Thursday, 30 June 2011

UK EV charging strategy announced: controversy

The UK OLEV (Office for Low Emission Vehicles) issued today The Plug-In Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy, a well written document outlining its vision for EV charging in the UK.

It's key pronouncements:

- EVs are expected to account for roughly 6% to 8% of new vehicle sales by 2020.
- EV charging must be convenient, targeted and safe.
- majority of charging should take place at home at night.
- NOT a 'charging point on every corner' strategy
- home charging should include smart metering.
- new housing should facilitate EV charging.
- work charging will become a Permitted Development Right (no planning approval required)
- businesses caught under the Carbon Reduction Commitment can discount electricity for
  EVs from their total consumption.
- encourage local authorities to mandate businesses to install charging points in new
 workplace developments under the National Planning Policy Framework.
- establish a National Chargepoint Directory for manufacturers and operators to make
 information available in one place.
- support a common standard for plug-in vehicle smartcards issued by the Plugged-In Places
 to access their infrastructure, making it easier for users to access more than one scheme.
- promote Type 2 charging connectors (the IEC62196-2 Type 2) in public places (and
 therefore ending support for the current 3-pin J1772 connectors used by the G-Wiz and other
 first generation EVs).
- install 50 rapid chargers at key locations to facilitate long journeys.

The  Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ Electric Vehicle Group, the Energy Retail Association and the Energy Networks Association are tasked with specifying how back office functions for recharging infrastructure will operate and ensuring recharging occurs off-peak.

No doubt some commentators will say that this represents a climb down by the government in terms of its commitment to electric vehicles as a result of the tough financial state of the economy. This is undoubtedly correct and It may result in a slowdown in EV adoption. But it shouldn't.

The truth was always that most charging will be done at home and at work. Petrol stations with the best locations can be adapted to fuel EVs and we will have everything that we need. A relatively small number of charging stations will be required on major roads, in city centre car parks, parking bays and in supermarket car parks - representing a good commercial opportunity for private enterprise. We just need to collectively accept that we do not need a huge network of public charging stations before we buy EVs and not allow ourselves to get stuck in a chicken-and-egg situation with regard to electric vehicles and EV charging infrastructure.

The biggest barrier to EV adoption is not charging infrastructure but the high price of electric cars. OEMs need to learn how to build affordable EVs. The government needs to mandate for an 'Urban M1' class of vehicle (as I have written previously on this blog).

What is also urgently needed is a concerted programme of education by government and EV industry explaining why a widespread charging infrastructure is not required before you buy an EV. Confusion reigns currently and explanations not incentives are the solution. 

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

One view of the coming energy shortage

Michael Klare writes in The Guardian about the next 30 years energy challenge.  Here are excerpts:

'Because the acquisition of adequate supplies of energy is as basic a matter of national security as can be imagined, struggles over vital resources – oil and natural gas now, perhaps lithium or nickel (for electric vehicles) in the future – will trigger armed violence.

...there is no way the existing energy system can satisfy the world's future requirements. It must be replaced or supplemented in a major way by a renewable alternative system or... the planet will be subject to environmental disaster of a sort hard to imagine today.

To appreciate the nature of our predicament, begin with a quick look at the world's existing energy portfolio. According to BP, the world consumed 13.2bn tons of oil-equivalent from all sources in 2010: 33.6% from oil, 29.6% from coal, 23.8% from natural gas, 6.5% from hydroelectricity, 5.2% from nuclear energy, and a mere 1.3% from all renewable forms of energy. Together, fossil fuels – oil, coal, and gas – supplied 10.4bn tons, or 87% of the total.
Even attempting to preserve this level of energy output in 30 years' time, using the same proportion of fuels, would be a near-hopeless feat. Achieving a 40% increase in energy output, as most analysts believe will be needed to satisfy the existing requirements of older industrial powers and rising demand in China and other rapidly developing nations, is simply impossible.

Two barriers stand in the way of preserving the existing energy profile: eventual oil scarcity and global climate change. Most energy analysts expect conventional oil output – that is, liquid oil derived from fields on land and in shallow coastal waters – to reach a production peak in the next few years and then begin an irreversible decline. Some additional fuel will be provided in the form of "unconventional" oil – that is, liquids derived from the costly, hazardous, and ecologically unsafe extraction processes involved in producing tar sands, shale oil, and deep offshore oil – but this will only postpone the contraction in petroleum availability, not avert it. By 2041, oil will be far less abundant than it is today, and so incapable of meeting anywhere near 33.6% of the world's (much-expanded) energy needs.

Meanwhile, the accelerating pace of climate change will produce ever more damage – intense storm activity, rising ocean levels, prolonged droughts, lethal heat waves, massive forest fires, and so on – finally forcing reluctant politicians to take remedial action. This will undoubtedly include an imposition of curbs on the release via fossil fuels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, whether in the form of carbon taxes, cap-and-trade plans, emissions limits, or other restrictive systems as yet not imagined. By 2041 these increasingly restrictive curbs will help ensure that fossil fuels will not be supplying anywhere near 87% of world energy.

Given the lack of an obvious winner among competing transitional or alternative energy sources, one crucial approach to energy consumption in 2041 will surely be efficiency at levels unimaginable today: the ability to achieve maximum economic output for minimum energy input. The lead players three decades from now may be the countries and corporations that have mastered the art of producing the most with the least. Innovations in transportation, building and product design, heating and cooling, and production techniques will all play a role in creating an energy-efficient world.

Thirty years from now, for better or worse, the world will be a far different place: hotter, stormier, and with less land (given the loss of shoreline and low-lying areas to rising sea levels). Strict limitations on carbon emissions will certainly be universally enforced and the consumption of fossil fuels, except under controlled circumstances, actively discouraged. Oil will still be available to those who can afford it, but will no longer be the world's paramount fuel. New powers, corporate and otherwise, in new combinations will have risen with a new energy universe. No one can know who will be the winners and losers on this planet. In the intervening 30 years, however, that much violence and suffering will have ensued goes without question. Nor can anyone say today which of the contending forms of energy will prove dominant in 2041 and beyond.

Were I to wager a guess, I might place my bet on energy systems that were decentralised, easy to make and install, and required relatively modest levels of up-front investment. For an analogy, think of the laptop computer of 2011 versus the giant mainframes of the 1960s and 1970s. The closer that an energy supplier gets to the laptop model (or so I suspect), the more success will follow.

From this perspective giant nuclear reactors and coal-fired plants are, in the long run, less likely to thrive, except in places like China where authoritarian governments still call the shots. Far more promising, once the necessary breakthroughs come, will be renewable sources of energy and advanced biofuels that can be produced on a smaller scale with less up-front investment, and so possibly incorporated into daily life even at a community or neighbourhood level.

Whichever countries move most swiftly to embrace these or similar energy possibilities will be the likeliest to emerge in 2041 with vibrant economies – and given the state of the planet, if luck holds, just in the nick of time.'

Fluence Z.E. pricing warms up the EV market

We are just 6 months into the first full year of mainstream EV production. The Nissan Leaf has established itself as a very credible electric car but the price tag of around £30,000 (£25,000 / USD 28,500 after incentives) is too high to create mass appeal.

Now sister company Renault has announced pricing for the Fluence, part of the Z.E. (Zero Emission) range. They recognised that the ticket price is the biggest barrier to adoption and so have priced the 'Prime Time' edition of the vehicle, which is broadly similar to the Leaf, from £22,850 (£17,850 after incentives) and are charging £75 per month for a 3 year / 6,000 miles battery leasing package. The best thing about the Fluence however apart from the ticket price is that Renault have promised to offer upgraded batteries as technology improves - as the packs become lighter, quicker to recharge, and offer greater range. This is a massive step forward for EVs.

The 5 seat, 4 door, 115 mile range Fluence features charging sockets on both sides of the vehicle and comes with a good standard equipment package that includes smart satnav,  an ecometer, 16" alloys, climate and cruise control. Deliveries commence 2012, reservations for £20 can be made at

Renault is partnering EV operator Better Place in Israel, Denmark and Australia and in August 2010 Better Place placed an initial order for 100,000 Fluences.  The swappable battery Fluence may become the world's best selling electric car by the end of 2012. Renault aims to sell 1.5m electric vehicles across 7 models worldwide by 2016.

With the Renault Zoe hatchback still to come at a price in region of £17,000 (£12,000 after incentives), we are within a year of true affordability and therefore the start of mass adoption of electric vehicles.

The people at Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Citroen and even at sister company Nissan will be feeling very threatened. Good, competition is healthy.

Friday, 17 June 2011

EVs 2020: 5% or 50% share?

Here we go again with more forecasts for the share of market that electric vehicles will have by 2020.

In the blue corner is Shai Agassi of Better Place, who claims that EVs will account for 50% of all new car sales by 2020. His view is that the demand for oil is increasing fast whilst supply is flat, meaning that the price of oil will become too high and potentially the supply too limited, for petrol (gasoline) fuelled cars to survive.

In the red corner is BCG (Boston Consulting Group), who are of the opinion that in the US EVs will have less than 5% share of new car sales and in Europe less than 12%. BCG believe that improvements in ICE technology will mean that petrol engines will become 40% cleaner by 2020 and capable of significant efficiency gains, whilst maintaining a price advantage over battery powered vehicles.

My view: the drivers of the market have not changed. Oil will become too expensive, energy security too big an issue, climate change too imminent a threat, and, we remain at risk of a Black Swan event.

Besides, EVs are just cooler and much more fun to drive.

House of Lords debate: personal transport is non-negotiable

A debate yesterday in the UK House of Lords on sustainable transport in a world of megacities ended in a resounding victory for the continued existence of “personal transport”, yesterday afternoon.

The debate, ran by Associate Parliamentary Design & Innovation Group (APDIG) and leading EV research company Frost & Sullivan, and chaired by Lord Palmer, pitched academic and industry experts against one another to debate the motion: “In the megacities of the future, personal transport solutions will never be as sustainable as public”. The end vote was 30 in favour of the motion; 48 against.

A green traffic jam is still a traffic jam” was the argument put forward in favour of public transport by Alex Burrows at Centro, the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority. Neil Walker from Bombardier Transport stated that only public transport could provide the extra capacity needed in our burgeoning cities while addressing rising CO2 emissions and congestion. Moreover, he argued that in the megacities of 2020, personal demand will be for mobility, not ownership. In younger generations, he suggested that cars are no longer seen as a status symbol, who are more ecologically aware, so public transport will be the preferred, sustainable solution.

Meanwhile, Andrew Everett from the Technology Strategy Board argued that individuals’ demands are multi-faceted and can only be answered by personal transport. People need transport to be available on demand, to go non-stop from start to destination, to be easily accessible from many locations, environmental friendly, safe, integrated with other modes of transport and low cost.  Oliver Paturet from Nissan proposed that electric vehicles were the solution; “driving electric vehicles – its our duty”. Stating that electric vehicles are “not the future, they’re happening today”, he argued that it was unfeasible to imagine a family living in any European city centre without access to their own personal transport. Electric Vehicles however could cater to this need, while combating emissions.

However, there were some interesting ideas from Dr Bernhard Blättel of BMW, that didn’t fit the binary vote – a more integrated approach combining both personal and public transport. Dr Blattel gets the last word: “as time runs out… …we need to use every lever we have to get towards sustainable transport solutions. …the future is more about a joint effort of these two means than having a battle between them

This latter will see the rise of carsharing based around electric vehicles, of this I am sure. Frost & Sullivan estimate that 1:5 cars in car clubs will be electric within 5 years and that within 5 years 5.5m people will be members of such clubs within the EU.

The real question is will this be led by automotive manufacturers, rental companies, car clubs or by a new type of company that integrates different modes of transport?

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Here come the carports - charge@work

Not the first solar carport to be built, but when GE enter a market you can be pretty certain that it is about to get a serious push.
The GE EV Solar Carport Project made its debut in Plainville, Connecticut. With greater than a 25-year lifespan, the EV Solar Carport will annually deliver 125 MWh via 100 kW DC power, according to GE.
GE Energy Industrial Solutions combined forces with Inovateus Solar LLC, a national solar power distributor and integrator, to install the carport. The companies use solar energy and smart grid technology to fully charge up to 13 electric vehicles per day via six Level 2 GE EV Charging Stations and to power the overhead lighting in the parking lot.
The carport is a working lab to test out the hardware and software.
What carports do is double the effective range of an EV by enabling employee and visitor car charging @home and @work. Plus of course a carport enables fleet vehicle charging during both the day and the night.

Range anxiety? Nope...

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

'Face it fossil boys, the arguments don’t stack up.'

This is so good I will just reprint the article by Robert Llewellyn in full. He is commenting on a report released today by the UK Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership.

Electric Cars Not As Green As We've Been Told??

"There are stories that occasionally emerge on the web, they are picked up and spread like wildfire and then disappear just as fast.
They can be about anything, celebrity phone hacking, torture of ‘insurgents’ by British soldiers, or how electric cars are really dirtier than an old diesel truck.
Wait, hang on, what was the last one?
Oh yeah, according to a ‘study’ by the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, electric cars are filthy polluting nightmares that will choke and kill the planet in 2 weeks. You can read the shocking report here.
Trouble is, that is exactly not what it is saying, it’s not what the people who wrote it meant to say, but it is exactly what the people who are spreading the story are desperate to ‘prove’ it said. The many 100's of blogs who've endlessly harped on about this non-story never provide links to the original source, they just call it that, ‘a source.’
I have seen maybe 5,000 tweets today with links to various ultra right wing blogs, the tweets all say ‘ELECTRIC CARS: Not so green after all?… and there’s yet another vague re-hashing of the non-story.
 There’s me stupidly thinking that electric cars were just a rather exciting alternative to the now very outdated and stagnant automotive norm. But no, they are clearly seen as a direct assault on the decent tax paying people's of the world, or to describe them another way, the neo conservative lunatic fringe in America.
What the bloggers claim the report states is that the amount of Co2 released during the manufacturing of said electric vehicles far outweighs anything that is produced by building and driving a traditional car. 
Except the actual report doesn’t say that at all. It is a discussion paper about how important it is to come to realistic, peer reviewed figures for the whole of life carbon output of a vehicle so we have some genuine ways of comparing them.
I quote: "
Ricardo Chief Technology & Innovation Officer and Chairman of the LowCVP, Prof. Neville Jackson, said “There is an emerging consensus that we need to move towards a more holistic analysis of whole life CO2 emissions in order to make more informed and better long term decisions on future technologies."
Right on Professor, boy do we need to do that.
It very clearly states that unless we start using composite materials for things like the chassis of a car, and low carbon electricity production for the power to move it, then the reductions in Co2 from using electric vehicles will not be as great as they should be.
They aren’t saying that electric cars produce more Co2, they are saying, quite clearly that they produce much less.
That’s what it’s all about. A more efficient way of using energy that is not dependent on a supply that has terrible environmental and geopolitical consequences.
It says in very clear type ‘estimated lifecycle emissions,’ which basically means, ‘we don’t know any true figures yet so we’ll have a rough guess.’
Here are my ‘estimated lifecycle emissions’ which will of course include the Co2 costs of exploration, drilling, transporting, refining and storing trillions of heavy gallons of finite fossil fuel before burning them in a complex, energy wasting, steam age lump of steel we call an internal combustion engine.
They will also include (for the electric vehicle) the constantly reducing amounts of CO2 being released from the electricity generating industry, which now includes the roof I'm sitting under.
Robert's Estimated Lifecycle Emissions
Gas car                                               CO2 released  over 150,000 km
Manufacture                                              5.6 tonnes
Estimated lifecycle emissions                    48 tonnes
Total                                                        53.6 tonnes                                                     
Electric Car
Manufacture                                             7.2 tonnes
Estimated lifecycle emissions                   15 tonnes
Total                                                         22.2 tonnes
Way less than half, and I'm being generous to the fossil burner. The figures for electric vehicles will only go down as they are produced in greater numbers and therefore more efficiently. The figures for EV's will also go down as the grid is cleaned up, whcih we've got to do anyway, regardless of which damn cars we drive. The figures for fossil burners will at best stay the same, the cost of running them, both economic and human, will go up and up.
These figures are just as valid and based on just as much ‘fact’ as the figures thrown out by the Low Carbon Vehicle partnership, who are, for your added information, mainly funded by the automotive industry, who mainly make cars that burn fossils. I'm just saying.
Currently my car is getting 80% of its ‘fuel’ from a zero carbon source. And don’t start whining on about the carbon released in the manufacture without balancing that with the carbon released in the refinery, by the ship moving the wretched sweet crude from Arabia or South America.
Face it fossil boys, the arguments don’t stack up.
When we have truly valid, peer reviewed figures for the actual carbon footprint of a gallon of fuel before it leaves the pump at the gas/petrol station, i.e. the amount of energy used and C02 released to refine it and get it there, none of these stories have any credibility.
I'll go one further, these arguments are based on a product we should be using to create sustainable power. It’s called bullshit."

'I couldn't go back to a gas car now'

Olivier Chalouhi was the first person in the US to purchase a Nissan Leaf, which arrived in December 2010. Here's a quick report of his first 6 months experience of driving an EV.
Chaloui drives the car daily on his commute – 40 miles roundtrip – to his job at a tech startup. Nissan says the Leaf’s battery range is 62-138 miles, depending on driving conditions. Chalouhi finds his range depends on his speed – just as speed affects gas mileage in a hybrid or conventional car. When he cruises at 55 mph, the battery can last 100 miles, but when he speeds up to 65 mph, the range drops to 80 miles.
Though he usually uses the Leaf as a commute car, Chaloui has started using it for local day trips with his family on the weekends. With his electricity rates at 12 cents an hour, he has spent about $85 to fuel the car in the last two months. He says it takes about four hours to charge the car’s battery at the end of each day.
Now that he has driven the Leaf for six months, he has nothing but positive things to say about the driving experience. In fact, he says it’s the best car he has ever had.
The car accelerates much more quickly than conventional cars, he says; at about 40 mph, it slows down to accelerate like a typical gas-powered car. He finds he can easily rev the car up to 80 mph on the highway and says you might find yourself driving the car too fast because it’s quieter than a gas car.
“It’s great going up hills. I leave most gas cars behind,” he says.
Chalouhi also loves the Leaf’s cool, “techie” features: connecting his phone and iPod to the car’s Bluetooth and sending directions directly from Google Maps to the car’s console. He finds that his family of four – with the fifth on the way – fits comfortably in the Leaf. During recent trips to IKEA when the family moved, he discovered the car also has plenty of space for lugging larger items like small pieces of furniture.
His advice to people considering the Leaf for their next car purchase? He highly recommends the Leaf if its battery range works with their driving habits, he says.
“I couldn’t go back to a gas car now,” he says.
And this is how the EV market will build. Slowly at first, as one EV owner after another tells their story. 

Friday, 10 June 2011

One for the Chevy Volt Marketing team.

As I watched this Chevy Volt US TV commercial targeting the Nissan Leaf, I can't help thinking such negativity is unnecessary. 

Instead of building a clean transport future by inspiring people, the GM team are preoccupied taking cheap shots at their competition - 'It's a big step up from the Leaf blower' i.e. our drivetrain (range extended) is better than your drivetrain (pure electric). 

It's not a one-off either. I remember that last year GM registered the term 'range anxiety' (they rightly took flak for this and seem to have quietly dropped its use). This week they announced the 2012 base price would be US$1,000 less than the 2011 base price - but sneakily, to get the same spec would actually cost an additional $2,500. Hmm.

Anyway, the team at Nissan could not resist returning the favour, so in their latest TV commercial they took a sly shot back at the Volt. One bad deed begets another.

Contrast this with a blog article from my friend Subhabrata 'SG' Gosh in Bangalore, the founder of Celsius 100, a brand consultancy, formerly part of the Saatchi empire. He is also concerned with energy, this time from the human angle. The premise and approach could not be more starkly contrasted.

"It’s the beginning of summer. The mercury is beginning to inch closer to the 40s. Huddled around the kerosene lamp, Ramcharan’s children beats the heat from the lamp and mud oven that cooks their dinner, to prepare for school the next day. The noxious kerosene fumes and the oppressive heat takes a toll on the children everyday. But they don’t have an option. Ramcharan spent a fortune buying the cheap Chinese LED lights.But they let him down within months. No service, no spares available. Worse it took eight hours to charge. In this remote village, eight hours of electricity is a pipe dream. The kerosene lamp was a far safer bet, the heat and fumes not withstanding. At least the children get uninterrupted light to put in four hours of study.The re-chargeable Chinese lantern provided less than 2 hours of light.
Vijaykumar took his team to the villages to experience what  these hapless  children went  through everyday. We don’t realize how bad the power situation is  in rural India. We don’t  appreciate the human suffering because we have the  money for alternatives. We don’t  understand their needs from their life context.
People in rural areas need light for two things: to cook and for  children to study. Not unlike urban people.They manage the  cooking part. But try studying under a  kerosene lamp or a  hurricane in hot summer next to a home fire. The fumes and  heat are oppressive. No  amount of presentations, research  findings or  opinionated observations are any match for  the  telling experience that the team  got living with the villagers.
The emergency light business in semi urban and rural India is completely commoditized. From Indian brands to cheap Chinese imports. The market is completely driven by price. (What’s new). The technology and capability required to make one of these is democratic. Yet the market is humongous.
Vijay figured that technological and manufacturing ability was not the problem. Since the time he took over BTVL, the BPL division that manufactures the portable lighting solutions, he had streamlined the organization, enhanced the manufacturing and marketing capability. The real problem was the mind-set of the BPL team. They are trained to look ‘inside-out’. As we had done with the Studylite project, he started outside-in. Assumed nothing, started with exploring the context, understood the needs within the context and then determined the possible solutions.
The team travelled across villages meeting villagers, living with them and experiencing their life without power. They saw who gets affected and how. Began to understand their pain, needs and priorities. It was interesting to see the impact it had on Vijay and his team. They were beginning to realize that they could do something that could change lives!
There was a powerful context. Education is their way out of poverty and they are willing to invest whatever they can. So parents spend money buying emergency lights for children so that they can study.
Beyond the priorities of their jobs, Vijay and the team wanted to do something that would ease the human suffering that the children endure every day. They were on a mission.
We call it the ‘Inspirational Dream’. To make studying easier for children in villages. This is the context for the brand.
No emergency light available in these markets can be fully charged in less than 8 hours. None of these can provide adequate light for studying. More importantly they don’t hold charge beyond 3 hours after two or three months of use. And they all cost nearly a thousand bucks. The cheaper ones are worse.
This was the non-negotiable product specification: it must charge in 4 hours and give 5 hours of light. 
The search for the batteries started. R&D scoured all global sources: charging time, charge holding and charging cycles had to be met. We found a fantastic battery manufactured in China. Fe-lithium-ion. It is good for almost 2000 charging cycles. Fully charges in 4 hours and holds effective charge for 5 hours.
Chirag is  designed to help children  study. It  addresses the  reality of power  availability:  charges in 4  hours.It  delivers  against the need: 5 hours of  light. The specifications and  quality standards are  world class.The battery will last for 4  years.
With such a sharply focused strategy, communication was easy. The real challenge was to  deliver it in  an engaging way, minimalistic and simple.
Does it work? The launch order  was 10,000. Next month production is being ramped to  40,000 units.
We Learnt. Seemingly ordinary people can do extraordinary things if they are given an  inspirational dream to chase, led by someone like Vijay and completely focused on  delivering a single benefit in a powerful context.
We call this brand purposing."

So GM team, yes you can build the market for EVs at the same time as building sales of your own brand, without being critical of others trying to do the same thing. Just like BTVL you are in the business of introducing new technology to improve people's lives, but sometimes you forget your brand purpose. I know that everyone working at GM on the Volt are motivated by more than just shifting metal. Remember, thanks to youtube and blogs your negativity can be  seen  around the world. You should know that it makes you look narrow minded and your brand less appealing, hardly the sort of image you may wish to project. And you are smart guys, I know you can do so much better.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

'Cambridge Crude' from MIT - the new EV fuel?

This from Fast Company: the clever chaps over at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have been working on a really unusual battery technology that turns upside-down the notions we currently have about rechargeable batteries and have developed a reusable liquid that could be pumped into your battery to charge it in minutes.

 In a conventional battery two solid electrodes are immersed in a fluid-like substance that allows for flow of chemicals - when charged, the battery chemistry enables the liquid to huddle up to the solid electrodes so electrons flow out of the battery and into the circuitry you're using. To charge it up, you push electrons back in to the battery, and the internal chemistry re-arranges itself ready to be discharged.
MIT's system uses a semi-solid flow cell, whereby the electrodes and battery fluid (electrolyte) are still separate, but they're all mingled up as a sludgy liquid. The electrodes are made of tiny particles suspended in liquid electrolyte, and to discharge it you pump the fluid through a filter, allowing electrons to flow out of your battery. 
MIT's energy dense 'Cambridge Crude' allows for less bulky designs than is usually possible, meaning EV components - battery, electronics, and motors - could be more easily dropped into conventional car designs. It also allows for battery swapping and for sludge exchange, whereby   "spent" fuel is pumped out and replaced with new fully charged battery chemistry. That spent fuel could be charged up at the station, and then injected into the next nearly empty battery that drove up.
Moments to charge your EV instead of hours? Fingers crossed.

Video: Tesla Model S Alpha

Here is the Model S Alpha build from Tesla Motors, due for production in 2012. The 160 mile range base model will cost US$58,000, the 300 mile lithium pack will be around US$100,000.


Monday, 6 June 2011

Drivers turn to electric car sharing

Car sharing is the 'gateway' of the growing trend to use web based applications to create community, or sharing based ventures.

A growing number of cities in America and Europe including the UK, Germany, Switzerland and France, and also in Australia, are slowly - and with signs of  increasing momentum - but surely turning away from the concept of car ownership. 

The alternative is car usage and there are a number of different business models coming to market.
Traditional B2C (Business to Consumer) car clubs buy or lease their cars from the major manufacturers and/or leasing companies and offer them to motorists for a membership fee plus payment by the day, hour and in some cases, by the minute. Hertz Connect (US and UK), Zipcar (US, now also in UK with the acquisition of StreetCar), Mobility in Switzerland, Veolia's Mobizen (France) and Sydney's Go Get are leaders in this space.
B2B (Business to Business) models also exist, often alongside B2C offers.
The newer P2P (Peer to Peer, also referred to as Neighbour to Neighbour, or Carsharing 2.0) collaboratively shared fleet model enables people who own cars to make money from them by making them available to members (membership is usually free). RelayRides, Getaround, Spride Share, WhipCar all operate in this space.
The current crop of car-sharing and car-rental companies are highly-focused on making technology and mobile devices part of the car-sharing decision. The ubiquity of mobile devices, combined with the ease of using most apps, is helping to transform the transportation experience. 

St James, the UK property developer, has struck a deal with an Avis club, CARvenience, to supply 19 cars, available at 15 minutes' notice to residents in its new development, One SE8, in Deptford, South East London. Prices start at £165,000, but only half of the 400 flats will have parking spaces, which cost an extra £10,000. Those without parking spaces get free membership of the club for the first year. After that, they pay £99 annually.

Paris this month commences Autolib, the Pay and Use electric car service that will eventually offer 4,000 electric cars at 1,000 park and charge sites across the city, similar to the Velib and to London's bike share schemes.
As each shared car replaces up to 20 or more owned cars, the model is a potential nightmare for the automakers. They cannot sit idly by however and a few are setting up their own ventures, including BMW/Sixt (Drive Now) and Daimler (Car2Go), who are less threatened than the mass market marques by this trend. Others, such as Peugeot (mu) and Volkswagen (Quicar) are establishing offers which provide access to a wider range of vehicles from their portfolio, whilst new intermediaries are entering the market to aggregate on-road vehicles with other forms of mobility such as mass transit.
With pioneers such as Norway's Move About leading the way with all-electric car share fleets, followed by Daimler's all-electric Amsterdam initiative, a future with fewer and cleaner cars looks like a quiet revolution in mobility.               
Frost & Sullivan predicted that 5.5 million Europeans will be part of a car sharing scheme in 2016, with every third vehicle added to the schemes from next year likely to be electric.
That will give Europe some 77,000 shared vehicles, suggested the report, one in five of them running on electricity rather than gas. Makes a lot of sense.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Solar electricity cheaper than fossil electricity in 3 to 5 years

Bloomberg reported this week that Solar power may be cheaper than electricity generated by fossil fuels and nuclear reactors within three to five years because of innovations, according to Mark M. Little, the global research director for General Electric (GE) in the US.
“If we can get solar at 15 cents a kilowatt-hour or lower, which I’m hopeful that we will do, you’re going to have a lot of people that are going to want to have solar at home,” 
GE announced in April that it had boosted the efficiency of thin-film solar panels to a record 12.8 percent. Improving efficiency, or the amount of sunlight converted to electricity, would help reduce the costs without relying on subsidies.
The thin-film panels will be manufactured at a plant that GE intends to open in 2013. 
Total installations are forecast to increase by as much as 50 percent in 2011, worth about $140 billion, as cheaper panels and thin film make developers less dependent on government subsidies, Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecast.
The cost of solar cells, the main component in standard panels, has fallen 21 percent so far this year, and the cost of solar power is now about the same as the rate utilities charge for conventional power in the sunniest parts of California, Italy and Turkey, the London-based research company said.
Most solar panels use silicon-based photovoltaic cells to transform sunlight into electricity. The thin-film versions, made of glass or other material coated with cadmium telluride or copper indium gallium selenide alloys, account for about 15 percent of the $28 billion in worldwide solar-panel sales.
First Solar Inc. (FSLR), based in Tempe, Arizona, is the world’s largest producer of thin-film panels, with $2.6 billion in yearly revenue.
GE this year plans to introduce the “Nucleus,” a device that will let consumers track their household electricity use with personal computers and smart phones. 
In my earlier blog articles I reported that Nissan Leaf drivers are already using solar pv to power their cars and houses in the UK and US. Next year the range per charge of EVs will increase to 150 miles, giving an effective daily range of 300 miles with fast charging.
The Electron Economy is getting ready for launch.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

UK EV report 'very conservative'

I do not normally directly take issue with those operating in the automotive industry. But, the '2011 Electric Car Guide Questions and Answers' report just published by the SMMT (the UK's industry body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) , made me choke on my coffee.

As I read page 2, 'The Role of Electric Vehicles in the Automotive Industry', the section references the New Automotive Innovation and Growth Team (NAIGT) report, 'a consensus industry and government view on the future of the UK motor industry'. Published in 2009, the NAIGT report 'set out a 30 year vision for the UK automotive sector and included a technology roadmap to illustrate the likely route and rate of progress towards ultra-low carbon transportation'. It's key conclusion:

'The internal combustion engine will continue to form the bedrock of the market for the foreseeable future with significant developments reducing carbon emissions'.

Oh dear. The foreseeable future? Really? How about less than a decade?

The report does end with a comment that the NAIGT report states that EVs will be seen 'in significant numbers between 2015 and 2020', hardly indicative of the revolution that has just begun.

'2011 Electric Car Guide Questions and Answers' is a useful Q&A document. It does not however give any indication of the transformation that is about to happen to the car industry as energy security, the price of oil and new business models that will remove or reduce the cost barriers to EV ownership impact the industry. Together with inductive (wireless) charging and telematics, the car of the rapidly approaching future will be electric, of that I have no doubt.

For more on this, see my previous article. Meanwhile, I suppose the truism that change never comes from the centre has never been, um, truer.

The EV tipping point: when Better Place usurps BP

I keep reading articles in the media (particularly the UK and US media) exclaiming that the EV market is stalling. That the low sales figures are an indication that the EV market is going to fail. How wrong they are.

I also keep hearing from another bunch of naysayers, namely those who have an interest in plug-in hybrids and range extended vehicles (vehicles that combine engines and batteries, conventional fuel and electrons, to fuel their vehicles). They believe that their extended range capability is a sustainable advantage, at least for long enough to generate a return on investment. They are wrong too. (See my earlier blog articles for reasons why)

Well, here is a prediction. Within the next 6 years, the car market will be transformed from one driven by liquid fuel, to one driven by electrons. Not my prediction actually but ShaI Agassi's, the founder of Better Place.

OK, the manufacturers may not be able to supply enough vehicles to meet demand, which may slow down the rate of adoption. Never has the phrase 'asleep at the wheel' been more appropriate. They cannot see that their industry is about to be digitised, just as those for music, books, mail, light, heating and cooking were digitised before it. They are so far behind the curve, in just a few years years we will look back and wonder how they did not see it coming. They should go and speak to the guys at Sony, or the Royal Mail or Barnes & Noble.

It won't be driven by climate change. Governments have demonstrated that they are incapable of anything but vested self interest. So climate change will only become the issue when a climate change event occurs. But by then I am hopeful that at least for automotive, we will have gone a long way to decarbonisation.

It will be a combination of energy security concerns at the national level, price at the individual level, and this digitisation of mobility. Five years from now, according to their national plan, China alone will put between 130 m and 250 m new cars on their roads. This is equivalent to all the cars in the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy at the lower level, and the whole of Europe at the higher level. This will require the equivalent additional oil supply of another Saudi Arabia. As the supply is now flat, this increase in demand will cause the price of oil to sky rocket. And that is just China. India, Brazil and other emerging nations are following fast.

Leading this automotive digital revolution is Better Place. For many years I was sceptical about their business model, which is based on the mobile telephone industry. Instead of paying for minutes you will pay for miles. You will buy your electric car (initially a Renault Fluence, Better Place wisely did not try to develop electric cars themselves) minus the battery, which makes the car the same price as a conventional car. (The G-Wiz demonstrated that EVs could be affordable, the Tesla that EVs could be blisteringly fast. The Renault shows that an EV can be just like your current car). Then, you will pay for the battery, the battery swap stations and access to the mobility system as a monthly bundled price, equivalent to the price of oil at the time of signing up - a locked in price for a period of years.

As the price of oil rises, you will be saving an ever larger difference between the price of electricity and the price of oil. Brilliant. This operating model overcomes the price differential between conventional cars and electric cars, which is the biggest barrier to purchase. It also overcomes concerns about buying and owning batteries, which will rapidly become obsolete, surpassed by newer, better batteries offering higher performance at lower cost. Something we never managed to do with the G-Wiz, and which Elon Musk never managed to do with the Tesla (although he will experiment with battery swapping in future models). It also enables Better Place to make enormous profits.

There are caveats of course. I am nervous about a Better Place monopoly in any one country, so the legislators must be on their toes. Mr Agassi is a clever guy and a smooth talker, smarter than many of the politicians and legislators who are rightly intrigued by his proposition. I foresee an almighty battle as car manufacturers fight to retain control of and revenue from the batteries that power their cars, just as they have control of their engines now.

The question is will the battery be part of the car from the manufacturers, or part of the mobility system from the service company (Better Place). For the first time, I can see Better Place actually usurping BP.

End oil? As the Chinese might say, may you live in interesting times.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

USA sales of Leafs and Volts neck and neck

Interesting to see that after 5 months, sales of pure electric Nissan Leafs and plug-in range extended Chevy Volts are almost exactly the same at just under 2200 vehicles for each marque.

What pleases me is that the Leaf is now outselling the Volt, reversing the initial trend.

GM has said it will produce 16,000 Volts and Nissan 20,000 Leafs for the US market this year. The slow start reflects problems of supply by the way, not demand. A Gallup poll out today said that 57% of Americans will not buy a pure electric vehicle - which to my mind is excellent news as this therefore means that 43% will - not bad considering the market is only just beginning to take shape!