Tag Archives: renewable energy

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.

 

 

 

 

Dirty Electricity; The New Oxymoron

A recent Headline from the NYT Sunday paper-How Green are Electric Cars? Depends on Where You Plug In.  suggests that EVs may not be the cleanest form of transportation available and cites a soon to be published Union of Concerned Scientists study.   As an example of the tone- “[W]here generators are powered by burning a high percentage of coal, electric cars may not be even as good as the latest gasoline models — and far short of the thriftiest hybrids.”

(Portland General Electric’s Boardman Coal Fired Plant, now slated to close.)

I re-raise this issue of whether an EV from well to wheel is the greenest transportation alternative because we are now parsing it down region by region, yielding some very interesting variations. See the national graphic found at Carbon In, Carbon Out, Sorting out the Power Grid. For example, Buffalo, NY’s electricity has THE highest per mile equivalency of any region in the country, which means that its kWh generation is the cleanest in terms of carbon emissions and it would take an ICE vehicle having 86 mpg to equal the carbon emission of a Nissan Leaf charging in that region. (Thank you, Niagara Falls) Which zipcode(s) are the worst? Hmm. Think Red States- a swath that cuts from the Dakotas to the midwest to the Southeast.  These are regions heavily reliant on coal generation.  Perhaps most interestingly, Hawaii had one of the worst carbon equivalencies- it would only take a 37 mpg vehicle to equal the carbon emission of a Leaf in Hilo, HI.  Apparently Hawaii needs to accelerate its transition away from non-renewable, imported oil and coal if it is to truly benefit from BEV’s zero emission potential.  And I believe that will happen, as it has adopted several progressive laws incentivizing consumers to buy EVs and landowners to get charging infrastructure in place.  [Note- Denver apparently has a coal problem and is the dirtiest electricity in the country, needing only a 33 mpg vehicle to equal a Leaf.]

But back to the point.  I see that even a 37 mpg ICE is a high efficiency engine compared to the national average, which in 2008 was 25 mpg.  So, even in a region hosting the most dirty electricity out there, in order to beat the emission savings of a Nissan Leaf,  a consumer would still have to buy a small economy car capable of very high mileage.  In most other jurisdictions, few mass marketed vehicles exist (other than a hybrid Prius perhaps 53/46 city and highway mpg) that are capable of attaining the 50 mpg range equivalency.

The transition to renewable energy and away from coal burning plants will continue to raise the mpg equivalencies, region by region. It will also mean that EVs will get cleaner the longer you drive them.  Consider the other benefits.  All the money we spend on electricity, in even the dirtiest jurisdiction, stays in the United States and gets fed into a virtuous loop of economic activity.  Electricity  is domestically produced, comes from diverse and renewable resources and has traditionally been viewed as a quasi-public resource such that it’s pricing structure is extremely stable.  Charging station infrastructure uses an existing electric grid and utilities already have built in excess capacity to meet the load demands of millions of EVs.

We just need consumers (and National newspapers) to start recognizing that clean coal and dirty electricity are both oxymorons.

 

 

 

Zero Means Zero

 

There has been some press lately calling into question the actual carbon footprint of operating a battery electric vehicle (BEV).  There is logic behind this.  Utilities quite commonly generate carbon emissions from their portfolio of generation sources, whether natural gas driven turbines or coal plants.  They (the investor owned utilities like PGE or PacifiCorps) are obligated as regulated monopolies to provide power on demand to our society, no matter that demand’s daily and seasonal peaks and troughs.  As a result they have devised an ingenious system that includes baseload power generation sources (those which can economically and reliably provide most of our power needs, day in, day out) and peaking plants to cover exceptional power needs.  The source of this baseload power is highly dependent on the region served.  The Southeast and Northeast have had little historic choice but to rely on fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, to feed their demand.  They lack cheap, natural resources.  The Northwest has the happy fate of enjoying a deep bench of low or zero emission generation sources starting with the Columbia River Basin Hydro-system (which generates almost 50% of the region’s power depending on snowpack) and extending out into the Gorge through Sherman and Morrow Counties where currently 2300 mWh of wind generation (valued at $4.5b) has been installed.

So how do you respond when someone says an EV’s electrical use is not “clean”?

First, zero emission vehicles are simply defined as emitting no combustion byproducts from their tailpipe.  At this level, and it is a reasonable level, all BEVs qualify as zero emission.  In congested, urban settings, preventing the introduction of additional emissions has tangible environmental and health benefits. Of course, the argument then turns to the generation source of electricity, often located far away from the urban centers who benefit most from the generation,  and whether that contributes CO2 emission and merely displaces its impact to rural settings. An analysis requires each EV owner to be familiar with the source of his/her region’s baseload electrical generation (which you should be able to get directly from your electricity provider.)

“Even in the worst-case scenario where 100 percent of that generation is from coal, there is still a net positive emissions trade-off,” Glenn Stancil  of NRG Energy VP said. A 2007 study found that a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle charged with electricity from a coal plant would result in 25 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than a conventional gasoline vehicle, he said. The study was conducted by Electrification Coalition, a trade group of which NRG is a member.

A study by Jan Kreider, founding director of the University of Colorado‘sJoint Center for Energy Management, found similar results.

It bears noting that EVs are much more efficient in converting energy to movement compared to their gas counterparts, which means they still create less carbon emissions per mile.  In that sense, even if we kept coal and natural gas electric generating plants, and added to them, as a country we would still experience a net decline in carbon emissions if our light-duty/passenger fleet converted over entirely to BEVs.

We can do better.  In the Pacific Northwest we have the unique ability to charge our BEVs with truly clean electric power. Portland General Electric sponsors its Green Source Program, which adds 1.2 cents per kWh on my monthly bill.  For this, I receive a 100% renewable energy mix ranging from low-impact hydro, to wind to geothermal.

Zero can truly mean zero.