Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Making progress on electric vehicles

Unhooking the world from fossil fuels is, and will continue to be, an enormously complex project.  The reason is simple—if you own a car that requires 89 octane gasoline to run, you must have that exact fuel or your car is merely an overpriced piece of conceptual art.  When you buy a piece of technology that requires energy to operate, you are also buying into the infrastructure that supplies that energy—whether you know it or not.

It turns out that electric vehicles (EVs) are comparatively easy to build—especially compared to those powered by gasoline.  Electric cars do not need 7-speed transmissions or stainless-steel exhaust systems.  Service requirements are minimal. Etc.  But manufacturing simplicity does not sell EVs.  The problem comes when the potential customer asks, "and where do I get the power for my car?"  It's a question the folks selling gasoline-powered cars simply do not need to answer.

Logically, one would expect the electric car folks to address the power problems in order to expend their market beyond the technology innovators.  And so it happens that EV manufacturers and dealers are doing just that.  In Iceland, a country with WAY more renewable energy than they know what to do with, they are setting up recharging stations (bought at a debt auction from Israel) that will cover the country and will recharge EVs for free.  In a land where gasoline runs over $8 a gallon, free will look especially attractive.  Elon Musk's contribution to the power problem comes in the form of a deal he just signed with Panasonic to build powerful batteries cheap enough so he can manufacture his proposed middle-class car.

Keep chipping away at the power problems and suddenly electric vehicles will become the obvious choice.  Of course, it still remains to be seen if we will chose to end our reliance on fire to generate electricity.  But that problem also has realistic solutions.  We have certainly not reached the stage where EVs are the only sane choice, but you can begin to smell it.

I keep writing that ONLY the Producers can save us from the problems of climate change / peak oil.  Well, this is how it will be done—the philosophy of continuous improvement tends to solve problems that no other organization or philosophy can.  And like Peirce's pragmatism, continuous improvement is a core philosophy of the Producers, and right now, we are the only ones who really understand either idea.

Iceland Plugs In (With EV Chargers From Israel)

Jim Motavalli  JUL 28, 2014

Iceland is poised to become the first country in the world fully wired for electric car charging, and it’s happening all at once, with Israel’s misfortune becoming Iceland’s gain. It helps, a lot, that Iceland has abundant clean electricity and is so small—the size of Kentucky, with only 325,000 people.

Huge resources of both hydroelectric and geothermal energy mean that Iceland has generating capacity far beyond what it can use itself. Right now a lot of the excess power is going to making aluminum for export, a dirty process. Since gasoline is very expensive in Iceland (approximately $8 a gallon), fueling with domestic power makes a whole lot of sense. A national effort to run Iceland on hydrogen fizzled out, in part because of the difficulty of getting fuel-cell cars onto the island, but EVs are readily available.

Gisli Gislason, the CEO of Reykjavik-based Northern Lights Energy and EVEN, tells me that he’s bought 200 240-volt charging poles from the flamboyant but now-defunct Better Place, which was to have turned Israel into an electric vehicle paradise. In a deal that splits Better Place’s considerable assets, Iceland gets the chargers and Renault takes back its 359 Fluence Z.E. cars set up for battery swapping. Liquidators have been trying to offload Better Place’s assets since last year, but two previous deals fell through.

EVEN is the main EV vendor in Iceland, selling the Tesla Model S, the Nissan Leaf and the Indian-made Mahindra Reva e2o. Since September 2013, Gislason says, 20 Leafs and 20 Model S have been sold. “We expect to put 250 new EVs on the road in the next 12 months. We’re seeing the same trend as in Norway—sales are booming.”

There aren’t many chargers now, but wiring the country won’t be a huge challenge. “The good thing about Iceland is that we have two thirds of the population in the capital of Reykjavik,” Gislason says. “There’s one 900-mile main road around the island, and only a few small towns off the road, but within 60 miles of it. I think 200 charging poles should do the job.” The company is close to a deal with a fuel retailer that would put chargers in gas station parking lots across Iceland.

“If this works out, EV owners in Iceland will not only be using the cleanest energy in the world, but also driving for free,” Gislason said. “Beat that.” more

Panasonic, Tesla agree to partnership for US car battery plant

July 29, 2014

OSAKA -- Panasonic has reached a basic agreement with Tesla Motors to participate in the Gigafactory, the huge battery plant that the American electric vehicle manufacturer plans to build in the U.S.

Tesla aims to begin the first phase of construction this fiscal year. The plant would start making lithium-ion cells for Tesla cars in 2017. The automaker is shouldering the cost for the land and buildings.

Panasonic likely will invest 20 billion to 30 billion yen ($194-291 million) initially, taking responsibility for equipping the factory with the machinery to make the battery cells. An official announcement on the partnership will come by the end of this month.

Capacity at the Gigafactory will be added in stages to match demand, with the goal of producing enough battery cells in 2020 to equip 500,000 electric vehicles a year.

The total investment is expected to reach up to $5 billion, and Panasonic's share could reach $1 billion.

The Japanese company owns a stake in Tesla and currently makes the batteries for Tesla cars. In a contract reworked in October 2013, the two agreed that Panasonic would supply Tesla with 2 billion battery cells between 2014 and 2017. more

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