Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Future Of Electric Vehicles

This is an article speculating upon advanced cars of the future, looking at the near-future (5 years), mid-future (10 years), and longer-future (15-20 years) future. I say “advanced” cars because of course not all features appear everywhere instantly: typically, there are some vehicles that are early adopters of new technology, and conventional vehicles may continue to be made well after the advent of new technology (consider a comparison of the technologies in my four-wheel vehicles: a Nissan Leaf and a Dodge Caravan). The speculation is my own, and while I try to stay abreast of interesting technology, I may mistake optimism for probability.

I believe the main drivers in vehicle development are consumer market pressure, competitive pressure, and technological advances, in that order. But, even if pure technological improvement is not the main driver, I think we are moving toward a period where consumer expectation, competitive manufacturers, and greater opportunity for funded research is moving the automotive industry toward faster implementation of new technologies.

Generally speaking, there are 5 leading factors in vehicle purchases: 1. Purchase-price bang for the buck in that price bracket; 2. Style / status / brand perception; 3. Efficiency; 4. Performance; 5. Safety (and of course, the order varies with the purchaser). However, as car prices continue to increase, as the length of car ownership continues to increase, and the influence of informational sources like Consumer Reports and internet reviews continue to increase, I believe that as we go forward it is likely that consumers will become more concerned with long-term bang for the buck, often referred to as “total cost of ownership.” I trust that this shift will be good for technological improvement, which provides greater efficiency, safety, and lower long-term costs.

Here is a critical truth: the average car sold today costs about $30,000, will burn about 500 gallons of gas a year, and will be on the road for at least 10 years, and so in its lifetime it will burn at least 5000 gallons of gas. Historically, over the past couple of decades gas has gone up about 12% a year. Therefore, using a rough conservative average value of $7.00/gallon over its lifetime, fueling the average car will cost about $35,000 – more than the car’s purchase price. Clearly, buyers should understand the significance of efficiency and total cost of ownership.

An electric vehicle (“EV”) can be either a pure battery–powered electric vehicle like the Nissan Leaf, or one that carries an engine as a generator to make it an Electric Vehicle with Extended Range (“EV-ER”) like the Chevy Volt. EVs are far more efficient than any gas or hybrid vehicle measured by any metric, including miles per gallon (or “miles per gallon equivalent” (“MPGe”) for EVs), carbon dioxide pollution per mile, or total cost of ownership. While there are interesting potential developments regarding engines, there are far more potential developments regarding EVs, and therefore I will be focusing my technology speculation primarily on EVs. (If you would like to review an earlier article I’ve written speculating on EV-ER engines / generators, please read the following: http://jungreislaw.blogspot.com/2011/05/best-ev-er-electric-vehicle-with.html.)

EVs will benefit from advancements primarily in the following areas: batteries; motors; construction; electronic management; and charging (particularly involving public charging stations, the equivalent of public gas stations). I have no doubt that as these areas improve – especially battery technology – EVs will become more and more common, and will eventually become the most common vehicles on the road. This also dovetails nicely with the advent of more renewable electricity generation, so that these EVs will be able to drive without producing any pollution (on a limited basis, the future is already here: I have solar modules on my home, and so my EV drives pollution-free – and, as the solar system will soon be paid off in savings, cost free!).

In the near future (in approximately 5 years), we may see the following advancements:

1. Batteries: Lithium batteries with silicon-based cathodes, which can absorb many lithium ions and therefore would provide the battery with dramatically more energy storage. There are many “flavors” of lithium battery chemistry: today, relatively common lithium chemistry can contain around 133 watt hours/kilogram (wh/kg). This is about enough energy to drive an EV half a mile. With silicon cathodes, the energy density would likely be around 400 wh/kg – three times better than today’s common batteries. With a 400wh/kg battery, a 150 mile range battery pack will only weigh about 220 pounds. (It would actually weigh more due to necessary battery reserve, pack containment, thermal management, etc., but I want to try to keep this simple.)

In order to build silicon-based cathodes, it is likely that nano-sized silicon will be contained in porous ceramics or other materials that allow for sufficient surface area and yet keep the silicon from physically crushing itself as it expands when absorbing the lithium ions. Also interesting is that such a cathode, with a lot of usable surface area, will enable greater power-release and power-acceptance. This means that even a small battery pack, such as that found in EV-ERs, could provide adequate power to accelerate quickly, and allow a maximum amount of regenerated (braking) electricity to be put back into the battery.

Lastly, it is likely that a non-flammable version of lithium electrolyte will become common, and thereby enable greater efficiency at the temperature extremes of vehicle operations, as well as potentially lighten and simplify battery pack cooling systems.

2. Motors: Non-precious-metal motors are smaller and cheaper. While some EV motors in production are already using non-precious-metals, such as Tesla’s AC Induction motor, many still use precious metals. It is likely that the industry will move entirely away from precious metal designs. While this may entail some small tradeoffs in size, weight, and efficiency, it has the advantage of broader powerbands, ensuring that no transmissions will be needed.

3. Construction: More of the vehicle’s components will be made from aluminum and high-strength steel construction. This will serve to lighten the vehicle, and low weight is the key to efficiency and performance. Vehicles basically use energy to accelerate, to push through the air, and to overcome friction. Friction is the least concern, and in any event friction technologies are already good and will continue to make some headway (ex: lower friction tires). As for pushing through the air, this is a concern when driving at highway speeds.

But the lower the weight, the less energy it takes to accelerate, and acceleration is when a vehicle uses the highest amount of power. Obviously, though, you don’t want to make a car out of balsa wood, as it would not protect its passengers (and flexing would make it handle badly). Therefore, building a vehicle from strong but light components is critical. Here, there are numerous interesting developments in improved metal alloys, such as better aluminum and better steel, and improved construction techniques such as welding steel and aluminum together and employing powerful bonding agents, that will allow lighter and more rigid chassis, suspension elements, and body parts.

4. Electronic Management: There are numerous developing advances in plotting directions, maximizing safety through electronic controls of vehicle dynamics, and driver and user interfaces that will make driving easier, safer, and more convenient. Many of these advances are probably going to be common to both EVs and conventional cars, but as EVs are necessarily computers on wheels, the advances will integrate more fully and seamlessly in EVs.

5. Charging: There will be development of real-time information for plotting, locating, and reserving charging station used to recharge EVs. We will see continued charging station expansion, hopefully accompanied by cross-platform user-interface standardization. These advances, in additional to standardization of charging system protocols and vehicle-to-internet networking, will encourage EV owner confidence that their EVs will be able to successfully charge in more and more places across the country.

Looking ahead to the mid-future (in approximately 10 years), we may see the following advancements:

1. Batteries: Lithium sulfur, lithium salt-water, or possibly lithium air batteries. It is as yet unclear which of these batteries will develop into the most accepted technology, but it is hoped that one of these chemistries, or perhaps another form of lithium-based battery chemistry, will leave the laboratories and become a commercial product. These batteries promise over 1000 wh/kg, which would enable 600 mile trips with a battery weighing around 350 pounds. (Lithium, the lightest of metals, has a theoretical capacity of about 10,000 wh/kg, and while that theoretical limit cannot be approached these appear to be the best of several avenues for taking maximum practical advantage of that capacity).

2. Motors: It is possible that switched reluctance motors, which may even be built with iron-embedded plastic manufacturing, will enable very inexpensive, light, powerful motors from common materials. The key to the development of such motors will be tremendously accurate and powerful controllers that can transition electrical energy through the motor with precise timing and amounts. An additional advantage is that these motors should be able to operate at lower temperatures, potentially simplifying the cooling system.

3. Construction: The use of carbon fiber, slowly moving into high-end vehicles right now, should be widespread for many vehicle parts (possibly including even engine parts). Because the material is much lighter than equivalent metal parts, it will be a great advantage for all vehicles, enabling the drivetrain to be smaller and/or to accelerate the vehicle faster. Also, carbon fiber works fantastically for passenger protection (modern race cars are made of carbon fiber and provide excellent driver protection).

4. Electronic Management: There will be, for both EVs and conventional cars, increased ability to engage semi-autonomous driving – that is, the car can drive itself to some degree. There are already cars that park themselves, and that warn the driver of blind-spot traffic and when slipping out of a lane on the highway. However, EVs are more readily capable to more deeply use autonomous driving, as they all have telemetrics that enable the vehicles to communicate in real time with the internet. Therefore, EVs are candidates to be able to connect with one another and move in concert. This would be quite valuable on highways: it is well known that 25% or more of the energy of highway travel can be saved by driving vehicles closely nose-to-tail. Of course, for humans to drive just a few feet from the vehicle in front of it at highway speeds would be unacceptably dangerous. However, when all the vehicles are in constant communication, they can run in very close formation and act as a single unit for purposes of braking and accelerating, and allow individual vehicles to enter into and drop out of the “train.”

5. Charging: With improved batteries that accept electricity quickly, charging will take less time – if the charging station is up to the task of pumping all that electricity in quickly. It may be hoped that there will be a fast-charging standard of at least 100KW. Using such a charging station, for every minute that the EV is plugged in it can drive about 6 miles – this means that in an hour, the car would receive enough electricity to drive 360 miles.

Also, induction mats, already starting to come on the market now, will be designed into garages and parking structures in the future, so that EVs will be able to charge without the driver ever having to touch anything. The induction mats allow the vehicle to wirelessly receive power when parking over them, freeing the driver from ever having to even have to think about charging unless they are taking long trips or park on the street.

Lastly, it will likely be the case that EVs will share their battery’s storage of electricity with utilities (known as “vehicle to grid” integration). In this way, homes can be powered by the EV during the hours of the day when electricity it most expensive and hardest for the utilities to produce, and EV batteries will store electricity at night when it is plentiful and inexpensive. Utilities will also be able to buy back electricity stored in the EVs, and in that way the EV may partially pay for itself (as well as enable the cleanest possible electrical grid).

Looking ahead to the longer-future (in approximately 15-20 years), we may see the following advancements:

1. Batteries: While it is still quite early to know what will be its ultimate uses, the wonder material of the 21st century appears to be graphene. It is a single sheet of carbon atoms, and it is being investigated for several electricity-based applications, as the basis for ultra-strong materials construction, even as a scaffold for growing organ tissue, and more. For purposes of storing electricity, graphene seems to be able to quickly absorb tremendous amounts of electrons, hold them without significant loss, and then release them just as quickly. In this way, graphene seems most like a superdupercapacitor. Capacitors generally differ from batteries in their ability to efficiently hold an electrical charge and then quickly release it: they have high power density, however they generally cannot hold as much energy as a battery and thus have lower energy density. But, at some point, the line between energy density and power density blurs, and so whether graphene might ultimately be seen as a battery or as a capacitor is irrelevant.

There are a number of government, government-funded, and private laboratories that have only recently begun serious investigation of graphene, and so we are still far from seeing the final form that it might take, let alone a commercial production mechanism. Still, graphene looks to be the most interesting possibility for truly dense electricity storage. One calculation holds that graphene batteries could have an energy density of over 7000 wh/kg. If this were proved true, then a mere 110 pound battery would enable a car to travel over 1300 miles.

2. Motors: For many years we’ve heard promise of possible superconducting materials, which would have nearly no resistance and consequently would allow for very small, very light, and very powerful motors. Unfortunately, the superconductors that exist require significant efforts to keep them at very cold temperatures. However, as technology marches along, we may be starting to approach the era when high temperature superconductors could become real, as research is now focusing on non-metal high temperature superconductors. And, it is also possible that wires and motor parts may be made from our new hero, graphene, which has been demonstrated to have very low resistance to electrical transmission. And, with superconductors we’d see small, light motors that could be mounted in the wheels, thereby allowing for much more flexible vehicle chassis design without compromising ride dynamics.

3. Construction: Given the progress that has been made into commercialization of carbon fiber materials, it is possible that the logical extension of this development will result in (you guessed it) graphene-based construction materials. Such materials would be remarkably light and strong. And, as pure carbon atoms, they would also be perfectly recyclable.

And while we’re still talking about graphene, let’s look at some other properties it has that might help tomorrow’s cars. It has no band gap, and so it might make an ideal thin photovoltaic cell to absorb solar energy. These solar cells could power the vehicle by covering all surfaces, including the windows. Why would you be able to put it on the windows? Because as a single sheet, it is functional, flexible, and also nearly transparent. Remarkable.

4. Electronic Management: It is likely that, in a couple of decades, the concept of networked equipment will be so ubiquitous that you can assume that all vehicles will be fully autonomous. Tell it where to go, and it will take you there, all the while talking to other vehicles on the road to drive with the greatest efficiency and assure your safe arrival. It will park itself, interact with the grid in whatever way the grid computer thinks is best, and come get you wherever you wander. This will be very convenient. And so ridiculously complex that only the controlling computers will understand how it is all being managed.

5. Charging: With batteries capable of holding large charges, charging will become much easier, as there will be less of a need to charge at any specific place or time. Therefore, when the vehicle thinks it should charge, perhaps with its autonomous control if it is not parked where it can charge it will know to drive itself over to the charge station and be back before you could miss it. In other words, the need to charge will no longer be your concern.

It is a bright and efficient future. I look forward to its arrival, so that we can put all this carbon-based energy behind us in favor of clean renewable energy. Then, we will be putting this endlessly cycle-able carbon where it belongs: not in the air, but into the vehicle itself.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

ELECTRIC CAR and HOME SOLAR: Drive Free, Drive Clean, Be A Patriot -- My Own Story

Electric Car Facts:
• The average gasoline car costs about $2800/year in fuel and maintenance costs.
• Electric cars cost $250-$1200/year for “fuel” and need virtually no maintenance.
• Electric cars are smoother, quieter, perform better, don’t leak or smell, and no more gas stations.
• Electric cars travel 75-300 miles: you charge in your garage at home and at work by plugging it in.
• The cost of gasoline has gone up about 300% in the last decade, and it will eventually run out.

Home Solar Facts:
• You can buy a home solar system; or have it financed so that you just buy electricity for less.
• A home solar system cost for your home and electric car requirements might be $10,000-$20,000.
• Home solar systems are guaranteed for 25 years, and are expected to work for 40 years.
• In last decade electricity has increased about 100% in cost, while home solar has decreased 50%.
• Solar owners “sell” valuable electricity to the utility in the day; “buy” cheap electricity at night.

Drive Clean:
• Since the industrial revolution approximately 150 years ago, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased nearly 50%.
• For most, cars are their biggest source of carbon dioxide, producing about 10,000 pounds a year.
• An electric car powered by solar energy (or other renewable energy) produces no carbon dioxide.
• In California, even without having a home solar system, the utility pollution from generating the electricity for an electric car is only about 10% of that produced by burning gasoline in your car.
• U.S. health costs related to fossil fuel pollution is $120 billion/year; the costs associated with global warming are $2 trillion/year.
• It takes electricity to make gasoline: amazingly, an electric car can travel further on the electricity used to make a gallon of gasoline than that gallon of gasoline will take an average car.
• Because of the efficiency of electric cars (they are about 85-90% efficient, compared to gasoline cars that are about 20-30% efficient), even if the electricity used by it was produced by burning coal, an electric car will still be cleaner than a gasoline car.

Be A Patriot!
• All renewable energy is domestic, and it is the fastest-growing source of domestic employment.
• OPEC makes over $1 trillion/year -- 1/3 of that goes to Saudi Arabia. Saudis committed 9/11.
• The single largest import in the United States is oil; we spend hundreds of billions of dollars each year buying it from foreign nations, weakening the value of the dollar.
• U.S. defense expenditures total over $1 trillion/year -- more than all discretionary spending.
• Since the oil embargos of the 1970s, we have fought three wars: Persian Gulf (Kuwait), Afghanistan, and Iraq. We have sacrificed thousands of American lives and our soldiers have sustained tens of thousands of permanent crippling injuries. We have spent trillions of dollars fighting these wars. It is absolutely no coincidence that these wars have all been fought in the Middle East, helping secure the oil spigots that the U.S. is dependent upon.
• The staggering cost of keeping an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf the last 30 years: $7.3 trillion (about half of our current national debt!).
• CIA Director James Woolsey said it most simply: AWe are paying for the terrorists with our SUVs.”

Our Home Solar and Electric Car Economics:
*Our home solar system cost $12,500, and it makes about 5000KWH of electricity a year (in the fog!). Our home uses about 4500KWH a year. Our electric Nissan Leaf uses about 3000KWH a year to drive about 10,000 miles. Yet, even though we are only making 5000KWH but using 7500KWH, our net cost is $0: this is because with “Time Of Use” metering the value of the electricity we generate is on average about 50% more than the value of the electricity we use. Our car is our single biggest electricity user, and it is set on a timer to charge only after midnight when the electricity rate is cheapest. Interestingly, for those with efficient homes, electric cars make it economically practical to install home solar.
*Because the Nissan Leaf replaced an average gasoline car that cost us about $2500/year in fuel and maintenance, and because we previously spent about $1000/year for our home electricity, we are saving about $3500/year. This means that our home solar system will be entirely paid for in savings in about 4 years. Thereafter, we will be using our home electricity and driving for free.
*While these are projections, given that the cost of gasoline has gone up on average about 12% a year and the cost of electricity has gone up about 7% a year (and these savings can be invested), over the life of the home solar system and electric car we might save over $400,000 -- far better than just driving for free.
*Electric cars save a lot of money: home solar saves a lot of money: together, they save a ton of money.
*The best part of the whole thing: electric cars are nicer to drive, with great guilt-free performance!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Business Case For Level 3 Charging Over Level 2 Charging

Today, Blink suddenly announces that it will immediately require $2.00 payment for every hour to use their Level 2 charging stations ($1.00 for members for the next year -- but certainly no longer free). I recognize that Level 2 charging station operators must try to create an economically viable model. But consider the reality: a Leaf driver can travel about 35 miles with a three-hour charge that costs $6.00 (at $2.00/hour charging), and is therefore now paying the equivalent of $6.00/gallon for gas.

I contend that this demonstrates that there is no functional business model for public Level 2 charging. EV drivers will avoid charging outside the home unless absolutely necessary. Worse, perhaps, is that the public may come to embrace mediocre PHEV's with limited all-electric range in order to ensure that they have less-expensive gas back-up. This is a failing proposition for everybody.

However, if a Leaf were to use a level 3 fast-charger, with a 30 minute charge it can travel about 50 miles. If that charge were to cost, say, $5.00, it would be the equivalent of about $3.50/gallon for gas, and it would likely be quite acceptable to the public. Moreover, the charging station operator, more in the manner of a gas station, could make $10 an hour (instead of $2 an hour), and would doubtless be far busier (while the cost of electricity would of course be greater, it is the regular use of the device that generates profit). Moreover, with commonly-available fast chargers, there would be the opportunity for apartment dwellers and street-parkers to use EVs.

Plug standardization issues will hopefully soon be fully resolved, and the price of fast chargers are rocketing down. It seems likely that Level 3 is poised to become the reality. As it should be. Level 2 was always a readily-available but mediocre technical feasibility in search of a business model.  

Of course, I also believe that Level 1 charging using a plain household outlet should be ubiquitous.  It costs next to nothing to put plain outlets in parking garages, at employer lots, in apartment buildings, and even on the street, because the only cost is simple conduit and the small hourly amount of electricity.  This kind of charging will satisfy most people who are parked for hours.  And with such small costs, it doesn't require a business case.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Electric Vehicle Charging In Homeowner Associations

Electric vehicles (EVs) have numerous advantages, but of course they must be charged. How do you charge your EV if you live in a common interest development such as a condominium, community apartment project, or planned development, operated by a homeowners association (HOA)? California now has a law that requires HOAs to allow EVs to charge, and helps establish standards for this arrangement. This article will generally explore EV advantages and EV charging, and then focus on HOA EV charging requirements: installing a charging device requires certain steps, but they are common-sense and to the mutual benefit of all parties.

EVs are the future, and the future is here now. They offer much more efficient transportation, and provide economic, environmental, and national security benefits for not just the owner, but for everyone. EVs benefits include:
1. lower fuel and maintenance costs;
2. no dependence on foreign oil (be a patriot!);
3. reduced pollution and reduced global warming;
4. silent, smooth, fast response and great handling;
5. safety (no risk of exploding gasoline tanks);
6. direct use of clean renewable energy such as solar and wind power;
7. quieter, cleaner streets;
8. no dirty gasoline pumping or garage fluid leaks;
9. employment of Americans while reducing trade deficits;
10. (soon) provide emergency power to your house with your EV.

Like many governments, it is U.S. policy to encourage adoption of EVs (we are aiming to put one million on the road by 2015). EVs are now available at a net cost of $20,000 to $100,000, with more EV models becoming available each year, and manufacturers agree EVs will eventually become a substantial portion of the vehicle market. EVs generally charge at night when electrical demand is low, and therefore there is enough electrical generation capacity to charge about 75% of all U.S. cars without needing a single new power plant.

For the owner, the cost of EV electricity is one half to one sixth the cost of gas, saving hundreds to thousands of dollars annually. For those installing residential solar, the solar will pay for itself and the owner can drive for free with a potential lifetime savings of over a hundred thousand dollars. EVs save at least 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide annually, making it the single largest possible reduction in one’s carbon footprint.

The key issue is charging EVs. Most EVs can charge with common 110-volt household outlets, 240-volt “charging stations,” or 480-volt “fast chargers” (sometimes respectively referred to as Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3). EVs are usually charged as home, typically with charging stations, but often using household outlets. Those considering EVs are sometimes concerned with the issue of charging, but those who have EVs quickly find that virtually all charging is easily accomplished at home, taking only a few seconds to plug the car in when arriving home and only a few seconds to unplug the car when leaving home.

Household outlets are everywhere, and an EV charging on a household outlet uses about as much electricity as a toaster. Charging this way provides enough electricity in an hour for an EV to travel about 4 miles. If an EV were to be plugged in when arriving home at 8pm, and was unplugged in the morning at 8am, it would receive enough electricity to travel around 50 miles. The average American car travels fewer than 30 miles a day, and 80% travel fewer than 50 miles a day. In most cases, household outlet charging would be sufficient. (Unlike gas cars which do not get filled every day, EVs are typically charged completely every day and are very rarely completely discharged.)

However, many people want the flexibility to charge more quickly. Charging stations, installed at home and in public places (often at places of employment), use the 240-volt electricity that comes from the utility and goes into the electrical panel of every home and building. Depending upon the EV and the charging station, plugging in for an hour provides enough electricity for an EV to travel between 12 and 62 miles. With a charging station, in only a few hours even an empty EV will be completely charged.

For those who own their own home with a parking space, in virtually all cases a charging station can be readily installed without any problems (sometimes this can be done by the owner, more often it is a quick and easy installation for an electrician). In addition to employers, there are also thousands of charging stations being publically installed across the country, on streets, in parking lots, and in parking garages. These public charging stations are either operated by “pay as you go” service providers (usually costing a dollar or two per hour) or are sometimes provided without cost to attract customers.

Lastly, many EVs can plug into fast chargers that are now starting to be installed: these devices are expected to be used by those who are traveling significant distances away from home and by those who have no regular place to park and plug in (they are installed at places like freeway rest stops and shopping centers, and are not for home use). Fast chargers can provide a charge in only about half an hour. However, to the chagrin of EV manufacturers, while the plug used for household outlets and charging stations has been standardized, there is as yet no universally agreed-upon standard for a fast charging plug design, and this has impeded the broad introduction of fast charging. A standard will very soon be established (and in any event, an owner can put on a plug adapter to use different fast charger designs), but the reality at present is that while fast chargers are starting to be broadly installed they remain less common.

All vehicle owners fall into one of five categories: government, fleet, homeowner, apartment dweller, and HOA owner. Government, fleet, and homeowners control their properties, and consequently they should not have any issues regarding installing charging stations. For those who rent an apartment, there is presently no legal right to install a charging station: the best solution would be to work with the building owner to see if installing a charging station might be possible, or simply plug into a household outlet with the permission of the building owner. Charging this way should pose no risk to the building (unless there are multiple EVs plugged into the same circuit at the same time, which may trip a circuit breaker). However, charging like this often uses a building’s common electricity, and there may be an obligation to reimburse the building owner (more on this issue later).

This brings us to the category of HOA owners, and the recent legislation that entitles them to charge their EVs. The California Legislature has enacted Civil Code Section 1353.9, which makes clear that it is “the policy of the state to promote, encourage, and remove obstacles to the use of electric vehicle charging stations,” and it makes certain that HOAs may not “effectively prohibit or restrict” such installations. If the statute is violated, the HOA will have to pay a $1000 civil penalty and reimburse the other side’s attorney’s fees. HOA Boards have a responsibility to be aware of this law, but more positively it is expected that HOAs will recognize that enabling EVs adds both value and a proactive image.

The statute identifies several EV owner compliance steps to assure that the HOA is protected from potential harm. Some of these steps are obvious: for instance, the proposed charging station must meet applicable health and safety standards and state and local codes (of course, all commercially available charging stations meet these standards). The law is also forward-thinking in approving charging stations of a type that include several charging points so that several EVs can be plugged in simultaneously: this may be beneficial for the efficient use of HOA parking space.

For practical purposes, EV owners and HOAs need to know the requirements and steps for charging station installation. First, there must be a written application to the HOA (there are no special application forms or requirements), and it must be processed by the HOA in the same manner as any building modification. If the application is not denied within 60 days, it is deemed approved, unless there was a reasonable request for additional information. As an example, if the EV owner is in an HOA development, and the charging station is to be placed on the owner’s property within the development, then the process is fairly simple and straightforward, and it seems highly unlikely that the HOA could legally deny the application: the EV owner may proceed with little interference.

But a trickier issue arises in the following typical circumstance: the EV owner needs to install the charging station in a “common area” (as previously designated by the HOA). For most condominiums and cooperative apartments, this is likely to be the case, and the classic example of such a common area is a parking garage, even if individual parking spaces are deeded to specific owners. In this situation, there are a couple of additional hurdles that may need to be cleared (the HOA does not have to require these steps; rather, these are the most that can be required).

First, there are some obvious measures: listing the HOA as an “additional insured” on the owner’s home insurance (which is generally an HOA requirement for all members anyway); having a licensed contractor install the charging station; and agreeing to pay for the electricity used. Then, there are a couple of logical requirements, such as disclosing the charging station to prospective buyers, and agreeing to pay for damage to the common area caused by the charging station (not that a charging station could conceivably cause damage). Finally, the owner must obtain a $1,000,000 umbrella liability coverage policy naming the HOA as an additional insured (with a right to be provided notice if the policy is ever cancelled). Again, some HOAs already require all owners to carry an umbrella policy, and in any event such a policy generally costs only a couple of hundred dollars (thought of another way, this is typically the cost of about a month’s worth of gas).

As a practical matter, determining how to pay for electricity may be the most difficult aspect of this process. The reason for this is that charging stations are typically plugged into a special large 240 volt electrical outlet that is directly wired to the nearest electrical panel, and there is no specific meter in place that would measure how much electricity is being used. With household outlet charging, there are simple and inexpensive usage-reporting devices that plug into the outlet and allow a device to be plugged into it. However, at present the only such devices for 240V have to be wired in by an electrician -- indeed, installing such a device at the time that the charging station is installed would be a practical approach to the issue of metering electrical usage. Finally, many EVs and some charging stations can use the internet to report how much electricity is used.

Yet, even knowing how much electricity was used will not necessarily determine the cost of that electricity. Depending upon the building’s electrical rate plan, the cost of electricity late at night could be quite cheap, and conversely the peak cost of electricity could be quite expensive: electricity is measured in kilowatt-hours (KWH), and the range could be from $.05/KWH to $.50/KWH. While “your mileage may vary,” an EV travelling the statistically-average distance of 12,000 miles annually will use around 4,000 KWH.

To determine the cost of EV electricity, it is very important to understand that most all EVs will charge late at night when rates are cheapest. All EVs have built-in timers, computer-based programs, and smart-phone applications that easily let the owner set the charging time: the owner parks and plugs the EV in, but it only begins charging when it is programmed to do so. Because of the difference in rates based on the different times of usage, the cost issue requires knowing when the EV charged as well as how much electricity it used. The owner can work with the building manager to determine this question of rate timing.

Finally, there is a potential issue regarding the total capacity of the electrical panel that provides the charging station its power. It is extremely unlikely that a single charging station will trip a circuit breaker. But, if there are multiple charging stations on the same electrical panel, and if they are all programmed to begin charging their respective EVs at the same time, then there is now a greater likelihood that a circuit breaker might trip. Therefore, it might be beneficial for EV owners to confer with each other to determine whether they can use different electrical panels or program their EVs to charge at different times.

There is a developing solution for all of the various issues identified: businesses that handle correctly complying with statutory requirements regarding the HOA; properly selecting and installing the charging station; determining the amount of electricity used and determining the price rate for that electricity; and working to ensure that multiple EVs can coordinate their activities so that all are charged without pulling too much electricity at any one time. These businesses also assist the HOA by simplifying everything, acting as a liaison between the owner as the HOA, assuring payment for electricity, and even providing the necessary umbrella policy protection. It may be expected that HOAs will encourage the growth of this EV support service, particularly given the importance of this new statutory requirement for HOAs to enable EV charging.

California Civil Code Section 1353.9
(last modified February 2012)

(a) Any covenant, restriction, or condition contained in any deed, contract, security instrument, or other instrument affecting the transfer or sale of any interest in a common interest development, and any provision of a governing document, as defined in subdivision (j) of Section 1351, that effectively prohibits or restricts the installation or use of an electric vehicle charging station is void and unenforceable.

(b)(1) This section does not apply to provisions that impose reasonable restrictions on electric vehicle charging stations. However, it is the policy of the state to promote, encourage, and remove obstacles to the use of electric vehicle charging stations.
(b)(2) For purposes of this section, "reasonable restrictions" are restrictions that do not significantly increase the cost of the station or significantly decrease its efficiency or specified performance.

(c) An electric vehicle charging station shall meet applicable health and safety standards and requirements imposed by state and local permitting authorities.

(d) For purposes of this section, "electric vehicle charging station" means a station that is designed in compliance with the California Building Standards Code and delivers electricity from a source outside an electric vehicle into one or more electric vehicles. An electric vehicle charging station may include several charge points simultaneously connecting several electric vehicles to the station and any related equipment needed to facilitate charging plug-in electric vehicles.

(e) If approval is required for the installation or use of an electric vehicle charging station, the application for approval shall be processed and approved by the association in the same manner as an application for approval of an architectural modification to the property, and shall not be willfully avoided or delayed. The approval or denial of an application shall be in writing. If an application is not denied in writing within 60 days from the date of receipt of the application, the application shall be deemed approved, unless that delay is the result of a reasonable request for additional information.

(f) If the electric vehicle charging station is to be placed in a common area or an exclusive use common area, as designated in the common interest development's declaration, the following provisions apply:
(f)(1) The homeowner first shall obtain approval from the common interest development to install the electric vehicle charging station and the common interest development shall approve the installation if the homeowner agrees in writing to do all of the following:
(f)(1)(A) Comply with the common interest development's architectural standards for the installation of the station.
(f)(1)(B) Engage a licensed contractor to install the station.
(f)(1)(C) Within 14 days of approval, provide a certificate of insurance that names the common interest development as an additional insured under the homeowner's insurance policy.
(f)(1)(D) Pay for the electricity usage associated with the station.
(f)(2) The homeowner and each successive homeowner of the parking stall on which or near where the electric vehicle charging station is placed shall be responsible for all of the following:
(f)(2)(A) Costs for damage to the station, common areas, exclusive common areas, or adjacent units resulting from the installation, maintenance, repair, removal, or replacement of the station.
(f)(2)(B) Costs for the maintenance, removal, repair, and replacement of the electric vehicle charging station until it has been removed from the common area or exclusive use common area.
(f)(2)(C) The cost of electricity associated with the station.
(f)(2)(D) Disclosing to prospective buyers the existence of any electric vehicle charging station and the related responsibilities of the homeowner.
(f)(3) The homeowner and each successive homeowner, at all times, shall maintain an umbrella liability coverage policy in the amount of one million dollars ($1,000,000) covering the bligations of the owner under paragraph (2), and shall name the common interest development as an additional insured under the policy with a right to notice of cancellation.

(g) An association that willfully violates this section shall be liable to the applicant or other party for actual damages, and shall pay a civil penalty to the applicant or other party in an amount not to exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000).

(h) In any action to enforce compliance with this section, the prevailing plaintiff shall be awarded reasonable attorney's fees.

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Year of Electric Energy Numbers: the PV-EV Value Proposition

Here is one year of our electrical energy numbers in simple kilowatt hour and dollar terms.  Just a few numbers plainly demonstrate the value proposition of an electric vehicle (EV) and home solar photovoltaic energy (PV), in conjunction with Time Of Use Net Metering (provided through our utility).  In sum, we use about 50% more electricity than we generate, and yet pay nothing for our electricity, because of the difference between the (higher) value of the electricity we generate compared to the (lower) value of the electricity we use.

Our home use:  about 4500KWH

Our EV use:  about 3000KWH

Our total use:  about 7500KWH

Our PV generation:  about 5000KWH

Our cost:  about $0 (we actually 'gave' about $30 of electricity to the utility)

The value proposition: the electricity we generate is worth about 150% the value of the electricity we use.  This is because Time Of Use Net Metering measures the amount of electricity we generate (i.e., the electricity we put on the grid which is in excess of what we are using at that time of generation) and compares this against the amount of electricity we use at the time we use it.  In a sense, we "sell" electricity to the utility at the time of generation  --  which is, naturally, during the "peak" time of day when the sun is brightest and also when lots of electricity is being used, and therefore the rule of supply and demand means that this electricity is worth more to the utility and to the electricity users of the utility --  and we "buy" electricity from the utility for our home needs and for charging the EV mostly at the "off-peak" time of day when there is little electricity being used, and therefore the rule of supply and demand means that this electricity is worth less to the utility (in fact, often the utilities have excess electricity because they have to keep their turbines spinning even in the middle of the night and there are so few electricity users at that time, which is when we charge the EV).  This is why we can use 50% more electricity than we generate and still come out even).

And just so you have total info:

Our PV cost: about $12,500

Our gasoline and maintenance savings: about $2500

Our electricity savings: about $1000

Complete return on investment break-even point: about 4 years

Projected savings over time: given the rates of increase of cost of gasoline and electricity over the past ten years and in light of the guaranteed lifespan of PV -- over $400,000 with compounding interest (it's true, feel free to check the math). (And while I did not calculate such details as diminished PV output over time, I also ignored several variables on the other side such as the lower cost of PV.)  Of course, this assumes we would instead have kept a car with average MPG, and it assumes a continued even rate of increase energy costs, and these things might not prove to be accurate assumptions.  But then, the increase in the cost of energy may turn out to be even greater over time  --  who knows exactly what will happen over 25 years.

The certainty is that we are economically way to the good.  The certainty is that we have taken the greatest possible step in reducing our pollutant and carbon footprint by getting rid of our gas-burning car, and thereby putting 10,000 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide into the air.  The certainty is that we are supporting American workers and suppliers.  The certainty that we will not send a single one of our patriotic transportation dollars to support petroterrorism.  And the certainty is that I really enjoy driving an EV, knowing that I refuel it with an endless supply of the sun's photons, and therefore I have totally guilt-free spirited motoring.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Electric Cars: Drive Free, Drive Clean, Be A Patriot

Every American household with a place to plug in an electric vehicle (EV), and a place to put in solar photovoltaic system (PV), should do so. We have. Now, we drive for free, we are over 100% clean, and we are defunding the terrorists. We’re also really enjoying the car.

Savings:  For $12,500, our PV system covers the electrical needs of our Nissan Leaf and our home. (The Leaf cost us $22,500, which is about the price of an equivalent car.) Our previous car got about the national average fuel economy, which meant that we would have spent about $2800 this year on fuel and maintenance. By contrast, EVs virtually never need maintenance. Therefore, we are saving all of our fuel and maintenance costs, and we are also saving about $700 annually in home electricity costs. Combined, the PV pays for itself in less than 4 years. Historically, electricity increases about 7% annually and gas increases about 12% annually. This means our total savings over the 25 year guaranteed life of the PV system is calculable to be at least $400,000 (and it is expected that these systems will last well beyond their guarantee).

But remember: even without PV, driving an EV still only costs about 20% as much as a gas car. If you own two cars, one should definitely be electric. If you only have one car, think about how you drive it: if you only drive long distances a few times a year, you should go electric.

Clean:  Even with 100% coal-generated electricity, EVs account for less pollution than a gas car: in reality, only 45% of American electricity is generated from coal, and that percentage is ever-decreasing. In California, less than 1% of electricity is generated from coal, and EV-related emissions here are only a tenth of a gas car. But the real story is that gas cars use both gas and electricity because it takes so much electricity to extract, refine, and distribute gasoline. Remarkably, an EV can travel farther on the electricity required to produce a gallon of gas than a gas car can travel on that gallon. Therefore, EVs save 100% of the emissions of a gas car and also save emissions that would have been produced generating the electricity required to make that gas. And in contrast to our ever-cleaner electrical grid, harder-to-reach and dirtier crude oil is taking ever-more energy to extract and refine and therefore requiring more electricity. An EV is the single best way to reduce your carbon footprint.

Defund Petro-Terrorism:  OPEC makes over $1 trillion annually, and over $300 billion of that goes directly to Saudi Arabia. It was Saudis who hijacked our planes on 9/11. Our defense expenditures total over $1 trillion annually -- more than all of our discretionary spending combined. It has cost us over $7 trillion (about half of our current total federal deficit) to keep an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf since the 1970’s oil embargo, and since that time we have fought three wars at a cost of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars in that same region. Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn said of our oil addiction: "[Our oil money is] going to nations that wish us harm. This is an unprecedented and unsustainable transfer of wealth. It puts us in the untenable position of funding both sides of the conflict and directly undermines our fight against terror."  CIA Director James Woolsey put it succinctly: "We are paying for the terrorists with our SUVs.”  EVs only use domestic energy, produced by American workers. True American patriots drive EVs to promote national security, economic security, and American prosperity.

Drive Happy:  Here’s the secret bonus: guilt-free performance. Go ahead, mash the accelerator: you’re only burning an endless supply of the sun’s photons (I prefer to keep nuclear reactors at a safe 93,000,000 mile distance). I like to drive briskly, and even though after a lifetime of working on cars and motorcycles I kinda miss the smell of hydrocarbons, driving with electricity is simply better performance. So, go ahead, drive with a lead foot: you’ll only leave a lithium footprint!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

EVs and Petroterrorism

This is about the virtues of electric vehicles (EVs). They save the owner a lot of money, they are better to drive, and of course they are clean. But they also bring peace, by defunding terrorism and enabling us to stop having to fight wars. Is this a mere polemic? No: this is supported fact.

When 15 Saudi Arabian terrorists (the remaining 4 were also trained in Saudi-funded Madrassahs) hijacked planes and destroyed the World Trade Centers in New York, crashed a plane into the Pentagon, and aimed a plane at the Capital in Washington, D.C. (the intended target of the plane that brave passengers managed to force to crash in Pennsylvania), the United States government immediately sprang into action: it stopped all jet aircraft flights. Except for the planes that received special government authority to quickly hustle Saudi Arabian officials, and specifically members of the Bin Laden family, out of the United States and back to Saudi Arabia before they could be questioned regarding their connections to, knowledge of, or involvement with the terrorists. A short time later, the United States government took its decisive step: it declared war on the impoverished, useless, wretched nation of Afghanistan.

Was this because Afghanistan committed this heinous terrorist act against the United States? No: it was because Afghanistan is an impoverished, useless, wretched nation that had Saudi Arabian Osama Bin Laden hiding somewhere in its endless mountains. And the United States HAD to do something. And surely, no one would suggest that the United States attack Saudi Arabia, the nation that provided the United States with the petroleum upon which the United States completely depends like a junkie in need of a constant fix.

Let me make our dependence quantitative and clear. Quantitatively, the United States burns about 200 million gallons of gasoline a day, or about 73 billion gallons annually. This is, by the way, about 1.4 trillion pounds of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere.

On average, we import about 4.2 billion barrels of oil (a barrel is 42 gallons; about half is refined into gasoline, about a quarter into diesel, and a quarter various other petroleum products). About 625 million barrels are from Saudi Arabia alone. And as everyone who listens to the economic news knows, oil costs about $100 dollars a barrel, and the price is rising: so we are giving over $60 billion dollars annually to the Saudis for their oil.

While oil imports are the leading factor in our national trade deficit, they are the leading factor in a whole lot more. Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, retired Deputy Chief of Naval Warfare Requirements and Programs, captured the national security dangers of our addiction to oil in testimony before the U.S. Senate: "[Our oil money is] going to nations that wish us harm. This is an unprecedented and unsustainable transfer of wealth to other nations. It puts us in the untenable position of funding both sides of the conflict and directly undermines our fight against terror." As even more succinctly stated by former CIA Director James Woolsey, "We pay Saudi Arabia billions for its oil, and some of those billions goes to the Wahhabis, who teach children to hate. We are paying for these terrorists with our SUVs."

Now, let's put a face to this. "The hijackers, 15 hijackers who are Saudis, they studied this destructive thinking in Saudi Arabia. They spent a few months in Afghanistan. But they lived their lives, they studied this in government mosques. Government curriculum inspired what happened in New York." -- PBS interview with Ali Al Ahmed, Executive Director of the Saudi Institute.

Of course, this is not just about Saudi oil. Iran provides money, arms, military advisors, and strategic direction to the violent terrorist organizations Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and many others, all the while violently repressing its own people and actively developing nuclear bombs and long-range missiles. And how does Iran pay for all this? With oil  --  about 80 percent of its exports.  Many other OPEC members have considerable connections to anti-Western foment and terrorism.

In order to secure the foreign oil that we completely depend upon, the United States has by far the world's largest military budget. Our defense budget is around $700 billion annually, and all told, our defense-related expenditures total well over $1 trillion annually. To get a sense of perspective on how much this is, consider that the defense budget is larger than the combined spending of all of our national discretionary spending budget items (i.e., non-entitlement or debt financing dispersements, such as education, capital improvements, research, and foreign aid).

Let’s be real about this, we have spent a hell of a lot of blood and money fighting multiple wars halfway around the world because that’s where the oil is. Here’s a breath-taking statistic: our cost for keeping an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf for the last 30 years is $7.3 trillion -- yes, trillion. That’s about half of our entire national debt. What are the wars we have fought since the oil embargos of the 1970s? Persian Gulf (Kuwait), Afghanistan, and Iraq. Why did we sacrifice the lives of thousands of American soldiers, and suffer our young men and women to sustain tens of thousands of permanent crippling injuries, and spend trillions of dollars on these wars? Well, when they took us into the Iraq War, President Bush (past Texas oil developer) and Vice President Cheney (past-president of oil contractor Haliburton, which received $18 billion in contracts during the war) said that it was about weapons of mass destruction, and that we’d be greeted as liberators in a war that would cost less than $50 billion, and that it was hoped that it would enable Iraq to sell us more oil. One of these statements was the truth. It was always about the oil.

Want to know about EV owner economics? EV electricity (i.e.. fuel) costs are only about 20% the cost of gasoline (or it’s free, if you get solar energy that pays for itself), plus EVs require virtually no maintenance and in their simplicity they have virtually no moving parts to break. Want to know about EV pollution? EVs have a total savings of over 100% of the emissions of a gas car, because you not only save 100% of the gas emissions, but you are also saving 100% of the emissions produced in generating the electricity required to bring that gasoline to market, which more than offsets the electricity actually used by the EV.

Want to know how to be a true patriot? De-fund petroterrorism: drive an EV. Save American soldiers’ lives: drive an EV. Reduce the federal deficit: drive an EV. Employ Americans: drive an EV. Reduce American suffering and health costs caused by pollution: drive an EV. As Director Woolsey’s EV bumper sticker said, “Bin Laden hates this car.” Fortunately, President Obama got Osama Bin Laden. But not before that Saudi Arabian, and his 53 brothers and sisters(!), obtained their family wealth through our petrodollars. I correct myself: through your petrodollars. As a proud American patriot, I do not support them.