Thursday, December 31, 2009

Give Till It Feels Good!

Happy EV Owner
Seven years and 77,700 miles - all on sunlight.

Hey Everybody,

When I started writing this blog, some three years ago, it was an email list sent to our Electric Vehicle Association of Southern California members, and to many of my Plug In America friends. We were all trying to spread the word about these new era plug-in electric cars that were coming soon, and how great they were going to be. Back then, there were few stories to report on, but now, it's a torrent of news. The momentum of money, and the growing understanding of the technology, is evident.

There are now over 1200 of you on this list with new ones added every day. Friends tell friends to start paying attention since buying a car is not something you do every year. The next purchase needs to be the right one. Buying a dirty oil burner just as the electrics are coming on line would be a huge mistake. The next time the oil companies, and those wonderful sheiks of Saudi Arabia, decide to charge $4.50 a gallon, what are you going to do? The trick is, do you wait till 300 million other Americans want an EV, or do you get one now?

We're witnessing history in fast forward. In a few short years, maybe 2014 or 2015, it'll be obvious to everybody that batteries will take over. As the early adapters drive their shiny new EVs home, show them to the neighbors and describe the benefits - and the incredible feeling of driving a quiet, powerful, non-polluting car - word will spread fast. I know Nissan and GM are nervous about how many will sell, but trust me, this is going to be fun.

Having said all that, there is still work to be done. Plug In America has been THE leading organization providing the education of legislators, regulators and the general public on the idea of using cleaner, cheaper, domestic electricity instead of dirty, expensive, foreign oil as the energy that drives our cars.

I've never made an ask like this with my blog, but now's as good a time as any.

We are sending two of our best speakers to the Austin Climate Protection Conference & Expo. We'll have our booth and be speaking on at least one panel, maybe two. We are cutting costs as much as possible, but there are expenses totaling one thousand dollars.

If you feel that having the choice to drive a car that never pollutes is worth anything, if you feel that never giving the oil companies another dime has value to you, then please send what you can to Plug In America (we're a 501 c-3) and help us with this gig. I promise, Marc Geller and I will spread the word to a lot of good Texans!

To contribute, go to

Just for fun: This is our friend and neighbor, Russell, an artist with flair (who also has EV & PV). He painted this mural at our house as a gift to us for our efforts to the cause (can you spot the kitties?). After completing the job, he was so happy he levitated. Never saw that before, but was happy to have a camera at the ready. Thanks Russell!

Thanks everybody, and have a great New Year!


Monday, December 28, 2009

Plug In America’s Top 12 EV Myths

Holidays are great for the extra reading time they provide, right? So if you haven’t read Plug In America’s Top 12 EV Myths, now’s the moment. These Myths, and the Facts that debunk them, have been picked up by media coast to coast including in Jim Motavalli's blog on the Mother Nature Network. You’ll find them on our homepage, too.

Thanks for a great year. I really appreciate any and all who want to learn about EVs and who read my blog. I’m looking forward to the next decade—starting with EVs in showrooms by late 2010—and keeping you up to date on the latest news.

Happy New Year,


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why Solstice Is Special To Me

Winter solstice has always been special to me given it's the shortest day of the year. Even with the short hours, our 3 kW PV system will generate many clean kilowatt hours today, and every day from now till June's summer solstice, we'll generate more as the sun reaches higher in the sky and more photons slam into the panels at 300,000 kilometers per second knocking electrons free from the silicon so they can travel through the copper wires and do the work we need done.

But in addition to the extreme astronomical position, winter solstice just happened to be the day that Zan and I took possession of our EV. Our planet has traveled around the sun 7 times since 2002 and we've driven our EV more than 77,000 miles on the solar-generated kilowatt hours made on our roof. There's a bit of a back story here that many of you on my list might find interesting. I asked Zan to help write this post, given her part in making it all happen.

She said: Seven years ago today Paul and I took delivery of our Toyota RAV4 EV and everything changed. Paul was still somewhat bald from the chemo he’d recently completed to wash away any possible return of the bladder cancer he’d been diagnosed with several months before—and which was the impetus for our going electric. We’d installed solar on our roof shortly after the oncologist had told Paul that there would be nothing to do, no treatment options if the cancer returned. Hearing that, Paul decided not to postpone his life-dreams any longer. A lifelong enviro, his bucket list had photovoltaics at the top. We learned about EVs and the people who love them while searching online for a solar installer.

He said: We bought the system in the fall and the installation just happened to be on my 50th birthday. What a wonderful present! Since it was a small system, the job was completed in a single day. We awoke the next morning to see our electric meter's disk gradually slowing down as the sun crept higher. We watched with glee when the disk stopped spinning and then slowly began spinning backwards. We were, for the first time, generating more energy than we were using and our utility was buying our clean energy to sell to our neighbors. And this was on the shortest day of the year!

As good as that was, we were about to experience better.

She said: Paul connected with a couple of people in our neighborhood who had purchased RAV4 EVs and took one for a test drive. He was immediately sold but now had to sell the wife….He didn’t have much convincing to do and I’ll never forget my first moments in an EV. For starters, I’d never realized how reliant we are on the sound of an engine firing up to know when to step on the gas. But the moment I pulled from the curb—without hearing a sound—I was overwhelmed with joy at the notion that I was finally, finally making a real contribution to the planet. Nothing I’d ever done before had felt sufficient—no recycling, no reusing, no reducing. But driving a car, one of the most environmentally destructive instruments in existence, that didn’t even have a tailpipe? Driving a gas-free, zero-emission mini-SUV fueled with sunshine? That felt like enough and then some. Knowing that if I could buy one now, they’d be available in all makes and models one day - that felt fantastic. That felt hopeful.

He said: Alas, the future we both envisioned for our country, and for the planet, was delayed. The carmakers and oil companies had other plans that didn't involve switching from filthy, dirty oil to clean, renewable electricity. Their considerable financial heft thrown at state and federal government regulators resulted in the near death of the electric car, accurately depicted in Chris Paine's "Who Killed the Electric Car?" But the unrelenting efforts of Plug In America (then known as Don' and its supporters kept the flame alive, and the pressure we continue to apply to the car companies and regulators, combined with a worldwide increase in oil prices, has resulted in an EV resurgence. Every car company in the world is now racing to get their respective plug-in cars to market.

She said: This is truly something to cheer, but the ability to manufacture enough clean cars fast enough to head off the worst of the coming environmental deluge is not looking good. For me, it was never about the car anyway. When the new EVs and plug-in hybrid electric cars come out, I won’t care if they look like rockets or rhinoceroses. What matters to me is whether they can be fueled with renewable electricity generated by sunshine or wind. What matters to me is that scientists are saying that climate change is happening faster than anyone had predicted. What matters to me is that polar bears are drowning because they have to swim longer distances to reach the ice they can rest on.

However, today is not the day to despair, but to celebrate what we can. For starters, Paul’s also been cancer free for well over seven years and the docs say he’s out of the woods. Meanwhile, the work that Plug In America has done, in concert with so many others, has resulted in massive change in a very short time.

He said: So, as the light dims on our seventh solstice, we celebrate what we've achieved and steel ourselves for the fight that continues. Knowing we gain supporters with every day keeps the light shining bright inside our hearts.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fleet Purchases by States Could Kick Start Plug-ins

This is a remarkably well written op-ed by Denis Hayes and Steve Marshall on a little discussed aspect of the economic case for EVs. I strongly recommend you read and pass it along.

This post is essentially an open letter to Washington Gov., Chris Gregoire, asking her to enact a simple plan that will hasten the adoption of plug-in cars. I want you to forward this to your respective governors since the concept is relevant to all 50 states.

Essentially, Hayes and Marshall propose that Gov. Gregoire enact a moratorium on the purchase of new fleet vehicles. Just keep the three-year-old cars a bit longer. This would save several million dollars the first year alone. Then, when the Leaf and Volt enter the market, Hayes and Marshall want the state to buy as many as possible for their fleets with the saved funds, ensuring a strong demand from the start. In other words, "No Plug, No Deal" on a statewide scale!

How to pay for it?

The Washington State Transportation Commission estimates $16 billion leaves the state each year for foreign oil. Every person who fills a tank with gas or diesel sends over 60% of his or her money out of the country. Additionally, the Washington taxpayers spend tens of millions of their money to fuel the state fleet.

This is important because, for every EV that replaces a gas burner, the money spent for the energy to move it stays local - $16 billion dollars in the case of Washington. Imagine what it is for California? For the whole country?

With each plug-in car that's sold, the spigot of money that's going full blast to the oil companies right now, will gradually close, until decades from now, it's shut off entirely. All those billions of dollars that had been lining the pockets and robes of the most evil people on earth - and I don't make that statement lightly - will instead be staying in our own pockets, with a little going to the utilities.

And if you buy or lease a solar system, you can even pay yourself the profit you would be giving the utilities.

What Gov. Gregoire could do on a state level could easily be done across the country. Make no mistake, the economic benefits to us as individuals, and to us as a nation, are massive.


BTW, as I write this, I'm listening to a great promo for the Nissan Leaf on one of my local NPR stations, KPCC. I've been reading and hearing promos for the Volt, too. The media hits for EVs are coming faster and faster. Pretty soon, they'll be all over television.

"Steve Marshall is one of the co-authors of “Plug-in Electric Vehicles” (Brookings Institution Press) and a senior fellow at the Cascadia Center. Denis Hayes, longtime environmental leader and the national coordinator of the first Earth Day in 1970, is President of the Bullitt Foundation."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Friendly Fight on the Left Coast

Over the past few months, we've seen a surge of announcements from the mayors of the four largest west coast cities over which city will be the leader in plug-in cars.

In August, Portland's Sam Adams said:

“This is exactly the kind of clean tech investment that Portland, and Oregon, have fought for, “said Mayor Sam Adams. “I have committed to making Portland a national leader in the EV industry, and with Nissan and eTec, we’re able to move our agenda forward.”

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has challenged Sam Adams over which of their cities will be the nation’s EV capitol.

He also said,

“Electric vehicles have the possibility to transform our economy, revive our car industry, and improve our environment. To make sure electric vehicles succeed this time around we need to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in battery technology and [charging] infrastructure.”

In Seattle, Mayor Greg Nickels, who is arguably the best of the lot when it comes to the environment said,

"I extend an invitation to my fellow mayors to join us. I congratulate Portland and San Francisco for taking major steps to green up their grid while preparing for the electric car revolution. This is an exciting time, and the coming clean energy economy will open up plenty of opportunities for all of our cities to win jobs and investment."

And Mr. "better late than never" Los Angeles Mayor, Villaraigosa, finally joined the group last week at a Bloomberg conference near UCLA saying LA would install 500 charging stations. While this is a good start, it is coming a bit late to the game. Since much of the modern EV movement was birthed from LA companies like AC Propulsion and Aerovironment. you'd think our Mayor would be more engaged. They need to put a team of people together and get busy. There's a lot of work to do.

Which brings me to BYD, the Chinese battery company-turned-EV company. You may recall that Warren Buffett bought 10% of BYD about a year ago. He wants to make Los Angeles the U.S. headquarters for the fast growing EV/PHEV maker. He also sees our city as the most logical starting point to sell his cars.

"BYD Co., the Chinese auto maker part-owned by one of Warren Buffett's companies, is likely to choose the Los Angeles area as the lead market for the electric car it plans to start selling in the U.S. late next year, a senior executive said.
BYD is also leaning toward choosing the West Coast metropolis as home to its U.S. headquarters for the auto business, Henry Li, a BYD senior director in charge of its auto business outside China, said in an interview Wednesday."

All the more reason to get our city ready.


Monday, December 7, 2009

CO2enhagen Daze

As we slide into Nordic overdrive in Copenhagen, my mind bounces like a ping pong ball between cautious optimism and deep despair.

On the one hand, the solutions for reducing CO2 are going to be reasonably easy to do. In the U.S., the waste alone will pay for most of the CO2 reduction. Conservative estimates are that 30% of energy used in the U.S. is wasted. It's probably closer to 50%. From homes and buildings built in the era of cheap energy that bleed heat and cooling, to cars, trucks and SUVs designed to be big and powerful without any regard to aerodynamics, mass or the gross inefficiencies of internal combustion.

It's very easy to downsize vehicles while keeping them safe. And as the bloated ICE age vehicles are gradually replaced by the smaller, nimble electrics, our personal contribution to climate change will diminish to a small fraction of today.

Add to that the enormous gains to be had retrofitting buildings. The millions of retrofitting jobs will be funded, for the most part, by the savings in energy.

The best approach seems to be the one described by James Hansen in an op-ed in today's NY Times.

"Under this approach, a gradually rising carbon fee would be collected at the mine or port of entry for each fossil fuel (coal, oil and gas). The fee would be uniform, a certain number of dollars per ton of carbon dioxide in the fuel. The public would not directly pay any fee, but the price of goods would rise in proportion to how much carbon-emitting fuel is used in their production."

And the coolest part of the idea:

"All of the collected fees would then be distributed to the public. Prudent people would use their dividend wisely, adjusting their lifestyle, choice of vehicle and so on. Those who do better than average in choosing less-polluting goods would receive more in the dividend than they pay in added costs."

This is perfect! You add costs to the dirty fuels that have brought us wars and global pollution, sick and dying people, and despotic regimes run by the most evil people on Earth. You then distribute that money to everyone equally. That way, if you are efficient and use cleaner energy, you will make money. If you are wasteful and use dirty energy, you'll pay money to those treehuggers you hate so much.


It'll work great, too, "if" we get it passed.

I praise James Hansen for writing "Cap and Fade", especially in light of Paul Krugman's column, "An Affordable Truth". Friedman makes the inevitable "practical" case for cap and trade. If all we can get is a watered down C&T, I'll take it, but we'd be once again accepting less from our leaders than we as a society need to progress.

Which bounces me back to deep despair.

Our population is growing fast. When I was a kid in elementary school, we had about 3 billion people on the planet. By the time I graduated high school, it was 4 billion. Well, time stands still for no one and we now find ourselves pushing 7 billion people! And it's growing faster than ever, mostly in countries that cannot begin to care for the millions who will soon die from war, lack of food, or just global indifference.

There's so little time and all our Congress can do is dither.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hansen wants Copenhagen to fail

One of my heroes is climate scientist, James Hansen. He's been the most effective activist advocating for reduced emissions of CO2 in the world.

I'm not going to give you my take on this other than to say - read it.

"This is analagous to the issue of slavery faced by Abraham Lincoln or the issue of Nazism faced by Winston Churchill," he said. "On those kind of issues you cannot compromise. You can't say let's reduce slavery, let's find a compromise and reduce it 50% or reduce it 40%."


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Confessions of An Economic Hitman - Interview with the Author

Many of you have no doubt heard of the book, "Confessions of An Economic Hitman" by John Perkins. Essentially, Mr. Perkins was recruited to work for the World Bank and organizations like USAID to convince certain developing nations to become indebted to the World Bank in order to develop infrastructure (roads, utilities and the like) that mostly benefited the wealthy of those countries and ultimately neutralized them politically while enabling extractive industries, mostly oil, to take all they wanted.

Over the years, Perkins had a change of heart as he saw the results of his work. He is a brave man to have written the book given the stakes involved. His detailing of the inner workings in this two-part interview is riveting.

What does this have to do with EVs and energy? Knowing how the world economy is manipulated by these truly evil people, and that much of their wealth stems from oil that you buy, will give you that much more of a reason to make the switch to domestic renewable energy when given the chance next year.

Part I:

Part II:


Friday, November 13, 2009

Nissan's Leaf falls gently to Earth in LA

Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault/Nissan, was on hand to introduce the new Nissan Leaf electric car this morning at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. A large crowd of media and EV enthusiasts were on hand to drive the Nissan Versa test vehicle sporting the electric drive train of the Leaf.

The Versa is very close in size and weight of the Leaf, so the driving characteristics are pretty much what you'll see in the Leaf itself when Nissan brings it to market next fall.

Acceleration was quite good even when going uphill with the weight of three adults. Nissan's Larry Dominique says 0-60 is under 10 seconds, quick enough for most folks. Regenerative braking will be automatic with two levels, a very mild deceleration similar to what you feel when you lift your foot from a gas pedal in an internal combustion car, and a slightly stronger regen you can employ by moving a lever. It wasn't clear if the car will be enabled to "freewheel" like my RAV. For hypermilers such as myself, freewheeling is very important. I assume they'll incorporate it eventually if it's not already there.

I found the car to be a bit more attractive in person than in the photos. It's distinctive without being bizarre. The lines are clearly drawn with a low drag coefficient in mind and this accounts for the ability to average about 4 miles per kWh.

The car comes equipped with a lithium manganese battery pack made by Nissan partner, NEC. The capacity is a mere 24 kWh, 3 less than my RAV's NiMH battery holds.

The first model year comes equipped with a 3.3 kW charger that will upgrade to a 6.6 kW charger in the next model year. I confirmed that you will be able to upgrade the 3.3 to a 6.6 charger should you want to (trust me, you will want the faster charger). The Leaf will also be able to charge from a 50 kW DC charger as well. Nissan intends to install 50 of these fast chargers throughout California next year in anticipation of the cars coming to market. Fast charging will allow you to greatly extend your range without having to wait for a long charge.

This picture shows the two charge ports located under the Nissan badge in the front of the car. Level 1&2 charging will happen with the plug on the right, and level 3 fast charging with the plug on the left.

Ghosn confirmed rumors that Nissan would sell the car, but lease the battery. This initially troubled me given the problems we had a few years back when GM, Toyota and others recalled the leased EVs to destroy them, but the logic of leasing the battery works in this case.

Nissan expects to sell the car for about what a comparable gas burner would cost, somewhere in the neighborhood of $30K (this price is before the $7,500 federal tax credit and any applicable state tax credits). The gas burner would, of course, need gas, oil changes, tune ups and smog checks, so you need to add those operational costs to the total lifetime cost of ownership. With the Leaf, you pay about the same for the car, but the battery lease payment, combined with the kWh you buy to charge the battery, will be about the same or slightly less than the gas costs for the internal combustion car. You also get numerous other privileges with the Leaf, such as never spending a single minute at a gas station, no tune ups or oil changes - and the big one - you get to drive without guilt.

Ghosn is the first CEO of a major car maker to mention the guilt line. That's because he's the first to offer a car that can be driven on 100% renewable electricity. One of the journalists in attendance offered that he had coined a great marketing tag with his comment about guilt-free driving. I expect we'll see that in the ad campaign once they get it cranked up.

I have to say, this was a very satisfying event. Instead of Plug In America showing up with protest signs like we used to do, we now get to come to these great events where progressive companies like Nissan are making high quality electric vehicles and rushing to get them to market. I heard a rumor that Nissan will start taking reservations in February. You'd be smart to go to their website and give them your name now.

Lots of Plug In America members were there. In this picture, we see PIA documentarian, Stefano Paris, Director, Chris Paine, political gadfly extraordinaire, Dency Nelson, myself and the one and only Chelsea Sexton. Chelsea, by the way, was THE hot interview of the day. Virtually all the media wanted her opinion of the Leaf. From what I heard, she liked it every bit as much as I.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A "Peak" Into the Future - Not So Pretty

As if we needed anything more to worry about, we read today in The Guardian that the U.S. has pressured the International Energy Agency to lie about the level of worldwide oil reserves. Ostensibly, this was done because revealing the true level of reserves would cause a financial panic since, well, we don't have much of an alternative to turn to.

"The world is much closer to running out of oil than official estimates admit, according to a whistleblower at the International Energy Agency who claims it has been deliberately underplaying a looming shortage for fear of triggering panic buying.

The senior official claims the US has played an influential role in encouraging the watchdog to underplay the rate of decline from existing oil fields while overplaying the chances of finding new reserves."

This is important because once the economy improves, and it becomes apparent that global oil production cannot meet increased demand, the radically increased price will wreak havoc with the world's economies. We're already weakened from the Great Recession. A dramatic run up in the price of oil will cause many jobs to disappear overnight just as consumer goods, food and energy costs rise.

And we're what, still a full year from the first wave of plug-ins to come to market?

I'll be curious to see how the media plays this one. Do they ignore it, or do they begin to inform people that we're about to go up a stinky creek, and um, you better take a paddle with you.

"A second senior IEA source, who has now left but was also unwilling to give his name, said a key rule at the organisation was that it was "imperative not to anger the Americans" but the fact was that there was not as much oil in the world as had been admitted. "We have [already] entered the 'peak oil' zone. I think that the situation is really bad," he added."

If that comment doesn't send a chill down your spine, you should read it again.

This report should make the front page of every newspaper, but I fear it will be buried.

All I can say is we better push for viable plug-in cars to get to market sooner than later. Everyone reading this blog should pay close attention to who's making what kind of EV and be ready to act when they do get to market. Once the peak is evident, it'll be too late to get one at MSRP.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

GM Insider Admits Company Knew Consumers Demanded Efficient Vehicles Decades Ago

I try to only talk about the future of EVs here, but this story from the past got my attention.

It's from a blog called All Cars Electric and is titled "GM Insider Admits Company Knew Consumers Demanded Efficient Vehicles Decades Ago."

This is a pretty astounding admission.

"As McManus said, "The survey would estimate that people would estimate fuel economy fairly highly. Being a good economist, I said, 'No, they don't,' and I changed the results. [...] Our job was not to seek the truth, but to justify decisions that had already been made."

So, as we go forward toward this new electric future, keep in mind that when big dollars are involved, you can expect that not everything the car makers, the utilities and even the regulators tell us is going to be true.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Electric vehicles are charging up the automotive industry: Mainstream Media takes heed

Now that we're in the last year prior to the release of several EVs and plug-in hybrids, the mainstream media is beginning to cover the story. The LA Times' Ken Bensinger wrote in Sunday's business section a fair and thorough account of the trials and tribulations we'll encounter as the cars begin to roll out this time next year.

I'd take issue with the comment about replacement batteries costing so much they'll "wipe out the entire cost savings of having a hybrid in the first place," according to a hybrid owner having to replace a battery after 9 years. All one needs to do is consider how much gas will cost in 9 years, or how much battery costs will go down in the same period.

SCE's Ed Kjaer makes a good point saying, "Plug-in cars are not for everybody at this point." He went on to explain that not everyone currently has access to electricity where they park their cars at night. It's also true that the number of EVs and PHEVs will only be in the tens of thousands the first two years, so we're not talking about a lot of cars for some time to come, plenty of time to get the public charging going.

We're used to having minimal public charging for our RAV since it can only use a proprietary inductive charger. We can't even use the ubiquitous 120V plugs that are everywhere. For us, this has not been a big problem. The thousands of charge stations planned for installation over the next couple of years will be more than enough for the early adopters. My wife, Zan, says "people ought to take Prozac to get rid of their range anxiety. It's just not a big deal." She's right.

The print edition had great photos of a dozen cars coming within the next two years, some of them, like the Coda, starting next summer. You can access them on line here. For a more thorough compendium of the coming plug-ins of all types, see Plug In America's vehicle tracker.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Internalize the Externalities!

The cost of driving your gas car and powering your house just got quantified a little better.

And you thought it was just those numbers on the Chevron sign:~)

Whenever I give talks about EVs and renewable energy, I invariably get asked about the price of both. My solar customers ask how long it takes to pay off the photovoltaic system, and those I encourage to buy the coming EVs ask how much they'll cost compared to similar gas burners. These are legitimate questions, of course, but I'm always left with having to explain that the "price" of these things does not reflect the "cost".

"Internalize the Externalities"

That should be a bumper sticker that all enviros use to get across the idea that dirty fuels are not priced according to their true costs. This NY Times article discusses a Congress-authorized study by the National Academy of Sciences that took into consideration some, but not all, of the external costs of fossil fuels.

It turns out that the burning of the two worst fuels, coal and oil, accounts for about $120 billion each year in health costs. The study was very conservative in detailing the costs. They left out any costs attributable to climate change as "too uncertain to estimate" for instance.

"Nor did the study measure damage from burning oil for trains, ships and planes. And it did not include the environmental damage from coal mining or the pollution of rivers with chemicals that were filtered from coal plant smokestacks to keep the air clean."

"“The largest portion of this is excess mortality — increased human deaths as a result of criteria air pollutants emitted by power plants and vehicles,” said Jared L. Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, who led the study committee."

The number of deaths is about 20,000 - EACH YEAR!

How many died on 9/11? What was our response to those deaths?

Specific costs for coal varied depending on whether it was a newer coal plant with modern pollution controls or an older pollution-belching behemoth. The newer plants were assigned 3.2 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). The older coal plants were assigned 12 cents/kWh, more than the 10.4 cent national average retail price for a kWh! Keep in mind that these costs would be added to the cost of a kWh that you are currently paying. Consult your utility bill to see how many kWh you use each month and do the math.

Oh, how I would love to bid solar systems against those costs!

As for gasoline, the costs range from 23 to 38 cents/gallon. The study also left out the costs of using the military to protect oil imports. One could assume that at least some of the costs associated with the war in Iraq should be attributed to the use of oil. And there's lots more military involvement associated with oil than just that war.

So, as the fight in the Senate over the energy bill heats up, let's all keep this study in mind and use it to refute those who claim there is no justification for putting a price on pollution. When they make the claim, ask them how much the lives of their children are worth. Make them answer the question.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The William Kamkwambe story

A few years ago, a 14 year old boy from Mastala, Malawi read a book about windmills. His village had no electricity with which to access radios or the internet, so he decided to build a windmill himself to improve his community's quality of life. Using the pictures in the book as a guide, he built a working windmill that now powers lights, radios and the internet.

His story is inspirational on many levels. When you see someone from the poorest of classes achieve something this useful on his own, it makes you realize how much of humanity is wasted on frivolous pursuits, or worse, harmful actions. How many more William Kamkwambes are there in the world who only need a little inspiration and access to education in order to help build a better world?

Renewable energy is more than merely a cost effective solution. It's a solution that can enable communities to become more self reliant without resorting to poisoning our environment and enriching evil men.

For the Jon Stewart fans among us, William is tonight's guest. See The Daily Show for more.

** I just saw the Daily Show segment with William. I strongly urge you to see it. Go to the site and watch it all the way to the end. The final comment about Google is pitch perfect.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

AltCar #4 The Last of its Kind

I spent both Friday and Saturday at the AltCar Expo in Santa Monica. This convention has been showing alternative vehicles to the public for four years now, but little in the way of highway capable cars that the masses can buy.

On Friday night, Gov. Schwarzenegger dropped by with an entourage that included CARB Chair, Mary Nichols, and former CA EPA head, Terry Tamminen, the subject of an earlier blog. I watched as the Gov spoke about his Hydrogen Highway with a smug Tamminen beside him. I had to bite my tongue.

At least the Gov was able to see that the rest of the show included plug-in vehicles almost exclusively, and by the time he left, my hope was that batteries had mostly replaced pie-in-the-sky fuel cells in his mind.

As for the show, it was smaller than last year, both in attendance and vehicles. However, there was a palpable feeling in the crowd that wasn't there in years past. Everyone seemed to understand that this was the last AltCar at which you would not be able to buy a highway capable EV from a major OEM. Thus, the countdown has commenced. By the time of next year's AltCar Expo, several major, and a few minor, car makers will have vehicles in the market.

As a testament to this, the parking lot had a sprinkling of Teslas and Mini Es. I expect that next year's event will have much, much more.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Terry Tamminen is "mythtaken"

Terry Tamminen, an environmentalist best known for convincing Gov. Schwarzenegger to build the "Hydrogen Highway" to provide a refueling infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), has been discounting EVs for years. For a time, Tamminen was head of the California EPA where he had the power to push technological solutions to our energy and pollution problems. During his tenure, he pushed hard for FCVs while claiming to be technologically neutral, however he gave nothing more than lip service to battery EVs.

In this essay, he makes many allegations that just don't stand up to scrutiny. Please see my comments below.


The Myth of Battery Cars
Terry Tamminen -
September 8, 2009

"As the world beats a path to Copenhagen for the December 2009 UN meeting to craft a new deal on climate change solutions, one of the biggest challenges remains our addiction to oil. About 40% of global greenhouse gases come from oil, when you include exploration, development, refining, transportation, and combusting it. A few years ago, the US government hailed corn-based ethanol as the alternative/savior, but when food prices skyrocketed because of a misguided policy to subsidize farmers (and when science showed the greenhouse gas benefits were small or non-existent), the rush was on to find another magic bullet.

Now the US government, led by Energy Secretary Steve Chu, has put on their Don Quixote armor again and is pouring lots of taxpayer dollars into batteries for cars. While I am the first to say there will be no silver bullet, only silver buckshot - - we need ALL alternatives to oil - - it's time to dump the battery-powered car in the same policy landfill as corn-based ethanol."

** Here is Tamminen's first "mythtruth". George Bush poured hundreds of millions of federal dollars into FCVs and Tamminen convinced Gov. Schwarzenegger to spend tens of millions of CA tax dollars on top of that. Fuel cells were clearly the chosen technology. Virtually nothing was given to EVs at the state or federal level. If Tamminen truly believed we needed "
ALL alternatives" he would have supported battery EVs with the same gusto he reserved for his favored fuel cells. **

"First, Chu admitted to Congress that it would take billions of R&D funding and many years to develop batteries that are practical for cars in everyday use. He was being optimistic, given the laws of physics - - there's only so much you can reduce the weight and charging times for batteries, not to mention the scarce and toxic materials needed to produce them. And car engineers spend lifetimes taking a few pounds out of a car to make it more fuel efficient, regardless of how it is powered. Why would we want a fleet of inefficient cars that carry around half a ton of excess luggage?

** Tamminen likes to portray BEVs in the same light as FCVs, that they aren't ready yet and need lots of R&D to make them so. What he fails to understand is that BEVs are viable now. The batteries do not need R&D to make them practical in everyday use. As thousands of drivers will attest, the production EVs made by GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda and Nissan over a decade ago were quite practical, and in the case of the Toyota RAV4 EV and Ford Ranger, very long lived. We don't know how long the other cars would have lasted since they were destroyed after only a few year's service. BTW, Tamminen did nothing to stop the destruction of those EVs.

As for "scarce and toxic materials" Tamminen is employing scare tactics worthy of the birthers since he knows that there are plentiful supplies of lithium and nickel. The toxic notation is laughable since lithium can be ingested and nickel is considered at worst, mildly toxic. Most importantly, the batteries will have a long life after their use in cars as a storage medium for off-peak energy that can be used for on-peak loads. This is a valuable aspect of batteries that Tamminen should know, but for some reason, he refuses to admit. **

"Second, this notion that battery cars require no new infrastructure is nonsense. A recent article in Science magazine highlighted the need for more powerplants, transmission lines, and home/office chargers to serve even a small % of the transportation fleet, if it was dependent on battery recharging. As an example, the Tesla battery sports car takes 37 hours to recharge with normal household current and 8 hours if you install a special high-voltage charger that costs thousands of dollars. Moreover, on a hot July day in California, if even a few hundred thousand of the state's 30 million vehicles were attached to the grid, the overloaded system would routinely blackout unless it was upgraded at the cost of billions. Battery car enthusiast Shai Agassi announced he intends to bring his battery cars to San Francisco and would build 250,000 charging stations around the Bay Area alone - - does that sound like new infrastructure to you?"

** Tamminen is way off base with his conclusion that we'll need new power plants to handle the additional load from EVs. The Department of Energy studied this issue a few years ago and concluded that 73% of the American fleet can charge during off peak hours at night without the need to add any new generating capacity. This is over 180 million vehicles!

The charging infrastructure will certainly need to be built out, but this is trivial compared to establishing a network of hydrogen stations. Well over half of all vehicles in the U.S. are parked at night proximate to electric wiring. Federal tax credits are available to offset some of the cost of hiring an electrician to install a plug. There will need to be some replacement of transformers in neighborhoods, but this is no different from when houses are expanded, pools are installed and millions of plasma TVs using triple the energy of a regular TV are bought. Swimming pool pumps use enough energy to drive an EV a good 30-50 miles per day. As a former pool boy, Tamminen should know this.

The comment about charging times for the Tesla is just plain wrong. Tesla's high power charger operates at 240V 70A, which means it can charge the 53 kWh battery pack in 3.5 hours. That's 68 miles of range per hour of charge. This, by the way, is how you look at charging times. I always see articles about EVs saying they take 8 hours to charge. We never consider how long it takes to charge empty to full, we only consider how far we have to go and how long we need to charge for. But since we can start every day with a full battery, it's rare that we ever need to charge during the day. **

"Third, range matters. Yes the average commuter may only need 30 or 40 miles a day, something they can get from batteries today, but many people live in multi-family apartments and have no access to a charger on a daily basis. Many more can only afford one car and want one that can go longer distances when needed. I recently drove 150 miles to Palm Springs from Los Angeles in my hydrogen powered electric car (the hydrogen is converted to electricity by the fuel cell, which powers the same electric motor as a Tesla or any other electric car). I refueled in 7 minutes and was ready to return that afternoon. The Tesla or any other battery car available today would still be at the recharging station 30 miles short of Palm Springs, not to mention the problem of getting back in the same day.

** Here is where Tamminen really stretches credulity. He knows EVs are not for long distance driving, yet he tries to create a straw man to show they are inadequate for such a trip. Even worse, he's showing his ignorance of current level three charging from the likes of Aerovironment. They have been making chargers that can pump a 30 kWh pack full in less than 20 minutes. All it would take is for these chargers to be purchased and distributed along our freeways. In town, most of the charging will be done at the thousands of convenience chargers that are soon to be installed.

Taminnen also fails to mention his hydrogen car used a full 3-4 times the energy a battery EV would use to make the same trip. This is the ugly secret hydrogen supporters never want to discuss.

Folks who need to drive long distances on a regular basis will opt for the plug-in hybrid. The Chevy Volt is such a car. With a 40 mile range in EV mode, and a 300 mile range in gas mode, this type of vehicle can serve as an only car for any purpose. **

"Battery enthusiasts say we will have swapping stations, so in a few minutes you can drop off discharged batteries and pick up full charged ones. Maybe, but then every car will essentially have to have multiple sets of batteries made for it, so there are enough to go around at swapping stations awaiting the need. What does that take in terms of resources and greenhouse gas pollution in the manufacture (and ultimate disposal) of all of those batteries?"

** Here, Tamminen is correct. Battery swapping, as Better Place envisioned, is a non-starter. His comment about battery disposal is wrong, however. See my previous post about that. **

"Fourth, size matters. There's a reason that battery cars so far are all small. Tesla chose the sports car because it was cool and would brand their company, but also because it is small and light which helps with range (even so, the range is far less than 200 miles). Other car companies toying with battery cars are focused on very small sedans for the same reason. Anyone who needs a larger car or truck will have a very long wait to get one powered by batteries."

** Professor Andy Frank of UC Davis has converted several large SUVs, like the Chevy Suburban, to plug-in hybrids, and they not only get amazing mileage, but they perform better than the original vehicles. When we held our EV parade in January in Santa Monica, we had a Hummer H2 that was converted to be fully electric. We also had a fully electric Balqon truck capable of hauling 60,000 lbs.!

But Terry is right that EVs will mostly be small. Gas cars will be small, too, when the costs of gas are fully internalized in the price. Smaller, lighter cars use less energy no matter its source. This is basic physics. If Terry, or anyone else, wants to waste energy, there will be plenty of car companies willing to build them a wasteful car to drive.

And Terry, the range of the Tesla Roadster is 244 miles. **

"Finally, how the electricity is produced will determine how clean battery power is, which is also true of hydrogen production. The need to build all of the new infrastructure, batteries (maybe multiple sets), and charging stations has to be added into that lifecycle analysis, otherwise we're making the same mistakes we made with ethanol - - a mirage of sustainability by looking only at the end use."

** This is a key paragraph. Fuel cell proponents like Tamminen always use the national grid statistics (50% coal) for the energy used to charge an EV's battery, but then say that the hydrogen for their FCVs will come from renewable sources of electricity. This is the big lie they have been perpetuating for years. The truth is that a well made battery EV will use 3-4 times LESS energy than a FCV to do the same job. If you charge the battery from coal fired electricity, then you have to compare that to getting the hydrogen from the same electricity source.

The reason George Bush promoted FCVs was because the hydrogen will be controlled by the oil companies. They will sell you the hydrogen for your car just like they sell gas and diesel now. If the oil companies truly believe this is a practical technology, then they should be spending their billions in profits to build the hydrogen infrastructure. They shouldn't be asking taxpayers to build it for them.

People with EVs can generate kWh from the sunlight falling on their roof. It's simple, clean and cost effective.

Terry Tamminen is a respected environmentalist. Why he has chosen to taint his legacy by pushing the oil companies' agenda is a mystery. The fact that he chose to write this outrageous essay so full of myths about electric vehicles, just as they are gaining traction throughout the world, is suspicious. Maybe he'll write a response and tell us why. **

Friday, September 4, 2009

Battery value in the afterlife

This story is about the economics of EVs, but it addresses a mostly unknown aspect that is only recently getting some attention.

What is the value of the battery pack when it can no longer give you the service you require?

"Lithium-ion batteries have a limited number of charge cycles in electric vehicles, but once a car’s battery pack goes kaput, it can be recycled or find new life in less demanding applications — storing renewable energy generated during off-peak hours, for example."

This is precisely what Ed Kjaer of SoCal Edison told me when I toured the SCE "smart garage". The large battery packs will have a long afterlife storing kWh from off peak charging at night in your garage or anyplace you can safely store the batteries. In the near future, we will all be on Time of Use (TOU) utility rates, so any energy we use during peak load times will be much more expensive than energy used at night.

Charging these large battery packs at night on 8 cent/kWh energy and using it to offset 40 cent energy the next day could prove quite lucrative. Therefore, when you replace your EV's battery pack with a new one after 7-10 years, the old pack may be worth hundreds, or even thousands of dollars as a storage pack in your house, or at a commercial building where many packs are strung together. It's this value that Nissan, and everyone else, wants to know.

This "afterlife" value affects the cost of EV ownership in a positive way since any value attributed to the battery pack increases the value of the car at the end of the lease, or when a used car is sold.

Nissan wants to take advantage of this value by offering to finance the cars themselves, at least for the initial rollout. As Josie Garthwaite astutely observed in her article, this will let Nissan set the residual value higher based on its internal assumptions of the battery's value and longevity which will mean a lower lease price.

A potential downside was highlighted in the article when Larry Dominique, VP of product planning for Nissan, was quoted saying, "We want to be able to control the residual value; we want to be able to control the end value, so at the end of a lease or loan we have the vehicles back and we can decide what to do with them."

Whoa! I had a flashback to March, 2005 on the rainy sidewalk in front of the Burbank GM facility when GM hauled 12 truckloads of EV1s to the crusher. I'm sure Nissan would never do such a thing-again. All the same, I would encourage Nissan, and all the other carmakers, to always offer the option to buy the cars outright. Those of us who understand the EV and how to operate it, may think it's a better bet to own that battery. We at least want the option.

Speaking of taking EVs back after the lease expires, I'm already hearing talk of some action against BMW should they decide to take their wonderful Mini Es away and destroy them after the one-year-only lease program. Whatever happens with those cars, it'll happen in time to be included in Chris Paine's upcoming "Revenge of the Electric Car".


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Storing wind energy

As most you reading this blog know, renewable energy is an integral part of the move to electric vehicles. Even though studies show that charging an EV from the existing grid is still much cleaner than driving a gas car, the goal is to run our cars on renewable electricity to the extent possible. One of the drawbacks to renewable energy is the intermittency of solar and wind. While this isn't much of a problem with solar since the peak demand for electricity closely follows solar production, it is a problem for wind. Wind is typically strongest at night when the grid has considerable excess capacity and prices are low.

Storing this low cost energy for the following day is therefore of great value to the utilities. Not only does it allow them to add to their portfolio of renewables, which they must do to meet ever more stringent environmental laws, but it can reduce the need to use expensive natural gas "peaker" plants.

Southern California Edison (SCE), the largest investor owned utility here in SoCal, has applied for a Department of Energy grant to utilize a massive battery storage unit supplied by MIT start up, A123 Systems, in an 8,000 sq ft building in the Tehachapi region of California. SCE intends to have as much as 4,500 megawatts of wind energy in this region by 2015. Plug-in vehicles will be charging mostly at night and will therefore constitute an ever growing market for this energy, but the numbers will be small for some time to come. It's necessary to store as much of this energy as possible so that we don't end up with the same problem they have in Texas and other states with their prodigious wind farms generating so many kiloWatt hours that the market can't absorb them and the price drops to zero. With daytime costs of kWh reaching into the 30-40 cent range, it make sense to store this clean energy for use during times of peak load.

See the whole story here:

On a related note, northern California's Pacific Gas and Electric, has applied for a grant to study the use of compressors to pump air into underground storage reservoirs with this excess night time wind energy, then using the stored compressed air to turn turbines the next day to generate kWh for peak demand. Same idea, different storage mechanism.

It remains to be seen how efficient these two techniques will be, but it's a good use of our federal tax dollars in my opinion.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

BYD to come early to U.S. EV party

My good friend, Bill Moore of EV World, reports that China's BYD (Build Your Dreams) is planning on bringing their E6 EV to the U.S. market a full year ahead of time to compete with the roll out of Nissan's Leaf and GM's Volt. As reported earlier, BYD is the Chinese battery company that decided to build cars around it's Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries. They were the first in the world to begin selling a plug-in hybrid version (only in China so far), and now this pure electric version is expected to hit showrooms in the U.S. some time next year.

Warren Buffet's purchase of 9.9% of BYD last year catapulted the company to global prominence in the car world, especially after BYD stated that it intended to become a world leader in electric vehicles.

The specs on this crossover are pretty remarkable: 0-60 in less than 8 seconds, top speed of 100 mph, and get this, a range of 250 miles. I want to see this for myself, of course, but if it's even close, this is going to be a nice car. Let's hope the fit & finish is decent.

"According to the Wall Street Journal, the price of the car will be $40,000, which seems to be the current "sweet spot" for the first generation of consumer-available electric cars. This is right around the range Coda has been hinting at for their Chinese-made electric sedan."

This figure will be diminished by the $7,500 federal tax credit as well as some state tax credits (check your local listings). Additionally, the low cost of operation allows for even greater savings since electricity is generally sold for the equivalent of less than a dollar a gallon.

I think it's noteworthy that not only are more carmakers getting into the game, but now we're seeing timetables for bringing them to market accelerate. This can only be a good thing.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Toyota's Gamble

The New York Times reported today that Toyota could be falling behind its rivals in the race to go electric. They specifically mentioned rivals Mitsubishi, Nissan, Tesla and GM, but could have listed a dozen others (see Plug In America's EV Tracker for a complete list).

“The time is not here,” Masatami Takimoto, Toyota’s executive vice president, said during a factory tour this year. Electric cars “face many challenges,” he said, adding that “to commercialize pure E.V.’s, we need a battery that far exceeds the current technology.”

Coming from a VP of Toyota, this is an absurd comment. I'm still driving a Toyota-made EV that was designed over a decade ago. Hundreds of these RAV4 EVs continue running perfectly, and I can assure you these are not secondary vehicles but the primary vehicle for the families that own them. To make a comment like this doesn't show ignorance, there's something else behind it.

“In a world where vehicles run on electrons rather than hydrocarbons, the automakers will have to reinvent their businesses,” Russell Hensley, an analyst at the consulting company McKinsey, told clients in a recent report.

True statement.

"Toyota executives rattle off reasons to be skeptical of electric cars: They do not travel far enough on a charge; their batteries are expensive and not reliable; the electrical infrastructure is not in place to recharge them."

How far is far enough? Over 80% of American drivers don't exceed 40 miles a day. Tens of millions never drive long distances, and of those who do, a plug-in hybrid would suffice.

The batteries are costly, I'll give him that, but the prices are getting lower every day. As for not reliable, of all the RAVs Toyota has put on the road, virtually none have had battery failures. The batteries are exceptionally reliable.

This last bit about the infrastructure is laughable. The electric grid is everywhere. The cost and effort to install a charge station in a garage or driveway is minimal. The public charging will be built out as the cars are delivered. I recently attended a stakeholder's meeting at Plug In 2009 in Long Beach, CA where utilities, automakers and city planners were all discussing how they were going to build out home, workplace and public charge stations over the coming years. Toyota wasn't in the room. Maybe they should attend these conferences. They'd learn a lot and maybe stop making such boneheaded statements.

"Even when electric cars are sold widely, the company says, they will be suitable only for short trips and serve a decidedly niche market."

Short trips constitute the vast majority of all trips. A car suited for short trips of less than 100-200 miles per day does not serve a niche market, it serves the majority market.

"Meanwhile, Toyota’s new president, Akio Toyoda, has become a big promoter of the company’s fuel cells, which he calls the “ultimate” technology."

A huge mistake!

“You don’t see many competing technologies survive in a key market for very long,” said Mr. Shimizu, the Keio University professor.

And more often than not in the history of innovation, a change in the dominant technology means a change in the market leader.

“Electric cars are a disruptive technology, and Toyota knows that,” Mr. Shimizu said. “I wouldn’t say Toyota is killing the electric vehicle. Perhaps Toyota is scared.”

Here's what I think. Toyota is working feverishly on an EV to compete with Nissan's Leaf. They are going to release the plug-in Prius late next year to compete with the Volt. In the meantime, they'll make public statements about how the batteries and the infrastructure aren't ready to try and damp enthusiasm for plug-ins so they can continue to sell their hybrid models to the very demographic who are likely plug-in buyers. Then watch what they say when they hit the market with their own EVs.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Coda Review

On Saturday, Kevin Czinger, CEO of Coda, the new American car company that split off from Miles Automotive, brought the prototype of their new highway capable EV to our Electric Vehicle Assoc. meeting in Diamond Bar, CA. I have been following this car for over three years since hearing about it in the spring of 2006. Back then, I was told it would be available in a couple of years, but as these things go, it's still a year from delivery. Kevin assured us delivery would begin in August of 2010, putting this one ahead of both Nissan's Leaf and the Chevy Volt. He said they plan on selling about 2,000 units the first year thinking that will break into 40% fleet sales and 60% private. In year two, they will be prepared to make up to 20,000 cars.

The Coda's styling isn't going to turn heads on the highway, but since I often get asked why EVs have to look "so weird", I expect the vanilla styling will suit quite a few folks just fine. It's along the lines of a Toyota Corolla in size and looks. The fit and finish was better than I expected since it is coming off an assembly line in China. It appears the Chinese are improving quickly in this regard. Ultimately, they want to manufacture and assemble the Coda in California.

The range is a solid 100 miles based on the US06 driving cycle, a much more realistic test than the old EPA ratings used. The capacity of the 700 lb. Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePo) battery pack is 33.7 kWh which compares well to my RAV's 27 kWh. The batteries provide 333 volts and have been tested to over 1500 cycles which should be plenty for the 8 year, 100,000 mile warranty. One pertinent piece of info was his assertion that they are buying battery cells at "under $600 kWh". This is considerably less than most quotes I've seen and very close to the $500/kWh level at which I believe is the break even point with internal combustion at today's gas prices.

The weight is a bit on the high side at 3500 lbs. Kevin says they expect to drop that by several hundred pounds by the second generation. Porche engineering helped design part of the exterior and the interior, although the prototype didn't display all of the interior changes the final model will have.

After our meeting, Kevin graciously allowed 3-4 of us to pile in the car for a test ride over and over until about 30 of us had taken a turn. I didn't get to drive it myself, but he wasn't afraid to put the car through it paces for us. Even with four full sized adults, the car performed very well. Acceleration off the line was decent and at about 40 mph going up a hill, the car was still able to accelerate strongly. 0-60 is just under 10 seconds and top speed is 85 mph.

They do have a slight regenerative braking built in when you let off the pedal, but it's weak compared to the RAV and very weak compared to the Mini E or Tesla. I don't know if this is because they are using the UQM DC brushless motor/controller, or if there is another reason, but those who drive EVs love regen braking, so maybe they'll strengthen it later. All EVs should incorporate AC Propulsion's regen with a steering wheel control to allow freewheeling. The combination of the two will allow for the most efficient driving possible.

Charging will be at 6.6 kW, the same as our RAV and fast enough for most needs. High speed charging will be possible once the 50 kW chargers are deployed along the freeways.

Price? Good question. Earlier reports pegged it at $45,000, but Kevin hinted the car would sell for closer to $32,000 after tax credits, but when I tried to pin him down on an exact price, he hedged a bit. This is how all the car companies act when talking price. I understand and don't blame them since a year is a long time, and between component costs and competitive vehicles entering the market about the same time, I expect most will wait until about a month from actual delivery to lock down the price.

The Coda is nice looking, if not exciting. What's exciting is that is uses no petroleum.

The interior was comfortable and the instrumentation was suitable for a mid range car.

Backyard mechanics will find little to recognize under the hood. The UQM motor/controller sits in the middle with the motor under the controller driving the front wheels.

Kevin demonstrating the charging connector.

Thanks to Stefano Paris for the pics!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Plug In America's Fundraiser

Plug In America held its second annual fundraiser yesterday at the Thomas Fogarty Winery in Woodside, CA. Last year's party was held at the home of Director Chris Paine and was a big success. Yesterday's party matched that one in terms of excitement and surpassed it with an abundance of high-end EVs and plug-in hybrids. Pictured above is the t-Zero, considered to be the mother of the Tesla Roadster. The LiIon version of this rare, hand-made car from AC Propulsion is the only EV that can surpass the blindingly quick acceleration of the Roadster with a 0-60 time of 3.6 seconds.

Other vehicles on display were the stylistic Aptera, eagerly awaited by several thousand enthusiasts who have $500 deposits securing their place in line. An Aptera representative told me yesterday they fully expect to be in production by the end of this year. This was sweet news to several people in attendance who are early in line for the car. An interesting note, as we were leaving just after dark, we got the see the Aptera driving toward us on the winding mountain road. The profile and lights were unlike anything we've ever seen. I can't wait to see my first Aptera cruising the 405 here in LA.

Another rare EV is Rick Woodbury's Tango from his Commuter Cars company in Spokane, WA. There were two of these narrow two-seaters parked side by side taking up about the same space as a single passenger car. Looks aside, these babies can move! Acceleration approaches that of the Tesla, and with the batteries keeping the center of gravity super low, the car can corner much better than you would think seeing its tall, narrow shape.

Ten Tesla Roadsters rounded out the high performance EVs providing some flashy color to the line up, and the many RAV4 EVs driven to the winery from around the Bay Area once again flouted the contention of Toyota that these cars would not last 5 years.

In addition to the cars were several high performance motorcycles from Zero Motorcycles and Mission Motors. I rode the Zero off-road bike last year and was astounded at the acceleration. I told one of their reps that they should videotape a Tesla/Zero race to see how long the Zero would hold off the Tesla. I'm pretty sure it can take it off the line.

The Mission Motors bike is a monster! I've been invited to test drive it, so rather than tell you anything here, I'll save that for its own post.

EVs aside, the purpose of the party was to raise funds for Plug In America. We were successful in large part due to the many donations of goods and services that we auctioned off, so thanks to all who donated and who bought the great items at the live auction and the on-line auction. Attendees of note included many luminaries, but Google's Larry Paige had to be the highlight from my perspective. His brother drove one of the Tangos, and Larry drove over in his Tesla. I can only wonder whether any traffic laws were broken on the drive over.

Our speakers this year included California Public Utilities Commissioner, Rachelle Chong, and Congressman Jerry McNerney (CA-11). Both were very positive on the outlook of plug-in vehicles, but it was Chong who got me excited. The Public Utility Commission isn't known for its advocacy of electric vehicles, but Chong impressed me with her personal passion for EVs stating that the PUC was going to be soliciting public input starting this month on charging infrastructure as well as EV-friendly electrical rates. These are very important issues that can accelerate or slow down implementation of plug-in vehicles. Knowing the PUC has on its agenda these two items gives me even more hope that EVs are imminent.

The momentum continues to grow!


From left to right, Felix Kramer's iconic PHEV Prius, Don Cox's red Tesla, followed by the bright orange Roadster and then one of the Tangos.

Zan hiding in shadow between two of Tom Gage's vehicles, the super fast t-Zero and a converted Toyota Scion xB, now called the ACP "E-Box". The E-Box is a real sleeper. Driving one of these around LA, you can smoke most Beemers off the line without a sound. It's running the same drive train as the t-Zero, the vaunted ACP 150.Here I am sitting in the cockpit of the cool Aptera. I hope to drive one soon so I can tell you all about it. Those who have driven it have been saying good things.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Nissan LEAF charging and price concerns

As many of you have already heard, the new Nissan EV is called the "Leaf". Nice green name and the car itself is attractive in a Prius sort of way. I don't have any pictures myself, but Wired's Autopia site has a few good ones and a lot of good info on the car as well. A couple of items not discussed, but important to know have to do with the final price and how fast the cars will be allowed to charge.

First, the price. Some speculation centered around whether Nissan would sell the car and lease the battery in order to keep the cost down. When we were first told of the price range being between $25K and $34K, leasing the battery was not mentioned. Some mention of battery leasing has been made, however, mostly centered around the deal Renault/Nissan has with Shai Agassi's Better Place. When I posed this question to my Nissan contacts, the answer was "... at this point, we can't offer the level of precision on that topic that many people would just is too early."

I wish they could be more specific, but I do understand the need to be circumspect this far in advance of delivery. The people I know who drive EVs are mostly in favor of owning the batteries as long as we can get a good 7-10 years out of them. We see the downward trend in costs and fully expect a replacement pack 7 years from now will be quite affordable.

My biggest worry is the speed at which Nissan will allow charging. The car will come with a cord allowing charge from a regular 120 volt outlet, but this will be painfully slow. Households that buy the car will have a charge station installed on their 240 Volt circuit, but the charge will be limited to 3.3 kW. This is marginally faster than charging from a 120V circuit, but half the speed of our RAVs that charge at 6.6 kW. We've gotten used charging at this speed, but even 6.6 kW is slow compared to Teslas which can charge as high as 16 kW.

Now, to Nissan's credit, they are going to be deploying lots of very fast level three chargers in the communities that receive the initial several thousand cars. These are 480V systems that charge at 50 kW, very fast indeed! So, to the extent customers have access to these chargers, they may find home charging at 3.3 kW to be acceptable, but I think that's a big risk.

The reason given for starting the first year with the slow charging had to do with cost and availability of cord sets. This may be something we have to accept, but I'm afraid it'll give the wrong message. With a range of 100 miles, the speed of charging becomes more important.

This link will take you to a story on Renault's Frankfurt Auto show all-electric line up. The first time a major automaker is showing nothing but EVs. This is great news from this EV powerhouse, Renault/Nissan.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bright Idea

This past Friday, I got to drive an Idea.

Bright Automotive, a start up based in Anderson, Indiana, about as heartland USA as you can get, is poised to become a very successful company. I've written about them a couple of times based on news items and their own press releases, but this time, I'm writing based on first hand experience. Full disclosure, they paid my airfare and bought me lunch.

The team at Bright consists of many of the same engineers responsible for the EV1. Starting with CEO, John Waters, and including engineers like Sean Stanley and Jeff Ronning in addition to battery experts like Kurt Rogge. Several members of the team have spent time at the prestigious Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), Amory Lovins' think tank in Snowmass, CO dedicated to efficiency. Other team members, such as Dave Busch, come from equally sterling backgrounds at engineering powerhouse Aerovironment where he worked on the precursor to the EV1 under the tutalege of "Engineer of the Century", Paul MacCready, whose biography is entitled, "Doing More With Less". This seemed to be the mantra at Bright Automotive, a company with one of the most competent teams of EV engineers anywhere.

They are singularly focused on one goal, to make the most efficient and cost effective plug-in hybrid delivery van in the world.

I was surprised to learn that much of the work on the EV1 had been conducted in nearby Indianapolis. Turns out, Indiana has been home to over a hundred car companies in years past and once vied with Detroit as the car capitol of the U.S. John Waters drove me to a nondescript group of buildings on the north side of Indianapolis where he told me he had worked on the battery pack that powered the EV1 and spoke at length of the historic efforts of their team that created the "Car That Could".

Toward the end of "Who Killed the Electric car?", Ralph Nader lambasts GM executives for their part in killing the EV1, but he pointedly excepted the engineers who he says really did want to make a better car. These are the guys Nader was talking about.

After GM's bean counters unceremoniously killed the EV program, Waters spent some time at RMI where he again got the bug to get back into electric vehicles. RMI's "Hypercar" program had piqued his interest in efficient vehicles, and a key meeting with Amory Lovins and people from Google and ALCOA convinced him to make the leap. They arranged a meeting with the head of the postal service's fleet services and came away convinced they could make a plug-in hybrid that could economically compete with existing postal delivery trucks and save a lot of energy in the process. In early 2008, Waters assembled his team with ex-EV1 engineers from RMI, Aerovironment and at least one protege of Professor Andy Frank of UC Davis, the "Grandfather of the plug-in hybrid". Thus was born Bright Automotive.

With Paul MacCready's "do more with less" mantra constantly in mind, they set about to design a vehicle that could haul a full ton of cargo with 180 cubic feet of space, yet travel up to 30 miles on electric power alone before the internal combustion engine kicked in. This would enable most postal vehicles to deliver their routes without burning any gas, and allow fleet operators needing more range to average as much as 100 mpg.

The key to success lay in doing this without making the vehicle cost too much relative to the existing internal combustion vehicles. With a judicious use of aluminum for the frame and skin, they were able to keep the weight to a remarkably low 3200 lbs, and their design team managed a drag coefficient of less than .3, very slick for a delivery van. This meant they could achieve their 30 mile all-electric range with a very modest 10 kWh battery pack.

The team is replete with experts in design and drivetrains, but it's their battery expertise that sets them apart from most start ups of this nature. They have decided to remain agnostic as to the cell manufacturer and will try out any LiIon cell that comes their way, although they are currently using lithium iron phosphate cells from EIG in Korea. Their testing equipment is the state of the art ABC 150 from Aerovironment which can replicate charging profiles of an infinite nature, and their dynometer room can test batteries in both hot and cold weather conditions. Their expertise with batteries is such that they will offer to package cells into battery packs for hire since not all OEMs have their depth of knowledge.

So, how did the test drive go? I've had the opportunity to drive both the Tesla Roadster and BMW's super quick Mini E, so I had to re-calibrate my expectations some, this is a delivery van after all, but I'll give them a strong B+. The acceleration was pretty good, but when the internal combustion kicked in, it was noticeable. Talking to the drivetrain team of Sean Stanley and Patrick Kaufman, they assured me that would be smoothed out soon. All in all, I was very impressed that they've come this far this fast. I fully expect they'll have the vehicle in A+ shape in a matter of months.

So, how soon will these clean-running vans begin replacing the noisy and dirty postal carriers plying our roads? Well, like Tesla Motors, they've applied for a loan from the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Incentive Program. Telsa, along with Ford and Nissan have already been awarded their loans and they are all in the process of hiring thousands in California, Michigan and Tennessee, respectively, to staff up to build plug-in vehicles and batteries. Bright has not yet heard about their loan yet, but I would be amazed if the DOE didn't see the promise I saw in this company. The fleet vehicle niche is a large one consisting of hundreds of thousands of vehicles used by private and public fleets throughout the country. The sooner these fleets get vehicles that allow them to use cleaner, cheaper, domestic electricity instead of dirty, expensive, foreign oil, the better.