Sunday, August 7, 2016

Gas Companies Give Up on Hydrogen

We have discussed hydrogen fuel cell vehicles here many times. The technology fails the basic tests for first principals analysis.

If seems that the oil companies have come to the same conclusion. Hydrogen will not be the fuel of the future.
"Chevron, Exxon, Shell and BP have all backed out of the Fuel Cell Partnership, a joint government-industry group that promotes hydrogen cars."

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

EV Charging Tips and Tricks

In an earlier post, we covered the basics of public EV charging. That article covered the types of charge ports, charging networks, and how to find public charging spots. In this post, we'll dive into the next stage of EV charging in the wild.

Public charging infrastructure is an all too rare commodity. When you are charging at a public station, the first rule is to be considerate of your fellow plug-in vehicle drivers. You must understand that you are in a shared space; and you should be careful not to abuse it.

Don't be an ICEhole (or an EVhole)

If you want to upset the EV community, just park in a charging spot and don't plug in. If you park an internal combustion engine (ICE) car in a charging spot, you are an ICEhole. Similarly, if you are driving an EV and 'forget' to plug in, wait hours after the car is full before you move it, or otherwise abuse this precious commodity, then you maybe labeled an EVhole. There are facebook pages dedicated to shaming ICEholes and EVholes.

Tesla community outraged after Model X spotted occupying three Supercharger stalls
To avoid appearing on these pages, only park in charging spots when you are actively charging.

If you are charging for less than 30 minutes, try to stay with your car so you can unplug and move along quickly to free up the space for someone else.

If you do need to leave the vehicle, put an EV Card on the dash. This will let people know if they can unplug your car or not and how to contact you if they need you to move your car. Be a part of the community.

Lagom Charging Method

When you take a gas powered car to the gas station, you are likely to fill'er-up. EV charging is a different paradigm. When you are charging at home, there is no one waiting for your charging spot and you are in your home, eating diner, sleeping, and doing whatever else it is that you do. When you are charging in a public charging station, it's not like a gas station, your goal is not to fill'er up. Instead, your goal should be "Lagom".

Lagom is a Swedish word that means "just the right amount". The Lagom charging method means that you charge enough to get to your next destination plus a little extra cushion so you can get there comfortably if you have to take a detour. This has multiple advantages. EVs charge slower as the batteries approach full. If you don't need the range, there is no need to tolerate the slower rate. This means that you are not spending more of your time parked than you need to. It means that you clear up the spot for someone else.

Know Where Your Next Outlet Is

If your next destination is home, you know you have a place to charge waiting for you. However, if your next stop is another public charging spot, well, some of them are more reliable than others. After you have been using public charging for awhile, you learn which stations are more likely to be busted. You don't want to learn this by pulling up to a station just as your battery hits E to find it broken down.

To help avoid this, use the PlugShare smartphone app and look at the recent check-ins. If the station was successfully used recently, it is likely working fine.

Some places, like Electric Avenue, have multiple charging stations. If one is out, or occupied, you can just go to the next stall and charge up there. However, if the place you are heading is not your house and it only has one fast charger, you'll want to have a plan B. So even if you are Lagom charging, make sure you have enough to get to a plan B charging location.

And now that you have PlugShare on your phone, when you are charging up, be sure to check-in and let others know the state of the charging station you're using.

The 14th Amendment for Charging 

All plug-in vehicles have the right to use the plug-in infrastructure. You may occasionally find someone that thinks that you should move your car because they deserve it more than you. Like the image on the right, they think that a plug-in hybrid should move for a battery electric, or that a long range EV, like a Tesla, should move for a shorter range EV.

I disagree with this idea. If you have a car that plugs in and you joined the charging network, you have a right to use the network. If you have a plug-in hybrid, but you prefer to charge up and drive on electricity, rather than gas, you have the right to charge up.

Now, if you are in a plug-in hybrid and someone in an EV asks you nicely to let them charge up because they need to charge up to get home, feel free to let them have the spot. But don't think you have to move because they have more of a right to it than you do.

Don't Be Entitled 

If you are driving an EV, you are not single-handedly saving the world. Yes, you are doing a good thing but this does not entitle you to park in ADA access ramp zones.

Illegally parked EV
Occasionally, you might need to get creative to find a way to charge up. When you do, make sure you are not creating a menace. If you have to park unusually, make sure you do it without blocking foot-traffic. If you have to run an extension cord, make sure you don't create a tripping hazard. If the extension cord has to cross a sidewalk, make sure you have a non-slip safety rug to lay over it. You can pick one up at Home Depot for less than $10.


Part 1 talked about joining a network and finding charging stations. In this, part 2 post, we covered being a positive part of the EV community. I hope you found this useful. If you know someone that has recently joined our EV community, please share this with them.

Monday, July 11, 2016

How Model 3 Success Forced Tesla to Buy SolarCity Now

Tesla Model 3 via Motor Trend
Elon Musk has made it clear that Tesla's mission is "to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport." Notice that it's not just "sell Tesla vehicles" or even "sell electric cars".  Sustainable is the keyword in this sentence. Sustainable transportation must to be fueled by renewable energy.*

The overwhelming success of the Tesla Model 3 launch was a surprise to all but the most optimistic fans. Tesla received about 380,000 preorders in the first week, whereas they expected only one quarter as many. When electric vehicles breakout, go viral, hit the tipping-point,... it is important that they are fueled by renewable energy.

As we have discussed before, solar energy and electric vehicles have a large overlap in customers. People buying electric cars today are the perfect potential solar customers. These are the conantur, the matutine cognitia. They see what is coming and they want to be part of the solution. Many of them own their own homes. Meaning that in addition to a garage (with a charging station), they also have a roof. Additionally, these are people in the new car market, so many of them have the income, or means, to consider other products such as Powerwall or solar.

Awareness, will, and means results in action. In this case, that action is to buy and EV and fuel it with solar energy generated from their own roofs.

Awareness, will, and means results in action.

The move to buy SolarCity has been decried by many reservation holders as a distraction from all the work that must be done to bring the Model 3 to market. If Tesla had planned on the their next generation of vehicles to be their mainstream breakout car, then they could have waited to start selling renewable energy, but it appears that Model 3 is the start of the hockey stick curve.

This means that Tesla has to be able to offer solar to people as they order and become Model 3 drivers. If Tesla cannot offer this service, then they are not delivering on the sustainable transport mission that they have had since founding the company. Or if they wait a year after Model 3 is shipping, that is hundreds of thousands of potential solar customers that they let slip past. And it is not just the number of people. These are exactly the people that are the right people to inspire their friends, family, and neighbors. These are the people that ordered a Model 3 before they ever touched one, sat in it, or drove it. They are the early adopters and their enthusiasm will inspire the early majority.

Before they ever delivered their first car, this was the vision. If it disappoints you that they are taking steps to fulfill it, then you don't understand Tesla's vision, goals, or mission.

* You could argue that nuclear is sustainable and CO2-free (Pandora's Promise), but let's not get off-topic. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Tesla Buying SolarCity Advances Civilization Along The Kardashev Scale

Back in 2014, we wrote that Tesla and SolarCity are a natural fit. One is a clean electricity producer, the other uses energy to get us where we'd like to go. And all the better that the energy should come from a renewable source.

That same energy storage technology that moves Tesla's cars can be used to store energy for the grid. Tesla's Gigafactory promises to make these batteries more affordably than they have ever been before. Energy storage would allow energy to be tapped at a moment's notice, without waiting for generators to spin up. Affordable grid-level energy storage is what's needed to bring energy from the analog era into the digital era.

Affordable industrial-scale batteries will make energy "digital".

Large-scale energy storage will be a massive disruption. It will change how we produce and use energy. You might say, "So what? As long as I can flip a switch and turn on the lights, what does it matter?"

When energy can be stored, it becomes orders of magnitude more scalable. The grid that we have today is an engineering marvel. It, however, depends on a real-time match of supply and demand. This requires spinning reserves and peaker plants... This real-time match requirement is a significant constraint on the grid. Removing this constraint allows for new grid architectures, better reliability, and levels of innovation in energy that we haven't seen since Edison and Tesla fought the War of the Currents.

Briefly, one variant of the Kardashev Scale measures a civilization's level of technological advancement based on the amount of energy a civilization is able to utilize. Humankind's command of energy has moved from fire, to gunpowder, dynamite, whale oil, to fossil fuels and nuclear; and now we are on the cusp of becoming a renewably powered civilization.

The combination of Tesla and SolarCity moves civilization one small step along the Kardashev Scale.

Imagine batteries that are charged by solar during the day and then discharged at night. When the morning sun comes up, any surplus energy left in the batteries is transferred west, to run from the rising sun and power regions that are still in the dark. With energy storage, it is possible to move energy around where and when it is needed: vehicle to grid, storage to home, storage to vehicle, peer-to-peer energy exchange... there are new uses cases waiting to be discovered.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

How to Charge an Electric Car (EV)

Welcome to EV Charging 101: A Public EV Charging How To 

Electric vehicle ownership is continuing to grow. 1 Million plug-in cars were on the world's roads as of 2015. Plug In America estimates that there are currently nearly half a million plug-in cars on US roadways. The upcoming Tesla Model 3 and Chevy Bolt will continue this trend and we are likely to see 1 million PEVs on US roads during 2018. With all of these EV sales, there will be many new owners that have never used public charging infrastructure.

When you are charging at home it is as easy as: open the charging port, plug in, and smile. Dealing with public infrastructure can be a little more difficult. This article is intended to educate plug-in vehicle owners, newbies and veterans alike, about plugging in when you are out and about.

If you want to charge at a charging stations in the wild, there are a few things that you'll need to know: the type of charging station, where to find it, what (if any) membership card you'll need to access it.

Know Your Car's Charging Port(s)

This all starts by knowing what kind of connector(s) your car has. The types of ports, will determine what types of charging stations you can use. Unfortunately, there is not one unified connector for all EVs. There are connectors for AC, there are connector for DC fast charging, and some that can do both.

For AC charging, modern EVs use the J1772 (jay-seventeen-seventy-two) plug. This port is standard on most EVs. The big exception is Tesla, they have a proprietary inlet port, but they have a J1772 adapter. Many of the public charging stations are J1772.

SAE J1772 Plug and socket/inlet

Depending on the power source and your vehicle, these give you from 5 miles to 30 miles of range per hour that you are plugged into them. These types of charging stations are good for overnight charging and workplace charging where the vehicle will be parked for several hours, but they are not generally useful for a cross country trek.

For long distance drives, you need DC Fast Charging (DCFC). Depending on the station and your car, these can get you from 80 miles of range per hour up to 170 miles of range per hour. There are three primary types of DCFC: CHAdeMO, SAE Combined Charging Standard (CCS), and Tesla Superchargers.

CHAdeMO (left) and CCS (right)

CHAdeMO is generally supported by Japanese manufacturers such as Nissan, Kia, and Mitsubishi.
CCS is generally supported by German and US manufactures such as BMW, VW, GM, and Ford.
Tesla Model S/X vehicles, of course, use the Tesla Superchargers. You can also buy an adapter to allow a Tesla to charge at CHAdeMO stations and Tesla has promised a CCS adapter soon.

You need to know which type (if any) of DC fast charging your vehicle supports. For some make/models, the base package does not include DC fast charging and plug-in hybrids usually don't have a DCFC option.

There are some charging stations that support both CHAdeMO and CCS. It is important that you know which DCFC your vehicle supports. If you coast up to the wrong one with a flat battery, it will not be able to charge your car.

Know Your Networks

There are multiple EV charging networks. You need to know which one(s) are in your travel realms and which one(s) work with your car.

Here are a some of the more common networks: Aerovironment, Blink, ChargePoint, nrg, and Tesla.

Charging Station Membership Cards

Tesla charging is a special case; we'll come back to them. Let's look at the others first. These networks require membership to access them. Find out which ones are in your area (more on this in the next section) and join those networks.

Tesla has two charging networks. The first is the Supercharger network, these are fast charge stations that can supply up to 170 miles of range in 30 minutes. No membership is required, other than owning a Tesla. These stations only work with post-Roadster Tesla vehicles (i.e., Model S, Model X, and soon Model 3). The second Tesla network is the Destination Charging network. These are generally at hotels, restaurants and shopping centers. They often include both Tesla wall chargers and Level 2 J1772 from other vendors. These may or may not be free. Hotel sites, for example, may only allow guests to use these stations.

Where Are The Charging Stations?

Here we are in step three. In step one you figured out what types of charging stations your car supports. In step two, you joined your local (or planned travel route) charging networks. Now, to find the stations.

Some EVs have charging station locations in their nav system. This is handy but it may not include real-time availability information. Unless you have an internet connected car (like a Tesla), then you'll need to use a smartphone app like PlugShare for realtime info.

When you are planning a trip and you know you'll need to make a charging stop, it is very helpful to look these stations up on PlugShare see if they have been used recently and what, if any, notes others have left. These checks and notes are very useful. They will let you know if a station has been used recently and if it is operational. If it is down, you can make other plans.

Tip: when possible, go to a "charging cluster" such as Electric Avenue. Clusters have multiple charging stations. If one of the stations is non-operational or occupied, you can just pull in to another stall.

Guerrilla Charging 

Occasionally, you may be traveling to regions that apparently have never heard of electric vehicles. Even in these areas, you may be able to charge with little or no problems. With the right adapter, nearly any electric outlet will do.

Guerrilla EV charging kit
Nearly any US campground with RV hook-up spots will have NEMA 14-50 outlets. These are 240V outlets and will get you 25 to 30 miles of range for each hour that you're plugged in there. In is not the 150 MPH of a DCFC, but if you only need another 50 miles to get to your destination, it can be a nice stop to explore a part of the world you would have previously just driven through.

Depending on how long you are planning on plugging in, many of these locations will allow you to charge for a small fee, whereas others may require you to pay the full overnight space fee. Be charming (not entitled) and you might be surprised that people can be very friendly. An EV is still a novelty and conversation starter in many places.

If you plan on stopping at a BNB on your EV trek, call ahead and ask about plugging in. A simple 120V outlet can provide you with 50 miles of range when plugged in for a 10 hour overnight stay. If you are lucky, they may even have a 240V dryer outlet that you could use to charge even faster.  

Wrap Up

There you have the basics and a couple advanced tips. Find the follow up with EV charging tips and tricks here. I'll even explain what that green card below is all about. If you have any related questions, leave a comment below and I'll try to help.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Tesla Model 3 Will Have Half The Battery Cells Of Model S [Updated]

18650 compared to a 20700, both 3D printed. 1:18th Scale Diecast Model S for scale - photo via Aaron Cocker 

Back in May, I wrote a story that said the Tesla Model 3 would have half the number of battery cells of the Tesla Model S. This was based on many assumptions. Some of these assumptions have now been clarified.

During the 2016 Annual Shareholder Meeting, at the 1 hour, 48 minute mark, Elon Musk and JB Straubel talk about the motivations to build the Gigafactory and the innovations that they are putting into both the batteries and the factory itself.

Elon Musk confirmed that the battery cells made at the Gigafactory will be bigger than the standard 18650. He also gave a precise size. Tesla's battery will be 20mm in diameter and 70mm in height. The 18650 is so named because it is 18 mm in diameter by 65 mm height. Using the same naming convention, the new Tesla battery cell would be a 20700 battery cell.

18650 compared to 20700 via Seeking Alpha
This new cell will have 33% more volume than the old cell.

Elon clarified that Tesla does not use commodity laptop 18650 cells. They have been using cells specifically designed for their needs for some time now. It just so happens that they have continued to package these in the same 18650 form factor.

This change in size to 20700 was based on a first principles analysis. This new size allows for increased energy per cell while still allowing for thermal management and fire control within the pack.

On a related note, Quartz reports that Tesla has hired Jeff Dahn, a leading battery researcher who teaches at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. Dahn is tasked with doing “whatever it takes” to improve the company’s battery performance.

Tesla Model 3 will use a larger 20700 cell with a better chemistry than the current Model S.
JB has previously stated that the Model 3 battery will be "next generation." Battery cells have been improving about 5 to 7 percent each year. Compounded over several years, this adds up.

How Many Cells?

The original article assumed the new cell would be 20% bigger in each dimension. With such a size increase, it was easy to have half the number of cells. That is, however, not correct. The increase is ~10% in each dimension. Given this update, let's guess at how many of the new 20700 cells will be in the Model 3.

According to, there are 7,104 cells (16 modules of 444 cells) in Model S. For Model 3, we'll be able to reduce that number with several factors. First, as discussed above, the Model 3 will use a larger cell. Second, the Model 3 will be smaller, lighter, and more aerodynamic. Third is the range, the base Model 3 will not go as far as the base Model S. The final factor is the battery chemistry will be one or two generations ahead of the 2015 chemistry that is in the Model S and X today. Let's look at each of these in detail.

The first one is easy, the cells are 33% larger. This means a 25% reduction in the number of cells needed for a given energy level. (75%)

The second item is the smaller, lighter, and more aerodynamic Model 3. The final specs for the Model 3 are not released yet, but we'll make an assumption and update this as data is available. Model S has an energy efficiency of 89 MPGe. Looking at other EVs we can guess at Model 3's efficiency. Looking at two examples, the 2016 Leaf has a 114 MPGe rating and the BMW i3 has a 124 MPGe rating. Neither of these carry as large of a battery pack as Model 3 will, but Model 3 will be more aerodynamic than either of these. So, assuming Model 3 will be in this range, that would be a 70 to 80% reduction in needed capacity. (75%)

The third factor is range. The only range known today about Model 3 is that the base model will be at least 215 miles. Assuming Tesla follows the Model S offerings, there would be one battery pack upgrade option, a dual motor upgrade, and performance options. Since we only have an idea about the base model, let's compare the base option 215 miles (worst case) to the base Model S 70. Model 3's 215 mile range is 92% of the 234 mile range of the Model S 70. (92%)

The final factor is the battery technology improvements. The Model S 90 kWh pack was first offered in July of 2015. The Model 3 is expected to start shipping in the 4th quarter of 2017. Battery advancements happen in fits and starts, there is no telling what, if any, improvements there will be above and beyond the July 2015 offering, but let's just take the trend on face value and assume a 5% improvement. (95%)

Putting these factors together and we have an estimate of ~50% of the cells of Model S. That is approximately 3550 of the new 20700 cells in Model 3. This is more than the previous estimate, but still less than half of the 7104 cells in the current Model S / X.

Tesla Model 3 will have approximately 3550 battery cells.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Is There Enough Lithium?

During the Tesla 2016 Annual Shareholder Meeting someone asked if Tesla had enough Lithium to do all the things they envision for vehicles and energy storage.

This is a common question when people first consider EVs. They are concerned that the world would be moving from peak-oil to peak-Lithium.

Elon Musk clarified that Lithium supply is in no way a limiting factor to any of Tesla's goals.

Lithium is not rare. It is the 3rd most common element in the universe. The first is hydrogen, but it is bound-up in water (or hydrocarbons) and difficult to separate. Helium is the second, but here on Earth, unless contained, it floats away. Lithium does not float away. It is often bound to salt and this is easy to separate. Lithium supplies are abundant and prices are low and stable.

Even if Lithium were rare and expensive it would not greatly impact Li-ion battery prices. Lithium is only about 2% of the volume of a Li-ion battery cell. Elon called Lithium "the salt on the salad."

Elon and JB noted that it would be more accurate to refer to their batteries as Nickel-Graphite (with Silicon-Oxide).