IBM’s mobility play: MobileFirst

Airplane mode on iPhone

One of the big talking points at this year’s IBM Pulse was IBM’s recent unveiling of its new platform for mobile, MobileFirst. My colleague James covers the announcement in details on his RedMonk blog, but I thought I’d talk a bit about the GreenMonk perspective, as we haven’t covered mobile here very much to-date, and it is becoming increasingly pervasive.

Mobile is now huge. I know this is self-evident, but it is totally game-changing. Now everyone is instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent, as IBM themselves might say.

What does this have to do with sustainability? Well, we here at GreenMonk take a broad view of Sustainability and as we noted in our write-up of the Pulse conference, IBM’s Smarter initiatives all play to a sustainable agenda. Sustainability is all about doing things more efficiently. Mobile definitely enables that.

You only have to think of the application IBM rolled out last year to help staff and students crowdsource cleaning up of the Los Angeles Unified School’s District. And, it is also making a big splash in the Enterprise space, as witnessed by SAP’s Operational Risk Management mobile app; the ESB and IBM mobile app to help finding and scheduling charging of electric vehicles in Ireland and many similar initiatives.

And there’s also social – I wrote a blog post last November about the intersection of big data, social and sustainability. What does this have to do with mobile? Well, in each of the examples outlined in the blog post, a significant amount of the data would have been entered via mobile. People as sensors. The internet of everything.

There are lots of other examples in healthcare, smarter cities (the Boston mobile app I mentioned in this post), education, etc.

The one place IBM may be missing a trick in mobile? Mobile endpoint energy management. IBM have an endpoint management app for mobile, but it’s focus is more on security than energy management, but, as we’ve noted here previously, battery life is a significant pain point for mobile users. A user whose device is out of battery, is a frustrated, disconnected, unproductive worker.

An Endpoint Management solution which manages mobile battery life (by having low power modes, or by automatically shutting down all but the frontmost app, or similar, for example) would be a definite win for any enterprise.

Full disclosure – IBM paid travel and accommodation for me to attend Pulse.

Friday Green Numbers round-up for April 29th 2011

Green Numbers

And here is a round-up of this week’s Green numbers…

  1. UN agency offers $10,000 cash for green phone application

    The United Nations telecommunications agency has launched a contest that will reward the winner with $10,000 for devising the most innovative ?app,? or mobile telephone application, that tackles the subject of climate change.

    ITU has launched a Green ICT Application Challenge to find the best and most innovative idea for a climate change focused app. The winning concept will be awarded USD10,000, thanks to challenge sponsors Research in Motion (RIM) and Telef?nica.

    As well as the cash prize, the winner will… Read on

  2. Unsure about nuclear power? Here’s the five questions you must answer to decide

    Containing the elemental forces that rage inside a nuclear reactor is one of the great achievements of science, but losing control, as happened 25 years ago on Tuesday at Chernobyl, is one of its greatest failures.

    So what to think of nuclear power? People often ask me if I support or oppose the building of new nuclear power stations, presuming I think that … Read on

  3. Feds: Global warming will cut West’s water 8-14% by 2050

    Even as California seemed to be shaking off the effects of its most recent drought, U.S. officials gave a word of warning Monday: water supplies could drop sharply in coming decades because of global warming.

    A new report from the Bureau of Reclamation says runoff to major western river basins, including the San Joaquin and Colorado that supply California, could drop 8 to 14 percent overall by 2050.

    And while the agency’s projections show that another California water source, the Sacramento River, could see a… Read on

  4. A Battery That Charges in Seconds

    Imagine being able to charge your cell phone in a matter of seconds or your laptop in a few minutes. That might soon be possible, thanks to a new kind of nanostructured battery electrode developed by scientists at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The researchers found that their electrode can charge and discharge up to 100 times faster than existing devices while holding the same amount of energy.

    High-storage batteries that could charge and discharge quickly might make a number of still-marginal technologies much more attractive. For example, if you could recharge an electric car in minutes rather than hours, filling up your battery at a charging station would take no longer than the amount of time it takes to buy a tank of gas. And batteries that gave up their stored energy quickly could mean uninterrupted solar power… Read on

  5. Legalizing Marijuana Could Reduce Its Energy Consumption 75%

    When we found out a couple week ago that the marijuana industry is responsible for 1% of all US electricity consumption, the first and perhaps obvious big question that popped to my mind was how would that figure change if pot was legalized? Surely the electricity bill is so high in part because of the necessity of indoor grow operations to avoid detection.

    Well, as the infographic excerpted below shows, legalization of pot would indeed radically slash the energy footprint of the marijuana industry… Read on

  6. High Gas Prices: Supply and Demand – Efficiency and Better Cars Will Fuel America Faster than Drilling

    The United States consumes 19 million barrels of oil a day, 25 percent of the global supply, but we have less than 2 percent of the world?s proved oil reserves. That means no amount of domestic drilling will reduce gas prices or provide enough to meet America?s daily demand for oil. The only solution: develop better cars and cleaner, safer sources of fuel. By 2025… Read on

  7. America?s Nuclear Nightmare – The U.S. has 31 reactors just like Japan?s ? but regulators are ignoring the risks and boosting industry profits

    The NRC’s “safety-last” attitude recalls the industry-friendly approach to regulation that resulted in the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico last year. Nuclear reactors were built to last only 40 years, but the NRC has repeatedly greenlighted industry requests to keep the aging nukes running for another two decades: Of the 63 applications the NRC has received for license extensions, it has approved all 63.

    In some cases, according to the agency’s own Office of the Inspector General, NRC inspectors failed to verify the authenticity of safety information submitted by the industry, opting to simply cut and paste sections of the applications into their own safety reviews. That’s particularly frightening given that some of America’s most troubled reactors… Read on

  8. Google?s Clean Energy Projects (7 Big Ones)

    Google is one of the largest clean energy corporate leaders in the U.S. If we had more Googles (and fewer Facebooks or Apples), it looks like we?d have a much brighter future. Hopefully, others will follow Google?s lead sooner than later on this front, or even try to one-up it. For now, though, it?s clean energy enthusiasm and investments are hard to compete with.

    With a number of recent clean energy project announcements… Read on

  9. UK Electric car scheme has only 534 takers

    The government’s hoped-for electric car revolution, jump-started by a ?5,000 purchase grant per vehicle, is getting off to a slow start with just over 500 people signing up to the scheme since it was introduced at the start of the year.

    The figures, revealed in a parliamentary answer by the junior transport minister Norman Baker, show that 534 electric vehicles were registered to the so-called plug-in car grant during the first quarter of 2011. So far, 213 have been delivered.

    The incentive scheme… Read on

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Photo credit 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!

Friday Morning Green Numbers round-up 01/29/2010

Green numbers

Photo credit Unhindered by Talent

Here is this Friday’s Green Numbers round-up:

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Friday’s Green Numbers round-up 01/15/2010

Green Numbers

Photo credit arekiiu

Here is today’s Friday Green numbers round-up:

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Ford discusses their Electric Vehicle and smart grid integration plans



Just before Christmas I had a chat with Ford’s head of battery electric vehicle applications, Greg Frenette. We discussed how Ford has been working with utilities and industry organisations to ready its electric vehicles for deep integration into smart grids.

It was fascinating for me to see just how far Ford have proceeded with their thinking on this.

Here’s the transcript of our conversation.

Tom Raftery: Hi everyone and welcome to GreenMonkTV. My guest in the show today is Greg Frenette. Greg is the Manager of Battery Electric Vehicle Applications for the Ford Motor Company. Greg let’s start of with a bit of historical background. Ford have been looking at electric vehicles for some time now; I think 2005 was when you started looking at electric vehicles and smart grid integration. Were you working on electric vehicles even before that?

Greg Frenette: Oh! Sure, we’ve been working on electric vehicles for over 20 years, in our research organization primarily. And when I say electric, I talk about not only battery electric, but fuel cell electric vehicles. But it was in 2007 when we decided to explore a demonstration fleet of plug-in vehicles, plug-in hybrids that we started thinking very seriously about the integration of those vehicles with the grid and in July 2007 announced a partnership with Southern California Edison, which has since grown to a partnership with about 12 different utilities and industry organizations.

Tom Raftery: What is the basis of that partnership, I mean Southern Cal Edison is a utility company, is it that you are test bedding your electric vehicles to see how they fit in with smart grids or what’s the basis of the partnership?

Greg Frenette: That’s exactly it. We’ve got some very high-fidelity Ford Escape production vehicles that have been modified with Lithium-Ion battery packs and charging systems and we’re really exploring what the interaction of that vehicle with the grid is like. We are trying to get a better understanding of the win-win solutions between industries that’ll be necessary in order to commercialize plug-in hybrids as well as full battery electric vehicles.

Tom Raftery: From the research, what are you guys seeing, how well do electric vehicles, battery electric vehicles — how well do they integrate with smart grids?

Greg Frenette: I think the opportunity is tremendous. With our plug-in Escape fleet of about 21 vehicles that we’ve deployed across North America we’re now in the process of setting up communications and actually demonstrating communications between the vehicles and smart meters which are becoming more and more available today in the market.

So we are finding that whole idea of how a vehicle interfaces with the grid is more than simply plugging it in; there’s an opportunity to communicate and an opportunity for the consumer – automotive consumer, electric consumer to make choices and to communicate those choices back and forth from the vehicle to the grid and vice versa.

I’ll give you an example; if you are sitting in one of our plug-in Escape prototypes, hybrid prototypes, today, what you’d find is if you decided you didn’t want to start charging until the rates are cheaper say around midnight or so you could tell the vehicle don’t charge until then, or if you wanted a full charge by a certain time in order to return home or whatever you could then dictate that, communicate it through the vehicle to a smart meter that would then modulate the charges such a way to meet your needs.

Tom Raftery: Interesting! So you are basically shifting your consumption to match times when electricity is less expensive.

Greg Frenette: You can do that; you can also, though, if you are plugged in and you don’t have a need for a particular charging and you have some freedom flexibility, you can indicate that you are willing to accept interruptible service in order to, again, reduce the cost of charging your vehicle. So that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the, sort of, communications that will become available in vehicles and the, kind of, capability we’ll have to really interact with the grid and dictate how we use energy with vehicles.

Tom Raftery: One of the other issues around integration of Battery Electric Vehicles and smart grids is the billing. So say if I go and visit somebody else, some cousins or some neighbours or some family or something and they live a couple of hours away and I need to charge to get home, can I plug in my vehicle in to their electric outlets and have it billed back to my account, is that — are you working on those kinds of integrations as well?

Greg Frenette: Absolutely! One of the real beauties of Ford partnering with a number of utilities across North America is we are exploring those sorts of scenarios and so this whole idea of mobile billing, how that occurs how it takes place is something we are exploring along with a number of other interface opportunities and challenges that we want to face and work out together.

Tom Raftery: Another issue that people raise around electric vehicles is if an electric vehicle is being charged by a utility who are burning coal are they outputting more CO2 than they would if the same car was running off gas?

Greg Frenette: Well that scenario could certainly present itself. One of the things — one of the opportunities that may present itself in how consumers interact with the grid is you may dictate through your vehicles or through an interface at the meter — you may dictate that you want the greenest form of charging.

In other words you will dictate that you will charge at times when the least the amount of coal is being burnt and perhaps other sources of energy are being made available to the grid. So that sort of thinking is something that we are currently engaged at. At the end of the day, though, the total environmental solution is more than a solution at the tailpipe of the vehicle. It has to be what we call a wells-to-wheels solution, and so the energy industry sees the role, I think, they need to play in helping drive emissions down, helping us really improve the environment together.

Tom Raftery: Okay, one last question Greg. When will I see a Ford Battery Electric Vehicle in the showroom?

Greg Frenette: Well, our current plans, today, call for Ford Transit Connect Battery Electric Vehicles to begin coming off our production line at the end of next year (2010).

The following year, 2011, we are currently scheduled to be putting out a full electric Ford Focus Battery Electric Vehicle and then our plans beyond then, 2012 and beyond, call for a plug-in hybrid, a version of the vehicles that we are currently running in demonstration today. So we are not talking about a long-term reality here; what we are really talking about is vehicles that are currently under design and development and will be deployed out in to the public very shortly.

Tom Raftery: Superb Greg, that’s been fantastic. Thanks for agreeing to come on the show.

Ford’s thinking on Electric Vehicles

Thomas Edison And Henry Ford
Photo of Thomas Edison and Henry ford courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Recently I spoke with Greg Frenette, the manager of Ford’s Electric Vehicle program and he filled me in on just how long Ford have been working on electric vehicles and vehicle-to-grid technologies. Although not as long as may be indicated in the photo above, Ford’s Advanced Engineering Research group have been working on concepts with respect to plug-in hybrids since 2005.

Ford’s initial utility partners in their plug-in hybrid program were Southern California Edison but they soon expanded the program to include the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) as well as a grouping of 10 utilities and research organisations across North America.

This quarter Ford will complete the build-out and deployment to the partner organisations of their fleet of 20 plug-in hybrid Escape’s. These vehicles are demo’ing real world vehicle-to-grid interconnectivity. According to Greg they have

a prototype communication control system on the vehicle which works with a Smart Meter, through the use of wireless Zigbee technology, to give the vehicle owner control and direction in how they access the charge

Part of this limited roll-out is to look closely at the bigger infrastructure issues – what does it mean to introduce EVs onto the grid? What standards will be adopted? What upgrades will be necessary in technology & infrastructure to connect these vehicles both at home and in public to the grid?

Speaking about the integration of the vehicles onto the grid, Greg said:

We can envision how the car will be integrated into the smart home of the future and how the home-owner would have the ability to make trade-offs and decisions that involve the vehicle as well as the energy budget for the rest of the household

It is spectacular to hear that (at least one of) the car manufacturers is thinking about the implications of the rollout of smart grids, realtime pricing tariffs and integrating electric vehicles onto the grid. As I have said before, if a country has a large fleet of electric vehicles, they have the capacity to act as a distributed battery for energy storage at even greater than utility scales. In fact, the Rocky Mountain Institute goes further when they say:

Utilities sell a disproportional amount of their power on hot summer afternoons. At night, business plummets. For the utility, that means their expensive generation and transmission equipment stands idle. “Night-charging” vehicles, therefore, could be a lucrative twist on the business of selling electrons.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently estimated that if half the nation’s light vehicles were ordinary plug-in hybrids they would represent a night-charging market of 230 gigawatts. That’s good news for the U.S. wind industry. In many areas, wind tends to blow harder at night, creating more energy when the vehicles would be charging.

With full vehicle to grid integration those same vehicles could sell back some of their energy to the grid on those hot summer afternoons, when electricity is expensive and potentially prevent the firing up of more expensive and dirty generation.

Even better was that Greg brought up something most others shy away from discussing – the old data ownership question! According to Greg Ford believes that:

The consumer is a key stakeholder when it comes to the data. The communications control capability has to be part of the total value equation to the automotive consumer as well as the energy consumer. Ford is looking for win-win solutions between utility industry, between the auto industry that ultimately provide increased value to both of our customers

Ford wants an open architecture communication solution which has to have “direct consumer applicability, marketability and value to be worthwhile”.

If Ford succeed in rolling out that vision, I’ll be first in line!

Ford are introducing the first fully electric cars to the market in 2010 – 2011 while their first plug-in hybrids will come to market in 2012.

Ford are also looking beyond electric vehicles. They have had a fleet of 30 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on-road with customers since 2005 with over 1,000,000 miles on them. Ford see electric as a medium term solution to sustainable transport but hydrogen as the longer term goal.

Personally, I’m not convinced about the viability of hydrogen as a solution – especially if IBM can crack the lithium air battery they are working on.

GreenMonk talks to General Motors about the Chevrolet Volt

Chevrolet Volt

Photo Credit gmeurope

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Episode 8 of the GreenMonk Podcasts – 37 mins 32 secs

My guest on this podcast is Greg Cesiel. Greg is the Program Director for the Chevrolet Volt. The Chevrolet Volt is an electric vehicle from General Motors, expected to begin hitting showrooms in the US in 2010.

From the Wikipedia entry:

The company has avoided the use of the term “hybrid,” preferring to call it an electric vehicle with a “range extender” (“extended range electric vehicle” or EREV), due to its design.

The vehicle is designed to run purely on electricity from on-board batteries for up to 40 miles (64 km)… a large enough distance to cover the daily commutes of 75% of Americans, which averages around 33 miles (53 km). With the use of a small internal combustion engine driving a generator to power the electric motor, the vehicle’s range is potentially increased to 360 miles (579 km) on the highway (and which can be extended for very long trips by conventional refueling).

There was tremendous interest in this podcast. I mentioned on Twitter that I was going to be interviewing Greg and I received over a dozen questions in under 30 minutes!

Here are the questions I asked Greg and the approx. times I asked them:

Can you give us a bit of background on the Chevrolet Volt? It is what you guys are calling an extended range electric vehicle, is that correct? – 00:15
You guys targeted getting 40 miles from the battery because this takes in most people’s daily commute, is that correct? – 01:08
Of course, those kinds of calculations vary wildly with your local price of electricity and petrol… – 02:05
One of the great things about electric vehicles is that they become more Green as more renewables are added to the grid (and older non-renewables are retired)… – 02:50

Questions from readers:

rodney rumford
Ask them what the life expectancy of the battery is? How many years before total replacement? – 3:37

How does battery performance vary with ambient temperatures? – 04:26

rodney rumford
How is the software coming along for determining when the mini-engine needs to kick in before i make it to homebase? – 05:39

Do you have a release date for when people will be able to get their hands on a Volt? – 06:35

rodney rumford
Do they have an figures on how much carbon per mile is consumed? (think about how much carbon is emitted in order to recharge the batteries) – 6:59

Sebastian
How much is the car? 07:30
How will they communicate to customers that the range is actually totally matching their needs, overcoming the fear that they might not have enough range? Imagine they sell a lot of these cars, will the sudden overnight need for power be actually a positive thing for power stations, balancing their load? – 08:23

John Keyes
I wonder are they doing any research into cleaner batteries? 10:46

Existing battery technologies are quite nasty in terms their environmental impact on destruction but lithium ion appears to be more environmentally friendly… – 12:00

John Keyes
What’s the drag coefficient? – 12:40

Jonathan Kash
1. The Volt has tremendous long-term value for both GM and the industry, but from what I understand the margins will be very slim. Given the state of liquidity in the market, do you see the program being put on hold? – 13:35

2. The electric/range extender is a fantastic concept: however, what about people that live in urban areas? Have there been any thoughts on how residents of a large city (with very few personal garages) might be able to successfully use this platform? – 14:34

Bob Lutz mentioned last September that there would be a version of the Volt with solar panels on the roof, is that still on the cards, ‘cos they’d work well here in Seville!? – 16:04

James Britton
what other electric vehicles are planned? – 16:34
Ate you planning a plugin hybrid? Are you striving for 100 percent electric and/or hybrid electric engines? – 17:53

Joseph Simpson
When the Concept Volt was unveiled a couple of years ago, most commentators seemed to believe that when the pure electric 40mile range was exhausted, the petrol motor would kick in and charge the batteries, in order to go on delivering power. Now, with the launch of the (pre)production Volt, GM are saying that once the batteries are depleted, the petrol engine will kick in, but directly drive the electric motor – not charge the batteries.

Questions related to this:

1 – is this true? if so, did this change happen during the R&D phase (and why if so?), or did the press originally mis-read the concept. Has the system – as proposed in the current car, always been proposed to work this way? – 19:06
2 – how efficient is the car when running on just the petrol engine, (ie, once the batteries are exhausted)? Wouldn’t a current production car, with a small petrol engine directly driving a crank/drive shaft be more efficient, because it wouldn’t have the added weight of the batteries? – 22:09

Second point is, I’m really interested to know more about how the interface works – GM have said that the car will actively manage the batteries, and know how to be most efficient, by knowing when it’s close to home/a charging point etc. Can they explain a little more about this. It sounds clever, but fraught with issues and complexities. Will the car come with an on-board, and up-datable database of charging stations in its computer system? – 24:06

Is the software integrated with some kind of GPS system, and you tell it where you are going, or is it just guessing based on the erergy levels in the battery versus what is in the tank? – 25:38

Jim Hughes
This is a Euro-centric view, but are there plans for a diesel rather than petrol version? – 26:09

Also was a rotary (wankel) engine considered for the petrol engine? – 26:49

Phoebe Bright
Are then thinking hot-swappable all electric cars in the future, and if so what are the technology implications, and if not, why not? – 27:07

I saw a report on the GM-Volt site where Shai Agassi of Project Better Place said:

the Volt is a $20,000 car that will cost $40,000. It will be a niche product. we want to make electric cars a mass market thing, and the only way to do that is to make it cheaper than driving a regular car.

What would you say to that? – 28:03

What about the lithium battery supplies? This is an entire new marketplace you are creating, are you confident that you will have enough supplies to meet the amount of cars you are hoping to sell? 29:19

Phoebe Bright
What are the assumptions around oil price that are being used by Chevy for their business planning? – 29:57

Gina Porreco
Is there any plan for battery disposal? While electric vehicles are by far a better choice for the environment, they create the potential for a huge hazardous waste problem. – 30:39

John Peavoy
What other “green” or environmentally friendly materials and/or production processes are being used in the car and its production? Are GM investigating new materials & processes either as part of this program or other programs in the future? – 31:30

Joseph Simpson
I reckon that GM can probably get away with charging around £25,000 for the Volt in the UK. Why? Because a Prius costs around £20k, and I’d predict the Volt will appeal a lot to early adopters, people who ‘want’ an *electric* car, and people who look at the price of fuel, and can see the cost saving potential. But more than £25k puts you well into BMW/Merc territory – and am not sure people would be willing to pay more than that for a Chevy.

So – how do-able is this? Are GM confident they can price the car around this mark, sell enough of them, and make money? – 32:40

dripfeed
ask them to quantify the full environmental impact of actually manufacturing and recycling the car. For example, parts for the Toyota Prius are shipped and re-shipped from all over the planet and I, as a potential consumer, remain unconvinced that the Prius damages our environment less over its lifetime than a conventional car. – 34:09

Will there be software and a software interface there for selling electricity back to the grid in times of high demand so that, if your vehicle takes off, it can act as a buffer against variability of supply and demand from renewables. Is that something you are considering? – 35:28

Download the entire interview here
(34.4mb mp3)