Thursday, September 18, 2014

Green Jobs revolution promised by Obama in 2008; how's it doing? Can big business simultaneously go green, and make green?

President Obama was elected in 2008 on a platform promising, among other things, a green jobs revolution.  That the way out of the economic mess of 2008-9, that threatened a global economic meltdown and catastrophic depression, was to support green technologies, green energy systems, and lead a wave of innovation and business in that area.  It's worth taking a look back to see what happened as a result.

To listen to the Republicans of the world, you'd think the whole thing is a fiasco.  They keep hounding on Solyndra and other companies that didn't make it.  No investment is guaranteed, however, so we should have expected some of the Dept of Energy investments to fail, right?  The real question is whether there's an overall economic benefit, and whether the result makes a real difference to the climate.

It wouldn't do to build a bunch of new businesses that are supposed to fix the climate, and we still wreck the climate because we did the wrong thing.

For example in the electric car field we have the deaths of Fisker Automotive, A123 Systems (bought out by Wanxiang), EnerDel (which averted going bankrupt) and Think as the failures, but a couple big successes.  The Nissan Leaf is selling very well, with strong sales growth, and the Tesla Model S is a phenomenal hit.  Tesla Motors is getting ready to build their Gigafactory that will eventually mean over 6,000 jobs and over 20,000 jobs total in the Reno area, as well as $100 billion in economic activity over the next few years.  And the products coming out of that factory will enable Tesla to be selling 500,000 electric cars a year by 2020.

If Tesla's plans come true, those will be real jobs and real economic activity that was goosed into being in part by the Dept of Energy investments.

We keep seeing these pictures go by on Facebook/Twitter/Google+ proclaiming huge growth in solar energy, wind energy, and jobs for each.  What has really happened in those areas?

In August 2012, GreenTech Media published a report summarizing the growth in green jobs (Solar, Energy Efficiency, etc) in Massachussets.  That state is only only investing heavily in solar energy installation and energy efficiency, the state has plenty of companies developing green energy technologies.  It totaled out, in 2012, to almost 5,000 "clean energy firms" and over 70,000 jobs in the sector.  Further, job growth in that sector is growing at a phenomenal rate well over 10% a year.

Solar Energy jobs are, from what I understand it, split into engineering jobs designing new installations, and installer jobs that's a specialized form of construction work to set up the systems.  Once installed a specific solar energy installation doesn't require much maintenance.

Where solar energy jobs are an obvious result of the Green Jobs revolution, what are the Energy efficiency jobs?  That area focuses on making buildings more efficient - better insulation, so the building uses less energy.  Less energy consumption is extremely green.  The work involves assessing buildings for energy efficiency improvements, and construction jobs to do the actual work.

The National Solar Jobs Census of 2013 found that over 140,000 Americans were working in solar energy jobs during that year.  Employment in Solar is expected to grow by 15.6% in 2014.

The 2012 Solar Jobs Census showed 119,000 Americans working in solar energy.

These are incredible job growth rates - 12% a year in Massachussets, over 15% a year for 2014.  Woah.

What's causing this high job growth rate is in part the falling prices for solar panels and installed systems.  I'd first seen evidence of that trend line over 10 years ago.  A solar industry executive predicted in congressional testimony that solar power was on a price curve which would make it directly cost competitive against fossil fuel energy by 2020 or so.

The image shown here was published in June 2014 by the Financial Post, and validates that testimony.  Cost per watt has fallen from $10 in 2000 to nearly $2 in 2013, and at the same time installations of solar power systems are shooting through the roof.

A report last Fall on the Huffington Post went over why the solar industry has already won against fossil fuels.  Thousands of new jobs, fueled by a huge increase in solar energy system installations, fueled by rapidly falling prices for those systems.  At the same time the fossil fuel industry is losing jobs.

It's not just solar energy that's seeing a huge growth rate.  So, too, is wind energy installations.  That growth of installed wind energy capacity comes with jobs growth in in that sector, of course.

Wind turbine manufacturers are constantly working to increase the size of the turbines.  This will increase the impact of each installed turbine.

A year ago the Dept of Energy put out a report -- Revolution Now: The Future Arrives for Four Clean Energy Technologies -- discussing the trending we're seeing in this post.

This chart shows the trend of falling costs for installed wind energy capacity, and the growth in that capacity.  What's different in this chart versus the solar energy chart is that the cost has essentially leveled out since 2001.

The report also covers LED lighting - for which there's a similar curve of rapidly falling prices, and rapidly increasing deployment - and electric vehicles - for which the price curve is falling, but not exactly rapidly, and deployment is rapidly rising.

Next week the UN is hosting a big climate change summit.  This meeting isn't meant to establish any concrete policies, but to put wind in the sails of the whole effort to address climate change.  

Related to that meeting, the Global Commission on the Economy & Climate put out a report on how there can be economic revival and economic growth, precisely from addressing climate change.

A big critique of changing the economy to address environmental and climate issues is that the economy will die as a result.  Maybe what will die is the old industries that rely on fossil fuels.  As we've seen above, and as this report demonstrates, new industries will replace the fossil fuel based industries.  Jobs and economic activity will simply switch from one energy source to another.

Well, "simply" isn't the right word there, because the change won't at all be simple.  

The report says: "Many of the perceived short- to medium-term trade-offs between economic growth and climate action disappear when policy is examined in a dynamic context of change, and when existing economic inefficiencies and the multiple benefits of action are taken into account."

And: "Maintaining or strengthening economic growth to 2030 will require a significant increase in investment, including an estimated cumulative US$89 trillion of investment in infrastructure. A shift to low-carbon infrastructure will have an additional impact, changing both the timing and mix of infrastructure investment. A low-carbon transition across the entire economy could be achieved with only 5% more upfront investment from 2015-2030."

And: "From a broader financial perspective, the global economy could create value from the transition to low-carbon energy. Low-carbon infrastructure has significantly lower operating expenses and a longer expected lifespan than fossil fuel assets. Low-carbon infrastructure also has the potential to achieve lower costs of capital."

In other words, moving to clean energy systems should be good business.  Lower operating costs, lower capital costs, and lots of investment opportunities.  The financial moguls should be highly interested in this.

What will make a big change is the result of solar energy and wind energy systems costs falling below the cost for fossil fuel energy systems.  The companies that want to sell electricity will have a hard time continuing to buy fossil fuel systems if solar or wind costs less.

The pattern we saw above is falling costs for wind, solar, and other technologies, causes increased deployment of those technologies.  The total deployment is still small compared to the size of the fossil fuel industry.  But, if the rapid growth sustains itself the totals will eventually start to make a dent in the overall problem.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Is Blink gouging us with the new kilowatt-hour pricing model?

Charging my car at a Blink station
at the Ikea store in East Palo Alto
The change two weeks ago by Blink Networks to switch from per-hour pricing to per-kilowatt-hour pricing has caused an eruption of anger among Blink members.  The change was supposed to solve another big problem - Blink's habit of rounding up session fees to the next hour even when the elapsed time is only 1 minute beyond the hour.  That is, a 1 hour 1 minute session under the old rules would cost $2 rather than $1 and a few cents.  But under the per-kilowatt-hour pricing rules, that session would cost nearly $3 (depending on locale).

What's going on?  Is the CarCharging Group crazy?  Maybe they are, because of the actual reasons for these price differences, or maybe CarCharging Group (the owner of the Blink Network) has simply switched to a fee structure that makes actual business sense.

Under the old model Blink members paid $1 per hour.  Since the typical electric car consumes 6 kilowatt-hours during that time, that $1 equates to about $0.16 per kilowatt-hour.  Well, except for the 1 hour 1 minute charging sessions costing $2, equating to $0.32 per kilowatt-hour.

Under per-kilowatt-hour pricing CarCharging Group (a.k.a. Blink) is charging between $0.39 to $0.79 per kilowatt hour.  The cost per hour (at 6 kilowatts charging rate) equates to between $2.34 and $4.74.  Per hour.

Yikes, that's a big jump - from $1 per hour to nearly $5 per hour depending on local electricity rates.

CarCharging isn't alone in charging a steep per-kilowatt-hour rate.  SemaCharge and many ChargePoint stations cost $0.49 per kilowatt-hour, equating to $2.94 per hour at a 6 kilowatt charging rate.

In states where Blink cannot charge per-kilowatt-hour, they changed the pricing to $0.04 to $0.06 per minute, measured by the minute.  That's a sigh of relief for those who've been charged $2 for a 1 hour 1 minute session, but calculate the new per hour price and ... well ... that equates out to $2.40 to $3.60 per hour.  FWIW, That's roughly in the ballpark of the per-kilowatt-hour pricing.

A little nitpick - in practice most of the public charging stations run at less than a 6 kW charging rate.  Typical stations show voltages between 195 volts to 208 volts, resulting in a 5.8-5.9 killowatt charging rate.  That's close enough to 6 kilowatts for our purposes, but the numbers I'm giving here aren't 100% accurate.

In any case, my theory is that a $1 per hour fee ($0.16 per kilowatt-hour) is not a sustainable business.

Consider... What's the business cost for operating a charging station network?  It's clearly more than the cost of electricity - for which the nationwide average is $0.11 per kilowatt-hour.  Revenue of $0.16 per kilowatt-hour leaves only $0.05 per kilowatt-hour from which to pay for other costs, and derive a profit.  The other costs have to include network operations, amortizing the charging station capital cost, maintenance of the charging station, corporate staff salaries, fees to host sites, and perhaps more that I can't think of.

Is charging $0.16 per kilowatt-hour (uh, $1 per hour) a sustainable business?  We don't know because we can't look at the books of these corporations.  But, that they're all charging in the neighborhood of $0.49 per kilowatt-hour, or in the range of $2.40-$4.70 per hour, suggests $1 per hour ($0.16 per kilowatt-hour) really is not sustainable.

We do want these charging networks to survive - because we need their service.  At the same time we don't want them to gouge us.

P.S. Before someone suggests that $0.49 per kilowatt-hour is gouging when electricity costs $0.11 per kilowatt hour, think about the costs I listed.  How will those costs be paid?

We want the charging networks to survive, and therefore the fees have to be high enough that the business makes its profit.

Electric car drivers aren't entitled to violate other laws, like handicapped parking

Access to charging stations is a fundamental need for electric vehicle drivers.  But does that mean an electric car driver can park in a handicapped spot just to access a charging station?  If the charging station is blocked, does that transfer rights to the electric car driver to violate the laws against parking in a handicapped spot?  Nope.

Good charging station etiquette is necessary for us all to share scarce charging station resources.  Unfortunately not everyone knows charging station etiquette, and while gasoline car drivers often block charging stations either purposely or out of ignorance, electric car drivers have been known to do so as well.  Electric car drivers sometimes "hog" a charging station all day long, even long after their car is charged, preventing others from using the station.

An illegally parked electric car
Source: Cars With Cords blog
The car shown here is blocking handicapped parking.  Specifically, the striped zone in handicapped parking is required for loading/unloading wheelchairs in those vehicles with the special wheelchair lifts.

According to the Cars With Cords blog post, the charging station is one spot to the right of this picture and was in use by an electric car.  The Leaf owner here maybe didn't understand the significance of the handicapped spot, and parked next to the charging station.

Doing so meant violating handicapped parking regulations.

The owner of the white van in the left of this picture had two sons, one in a wheelchair, and was frantically desperate to load up and drive away.  But her ability to do so was blocked by the Leaf owner who had violated the law.

As Patrick on the Cars With Cords blog wrote: It is NEVER ok to park in an ADA parking area unless you have an ADA permit. And it is NEVER ok to park in an ADA ramp access area for any reason.

That's one perspective, and is certainly the legally correct perspective.  It's easy to understand the possible plight of the red Leaf owner.  I've been in the situation of needing to charge, and the only charging station is blocked, and "oh look there's an open handicapped spot available".  Maybe, oh maybe, the building owner or others would look the other way and ignore the electric car parked in the handicapped spot.  In my case I wised up pretty quickly and realized that wouldn't fly.

Owning an electric car might give one a feeling of "entitlement," that you're "doing good" for society, and society owes you some perks like access to HOV lanes, free charging stations, etc.  It's a slippery slope and can lead one into rationalizing away a legal violation that could result in a fine and/or your car towed away.

The fact is that we electric vehicle owners have the same status as everyone else - suffering in silent desperation to make sense of an insane world.  Yes the situation we face as electric vehicle owners is imperfect.  Violating the law, though, will make our situation worse if the others who still drive gasoline cars start to see us as feeling overly entitled brats.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Electric Terry becomes IronButtTerry, riding 1000 miles in 24 hours on an electric motorcycle

Who wants to ride 1000 miles in 24 hours on an electric motorcycle?  Okay, you, your name's Terry, right?  You look crazy enough to try this, go ahead.

(ahem) Terry Hershner, a.k.a. Electric Terry, is seeking to become known as IronButtTerry.  He set out at 1 PM on Monday from the ChargePoint headquarters in Campbell, CA, on a quest to join the Iron Butt club on an electric motorcycle.  In case you're one of the zillions of people, like me, who didn't know about this - the Iron Butt Association is made of hard core motorcycle riders who love to take long distance rides.  The IBA has several levels of - such as the Saddlesore 1000 for those who have ridden 1000 miles in 24 hours, the BunBurner 1500 for those who've ridden 1500 miles in under 36 hours, and the 100CCC which is riding coast-to-coast and returning in under 100 hours.

Image courtesy Google Maps
Apparently the President of the IBA doesn't believe electric motorcycles are worth anything, because they cannot compete in Iron Butt events.  Terry, having done several ultra long distance cross-country electric motorcycle rides, is setting out to prove to Mr. IBA President that it can be done.

Terry's previous rides have come close to the levels required for the IBA, and for this Iron Butt attempt the modifications to his motorcycle are almost beyond belief.

To back up a bit and explain this, Terry Hershner has been building electric motorcycles for years.  In 2012 he bought a 2012 Zero S electric motorcycle, started modifying it, and started taking long rides with the modified bike.

There's a 2012 Zero S under there somewhere
His first cross-country attempt was in December 2012 when he set out to ride from Florida to Los Angeles to attend the unveiling of Zero Motorcycles' 2013 model lineup.  He didn't make it because the charging stations were too far apart for the range his bike had at that time.  With the help of a friend driving a van, he made it to California anyway and stayed, meeting with some collaborators, continuing modifications on the bike, and now it is an ultra long-range electric motorcycle beyond anyones wildest dreams.

A year ago Terry had ridden in the 2013 BC2BC electric vehicle rally which ran from the US-Canada border north of Seattle, south along the I-5 and US 101 corridor to the US-Mexico border south of San Diego.  Before getting to the starting line he had to first ride from Florida, across the country the long way.  Before that he rode from California to Florida.  Yes, California to Florida to British Columbia to Baja California then back to Santa Cruz, CA.

Today his 2012 Zero S is carrying 21 kilowatt-hours of battery pack - stock this bike had a 9 kilowatt-hour battery pack.  Then, working closely with electric motorcycle efficiency guru Craig Vetter, they designed and built the ultra-efficient fairing you see in these pictures.  Modern motorcycles have horrible aerodynamics, something Craig Vetter has spent decades trying to fix.  The problem is that properly aerodynamic motorcycles aren't for sale anywhere.  As a result, motorcyclists can only buy inefficient unaerodynamic motorcycles, resulting in lots of fuel wasted on bad aerodynamics.

4 charging stations @ 6 kilowatts = 24 kilowatts
In any case, between the Vetter fairing and the 21 kWh battery pack, Terry's ride can travel over 200 miles per charge at 70-80 miles/hr.  Stock, this bike had a 60ish mile highway range.

Less than a month ago Terry proved the 200 mile range capability while winning the latest Vetter Fuel Economy Challenge, the first time an electric motorcycle has won that event.  On that day he rode the 170+ miles required for the Fuel Economy Challenge, at 80 miles/hr because Utah's highway speed limit is that high.  Then he rode another 30+ miles to Salt Lake City to the nearest charging station, so he could charge the bike.

The stock bike came with a 1.5 kilowatt charger, with which a full recharge of this 21 kilowatt-hour pack would take 15 hours or so from empty.  To fix that problem Terry has put 24 kilowatts worth of charging equipment on the bike.

Yes, 24 kilowatts.  That's almost enough to properly qualify as "Fast Charging".  At the times he can arrange 24 kilowatts of power, the bike will recharge in about an hour.

For perspective - 200 miles of range in an hour of charging is nearly the charging rate of the Tesla Model S at a Supercharger.  It's the 60 kilowatt-hour Model S which gets 200 miles range, and recharging a Model S in under an hour requires a 120 kilowatt charging system.  Terry gets 200 miles of range and a sub-1 hour recharge with a pack 1/3rd the size, and 1/5th or so the charging power.

Look carefully - four J1772 plugs
But, the typical charging station provides 6 kilowatts of power.  Where is Terry getting 24 kilowatts?

Simple, he plugs into multiple charging stations at once.  Four charging stations at 6 kilowatts equals a 24 kilowatt charging rate.

To do this his bike has a LOT of chargers on-board.  I didn't ask the number, but since each is a 2.5 kilowatt Elcon charger, he probably has 10 chargers strapped to the bike.

The next piece is to map out a route hitting places with four (or more) ChargePoint charging stations located next to each other.  Then it's a simple matter of connecting all four charging stations to the on-board chargers.

The route is taking him from Campbell, CA (ChargePoint's HQ), down to the Mexico-California border south of San Diego, and back.  He left at 1PM sharp on Monday, with the odometer reading 66,581 miles.  He's due back in Campbell by 1PM on Tuesday, and the odometer has to read more than 67,581 miles.

And, yes, that's a lot of miles for a motorcycle that's about 2 years old.

Terry isn't just racing the clock to make it back to Campbell in 24 hours.  There's a Hurricane that hit the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula on Sunday, and is currently working its way up the peninsula.  On Monday night the storm center was about 1/3rd the way up the Baja Peninsula, and the leading edge of the story is getting close to the Mexico-California border.  By the time Terry touched down in San Diego, the storm was still a good ways away, and then he was quickly on the road north again.

This Iron Butt ride was scheduled to coincide with National Drive Electric Week, which kicked off the same day.  NDEW is a nationwide set of events organized by local groups across the U.S. (and other countries) to raise awareness of electric vehicles.  Terry is planning to attend the Silicon Valley NDEW event, a part of which will be a parade where we hope to have the largest assemblage of electric vehicles at one place at one time.  Go to the NDEW website to find an event near you.

As I write this, it is 10 AM on Tuesday and Terry has made it to a charging location in Salinas.  That puts him about 60 miles or 1 hour away from the ChargePoint HQ.  He's charging now, planning to leave there at 11 AM and make it to ChargePoint by Noon.

Energy usage for the last two days from Terry's
ChargePoint account dashboard
UPDATE: Terry did make it to the ChargePoint HQ before Noon.  Official numbers from Terry are: 1046.7 miles, 22 hours 57 minutes, 126.883 kWh electricity to carry 950 pounds at speeds of 70-80 mph that distance, or 121 Wh per mile (including charger losses) at 75 mph average. Not too shabby!

He went home quickly for a well earned rest.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Nissan might shift battery cell production to LG Chem in bid to compete with Tesla Model 3

The whole car industry must be able to compete against a 200+ mile range $35,000 MSRP electric car from Tesla Motors, by 2017.  That fact is probably what's behind today's news/rumors that Nissan may be shutting down its battery factories and switching to LG Chem as their battery supplier.  In May we learned that Nissan/Infiniti is planning a major refresh of the Leaf in 2017, and introducing a long-awaited Model S competitor by Infiniti, both of which would have a 150-200+ mile electric driving range.

Clearly if the Leaf's range is not improved, while Tesla matches its price with the Model 3, while offering a 200+ mile electric driving range, the Leaf will die, as will most of the rest of the electric car models.  That's what's at stake.

According to a Reuters report, Nissan is in talks with LG Chem about shifting battery cell production from Nissan's own factories to LG Chem's.  This would be a major shift for Nissan because the company went to the expense of building battery pack factories in both Tennessee and England, next door to the respective Nissan Leaf factories.

Reuters quotes an unnamed Nissan executive saying "We set out to be a leader in battery manufacturing but it turned out to be less competitive than we'd wanted. We're still between six months and a year behind LG in price-performance terms."

What that phrase means is price-per-kilowatt-hour, because the lower the battery price point the lower the price can be for a given car.  Tesla Motors, for example, is claiming the Gigafactory will let them make battery packs at $100 per kilowatt-hour, which is a fraction of the cost other automakers pay.

Nissan and the other automakers have to reach a similar battery pack price to make affordable $30,000ish MSRP electric cars with 200 miles of electric driving range.

Getting back to the Reuters report, it says an internal review (and negotiations) are underway between Renault and Nissan on plans for battery pack production.   Renault wants to move to LG Chem, while Nissan wants to stay with in-house produced battery packs.    Back in 2012, Renault and LG Chem announced a deal where LG Chem would supply battery cells for the Renault ZOE sometime around 2017.

One option under consideration, according to the Reuters report, is for LG Chem to build battery production facilities at one or more of Nissan's own battery pack factories.

The problem is that Nissan's battery production capacity is far higher than its sales of electric vehicles.  Nissan's contract with partner NEC requires the company to buy enough electrodes for the full 220,000 packs a year production capacity, even though sales are at a 67,000 vehicle per year rate.  NEC also has to agree to Nissan-Renault making a deal with LG Chem.

The Reuters report cites evidence that Nissan's current battery pack cost is around $300 per kilowatt-hour, and that Nissan-Renault executives are targeting a $200 per kilowatt-hour price.

Slide-in REX engines for electric cars stopped by government regulations

Surely every electric car driver has had this idea - why not carry a portable gasoline powered generator so you can charge your car in a pinch?  I've spent quite a bit of time weighing this idea back and forth, because it's so simple.  The BMW i3 even gets ever so tantalizingly close to this because of how the REX engine is installed, but we'll get back to that in a minute.  William Kemp, the author of the Zero Carbon Car, even built a DIY EV conversion that incorporated a biodiesel powered diesel generator.  However, what we have before us is the sort of DIY hack nearly anybody would try, recharging a BMW i3 off a portable generator, and the guys at GadgetReview had partial success.

What these guys did is take a trip to Home Depot where they rented a 3000 watt portable (er.. luggable) gasoline generator as well as some tubing to try and run the generator while driving.  The first stage was - as you see - to simply plug the portable charging unit into the generator, and charge the car.  After charging for half an hour the car had gained 4 miles range, for a minuscule 8 miles range gained per hour of charging.

Anybody can do this, and it's pretty trivial to set this up.  However, it doesn't provide much range boost.  However in this trial setup they hampered themselves by using the 120 volt level 1 charging unit, limited to a 1.5 kilowatt charging rate.  The genset is rated for 3000 watts, and has a 240 volt outlet.  That means a portable level 2 charging unit would have given them 8-10 miles range in that half hour.

This worked fine so long as they were stationary with the genset located outside the car.  Their next step was to pop the genset in the trunk, run some hose from the generators exhaust port out a window,  and leave the charging unit plugged in and charging.  This failed in two very expected ways - the car wouldn't move, because it was charging - the cabin quickly filled with exhaust fumes.

Modern electric car charging systems have interlocks so that the car cannot be driven while charging.  This is to prevent drive-off's at the charging station - that is, driving away while the charging station cord is attached to the car.  This happens at gasoline stations all the time, apparently.  It's a safety thing.

The issue with exhaust fumes should stop everyone trying to do this.  It's possible to bypass the safety systems (I think) and enable charging while driving - but will you be able to build this so that it's safe?  Can you ensure you capture all the exhaust fumes and make sure none of them escape into the passenger cabin?  Probably not.  So don't even try.

Or if you do, read carefully what William Kemp did with his car.  He didn't get any old genset, he got a very compact 10 kilowatt marine diesel generator interfacing it smartly with his car.

But let's get back to what could happen, if only the car companies were wise enough.  And the BMW i3 is ever so tantalizingly close to this idea.

What if electric cars were designed so a small gasoline engine could be installed when needed, and removed when not needed?

The BEV version of the BMW i3 has this empty space in the rear of the car where the REX engine would sit.  Both the BEV and REX i3's are the same, but that the REX version has that gasoline engine.

BMW could do some more work on the design, making it simple and easy to slide the REX engine in and out.  It could be offered as a rentable widget BMW has in stock at dealerships.  The BMW i3 owner wouldn't have to debate whether to spend the $4000 ahead of time for the REX option.  They could rent it as needed, instead.

There isn't a technical or commercial/retail reason to not do this.  Any of the automakers could design an electric car with easily removable range extender engine.  The automakers have more ability than DIY hackers at home to safely bypass the charging system interlocks, and safely route the exhaust fumes.  This isn't rocket science, and I think it's pretty clear some electric car owners would respond positively.

The hurdle would be regulatory.  In California a BEV vehicle is awarded a white HOV sticker, while the PHEV's (like the BMW i3 REX) are awarded green HOV stickers.  But would a BEV in which a REX engine has been installed still qualify for the white HOV sticker?  Nope.  Likewise a BEV with a REX engine installed, even if temporarily, needs to be counted in a different emissions class than a regular BEV with no REX engine.  That is, a BEV with REX engine installed has become a PHEV.

The EPA and other emissions regulation agencies need to know about that mobile source of emissions.  These agencies are tasked with tracking emissions reduction targets, and a BEV with REX engine installed throws off the calculations.

Before one of you pseudo-libertarians starts taking umbrage at government intrusion on an individual car owners right to do as they wish, let's ponder a few things.  The atmosphere is a shared resource, and it's obvious not everyone is trying to limit the harmful crap they pour into the atmosphere.  Therefore the government has a long standing well entrenched system of emissions testing, and emissions regulation.  Ever get your gasoline car smog checked?  That's the government doing its job protecting our shared resource, the atmosphere.

Therefore, what stops us from having slide-in REX's for BEV's is government regulations which have yet to be written.

On the other hand there's something else BMW (or any automaker) could do.  Instead of a slide-in REX engine, why not a slide-in battery pack?  This wouldn't require any government regulation stuff - no emissions to regulate.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

If hydrogen fuel cell cars sales ever catch up, they'll refuel faster than BEV's

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCEV) are slowly making their way to market, after many many years of "they're 5-10 years away".  For informational purposes, today the Dept of Energy and the SAE teamed up on a Webinar going over the status of fuel cell vehicle fueling standards (SAE J2601 - the physical plug format, SAE J2799 - data communication protocols to control fueling).  These standards are accepted around the world, being adopted in Europe under the ISO fuel cell vehicle standards, and the automakers behind the standards have over a decade worth of mathematical modeling, laboratory testing, and real world testing to validate the system.

For the most part automakers have not gone-it-alone in fuel cell development, but have instead partnered in these alliances:
  • BMW, Toyota
  • Daimler, Ford, Nissan
  • Honda, GM
  • Hyundai
Next year, 2015, should see an increase in FCEV availability however I haven't heard anything suggesting they'll be sold in real mass market quantities.  Instead, these are beyond what we normally call compliance cars, and in some cases the manufacturers are openly and literally building fuel cell vehicles to manipulate California ZEV regulations.  What I mean is the ZEV regulations dictate each manufacturer must earn enough ZEV Credits to continue selling fossil fuel powered vehicles in California (and a few other states).  Fuel Cell Vehicles enjoy a high multiplier on the ZEV credits earned, meaning that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has tilted the playing field towards FCEV's by awarding FCEV sales far more credits than are awarded for BEV sales.

There is fuel cell refueling infrastructure being built in Europe, California, Japan, and possibly the "East Coast".  For California the target is a whopping (remove tongue from cheek) 100 stations by 2016.  Each of the stations costs $2 million apiece.

In other words, the industry and governments are spending a lot of money developing FCEV's and the refueling infrastructure.  I am on record asking what's the incentive to develop FCEV's, and why not just put the money into BEV development?

The primary advantage cited during the webinar is refueling time.  The goal mandated by the U.S. Dept of Transportation is 300+ miles of range in 3-5 minutes.  That combination replicates the user experience of gasoline refueling - letting people keep on with their road trips without having to change any habit other than pulling up to the hydrogen pump rather than the gasoline pump.

Obviously, current electric cars have a 3-8 hour Level 2 recharge time for 80ish miles of range, or faster recharging at a DC Fast Charge station.  The rate at a CHADEMO or CCS station is 30 minutes for 80%, or about 60ish miles of range, while at a Tesla Supercharger station the rate is about 300 miles per hour of charging.

I imagine that Joe Sixpack or Aunt Nellie will see hydrogen refueling is like gasoline refueling and immediately feel comfortable.    The automakers even made sure the fueling nozzle looks like a gasoline nozzle.

A lot depends on whether the automakers and infrastructure providers can get the costs down to make all this affordable.  And, a big question is whether switching to FCEV's will cause any benefit.  Some recent writing suggests FCEV refueling is worse, in greenhouse gas impact, than equivalent gasoline cars - because typically hydrogen is sourced from natural gas.  Natural gas being a fossil fuel that is increasingly dependent on fracking to continue natural gas supply, well, it's extremely problematic that hydrogen supplies are dependent on that source.

But let's get back to the fueling standard, because this is kind of interesting.

As I said, the nozzle looks like a gasoline nozzle but it borrows technology from natural gas refueling.  Of course a hydrogen nozzle has to have a secure air-tight connection to the car because otherwise the hydrogen gas will just escape into the atmosphere rather than flow into the tank.

The protocol accommodates a several tank sizes, and two maximum tank pressures.

The J2799 protocol exchanges data commands between fueling station and vehicle meant to control the fueling process.  It accommodates refueling at a range of ambient temperatures, and targets end-of-fueling at a given tank temperature and tank pressure.  The standards don't allow for tank temperature to go above 85 degrees centigrade, and of course the tank pressure is what determines the total range on the vehicle.

Because of the physics, the station gets cold during refueling, while the on-board tank gets hot.  The stations have a precooling system, to cool the hydrogen gas prior to refueling so the heating in the on-board tank is minimized.

This is less flexible than battery electric vehicles.  Hydrogen refueling stations only exist today as laboratory prototypes, and there's no infrastructure for hydrogen delivery other than companies like Air Products who drive trucks around with pressurized gas tanks.  Electric vehicles, on the other hand, can plug into any electrical outlet, and electricity is ubiquitously everywhere.  That's a big advantage towards the BEV camp.

The faster refueling time is the big issue that makes FCEV's attractive.  This is especially true for big trucks running on hydrogen, for which the SAE has a related set of refueling protocols.  Truck fleet owners want their trucks on the road for more hours, and can't afford the longer recharging time of a BEV Big Truck.

But is fast refueling attractive if you can't find a station?  The hydrogen stations are very expensive, which will limit their rollout - California is planning 100 total stations by 2016, which simply isn't many stations.  California might have more Tesla Supercharger stations installed by then, not to mention the CHADEMO and CCS stations for DC Fast Charging of regular electric cars.

DC Fast Charging stations cost a lot less than $2 million apiece, meaning the BEV recharging infrastructure will be built more quickly.  Therefore, BEV infrastructure is already way ahead of FCEV infrastructure, and that lead will keep building over time.

Another example is sales volume - California just passed the point of having 100,000 plug-in vehicles, 3 1/2 years into the project.  Tesla Motors claims they'll be selling a half million electric cars per year by 2020.  By comparison, FCEV sales volume is barely an asterisk at the bottom of the page, and we don't see any indication that'll appreciably change.