Bon Voyage — Talking Electric Vehicles In Paris

Blogging will be light as I’m in Paris for an “electromobility” conference at the ESSEC Business School.  I’ll be presenting on Friday on the case study of electric vehicle deployment in Hawaii, the subject of a report I co-authored last year called Electric Vehicle Paradise: How Hawaii Can Lead The World In Deployment.  Au revoir!  (That’s sadly the extent of my French language skills.)

Passenger Rail Will Improve Soon In Southern California

Caltrans announced the groundbreaking of a $38 million rail project that will add 3.8 additional miles of track to the Los Angeles area, vastly improving Amtrak service between San Diego, Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo.

The “Triple Track Project” is fully-funded from stimulus dollars (remember those?) as part of a larger $163 million, 15-mile main line track expansion between the cities of Commerce and Fullerton in Southern California.  The project will lay an additional third track next to the two existing lines.

For all the hype about high speed rail, improvements to our existing Amtrak service like these are much cheaper and faster to build.  It’s not an excuse not to do high speed rail necessarily, but these investments will still be necessary, given the limited route, long time horizons, and expense of building high speed rail.

A Milestone For Energy Storage

It’s been a long time coming, but it looks like energy storage is finally ready for the big time. After years of waiting for price declines, technology breakthroughs, and policy and regulatory actions, Southern California Edison (SCE) set a precedent for California and the U.S. last month by awarding local capacity procurement contracts for 2.221 gigawatts of energy resources across greater Los Angeles. This marks the first time in U.S. history that a utility will make strategic use of advanced energy storage systems (on both sides of the meter) to meet local long-term electricity needs.

As Renewable Energy World describes:

SCE’s contract awards marked at least a few industry firsts. It was the first time a U.S. electric utility evaluated a diverse range of conventional and preferred “green” energy resources — natural gas-fired power plants, solar PV, advanced energy storage, energy efficiency and demand response — in “head-to-head competition.” It was also the first time a U.S. utility solicited proposals from advanced energy storage solution providers to meet projected long-term electric power needs.

SCE awarded more than five-times the 50-megawatts (MW) of energy storage capacity it was required to by state power authorities, California Energy Storage Association (CESA) co-founder and Executive Director Janice Lin pointed out. Contracts to deploy 260.6 MW of advanced energy storage capacity were awarded to AES (100 MW), Stem (85 MW), Advanced Microgrid Solutions (50 MW) and Ice Energy Holdings (25.6 MW).

I’m particularly intrigued by the range of energy storage technologies that SCE plans to deploy. Advanced Microgrid Solutions is a fast-growing company, headed by industry veterans, that aggregates distributed energy storage resources among various large customers to create combined storage and demand response resources for grid operators to use to balance the grid. Ice Energy, meanwhile, freezes water at night when rates are low to deploy and offset expensive daytime rates during the heat of the day.

Overall, it’s a nice range of technologies represented, and symbolizes exactly the kind of innovation, diversity of approaches, and economics that California hoped would happen when the legislature passed the landmark energy storage law AB 2514 (Skinner) in 2010.  We’ll need much more of these resources if we have any hope of decarbonizing our electricity system and achieving long-term greenhouse gas reduction goals.  But this is a great start and hopefully the beginning of much more to come.

Comparing A Tesla To Toyota’s New Fuel Cell Vehicle

Model-S-vs-Mirai-e1417506930220In case you’re in the market for a super-expensive, environmentally beneficial vehicle, Teslarati does a convenient side-by-side comparison of the Model S with the Toyota Mirai.  The cars actually come out pretty even, with one glaring exception: the ease of fueling.

In our view, one of the major benefits of BEVs [battery electric vehicles] is that you refuel them at home, overnight, while you’re sleeping, so that your Model S is “full” every morning. Unless you travel long distances on a regular basis, you will rarely need a Tesla Supercharger or any other refueling source away from home. That’s huge, and often get’s lost in the discussion of “range anxiety” that always seems to invade the thinking of those who don’t own a Model S. Although fuel cells are sexy, it seems odd to us that Toyota has returned to a 20th century fueling station paradigm. In essence, there is little difference between refueling a Mirai and refueling a Camry. Sure, the fuel is different, but you have to hunt for a specific refueling station as your Mirai slowly depletes its hydrogen. No charging at home—ever.

Not to mention that the hydrogen can be energy-intensive to generate and may not come from clean sources. As I’ve written before, there are big question marks about the long-term environmental benefits of investing in hydrogen fueling. It may be necessary for some big cargo trucks that can’t otherwise be powered efficiently by batteries, but we shouldn’t look to it as a panacea for passenger vehicles.

Either way, we’ll need the prices on both vehicles to come down significantly in order to make a dent in our transportation emissions.

LAX Automated People Mover Should Bring Big Improvements

Last week, LAX airport officials unveiled their plan to connect light rail to the airport via an automated people-mover (APM) system like you see in airports around the world.  As The Source reports, the proposal involves:

[T]hree APM stations in LAX’s central terminal area. One station would serve Terminal 1, 6 and 7, the next station would serve Terminals 5 and 6 and the last station would serve the Tom Bradley International Terminal and Terminals 3 and 4. Moving sidewalks would be used to help passengers get from the stations — which would be within the terminal horseshoe road — to the terminals….

[I]t will also stop at a new Intermodal Transportation Facility that will have parking, serve as a shuttle bus stop and pickup and drop-off area for passengers. The next APM station would be at the Aviation/96th Station for the Crenshaw/LAX Line — a station that Metro will build that is planned as being terminal-like and much more robust than the usual light rail platform.

The final APM station would serve a consolidated rental car facility to be constructed east of Aviation Boulevard. As the name implies, the facility would bring together the more than a dozen rental car companies that serve LAX. Airport passengers would use the APM to reach rental cars, thereby removing the need for shuttles from rental car companies to endlessly circle the horseshoe road serving the airport terminals.

LAWAbetterresOfficials hope to start construction in 2017 or 2018, with the process taking a ridiculously long “five to seven years.”  Notably, airport officials want to meet the potential deadline of the 2024 Summer Olympics.  Nothing like public scrutiny on the Olympics to force agencies to hurry up with their projects!

Joe LInton at Streetsblog is concerned there’s too much parking included in the project (8000 spaces potentially).  But to me, there’s a lot to be happy about with these plans.  First, the people mover was always the best way to connect to light rail, as opposed to an expensive and less useful direct rail connection.  Second, the plan will greatly reduce traffic in the central terminal area by removing the need for terminal circulator and rental car shuttles.  Finally, the off-site parking may allow the airport to get rid of parking in the central terminal area, which would free up space for more traveler-focused amenities, such as a hotel and lounge area (plus removing a security threat).

Environmental review may begin next year.  Let’s hope this plan doesn’t get too compromised and end up getting too expensive.  The $6 fare for the Oakland airport connector is certainly a cautionary tale in this respect.  But it looks like a solid start for the airport — if you don’t mind waiting ten years for it to open.

Reminder: Local Planning For Solar Energy — Webinar Today 10-11am

commercial-solar-panels1Please join us this morning for Berkeley Law’s free webinar on best practices for integrating integrating small- and medium-scale solar energy policies into local general plans. Joining us once again will be Chris Calfee from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR), who will provide the latest on the general plan guidelines update process.

We will cover the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment’s (CLEE) new guidance report on renewable energy planning, which highlights best policy practices for both small-scale rooftop (ancillary) and medium-scale (primary) solar projects. It includes sample general plan policy language regarding 10 PV-supportive strategies, as well as guidance on financing mechanisms. We’ll have time for audience Q&A.

You can register here or via this link. And download the new renewable planning report here.

First Chevy Volt To Go 200,000 Miles

And the honor goes to Erik Belmer of Ohio:

Erick Belmer is the proud owner of a 2012 Volt.

As Belmer tells InsideEVs, the Volt was purchased on March 28, 2012. Since then, it’s seen a daily commute of 220 miles there and back, with a single longest trip of 430 miles in a day.

Oil changes come every 38,000 miles and tire rotations every 10,000 miles. That’s basically all the maintenance that’s been required on Belmer’s Volt.

The particularly good news is that Belmer has seen no loss in battery capacity after all that driving:

“Volt is holding up flawlessly! No noticeable battery capacity loss. Used 9.7 kw because it’s a 2012. I am so pleased with this vehicle!”

“The Volt was always my dream car! To get to drive it everyday is a dream come true! This car is Wonderfully engineered!”

Erick Bellmer and his 200K mileage Chevy Volt

Erick Bellmer and his 200K mileage Chevy Volt

One important note is that the Chevy Volt has a gas engine that kicks in after about 40 miles of electric driving. So we won’t see this kind of mileage accrue in such a short period of time in an all-battery electric like the Nissan LEAF or BMW i3, which don’t have the range of the Volt on a daily basis.

But if all-battery EVs have their batteries hold up like Belmer’s, that bodes very well for the long-term value of the car. It would be reassuring to customers, many of whom are opting to lease the vehicles, in part out of doubts about long-term battery life. It also bodes well for the quality of second-life batteries, which can be reused outside of the vehicle for different energy storage options.

Reminder: Infill Planning Webinar Today, 10-11am

Berkeley Law’s free webinar on best practices for integrating infill-supportive policies into general plans will happen today at 10am PT. Joining us will be Chris Calfee from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR), who will provide the latest on the general plan guidelines update process.

We will discuss the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment’s (CLEE) new guidance report on infill planning, which reviews 20 infill-supportive policies and includes sample policy language and recommendations on financing, CEQA exemptions, and other infill implementation measures. We’ll also have time for audience Q&A.

Register here or via this link. And you can download the new infill planning report here.

Is Tesla Planning A New EV Battery Swap Station In California?

It’s an unsubstantiated rumor, but the Harris Ranch Tesla Supercharger site in the Central Valley (off I-5 between San Francisco and Los Angeles) may be getting the first one in the “modern” era.  Here’s an eyewitness account:

While charging at Harris Ranch on the way back from the shareholder meeting I was chatting with the employees at Subway inside the Shell gas station market, I was told by someone (not a Subway employee) who works there that Tesla is putting in the battery swap station where the car wash is currently located, I guess the car wash is broken & they don’t want to get it fixed so they struck a deal with Tesla & plans have been drawn up to build the station where the car wash is currently, best guess is should be open in about 6 months or so & will be manned with Tesla personal for awhile until they get the kinks worked out, several times Elon has mentioned the first station will be on the I-5 & this area is perfect.

We know that Tesla batteries can be swapped faster than it takes to get gas. If you could “refill” your Tesla battery for another 250 miles or so in just a minute or two by swapping in a fresh one, it would solve the range anxiety/charging time issue completely.

This Harris Ranch carwash could soon be California's first EV battery swap site.

This Harris Ranch carwash could soon be California’s first EV battery swap site.

There are really no technical barriers to pulling this off, but in practice it can be complicated. The battery is the most expensive part of the vehicle (tens of thousands of dollars in a car like the Tesla). So if you just drop the battery off for a new one every time you’re out and about, who is going to own it? And how are you going to know the quality of the new battery you’re receiving?  And how will it affect the purchase price of the vehicle?

The EV charging company “Better Place” introduced this battery swapping business charging model a few years back, but the company got crushed. Bottom line is that the automakers didn’t want to give up possession of the battery ownership for a swapping model.

But given Tesla’s ambitions to be an energy storage company as much as a car company, it may make sense for them to retain ownership of the batteries. It solves the range and potentially the cost issues of the cars, and it also gives Tesla an opportunity to flip the batteries for energy storage whenever they need to.

If the Harris Ranch swap station is happening, it’s likely a pilot project for the company to evaluate. But it could portend a new era in how electric vehicles are engineered, operated, sold, and — most importantly — experienced by drivers.

Milton Nascimiento — Concert Review, November 30th At SF Jazz

IMG_1469Brazilian singer-songwriter-guitarist Milton Nascimiento is truly a world music treasure. Having launched his career in the late 1960s, he was one of the first Brazilian artists to incorporate rock, jazz, funk and pop into traditional Brazilian music. His haunting falsetto, unorthodox lyrics, and awesome collaborations (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, and Paul Simon, to name a few) make some of his albums among the best worldwide (particularly Miltons).

On Sunday night I had the pleasure to watch him and his band perform at SF Jazz. Joining Milton was an all-star cast:

-Kiko Continentino, Piano
-Widor Santiago, Sax (tenor & soprano)
-Wilson Lopes, Guitar
-Lincoln Cheib, Drums
-Gastao Villeroy, Bass

The highlight tune for me was “San Vicente,” my all-time favorite song from the album Miltons, although Kiko Continentino didn’t dare attempt to recreate Herbie Hancock’s unbelievable outro solo. He also sang a beautiful, wordless tribute to his mother in the song “Lilia” (from the album Native Dancer, a collaboration with Wayne Shorter).  He got the house rocking to the catchy “Para Lennon e McCartney.” The rollicking then continued into the finale with “Maria Maria,” which got at least the Brazilians in the audience up on their feet dancing:

Overall, it was a night of high-quality music, and a chance to see a 72-year-old star far from his home while his health still allows him to travel. I’d recommend him to anyone who likes jazz and world music, particularly of the Brazilian flavor.

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