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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.

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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.

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Another oil shock in 2010?

Brent crude oil price
Brent Crude price Aug 08 – Jan 09

Chart generated by thisismoney.co.uk

Posts on The Oil Drum and iStockAnalyst in the last couple of days point out something interesting.

From The Oil Drum’s post:

Nobuo Tanaka, the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) said today…

Oil at near $40 a barrel has slowed investment in oil projects, he told Reuters, raising the possibility of a supply shortfall once demand resumes.

“The current price level has a negative impact on investment in new oilfields,” Tanaka said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“We are concerned about slowdown, slippage, cancellation of projects. When demand comes back, we may have a supply crunch,” He added.

And from a post on iStockAnalyst a few days earlier:

A massive slump in oil exploration spending pummeled Schlumberger Ltd. (SLB), the world’s largest oilfield services corporation, as profit fell 17% in the fourth quarter. But the company said curtailed spending could be setting the stage for a rebound in oil and gas prices as supplies dwindle.

Schlumberger is pulling back as a collapse in petroleum prices led to a sharp drop in exploration spending by its customers.

So the current low oil prices mean oil exploration and investment in new oilfields is being cut back. Because of the inelasticity of the demand and supply curves for oil, this means when the world economy (and demand for energy) starts to ramp up again we are in for another price shock, like the one we saw in 2008.

With the next shock though we will have depleted that much more of the world’s finite supply, and the lack of investment in exploration means that the next oil shock will require an even bigger global recession for the price to fall back down once more. How likely is that?

With respect to time frames, this recession has at least another year to run, I suspect, before demand starts back up again. So another oil shock in 2010?

Perfect! Just in time for the launch of many of the new battery electric, and plug-in hybrids by the mainstream motor manufacturers!

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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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Any questions for the Chevy Volt team?

I will be talking to Greg Cesiel (pronounced SEE-SIL) this afternoon. Greg is the Program Director for the Chevrolet Volt – GM’s highly anticipated extended range electric car.

If you have any questions you’d like me to put to Greg, please feel free to leave them in the comments of this post or email them to [email protected]