Smart Electric Vehicles and Smart Grids

By John Addison (8/20/09). The new freeway-speed electric vehicles will also be smart electric vehicles (SEV). They will be smart about using energy inside the vehicle so that it can go 100 miles between charges. The SEV will be smart about navigation options that consider your preference for getting somewhere fast or traveling with minimal energy use. SEVs will be full of electronics to entertain passengers, like kids in the back seat.

They will be smart about charging to meet driver preferences for saving money or charging more quickly. Smart electric vehicles ideally use a smart grid for charging. The electric utilities see the electric vehicle as part of the new smart grid which uses information technology to make the electric grid efficient, reliable, distributed, and interoperable. Years ago, mainframe computers with dumb terminals gave way to network computing. Similar improvements are now underway with the electric grid.

At the Plug-in 2009 Conference and Exposition in Long Beach, I joined thousands in seeing new electric vehicles, new smart charging stations, and joining presentations by leading auto makers, utilities, early fleet users, and sustainable city leaders from Southern California Edison (EIX), SDGE (SRE), AQMD, EPRI, and many others.

At the Plug-in Conference, the new Nissan Leaf (NSANY) got a lot of deserved attention. By the end of 2011, Nissan may deliver as many as 10,000 of these. Most will be delivered where utility and other partners have committed to complete programs to install garage, employer, and other public charging stations.

The new 2010 Nissan Leaf is a comfortable compact hatchback that seats five. Clean Fleet Report’s test drives of Nissan EV prototypes demonstrated plenty of acceleration. The Nissan Leaf is powered by 24kWh of lithium-ion batteries. The Leaf has a range of about 100 miles. In 8 hours you are good for another 100 miles with a Level 2 AC200V home-use charger; in 26 minutes you can be 80 percent charged with a Level 3 DC 50kW quick charger.

Transportation expert, Antonio Benecchi a Partner with Roland Berger forecasts that plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles will capture 10 to 20 percent of the auto market by 2030. The speed of adoption will depend on cost and early customer experience. If the lifetime cost of owning and operating an electric vehicle is less than a comparable gasoline powered one, 20 percent could be low by 2030.

When you get an iPhone, Nokia, or Blackberry, the cost of the smartphone depends on the type of subscription plan you have with the wireless carrier. Similarly, over the next few years, automakers and their partners may explore different business models such as:

· Vehicle purchased with battery leased
· Vehicle, battery, and energy for charging are all subscribed
· EV and charging are part of carsharing plans
· Integrated mobility offerings will include an EV

For example, the Nissan Leaf might be offered by a dealer for under $30,000 with battery and charging offered on a subscription plan by Better Place or various electric utilities.

If charging and subscription plans are kept simple, consumers will love it. If consumers must sign for different plans as they go to different cities, EVs will be a turn-off. Early cell phone users rebelled against complicated plans and big surprise “roaming” charges.

Standards are being put in place so that auto makers, charging station providers, and electric utilities will be compatible. A key standard is automotive SAE J1772, which standardizes the electrical connection, current flow, and some communication between smart vehicle and smart charger. This standard is compatible with important advanced metering smart home electric standards such as Smart Energy 2.0.

EV customers will be able to check on how much their EV batteries are charged through a web browser, their smart phone, or by looking at their vehicle dash. The networking and software is there, so that they could look at monthly vehicle use and charges.

Electric utility operators will be able to track, manage, and forecast EV electricity use thanks to smart charging stations with electric utility meter chips built in such as Coulomb ChargePoint Networked Charging Stations and ETEC (ETLY.OB – disclosure: author owns this stock), who has already installed over 5,500 charging stations. ETEC will be installing over 12,500 new charging stations thanks to a matching grant of almost $100 million from DOE.

I am on the wait list to buy the Nissan Leaf. When I get a new EV or PHEV, I would be glad to agree to a subscription plan that would save me $100 per month if I would agree to have my vehicle not charge during peak-demand hours. We’ll see if I am given that kind of option. Thanks to software services from GirdPoint and others, the technology is there to plug-in and having charging managed by user preferences and subscription agreements.

Utilities could shape demand to off-peak. Utilities could use EVs for spinning reserves and peak power using vehicle-to-grid (V2G). Dr. Jasna Tomic with CALSTART estimates that the national grid would only need 7 percent additional capacity to off-peak charge 100 million electric vehicles. Those same vehicles could provide 70 percent of the national grid’s needed peak power. Smart grid upgrades, customer price signals and subscription agreements could enable growing use of V2G in the coming decade.

Smart vehicles and smart grids create a trillion dollar opportunity for incumbents and innovators. The opportunity has attracted GM, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, and hundreds of other auto makers. It has attracted the world’s largest electric utilities and grid operators. This smart grid “Internet” for electricity now has devoted teams inside IBM, Google, Cisco, Microsoft, and other information technology giants.

The smart electric vehicle is symbiotic with the smart grid. The information communication technology is there. It is the business models and customer experience that count. Get ready for the most comfortable and intelligent ride of your life.

By John Addison. John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and speaks at conferences. He is the author of the new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet – now selling at Amazon and other booksellers.

Top Utilities Grow Solar Power Despite Recession

By John Addison. Today, the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) whose membership includes 110 utilities issued a new report – “2008 Top Ten Utility Solar Integration Rankings” – which identifies the utilities in the U.S. that have the most solar electricity integrated into their portfolio.
The report demonstrates that the utility segment is making a major investment to increase the amount of solar energy in power portfolios, with many utilities doubling the amount of solar power in their portfolio in just one year. The installed solar capacity of the top ten ranked utilities rose 25 percent in a tough economy, from 711 megawatts to 882 megawatts.
The Top 10 Utilities in cumulative megawatts installed represent six states stretching from California to New York:

#1 Southern California Edison (EIX) – CA (441.4MW)
#2 Pacific Gas & Electric (PCG) – CA (229.5)
#3 NV Energy – NV (77.9)
#4 San Diego Gas & Electric (SRE) – CA (49.3)
#5 Public Service of Colorado (Xcel Energy – XEL) – CO (28.5)
#6 LA Department of Water & Power – CA (13.6)
#7 Public Service Electric & Gas Co. – NJ (13.2)
#8 Arizona Public Service Co. – AZ (10.6)
#9 Sacramento Municipal Utility District – CA (10.2)
#10 Long Island Power Authority – NY (7.7)

Although the sunny West Coast dominates this year’s list, other states are coming on strong including Florida, North Carolina, and Florida. Yes, the availability of sunlight is one driver in the expanded use of solar. Other drivers include the retail price of electricity, state government initiatives such as RPS, and cap-and-trade of emission credits.
There are two primary solar technologies, photovoltaic and concentrating solar power. Photovoltaic (PV) technologies utilize a photosensitive material to generate electricity direct from sunlight. PV can also be magnified using mirrors or lenses in low- or high-concentrations known as concentrating photovoltaic technology or CPV. Concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies utilize mirrors or lenses to concentrate sunlight on a point or line and generate high-temperature heat, which is captured to generate electricity in a later process.
Julia Hamm, Executive Director of SEPA, sees strong growth in both PV and CSP. For example, Southern California Edison is planning a massive 1.3GW of CSP with BrightSource. Arizona Power is planning 125MW of PV. Medium- and utility-scale photovoltaic and concentrating solar thermal power projects are adding around 20 billion of dollars worth of investment.
Some European nations that aggressively use wind power, such as Spain and Denmark, have demonstrated that intermittency is quite manageable when renewable energy is less than 20% of the mix. CSP can take the mix much higher by storing energy in liquids like molten salt for delivery when demand peaks.
#5 on the list, Public Service of Colorado (Xcel Energy), is already experimenting with vehicle-to-grid (V2G Report), which will allow the growing population of electric vehicles to provide power to the grid during peak hours. Utilities are experimenting with several forms of large scale grid-storage which will be promising if significant costs are achieved.
Some 30 years ago, solar was dismissed as impractical. Now that PV manufacturing cost is 100 times less than in early days, utilities are taking the lead in the growing demand for solar power.

John Addison writes about clean transportation and renewable energy. He is the author of the new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet – which includes details of the growing use of renewable energy in powering cars, public transportation, and high-speed rail.

Edison International Says Solar is the Great Untapped Resource

Cleantech Blog had a conversation last year with Stuart Hemphill, now the newly appointed Vice President for Renewables and Alternative Energy at Southern California Edison, a subsidiary of Edison International (NYSE:EIX), one of the largest purchasers of renewable power in the US. We caught up with him again today in a lively discussion around his predictions for the renewable sector.

Today they are announcing their sixth competitive solicitation for renewable energy. On peak delivery from the Tehachapi region is preferred, as they are currently building a massive transmission line to tap into the 4,500 MW of wind potential. But wind produces only 35% of the time. This major pipeline needs to be balanced. So they are looking for creative proposals from developers to fill up the rest of that transmission line with on peak power deliveries.

Renewable and alternative energy are still top goals for Edison. Stuart says his promotion is part a reflection of the business’ expanding interest in leadership in renewables in the US.

Prediction Number 1 – The next 10 years are going to be a wild, wild west in the solar industry. Companies around the globe are exploring new solar technologies of every variety. Stuart thinks it’s way too early to tell which ones are going to be successful. But he considers solar to be the great untapped resource in California and elsewhere.

So I asked him if by that he meant solar thermal or photovoltaics. The answer is “Yes”. Stuart responded that in the past couple of years we have seen incredible amounts of venture capital investment going into solar firms, and PV is only part of that equation.

When I pushed Stuart to predict a winner between conventional solar parabolic trough and other types of solar thermal technologies, Stuart refused, suggesting that it is still too early to tell which technologies will be the winners. That’s what makes it exciting to watch, in his opinion. As an example, he stated that we are now seeing renewed interest power tower technologies with pretty high efficiencies. The challenge is to see which ones get done.

When it comes to what’s important to SoCal Edison itself, it is really important that they sign PPA contracts with viable companies and viable technologies. He sees a wide spectrum of proposals in terms of viability, and is always looking for at least some sort of demonstration plant to prove it up and a significant level of backing for the companies before they can get involved.

Prediction Number 2 – I did ask him what his take on run of river hydro is. He responded that he hopes to be wrong, as he likes run of river hydro, but doesn’t see any major increases in the resource coming in California. Hydro in California in general has a very a limited resource potential left to be developed and lots of stakeholder concerns to be addressed in each case, so while he is hopeful, he is not predicting any great increases.

Prediction Number 3 – US Offshore Wind – We will not see much from offshore wind in California, as the limitations both from physical layout of shoreline as well as policy and consumer concerns.

We then switched to what the industry challenges are. Stuart nailed two big ones, transmission and interconnection.

He believes that transmission is getting even more challenging than last time we spoke. What’s interesting to Stuart is that most people agree and are in support of renewables in California, but very few people support the way that the goals need to be attained, ie, significantly increase transmission infrastructure. There tends to be lots of local opposition, or federal agencies that aren’t always in support of particular local goals. This makes sense, as transmission by its nature always touches a lot of different land and communities in its path, meaning lots of different stakeholders need to be involved.

Interconnection queue bottlenecks are the real next challenge in California and in the Midwest according to Stuart. This is a challenge that is addressable and there are proposals into FERC to do so. But currently it is a first come first serve system, and easy to get into the queue. Getting in the queue starts a study process based on FERC rules, including a feasibility study, then a system impact study and a facility study. The bottleneck arises because according to the current rules, if your facility is further back in the queue, your studies assume that the facilities ahead of you are up and running, but if at any point in time someone ahead of you drops out, your studies need to be effectively redone. Because it is relatively easy to get into the queue, nonviable projects that do not end up coming online as planned have been upsetting the applecart, causing all the projects behind them to go back to the drawing board as far as the study process is concerned. Since 2002, we’ve seen a steep ramp up to a level that is just unmanageable given that dynamic. CAL ISO has a proposal in with FERC to change this, so Stuart believes a solution is coming, just not here yet.

As usual, SoCal Edison is pushing forward aggressively on renewables, and we were excited to see the new solicitation and changes they are making. As we have said before, let’s just get it done.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, Chairman of, and a blogger for CNET’s Cleantech blog.