Tag Archives: Level 3

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.

 

 

Fred Meyer Debuts the Fastest Electric Vehicle Charger in the West (and the U.S.)

Today was a momentous day in many respects.  ECOtality sponsored a ceremony at the Hollywood Fred Meyer  in Northeast Portland which is now hosting the first DC fast charging unit installed as part of the EV Project, nationally.  No other state received this distinction.  Considering the scale of the EV Project and the fact that it is rolling out a large number of level two units across the country, this was indeed a historic event.

Among those in attendance were Governor John Kitzhaber, Sen. Jeff Merkeley, Multnomah County Commissioner Chair Jeff Cogen, Fred Meyer’s President Michael Ellis and ECOtality’s President Don Karner.   Pacific Power’s Pat Egan also spoke about the importance of teamwork in getting these units installed within all utility’s service territories.  I got the chance to thank ECOtality’s president for his efforts in helping make Oregon a central figure in the national movement toward vehicle electrification.  We are indebted to private and public figures who see that the future of transportation lies in electrifying vehicles.

The DC fast charger  (Level 3) enables EVs to charge to close to full capacity within the time it takes to fill a normal gas tank; they have been likened to a attaching a firehose of electrons to your car.  These are beefy 440 v (125 amp) chargers using the Chademo charging connection imported from Japan and invented by TEPCO. The unit has a large flat screen which will be used for advertising and providing information to consumers while charging.  The number of Nissan LEAFs on hand was also impressive (I counted twenty) and I witnessed one of the first to plug in at the unit.

Sen Jeff Merkeley is to be congratulated particularly for his national leadership, along with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) in promoting vehicle electrification.  Oregon ships out $6 billion every year to fossil fuel companies, much of it going offshore.  If we can capture even half of that, we will be keeping money in the local economy and making Oregon a better place to live.

Governor Kitzhaber and Sen. Merkeley were also kind enough to speak of Drive Oregon and reference that forty companies in Oregon are currently operating in the EV space.  Drive Oregon is one of the first non-profits, nationally, to be empowered with the mission of promoting a state-based EV industry .  We plan on promoting economic growth, job creation, and commercialization of new EV-related technologies as our long-term strategy.

The sun shone brightly at Freddie’s throughout the ceremony making us all wince involuntarily.  Perhaps a sign that DC fast chargers are a ray of hope in an otherwise cloudy world of combustion.