Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Opposing Currents

The news certainly seems good from the "big wave" perspective that electric vehicles will soon enter the mainstream as a practical alternative transportation method. We are but a few years away from the point where, if you look left, then right, from your parking space there is a high probability that one of those vehicles will be at least partially electric drive. Of course the probability shoots up dramatically if you are in California or Oregon, as they are two states that seem to be gearing up for the EV revolution by supporting broad deployment of charging infrastructure. Portland General Electric (PGE) was announced as a winning partner in a DOE Stimulus bid award of $100M, along with charging company ETec and EV manufacturer Nissan. In California, the Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) folks are soliciting response for a large scale smart charging network deployment. Can PSE&G be far behind? (sticking with the related letter acronym theory).

So what dark clouds may be looming on the horizon as a counter current to this seemingly unstoppable revolution and race toward electric transportation. Well, the best way as usual is to look at the potential losers and see what obstacles this may precipitate. One of the big ones might be the US DOT /Federal Highway Administration with a significant loss of fuel tax revenue that would result from the massive shift away from Internal Combustion Engines (ICE). How would this revenue be made up? What restrictions and/or additional costly submetering might be imposed on electrically fueled vehicles?

How about standards? These historically political battlegrounds usually give way to years of haggling, vetting, and agonizing delay. There is some hope that our Smart Grid initiatives will sett a vigorous pace for these critical developments so that EVs can seamlessly interoperate across the country, and innovative third party solutions can flow as freely as iPhone apps. One of the first important ones is the SAE J1772 standard for EV charging system connectors ... without that you would be tethered to your own home grown charging system for refueling. These are coming, but slowly, and we should all hope this can be agreed and adopted quickly.

There are other potential barriers that could slow things, but lets save those for a future blurb. For now, we can be optimistic that the tectonic plates of the Electric Utility and Automotive industries are shifting to let the currents flow .... to our EV batteries!

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Big Stim

Well, last week proved an exciting time for the Electric Vehicle community - a massive deployment of stimulus funding toward battery and vehicle R&D. The top deck of the administration fanning across the country for the choreographed announcement at various flash points of this industrial revolution. For me, it was especially encouraging that the Smart Charging infrastructure investments were made a significant part of this, as building a strong infrastructure for rapid public and private recharging is critical to the ultimate market adoption success of electric transportation.

I am coming up on 2000 miles of all electric transportation and, as I have mentioned in previous ramblings, have had a but a single bout of acute range anxiety. The generalized, more "chronic" range anxiety has essentially faded into the background as I have learned to plan and drive within the range limits of the vehicle, and I am now comfortably in the groove of daily carbon-mitigated driving.... and loving it!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Well, its just a matter of time with free range EVs (ie those not in garage captivity) before some form of weather anomaly catches up with you. Would you believe that my MiniE was sucked up into a tornado and deposited safely 50 miles away - thereby extending my all electric range nicely. No? Well would you believe that I forded a 2 ft. flooded road - thereby nicely cooling my battery pack and getting a nice car wash to boot? No? How about that my MiniE #484 survived a golf ball sized hailstorm? OK - now we're talking....

This past Sunday we had some horrific weather move through in NJ, and I was unfortunate enough to be parked at the street of my friend's house for a barbecue. As we settled in for burgers, the sky darkened and we moved inside the house. No sooner settled back to munchinig, the pounding began. Streaking white meteors flaming out into the pool and back yard and yes, onto my MiniE! With a nauseated feeling I ran to the front window and watched the deluge pound my little defenseless coupe. Thoughts came to me like; What if I had gone with the solar panel option? Why can't the vehicle shell draw battery current for a repelling force field? Who is going to believe this wasn't a case of ball-peen anti-EV road rage?

Regaining my composure, I snapped a few Blackberry photos to share with you and the insurance company, and on Monday I was pleasantly surprised and relieved that there would be no big problem getting this fixed. In general, the damage was surprisingly minor - a testament to the rugged shell design of the Mini. All in all, just another extreme performance test passed by the MiniE with flying colors in the real post-Climate Change world. Which got me thinking... Hmmm - wonder how much Co2 is in a golf ball hailstone.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Encouraging Words from Berkeley

I am about halfway through reading a very interesting report issued last week by University of California, Berkeley. Here it is if you are interested ...

Their encouragement comes from reference to a recent Wired magazine article which leads them to predict that "... a new generation of affordable, high performance electric cars is about to enter the U.S. market."

Their bullish forcast is based heavily on the anticipated success of an emerging business model for these vehicles: Removable and exchangable batteries and a per-mile service contract structure. AKA the "cell phone model" for transportation. I must admit, I have slowly but persistently moved from skeptical to cautious belief with regard to this business model, but thats how paradigm shifts usually work... they are only obvious to the general population in retrospect. I'm still not a complete convert, but certainly look forward with an open mind to seeing the evolution proceed!

I am encouraged by this since the faster we get significant penetration of high capacity Lithium Ion batteries into the transportation sector, and connect them intelligently to the grid, the sooner the benefits flow to our society: lower CO2 emission, improved energy sourcing security, improved grid reliability, and renewed economic base.

Hope you enjoy the article, and it provides you with some great food for thought. Paul

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Whats Worse than Range Anxiety?

After three predictable commuting weeks within comfortable EV range/recharge, including one longer trip into NYC and back, I was getting used to the range limitations of the MiniE. Then came my trip to the Jersey Shore this past weekend. Granted, the logistics of this trip were a bit daunting - 65 miles down to my son's place in Belmar, then relying on the 120V recharge during my 7 hour visit, to get back home with the thirsty battery for a full recharge at home all day the following Sunday.

Well, the brain of an EV driver is constantly running the algorithm of descending capacity against remaining miles (Range Anxiety, or RA), and about half way back I realized the worst was coming to pass. Yes, thats right, Range Panic (RP). My Plan B was hastily activated, which meant pointing the MiniE slightly West and visiting my Mom's house for an overnight refresh (shaving 15 miles from the drive), and continuing home the next morning. Any port in a storm - which was exactly what was coming as I faced the lightning and storm clouds directly ahead.

Initially, the RP receded back to the relatively more pleasant RA state, but again, as I neared the final destination, that feeling came back with a vengance - and this time amidst a torrential downpour and lightning bolts surrounding me... I will STILL not make it. I needed 5 miles more range. My kingdom for a kilowatt-hour. Then I saw it - the Lukoil station with the outdoor Coke vending machine. My prayer was answered with an available second outlet, and I was soon left to my meditations amid the pounding rain on the roof of the MiniE for the 1 hour 20minute battery booster shot, looking at the pump with the $2.45/gallon offer just out of my grasp. I am now back on the predictable path, a wiser EV driver, with no serious consequences. But lesson learned. Know thy limits.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Welcome to the Future

Been a long time coming, this third wave for Electric transportation. This time it sticks. Couldn't come at a better time. Resource wars looming and carbon mitigation on the fast track. Mobility-rich lifestyles spreading to the rest of the world. Drive for sustainable practices, both business and personal. Grid reliability.

Wait... Grid reliability? Isn't this an apple in with those oranges? No, think about it. These vehicles have the inherent energy transfer rates (power) of 5 average sized homes running full out on a hot summer day. They also have enough energy stored (capacity) to run one of those homes at that flat out level for 8-10 hours, or perhaps for a couple of days at a minimized emergency operations level. So think about how important it is to carefully manage the recharging (or discharging) in coordination with grid conditions to make sure the lights stay on for everyone. A no brainerBut the real opportunity is cooler still.

Imagine the vehicle plugged in while parked, and coordinating with the electric grid and electricity markets to automatically (and instantly) give and take short power bursts as a compensation mechanism for the fluctuations within the less consistent renewable supply portion (wind and solar) upstream in the generation mix. Well, the markets are there, with significant payments to make for providers of those services (called Ancillary Services) and the average vehicle owner will be able to get their EV to PAY THEM BACK during those idle times of parking. This is the magic of Vehicle to Grid services. Coming soon to a charging station near you.

Hopefully, there will quickly emerge a concensus on the desirability and practicality of these services, and government policy makers, auto OEMs, and utility service providers will work together with innovative third party aggregators, and within the emerging Smart Grid standards initiatives, to enable this most powerful synergistic future between vehicles and the electricity grid.