Category Archives: EV’s (incl. PHEV’s)

Electron democracy

A long-belated companion to Steven Chu’s “Time to fix the wiring” essay I posted earlier, this is the white paper I co-authored for the same McKinsey & Company series. Given the roughly five-month delay in uploading this, I suppose “Time to post the writing” might be an apt subtitle… :)

Ever the stickler for citing sources (in university, while writing up a chemical engineering lab report, I once cited a colleague’s report I made use of, in my bibliography of sources – yes, I was a wild one) I was pleased McKinsey kept the footnote crediting the work John Robb and Jeff Vail.

Four years on, it’s encouraging to see how wrong the essay has turned out to be — because all the recent developments are for the better. It would be as if an investor bought a bunch of boring utility stocks for the safe, reliable dividends, only to discover at the end of the year that they got a bunch of capital appreciation as well.

Though on that note, I think fossil-fuel burning utilities are already a risky investment now, because renewables are already eroding their business model in some countries… and since renewables will get dramatically cheaper going forward as production scales up, the phenomenon will inevitably repeat itself around the world.  (Speaking of uploading delays, clearly I’ll have to get to part 2 of this series…)

When the essay was written (late 2008), grid energy storage seemed a long, long way from commercialization, so our assumption had been that large-scale hydro plants and smaller-scale fuel cell facilities would complement renewables’ intermittency.  (The EV / PHEV adoption rate is such that these are unlikely to offer any appreciable grid storage by 2030, either…)

With Germany’s announcement of a program to subsidize battery-based residential energy storage systems, enabling companies to ramp up production and get the economies of scale with which to drive aggressive cost reductions, it looks like fuel cells will face a lot of pressure at the residential scale.

As for the resiliency benefits of on-site power generation, that seems to have become a priority for many tech companies, in areas where subsidies for on-site generation are available.  (I could justify mild subsidies, because on-site generation minimizes the need to maintain or expand transmission infrastructure, which can be expensive.)

One wonders if some of these companies are worried that a renewables future will destabilize the grid: this is a “myth”conception, as many utilities point out.  I read somewhere that when Germany began its Energiewende — (renewable) energy transformation — the feeling was that the grid could only handle 5% intermittent renewables (ie. wind + solar). Then it became 10%, and then 20%. Then it became 40%. The latest I’ve seen is 60% with the possibility of 80% for continental Europe. As technology improves, that will only increase. Especially if/when electricity-to-hydrogen or electricity-to-natural gas technology matures, allowing for large-scale storage of excess, intermittent electricity.

On the fuel cell side, Bloom Energy seems to have become adept at acquiring subsidies market share in the on-site generation space, despite the fact that their technology is less efficient than combined-cycle gas turbines.  (That said, turbines are generally LOUD and therefore not suitable for on-site location.)  As such, when it comes to larger-scale on-site 24/7 fuel cell power generation, since Ballard isn’t in that game anymore, I root for the folks at ClearEdge Power, whose use of cogeneration makes it possible to achieve overall energy efficiencies of 90%+, even if only a portion of that becomes electricity. :)

 

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Electron-Democracy

By Matthew Klippenstein and Noordin Nanji

3 March 2009

The way electric power is generated and distributed will change substantially over the next two decades. Power will be democratized, as small-scale production at the individual and community level moves from niche to normal. The resulting “electron-democracy” will still have centralized power plants, but power grid activity will increasingly be dominated by innumerable incremental energy flows between small producers and consumers. This is likely to happen whether or not public policy mandates a shift away from dependence on fossil fuels.

Most centralized plants (hydro excepted) cannot easily adjust to demand fluctuations, leading to steeply discounted off-peak rates and the need to acquire additional plants for high-demand periods. More broadly, an expansive transmission grid dominated by a few central power plants is vulnerable to disruption from both natural phenomena and human malevolence.

In contrast, smaller-scale power generation can respond more nimbly to market demand, in a shorter time frame, with lower capital costs. Filling supplemental power needs with niche supplies rather than primary power facilities creates new generation options that that otherwise would be impractical. Finally, a grid fed by a broad, physically dispersed heterogeneous mixture of power sources would provide robust protection against disruption.1

Putting these strands together and looking forward, the distributed grid might look like this: intermittent wind and solar power generation would be complemented by load-supplementing fuel cell plants, in much the same way that peak power and base load power plants interact today. Electric vehicles (EVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and batteries would serve as grid energy storage when excess energy is being produced. The latter is analogous to the role of pumped-storage hydroelectric in current utility systems, where water is pumped from a lower reservoir to a higher one for later use in generating hydroelectric power.

Considering the intensifying pace of climate change, governments should play an ambitious role in the transition from today’s grid to tomorrow’s electron democracy. Governments could coordinate with local business to develop centers of excellence for distributed power in targeted industries. Mechanisms such as feed-in tariffs—which grant favorable rates for those generating power from renewables and clean-tech sources—could facilitate the development of these regional technology clusters. They would bring ancillary economic benefits as well.

We are hopeful that by 2030, our energy system will be considerably less dependent on fossil fuels, particularly for electric power generation. Supported by a diverse array of renewables, our energy needs could be met with an overlapping set of complementary clean technologies. In doing so, we would strongly curb our global warming emissions. We would then be poised not only to stabilize the climate, but to transcend the Fossil Fuel Age entirely and open a new “Age of Sustainability” in our human story.

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1 A closer examination of these topics is available from Jeff Vail (A Theory of Power) and John Robb (Brave New War) in their writings on “rhizome” at jeffvail.net and “resilient communities” at globalguerrillas.typepad.com, respectively.

Number one!

Clearly, people really enjoyed the Canadian Tesla sales stats I was able to pull up via vehicle registration records. The article is now number one for the week!  An article on Canadian stats topping an American website’s “recently popular” list.  How about that!  :)

Tesla article - number one

I noticed that the good folks at the InsideEV’s website subsequently offered year-to-date Tesla sales estimates for Canada, perhaps deriving them from my numbers? ;) They even mentioned vehicle registration data in a recent article! Nice to think I may have helped pioneer that methodology in the EV blogosphere, even if it’s of infinitesimal consequence (or should that be infinite inconsequence?).

That said, InsideEV’s does great work — I read them daily, and have learned a lot from their posts. It’d just be nice if they could throw a bone of credit now and then. :) Heck, I unabashedly cite goodcarbadcar.net and others as the sources for the data in my public-access EV spreadsheet!

Tesla sales in Canada, Jan-May 2013

My GreenCarReports article on Tesla Model S sales in Canada this year has been popular enough to reach second-place in GCR’s “Most Popular this week” sidebar.

Tesla Model S article popularity

Very cool, and almost certainly indicative of the fact that Tesla fans are starved for sales data!  After all, the company is about as forthcoming with monthly sales statistics as old Howard Hughes was, with public appearances. Too old a reference?  How about Thomas Pynchon?  Too obscure?

Well, they’re about as willing to disclose that information, as current Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is, of letting his MP’s speak freely. When his most recent cabinet was announced, the media was given… pre-recorded video commentary from each of the lucky lawmakers.

Unfortunately, all this message control came to naught, as it was discovered that “enemies lists” had been compiled for each new Minister, to help them in their governance. No doubt the Harper Government(TM) wishes it could give its leakers the “American treatment”…

April 2013 Canadian plug-in electric vehicle sales

My April update on Canadian plug-in car sales stats in Canada is now up at GreenCarReports.  The Volt’s title reign continues — while the Prius Plug-in Prius dropped to fourth place!

As noted in the article, I think some of the Prius Plug-in’s challenges come from the fact that it’s a plug-in option on a pre-existing vehicle.  Early adopters of new technology probably have a bit of a “peacock” complex and so want their conspicuous consumption to be obvious to others.  If so (and I’m pretty sure it is so!) then they’d prefer to buy an electric car with a distinctive silhouette than a plug-in retrofitted on an existing car model.

People who follow cars can probably make out a Tesla, Volt, or LEAF from a fair distance.  But when it comes to the Toyota Prius Plug-in, Ford Fusion Energi, Ford C-Max Energi and others, they’d pretty much have to be in bumper-to-bumper gridlock before noticing the different badges, or the extra port to accommodate the charging outlet.

Oh, and a belated congratulations to Tesla for their Model S’s record-tying Consumer Reports rating (it was the second-ever vehicle to score 99/100, after some Lexus model), their sales achievement and new-found profitability.  I’ll need to update the American figures in my EV sales database!

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Meanwhile, work on the theatre-play-turned-graphic-novel continues.  Considering that I’ve been working on this for the past fifteen (!!) or so years, I must be well past ten thousand hours and on my way to one hundred!  Which, by Malcolm Gladwell’s logic (he popularized the “ten thousand hours to greatness” meme) clearly means that I’m now Great — at spending time on this Shakespearean samurai story.  :)

But wow, fifteen years…!  Heck, the siege of Troy only lasted ten!  :)

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March 2013 Canadian plug-in electric vehicle sales

The blogging quietness continues, as my other projects percolate.

In my persistent pursuit of these other projects, I forgot to note down my March update on the Canadian electric vehicle market, over at GreenCarReports.  Nissan’s LEAF came out of nowhere to tie the Chevy Volt at a category-leading 82 sales.

In the imitation-is-the-sincerest-form-of-flattery category, my content doppelganger over at InsideEVs followed my April 5th Canadian EV sales update with an April 7th post of their own.  :)

Not that I think this a big deal — if I was Monsanto, I might make unreasonable claims about owning data which is in the public domain, the way they’ve purportedly tried to file patents for pigs who have genes which have evolved in pigs, the course of nature.  Heck, I even use some data from InsideEVs in my electric vehicle sales database!

It’s just that I, you know, give them credit (as per the screengrab below) when I do so.  ;)

Feb 2013 Canadian plug-in electric vehicle sales

Been a bit quiet on the blogging front recently, due to some gratifyingly awesome progress on separate writing projects — a trend likely to continue for another couple weeks at least.

In the meanwhile, my post on Canadian plug-in electric vehicle sales in Feb 2013, went up last week at GreenCarReports.  The Volt won the category for the 12th straight month, followed by the Nissan Leaf and then the Toyota Prius plug-in.

The master database is, as always, available here.

Plug-in electric car sales in Canada, January 2013 (via GreenCarReports)

My column on plug-in car sales in Canada for January 2013, is now up at GreenCarReports.  Since it’s hard to write ~600 words about sales statistics in the very small Canadian market, I discuss how Quebec — not B.C.! — is the leading province for plug-in vehicle adoption, and reasons why this might be the case.  You can think of me as being “unpaid by the word”.  ;)

For Canada as a whole, the Chevy Volt retained a narrow lead, with the Nissan LEAF and Toyota Prius plug-in a close second and third — among reporting manufacturers.  Which is to say, if we ignore Tesla, which doesn’t divulge monthly sales statistics.  (They’ll be forced to cough up some numbers on Feb 20, though, in their quarterly conference call!)

Tesla may prove to have had the best-selling plug-in car in both Canada and the U.S. in January.  They claimed to have been producing about 400 vehicles a week in January, which would’ve been good for 1600 vehicles.  If true, they very well could have overtaken the Volt in January in both the U.S. (1140) and Canada (44).

When the Tesla results come out, I’ll update my public-access spreadsheet of EV sales statistics, which also contains the sales stats referenced in the aforementioned GreenCarReports column.

Plug-in electric car sales in Canada, 2012 (via GreenCarReports)

My new adventures as a Canadian correspondent for GreenCarReports.com begin with this post.  Readers are encouraged to show them some love.  :)

My ongoing efforts to track Canadian EV sales figures (and those of a few other countries) remain visible here.

EV stats for British Columbia (2012)

The kind people at CEV for BC sent over some statistics on Clean Energy Vehicle rebates issued by the provincial government.

While the CEV rebates were available for electric, natural gas, and fuel cell vehicles, my understanding is that the rebates break down as follows:

– 308x EV’s

– 0 NGV’s

– 0 FCV’s

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Given the limited infrastructure and product offerings (apart from a natural gas Honda Civic, I’m unaware of other methane-based production vehicles) it’s unsurprising that natural gas vehicles didn’t capture any rebates.  Much the same can be said for fuel cell cars.  In contrast, almost everyone in Canada is connected to a grid, and all the major auto companies are making plug-ins, if in modest quantities.

It’s also worth noting that natural gas is becoming more common in the trucking industry (where centralized fueling depots provide sufficient infrastructure) but that the above rebates only apply to “light-duty” passenger vehicles.

More after the jump!

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Epic Vancouver 2012 (and raw food)

(originally written May 15, 2012 — part of my Great Upload of 2013)

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I outlined a piece tentatively titled “Douglas, Deng and Diocletian” on Saturday, as I cycled to Vancouver’s new convention centre along the largely-empty downtown bike lanes.  ;)  But alas, attending the Epic Vancouver “green consumerism” show threw those plans off-kilter.  Musings about historical figures are “evergreen” projects — they can be written up any time — but event-driven patter has a best-before date.  :)

I was surprised that Cadbury didn’t have a booth at the conference; they were the first major confectioner to switch a major product line to all-fair trade chocolate a few years back (their flagship “Dairymilk” bars) and you’d figure they’d want to make sure everyone knew it.  Heck, according to the Tommy Douglas bio I just finished, our Greatest Canadian hired one of the Cadbury heirs to help set up government-run enterprises (insurance, bus services) to help improve Saskatchewan’s finances so the province could finally move ahead with universal healthcare in 1962.  Being able to tie the Cadbury name to Canadians’ most treasured institution, would seem like a marketer’s dream…!

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The Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association had a century-old electric vehicle on display (model year 1912).  I was shocked (ha) to see steering was accomplished with a bunch of levers — like a modern military tank.  I guess the automotive Steve Jobs hadn’t yet reinvented the human-car interface with the steering wheel.  (“We think this ‘steering-wheel’ thing is going to be big — it’s insanely great!!“)

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As is typical of these trade shows, the headline sponsors were environmentally-conscientious corporate behemoths, but the exhibitor mix went well into the “granola” spectrum.  ;)  One of these was the raw food society of BC, who seemed a pleasant if misguided bunch.  Which isn’t to imply that the rest of us aren’t misguided — we surely are, just in a more mainstream way.  ;)

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As I understand it — possibly incorrectly — the idea is that raw food is closer to what humans evolved eating, meaning it’s better for us.  As such, it belongs to a family of beliefs which considers technology unnatural, and hence bad, or possibly dangerous.  Of course, while we may chuckle at the raw-fooders, most of us are a little uncomfortable with GMO’s.  The sad hilarity is that it’s more logically consistent to reject all technology from fire onwards, than to pick and choose an arbitrary point between “natural” technologies and “unnatural” ones!

To adapt an analogy I heard in some podcast, cooking is a convenient technology, just like writing.  The pot gives us an external stomach in which to pre-digest our food (using heat) for easy nutrient absorption, just like paper and other media give us an external brain to store data for easy information retrieval.  And while cooking probably destroys some nutrients, it kills off microbes which cause food-borne illnesses, too.  In earlier eras before modern healthcare technologies, that was pretty important!  The Chinese have been cooking water for at least three thousand years: tea is lightly-flavoured boiled water with a caffeine kick.  It was the Red Bull of its day!  ;)

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I imagine most Canadians who go on raw food diets lose weight, if for no other reason that junk food options must be pretty meagre.  Eating less calorie-dense foods, they’d probably feel full sooner, and their bodies would have to work harder to pull nutrients out of the food they did wind up eating.  Since modern urbanites tend to be on the thick side of fit, this probably nets out positive on health, but mainly as a result of better eating habits, as opposed to prehistoric ones.

One species that could definitely benefit from cooking is pandas, who eat 12 hours a day.  Their carnivorous digestive system can’t extract nutrients from bamboo very easily — not that there are many to begin with!  And given all the fiber they take in, they’re not just regular, they’re frequent: dozens of times a day.  Reminds me of when Leo was a newborn.  ;)

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I didn’t see any vegetarian groups at Epic, though the crowd was probably their target market also.  While Westerners could probably benefit from reducing meat in their diet, avoiding meat is more of an ethical issue than a “natural human condition” issue.  One theory has it that meat-eating is a big reason why we spread across the earth, and our largely-vegetarian chimp brethren didn’t.

The premise is that meat enriched the milk of human mothers so much, they could wean babies earlier than other primates (traditional societies wean at around 2 years; largely-vegan chimpanzees at about 5 years).  This meant humans could reproduce faster and dominate the world the way we’ve been doing, for the past tens of thousands of years.  It would also imply that to enjoy a truly representative Paleo diet, raw food enthusiasts would want to get used to all manners of sashimi.  :)

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Considering how much flack TIME magazine got recently for putting a woman breastfeeding a three-year-old on its cover, this all seemed topical enough to justify swerving my writing plans.  As strange as that may seem to the rest of us, if she was a paleo-diet vegetarian, five years might be scientifically justified (!).  It seems weird to us since it’s so far from our cultural norms, but most cultural norms are laughably arbitrary: while my Ukrainian grandmother looked queasy when I told her I ate raw fish, my Japanese mother-in-law was astounded that I sometimes ate carrots, uncooked…!  :)