entire EV industry. “NRG is making a private investment to build an electric vehicle infrastructure that will encourage electric vehicle adoption across the state to benefit the state of California, the people of California and all the businesses that support the electric vehicle industry.”

Is the NRG’s settlement too high a price for California rate payers?  Is ECOtality’s filing a misstep in the direction of enriching its own business  prospects at the expense of vehicle electrification?  Is the CPUC’s apparent disregard for its avowed policy favoring competitive neutrality instead a “creative solution” to jumpstart infrastructure and in the public’s best interests? Stay tuned.

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!

 

The Journey Down Electric Avenue Begins

Portland State University and PGE co-sponsor a remarkable experiment in electric vehicle charging behavior, called Electric Avenue. Located in Portland at 633 SW Montgomery Street, it displays six level two charging station products (Blink, GE, OPConnect, Shorepower), plus one of the first DC FC installed in the country manufactured by Eaton.  Designated EV only parking spots,warnings are directed to ICE vehicles who nonetheless try to quietly slip into the available spaces with misguided hope that they won’t get ticketed (they will, to the tune of $70.00). Finding parking is such a premium at PSU that many drivers no doubt pull in reflexively.   Opened on August 17th, Electric Avenue featured a flashmob that danced in coordinated t-shirts and steps to the hauntingly obsessive song- “Electric Avenue” by Eddy Grant.

Each day, each week, offers PSU a new opportunity to see how EV users and publicly sited charging stations interact.   Practical issues become apparent.  Does the experimental signage communicate the parking location and restrictions properly? Does the DC FC properly instruct people how to use the connector without breaking the Yazaki Energy Systems manufactured tab.
Do the chargers function appropriately in all types of weather and usage? Do the chargers attract graffiti? Can seven chargers be sequenced on the same street easily?  Is clustering of chargers less expensive and more beneficial to attracting users?  Do people find the location near the streetcar useful?  When does most charging occur and for how long?

Perhaps its most important function is drawing attention to the technology. Students walk past as I connect my LEAF to a charging port.  Some spontaneously taking pictures with their cell phones.  They point. They talk huddled in groups.  They try not to stare.  But there is electricity in air.

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