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Plug In Drivers Not Missin' the Piston

This is the Kodak Moment for the Auto Industry. Electric vehicles are here to stay. Their market acceptance and growth will continue....

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tesla & SolarCity usher in the New Energy Era

At some point late in 2013, I think the future business plans for SolarCity and Tesla Motors were mixed together. The page that said "Gigafactory" slipped from one to the other and now they both have a Gigafactory in their future.

Together these two gigafactories will reduce the cost of solar panels and energy storage. These factories, along with the wave of competition and copycats that they kick-off, will create the new energy era of 2030.

Let's look at each of these planned factories and their impact.

Tesla Gigafactory

Tesla is building a massive battery factory in Nevada. The figure below gives you some perspective on the size of the planned Tesla Gigafactory.

This comparison shows the size, but it is a bit of a cheat in that it is comparing the *footprint* of the factory to the *profile* of the other buildings. Below is a comparison of just footprints:
I'm not sure why the above figure (from Reddit) includes a banana on the right, but the comparison to the 80,000 seat Dallas Cowboys' football stadium is telling. This will be a massive factory.

Tesla expects their battery cost to be reduced by 30%. The output of the factory is expected to be 35 GWh/year of cells and, with additional cells from their partner Panasonic, 50 GWh/year of battery packs.

There are the numbers, but what does that mean? Let's put it in perspective, this is more battery capacity than all the factories in the world made in 2013. That is worth reiterating. This factory will produce, under one roof, more batteries than all the factories in the world made in 2013. This is enough battery capacity for:
o 22 billion iPhone 5s
o 1.2 billion iPad Retinas
o 2 Million Nissan Leafs
o 588,000 Tesla Model S P85D

More on the Tesla battery factory later, let's look at the solar gigafactory.

SolarCity Gigafactory 

The SolarCity Gigafactory will be located in Buffalo, New York at the High-Tech Manufacturing Hub. It is a one million-square-foot site.

SolarCity intends to build a factory with 1 gigawatt of annual solar capacity. The modules will be highly efficient and have the lowest cost per installed kilowatt of any on the market. Depending on where it is installed, 1 GW of panels could generate 1 terawatt-hour of energy annually. This is enough to power over 85,000 US homes each year it is operational.

SolarCity's Silevo Solar Cell
According to SolarCity's press release, the company will spend $5 billion on their gigafactory over the next 10 years.

Putting Them Together 

Solar panels that generate energy and batteries that can store that energy are a natural fit. There are many ways that these can be used together. The Tesla battery gigafactory and acres of the desert around it will be covered in SolarCity's panels. Many of the Tesla supercharger stations will have SolarCity panels. These minor cooperative efforts are nice and to be expected considering the relationship between the companies, but this is just the camel's nose.

In late 2013, SolarCity started offering energy storage systems to businesses using Tesla batteries. The system has energy management software that stores energy when there's surplus and supplies energy during peak times to avoid demand charges and peak rates. Soon we could see projects that allow the utilities to buy this stored energy when they need it, thereby increasing their operating reserve. Another clue to what's to come.

Creating the New Energy Era 

It is easy to see how energy storage and solar are complementary, but the real disruption here is the scope of these two factories. Together they will reduce the cost of solar and energy storage to the point that they are game changers. By 2030 things will be radically different. The combination of the Tesla and SolarCity gigafactories could make the next great energy powerhouse.

The combination of Tesla & SolarCity could be the next energy powerhouse. 

Energy Generation 2030

Cheap energy storage means that renewable energy can be the primary supply for the power grid. Intermittent sources, such as wind and solar, are easily managed when there is energy storage that buffers generation from use. This energy store can be tapped as needed, on-demand, with no spin-up delay. Energy will become "digital". Once we hit this digital-energy tipping point, all new generation plants that utilities bring online will be renewable. With renewable generation there is no need to pay for ongoing fuel costs, waste disposal, or emission controls. Fossil fuel burning and nuclear will just not pencil out for cost and the "baseload" argument is moot once massive grid-scale energy storage is viable.

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

This might sound like a radical shift in energy production but the trends are already starting. The cost reductions in solar and storage will hasten the transition.

Cheap solar panels will mean that any building with an unshaded roof will be a candidate for solar. For example, if you could install solar panels and a scaled-to-fit energy storage system on your home or business, that cost you nothing upfront and this allowed you to pay for all of your electricity at off-peak rates, there are clear economic benefits, it's a no-brainer. Most people would jump at a chance to reduce their electric bill.

Transportation 2030

As batteries become cheaper, plug-in vehicles become cheaper, have longer range, and grab more market share. This also allows batteries to be used in more vehicle types. Today BYD is making electric buses and there are electric garbage trucks on the roads in Chicago and Beijing.

Elon Musk has stated by 2030 that 50% of all new vehicle production will be fully electric. I have made my own prediction here. In my prediction, I did not distinguish between plug-in hybrids and fully electric vehicles. I predicted that 50% of all new vehicle sales will be plug-in vehicles in 2035. So I am only slightly more pessimistic than Mr Musk, but we are in the same general ball-park. Plug-in vehicles have clearly crossed the chasm by 2030 and are clearly on their way to market dominance.

Not only will batteries become cheaper, they will become lighter. Currently, Li-ion batteries store about 300 Wh/kg. Today this allows for expensive ~200 mile range cars. Battery energy density is improving at about 8% per year. Assuming this general rate continues, things start to get very interesting when the technology crosses the 400 Wh/kg milestone in ~2020.

The 400 Wh/kg milestone is significant because it will allow EVs to be lighter while still carrying a significant energy capacity. This will result in longer range without increasing the capacity. According to Car & Driver, the 2013 Tesla Model S 85 battery pack weighs 1323 pounds. A 30% reduction in pack weight would remove 400 pounds from the car. This would improve the acceleration, range, handling, and braking without any other changes to the car.
2013 Battery Pack Comparison
Let's look at air travel.

Today there are small experimental electric aircraft. At the 2014 Berlin Air Show Airbus demonstrated their E-Fan two-seater electric aircraft shown below.

Smaller aircraft, such as the Embraer Regional Jet and twin-turboprop commuter lines, will likely be among the first commercial planes to be electrified. Airbus has already demonstrated that they want to lead in this space even if it takes a radical redesign of planes.

As the fuel savings for these smaller aircraft becomes apparent, the technology will move up the ranks.

With 400 Wh/kg batteries, it is possible to have battery powered coast-to-coast commercial airline flights. At 700 Wh/kg (in ~2030), it would be possible to have battery powered intercontinental flights.

Where Does It End?

Battery technology will continue to improve. They will get lighter, cheaper, charge faster, and last longer. Our current chemistries will, eventually, be replaced by lithium-air, solid state, or another breakthrough. These will be refined and eventually displaced by ultracapacitors or a yet-to-be imagined storage system.

This improved energy storage will drive development and new applications in transportation and energy management. By 2070, all transportation (except rockets) will be electrically powered from renewable energy.

Create the future you want to live in

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Tesla CHAdeMO Adapter Really Coming Soon

Tesla Model S charging w/ the CHAdeMO adaptor

Tesla has been selling their CHAdeMO adaptor in Japan since mid-2013. However, they have not started selling it in the US yet. The adaptor has been listed on the Model S accessories page for over a year with a "coming soon" tag.

Here in the NW corner of the US, there is a vast CHAdeMO network, as you can see in the image below. A CHAdeMO adaptor would be very handy around here.

Oregon & Washington CHAdeMO Charging Stations, Oct 2014 
Tesla has built out their Supercharger network in this area too. You can see it in the image below.

Tesla Supercharger Network in Oregon & Washington
Comparing the CHAdeMO network and the Supercharger network, you can see that there are far more CHAdeMO stations. Granted, the Superchargers are faster and free, but that does not mean that they are located everywhere that you might like to stop and charge.

The CHAdeMO adaptor would allow Model S drivers to decide where they'd like to charge.

Since the adaptor first appeared on Tesla's accessories page, it has had a price of $1000. Today, that price was reduced to $450. It is still listed as "coming soon" but the price reduction is a promising sign that "soon" may finally actually be soon.

Friday, October 10, 2014

West Coast Electric Highway Drivers Wanted

Do you fast charge your EV on the West Coast Electric Highway in Oregon? If so, author Jim Motavalli would like to interview you.

Oregon's Chief EV Officer, Ashley Horvat, is helping Jim find frequent fast charging EV drivers. If you would like to talk with Jim, please contact Ashley at Ashley.N.Horvat@odot.state.or.us

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Mental "Glitches" Are Slowing EV Sales (Part 5 - Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon)

Welcome to part 5 of our series of cognitive biases and logical fallacies. We are examining these biases that we all have and how they could be impacting the mass adoption of plug-in vehicles. We have looked at Cognitive Dissonance, Status Quo Bias, Confirmation Bias, and Ingroup Bias. In this post, we'll be looking at Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.

Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

Have you ever learned a new word and then in the following few days you run across it several times? This is the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. Expanding on this concept, have you ever bought a new car, then suddenly you start seeing that model on roads all over the place. For my last example, when my wife was pregnant, it seemed like I was seeing pregnant women everywhere we went.

This phenomenon is one example of how our attentiveness can be primed. As we walk through the world, our previous experiences determine what we see as salient and what is filtered out.

In some cases, there really is an external change that causes a spike in some events. These seeming coincidences could just be a statistical clustering of events or they could have a common, perhaps non-obvious, source such as a meme or trend. With the word example, perhaps it was used in an influential article or speech and this spurred other writers to use the word or phrase.

In other cases, your attentiveness has changed. As in the car example, buying a new car is a big purchase and an emotional experience. The number of similar cars on the road didn't change from the day before you made your purchase. They were there before, but they didn't have the same level of emotional connection. What has changed is your ability to notice them (selective perception bias).

In yet other cases, this is can be because your exposure to the item of note has changed. In the example of my pregnant wife, we were going to the obstetrician's office and birthing classes, and we were of an age that many of our friends were also starting or expanding their family.

There you have it, the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon can be a coincidence, a trend, selective attentiveness, or a change in your exposure of a constant.

Why We Filter 

Let's look at the selective attentiveness aspect of Baader-Meinhof a little more. If priming can make us aware of things that were already there of which we were previously ignorant, then it stands to reason that there are other things that we are currently exposed to but not perceiving. What advantage would there be for our brain to keep us ignorant of things in our surroundings?

Filtering is vital for decision making 

When driving, we don't notice the make, model, license plate number, and driver details of every vehicle around. It is enough to notice if they are staying in their lane and then use our attention to think about what we are doing to do that evening or to listen the radio. If you were trying to assimilate all this information, you would likely rearend the car in front of you when they stopped and you didn't notice because you were noting the eye color of driver in an oncoming car as they passed by you.

While awake, our brains are constantly drown in torrent of information streaming in from our senses. To understand the world, this data has to be manageable. That means in complex scenes, only the things with 'significance' get through the filters. This is a mechanism to help us make sense of the world.

Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon Applied to Plug-in Vehicles

How does this apply to plug-in vehicles and the public infrastructure they plug into?


One of the primary objections to plug-in vehicles is that there is not enough infrastrastructure to support them. This is the, so-called, chicken-and-egg problem (EVs need infrastructure before people will buy them, but there is no reason to build infrastructure when there are so few plug-in cars on the road).

I would argue that there is EV infrastructure, it is just that most people are selectively blind to it. It fails to meet the Baader-Meinhof significance test and it is glossed over. Below are some examples of EV charging infrastructure.

Various EV charging infrastructure (not to scale)
These are not consistent in their appearance. They could easily be dismissed as a parking meter or other utility access items. Unless you have used these, you could be walking or driving past one or more per day and not even notice them. To see how many charging stations are in your region, open plugshare.com, type in your zipcode and look around.

Below is a screenshot of the Portland, Oregon area where I live. You can see that there are charging stations all over the place. There are DC Fast Charge stations (orange), Level 2 stations (green), and even people that will let you charge up at their house (shown in blue).

Plugshare listing of Portland Oregon 2014

Furthermore, EV drivers know that nearly any outlet can be used to charge up their car. There are millions of outlets in the US. Nearly every house has an outlet in the garage and/or an outdoor outlet that can used for holiday lights. Many RV campgrounds are happy to let you plug-in too.

Despite Portland currently having more infrastructure per capita than any other city in the US, when I am displaying my car at events, I still hear people say "As soon as they have more charging stations, I'll consider getting a plug-in car."

My point is that some people say "there is no infrastructure", whereas others see us as awash in it. Filtering and confirmation bias explain how these two groups can live in the same world and see it very differently.

Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon Applied to EVs

In a similar manner to the EV infrastructure, many people don't see the EVs that are out there. Given that there were only two mass produced models on sale in 2011, EVs have come a long way.

As of the time I am writing this, Plug In America.org estimates that there are 257,222 plug-in vehicles on the road in the US.
October 2014 estimate from PlugInAmerica.org
For those that assume this is "just a west coast thing", you may be surprised to hear that for the first half of 2014, Georgia outsold all other states. Utah, Arizona, and Tennessee are also in the top ten.

EV sales are still small, relative to the total car market. But the rate has been growing exponentially and the first half of 2014 is 84% higher than the 2013 rate.

There have been several studies and stories that show that one person in a community can clear the doubt and the veil that hides EVs from sight and then spark a neighborhood or community to adopt plug-in vehicles. Nissan spokesperson, Brian Brockman said “We find that once you have one or two people in a neighborhood driving a Leaf, they share stories about the benefits with friends, family and coworkers, which leads to additional sales,” in an interview with NextCity. Tesla has reported similar clustering of sales.

Just the act of the new technology showing up on a neighborhood driveway can disrupt the status quo bias and if the new owner is a member of the local ingroup, this would allow plug-in cars to get true consideration.


Friday, October 3, 2014

A Shifty Approach to Riding the Brammo Empulse

The Brammo Empulse has a 6-speed transmission. Adding a transmission was an unexpected move because electric motors have a very different torque profile than internal combustion engines and transmissions are generally not needed in EVs. The general wisdom said they add more moving parts and add little or no value. So why did Brammo do this? Was it folly to appease the gearheads or a genius move that improves the riding experience, acceleration, top speed, and range? 

Exploded-view of Empulse's 6-speed Integrated Electric Transmission (IET)

Since the Empulse's 2013 introduction, I have been curious how this story will turn out. Riders have now had time with the machine and to truly understand the way this impacts their experience. Below is one of the best write-ups I've seen that explains the nuances and advantages.

The following is from Shinysideup on the Brammo forum site:

I realized the other day that the Empulse has fundamentally changed the way I relate to using a transmission on a motorcycle. 

With my ICE bikes, I always started off in first gear and ran up through the gears in sequence to whatever gear was appropriate for the highest speed of the leg of the trip I was on. I also was in the habit of downshifting back through the sequence until I came to a stop. Of course my shift points were determined by the degree of acceleration I wanted vs. the economy of letting the engine operate at a slower speed without lugging. 

On the Empulse, I started off using the gearing in much the same way. However, gear selection was determined by aiming to keep the motor at the sweet spot for power and efficiency, around 5000 rpm. I didn't need to wind out the engine to get any torque. I didn't need to worry about lugging the engine. 

I've evolved, however, to a very different approach. While occasionally I still may run through the gears sequentially for more spirited riding (in the twisties or when I’m in my “streetfighter” mood), I usually anticipate how my speed is going to be for a given leg, select a gear that’s best suited for that speed, and just stay in that gear from the initial start to the next stop. The exception is for higher speed freeway travel, where I don’t start in 4th, 5th or 6th gear, but use them as I achieve higher speeds. (An after market 42T rear sprocket means I like 6th gear for anything above 70 mph or so).

Some examples (all are in Sport mode):

1)   I’m in stop-and-go rush hour traffic in San Francisco with lots of hills to climb and descend and not much opportunity for lane sharing. First gear fills the bill, allowing the motor to turn faster for more efficiency when climbing hills as well as aggressively helping out in braking, both down the steep hills and when cars suddenly stop in front of me. I’d guess I run in this mode maybe 5% of the time.

2)   Most of my dense city driving is below 30 mph with stop signs at just about every block. Second gear works beautifully to smooth out the starts and yet provide effective regenerative braking assistance at each stop, easier to modulate than first gear’s sharp deceleration. If traffic is light, as it is in many parts of San Francisco during the early afternoon, I find I can easily slowly roll through the stop signs (California stop), in second gear, without using any brakes. I usually choose second gear for lane sharing on the freeway, which I do up unto 40 mph. I run in this mode maybe 55% of the time.

3)   I also often travel in more suburban environments with more open boulevards, longer stretches between lights, and upper speeds from about 30 mph to 50 mph. Third gear is perfect.  Naturally, in third gear, start-ups are not “hole shots”, a fact that seems to make my range even better than usual, despite the lower rpm at cruising speeds with supposed less efficiency.* If I need to scoot suddenly out of the way, third gear (in Sport mode) still offers plenty of torque/acceleration. Compared with second and first gears, I find I need to lengthen the point at which I begin my regenerative braking when approaching lights, remembering to flash my brake lights to warn following vehicles. I run in this mode about 40% of the time.

These different modes also correlate to the mood I’m in. If I’m feeling mellow and just want to “cruise”, third gear covers just about all the speeds I’d encounter within city limits. I’m free from thinking about gear selection, using the clutch, proper gear change technique… sort of a really torquey scooter with great throttle response. Often I’m in this mood, but find that when that Ducati pulls up in the next lane at a light, I’ll have to get into first gear, just to educate the young whippersnapper about electric motorcycles!

I’ve come to appreciate and enjoy this set-and-forget way to use the tranny. I like the freedom as well as the versatility. AND I like being able to run through all the gears when I’m in my (rare) hooligan mood.

* I did a series of steady hill climbs at 15 mph up a steep, two-block-long hill where I live. I watched the power meter as carefully as I could, even though it bounces around a fair amount. I did about four runs in first gear, and then several more in third gear. I concluded that there wasn't any difference in power consumed that I could discern by just watching the dash readout. Probably if I did, say 20 runs each, examined the readout on the memory stick, and plotted the numbers in Excel, I would see a difference. But for real-world riding, my little test assured me I didn't have to worry about my range suffering very much by just leaving it in third gear. This corresponds with my experience of seeing (I think) a slightly increased range with using just third gear, rather than starting off in first and working up through the gears.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Schneider Home Charging Station Discount

Home Depot and Schneider are offering a discount on the Schneider home charging station during this fall '14 season. This is not an endorsement, just passing on something that looks like a good deal. 

Author : Sarah Kellner

The fact that more and more auto manufacturers are coming out with electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles each year proves that electrified transportation is not a passing fad. Earth-conscious consumers not only have a ton of affordable EV options to choose from, but prices are plunging on home charging stations as well. This fall, Schneider Electric is offering a discount on their already-affordable $599 EVlink 30 Amp Generation 2.5 home charging station. When you buy online at homedepot.com and use the promo code: EVLINKFALL (case sensitive) you can receive $100 off of the charger while supplies last.

The EVlink charger is intuitive with easy-to-read lighting sequences, and also has a convenient delay timer which allows users to set their charging window ahead of time to off-peak hours so that you can save money.

According to Mike Calise, Schneider’s  Senior Director, EV, the delay timer allows users to “Take advantage of these lower rates, without hassle; simply set-and-go to save money and time.”

In addition to its sleek, minimalist design, this EV charging station also comes with a free customizable skin.

To find out if your EV is compatible with this charger, please call 1-888-778-2733.