Electricity for those on the move

Plug-ins and electric cars are a core climate solution, since electric drives are more efficient, easily powered by carbon-free energy and indeed far cheaper to operate per mile than gasoline, even when running on renewable power. And they are the key alt-fuel strategy needed to deal with the energy/economic security threat of rising dependence on imported oil and the inevitably grim impacts of peak oil (see “Why electricity is the only alternative fuel that can lead to energy independence“).  Since no one is going to build a serious hydrogen infrastructure in your lifetime, it’s great to the growing efforts to build an EV charging infrastructure, as discussed in this CAP repost.  The photo is of a group looking inside a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle’s gas tank parked on display outside San Francisco’s City Hall after a $1 billion network of electric car recharging stations that will dot the Bay area highways was announced on November 20, 2008.

Last year, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama said he wanted to see 1 million plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in the United States by 2015. General Motors responded by unveiling the Chevrolet Volt last week, a plug-in electric/gas hybrid that’s set to be available to the public in 2010. According to GM, the new Volt can achieve a city fuel economy of 230 miles per gallon based on unofficial development testing of “pre-production prototypes,” and it can function solely on electric mode “without having to use any gas.” Nissan also created a new prototype called the “Leaf.” The company says the car is 100 percent electric and reaches the equivalent of 367 mpg.

The companies claim the cars’ batteries can be recharged using electrical outlets at home, but if you’re in the city and need to power up, you’ll need to recharge somewhere. As a result, on-street recharging stations in cities are becoming more popular as electric car production takes off.

One clear example is the United Kingdom, which aims to meet Europe’s standards on air quality by discouraging the use of diesel-engineered vehicles, minibuses, and coaches, while promoting the purchase of electric plug-in cars. There are currently six models of electric cars, four electric van models, and electric bikes and scooters for sale there.

Central London‘s City of Westminster became one of the first councils to promote the use of electric cars with financial incentives and the installation of two recycled aluminum-made, on-street recharging stations. By increasing electric vehicle use, the city hopes to reduce air pollution that causes cardiopulmonary diseases and minor health problems like headaches and sore throats.

Other large cities in Europe are massively implementing electric vehicle, or EV, recharging points at public parking facilities. Madrid‘s City Hall this year approved the installation of 58 recharging points, available for free to EV car users, and signed an agreement with the Spanish Ministry of Industry to increase the use of electric cars. Other cities such as Seville, Barcelona, and Cuenca have followed Madrid’s example. Additionally, the Portuguese government pledged to install nearly 1,300 recharging points in 21 urban and rural sites by the end of 2011. Selected sites in Portugal would also include shopping centers, airports, hotels, and parking bays, to name a few.

Stateside, San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose have taken the lead in encouraging the use of electric vehicles by installing three charging stations this year as a “testing ground.” The new stations are part of a nine-step plan””enacted in December 2008″”by the aforementioned cities’ mayors to turn the Bay Area “into the electric vehicle capital of the United States.” The stations made by Coulomb Technologies have a cost of $1,000 to $2,000 for a business or municipality.

Like the City of Westminster, the Bay Area’s blueprint establishes government programs to promote the purchase of electric cars, to secure safe, standard electric outlets for charging low-voltage cars, and to link programs to regional transit and air quality programs, among other points.

Wisconsin’s Madison Gas and Electric, or MGE, has also purchased six on-street recharging units””called Chargepoints””for Madison, a university town, as part of a demonstration project this summer. The first Chargepoints unit, coupled with the six already available, will kick off by early 2010 and will have a subscription charging system. Other U.S cities that have mulled over the use of on-street recharging units include Hillsboro, OR; Chicago; and Tucson.

Advancing electric car use across our country and marrying it with on-street recharging stations will not only help ease our dependence on foreign oil””and thus bring relief to our wallets””but can also help reduce pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and fine particulates, increase the number of clean-energy jobs, and diminish the use of diesel-engineered vehicles.

19 Responses to Electricity for those on the move

  1. paulm says:

    My next car will be electric.

  2. paulm says:

    Commercial shipping begins in the Northeast Passage

    This year’s opening marks the fourth time in five years that the Northeast Passage has opened, and commercial shipping companies are taking note. Two German ships set off on August 21 on the first commercial voyage ever made through the Northeast Passage without the help of icebreakers. The Northeast Passage trims 4,500 miles off the 12,500 mile trip through the Suez Canal, yielding considerable savings in fuel. The voyage was not possible last year, because Russia had not yet worked out a permitting process. With Arctic sea ice expected to continue to decline in the coming decades, shipping traffic through the Northeast Passage will likely become commonplace most summers.

  3. Bob Wallace says:

    Nissan has said that once their 100 mile range LEAF is in full production there will be “lots” of charge stations installed.

    They have entered into agreement with eTec to install 12,750 charging stations in five states and 400 are in place. They are talking less than 20 minutes for an 80% charge.

    On board GPS will monitor battery charge and location of the nearest charge stations. The stations should be compatible with the needs of all EVs/PHEVs.

  4. J.A. Turner says:

    Ever since I saw “Who Killed the Electric Car?” I’ve been watching Detroit inch slowly in the direction of hybrids, PHEVs and EVs. Last December, I upgraded my 2008 Prius to be a plug-in, and I really love it! Even with the $10K cost of the battery pack, my plug-in hybrid Prius cost me less than what the Volt is expected to sell for, and I’m driving it NOW. I’ve been getting an average of 73 MPG since the upgrade (total miles divided by total gallons). If I could charge my car at work, I’d be getting more like 90 MPG. It’s pretty frustrating to see the glacial pace of change in Detroit. Plug-ins are something we need to be producing in the millions, but it’s just taking forever for the car companies to get their act together.

  5. Rick Covert says:

    I’ll buy the Volt if I can or convert an existing car from the information I derived from the late Bob Brant’s book “Build Your Own Electric Vehicle” and the Michael Brown Shari Prange book “Convert It”.

  6. Tom Kelley says:

    I find it very misleading to see you quote only the “low cost” for fueling an electric car, with no mention of the range problems for electric cars as well as the VERY high cost for the batteries. Talking about technology without addressing economics is not helpful. The cost of reducing CO2, in terms of $/ton is MUCH more expensive via electric cars when you consider total costs. Makes much more sense to shut down coal-fired power plants and continue to use gasoline and diesel for transportation. Do the math.

  7. ddodd says:

    According to the Pres/CEO of Audi, EVs, at $40,000+ are for “intellectual idiots” He should know, since Audi is the world leader of diesel powered vehicles which are cleaner and more fuel efficient (energy consumed per mile actually driven) than are your stupid EVs!

    Just a question: has anyone calculated the additional grid load required if 200,000,000 Americans come home in the evening and plug in their EVs to recharge them? I don’t think the wind or sun is very active then! A typical 20 amp battery charger (240 watts output) requires upwards to 500 watts input (Yes, they are less than 50% efficient). 500 watts x 200,000,000 users??? I smell smoke!

  8. ddodd says:

    #4 J.A. Turner: “If I could charge my car at work, I’d be getting more like 90 MPG.”

    Who is supposed to pay for that power you use from work? Or is it OK to steal it from your place of employment? Your solution also adds to the total grid burden and your 90mpg takes energy away from someone else!

  9. Bob Wallace says:

    Tom, the article is about where to plug and not about the cars themselves.

    Batteries are expensive, but that is believed to be largely an issue of manufacturing volume. When the annual number of units gets much higher rather than at the “prototype” levels of today prices are expected to drastically drop.

    And surprisingly, less CO2 per mile is pumped into the atmosphere by an EV running on 100% coal produced electricity than a similar size/weight ICE vehicle. That’s because coal plants are somewhat efficient and electric cars are very efficient. ICE engines waste a lot of energy.

    Then factor in the fact that we get less than 50% of our electricity from coal….

    dd – Audi is releasing an electric soon. Audi’s CEO doesn’t seem to know what his company is doing. Probably been standing too close to the tailpipe.

    As for charging, we’ve got lots of available power on the grid at night. Remember that the grid is sized for hot summer afternoons when people have their AC cranked way up high. Demand drops very significantly at night. Oak Ridge Labs did a study a few years back. And the wind does tend to blow harder at night.

    Charge your car at work? Well the consumer could pay. Could be a profit center for the business. Or the business might offer charging as a perk. After all, we’re talking about a buck’s worth of power per day.

    (30 miles @ 0.25 kWh per mile = 7.5 kWh @ $0.10 kWh – $0.75)

    Oh, and “real” battery chargers are 85%+ efficient. You’re thinking about those things people buy at the auto parts store.

  10. Bob Wallace says:

    Oh, dd, here’s something else to chew on.

    ICE cars waste about 80% of the energy in their fuel producing heat. About 20% of the energy gets to the wheels.

    Electric cars send about 90% of their energy to the wheels, wasting only 10% or so. Plus they use no energy when coasting or stopped. Well designed, they even recover energy when braking.

    It really is an electric future….

  11. Bill says:

    The picture at the top of this article is exactly what is wrong with the whole approach the media and the electric car manufacturers themselve have taken so far: See the pretty blue daisy symbols painted on the side of the car?

    Can we please lose the damn daisy symbols? And all the other hippy-trippy, eco-freak, greenpeace radical chic symbols and other crap? Make the cars look sexy and hot. Sell the sizzle first and then talk about the fuel savings and emissions reductions as gravy. This is what has sold cars in the past and it is what will sell cars in the future. Electric cars should be presented and marketed just like any other cars, but with extra bragging rights because of the green stuff. But first you make the consumers desperately want to buy the thing, even if they have to go into debt for 7 years to do it.

    This is all elementary Marketing 101 and yet the media and the electric manufactures keep missing it.

  12. Bob Wallace says:

    Marketing approaches…

    “Make the cars look sexy and hot.”

    Cars for guys with deep pockets and expanding bald spots.
    (Tesla’s got that covered.)

    “hippy-trippy, eco-freak, greenpeace radical chic symbols”

    Cars for happy eco-friendly folks. The people who will buy EVs first.

    “just like any other cars”

    Cars for grumpy Republicans who don’t want their neighbors to know that they bought an electric.

    And people wonder how GM ended up with so danged many brands….

  13. vfx says:

    Well if you want sexy look at Tesla Motors. Their (expensive) Roadster does not get any sexier. Their Model S sedan coming out is a much lower luxury car/SUV price and is totally electric.

    Also, if all the cars in the world were running on electricity then we would have stopped using all the electricity used in searching for oil, drilling for oil, figting wars over oil, shipping oil (oil tankers use about 2000 gallons of fuel per hour or 84,000 KWH ). We could stop using MASSIVE amounts of electricity in refining oil (the electricity used to refine oil alone would power cars further than what’s in the rest of the barrel). We could stop using that fuel to do the above listed and of course stop the transport of gasoline to filling stations, and pumping that fuel into cars. The amount of electricity used to create a gallon of gasoline can easily power any electric car to go much further and cleaner than any internal combustion engine that will ever be made.

    I agree with the silly flower graphics and Joe is pretty savvy in marketing so I would wonder what he would say about the choice of little people when trying to “normalize” electric vehicles that are already seen as unusual.

  14. Nancy says:

    To Bill and vfx,

    Do you have your glasses on? The “pretty blue flowers” are supposed to indicate wind turbines……a future where you drive your plug-in car into your garage and power it overnight with electricity from wind turbines.

    I like the image. It says a lot (but only to those who see it).


  15. Christian says:

    To All,

    To think that an Electric vehicle has no impact is just marketing jargon that has no place in the discussion. We need to move away from the MPG rating system to something akin to the carbon impact per mile system being thrown about in Europe. This would need to be combined with a consumer cost mile rating which would then give a clearer picture as to the impact to both the environ. and the consumers wallet.


  16. I actually just took some photos of the charging stations in London for my blog:

    As someone who gets to spend a lot of time in London I’ve seen the charging posts they have in Westminster and was really impressed. Mobile charging is going to be an extremely important part of the transition to EVs and so its great to see a gesture like this to put functional models on the street. Even if a lot of details need to be worked out, actions like these will make progress quicker and raise awareness, I believe.

    Thanks – Excellent Blog.

  17. Bob Wallace says:

    Christian, I agree that the MPG rating does not work well for EVs and PHEVs. But it has a “hit you in the face with the energy savings” value. A 200, 300 MPG shouts at the less informed “This thing really is different!”.

    A window sticker could give MPG in great big eye-catching numbers and in smaller print a cost/carbon comparison for two or three different driver styles. Say a ‘short commuter’ who rarely drives more than 40 miles per day, a ‘moderate city tripper’ who drives more miles but few at consistant highway speeds, and a ‘long hauler’ who makes longer highway trips when they are out and about.

    For the contemplating shopper there needs to be a convenient way to calculate their actual fuel/electrical costs per year. Because of different driving habits, one number will not fit all, especially with hybrids.

    I can see a touch screen computer near by that let’s one plug in their annual miles driven, percentage estimate of trips 40 miles, and estimate of percentage of city/highway mileage.

    Then select the vehicles being considered and get an annual fueling cost and carbon output. And a spreadsheet that lets them look forward as to cost at different fuel prices.

  18. J4zonian says:

    For all you nay sayers/possible trolls (ddodd, i’m talkin to you) the most glorious beauty of electric vehicles is the ecological system they create with wind and solar power. Solar and wind are intermittent–although this is overstated by some, since solar is most available at peak (air conditioning/active) times and sun and wind are complementary in many places, with peaks at different times of day and year.

    Even better, with EVs under solar-panel-roofed parking lots at work and shopping areas the sun powers the cars and the cars act as mobile storage batteries. It could be given as a work perk or shopping incentive, or as is likely in our hyper-commercial, corporate-ridden society, paid for. In many places wind is abundant in winter and at night, so home wind generators would complete the triangle. At times of abundance the car’s excess energy could be used to power other activities. Imagine a drive-in movie powered by the cars driving in… free to anyone who provides 1 1/2 hours of juice.

    Architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser said all the earth covered with buildings, roads, parking lots, etc. should be returned to natural function by covering the covering with soil supporting a locally appropriate set of flora and fauna. I think a reasonable alternative is to stack functions (a basic Permaculture principle) and make every lot, building and roadway perform at least 2 functions.

    Almost as good as not driving the damn things in the first place and not needing most of the roads and parking.

  19. jjr says:

    Just want to add to the list of cities looking at publically accessable charging units – Houston. Yup, even the oil capitol of the US sees value in electric vehicles.