Joe Sample, RIP

A llittle belated, but a weekend music nod to the great Joe Sample, who passed away last week.  Enjoy this live version of “Carmel” with Joe simply out of control on the piano.

Reminder: Webinar On Repurposing Used EV Batteries, Today From 10-11am PT

UC Berkeley Law will be hosting a webinar this morning from 10 to 11am Pacific Time on repurposing used electric vehicle batteries.  It will feature:

  • Adam Langton, Senior Energy Analyst, California Public Utilities Commission
  • Randall Winston, Special Assistant to the Executive Secretary, Office of Governor Edmund G Brown, Jr.

The webinar will discuss the challenges and solutions to boosting a secondary market for the batteries.  The market is still new and uncertain, and used EV batteries are only just now being deployed in various grid scenarios.  The webinar comes on the heels of a new UCLA and UC Berkeley Schools of Law report, entitled Reuse and Repower: How to Save Money and Clean the Grid With Second-Life Electric Vehicle Batteries.  I will be speaking on the key findings.

More information on the event can be found here, including the registration page. We will include time for questions from the audience.



Leading Electric Vehicle Battery Experts Gather In Detroit

Over the past two days, I attended the Battery Show conference outside of Detroit, Michigan, to hear what the leading entrepreneurs, researchers and automakers have to say about the state of electric vehicle batteries.  While I was there to speak on a panel about a new report on repurposing electric vehicle batteries, I picked up some interesting themes about the most important clean technology out there, the battery.  Here they are:

Carbon regulations & clean energy policies have been critical for pushing the battery market.  Speaker after speaker spoke about the growing global policies on carbon, from California to the US EPA rule on power plants to Japan and China’s new emphasis on reducing pollution.  Industry leaders estimate that the carbon regulations will result in a 4% per year rate of change in carbon emissions going forward. But the policies also include non-climate focused efforts, such as the new U.S. fuel economy standards.  From 1975 to 2011, CAFE standards required only a 1.3% improvement per year on average, but from 2012 to 2025 they will require a 4.5% per year improvement, greatly benefiting clean vehicle technologies like EVs.  And of course California’s leading policies on zero-emission vehicles and energy storage in general is providing a critical market foundation.  One speaker said “we wouldn’t be here today talking about these issues without California’s leadership.”

battery-show-1Lithium ion is still the most promising battery technology, with continued price reductions but no overnight breakthroughs.  Speaker after speaker praised lithium ion as still the best battery technology out there, given its high energy density and low weight.  Nobody foresees any other technology out there to rival it.  In terms of cost and advances, it’s clear that costs will continue to decline, although not precipitously.  By the end of this decade, most speakers believed Tesla will either achieve or come close to achieving the magic price/range of 200 miles per charge in a $35,000 EV.  Improving manufacturing supply chains and automation will help tremendously, as the Tesla Gigafactory will be able to do.

EV drivers want performance, not necessarily environmental benefits.  Marketing and survey data clearly show that buyers concerned about fuel economy and environmental performance do not make up a huge percentage of the market.  Instead, they want performance, style, and access to technology.  Tesla has hit this magic formula well, as they downplay the environmental benefits of going electric.  Perhaps Nissan should follow suit and rename the LEAF something less “green” sounding.  After all, when I tell people what I like about my electric car, I always start with the superior performance of the electric drive, and then I finish by touting the fuel savings (which are huge) and the environmental benefits.  I don’t do this strategically: it’s just the truth about what I’m most excited about with the car.

Repurposing batteries is a big open question, with lots of opportunities but lots of unknowns.  Since it was the subject of my report, I was keen to hear people’s take on this topic.  Many speakers who addressed the issue felt the potential is huge, noting the amount of energy storage available in electric vehicle batteries on the road today and in the near future.  But many felt that these batteries would have to compete with the cost of recycling the batteries, which could become much cheaper through automation.  And there are unknowns about how easy and cheap it will be to collect, verify, and stack the batteries for high-performance energy storage.  But given the size of the opportunity and the environmental need, I encourage policy makers and industry to start analyzing the opportunities as thoroughly as possible, as outlined in the report.

Overall, it was a well-run conference that attracted an impressive group of speakers and leaders in the field.  Cheap batteries will not only revolutionize transportation through electric vehicles, they will clean our grid when coupled with renewable resources.  The solar+storage combo may also change the utility world forever: after all, who needs a utility if you and your neighbors can generate and store your own clean power?  The disruption continues, while Michigan feels like a dream to me now.

My Sacramento Bee Op-Ed On Life For California After The Gigafactory

On the heels of the new UC Berkeley/UCLA Law report on harvesting “second life” electric vehicle batteries, the Sacramento Bee is running an op-ed from me today on the topic.  You can read it here.  As I write in the piece, even with the Tesla Gigafactory going to Nevada,

California still has an opportunity to boost an entirely different battery supply market, one that will also help the state clean our energy supply and reduce the cost of electric vehicles in the process. The answer lies not in manufacturing new batteries, but repurposing used ones.

Read more here:

Let’s hope policy makers take note and take the steps necessary to boosting this new market.

UCLA / UC Berkeley Law Report On Harvesting Electric Vehicle Batteries For Grid Storage

Reuse and Repower CoverAs I blogged about last week, California and the nation may have a golden opportunity to harvest used electric vehicle batteries for inexpensive energy storage. These repurposed batteries can be stacked for bulk storage to absorb surplus renewable energy for cloudy and dark windless times. They can save ratepayers money, clean the grid, and potentially help bring down the cost of electric vehicles, encouraging more people to switch from gas engines to cleaner electrics.

The numbers are compelling: California now has over 100,000 electric vehicles on the road today, with a goal of 1.5 million by 2025. Assuming 50 percent of the battery packs can be repurposed, with 75 percent of their original capacity, the “second-life” batteries on the road in just ten years could store and dispatch enough electricity to power 4.5 million households in any given moment, equivalent to almost 10 percent of the state’s installed power capacity.

But the market for these batteries is still new and uncertain. Used electric vehicle batteries are only just now being deployed in various grid scenarios, and automakers are concerned about uncertain liability in the event of damages, as well as the complex regulatory environment facing energy storage technologies in general.

To address the challenges and offer solutions, UCLA and UC Berkeley Schools of Law are today releasing the report Reuse and Repower: How to Save Money and Clean the Grid With Second-Life Electric Vehicle Batteries. I served as the lead author, and the report resulted from a one-day gathering of industry experts, including automakers, renewable energy developers, battery leaders, and utilities. It is the thirteenth in the law schools’ Climate Change and Business Research Initiative, sponsored by Bank of America, which develops policies that help businesses prosper in an era of climate change.

The report recommends that policy makers:

  • support and partner with automakers, utilities, and other private sector entities to develop more second-life battery demonstration projects to document the market potential;
  • Partner with industry leaders to identify and address the regulatory conflicts that limit the second-life battery market (often unintentionally); and
  • Work with stakeholders to clarify product liability rules based on second-life battery performance standards.

To hear more about the report and the topic, UC Berkeley Law will be hosting a webinar this Friday from 10 to 11am with:

  • Adam Langton, Senior Energy Analyst, California Public Utilities Commission
  • Randall Winston, Special Assistant to the Executive Secretary, Office of Governor Edmund G Brown, Jr.

I will also be speaking on the report’s key findings. More information on the event can be found here, including the registration page. The webinar will include time for questions from the audience.

Understanding Climate Denial Trolls

Michael J. Brown at Australia’s Monash University spent a while in the field “feeding” the climate denial trolls to understand their habits:

Sometimes experts are quoted correctly, but they happen to disagree with the vast majority of their equally qualified (or more qualified) colleagues. How do the scientifically illiterate select this minority of experts?

I’ve asked trolls this question a few times and, funnily enough, they cannot provide good answers. To be blunt, they are choosing experts based on agreeable conclusions rather than scientific rigour, and this problem extends well beyond online debates.

There must be a credible expert down here somewhere

There must be a credible expert down here somewhere

After posting in favor of climate scientist Michael Mann’s defamation suit, I learned firsthand that much of what Brown writes is accurate. Commenters on my post even pulled out the Galileo argument that Brown dismembers.

Of course, many of these debating tactics (expert-shopping, selective evidence presenting, broken logic, etc.) are employed by arguers on any subject. But Brown prepares those who seek to defend climate science with a helpful scouting report on the inevitable attacks.

Germany’s Renewable Energy Push Helping To Bring Down Global Prices

I used to think that the two critical governments working on climate change were China and California.  China because its government leaders can snap their fingers and create a national carbon reduction program if they want.  And California because of the state’s favorable political climate and history of business and technology innovation.

Das ist wunderbar, Germany!

Das ist wunderbar, Germany!

But I now must add Germany to the mix.  The country has long pioneered pro-solar policies, with its generous “feed-in tariff” program (essentially a simple contract that pays a building owner cash for the solar power he or she generates).  And of course its transit-friendly towns mean people there are less dependent on cars for mobility.

But as this New York Times article makes clear, Germany is in to win it on bringing down the price of renewables, including solar and wind:

Germany’s relentless push into renewable energy has implications far beyond its shores. By creating huge demand for wind turbines and especially for solar panels, it has helped lure big Chinese manufacturers into the market, and that combination is driving down costs faster than almost anyone thought possible just a few years ago.

As a wealthy, industrialized nation, Germany is well-positioned to lead the world in spurring the development of decarbonizing technologies. They’ve used their wealth for good purposes:

The program has expanded the renewables market and created huge economies of scale, with worldwide sales of solar panels doubling about every 21 months over the past decade, and prices falling roughly 20 percent with each doubling. “The Germans were not really buying power — they were buying price decline,” said Hal Harvey, who heads an energy think tank in San Francisco.

Of course, Germany and the rest of Europe have a huge amount to lose as the climate worsens. But whatever the motivation (and it seems out of genuine concern over carbon emissions), the world may soon be glad Germany it taking these steps.

Long Overdue California Pilot To Replace Gas Tax With Mileage Tax

bgFederal and state gas tax revenue funds our highways, but the amount of money coming in has been shrinking dramatically.  Cars have become more fuel efficient and the tax isn’t linked to inflation.  States like Oregon have pioneered a mileage-based tax, and California may finally be joining.  A new bill to launch a pilot project is on the governor’s desk.  SB 1077 (DeSaulnier) would sign up volunteers to test out how the tax might work in practice:

DeSaulnier emphasized that his legislation does not seek to add a new layer of taxation. Instead, it aims find an alternative to what could become an obsolete gas tax so the state can avoid what’s been called a “fiscal cliff” for highway funds.

“I don’t think people understand what dire shape our transportation funding is in,” the senator said. “We need to find a different funding source.”

Privacy advocates are concerned about the government tracking our whereabouts, but the key here is to offer options, such as having tax officials check your odometer each year rather than track your actual driving in real time. Of more concern to me is the potential disincentive to buy a fuel-efficient car, since all cars might be taxed the same.  I would hope that any mileage-based tax provides discounts for electric vehicles, for example, until those technologies become widespread.

Cleaning The Grid With “Second Life” Electric Vehicle Batteries: Register Today For Webinar Next Friday, 10-11am

As California faces an increasing need for more energy storage to integrate variable renewables and provide other grid services, used electric vehicle batteries could be a critical – and inexpensive – part of the solution. Sales of electric vehicles in the United States are heading toward a quarter million, with 100,000 of those purchases in California. The thousands of batteries that will be coming out of the vehicles in the coming years will still retain significant capacity, although not enough to provide a sufficient electric driving range. These used, less expensive batteries can be stacked and repurposed by utilities and building owners to clean the grid and reduce costs. Plus, electric vehicle customers could see lower upfront prices if automakers factor in the long-term resale value of the batteries in the sale price.

UCSD "second life" EV battery demonstration project.  Courtesy of UC Regents/Rhett S. Miller.

UCSD “second life” EV battery demonstration project. Courtesy of UC Regents/Rhett S. Miller.

UCLA and UC Berkeley Schools of Law, with the support of Bank of America, will be releasing a new report next Wednesday on policies needed to help boost this market. The report resulted from a one-day convening at UCLA Law that included major automakers, renewable companies, battery experts, and public officials.

On Friday, September 19th, from 10 to 11am, UC Berkeley Law will host a live webinar, featuring representatives of the Governor’s Office and the California Public Utilities Commission to discuss the report findings. You can register here (space is limited). I hope you can join.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, The Most Powerful Judge In America, Speaks At Berkeley Law

Yesterday U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, the critical swing vote on almost every controversial case, spoke to students at UC Berkeley Law.  His topic was essentially how the Supreme Court works, and his talk provided some glimpses into the values and thought processes of one of the most powerful decision-makers in the country.

First, he spent some time describing the basic workings of the court, such as the schedule (like a semester system, with “term papers” due by June).  He also talked about the process of selecting cases and oral argument.  Of interest: he confirmed that the questions the justices ask during oral argument are often directed at their colleagues on the bench.  Since the justices never discuss a case before oral argument to avoid pre-judging the outcome among “cliques and cabals,” they ask questions like “isn’t it true you have standing under the Clean Water Act…” to signal to Justice Scalia (in Kennedy’s example) that you believe the court has jurisdiction, and so forth.

Kennedy said he is never nervous before oral argument because he prepares thoroughly and looks forward to the opportunity.  But he is nervous before the first conference where the justices discuss the cases.  Mostly he is afraid he will say something stupid about a case in front of his peers. He’s in favor of being “flexible” in his opinions to win votes, but he doesn’t see it as compromising principles.  Instead, he views it as making incremental progress, even citing a Harry Potter book he read to his grandkid in which Harry found a magical train to school and a whole new world on the previously hidden track number “9 3/4″ at the station, between tracks 9 and 10.

Justice Kennedy and Berkeley Law Dean Sujit Choudhry

Justice Kennedy and Berkeley Law Dean Sujit Choudhry

In 5-4 decisions in the conference, he said the real burden is then to write a decision that not only persuades the other justices but also the public. And in some instances, a written draft may actually lose a previously supportive justice.  The justice may tell him, ‘you know, I think I’ll wait now to read the dissent before deciding.’  I imagine some version of this process happened with Justice Roberts when he seemed to have switched his vote on the decision to uphold Obamacare at the last moment.

Kennedy was surprisingly funny at times, recalling one of his early cases in private practice involving a malfunctioning winch on a boat in the Oakland Estuary.  As a young attorney, he was shocked to see the esteemed federal judge break out in laughter when reading his opening brief: he had started it with: “A seaman working on a wench…”  Spell checking was not his forte, Kennedy admitted.

But Kennedy turned more serious when discussing the state of politics and culture in the country.  In short, he is quite concerned, even alarmed, at what he perceives to be the lack of civility in the country and even worse at the lack of appreciation among younger generations of our “heritage of freedom.”  He said our democracy is still vulnerable, people around the world are watching us, and it’s incumbent that we teach the younger generation to appreciate what we have.  He cited the example of a former communist country where democracy is breaking down and alarmingly, no one seems to care.  He also described how at least in communist Poland great thinkers went into teaching and instilled democratic values in students for decades, whereas our educational system is now lagging.

I found his sense of alarm surprising and something I don’t share to quite that degree.  Sure, there are lots of reason for pessimism about the state of the U.S.  But I don’t see our democracy as under threat from a sleep-walking public.  I think our governing institutions are basically working as intended.  The biggest problem may be political corruption from campaign contributors who have outsized influence on decision-makers, thereby subverting broad public opinion.  But if anything, Kennedy made that dynamic significantly worse with his Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to corporate money in politics.  We could certainly use political reforms and a better-educated citizenry, but I don’t think it’s as dire as Kennedy thinks.

I agree with Kennedy that “freedom” requires democracy or majority rule, but our system of government doesn’t guarantee freedom.  Our “heritage of freedom” was limited of course at first to certain white men, while democracy over the centuries here has co-existed with slavery, disenfranchisement of women, internment of Japanese Americans and systematic dispossession of Native Americans from their lands.  And the U.S. certainly hasn’t led the world in most freedom rankings, although we’re still doing better than most places.  By different global measures and studies, we’re tied for 23rd on press freedom, 12th on economic freedom, and 13 and 15th on democracy and corruption, respectively.  Not bad but could be better.  So should we really be worried about “preserving” our heritage?  Or should we be looking to expand freedom at home?  I would argue the latter, but Kennedy seems to suggest the former.

During Q&A, I got a chance to ask the justice about whether or not he would favor limited or shorter terms for justices, in order to improve the democratic accountability of the court.  (I once asked this question of Justice Ginsburg, who bristled at the thought of depriving the country of the final years of Justice Rehnquist or Stevens, although I later saw that Justice Breyer was open to the idea in principle.)  Kennedy first responded by blaming presidents and the nominating process, pointing out that presidents are appointing much younger justices than the historical norm, so they serve longer.  He sounded thoughtful on the issue but ultimately not in favor of limiting terms. He did note that in some countries they have forced judge retirements at certain ages.  Then he said that since his generation never got a president (World War II-era George H.W. Bush skipped to baby boomer Bill Clinton), he wanted to keep serving to represent his generation.  I found the answer odd given that his generation is plenty well-represented in Congress and among his fellow justices.  It struck me as a way to rationalize his not stepping aside after a long tenure.

Ultimately, my take away is that Kennedy is still very much a right-wing justice, despite his image as a moderate.  For example, his libertarian bent and alarm about “declining freedom” may have motivated his vote to overturn Obamacare as lacking justification under the Commerce Clause (a conclusion that flies against decades of court precedent and arguably the plain language of the clause).  He also showed almost no introspection about the lack of diversity on the court or any mistakes he might have made (“I would have changed some reasoning in some cases, but all my decisions were basically sound”).  But he’s unpredictable, as his time among Europeans abroad has convinced him that climate change is real, leading to his landmark Massachusetts v. EPA decision that forced the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases as a pollutant.  So in that sense, he’s not a lockstep conservative.  But temperamentally, and politically, he will continue to tack the court to the right.

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