IBM and ESB develop IT system for smart electric vehicle charging in Ireland

Electric vehicle charging

In August 2010 I was given the chance to test drive a pre-production model Nissan Leaf in Ireland. I was totally taken with the experience, so it was with a certain amount of delight I read last week that IBM and ESB eCars were collaborating to implement a country-wide smart charging IT system for electric vehicles in Ireland.

ESB Networks has so-far approximately 1,000 electric vehicle public charging points currently available, with a target of installing 1,500 on-street charge points and 30 fast charge points. ESB also have Android and iPhone mobile phone apps to help drivers locate charge points throughout the country.

The IT system being created by IBM and ESB will allow drivers to access, charge and pay for a car charge using an identification card. According to the release:

Electric vehicle parking place

The IBM EV platform will enable EV drivers to select convenient payment options and access all charge-points using one ID card – a process that will aggregate usage costs and simplify billing. This smart charging capability allows consumers to charge anywhere at anytime, regardless of their electricity provider and without the need to carry multiple access cards. Additionally, drivers will also have the option to use a mobile device or browser to locate the nearest charge post, check its availability, and make a reservation if the post is available.

This gives tremendous flexibility and ease of use to drivers of electric vehicles, while also providing valuable data to utilities on energy usage. This usage data will allow better forecasting of demand and help balance the load on the power grid as well as help ESB Networks to monitor the health and status of the charge-points to ensure service reliability.

The changeover to a national fleet of electric vehicles is always going to be a difficult proposition which will take considerable time and faces the familiar chicken and egg issue. However a move like this from ESB and IBM will certainly help reduce the chicken and egg issue somewhat and should contribute to a faster adoption of electric vehicles in Ireland.

Full disclosure – IBM and ESB Ireland are not GreenMonk clients (though in the past IBM has commissioned work from GreenMonk).

Image credits Tom Raftery

Unfortunate EV choice won’t help SAP’s Greenhouse Gas reduction commitments

SAP's 2010 Global Greenhouse Gas Footprint

The graph above is taken from the Greenhouse Gas Footprint page of SAP’s Sustainability Report and it shows SAP’s global GHG footprint for 2010. Of particular note in this graph is that globally SAP’s 2010 carbon footprint for corporate cars is 24%. This is up from 23% in 2009 and 18% in 2008. This is obviously a problem for SAP who have publicly committed to reducing their Greenhouse Gas Emissions 51% (from their 2007 baseline) by 2020.

In an effort to help address this SAP decided to embark on a small scale Electric Vehicle (EV) project called Future Fleet. Future Fleet uses a fleet of 30 EV’s charged solely from renewable sources supplied (along with the charging infrastructure) by project partner MVV Energie.

SAP Future Fleet electric vehicle

SAP Future Fleet electric vehicle

SAP are using this project to test employee attitudes to EV’s but also to test their own EV eMobility charging and fleet management software which is being developed, and tested in tandem with the project. The software allows employees to log in and book cars for specific journeys between SAP sites in Germany, or for a day or a week at a time. The software also intelligently prioritises charging of cars based on expected upcoming journey duration, current battery state and other factors.

All good and laudable stuff. However, one major issue I have with the project is that for purely political reasons SAP chose an electric car for the project which seemed to be designed with the distinct purpose of turning drivers off EV’s. This happened because the project was part-funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and they insisted that SAP use a German-made car for the project. I have no idea of the legality of this stipulation but at first glance it would seem contrary to EU legislation.

In any case, SAP went to several large German manufacturers who were unable to provide EV’s for the project. They then found a local co. who took Suzuki car bodies (if memory serves) and installed a purely electric drive-train. This resulted in electric cars which have a number of issues:

  1. the cars’ look ugly – giving lie to the idea that EV’s are small, ugly, box-like cars
  2. the cars’ are incredibly basic inside – no electric windows, no electric mirrors, and a manual transmission (no, really!) and
  3. the cars’ energy management interface is horrible – it is an unreadable single-line LED, as opposed to the Windows-type UI now normal on commercially available EV’s and hybrids

This wouldn’t be so bad except that with SAP’s carbon emissions from corporate cars on the rise, SAP needs to be making EV’s an attractive proposition for its employees. With these cars, SAP risks turning its employees off EVs, and sabotaging its own GHG reduction commitments.

You should follow me on Twitter here.

Photo credit Tom Raftery

CODA Automotive’s all-electric car

I attended an energy efficiency day at SAP’s Palo Alto facilities and there I met Brian Patnoe of CODA Automotive. He was there showing CODA’s new all electric car so I asked him to tell me about it to camera. Here’s a transcript of the conversation and above the video.

Tom Raftery: Hi everyone! Welcome to GreenMonk TV. I?m at SAP headquarters today and I?m talking to Bryan Patnoe of CODA Automotive. Bryan, you?ve got half a car and a full prototype.

Brian Patnoe: Yeah.

Tom Raftery: Tell me a little bit about CODA Automotive and your half car.

Brian Patnoe: Great, I?d love to. Well, CODA is an all-American all-electric car company. We?re based in Santa Monica, California and we?re very excited to be here to be showing this car.

This car was just shown at the LA Auto Show and we will have this at the Consumer Electronic Show. We?ll be in the GE booth and we?ll also be showing this soon at NASA at the Kennedy Space Center. So, we have a lot of movement, a lot of high-level of interest. What makes our car unique and different – it?s all about the battery.

We have a 34 Kw battery, lithium ion, which is 40% larger than our competition, for instance the LEAF and we also charge twice as fast. We have a 6.6 Kw on board charger. So, it?s very fast. You can charge this car from zero to 100% state of charge in less than six hours, just under 6 hours.

What also makes us very unique is that we have an Active Thermal Management System and the reason why that?s important is because batteries are like people. We like to be kept at a certain temperature, and so if a battery gets too cold or gets too hot, it looses some of its performance and so this car will run at a top speed of 81 miles an hour, but the range of this car is 90 to 120 miles all-weather all-season, which we think is very important.

Tom Raftery: Even on the highway driving?

Brian Patnoe: Highway driving, 80 miles an hour, air conditioning on, you can get that kind of range, sure. The reason why this is important is because most commuters live within — there?s all kinds of statistics out there, but more than half live and drive within 40 miles of work and so what we envision is that people will charge at home and then they?ll drive to the office and they?ll have a Level 2 charger there and they can charge as well.

CODA Automotive's all-electric car

CODA Automotive's all-electric car

You can also charge as well with an opportunity charger, you can plug it into the wall, a standard wall socket and that?s it. The car will be available for delivery to consumers in the early part of the second half of next year. So, I think in the June, July time frame?ish and we are excited to be bringing this car to market.

Right now its about 40% US content, which is very exciting All Tier-1 suppliers, BorgWarner, Delphi, Lear, UQM, very, very top Tier-1 companies that are supplying components for us and like in today?s market all cars are globally sourced and all cars are part of global collaboration where they?re sourced from all over the world.

The other thing I like to tell you is that we?ve applied for a DoE grant and we?re very excited and we?re waiting by the phone. If we get permission to move forward we?ll be putting a battery facility in Columbus, Ohio.

So, actually we?ll be building this battery in Columbus. If that happens then this car will be 85-90% US content.

Tom Raftery: Okay and how much?

Brian Patnoe: This car has an MSRP of $44,085. After rebates in California you?ve got your federal tax incentive, you?ve got your $5,000 California State Incentive. So, you can take $12,500 off the pricing fuel of the car, and the operating cost of this car is it?s about $0.02 a mile.

Tom Raftery: That?s because it?s running on electricity and I assume also things like you don?t have oil changes.

Brian Patnoe: That?s correct. It has about one seventh of the moving parts of a normal internal combustion engine. So, you?ve got a big motor, you?ve got a inverter, you?ve got some components, but you don?t have the normal types of components on it – the normal ICE. Think of fan belts, alternators, compressors that type of thing.

Tom Raftery: Yeah, okay superb. Bryan thanks a million for showing us about CODA.

Brian Patnoe: Great. Thank you.

The zero-emissions Nissan Leaf test drive

The Nissan Leaf

I love the idea of electric cars and have done for a long time.

Recently, one of my best friends Ray Flynn, proprietor of Flynns Garage (a Nissan Dealership in Carlow, Ireland), contacted me to let me know he is one of only 15 Nissan dealerships in Ireland who have been approved to sell the new all-electric Nissan Leaf. As such he had a limited number of slots available for a test drive and he wanted to know if I’d like one of them. I jumped at the chance!

The Leaf is a totally electric car relying completely on its 24 kW?h/90 kW lithium ion battery pack for power. The battery pack is rated to deliver 100 miles on a full charge but this can vary from about 62 miles (100 km) to almost 138 miles (222 km) depending on driving style, load, traffic conditions, weather (i.e. wind, atmospheric density) and accessory use.

Nissan Leaf under the hood

Nissan Leaf under the hood

The car is a five seater with a spacious interior. It is very responsive to drive. My own car is a 2008 Toyota Prius and this is a much nippier car than the Prius. It handles well on the road and because there are 300kg of batteries under the floor, the car sticks to the road on corners!

Charge time varies on the type of charging (normal or fast) and whether the battery is fully depleted or only partially. Using a standard 220/240 volt 30 amp supply the battery can be fully charged in 8 hours. Fast charging using a 440V level 3 charger charges to 80% in around 20 minutes – these are typically the kinds of chargers you will see deployed in places like McDonalds, Tesco’s and motorway caf?’s I assume.

Nissan Leaf interior

Nissan Leaf interior

There is a lot of technology built in to the car. It is connected to a global data center which provides support, information and entertainment at all times. The GPS navigation system delivers a constantly updating display of your range as well as showing all the charging stations on your route and it allows you to book a charging station to ensure that it is available when you arrive.

Mobile phone apps will allow remote turning on of aircon and heating as well as setting charging times to coincide with time of use rates from utilities. The advantage of turning on aircon/heating before getting to the car is to have it pre-heated/cooled while still connected to the mains to save on battery life.

Nissan Leaf rear spoiler with solar panels

Nissan Leaf rear spoiler with solar panels

It has a spacious boot and there is an option to get a rear spoiler with solar panels to trickle charge the auxiliary 12 volt battery, though, tbh this feels like a bit of a gimmick!

In terms of the main battery, Nissan has announced that it will warranty the battery pack in the Leaf for 8 years or 100,000 miles after which time Leaf batteries will still hold around 70-80% of their rated capacity. I suspect that there will be a significant market for slightly depleted car batteries at that point for home energy storage to better enable load shifting and smart grid applications.

The car I was driving is a pre-production model. Because the production lines are only now being set-up, this one was hand-made and is insured for a replacement value of ?1.2 million! Consequently I drove it very carefully.

Conclusion: The Nissan Leaf is the future of motoring, no doubt. It is fast, affordable and very cheap to run. And that’s not taking into account at all, the environmental advantages of running a zero emissions car! Sure, there are limitations to having a car with a 100 mile range – most of these will be overcome by the roll-out of networks of fast-charging stations. After this test drive, I have no doubt that when it comes time to replace my Prius, my next car will be all-electric.

The Leaf goes on sale in Ireland in February 2011 at a price of ?29,995 (after a ?5,000 govt subsidy), in the UK in March 2011 for ?28,990 and in the US in December for US$32,780.

And finally, if you are interested in going entirely zero-emissions with your motoring, my buddy Ray (mentioned above) has partnered with a solar panel company and they are able to offer a Nissan Leaf and the solar panels to charge it from. Now that’s serious awesomeness!

Why electric cars are the future

Tesla Roadster

Photo credit Djof

I was talking to an American friend the other day who had recently taken delivery of their new Tesla Roadster. He was really enthused about it. What was the thing which impressed him most?

He took the car for a spin over the weekend. He went over 100 miles on the journey. When he got home, he plugged it in to recharge it (the car is rated at over 200 miles on a single charge so it would have done the 100 miles very comfortably). When he entered the cost per kWh from his utility, it turned out that the 100 miles had cost him $3.50!

Now with gas prices currently averaging around $3.20 in California, and his previous car averaging around 18mpg, a similar journey would have cost him around $17.50! As well as that electric cars do not require routine oil changes, they do not have any tailpipe emissions and therefore do not require any muffler or exhaust system work, and they do not require replacement spark plugs, pistons, hoses or belts.

Electric vehicles are still in their infancy but when they deliver demonstrable savings on running costs as above, and produce no tailpipe emissions, you start to see that they really are the future

Better Place to charge US$0.08 per eMile

The e-mile

I have been a fan of Better Place and their unique model around electric vehicles since I watched Shai Agassi’s presentation at the DLD conference in January 2008.

If you are unfamiliar with the Better Place model, they looked at the idea of electric vehicles and people’s ‘range anxiety’ and asked how best to solve it. Their plan, put charging stations anywhere people park and build cars (or have a partner build cars) with readily swappable batteries, so if you are traveling beyond the range of the battery in your car, you drop into a swap station when your battery starts to be depleted, swap batteries and drive on. Simple!

In the Better Place business model, Better Place owns the battery in your car and charges you for the energy your battery uses – similar to how a mobile phone company charges you for minutes talktime.

Being a fan of the Better Place model I watched Shai’s talk at the TED conference earlier this year with great interest and he didn’t disappoint. A very inspirational talk. Until you start to do the maths!

Shai mentioned a price of 8c per mile (in the US) for driving a Better Place car. Frankly this sounds expensive to me.

I filled the tank in my car yesterday and took a note of the price. It was €0.948 per litre. Now my maths are not the best so bear with me while I work through this (and please do point out any errors in the comments – I want to be proven wrong on this!).

I use 5.1 litres per 100 km in my car so to drive 100km costs me €4.8348 (5.1 x €0.948).
This is €0.048 per km (€4.83/100).
This is €0.077 per mile (€0.048/.625).
This is US$0.10 per mile at today’s currency conversion rate.

If my current miles are costing me US$0.10 per mile and Shai is offering miles at US$0.08 it is not a hugely compelling case he’s making!

Now in fairness to Shai, I drive a 2008 Prius and the 5.1L/100km is roughly equal to 46mpg (using US gallons) which is about as good as you are going to get (esp as that figure is an average of urban and long-distance driving, not the maximum achieved on long-distance).

Still, for me, Shai’s 2015 figure of US$0.04 per mile is far more compelling than the 2010 US$0.08.

How much do you spend per mile and is US$0.08 attractive to you?