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This is the Kodak Moment for the Auto Industry

Plug-In Drivers Not Missin' the Piston Electric vehicles are here to stay. Their market acceptance and growth will continue. Why?...

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Tesla Will Make EVs In Texas but Can They Sell Them In Texas?

Tesla has announced that their next factory will be in Texas and construction is well underway. You can call it Giga Austin or Tera Texas, either way, this is great news. The Cybertruck and Semi are both expected to enter production from this site and it will mean jobs and revenue for the region. Tesla and the state of Texas seem to have a budding new friendship. Elon Musk has sold his California homes, moved to Boca Chica, Texas (or is that Starship, TX?) Speaking of Boca Chica, we can't forget about all the SpaceX activity in the state too. The Boring Company has even opened an office in the area. Musk is clearly all-in on Texas, but it is unclear if this will be a two-way relationship. 

The Lone Star State has named Giga Austin as The Manufacturing Project of the Year. And the state of Texas was given the 'Gold Shovel Award' by Area Development magazine for their business-friendly policies. 

Texas governor, Greg Abbott said, “The Lone Star State offers innovative businesses, the freedom to flourish with our pro-growth economic policies, a predictable regulatory environment, and our young, growing, and diverse workforce."

So with this mutual love-fest and pro-economics policies, certainly Texans will be able to buy the products that Tesla makes in the factories in Texas, right? Well, not directly. 

Currently, Texas state law does *not* allow Tesla to sell vehicles in the state. If you're a Texan and you want a Tesla, it has to be registered in another state and then transferred into Texas. When Giga Austin is online, it will be even more ridiculous. The vehicles will be legally required to be shipped out of the state before they can be delivered to someone that lives in Texas. You will not be able to go to the factory, take a tour, and drive home in your new just-off-the-line vehicle.

That's right, if you live in Texas, your vehicle will need to be loaded onto a truck and carried across the state line to New Mexico, Oklahoma, or Louisiana. Then the car carrier can turn around and take your vehicle to a Tesla service center where you can pick it up after you've paid for it online via a server that's outside the state. Note the loophole, this vehicle pick up is now not a "deliver", it's just an existing owner picking up their vehicle.

Why is this? As in many states, the auto dealership association has a significant amount of local political power. Tesla is not a member of their club. Tesla does not sell cars to dealerships, where dealerships add their mark-up, haggle on prices, sell you rust-proof undercoating, sell you service contracts, check with the backroom three times while you wait... Since they are not getting their cut, they want to do all they can to slow Tesla down in their region and they are using all of their political clout to do just that.

They say "everything is bigger in Texas," I guess that applies to cronyism and protectionism too. Maybe that saying doesn't apply to free markets and direct competition.

Oh, and if you thought, at least this means you won't have to pay Texas vehicle sales tax, I have bad news for you. Texas still requires their pound of flesh. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

For Electric Vehicles, There's No Reverse


Globally, plug-in vehicles were only about 4% of automotive sales in 2020. That's a small portion of the market. What difference does a 4% change make? Well, it's a growing percentage and unlike the 1990s EV movement, this time it looks unstoppable. This time, it won't be crushed, it won't be put into reverse. 
This trend looks like it will only increase. Many automakers are vowing to only sell zero-emission vehicles by 2030, '35, or '40 and many states and regions are banning the sale of new gas-powered cars along the same timeframe. 

There would be a major uproar against these initiatives if not for the fact that many consumers now expect their next vehicle will be a plug-in hybrid or an EV. Forbes reports that "consumer interest in purchasing an electric vehicle has doubled in the past three years." This is the decade of the EV.

Welcome to the electric generation! 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The Tesla Network's Underground Advantage

Elon Musk knows how to cross-promote. The Boring Company uses Tesla vehicles in its Loop service. Space X uses Tesla Model X vehicles to transport astronauts to the launch pad. And who could forget when Space X launched a Tesla Roadster into space. It wouldn't be surprising to someday see a Lunar (or Mars) rover based on the Cybertruck with a large Space X logo on the side of the vehicle.

With this cross-pollination in mind, let's conjecture about the, yet to be deployed, Tesla Network. The Tesla Network is Tesla's planned robotaxi service. Of course, Full Self Driving is needed before there could be a robotaxi service. However, Tesla could launch a preliminary version of the Tesla Network that uses human drivers. This version of the network would be similar to Uber or Lyft, but with a 100% Tesla pure electric fleet.

Let's add one more component before putting the pieces together. The Boring Company Loop system is currently deployed in Vegas and under development in other cities. In this controlled environment, it will be much easier to achieve full self-driving.

Now, let's put this together. Imagine if the Tesla Network had access to the Loop tunnels. If the Tesla Network cars were human-piloted, they would drop into fully automated mode as they enter the Loop, they'd then navigate the tunnels, upon reaching the other end they'd return control to the human pilot as the car exits the Loop system. 

Consider a city that has a Loop tunnel system under the most congested portions of the city. In this example, there are Loop entry and exit points at the airport, the convention center, the multimodal park-and-ride, the stadium, and any other major attractions in the city. 

The Loop system would only be available to Tesla Network vehicles since they have the needed autonomous system to navigate the tunnels with high speed and to coordinate access with the other vehicles in the system.

This would be a major advantage that other ride-hail providers could not match. Image pulling out your phone, opening the "Tesla Hail" app, tapping in your destination; two minutes later a Tesla pulls up to the curb in front of you. You're in a westside suburb and you want to go to an event on the other side of town. It's rush hour (because it's always rush hour nowadays). You hop in the Tesla and head toward the crosstown highway. Instead of getting on the gridlocked highway, the car diverts to a corkscrew, you spiral down a level or two as the steering wheel tucks away, you enter a well-lit tunnel and accelerate to freeway speeds. The few other cars that you see are all engaged in a well-choreographed autonomous ballet. This is not a collection of rude and distracted drivers; this is an orchestrated, efficient system. 

After passing under the congestion of the city, you resurface on the eastside. The steering wheel redeploys and flashes for the driver to take control once again. The trip continues and you are dropped off with door-to-door service in half the time it would've taken on surface streets.

If this were available, why would you use any other service? 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Living In 2030

A friend was complaining about his electricity bill. He said, "With all this the heat this summer, I've been running the air conditioner a lot and the electricity bill is through the roof." 

He knows me well and before I could even say it, he said, "I know, speaking of my roof, I should put solar panels up there, right?" 

"Well, yeah," I said. "It makes more energy during the sunny summer months, so production scales up and down well with AC use; keeping the electric bill pretty flat with even a modestly sized solar system."

Him: "I might do it someday. Last time I looked, it was too expensive."

Me: "I'd check again. The prices have been dropping and there are incentives that can help pay for it. I'd get a quote from Tesla, Sunrun, and at least one other installer."

Him: "It would be cool to get home batteries too. We don't lose power often, but last winter we did and we had to go stay with my in-laws for a couple of days. I'd pay a lot to avoid doing that again, haha."

This conversation made me think of an expression, “The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed.” In a lot of ways, our home is part of that unevenly distributed future. We have 2 long-range EVs in the garage, we have solar panels on the roof, and batteries to time-shift our energy use and back up for grid outages. Each one is great on its own, but when you put them together, they have positive compounding effects that allow you do even more.

Batteries are the most expensive component in an EV. Solar and EVs will be the obvious choice by 2030 (if not sooner). Wright's Law and Swanson's Law provide positive feedback loops for these technologies. Prices will continue to drop for solar and batteries; opening a larger market for them; further increasing economies of scale, further reducing costs, rinse and repeat.

So in 2030, if your roof has sun exposure, you can be assured, you'll have solar up there and if you are shopping for a new car in 2030, an internal combustion vehicle will be harder to find than a stick shift transmission is today in 2021.

Disclosure: I'm long Tesla.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

10 Reasons Tesla Will Be Even Bigger in 2022

Following Tesla is always exciting. They are irreverent and unbound to the past. Next year will be no different. Tesla will break new ground, will grow, and it will continue to be exciting to follow. Here are a few of the growth drivers you can expect to see in 2022:  

  1. New Gigafactories - Tesla is building Gigafactories in Austin, Texas and Berlin, Germany. Both of these are scheduled to be complete later in 2021. That means in 2022, they will be producing products and ramp up output. In 2021, these projects were primarily just massive expenses; in 2022 these investments will begin paying dividends. 

  2. Plaid - For most of 2021, the Model S and Model X were not in production. These two vehicles are currently Tesla's most expensive and they stopped producing them in Q4 of 2020. The refreshed Model S and X (including Plaid trims) started limited shipments in the second half of 2021 and will be in full production for all of 2022. Tesla has previously sold about 100,000 units annually in the S/X category. 100,000 units at an average price of ~$100,000 each is ~$10B in revenue that Tesla could bring in from just these high-end vehicles. Even if they only sell half this amount, that will be a nice bump to the top line and vehicle margin.

  3. $25k Car - Call it the Model Next, Model 2, or whatever you'd like; it will be a big deal. For every $10k you move down the price curve, the available market roughly doubles. That means there are currently buyers out there that want a Tesla, but cannot afford a Model 3 or Y. The $25k car could be the one they are waiting for. I don't expect to see the $25k car in production in 2022, but I think we'll see an unveiling event and a lot of preorders; deliveries in 2022 would be a nice upside surprise.

  4. Chip Shortage - To survive and continue to ship cars in 2021, Tesla enabled many alternative chip providers. In one case, they have 19 options for a given component. This means that in 2022, as ANY of these providers escape the constraints of the chip shortage, Tesla will be able to utilize the volume of those components. Additionally, it means that Tesla doesn't have vendor lock-in. They will be able to select the vendor with the best availability, price, reliability... 

  5. CEO Compensation - Musk's compensation plan had 12 tranches. These have nearly all been met. There's only about $500M in stock-based compensation left in the current plan. This is significantly less than he was awarded in the stock run-up approaching the S&P 500 inclusion. This compensation reduction will improve Tesla's OpEx burden. Of course, a new compensation plan will be put in place at some point and we'll have to see what that one looks like. 

  6. Growth Rate - Tesla has been growing at about 50% per year. 2022 looks like it will continue this trend. Tesla will likely ship more than 1.5 million vehicles in 2022. They are asking their battery suppliers to double their battery cell supply to Tesla. Why would they need 2X the supply if they ramp up their own production and only ship 1.5X the number of vehicles? Two reasons; one, the Semi, and see #7 for the second answer.

  7. Tesla Energy - Summers are getting hotter, winters are getting colder; we are more dependent on home HVAC than we've ever been. It looks like this trend will continue. Sadly, with this growth of dependence, our electrical grid has too often also become less stable. This has some people looking for ways to solve this problem for themselves. One way to do that is with home energy storage systems like Tesla's Powerwall products. Utilities and local governments are looking to solve the grid side of this problem too. One solution is grid-scale energy storage like Tesla's Megapack. I expect to see growth in these products to outpace vehicles in 2022.

    7b. Fungibility - Tesla has two major product categories for cell utilization: vehicles and energy storage systems. This allows fungibility in the supply utilization system. They can ask suppliers for more cells than the anticipated vehicle run rate. The surplus cells can go into energy products. If there's an upside surprise in vehicle production (a ramp goes smoothly and quickly, more Semis or long-range vehicles are ordered than expected...), Tesla will have the needed cells.
  8. US EV Tax Credit - Most EVs available in the US qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit. The big exception to this is Tesla. Tesla hit their allocation of this credit in 2018 and phased out of the incentive. This means that Tesla has been at a $7,500 disadvantage compared to other EVs. However, the Biden administration has ambitious transportation electrification goals. To help achieve these goals, the federal EV incentive is going to be revamped. Instead of a fixed number of vehicles per vendor, there will be an incentive for all EVs. This means that Tesla will once again be eligible for the incentive. In addition to the previous $7,500, there would be an additional $2,500 if the EV is manufactured in the US and another $2,500 if the vehicle is made by unionized autoworkers. So Tesla vehicles manufactured at the Fremont or Austin factories would be eligible for a $10,000 incentive.

  9. RAISE the Roof - A bill was introduced in the US House of Representatives and the Senate to amends the solar investment tax credit to include integrated solar roofs. If passed, this bill would make Tesla's solar glass tile roof product eligible for a 26% tax credit for solar systems on residential and commercial properties. It’s called the RAISE the Roof act and the acronym stands for Revamping Appropriate Incentives for Solar Energy.

  10. Cybertruck - I've saved the best for last. The Cybertruck shattered expectations. It does not look like other trucks, it is not designed or made like other trucks. The shattered windows from the failed demo just increased awareness of the event. There are now more than a million pre-orders. This truck will start delivery in 2022 and bring an entirely new customer genre to Tesla - Truck Guys and Gals! 
Note that I didn't put the production of the 4680 cells on this list. They are certainly an important component in the Semi, Cybertruck, and other products. And we are likely to see them in 2022; however, the products they enable (which are listed) are the important achievements.

Similarly, I didn't list Full Self-Driving (FSD). I'm sure that there will be great strides in FSD in 2022, but I don't expect the launch of Robotaxis in 2022. FSD might, however, advance to the level such that the drivers can be removed from the Boring Company Loop tunnels. These tunnels are a controlled environment and much easier to automate than city streets. I think full autonomous city street driving will be at least 2 years after fully autonomous Loop tunnel driving.

Disclaimer, I am long Tesla. This is not stock advice. 

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Musk vs Milton :: forthright vs fraud [allegedly]

Recently, Federal prosecutors indicted Nikola Motors founder Trevor Milton on three counts of fraud for statements that misled investors about the state of the electric truck startup's technology.

I was discussing this topic with a friend and he said, "Milton copied Musk's playbook and now Milton is likely going to jail. It won't be long before Musk shares a cell with him."

"Woah!", I said, "That's a big leap in logic."

His argument went something like this: 

"Musk has made (and still makes) big bosterious, obvisouly unrealistic, claims to get media attention and investments. Musk claimed that they'd have a "lights-out alien dreadnaught" factory; that never happened. The Roadster, Semi, and Cybertruck have been announced for years and are still not going to be delivered to customers anytime soon (if ever). Outside of a prototype or two, the Cybertruck. is. not. real! He's obviously trolling. Musk has even said the Roadster will fly or hover, this will *never* happen in a production version. It all just chum for the fanbois. Musk is the P.T. Barnum of our day, not the Edison or Tesla."

"Milton followed the same playbook. He even named his company after the same guy, Nikola Tesla. Here's the most telling dead givaway, Milton said he was going to "Out Elon, Elon." Milton made big claims that they'd have a great factory, great products, a great fueling network, partnerships... The only difference is that Milton was not granted the "Elon Time" to deliver on fifty percent of what he promised and then declare victory."

Tesla's original battery factory --

"Gigafactory Nevada," I interjected. 

"I refuse to call them 'Gigafactories'," he said -- "As I was saying (he continued), Tesla's original battery factory is still not as big as Musk claimed it would be when he made the deal with the state Nevada. It's been years. That's fraud [allegedly]. What about the solar covered charging stations, only a few of them even have solar panels. That's greenwashing and lying to the public. Then there's, the icing on the sham cake, Full Self Driving. It requires an attentive driver at all times. That's not self driving, "full" or any other level. It's a driver assist system, with relaxed operational domains and a chump behind the wheel to take the blame when something goes wrong. Musk has been selling FSD for years, since 2016 in one form or another, with the promise that it will be here "soon." All the while taking people's money while making them the beta testers for it."

Those claims certainly don't paint a pretty picture of Musk (or Milton). Both men have certainly made incredible claims. There's, however, an important distinction. Musk makes claims about what they will do (forward-looking statements). Milton lied about what they had done. Let's deal with Milton first. 

Milton [allegedly] had a semi-truck rolling down a hill and passed it off as being powered by their technology. Milton [alegiedly] had a supplier's names taped over and then passed the component off as something they had developed. The Hindenburg Report detailed all of these allegations and more. So it's not that Milton wasn't given "Elon Time" to make good on promises. The charges against him are not for saying that they would have a great factory and great products. There are charges against him for misrepresenting things that he was showing to the public and claiming as accomplishments. 

Let's address each of the claims about Musk: 

  • Milton used Musk's playbook - Musk's playbook is to sell the idea of a better future. He is far from the first one to sell the vision of a bright future based on their products, but yes Milton did use Elon as a role model. Milton made similar fantastic claims, the difference was that (in my opinion) Milton didn't have the talent or resources to ever deliver on those blusterous claims. And, most importantly, Musk's playbook does not including showing non-working prototypes and claiming that they work. Musk's playbook does not include rolling vehicles down a hill and implying that it's operational.

  • Alien dreadnaught - Tesla's factories are highly automated (as are all modern auto factories), but it's not a lights-out (no humans) factory by any means. Musk admitted he was wrong about this and called humans "underrated." Being wrong about something, learning, and then admitting you were wrong is not the same as lying. Tesla still built factories, they just changed the plans when they found the current state-of-the-art in robotics to be lacking. 

  • Roadster, Semi, and Cybertruck - Every vehicle that Tesla has ever made (with one notable exception) has been late. Tesla does not just change a few tailfins and release a vehicle calling it a new model. Each one is a clean-sheet design to maximize safety, range, and manufacturability. When a product is not derivative, delays are common (if not inevitable). Tesla has delivered millions of vehicles, there's no reason to believe that these three will be any different. These will go to production. It doesn't matter if it's in 2022, '23, or '24. These vehicles will be the yardstick by which every electric entrant into that market space is measured. Saying things like 'the Cybertruck is fake' frankly makes you sound like you are hating on Tesla with no basis in facts.
  • Flying Roadster - The SpaceX edition of the next-gen Roadster will have cold gas thrusters. These are the same type that are used as maneuvering thrusters on rockets. I think Musk knows where to find a few engineers with experience designing these. Sure there may be legal restrictions about where they can be used, but, as wild as this claim is, there are no laws of physics that have to be suspended for this to occur. Just because no one has ever done it, doesn't make it impossible.

  • Gigafactory Nevada is not done - In 2020, the show Super Factories covered Gigafotory Nevada. They said that 13 million battery cells were produced per day. Panasonic later disputed this number but did confirm that in 2019 Gigafactory Nevada producing at a rate of 54 Gigawatt-hours annually. And by the way, this is why they are called 'Gigafactories' because they produce in the gigawatt-hour order of magnitude. So this is a massive factory by any measure. As for the incentives with Nevada, these were based on milestones that Tesla has to meet over a 20 year period to receive the tax incentives.  If Tesla does not meet the milestones, they don't receive the benefit. The contract even has clawback provisions that could allow the state to rescind prior-year incentives in some cases. 

  • Solar-powered charging stations - Tesla has installed charging stations around the world. They have more DC fast-charging stations than the next three providers combined. Most of these are leased areas on the parking lots of retailers like Target or Walmart. Installing a solar canopy would be up to the site owner, not Tesla. And many of those sites do have solar panels on their roofs (not as visible or sexy as a solar car cover canopy, but still there). At the sites that Tesla owns, like Kettleman City, they have solar canopies providing shade and energy. Additionally, Tesla has sold residential solar and commercial solar systems.

  • Full Self Driving - No one is required to buy FSD. It is an option. Tesla is not twisting people's arms to buy it. There's no high-pressure salesman trying to get you into an FSD system today. It's a checkbox on the website, if you think it's worth the money, get it; if not, don't. The people that have bought FSD are overwhelmingly satisfied with it. And, yes, right now FSD is just a driver assist system because it is in Beta. Yes, the people that are using it, are beta testing it because they want to. They are even willing to pay to use and test it. That's their prerogative. With the new subscription option, you could try it for a month or two and they decide if you want to buy it or not (or continue subscribing). 
  • Wild Claims - Musk has big ambitions. He wants to move humanity to sustainable energy production and consumption. He wants to make life multi-planetary... He leads with Moonshot asperations. He is forthright with these goals. He puts them out there for scrutiny and feedback. So yeah, Musk often misses timeline estimates. If you don't fail occasionally, you are not thinking big enough.

Apparently, my friend is not the only one to draw a comparison between Musk and Milton. Forbes claimed that the indictment of Milton was a "veiled warning" to Musk. Although I didn't see anything in the article to support this claim.

Certainly, Musk does not need my little blog coming to his defense, but if you wind up in a similar conversation where someone equates Musk and Milton because they read something in Forbes or the like, now you understand how they are fundamentally different.

Disclosure: I'm long TSLA

Sunday, August 1, 2021

F-150 Lightning: A Threat To Rivian, Not Tesla

Big players and startups alike are jumping into the electric truck market: Tesla Cybertruck, Ford F-150 Lightning, GMC Hummer Electric, Chevy Silverado EV, Rivian R1T, Canoo Pickup, Nissan Titan Electric, Atlis XT, Lordstown Endurance, Bollinger B2, Hercules Alpha, Fisker Alaska, Alpha Wolf...

2021 is turning out to be the year of the electric truck, well... at least the electric truck hype. We'll see which ones come to market and which ones follow the Nikola Badger and disappear (looking at you Lordstown). 

Ford recently revealed their F-150 Lightning electric truck and the EV media is swimming with Cybertruck vs Lightning articles. I see the headline appeal :: America's best-selling truck goes electric to take on Tesla, the innovative electric up start.

Despite the headline narrative, this seems like the wrong comparison to me. If you are interested in the Cybertruck, then Ford's offering is not likely to sway you. Similarly, if you are interested in a normal-looking truck like the Lightning, you are not interested in the Cybertruck. The Cybertruck is a divisive love-it-or-hate-it wedge design. It literally looks like a wedge and the design acts as a figurative wedge. Certainly, you can compare them on price and range and other factors to pump a story out, but the actual cross-shopping audience is likely very small.

An overlooked aspect of Cybertruck's quirk design is that this allows Tesla to sidestep this head-to-head fight with the electric offerings from the legacy automakers.

The EV startups, not Tesla, are the ones that should really be frightened by the launch of the Ford Lightning. Let's look at one electric truck startup in particular, Rivian. Truck buyers are among the most loyal of brand shoppers, which puts Rivian in a tough spot. If buyers were dedicated to a brand (Ford, Chevy, Nissan...) but wanted an EV pickup, then they are likely to wait for an EV pickup in their favorite brand (F-150, Silverado, Tundra...). 

So this leaves Rivian only with the truck buyers that are not as brand loyal, the ones that are willing to take a chance on a start-up when purchasing the most expensive thing, other than a home, that most people ever buy. If Ford didn't have an EV pickup coming out soon, maybe this would have left the door open for Rivian to woo buyers as their current gas-powered trucks aged. This is how Tesla was able to move into the luxury car market, there was a void of EVs from the majors and Tesla was able to thrive in a space with little-to-no competition for nearly a decade until they eventually reached escape velocity.

This time, however, the majors don't want to allow a startup to take away their most profitable market. They are going to move in with products that will suck the oxygen out of the room, leaving startups gasping for air. 

I guarantee you that the list of EV trucks on the market in 2025 will not be the same list at the start of this article. Most of the start-ups will be acquired or go under. The Fisker Alaska might be Baked Alaska by then; Canoo might float away, Rivian might reach the river's end, the B2 might bomb, the Endurance might run out of steam, the sky may crash around Atlis, and Hercules might not complete the 12 labors. The well-funded startups (like Rivian) have a chance, but Ford and Chevy are not going to make it easy on them. 

Disclosure: I'm long TSLA

Friday, July 30, 2021

Sunrise Applies Heat to ODOT

The Oregon Transportation Commission held a meeting on July 15th. One of the items on the agenda was i205 improvements and expansion of 7 miles from West Linn to Oregon City including the Willamette River crossing. This work would add a third lane in each direction and reinforce the Abernethy Bridge and the eight other i205 bridges in the project area to be able to withstand a major earthquake.

The commission says the project will make the section of i205 "safer and allow more reliable travel to access work and critical services, even after an earthquake or other major disaster as well as address congestion."

This meeting included a public comment section. Several members of The Sunrise Movement made their voices heard.

From their website: The Sunrise Movement is a youth movement to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. We’re building an army of young people to make climate change an urgent priority across America, end the corrupting influence of fossil fuel executives on our politics, and elect leaders who stand up for the health and wellbeing of all people.

The Sunrise members brought up several points:

  1. Expanding freeways increases traffic and does not reduce congestion (citing the Katy freeway in Huston with 26 lanes and yet it still has congestion)
  2. 40% of Oregon's emissions are from transportation
  3. Dollars spent on freeways are not available public transit (give people an option other than sitting in their car on a congested freeway)  
This commission meeting and testimony came right after Oregon's "once in a millennium" heatwave. At least 54 people died because of this global warming amplified heatwave. Other estimates put the number of deaths over 100. So there was a sense of urgency to do something to reverse this "global weirding" trend.

The Sunrise Movement is youth-led and one of the more galvanic testimonies came from a 15-year old that started by scolding the commission, saying that she should not have to wake up at 7AM to tell a bunch of adults things that they should already know. This same testimony ended by asking the commission how many people have to die before they take the climate crisis seriously. 

The commission handled this compelling and emotional testimony very professionally. 

So what do we do? What would you do? i205 is a primary path for goods moving up and down the west coast. I-5 runs through downtown Portland, so 205 is the bypass for freight heading north and south. This freight is typically on diesel semi-trucks. I don't want them stuck in traffic, polluting. Are the lanes the problem or the tailpipes of the vehicles that utilize them? If you allow this expansion, is it just one more slice in a death of 1000 cuts? 

The expansion takes this portion of 205 from 2 lanes to 3. This is far from the 26 lanes of the Katy freeway. Most of 205 is already 3 lanes, so it is not surprising that this stretch, where it's choked down to 2 lanes is a bottleneck. I think each action must be considered and, where reasonable, allowed. 

For me, I go back to the three ways to change the world. 
  1.  Pass laws to change/control behavior 
  2.  Set an example that some might follow 
  3.  Invent a better way that people will rush towards
Generally, I lean toward option three. I see electrified transportation as the better option. People want freedom of movement. People want things delivered to their houses. That means that we need freeways, highways, and roads that are kept up and maintained and yes, in some cases, expanded. I'd like to see a multimodal transit center and charging infrastructure added as part of the improvement plan. These would allow more public transportation options and electric vehicle charging. I wouldn't even mind seeing a few more tunnels to give people another option for personal transportation.

You can listen to the complete testimony (and the EV infrastructure presentation that immediately followed it) here.

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Portland VPP Supporting The Grid During Heatwave

Portland is having *another* heatwave. And our local utility, Portland General, is dispatching our Virtual Power Plant (VPP) to help alleviate the grid strain that the additional air conditioner usage will cause. 

As I pointed out during the last time the VPP was dispatched, in our situation, this dispatch operation can actually increase our grid load. That's because we are load-shifting and reducing our electricity bill

The VPP control software will improve. Next summer, they'll likely be able to account for our use case. In the meantime, our minor increase in load will be more than made up for by others in the VPP. 

Alternatively, I might disable the VPP temporarily to stay "islanded" so that we don't increase our grid load. After all, I volunteered our batteries to help the grid, not increase the burden on it.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

It Takes Talent - How Tesla is different #95

Most companies advertise their products. Outside of a college recruiting event, most companies don't advertise much if at all to attract talent.

The small amount of advertising that Tesla has done, has primarily been to recruit talent, rather than to sell their products. This is true at Tesla's "Day" events (Battery Day, AI Day...) as well as in their social media. This philosophy extends into other Musk-run companies too. The Neurolink Launch Event did demo the product but they spent an equal amount of time talking about the roles in the company and how they need to hire animal caretakers, programmers, chip designers, signal integrity engineers...

One recent interesting example of Tesla "advertising for talent" was a video that starred Tesla's chief vehicle designer, Franz Von Hausen. The video looks more like a cyberpunk video game than real life. It starts with Franz spraypainting Chinese characters on a wall. Someone hands him a tablet, as the glow from the tablet illuminates his face, you can see that he is both impressed and intrigued by the design. He asks, "Who did this?" as the caption asks, "What will you design?" 

Certainly an enticing thought. If you are a designer, you'd want to work at a company that's trying new things, this might catch your attention. The Cybertruck is featured prominently in the ad as an example of something that likely would have never been attempted at another company. 

Tesla plans to design an affordable car for the worldwide market in the Chinese design center that they are beginning to staff with this ad

The specifics of this effort are part of the bigger picture. Tesla knows that to achieve things that have never been done before, you have to hire talented designers and engineers. You have to hire people that are going to push things too far (in a controlled environment), see where they break, learn from that, and use that knowledge to make something that not just a derivative product, but a disruption.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

100,000 kWh!

We installed our first solar photovoltaic (PV) system in November of 2007. We used a local PV installer company called Mr. Sun Solar. Other than a few down days when an inverter needed to be replaced, the system has been in operation for 4975 days. In 2015, we added a second PV system to our home. This time we used SolarCity (now Tesla). 

In the 8 years from 2007 to 2015, solar costs had dropped significantly and PV efficiency had improved. Meaning that our 2015 system was twice the size at half the cost of our older system.

Today, these two systems have each generated about 50 MWh; collectively generating just over 100,000 kWh (100 MWh) from the sunlight hitting our roof.

Solar energy production on our roof

Looking at the above chart, you can see that, despite the older system having an eight-year headstart, each system has generated ~50 MWh. The smaller system took 13 and a half years to reach this milestone. Whereas the larger PV system arrived in just 5 years, 10 months. I been watching for this crossover point, where the larger system would eclipse the smaller one, but I didn't know it would happen so close to this major milestone of production.

How Much Is 100MWh? 

Okay, we've made 100MWh, but how much energy is that? Let's look at it a few different ways.

The average US home uses 10,399 kWh annually. This means that our 100 MWh could power the average home for 9.6 years. 

The 2020 Tesla Model 3 SR+ is a highly efficient EV with a 239 Wh/mile consumption rate. At that rate, 100 MWh could propel this vehicle for more than 400,000 miles; enough to drive around the planet 16 times.

Looking at it one more way, the EPA says that a gallon of gasoline has 33.7 kWh of energy. This means that our 100 MWh is equivalent to nearly 3000 gallons of gas (however, with zero emissions from our solar).

From 2015 to today, solar's price has continued to drop. If you want solar on your home, you can use our referral code.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

The Reason The Boring Co Will Win (That No One Understands)

The Boring Company recently unveiled the Las Vegas Loop. Riders will use an app and select their destination. The app will direct them to a stall number and car; riders pile in and they are whisked off to their destination.

Currently, the cars are human-piloted and only driving at a max of 35 MPH. This, of course, was trumpeted by the Musk detractors. The criticism goes something like this: A car can only hold a few people; a train would hold many more. So, they conclude, install the track and make it a tried and true subway like so many other cities have. This would work much better.

I find this trains-thinking to be stuck in the 1900s. You might even say, they have "tunnel-vision." I'll explain.

Centralized vs Decentralized

Long ago, my day job was as a network engineer. I worked at a company developing network infrastructure products. We analyzed traffic flows (network packets) and methods to reduce latency and optimize throughput. We had contracts with NASA, The Olympics, most of the hyperscaler datacenters, and most of the server OEMs. The network traffic analysis I did there was not the same as automobile traffic, but there were some important lessons. When I started Token Ring was the cash cow, but things changed quickly.

Token Ring

This type of network is not all that different from a train route. Without going into the technology, nodes on this type of network are logically organized into rings. A circulating token controls access. This is not all that different from a train going around a loop, you can only get on the network/tracks when the train/token arrives. The nodes in this type of network are even called stations. This type of network eventually failed because it was not scaleable. As more nodes were added to the network, the effective throughput of any given station slowed. 

Ethernet (Half Duplex)

The technology that succeeded Token Ring was half-duplex Ethernet. This type of network allowed many more stations to be added to the network without choking throughput (with caveats). During those half-duplex days, networks had limited uses. On half-duplex networks, all of the nodes share a common communications media called the bus. Half-duplex networks function well when there are just a few, short-lived, traffic flows; which is why they worked well back then when most network traffic was periodic client-server activity (like fetching email or printing a document). However, as network communication became more essential with the rise of the internet and streaming, this type of common bus network collapsed under the pressure. This is like a walkie-talkie network with everyone on the same channel. You can have as many people as you want on that channel as long as most people are just listening most of the time; however, as soon as everyone wants to start talking frequently, you just have a jammed-up unusable bus. 

Switched Ethernet

We've looked at two network types (Token Ring and half-duplex Ethernet) that didn't scale (albeit for different reasons). Both of these technologies had a centralized control (the ring or the bus). Half-duplex Ethernet was quickly replaced by Full-duplex or Switched Ethernet. With switched Ethernet, there was no bus, no shared walkie-talkie channel, every node has its own dedicated channel. When node A is talking to node B the traffic flows from A to B. If C and D are on the same network, the conversation between A and B generally does not interfere with the traffic between C and D. This is the technology that is used today in everything from your home network to massive datacenters around the world. It is far more scalable and has much less congestion.  

So why didn't we just start here? The idea of switched networks has been around since the 1960s. The problem was the technology. At the heart of a packet-switched network is a switch that must look at every packet that comes in, determine its destination, and then send it out of the switch via the exact right port for that packet's destination. Multiply this by every port on the switch that is both and sending and receiving.  Then grow the network by having switches attached to other switches, path discovery, forwarding tables... the switches that allow this type of network to be possible have to be very advanced.

During the time that Token Ring and half-duplex, these full-duplex switches would have been very expensive (if even technically possible).

Comparing Network Topologies to People Mover Topologies

So let's tie this back to the topic at hand, The Boring Company Loop system. 

Token Ring is like the train or subway. It has a fixed route and the more stops you add, the more people can access it, but the slower the overall speed. More throughput means more latency (i.e., longer travel time).  

Half-duplex is like a bus. If you charter a bus and your whole party is going to the same place, it works great. But if you have a bunch of people getting in all with different agendas, things fall apart quickly.  

The Boring Company's Loop design is a switched network. Riders select their destination and are assigned a dedicated car. That car goes to their selected destination directly. They don't stop at all the points in between to allow people in and out of the car. The Loop system computes the most effective route for your car to your destination. There's no stopping along the way.

The Boring Company's solution allows new routes and stations to be added to the network without adding interim stops at which all passengers must stop even when this is not their destination. 

This is a scalable transportation network. And it will get faster. 

Switched Ethernet started out at a speed of 10 megabits per second (Mbps). This grew to 100 Mbps, then 1000 Mbps or 1 gigabits per second (1 Gbps), then 10 Gbps, 100 Gbps, and now 800 Gbps is under development. I'm not saying that the vehicles in these tunnels will be 80 thousand times faster than their current 35 MPH speed, but they can get 3 or 4 times faster in long straightaways. To be fair, even at 35 MPH, this is far faster than city street traffic. With the stop and go of traffic lights and congestion, city traffic averages about 14 MPH door to door. So even the initial Loop speed is more than twice the speed a taxi / ride-share could offer (although with more limited destination options). 

Today, the cars in the narrow Loop tunnels are piloted by humans. This will change soon. Solving self-driving in this controlled environment will be far easier than solving it in city street driving. As regular readers know, our prediction is that Level 5 driving will not be solved until 2027. These tunnels, on the other hand, are the best case for self-driving. They don't have to deal with rain, snow, sun directly in the lens, cross-traffic... This Level 4 solution could launch as soon as 2022. 

Scale-out vs Scale-up - How TBC Wins

Trains scale by going faster, adding more train cars, and/or more stations/stops. This is scaling up. There are limits to increasing the speed and limits to adding more cars. As the number of stations increases, it increases capacity and access at the expense of increasing the average travel time for everyone using the platform. Scaling up trains quickly hits real physical limits.

The Boring Company scales by adding more destinations, more tunnels, and more cars. This is scaling out and it allows for more parallel operation. It means that stations, routes, and cars can be added to increase capacity without impacting the throughput or latency of the existing routes. It also means that popular stops can increase capacity by adding more ingress/egress tunnels to/from that station, thereby forming superstations. Alternatively, popular locations could have multiple standard-sized stations (e.g., Convention Center North Station and Convention Center South Station). This is easy to do with the Loop system since additional stations don't burden the system.

Scalability Adds Flexibility

If you add a stop on a train route that has low utilization, then you've slowed down everyone for the benefit of a few, if any, passengers. Similarly, if you add a bus stop in an out-of-the-way place, you add cost for the bus to periodically drive past this location, even if no one is getting on or off the bus. 

This is different with Loop. All rides are point to point. If a hotel or casino that has low traffic pays for a station, then the network has grown and no one has been slowed down and there is no on-going fuel cost to drive to this out-of-the-way location unless it is actually needed. 

I've avoided diving into the network analysis (graph theory) math for this article; instead, trying to articulate the common sense case. If you view each station as a vertex and each tunnel as an edge, there's a vast amount of analysis that can be done to understand the traffic flow within the system. The Boring Company will know every ride that occurs within the system. They'll be able to use graph theory and congestion information to determine the best paths for vehicles to take. 

If you have n number of stations, the possible number of station-to-station connections is n * (n-1). They'll be able to use historical information to determine the best path for each new tunnel that they add to the network. According to the Vegas Unzipped image above, there are 17 stations currently planned for the Vegas Loop. That's a possible 272 tunnels that could be dug for full-mesh connectivity. This would, of course, be overkill at the start of the system, but it demonstrates their ability to scale capacity as needed.

The Time Is Right

If this is clearly the best method for public transportation, why hasn't it always worked this way? The answer is the same as it was for Switched Ethernet: technology. Imagine if everyone that got on a train told the engineer where they wanted to go and then the route was computed and the tracks were switched in real-time. That wouldn't have been possible with last century technology. Today, however, route planning is trivial. 

Next on our 'the time is right' list is EVs. When a tunnel is designed exclusively for EVs, it doesn't need elaborate ventilation systems. Tesla's EVs will have the range to have a full day's service. They have the performance to whisk you at speed quickly to your destination. 

Our third item on this list is Apps. Today, nearly everyone has a smartphone, with the LV Loop app, you'll be able to schedule your ride and pay. The route will be calculated before you even click your seatbelt. There's no need to queue up to buy tickets... this is just another way that Loop systems will allow parallel operation.


Loop is in its beta phase, it will improve greatly over the next few years. As it matures, it will become the most efficient public transportation system we've ever built. This is not simply because it uses electric vehicles, it's because they have a significant technological advantage over the legacy competing technologies.

This is the same formula that other Musk Co. endeavors use. SpaceX's reusable rockets have a massive cost advantage over "disposable" rocket companies. Tesla's electric cars have a massive efficiency and performance advantage over their fossil-burning competition. 

The Boring Co. has "packetized" transportation and made a scalable "switched" network. This gives them a technological advantage over their last-century-based train competition. 

It's time to change from tunnel-vision to visions of tunnels.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Heat Impact on Solar Production

In my last post, I quipped that our solar energy production dipped because of the recent high temperatures. Thinking more about this, I decided that I had only looked at a couple of days. This is one of the most common human fallacies. I had an idea, I looked for confirming data, found some, and assumed that means I was correct.

You overcome this, not by trying to prove yourself right, but by looking for credible data to prove youself wrong. Well, it didn't take long. 

Day   Fri   Sat   Sun   Mon   Tues 
Temp (F)   93°  108°  111°  115°  91°
Solar (kWh)   75.1   50.5   73.5   49.4   75.2 

Looking at the table, if you compare Friday and Saturday, it sure seems like the increased temp resulted in lower solar production. Saturday was 15°F hotter and it had ~25kWh lower output. 

Comparing Monday and Tuesday is a similar story. Monday was 24°F hotter and had about 25kWh lower output. 

Problem solved right? Nope. Sunday shatters this correlation. Sunday was hotter than Saturday but had solar production closer to the cooler Friday and Tuesday. Perhaps I was too quick to blame the production fluctuation on heat. 

It is well known that heat can impact solar efficiency, but the impact is not as significant as I thought. Each brand/model of solar panels is a little different, but they all publish the heat impact by listing the efficiency impact for each degree Celsius above 25°C. One reasonable example is negative 0.258% per degree C. So going from 93F to 108F is about a 7°C change. This would be about a 2% efficiency change. This alone does not account for the ~30% decrease from Friday to Saturday. Clearly, something else is happening too. 

Looking at weatherunderground and other sites, these days went from "passing clouds", to "clear", to "sunny." Meaning that, despite all of them being hot, hot days, they had varying levels of cloud coverage. Sunday had the least cloud coverage and solar production remained high later into the evening (8PM) than other days.

So there you have it, the variance can primarily be blamed on clouds, not the heat.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

120 Hours of AC - Excessive Energy Usage

The heatwave hitting the Pacific North West seems to have finally broken. This event set new record highs for many locations in the region. British Columbia set a new record for the entire country of Canada.

Some have called this event a "once-in-a-millennium" occurrence. This would likely true if we had a stable environment, but we've added a lot of energy into the climate system and, in a perturbed system, you see many unexpected results. We've entered into an era of "global weirding." 

Roads Buckling in Heatwave - via @wsdot_north

Several roads in the region buckled and cracked due to thermal expansion. The trolley cars of Portland had to shut down due to damage to the high power cables. Similarly, the light rail passenger train, MAX, shut down due to cable expansion and sagging. Much of Oregon has had drought conditions for the last three years. Then, compounding the problem, it was hit with temperatures higher than any that have ever been recorded in the area.  

For our little home, we had a few little challenges, but overall we were rather lucky. Some of our neighbors lost power for a few hours. This is not surprising given the load that all the additional air conditioner use caused. However, these outages were in small areas and short-lived. The Western Interconnect grid held up to this stress test far better than the Texas grid has held up to their recent hot weather. Kudos to everyone in the region that helps keep the lights on (and the AC running when we needed it most). 

Speaking of AC, our AC unit is sized for a typical Oregon summer. It is, however,  significantly undersized for extreme heat like this. Even with our AC running all-out, the temperature in our home slowly continued to increase throughout the day. As I write this the AC has been running for 120 hours, non-stop. And it looks like it will be running for at least another 10 hours. The higher highs this heatwave brought were bad, but the higher overnight lows were worse; they meant no relief overnight either. On a typical hot summer day, the AC will run about 16 hours, not for days straight.

Portland weather graph via timeanddate.com

We (and much of the region) are going to have a big power bill this month. Compounding the energy problem is that despite all the sunshine, our solar energy production was reduced. Solar panels have a preferred operating temperature; when they get too hot, their efficiency is reduced. For example on June 28th (one of the hotter days), we generated 49.4kWh. On a more typical summer day, we typically generate ~80kWh. This is a notable reduction in output at a time when we most needed it. Just another reason that you should oversize your solar PV system whenever you can (even if it results in some solar clipping on good days).

Have a great summer and stay cool!

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Virtual Power Plant Performs Suboptimally During A Heatwave

UPDATE (6/27/2021): Title updated for accuracy. Details at the end.*

We had our first real virtual power plant (VPP) event and it didn't go as intended. 

The point of a pilot project is to "learn by doing" on a small scale. Lessons learned on a small scale can prevent problems in a bigger program later; so, from that perspective, this was a victory. 

Before getting too much further into this, I should explain what happened. 

On June 21st, one of the longest days of the year, we were having a heatwave here in the Northwest. In response, Portland General Electric decided to put its new VPP into action. Our batteries would be discharged to help offset the expected increase in air conditioner use. Perfect, this is why we signed up. If this helps the utility avoid using diesel generators and peaker plants, that's great.**

On the surface, this seems like a great plan. At 5PM PGE is going to take over the battery's operation. BUT two hours before, at 3PM, peak time starts. Our battery is configured to discharge during peak hours and remove our home's load from the grid. So at 3PM, the battery responds as expected and our home is off-grid (sometimes referred to as islanding). Actually, our home is better than off-grid. The battery is running our house and the solar panels are feeding the grid. 

Then at 5PM, PGE takes over operation of the battery. Up until this point, the battery had been discharging at a rate of about 7 to 10kW (adjusting up and down with our home's needs). When PGE took over, they had the battery discharging at a steady 2kW (see graph below).

Home Energy Flow: (grey is the grid, green is Powerwall, yellow is solar)

This was 5 to 8kW lower than it had been discharging. This increased the grid load, exactly the opposite of the intention of the program.

Looking at the graph, you can see that after ~9AM, when the battery was full, our home became a negative grid load. Our solar panels generated enough to run our home, air conditioning and all. In the times the AC cycled off, we were feeding the grid. Then starting at 3PM our battery took over and we continued to be a negative load. It was not until PGE took over at 5PM that we started to use energy from the grid and add to the demand. 

If our battery had been in standby/backup mode, just sitting at 100% charged up, waiting for an outage, then this VPP plan would have worked fine. However, that was not the case. 

The SmartBattery program needs to add another level of "smarts". For example, setting up the battery to discharge at least 2kW, that would have worked better. Alternatively, they could have requested that the battery discharge 2kW more than the home required, thereby guaranteeing some level of feed-in. Perhaps the simplest option would have been to have the battery discharge at a higher level, e.g., 8kW. This is well within the 15kW that our system can sustainably supply. 

It may be that such modes are not possible with the APIs available to VPP operators. Requesting 8kW works fine for our system, but if an owner only has a single Powerwall, 8kW is not an option. The VPP does not currently customize the request for each home. Tesla Powerwalls are not the only home battery system in the mix, so they may need to adhere to a lowest common denominator mode... 

It could be, that the net result was still positive, just sub-optimal. For example, say there are 500 homes in this pilot. 50 are in a state similar to mine. Each added an average of 4kW of load to the grid for a total of 200kW more load. The other 450 homes, however, added 900kW of relief to the grid. This means that the VPP added 700kW of net relief to the grid. Still a net gain, but not as good as adding 900kW or more grid relief.

It looks like it is going to be a hot one this summer, so you can expect that this will not be the last VPP call-to-arms. Perhaps they will make some improvements before the next event.


* UPDATE1: The initial title was "VPP Fails During A Heatwave". As I explained in the article, the VPP didn't perform as intended at my house, but that does not mean that the VPP as a whole failed. Some readers, rightfully so, called me out on this clickbait characterization and I've updated the title to be more accurate and less clickbaity. One other minor update: the original article referred to June 21st as solstice. June 21st is often the solstice, but this year, in N. America, the solstice occurred on June 20th.

** Sidebar1: Global warming is causing hotter summers, which increases energy demands, which (when energy is sourced from fossil fuels) increases emissions, which increases global warming... This feedback cycle can/must be broken. Summertime is when the sun shines and solar energy production scales well with AC usage. Combine this with just a few hours of energy storage and you can time-shift loads as needed to stabilize grid demand

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Tesla Charging On The Road

Summer is right around the corner. That means road trips! After a year with little to no travel, it will be nice to stretch out on the open road. 

If, like me, you drive a Tesla. You have a long-range EV with access to a vast Supercharger network. And you have access to (the less discussed) destination charging network at restaurants, hotels, and other points of interest. In addition to all of this, Tesla has adapters that allow you to charge up at CHAdeMO stations like the West Coast Electric Highway. There's even a CCS adapter (coming soon to N. America) that will allow your Tesla to charge up on the Electrify America network.

If you find yourself so far off the beaten path that none of these will work for you, you still have an option, guerilla charging.  

Guerilla Charging: what it is and what it's not

When you have wandered off into an area devoid of charging stations, you may need to charge up at a campground or from a friend's dryer outlet. When that's the case, you have just stepped into the guerilla charging zone. 

Before we get into the details, I want to clarify that by guerilla charging, I mean being resourceful and having the equipment to get the job done. I don't mean stealing electricity or cutting locks to gain access. If you'd like to charge up on someone's property, just ask; explain how much electricity you'll use and offer to pay for it. "I'll be using about 60 cents worth of electricity per hour and I'll be here for ~90 minutes. I'll gladly pay you for it and you can have a soda from my cooler if you'd like one."

You should know that charging from a 240V outlet is a lot slower than charging at a Supercharger, so plan to spend some time there: bring a book, go for a hike, make some new friends, or catch up on some sleep, there are lots of options. 

Tesla Gear You'll Need

Your Tesla came with a mobile charging connector (MCC). Older versions of the MCC included an RV outlet (NEMA 14-50) and a standard US home outlet adapter (NEMA 15-5), the current version of the MCC only includes the 15-5 adapter. This standard US household outlet is the slowest of all the options at 2-4 miles per hour, it is really only useful for overnight/multiday charging. So if your MCC didn't include the 14-50 RV outlet adapter, you'll need to buy one from Tesla here

Adapters You'll Need

Now that you have a 14-50 on the end of your portable Tesla charging connector, you'll need adapters to be able to plug it into the sea of 240V plugs that are out there. It might seem like 240V is 240V and one plug should be enough; if only it were that easy. There are 240V plugs for dryers 1994 and prior, 1995 - 2011, and 2012+, there are welder plugs, range plugs, twist locks, 2-pole 3-wire, 3-pole 4-wire... a dizzying array. The below chart summarizes the most common 240V outlets nicely. 

The good thing is that nearly all of them are a subset of the 14-50 so with an adapter, you can plug into them. When you are shopping for adapters, you want to get high-quality parts with the right gauge of wire and molded (rain-tight) connectors. You could be charging for hours and low-quality part could get hot and slow down your charge rate (or worse). 

I found adapters at the AC Works Store on Amazon that appears perfectly suited for Tesla use cases. 

They have locking adapters, air conditioner adapters, welding adapters, marina adapters, and more. 

If you will be charging at campgrounds, one of the most important adapters to have is the TT-30 to Tesla adapter. There are other TT-30 to 14-50 adapters but they do not all work with EV charging equipment. The TT-30 adapter at your local RV shop will not likely work for a Tesla (or any other EV). So make sure to one that specifically says that it is made for EV (or Tesla) charging (like the one from the AC Works Store). 

Prepare Before You Go

I made an adapter kit, I bought a bright orange backpack and filled it with various adapters. This lives in the frunk of my Tesla and I find it reassuring to know that I can plug into nearly any outlet on this continent. You might not want to go that far, but you might want to at least have at least two (14-50, the TT-30), as well as an adapter for that weird outlet in your father-in-law's garage.

Remember that you don't necessarily need to charge to 100% on these charging stops. Use the Lagom method; charge so you can safely make it to your next destination.

This article contains affiliate links 
I am long Tesla

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Portland Virtual Power Plant

Portland General Electric is starting a virtual power plant pilot program and we've signed up for it. 

 A Virtual Power Plant is like Energy in the Cloud ☺

What is a Virtual Power Plant (VPP)? 

A VPP allows your electric utility to utilize residential energy storage systems to balance the grid energy needs. You may also see this referred to as utilizing "behind the meter assets." 

If you have a Tesla Powerwall (or another home battery system), normally, that battery in your garage or on the side of your home is only going to respond to your home's demands. Unlike solar, home batteries are usually not allowed to feed energy into the grid. A VPP frees your battery from this restriction and allows it to respond to the grid's needs too. A VPP can be used to reduce or eliminate spinning reserves or peaker plants. 

VPP Example

Say it's a hot day in August at 6PM. People arrive home and turn on their air conditioners (AC), fans, and start cooking diner. This places a big demand on the grid. Let's say that you have solar and home batteries. For round numbers, let's say your solar is generating 4kW, your home is using 2kW, and your batteries are full. The extra 2kW that your solar is generating helps the grid by effectively carrying the load of one additional home in your neighborhood. This is good, but not great since the Powerwalls are not being used in this first example.

Now, let's say it is peak price time and you are on a time-of-use plan. In this situation, your home battery would be discharging to carry your home's load. This allows the full 4kW from the solar panels to feed into the grid. This would mean that your solar would be carrying the load of 2 of your neighbors. This is better than the first example, but we can do even better. 

A VPP allows the utility to dispatch your batteries for more than just your home's needs. So on this hot day, when the grid is burdened, rather than firing up a peaker plant, the utility sends a dispatch message to your batteries (and hundreds of others) to ask them to start discharging near their sustainable rate. Let's say you have 2 Powerwalls and they can continuously discharge at a rate of 10kW. Now along with the solar, you are sending 12kW of power into the grid. This is enough to run 6 homes on your block.

Scenario Solar Production Powerwall  Output Grid Feed-In Homes Supported
Solar Only 
(or Powerwall in Backup Only mode)
4kW 0 2kW 1
Powerwall with TOU 4kW 2kW 4kW 2
Powerwall with VPP 4kW 10kW 12kW 6

This example is for just one home. A virtual power plant could have hundreds or thousands of homes participating and if each of them can ease the grid of the burden of 4 to 10 other homes, then you start to see why the utilities are interested in this idea. 

How Much Of The Battery Capacity Can They Use?

You get to define the 'Power Outage Reserve.' This means you can keep whatever percentage of the battery you'd like for your own peace of mind. In the winter (when outages are more likely here), I keep the reserve at 60%. In the summer, I lower it down to 30%. Even if we have an outage during the summer, we have more energy coming from the solar panels, so I'm not worried about keeping the batteries too full. 

What's In It For Me?

Okay, this helps the grid, but it will cause extra cycling wear and tear on my battery and if there is a power outage, my battery might be lower than it would have otherwise been. Utilities don't expect you to do this out of kindness, there are incentives for participation.

VPP programs have various incentives and payments for the people that participate. Some give you several thousands of dollars of incentives to install home batteries, others even give you the batteries for free. Some pay you for every month that you are in the program, others pay you per event or per kWh.

The PGE program that I'm enrolling in will pay participants $20 per month if they have solar. Ironically, if you DON'T have solar, you get paid $40 per month. You are paid more because the utility can also charge your battery at their discretion when they have surplus power available. When you have solar, the rules are generally written such that you can only charge home energy batteries with solar. 

If you are participating in the Energy Trust of Oregon's Solar Within Reach program, you may be eligible for an instant $5,000 rebate in addition to the above monthly $20. 

If you are within one of PGE's 3 Smart Grid Test Bed areas and you are one of the first 200 to sign up, you may be eligible for an instant rebate of up to $3,000 in addition to the above monthly participation funds.

How Big Is The PGE VPP?

This is a 5-year pilot program with up to 525 homes and up to 4 megawatts of dispatchable power. That's an average of ~7.6kW from each home. Our 3 Powerwalls can provide about twice that much. I guess they expect the average participant to only have 1 or 2 Powerwalls or (more likely) they will not be using the system's full potential. 

Which Home Energy Storage Battery Brands Are Supported? 

The PGE VPP currently supports home battery systems from Generac, SolarEdge, Sonnen, Sunverge, and Tesla.

If you want Tesla Powerwalls and/or Solar, you can use my referral link.

If you want to sign up for PGE's VPP pilot, here's the link

I'm Long Tesla

Monday, June 7, 2021

Product Over Advertising - How Tesla Is Different #78

Tesla does not do things the way that other automakers do things. Whether it's how they recruit talent, create mega castings, or eschewing lidar and insisting that full self-driving can (in fact must) be done via camera alone, citing lidar and (more recently) radar as a crutch to camera vision that leads to a local maximum from whence the 100% goal cannot be achieved, Tesla does things their own way.

Elon Musk's appearance on Saturday Night Live is yet another example of this unique path. Commercials for the Audi E-tron, Ford Mustang Mach-E, Volkswagen ID.4, and Lucid Air all aired within the first 30 minutes of Musk's SNL episode. Lucid Motors even used the air time to debut their first ad for the Lucid Air with 500 miles of range, due later this year.

While the other automakers are paying for this air time, paying ad agencies to make the commercials, and paying marketing companies to craft their message, their executives review and refine ad pitches, Musk is doing none of this. 

The minimum SAG scale is currently $3,488 per week. NBC would be required to pay Musk at least this much for his time preparing, rehearsing, and shooting that week. So while other automakers were paying NBC for ad space, Musk was getting paid (albeit an insignificant amount for a billionaire). Whatever impression a 30-second ad spot had on the audience (if they even saw it) was far outweighed by Musk's air-time in front of the audience. 

Other car companies are paying for ads. Tesla is making a compelling product.

Musk has been asked many times why Tesla does not spend money on PR and ads. In the Q1 2021 financial update, one of the SAY investor questions asked why Tesla didn't hire a PR staff to fight the FUD. The answer was that the truth will come out, and that time, money, effort... would all be better spent making a better, more compelling, product, rather than “trying to trick people” with perfectly crafted messages.

In 2018, Musk said, “At Tesla, the thing we focus on is we put all the money and attention into trying to make the product as compelling as possible because I think that the way to sell any product is through word of mouth. The key is to have a product that people love.” – Elon Musk

Tesla is an engineering company first and foremost.