Featured Post

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, January 20, 2016

Workplace EV Charging: The Google Story

ChargePoint and Google had a joint webinar on workplace charging.
Here is the link: Workplace EV Charging: The Google Story

Here are a few of the key-points (several of these are arguable but I'll save that for later).

  • EVs are here to stay (and growing)
  • 200-mile $30,000 vehicles are coming (in 2017) and will boost EV sales
  • Workplace charging increases employee satisfaction and retention
  • ChargePoint does not recommend Level 1 for workplace charging for several reasons
  • Quick Charging (DC Fast Charge) can supplement Level 2 or work with valet parking
  • Charging fees can encourage people to move their cars and improve utilization
  • - One customer had free charging for the first 5 hours, then $10 per hour after that
      This got people to move
  • Charging can be part of a sustainable transportation program (LEED points)
  • Smart/connected stations allows for data collection and real-time availability/use data
  • Currently there are no tax impacts for free charging
  • Trenching costs can be more than the stations depending on where you put them
  • EV driving reduces CO2 (even considering the electricity generation)
  • Have a cord management plan (be safe)
  • ChargePoint is great, we have great stuff, we're awesome...

  • Google wants to be a carbon neutral company
  • Electrification of their fleet, shuttle busses, and supporting employees to do the same is part of this program
  • Workplace charging is a nice company perk if you want to hire good people
  • They started in 2007 with Level 1
  • In 2010 Level 2 was defined, Google started a team to plan for EV charging
  • 5% of parking spots electrified was their 1st target
  • Level 2 allows for multiple charging sessions per day
  • Bring your own EVSE Level 1 was not a positive experience
  • Google wanted connected systems so they t data (Google loves data)
  • When you wire a region, overbuild for future expansion
  • They did install regular (level 1) outlets and RV 240V outlets too that older EVs and scooters could use AND these can be used for events in the lot or mobile command needs
  • These were important for LEED certification too
  • ADA considerations (there are many)
  • Code requirements were different in different cities (copy exact policy did always work)
  • Confirmed that this was not a taxable 1099 benefit
  • Solar helps offset mid-day demand
  • Mobile/temp stations worked in areas they could not modify
  • They have DC fast charge for the fleet (with some employee use)
  • They have about 1900 charging sessions per day
  • They are promoting this with other groups
  • They had 1000% growth in EVs on campus from 2012
  • They are now targeting 10% of parking spaces to be electrified
  • "Move cords, not cars" is current policy. They are installing stations in head-to-head spots
  • Grassroots communities, mailing lists, "swap buddies" help balance out over subscription
  • Growing to 20% of parking spots
  • Looking at smart charging methods to control demand charges... This could become a product

Saturday, January 16, 2016

100,000 Page Views

This blog recently had its 100,000th page view. I know many of these are internet crawling bots, but you (you reading this right now), you are a real person. So I say thank you to all for you real people for reading my scribbles.

I've published 632 entries (prior to this one) since starting this blog in 2009. I must admit that many of the posts are snippets from stories that interested me with little or no commentary from me. One of my most popular is my three year review of Nissan Leaf ownership. Nissan shared this one on their social media media channels.

In these 600 posts I've written about:
Looking back, many of these subjects are due to be updated and I just might delete that one about the ultracapacitors. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

1 Million Plug-in Cars on U.S. Roads

2015 has come and gone, along with it President Obama’s goal from 2010 to put 1 million plug-in vehicles (PEV) on the road in the United States by 2015 has passed by unaccomplished.

It was not a complete loss though, worldwide there were 1 million PEVs on the road at the close of 2015. The atmosphere does not have a national citizenship, so I'll still count this as a victory.

The atmosphere does not have a national citizenship.

Since the goal for US roadways didn't happen in 2015, when will there be 1 million plug-in vehicles on US roads? Let's make some estimations. First, I looked at the PEV sales data on EDTA and added a simple linear trend in sales growth. The result is the chart below:

This chart predicts that as 2018 closes and we ring in 2019, we'll be just shy of the 1 million vehicle goal. If this is accurate (unlikely) we'll hit the goal in January of 2019.

Of course, there are many factors that could influence this: gas prices, emissions and CAFE targets, incentives, technology breakthroughs...

For the sales trend above, I used the pessimistic linear trend. A polynomial or exponential sales trend is much more optimistic and would hasten the accomplishment significantly.

EV-pessimist and opinion writer at The Washington Post, Charles Lane, has made a significant bet that this 1 million PEV goal will not be achieved by the end of 2018. The above chart has him barely winning this bet. However, when the next generation of affordable 200-mile range EVs go on sale (Chevy Bolt, Tesla Model 3, next gen Nissan Leaf...) in 2017, there should be a significant step-up in EV sales and then sorry Charlie, 2018 will be the "year of 1 million PEVs".

2018 will be the Year of 1 Million Plug-in Vehicles on U.S. roadways.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Gallons of Sunshine - Part 2: How much does it cost to charge an EV?

How much does it cost to charge an EV? With a gas car, you can easily figure out the cost. Let's say gas is $2.50 per gallon and you need 10 gallons; that's $25. If you get 25 MPG, those 10 gallons will get you 250 miles. That is a dime for each mile you drive. If you drive a gas car, you can, of course adjust this for your local gas prices and your vehicle's MPG.

With an EV that you charge at home, you generally don't get a separate EV charging bill (although some utilities are offering "EV tariff rates" that are cheaper than the normal rate). Assuming you are not on one of these EV tariff programs, then EV charging shows up on your regular bill and it is indistinguishable from your TV or refrigerator's electrical usage. I don't know about your electricity bill, but mine is complicated. There are different rates for different levels of usage, there are distribution charges, connection fees, taxes... Each bill is about 20 items long. But you can simplify things. Just find the total kilowatt-hours (kWh) used and then find the amount due. From these two you can find final the cost per kWh. Our most recent bill was $173 for 1517 kWh. That is an average of 11.4¢ per kWh.

Once you have the price per kWh, you can figure out the price per mile for an EV. A 2015 Nissan Leaf, for example, has an EPA rating of 3.33 miles per kWh. That works out to 3.4¢ per mile. That is about one third of the 10¢ per mile from the gas example above.

You can think about this way, every $10 you spend on electricity saves you $30 at the pump.

Above we used the simplest method to compute the cost of a kWh. In 2012, we signed up for Portland General Electric's Time-of-Use (TOU) program. It's a time-of-day based rate system. TOU charges different rates for electricity at different times of the day. They have on-peak, mid-peak, and off-peak pricing. Here is the chart from our December 2015 bill.

Time-of-use chart
Most EVs are charged overnight. This is off-peak. The off-peak rate is listed as 4.2¢ per kWh, but there are distribution fees and other things that bring the actual cost to 8.8¢ per kWh. That works out to just 2.67¢ per mile. This is 73% cheaper than the gasoline example above.

Even with gas at $2.50 per gallon, charging an EV at off-peak times can be 73% cheaper than driving a gas car.

I started writing this post because recently there were some questions about TOU from my 2013 post on the topic here. So in the rest of this, I'll break down our December electricity bill in more detail.

Electricity is generally inexpensive here in the Pacific Northwest when compared to places such as southern California. So here, the default program is usually a flat rate (called Basic Charge by PGE). With a flat rate, a kWh costs the same at noon as it does at midnight. As you use more, you may move into a different pricing tier, but the time-of-day does not matter.

Here, it only makes sense (and cents) to switch to a TOU program if you can move 50% or more of your usage to off-peak. As you can see in the chart above for December, we were right at the 50% mark.

We shifted our usage in two primary ways. First, we have 12.3 kW of solar panels. This generates electricity during on-peak and mid-peak, thereby reducing our grid demand during these times. Second, as discussed above, we have an electric car. The car's charging station is programed to charge the car up from 3 to 6 AM each morning. This fills up the car during the off-peak rate period. We plan on adding a 2nd plug-in car to our home fleet soon. This will increase our off-peak usage even more.

The concept of TOU is simple enough, but the impacts to your bill are more complex. The best way to understand it is to examine an actual bill so you can understand how it might save (or not save) you money.

December is a good month to examine since it's one of the worst case months. In the spring and summer, we save about $10 on each bill. In the winter we are close to break even, we may save a little or pay a little extra than we would if we were on the flat rate. Looking at it annual, we save money, so paying a little extra in the winter is no big deal.

So here are the details from our December 2015 bill:

Off Peak RatekWhSubtotalAdjustedAdj Subtotal
Mid Peak RatekWhSubtotalAdjustedAdj Subtotal
Peak RatekWhSubtotalAdjustedAdj Subtotal

I should clarify that adjusted rate (Adj per kWh) is not listed on the bill. I computed this by adding up all the additional charges that are on the bill. There are 16 of them. Most of these are per kWh charges and are easily applied to each rate. A few apply to only the first 1000 kWh and others (like the $10 connection fee) are a fixed amount. To simplify all of this I just prorated all the charges as per kWh. While not 100% accurate, it is close enough and this method accounts for the entire $173 bill. By far the biggest of these adjustment fees was the $60 Distribution Charge. It accounted for 85% of the adjustment amount and it was a per kWh charge.

Here is our list of per kWh adjustments:
per kWh AdjustmentsFee per kWh
105 Regulatory Adjustments-$0.0006600
109 Energy Efficiency Funding$0.0031800
110 Energy Efficiency Customer$0.0000700
122 Renewable Resource$0.0001800
123 Decoupling Adjustment$0.0003400
137 Solar Payment Option Cost$0.0004700
143 Spent Fuel Adjust-$0.0012700
144 Capital Projects Adjust$0.0016100
145 Boardman Decom Adj$0.0003700
Transmission Charge
Distribution Charge$0.0392600

And here is the list of fixed charges or charges that didn't apply to every kWh:
Fixed Rate & Capped kWh Adj
Basic Fee$10.00000
First Block Adjustment-$7.22000
Low Income Assistance$0.84000
Public Purpose Charge$4.88000
102 RPA Exchange Credit-$8.55000

How much would this month have cost with the flat rate? The adjustments and fixed charges are the same on either the TOU or the Basic Rate plan.
Basic Rate
Adj Subtotal
1st MWh1000$0.0650$0.1110$110.98
Over 1MWh517$0.0722$0.1182$61.11

This adds up to $172, so we would have saved $1 if we were on the flat rate plan. Again, this is more than made up for by our summertime savings. In fact, I'll make this deal with any of you. For every $10 that you give me in July, I'll give you $1 in December :)  PGE does not let you switch between the Basic Rate and TOU rate each month. When you sign up for the TOU rate program, it's a one year commitment. So I can't take the $10 in July and then skip out on the $1 in December. The good news is that in the first year on the TOU program they guarantee that your total annual bill will not be more than 10% higher than it would have been with the Basic Rate plan. This way, if TOU is not the great deal that you thought it would be, you can cancel the program after the first year and not be out too much money.

There you have a it, a break down of EV charging cost and the TOU rates and fees on a Portland General Electric bill.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

2015 Driving on Sunshine

Above you can see how much electric car driving I did (shown in blue) and how much energy our solar panels made (shown in red).

The blue line is rather straight. I tend to drive the roughly the same amount each month. The red line is the more interesting one, it represents 5.6 MWh generated on our roof in 2015. The red line is shown in miles rather than kWh. This is because we installed solar panels primarily to "fuel" our electric car driving.

This "miles" chart does not look exactly the same as it would in a kWh chart. In the winter, it takes more energy to drive a mile. The heater uses energy and the batteries don't perform as well. This means that a kWh in the winter generates fewer miles. Combine this with the fact that we generate less energy in the winter and you can see why the line is relatively flat from January through April.

The line spikes up in September because we upgraded our solar panels that month. Next year we'll generate far more energy and we should see our first 10+MWh year.

This chart follows the calendar year, but it would sure look a lot better if it started on April 1st. Then it would show plenty of net-metered solar miles waiting to be used during the low yield winter days.

This concludes our 2015 solar and EV driving energy review. I have a LOT more data, but this is the single chart that best displays how it is possible to drive on sunshine when you have solar panels and an electric car.

If you want to talk to SolarCity, you can use my referral and you'll get your first month's electricity free.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

More Home Solar

New solar panels getting installed
This year we upgraded our PV system from 4kW to 12kW. In 2007, when we installed our first PV system, we paid for it mostly out-of-pocket. There were some state and local incentives, but the federal incentive was capped at $2000. This meant that we were paying tens of thousands of dollar for something that would take decades to payoff if you only look at the electricity that it generates. But people spend money on vacations or new cars that never "pay back" financially. So this was our indulgence. We felt good about doing the right thing, so we considered it money well spent. 

Our 2015 upgrade was a very different story. In 2015, we added 8.3kW to the 4kW that we already had. The new system is from SolarCity. This time we didn't buy the system, we signed a power purchase agreement. These are a great idea. Instead of paying thousands of dollar upfront, we just buy the electricity that the panels produce. We paid zero out of pocket and we are getting solar power. Now we pay SolarCity instead of our local utility for these kWhrs.

Most people cannot afford to spend thousands of dollars on solar panels, but nearly everyone can pay their monthly electricity bill. SolarCity allows you to have solar panels at the cost of your monthly electricity bill.

We are still on the grid and use the utility at night and in the winter. When we generate surplus on those long summer days, our meter runs backward, allowing us to use power that night or even later that year for free. This is Net Metering. Here the net metering year starts on April 1st, so we have all winter to spend any energy that we banked during the summer. Anything that we have not spent by April 1st is donated to our utility's need assistance program.

Above, I said that we pay SolarCity rather than our local utility. That's true, but the deal is a little better than that. The deal that we have with SolarCity is that we pay 9.7¢ per kWh for the 20 year life of the agreement. Currently, the standard rate from our utility is ~13¢ per kWh and it goes up (albeit a small amount) every couple of years. So we are paying less and getting solar. Also, as I discussed here having solar has allowed us to switch a time-of-use program and pay less for the electricity that we buy from the grid. So we are saving money on both the solar energy and the grid energy.

Additionally, since SolarCity owns the panels and the inverter (we just buy the power), if anything goes wrong, they fix it. On our old 2007 system the inverter died twice. It was covered under the 5 year warranty both times and the latest one seems to be holding up. However, if it goes out again, the warranty will no longer cover it and I'll have to buy a new one and pay to have it installed. Whereas if the SolarCity inverted were to die, I am buying less power from them and they are motivated to repair it quickly to recover their revenue stream and it costs me nothing.

I am generally skeptical of things like this. It sounds too good to be true. Well, the savings are not that big, it's only a few cent per kWh. And it is not too hard to believe that by generating and consuming the electricity locally avoids many of the taxes that are associated with a legacy utility company. I counted 16 adjustments to our utility bill for various programs; granted a few were credits, but most were taxes and fees. And SolarCity gets all the state, local, and federal incentives to pay for the upfront costs plus low interest loans. This reminds me of internet phone services like Ooma. They use a different model than traditional utilities and can afford to offer services cheaper.

I looked into SolarCity's business model, because I wanted to figure out if they were likely to be around for the 20 years of this service contract. While there is certainly no guarantee of this, there were two things that reassured me. First, they are a publically traded company and the market is generally bullish on the stock. Certainly there have been plenty of public companies that have pulled shenanigans, misreported, or blatantly lied (anyone remember Enron), but SEC reporting provides some level of transparency. Second, they have an insurance trust at Berkshire Hathaway to provide for the maintenance of the systems if anything should happen to the company. Additionally, the company is growing and rather than just being an installer, they are vertically integrating by getting into the financing and solar panel production aspects of the business too. This will give them more profit from each installation going forward. The nice thing about each of their installations is that it is a 20 year contract, not just a one-time sale.

If you are still reading this, you must be genuinely interested in solar. If you want to talk to SolarCity, you can use my referral and you'll get your first month's electricity free.