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On The Case for Electric Vehicles, Part 2: EV Costs

I would agree with Clayton below, the new Tesla Model D is taking on the McLaren F1 for 0-60 performance. 3.2 seconds can't be ignored and will get better. And battery swap is faster than filling a tank of liquids, so in a race scenario with battery swap allowed it would be an unfair advantage for the EV versus an ICE.

I don't see battery pack weights being a problem, in the Tesla the battery mounted on the underside of the frame lowers the center of gravity and improves the handling. Plus so many heavy components have been removed, engine, transmission, radiator, exhaust system, etc. So I think the weight issue is a wash.

The relevant calculation for comparing fuel costs is to compare vehicles of like size and weight and see what it costs to move them, I think that is basically what the eGallon does. Using fleet averages or assumptions about vehicle choice makes for apples and oranges.

For air pollution, I don't explicit numbers either, but not all vehicles have modern engines or are in good maintenance. I am a big proponent of natural gas for heavy duty vehicles since a big part of reducing pollution is to have cleaner fuels, synfuels are good in this regard as well. But even natural gas has some emissions, particularly when the engine is out of tune and it doesn't take a lot of data to see that zero emissions will result in big improvements in air quality.

October 17, 2014    View Comment    

On The Case for Electric Vehicles, Part 2: EV Costs

Schalk, you present good numbers, though I don't agree on our estimate for EV fuel cost savings. The data I referenced on eGallons from DOE are coming in at a third of the cost of gasoline, and I thought those numbers were conservative. Anecdotal stories have claimed electricity at 1/4 of 1/5 the cost of gasoline. But that is only one factor in the growth of EV's. Dramatically reduced maintenance on EV's is also important.

Even more though, I would say that it is the improved driving performance plus zero emissions that really will push EV's into the mainstream. Driving the Tesla was a real eye opener for me. My impression of EV's had always been that of oversized golf carts with sluggish performance, but now I see that you can do things with an EV's that simply cannot be done with ICE vehicles. It is not unrealistic to imagine 4 separate motors on each wheel, all computer controlled, enabling maneuvers and acceleration that are impossible in a conventional vehicle.  You mentioned in another post about F1 and Le Mans races, I have no doubt now that EV race cars in a few years will completely wipe out the ICE competition head to head, and at that point there will be no going back.

Zero emissions, leave the carbon discussion aside which gets mired in complex assumptions and modeling and just look at objective health issues from air pollution. Zero emission EV's will save lives and that alone is worth public investment in charging infrastructure.

Battery depreciation can be addressed in a couple of different ways. Batteries are easily swappable, 90 seconds in the Tesla, and will have long term value in stationary applications beyond their lives in vehicles. Maintenance contracts, battery swap deals, leases, there are numerous potential business models that would allow consumers to avoid large cash outlays for replacement batteries. It is even conceivable that battery swap services become common and consumers don't even worry about owning the battteries. Wireless companies figured out how to make expensive smart phones affordable through subsidies and long term contracts, creative financing can help solve battery cost issues.

October 16, 2014    View Comment    

On When Do EVs Become Competitive? Answers From Norway


Norway is doing the world a favor by taking a lead and helping to subsidize early EV deployments. There are many reasons why governments should consider subsidizing EV's, primarily the public health benefits of zero emissions vehicles, particularly in cities where vehicle exhaust is major cause of illness. Secondly, breaking the grip of petroleum on transportation is a worthy energy security goal. Third, EV's are a technology whose time has come, they are the digitilization of the auto and offer so much more performance in a simpler, more efficient, and ultimately cheaper package that they will leave gasoline vehicles in the past. Charging infrastrcuture is straightforward to build out, and it is really just the cost of batteries and their life cycle business models that need to mature. 

October 14, 2014    View Comment    

On The Case for Electric Vehicles, Part 1: The Driving Experience

Schalk, I address battery costs in the second article, but I'd argue that $100 per kWh is a perfectly reasonable price. A 300 mile range 100 kW battery would be $10,000 and creative financing through leasing, battery swap or maintenance programs could allow car owners to be relieved of the burden of large cash outlays for replacements. The batteries should be replaced with 75-80% of its capacity and still have value in stationary applications. And lithium ion batteries can be recycled. I think the business models for the batteries are manageable but still emerging.

As for driving experience, EV's will be soon driving circles around today's high performance sports cars. The all electric drive train is so much more powerful that it is not even a contest. And as EV's mature they will bring driverless capability along, so I see the auto of the future as completely electric and automated and today's gasoline cars go the way of the horse and buggy. As you move up in horsepower demands you add on generators/fuel cells/turbines that use fuel. 

October 14, 2014    View Comment    

On The Future of Energy: Will 'Cheap as Dirt' Batteries Transform the Grid?


Lithium-ion battery prices are less than $200 per kWh and dropping. The industry is aiming for $100 per kWh. The market for second hand batteries coming out of EV's could be very attractive for distributed storage. Ultimately the batteries can be completely recycled and remanufactured.

The real value for batteries is time shifting from one time of day to another depending on pricing. You can see this with solar PV in particular. If you project forward to a time when there is high penetration of rooftop solar then all the PV in a region is producing power at the same time, flooding the grid with supply and presumably lowering real time prices. Distributed storage allows those electrons to be buffered and released at more favorable times. 

The intermittency of wind and solar offers an obvious use for battery storage, but production from natural gas could also get in the game as spot prices fluctuate and market participants seek opportunities for price arbitrage.

Real time power pricing data is a critical missing link.

October 13, 2014    View Comment    

On The Future of Energy: Will 'Cheap as Dirt' Batteries Transform the Grid?

The growth in the battery market for grid applications will surely be coupled to the growth of electric vehicles. Battery costs are the primary variable keeping EV's expensive, and the knockon effect of lowering battery costs for EV's (i.e. Tesla's Gigafactory) will be an expansion of lowcost lithium-ion batteries for stationary applications, particularly as used batteries are traded in for new ones. Tesla is actively pusuing this market.

The real benefit of distributed battery storage is not that it enables renewables to replace centralized power plants, quite the opposite, in a world of growing energy demand we need all the clean energy sources we can get, conventional, nuclear and renewable.

Distributed battery storage, especially if it can be coupled with real time pricing data, enables time shifting and price arbitrage by buffering power for a few hours from periods of high supply/low price to other times of day when the prices are better. It should also enable greater grid reliability and fewer outages.

Just as the internet changed broadcast media from a one-way hub and spoke model to a two-way web model, distributed power generation offers a corollary. Big power plants aren't going away, but they will be cohabitating the power grid with power produced from the edges. The key to making this work nicely is buffering capacity (batteries) and pricing data that allows participants to know when to store and when to release power. 

October 13, 2014    View Comment    

On Explaining Carbon Capture and Storage

Excellent video. CCUS is definitely a requirement. The beauty of it is that supercritical CO2 in a pipeline is extremely useful with all sorts of interesting properties, from use in oil recovery, to cooling and refrigeration, in micro-turbines, as a solvent and chemical building block. CO2 is a commodity and carbon utilization is an enormous new industry to be had. A carbon price is critical in tipping the financial incentives to make it worthwhile to capture CO2 and sell it rather than dump it as effluent. 

October 6, 2014    View Comment    

On SaskPower Unveils First Commercial-Scale, Coal-Fired Power Plant to Capture Carbon

It is good news that Boundary Dam is finally up and running. This is one of the cleanest coal power plants in the world, capturing and utilizing essentially all of the emissions. The sulfur is turned into byprodcucts and so is the ash waste. 

The CO2 capture is very significant as well since this plant is a high profile test site for the entire industry to judge how retrofits on existing power plants can work. CO2 for EOR has enormous and generally underappreciated potential for soaking up many gigatons of CO2. It is good for everyone for Boundary Dam to be a success and model for how other power plants can be upgraded for carbon capture.

October 1, 2014    View Comment    

On Should Electricity Distribution Utilities Build, Own, and Operate Microgrids For Their Customers?

There is certainly a role for new utility business models and engineering architectures in power production. Part of the problem we see currently is some utilities holding tight to status quo regulated business models with their mandated profit margins. In order to facilitate the growth of new power architectures such as micro-grids, but also other forms of distributed power and storage, the regulatory business models need to be challenged and evolved. 

There is an implicit bargain in utility business models, both for electricity and telecom, where the utility is required to serve all customers no matter how far away or unprofitable in return for regulated pricing and overall profit margins. This model did its job in the 20th century to electrify the country and provide phone service everywhere with great benefit to society.

Now these old business models are straining against the evolution of technology and pollution. Wireless cellular service has allowed telecoms to transcend traditional phone line service and the companies lobbied successfully to be not required to provide equal service everywhere. There are good arguments for and against this regulatory shift but some of the results are clear: service providers are now far more nimble to advance the technology and provide new services that are popular with customers, but at the same time certain geographies and populations are being left out because it is too expensive and unprofitable for providers to build infrastructure there.

A similar pattern is emerging with renewables and microgrids. Some power utilities are not even allowed under current rules to do things like provide rooftop solar to customers, and others would presumably have regulatory challenges in providing microgrids as well. There are many technical advantages to distributed power and microgrids, but they come with added upfront costs which need to be hashed out on a case-by-case basis. Good justifications for investment include improved reliability, fuel diversification, reduced GHG, local business arrangements, and others. But these evaluations are made more complex with tight regulatory regimes.

In my opinion we need to evolve the social contract that drove these 20th century regulatory regimes for the 21st. We need more thoughtful public-private partnerships that both allow the service providers more flexibility in the investments they want to make so the technology and business models can move forward, while at the same ensuring that the poor and less affluent are not left behind. Otherwise we will see wealthy areas served with high quality electric power and telecom capacity while the poor scrape by, like it is in the third world, and I don't think that is a result we desire.

September 16, 2014    View Comment    

On Plastic Bags, Nuclear Waste and a Toxic Planet

Both plastic bags and nuclear waste (at least most of it) are recylcable. Rather than banning these materials we should be seeking ways to incentivize their reuse. We do have serious waste issues that need to be addressed, but I am leery of simply banning things just because we don't like them. Nature is a zero waste system where the output of every process is the input of a new process, this is the model we should be seeking to emulate, not banning useful stuff.

Polyethelene plastics are worth their weight as fuel or can be recycled again and again. We have developed processes for recycling glass and aluminum that are highly effective, but it requires an investment in infrastructure and municipal processes for collection. Low grade plastics don't offer as high of an immediate financial return which makes the economics more challenging, but it is well within our technical means to capture plastics and put them to good use. Deposits on glass bottles have proven to be an effective means of incentivizing glass recylcing, perhaps a similar model could be implemented for plastic. If people saw plastics on the ground as having financial value they would surely be picked up.

Nuclear waste is a more complex topic that others can speak to more eloquently than I, but in principle today's nuclear waste is tomorrow's nuclear fuel. It may well take decades to get fuel reprocessing and breeder reactors to be commercially viable, but in the mean time it would seem to me that leaving the nuclear waste in dry caskets until the technology is ready is as good a solution as any. If we can effectively use the partially utilized uranium we already have on hand we would have centuries worth of fuel available.

September 3, 2014    View Comment    

On Can an Economy Develop Without Coal?

David, you aptly describe the challenge of attempting to move beyond fossil fuels. Coal in particularly is, and remains, the backbone of the industrial revolution. For all the effort being put forth from various corners no one has been to adequately describe how any country is able to leapfrog the use of coal in the development of industry. Going straight to wind turbines and solar panels may be adequate for home lighting but it is not a recipe for developing heavy industry, manufacturing or any serious energy intensive activities. Natural gas offers certain advantages but requires much more elaborate infrastructure. When starting from scratch coal is the natural starting point because it is relatively easy to work with.

You mention Japan and the Netherlands who developed despite having large resource bases, they made up for their lack of resources through aggressive imperialism. Sending their militaries, colonists and traders to bring resources back from foreign locations. Hardly a recipe for modern development, particularly if you don't have anything of value to trade but do posess coal. 

August 5, 2014    View Comment    

On Prepare for High Energy Growth, Climate Experts Warn


It reminds me of the investigations into using supercritical CO2 for turbines instead of steam. Sc-CO2 is a very interesting working fluid which I find encouraging in the pursuit of carbon utilization opportunities. 

July 28, 2014    View Comment