Tag Archives: EV

It’s inevitable that U.S. consumers will plug into electric vehicles

This post was published in the Portland Press Herald on December 30, 2015:


Major automakers’ pledges to grow model offerings are good news for everyone from patriots to clean-energy advocates.

Old and New: English Linden tree, planted 1774 in Phippsburg, ME, and the BMW i3 made in 2015 and driven by the author

Old and New: English Linden tree, planted 1774 in Phippsburg, ME, and the BMW i3 made in 2015 and driven by the author

The Portland Press Herald recently ran two articles about electric vehicles that might lead a reasonable reader to wonder: What is going on with this technology? On the one hand, Mainers seem ambivalent about driving electric (“Electric car sales sputter as Mainers go for SUVs,” Dec. 6), but on the other hand, large investments are being made to promote it (“Tesla unveils supercharging station in Augusta,” Dec. 16).

Well, Mainers need to understand that change is in the air (as well as electricity). We as a country are poised over the next very few years to embark upon a new path in transportation and energy. There really shouldn’t be confusion about electric vehicles. The only real question is not “Will it happen?” but “How long will we take to let it happen?”

First, let the record show that Maine actually has far more plug-in electric vehicles than staff writer Tux Turkel cites in his coverage of electric car sales. He omitted data on an entire class of vehicles, plug-in electric hybrids, which use both battery and gas systems (such as the Chevy Volt).

What’s more, the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles lacks proper coding classifications for registering plug-in vehicles, causing many of them (including the Toyota plug-in Prius) to be lumped in with combustion-engine versions.

Our best estimate is that we have 1,000 registered plug-in vehicles currently in Maine.

Of course, the much larger story is not how many vehicles we have, but what is coming on the horizon and why it matters. Virtually every major auto manufacturer has pledged to grow its electric vehicle model offerings over the next few years.

Ford recently announced it was allocating $4.5 billion to fund its effort to add 13 plug-in electric vehicle model types, and Nissan, Tesla and General Motors are working to deploy the first affordable 200-mile-range all-battery electric vehicle. These investments in technology are critical to increasing vehicle options and meeting consumer expectations.

Of paramount importance to triggering this disruption and transition away from combustion engines is the improvement in the performance and cost of lithium ion batteries. Battery costs have been coming down 8 percent to 10 percent per year.

Meanwhile, worldwide production of batteries is poised to increase dramatically as a result of large manufacturing facilities being brought online. The Tesla Gigafactory alone may account for a reduction in battery prices of 50 percent or more, with some analysts suggesting that the cost per kilowatt-hour will drop from $250 to $38.

This will address the two biggest issues raised by skeptics: high cost and limited range. The cars do need to get better, and they will. Why is this level of investment occurring in the first place and accelerating? The real attractiveness of electric vehicle technology lies in its potential not just to provide better cars but also to solve a host of economic, social and environmental problems created by our existing reliance on oil.

An increasingly large and diverse group of public and private stakeholders, each with its own missions, are in agreement that this is a superior and more beneficial product.

Consumers find it cheaper and more fun to operate and convenient to charge overnight at home.

Utilities like the idea of growing new demand for electric load (as a counterbalance to emphasizing energy efficiency) and leveraging smart-grid investments to manage that load’s battery storage.

Clean-energy advocates like promoting the electric vehicle-photovoltaic connection, showing how their residential solar array can now power their cars.

State officials like keeping energy money in the local economy and reducing the public health costs of tailpipe emissions.

Patriots like making us less reliant on foreign oil (and not spending blood and treasure protecting it).

Any one of those solutions would be worth noticing, but when they are combined in one package, as they are with electric vehicles, it’s hard to remain ambivalent for long. Especially after you test drive one.


Barry T. Woods is founder and Director of Electric Mobility NE, a Portland-based electric vehicle consulting firm.

Electric Vehicles, Coal & Dirty Electricity

Coal in Stocking

Since it is the Holiday Season, and some traditions continue, such as busting PEVs because they allegedly use dirty electricity and can’t then be zero emission, I include this brief op-ed from last week for your reading pleasure.  The final take away is simple- where you live and how your local utilities get their electricity do play a role in how clean your PEV runs and since most states increasingly support alternative forms of renewable energy, your PEV will likely continue to get cleaner.  So enjoy the season and stop feeling guilty!

Tuesday’s Portland Press Herald Article by Seth Borenstein, titled, “For electric cars, it’s not simple to be green,” offers outdated and misguided commentary on the issue of “dirty” electricity and whether electric vehicles are more of a problem than a solution when it comes to transportation-based emissions.  As a study released by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2012, “State of Charge; Electric Vehicles Global Warming Emissions and Fuel-cost Savings across the United States” concluded, EVs are vastly superior in their emission profiles over most regions of the US.  It boils down to where the electricity comes from.  If you live in the Wyoming where coal is used for base load generation, your EV does contribute to GHG emissions on a par with a combustion engine.  That is one reason why coal-fired power plants are no longer viable for electricity generation and are being moth-balled.  Conversely, if you live in Maine, with an increasingly healthy mix of renewable energy generation sources, including wind, tidal, hydro, solar and biomass and the cleanest grid in New England, operating your electric vehicle is much less carbon intense than your neighbor’s gas-powered car.  The good news is most states, like Maine, have a renewable portfolio standard that has resulted in ongoing efforts to clean up their electricity generation, so an EV actually drives cleaner the longer you own it!  That is not true of your gasoline vehicle.  Mr. Borenstein chooses to highlight the coal connection rather than the clean connection.  I leave you with the final sentence of the PNAS study quoted by Mr. Borenstein, which reads, “Consideration of potential climate change impacts alongside the human health outcomes described here further reinforces the environmental preferability of EVs powered by low-emitting electricity relative to gasoline vehicles.” (Emphasis added).

Maine, and all the New England states, should be proud of their efforts to promote clean electricity and their EV-owners can drive with clear consciences.

Follow this link to go to my actual op-ed.

Which came first, the Chicken or the Egg? The Cars!

chicken or egg1Its hard to be dispassionate about the things we love, but to be successful we must constantly question and search for the truth.

It’s been an interesting week for two reasons.  ECOtality filed for Chap 11 Bankruptcy and GM released a story plans to create a PEV that travels 200 miles per charge and costs $30,000, to rival the success of Tesla.

Let’s discuss both developments.

ECOtality received over $110m from the US Dept of Energy to create the EV Project, designed to deploy private and public charging infrastructure in select U.S. markets in conjunction with sales efforts of Nissan and GM.  Providing Idaho National Lab with data from over 100m electric miles, that aspect of the project has been an unqualified success.  In addition, when the EV Project started, 17,000 PEVS were sold for the entire year (2011)!  By comparison, 10,800 PEVs were sold just during August 2013.  So the average consumer in 2011 didn’t see electric vehicles on the street and had no knowledge of chargers. With the EV Project, we now have regions of the country where charging is available, common and car sales are sturdy and increasing exponentially.  Can ECOtality get all the credit for promoting the technology?  Surely not. But they were an integral part in making charging conspicuous, and worked hard to streamline state regulatory structure, promote supportive policy and simplify  bureaucracy.

The real reason ECOtality’s business collapsed is that people were unwilling to pay for public charging (in Oregon, some of their level 2 chargers were used only 5x per month!), there are still too few cars and PEV owners do not rely on public charging routinely – they can charge at home, at night, daily. So in many ways the collapse of ECOtality is a message to charging station providers who are literally banking on creating large subscriber-based networks as a revenue stream that they best re-think their model. PEVs can be charged conveniently and cheaply at home or the workplace. Public charging needs to offer something competitive: better parking access, free electricity, advertising, features consumers and vendors are willing to support.

As cars improve, the need for a broad-based public charging will diminish. We need strategic DC fast chargers as insurance for those of us who forget to plug in the night before or who travel longer distances. But the longer we wait, the more strategic and appropriate our investments in charging technology will be, on the consumer and EVSE industry level.  The good news is – cars are NOT going away.  In fact, we’re seeing PEV sales at twice the rate of hybrids in their first 3 years.

Had ECOtality failed a year ago, we’d be in a different situation in terms of deployment – because a risk existed that consumers wouldn’t figure out that they really didn’t need public charging to fully use the vehicles. Now that they have,  I predict little impact on car sales as a result of any bad ECOtality press.  As a result we also may well have gotten full value from our meager public investment in the EV Project ($110m is frankly nothing in the scheme of government boondoggles and bailouts).

At the same time that we see the ECOtality business plan unraveling, we see GM brazenly step to the microphone to say it will create a 200 mile range BEV costing $30,000!  Besides the question of “when?,” my first thought was that the 200 mile number is apparently the Holy Grail of PEV range.  My wife and I debate the sweet spot of mileage range to accelerate a mass market for PEVs.  My thought is that a 150 mile range would be the threshold, provided all other costs are equal.  I now see 200 miles gets me to 99.9% of my annual destinations.  I don’t want to drive much more than 200 miles in a day if I can avoid it.  If I can drive 200 miles without needing to stop, the BEV’s usefulness dramatically increases.  This distance probably is sufficient to link most major metropolitan areas together, those sister cities where people commonly visit or commute to and from.  And the gas savings would be extreme.

Three years ago, here in Portland Oregon, we believed we needed the public infrastructure to jump start consumer demand.  Today, I believe we now see the cars are the place to put incentives and emphasis.  If cars arrive, infrastructure will follow organically to meet consumer demand.

ECOtality should be lauded for being first to test the public charging model. Now we are in the position to learn from this failure and push this technology to the next level.