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June 29th GreenMonk Energy and Sustainability show

Here is the chatstream from yesterday’s Energy & Sustainability show (above) – there were a couple of technical hitches which I have now sorted out and which shouldn’t present problems next week:

03:31 Tom Raftery: Do we have audio & video
03:32 cgarvey: yup, both working
03:34 SukiFuller: I’m gonna be listening but not able to type
03:35 Tom Raftery: http://www.upi.com/Energy_Resources/2009/06/15/Global-warming-causing-mass-migration/UPI-51151245080561
03:37 Tom Raftery: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-peril-below-the-ice
03:39 Tom Raftery: http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSTRE55M0XT20090623
03:40 Tom Raftery: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=car-exhaust-premature-birth
03:43 MikeTheBee: In more ways than one!
03:44 Tom Raftery: http://www.energyefficiencynews.com/policy/i/2193/
03:45 Doc_Manhattan: Hello Tom great show so far
03:46 Tom Raftery: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/29/business/energy-environment/29biofuel.html?_r=2
03:47 Tom Raftery: http://www.algasolrenewables.com/en/home
03:49 Doc_Manhattan: too cool on the algae
03:49 Tom Raftery: http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/energy/23753/
03:49 cgarvey: More good news .. http://url.ie/1xmu .. all the big mobile phone companies have signed up for a common charger standard to start to appear from 2010.
03:51 Tom Raftery: http://www.ecofriend.org/entry/eco-cars-us-based-oil-company-debuts-100-electric-car-ev-sharing-program
03:52 Tom Raftery: http://www.autobloggreen.com/2009/06/27/mulally-fords-path-to-profitability-based-on-electrification
03:53 cgarvey: There is an issue with Firefox and comments (I’ll email you separately)
03:54 Tom Raftery: http://www.reuters.com/article/rbssConsumerGoodsAndRetailNews/idUST9767820090623
03:54 MikeTheBee: Comments okay on Mac but not for me *again” on FF win
03:55 Tom Raftery: http://www.pcworld.com/article/167503/cisco_promotes_telecommuting.html
03:56 Doc_Manhattan: our group works together as a worldwide team on www.reactiongrid.com using a VW to meet so we’re participating!
03:56 MikeTheBee: @cgarvey Me too pls, I thought I had it sussed with cookies previously
03:57 Tom Raftery: http://www.reuters.com/article/technologyNews/idUSTRE55S1XZ20090629
03:58 MikeTheBee: Ah good, mini USB is at least a standard of sorts
03:58 Tom Raftery: http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSTRE55N3ZV20090624
03:59 MikeTheBee: Scotland have no money of their own
04:01 cgarvey: mailing you now on both
04:01 MikeTheBee: @cgarvey Thx
04:01 SukiFuller: I have no technical issues. 🙂 Some great links today, awesome show Tom!
04:02 cgarvey: Thanks again Tom
04:02 MikeTheBee: Ell done again . cheers all.
04:02 Tom Raftery: Thanks everyone for a great show – apols for tech issues
04:14 cgarvey: Just a small correction: the new mobile charger standard is Micro USB, not Mini USB. Pic comparing them: http://url.ie/1xn9 .. WikiPedia article: http://url.ie/1xna Info

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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?


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Ontario to roll out Better Place car charging infrastructure

rechargeable batteries

Photo credit midnightglory

I was delighted to see news today that the Canadian province of Ontario is the latest to sign up to roll out Better Place’s car charging infrastructure.

Better Place is a California-based, startup that aims to reduce global dependency on petroleum through the creation of a transportation infrastructure that supports electric vehicles. Typically the vehicles will be capable of having their batteries swapped out to facilitate rapid ‘refueling’ of the vehicle, analogous to swapping out rechargeable batteries for your kids (or your!) toys.

Better Place will build its first Electric Recharge Grids in Denmark, Israel and Australia where the electricity will be generated by renewable energy. In fact, Denmark and Israel have gone so far as to enact policies, which create a tax differential between zero-emission vehicles and traditional cars, to accelerate the transition to electric cars.

Ontario is the 2nd largest car manufacturing center in North America after Michigan, so seeing it embracing Car 2.0 is really heartening. Ontario is also rolling out a Smart Grid project under Hydro One Networks so this should make the job of rolling out the charging (and billing) infrastructure that much easier.

As part of the announcement, Better Place has announced that it will be sourcing electricity from Bullfrog Power, who will provide all of the renewable energy needed to power the Better Place network.

Shai Agassi, Founder and CEO, Better Place said:

Today’s announcement is the all-important first step in an expected electric car charging network rollout for Canada, and we look forward to working in partnership with the Ontario government on it

From the Better Place release:

Under the Better Place model, the company plans and installs a network of charge spots and battery exchange stations, giving drivers the same convenience to “top off” as they enjoy today with gasoline stations. Much like the mobile phone model, Better Place installs and operates the network of charging infrastructure, while leading auto manufacturers produce electric cars for the Better Place network. Better Place sources renewable energy to power the network, creating a zero emission solution from generation to grid to transportation.

For consumers, it means they’re able to subscribe to a sustainable transportation service. Better Place provides the batteries to make owning an electric car affordable and convenient. Better Place will install charge spots in parking spaces at home, at work, and at retail locations, which enable the network to automatically top off the electric car.

For distances longer than what most people drive in a given day, drivers will pull into battery exchange stations to swap a depleted battery for a fresh one in less time than it takes to fill a car with gasoline.

Better Place and the San Francisco Bay area recently announced plans for a $1 billion network to be developed in and around San Francisco. Hawaii has also signed up to roll out Better Place infrastructure.

With wins like this, Better Place has very quickly established itself as one of the dominant players in the emerging Electric Vehicle sector.

And with so much emphasis on electric cars at this year’s Detroit Auto Show, the future looks really bright for the EV industry.

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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)

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Electric vehicles are the future

Our  Electric Future
Image from the Andy Grove article in American.com

I wrote a post about Plug-In hybrid vehicles and their potential value to the grid the other day.

Since then I have seen several other articles published from eminent sources which seem to back the thesis that electric vehicles are the way to go.

Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, in an excellent article called Our Electric Future said:

We live in a world where just about everything—from a hairdryer to the Internet—runs on electricity. A big exception is the transportation sector, critical to the movement of people, production materials, food, and even fuel. Transportation uses more than half of all the petroleum consumed in this country. If we don’t convert a large portion of the transportation sector to electricity, we cannot make real progress toward energy resilience…

Startups like Tesla Motors and Project Better Place have begun to experiment with all-electric cars, and important developments are underway at Nissan and General Motors. But our exposure to the vagaries of oil supply is growing by the month.

We must accelerate conversion to electricity in a major way….

Estimates show that converting these vehicles [SUVs, vans, pickups] to dual-fuel operation, even with electricity providing no more than 50 miles of driving range between daily recharging, could cut petroleum imports by 50 to 60 percent—a stunning opportunity….

A policy that favors sticky energy with multiple sources and that aggressively moves vehicles first toward dual-fuel mode and ultimately to running on just electricity provides the answer.

Then I see the following excellent video of FedEx CEO Fred Smith speaking at the Plug-in Vehicles 2008: What Role for Washington? conference dinner.

In this 36 minute video Fred speaks of, amongst other things, FedEx’s multi-billion $ investments in efficiency, he pooh, pooh’s cap and trade in favour of carbon taxes and at about 26 minutes into the video he promises to issue an RFP for an Electric powered fleet. The FedEx fleet consists of around 80,000 vehicles. An RFP from FedEx for 80,000 electric vehicles would be a fabulous kick start to this nascent industry.

Finally, I see CNet reporting that General Motors is teaming up with utilities to develop a charging infrastructure for electric cars by 2010.

The future of transportation is still pretty much up in the air but one thing is certain and that is that transport based on the internal combustion engine has no future. The best alternatives at the moment seem to be either electric or hydrogen powered vehicles.

Given that hydrogen cars are electric cars with the addition of a fuel cell and hydrogen storage you have to suspect that electric cars will work out cheaper to produce and with the right batteries, just as efficient.