Charging, Part AAAAGH (Charge IX)

So, you thought VHS versus Beta was bad?  How about mpeg v. WMP v. Quicktime v. DivX v. Flash?

Lots of people want battery charging to shift from overnight to while-u-wait.  Faster charging at home would allow you to run errands all day, even with a small battery capacity in the vehicle.  Faster charging at highway stops would allow road trips.  In particular, there’s a push to get charging below the 30-minute mark.  30 minutes is a mental barrier to lots of people; it’s the length of a fast-food meal, a leisurely cup of coffee and a smoke, perhaps a long bathroom break and a stretch of the legs.

Unfortunately, a solution appears ready technologically, but it’s far from ready business-wise or marketing-wise.  Already, five separate business entities have proposed incompatible fast-charging protocols:

CHAdeMo is a fast DC standard from Nissan/Mitsubishi/Subaru and the Japanese utility TEPCO.  (Toyota has legally signed onto the CHAdeMo organization, but is hesitant to actually sell any compatible products.)  CHAdeMo cars and chargers are deployed and functioning now.

SAE J1772 Combo Plug is also fast DC, backed by GM, Ford, the Audi group (Audi/Volkswagen/Porsche), BMW, and Daimler (“Mercedes-Benz”).  Sounds impressive, until you realize no compatible vehicles are being driven by paying customers, nor are there any charging points in public use.

Tesla Superchargers are actually deployed… in California only.  These fast DC stations can be used… by one Tesla model only, the Model S, and only certain trim levels of the Model S.  Which will total over $60,000.  (The previous Tesla Roadsters can’t use Superchargers in any form.)

It’s conceivable that adapters can let these three interoperate; the differences in actual power are low, though the adapter might need circuit logic to match two protocols.  A smart adapter will cost you.  However, what can’t adapt is:

Renault fast AC.  French automaker Renault has not only developed a standard it claims will be cheaper and more widespread, but the roads of Italy are already signed up.

By using three-phase AC, the Renault standard is much closer to the power protocols now in use by European factories, ports, warehouses, and other major electrical customers.  Without heavy circuitry to convert these power levels, Renault-type charging points will be cheaper, and thus, easier to deploy.  Supposedly, the car end of the connection will also be relatively inexpensive, since it would be very close to the existing equipment already needed for slow and medium charging.  In other words, Renault has planned and demonstrated a way to squeeze fast charging through the stuff resembling today’s slow chargers and vehicles.  That resemblance could mean a win-win situation for both charging vendors and vehicle owners.

-Now add to all this Volvo.  The Swedish company is claiming its own fast protocol, on which details are scarce.  Personally, I don’t see this one getting traction.  Volvo is hardly a player in the global field; their solution would have to be truly breathtaking to beat out all this competition.  But, it isn’t, and it won’t.  What we know is that it’s still slower than CHAdeMO, J1772 Combo, Tesla’s, and Renault’s.

As I mentioned before, I’m glad to be on a bike.  Slow charging works pretty well for me, since my small battery doesn’t take long to “fill” at all compared to a cage.  But I don’t have much patience for these egotists duking it out, instead of working towards what the customers want: a network of locations that will power us, reasonably quick, reasonably cheap.  The problem may not even be solved by these egotists at all…


Charging, Part 8: We Roll Our Own, OPEC!

In the last post on charging, I said I don’t have the space here to list individual homeowners with PV and EVs.  Well, heck, here I go:

-Tom Moloughney charges his BMW ActiveE with the solar panels on his house.  They would be enough to completely power his house, and most days still have some for the car… even in cloudy New Jersey.  Read his blog here.  Superstorm Sandy?  What gas shortages?  He happens to be a high-mileage guy, so he also tops up on the street with grid power.  But if his commute was more normal, he might drive on his solar panels alone.

Peder and Julie Norby uses a 3 kW solar system just for their two electric cars, with more panels for their house.  They have made their money back in a few years, and are now (in terms of marginal cost) racking up driving miles for free.

David and Megan Kollar uses a 1.4 kW array to partially power a house and car.  They also have a solar thermal system and wood stove for heating.  Since they have a home battery pack, some of their car miles are directly due to their solar panels, not offsets.

-A home in Orlando, FL has both rooftop solar arrays, and a personal-scale wind turbine on the property.  This both runs the house and tops up multiple electric motorcycles, as they are not connected to the local grid at all.

Jack Fleck’s 3.2 kW rooftop array powers his Chevy Volt.  Even in Northern California (not that sunny), his panels more than offset the amount he recharges for driving.  With a slightly larger system, or in a sunnier location, he figures the electric utility might actually pay him instead.

Waidy actually does produce more than she consumes, on both a per-dollar and per-Watt basis.  Her panels total over 17 kW, thanks to some outbuildings and ground mounts.  These charge her house, her RAV4 EV, and a Leaf.  She’s also got a Tesla preordered, not quite there yet.

-Gearhead and all-around geek Eric Tischer uses a 3.6 kW array to charge the VW Passat he converted himself.  (This was before he got hired by Tesla.)  The panels are enough to lower his per-kWh rate by nearly an order of magnitude, and his total bill by about a factor of four.  This is without figuring in gas prices; he’s gone over 40,000 miles on electricity.

-An East Bay driver uses 3.6 kW of solar to help offset a converted Toyota MR2.  Again, the price of gas compared to the price of electricity makes solar panels profitable.  Not practical… profitable.

Christophe Hubert has solar arrays… in cloudy ol’ Paris.  They help charge his Vectrix scooter.

Dennis has several kW of solar arrays powering his house and car.

-Let’s also throw in Chuck Swackhammer (multiple EVs) and Colin Summers.  There are more without a web presence, of course.

Unfortunately, I personally don’t charge the bike with solar power.  I got a good deal on a house, but it is shaded in by the neighbors on three sides… the three sunny sides.  It’s a shame, too.  Given how little juice the Zero actually uses, it would take just a small solar array to cover my riding.  The cost of installation and hookup work, plus interest charges and transaction fees, might be more than the panels themselves.

Brad, some grads…

Some good news.  I last posted about how Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel (basically the company’s top lawyer), complained about not enough techies in the U.S. labor force.  Microsoft, among others, actually has empty positions, since they can’t find enough qualified programmers, engineers, etc.

People can’t get jobs, and we have jobs that can’t be filled.

I have posted about this again and again.

Well, it looks like it’s not quite as bad as we suspected.  According to the Pew Research Center, the education level of the U.S. population (i.e., percent with college degrees) is still climbing, and at an all-time high:

…for the first time, a third of the nation’s 25- to 29-year-olds have earned at least a bachelor’s degree.

This figure has been rising for decades.  It was under a fifth of young adults in the early ’70s; it’s now 33% for 2012.  Good to see that it isn’t backsliding.

The Pew Research Center attributes this to both 1) the general, still-sought pay increase you get with more education, and 2) the Dec 2007-Mar 2009 recession convincing more people to boost their skills, education, and resumés.

Still, we can’t rest just yet.  We need to do better.  First, 33% with a bachelor’s degree still isn’t enough.  Says Anthony P. Carnevale, director, Georgetown U. Center on Education and the Workforce:

The demand for college graduates has been increasing about 3 percent a year, while the supply has increased only 1 percent a year, which is why the college wage premium has increased so precipitously.

Second, it isn’t enough compared to our competing countries.  For over a decade now, almost two, multiple European nations have been beating us in raising the education levels of their workforces.  The Pew study continues:

…other advanced economies are registering similar or greater gains, leading experts and college presidents to question whether the U.S. has been losing its competitive position as the global leader in higher education.

And, of course, China is cranking out engineers at a far greater rate than we are.  Sure,  some Chinese “degrees” in engineering turn out to be equivalent to our Associates’ degrees, or certificate “degrees.”  But even after you weed out the lesser Chinese graduates, the remaining numbers are huge.

Keep at it, America.

STFU, Dim Bulb (Charge VII)

-See also Charging, Part STFU

I had posted how electric vehicles usually charge at night.  Nighttime is a weird time for power plants.  Most people are asleep, like their tools and workplaces, so demand is low.  Yet, certain plants are difficult to shut down and start up with demand (“load following”), particularly nuclear ones (trying to shut down suddenly was a contributor to the Chernobyl disaster).  Some wind turbines actually run fastest due to night winds.  Thus, in many regions EVs are charging with pretty clean electricity.  They DO NOT simply move pollution somewhere else.

The US power grid is only ~40% coal-fired, and getting better.  It used to be 50%, but cheap natural gas led to less coal.  Not only did natural gas get better economically and environmentally, but gas turbines can do load following, which is worth money to grid managers.  Then throw in nuclear (20% of the grid) and hydro (varies widely by region).  Wind power grew faster than any other source in this century.  Heck, some coal plants are even throwing in some biomass (“co-firing”) to help clean up their act.

And then there’s solar.  A funny thing happened on the way to tomorrow: solar got practical and economic, and not how many thought it would.  Sure, solar costs fell partially due to innovation, process improvements, and simple scale-up benefits.  But there’s one place where it wins, hands down: at the “pump.”  When solar has to compete on the grid with coal, nuclear, and wind, it loses.  Roof owners, though, can win after transmission costs- the wires are short.  (Of course, hydro beats them all.  Easily.)

Solar, when compared to gasoline, finally wins, and wins big.  Electricity simply beats gas- compare 13 cents per kilowatt-hour, to gas at $3.70 or even $3.50.  A dollar gets much more electrons than oil (and more on my motorcycle).  Hence, the solar carport: a canopy with solar panels, and a charging cable on one leg.  A parking stall is about 8x 18 feet.  Depending on how you set it up, this is enough panel area to charge a car most days.  Since not every space gets filled, and not every EV will charge, not all the way full, this works out nicely.  Some have batteries to smooth out cloudy spans; most just tie to the grid to flatten peaks and valleys.  Grids like:

Bowling Green, KY

Smyrna, Nashville (Vanderbilt), Pulaski, Shelby Farms TN

Raleigh, NC

Atlanta, GA

Eustis, U-Central Florida FL

Portland, Bar Harbor ME

Plainville, CT

Brooklyn, Hempstead, Islip NY

Trenton, NJ

Bethesda, Clarksville, Landover MD

Columbus, OH

Grand Blanc, MI

Chicago and suburbs, Frankfort IL

St. Paul, MN

University of Iowa, Ankeny, IA

Las Vegas, NV

Seattle, WA

Etobicoke, ON, Canada

And, of course, California has solar charging, if nothing else because of Tesla-funded carports.  Tesla’s “superchargers” are located to allow highway charge stops, and drink up maximum sunshine.  This makes sense, both in general, and because Elon Musk runs both Tesla, and panel company Solar City.  Mitsubishi has a solar station at its California offices.  GM is partnering with Envision to provide solar panels, Ford with SunPower, and BMW is working with Real Goods for theirs.  Numerous EV owners have thus installed solar panels on their homes- if they hadn’t already done so.  I don’t have the space here to list individual homeowners with PV and EVs.

Still think EVs just substitute smokestacks for tailpipes?

Charging, Part STFU-2 (Charge VI)

-See also Charging, Part STFU

I just mentioned charging my electric vehicle, a Zero S motorcycle.  It’s a snap.  Now’s a good time to debunk a second myth: “EVs will wreck the power grid.

NO, THEY WON’T.  By engineering and by coincidence, our electrical network will do just fine for many years to come, plugins or not.

I just mentioned how little power my vehicle draws, which ties back to how efficient electric drive is compared to piston engines and mechanical transmissions.  An electric system is several times more efficient at putting energy to the wheels.  Not several percent more, several times.  Thus, charging represents much less total juice than hydrocarbon pumping.  This is the demand-side reduction.

On the delivery side, electricity wins again.  Pretty much everyone charges their plug-in vehicles at night; daytime charging is mostly top-ups and opportunity stops.  A fraction of people can recharge at work.  Even here, most EV commuters plug in when they arrive in the morning, and top up from their one-way commute after a few hours.

Why is time of day important?  It might not seem important to you, the consumer.  But to the producer, it’s the most important thing all day long, and in some bad weeks.

In the power industry, the limiting factor is peak demand.  At night, people are asleep, and demand is low.  Street lights use pretty efficient bulbs.  During the day, there are still bulbs on inside.  And computers and appliances and tools, in shops, schools, factories, and offices.  The one biggest appliance/tool of all, however, is the air conditioner.  Offices and shops and factories demand workable temperatures, and most homes and schools too.  Not only is the afternoon the hottest part of the day, but it’s when shops, workplaces, and schools are still open; most homes are automatically running their AC even if everyone’s at work or school.

Thus, the power grids are designed for the time of most strain- summer afternoons.  You may have noticed most blackouts happen summer evenings.  Grids have been straining all afternoon, and something around sunset (before it cools off much) becomes the last straw.  The New York/Northeast mega-blackout (2003) was an August evening, caused by one transmission line finally failing under the afternoon’s load.  That one line caused a cascading failure, since the other lines were also fully loaded.

Conversely, night and morning are when the grid loafs along.  Spot prices for electricity on the power markets fall.  If your utility offers variable (“time of use”) rates, the night rate (“off-peak”) can be half or less.  Some utility companies even offer a “super off peak” rate, after midnight or one o’clock.

Spot prices may actually go negative some nights.  In some areas, geography causes winds to blow strongly at night.  Wind turbines are thus churning out plenty of clean energy.  Meanwhile, nuclear power plants can’t really start up and shut down (“load following”).  Nuclear plants are large, to maximize economies of scale.  It then takes many hours for such a facility to heat up and cool down, running inefficiently all the while.  Operators, then, leave the nuclear plants running with only minimal adjustment, and instead shut down hydroelectric dams, natural-gas turbines, perhaps some of the smaller or less-efficient coal sites.  When that’s still not enough, there’s too much power in the grid.  Spot prices fall to zero, then negative.

Electric vehicles, then, don’t affect peak demand.  It’s just like your cell-phone company offering evening and weekend minutes- they don’t really care by then, let alone after midnight or one.  Cars with large battery packs now have timers, which you can program to delay charging.  You can start when your time-of-use plan lowers its rates, even if you’re asleep.  It’s just like your dish or clothes washer offering a timer.  Or, you can use your smartphone/laptop/tablet in bed, to control a smart charger.

The issue of EV charging and power demand is, then, a non-issue.  The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), an expert body funded by the utilities themselves, stated as much, years ago.  The nation could add tens of millions of plug-in vehicles before the grid strains.  Even San Diego Gas & Electric states that “Today, California’s electricity capacity could recharge as many as 4 million plug-in hybrids” without issue.  Needless to say, the nation nor California is not at millions of plug-in vehicles this year, or next.

We could also add more solar power…

Zero help (if zero-level)

Speaking of parking, I pulled up to a parking structure a while back.  I circled around the ground floor, wondering if there was separate motorcycle parking.  Aside from wanting to be polite and not take a whole cage space, I wanted to know in general.  Also, some places don’t charge you for a motorcycle space.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the parking structure was unmanned.  You swipe in and out via pedestal structures at the gates.  As was the satellite lot nearby.  Unfortunately, because I can’t ask a simple and reasonable question.  But fortunately?

The future is here.  Menial jobs like parking-lot attendant are mostly gone, pretty much like bank teller and to an extent, customer-service operator.  And yet, someone has to program, then wire pedestal structures and their billing networks.  Someone has to run ATMs, and someone has to devise and implement customer-locating systems and taxi-dispatching networks.  Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, said recently:

People can’t get jobs, and we have jobs that can’t be filled.

This is the same experience that IBM is having: IBM is selling things like customer-interface machines and transaction networks, but they have job openings they can’t fill.  At the same time they’re destroying jobs like tolltaker or phone clerk, they’re demanding database programmers or wireless engineers.  And we don’t have enough database programmers or wireless engineers.  Brad Smith said the above quote in conjunction with Microsoft’s education initiatives.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it for as long as it holds.  If you’re working one of these low-skilled jobs, better get geeky… or get used to unemployment.