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UC San Diego Saves Millions with Transportation Demand Management

By John Addison (3/26/08). Like all great universities, the University of California at San Diego, must either spend millions for car parking or spend millions for improved transportation. Using transportation demand management, UC San Diego is spending millions less in both areas.

27,500 students attend the university. “We encourage commuters to use alternate forms of transportation,” said Brian d’Autremont, TPS director. “Approximately 43 percent of UC San Diego commuters use some form of alternative transportation, including, bikes, buses, trains and vanpools.” In addition, last fall UC San Diego reduced the number of single occupancy vehicles on campus by 800 cars.

UC San Diego uses AlterNetRides as a platform, making it easy for staff and students to be matched with the van pool or carpool that best meets their destinations and schedules. Use of HOV lanes and access to preferred parking make shared rides considerably faster. Zipcar on campus makes cars available by the hour, helping students avoid the need for owning a car.

In 2006, UC San Diego doubled the number of people riding buses on campus. A key to this growth was establishing the best routes and schedules. UC San Diego uses realtime tracking and demand management software to do this. The University uses a hosted customized application from Syncromatics, which performs realtime tracking with GPS and cellular communication to determine the location and speed of each bus.

The system develops a database showing the number of passengers at any stop at anytime. By querying the database, routes and schedules can easily be adjusted. UC San Diego’s Director Brian d’Autremont summarized, “Syncromatics’ system has saved us over one million dollars in fiscal year 2006, after being installed for just a little over 6 months. We typically buy 5 buses each summer, this year we were able to increase the effectiveness of our system enough that we didn’t have to buy any. The system paid for itself several times over in bus, fuel and driver costs, while increasing our ridership and improving customer service ratings dramatically.

Another big payoff of UC San Diego’s alternative transportation is a reduction in needed parking spaces. Each spot in a parking structure costs the university $22,000 to $29,000.

More people will ride on transit if they know how to get to their destination and if long waits are not necessary. The Syncromatics realtime tracking system which integrates with Google Maps to show actual bus locations on an LCD in the student lounge, on arrival signage, on mobile devices, and even in text messages. Ridership continues to grow. Realtime Display

Information technology is becoming invaluable in making transportation efficient as well as appealing to more riders. Fleet managers can now implement custom applications and realtime services without investing in hardware, software, and hiring specialized technologists. Hosted applications such as Syncromatics and AlterNetRides are run by the service provider. Middleware such as XML and Java allow these applications to be integrated with databases, billing systems, and other fleet applications.

UC San Diego is supporting energy independence and climate solutions by encouraging clean transportation. The university fleet also is becoming more fuel efficient. Over time, the university’s 50-plus buses will be converted to hybrid CNG, reducing their emissions. UC San Diego Article The University is also purchasing 225 electric vehicles and 32 hybrid vehicles for its fleet.

The importance of climate solutions is integral to the institution. UC San Diego evolved from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography under the leadership of Roger Revelle, who with Charles Keeling first measured the growing atmospheric concentration of CO2. Revelle College is one of six of the university’s colleges. The National Academy of Sciences recognizes UC San Diego as one of the top ten science universities in the nation. Professors include Nobel Laureates Paul Crutzen and Mario Molina whose chemistry research with Sherwood Rowland lead to the discovery of the ozone hole and the Montreal Protocol.

Universities and Colleges are leading in many areas of transportation demand management. An encyclopedia of best practices is available at the Victoria Institute.

John Addison speaks at conferences and publishes the Clean Fleet Report.

Smart Grids and Electric Vehicles

By John Addison (1/28/08). In the future, utilities will pay you to plug-in your vehicle. Millions will plug-in their electric vehicles (EV), plug-in hybrids (PHEV) and fuel cell vehicles (FCV) at night when electricity is cheap, then plug-in during the day when energy is expensive and sell those extra electrons at a profit. Vehicle to Grid (V2G) technology is a bi-directional electric grid interface that allows a plug-in to take energy from the grid or put it back on the grid. V2G helps solve the major problem that demand for electricity is high during the day when everything from industrial plants to air conditioning is running full blast and then excess electricity is wasted at night.

Several early models of passenger vehicles have enough energy stored in advanced batteries to power several homes for hours. Hybrid electric buses and heavy trucks could power many homes or a school or a hospital in an emergency. Recent announcements demonstrate that electric utilities and some auto makers want to make V2G a reality.

The Smart Grid Consortium, established in December 2007 by Xcel Energy, will select a community of approximately 100,000 residents to become a Smart Grid City using V2G. Potential benefits include lower utility bills for residents, smarter energy management, better grid reliability, improved energy efficiency, and support for EVs and PHEVs.

Current consortium members include Accenture, Current Group, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and Ventyx. Smart Grid City will use a realtime high-speed two-way communication throughout the distribution grid. Smart meters and substations will be integral. Installation will be made of thousands of in-home control devices and the necessary systems to fully automate home energy use.

The current electrical grid is poorly designed for distributed generation of power. Individuals and businesses lose months and connect fees when they add solar and other forms of renewable energy to the grid. Smart Grid City will easily support up to 1,000 easily dispatched distributed generation technologies including PHEVs, distributed batteries, solar and wind.

In addition to Smart Grid City, another major EV/V2G initiative is unfolding.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance and Project Better Place have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to create a mass-market for electric vehicles in Israel which is an excellent target market: it has a sales tax exceeding 60% for gasoline vehicles, gasoline costs over $6 per gallon, most driving fits the range of electric vehicles, and the government strongly supports energy independence.

Project Better Place plans to deploy a massive network of battery charging spots. Driving range will no longer be an obstacle, because customers will be able to plug their cars into charging units in any of the 500,000 charging spots in Israel. An on-board computer system will indicate to the driver the remaining power supply and the nearest charging spot. Nissan, through its joint venture with NEC, has created a battery pack that meets the requirements of the electric vehicle and will produce it in mass volume. The entire framework will go through a series of tests starting this year.

The Israeli model is different than the rapid battery swap model that Better Place has promoted as better than “dangerous” fast charging. For the future, Renault is working on development of exchangeable batteries for continuous mobility.

As part of the solution framework, the Israeli government will provide tax incentives to customers, Renault will supply the electric vehicles, and Project Better Place will construct and operate an Electric Recharge Grid across the entire country. Electric vehicles will be available for customers in 2011.

Just as wireless service providers offer smartphones at discounted prices, Project Better Place will offer discounted electric vehicles with usage pricing plans. Pre-paid 600 kilometer cards are one approach that is suggested. A free car on a four-year plan in France is another idea mentioned by Shai Agassi, CEO of Project Better Place. Annual use of an EV should be less than the average cost of $8,000 per year for using a gasoline in many countries including the USA.

Shai Agassi predicts that Israel will have over 100,000 electric vehicles in use by 2010. This will be five percent of the nation’s vehicle population. The number represents a significant step towards energy independence.

Project Better Place has already received over $200 million of venture capital investment. Shai Agassi presented their new business model at Davos. Mr. Agassi was an executive at SAP that lead the software company to being the enterprise software leader ahead of Oracle, IBM, and all others. Agassi’s Davos Insights

Success with V2G would be a double win for electric utilities. Millions of EVs and PHEVs would expand the sale of electricity as an alternative to oil. Utilities could avoid building more dirty peaking power plants. Instead they could buy back electricity at peak hours from vehicle drivers. Clean Fleet Article It would be a financial win-win for all.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report with archives of over 60 articles and reports about electric vehicles, V2G, biofuels, fleet success and more.

New Electric Vehicles in Your Near Future

By John Addison (12/20/07). By an overwhelming 314 to 100 vote, the US House of Representatives passed the energy bill (H.R.6) with the new CAFE standards requiring auto makers to sell vehicles that average 35 miles-per-gallon (mpg) by 2020. President Bush signed the bill into law. Americans want to pay less at the pump and be less dependent on foreign oil, especially oil from countries hostile to the U.S.

Many are not waiting until 2020. They are driving vehicles now that get better than 35 miles per gallon. Some are starting to drive plug-in hybrids that achieve over 100 miles per gallon. 40,000 in the U.S. drive electric vehicles that use zero gasoline and produce zero emissions.

Sherry Boschert rides on sunlight. She charges her electric vehicle with her home’s solar power. Her Toyota RAV4 EV runs fast on freeways and silent on quiet streets. She uses a zero-emission approach to transportation. Sherry Boschert is the author of Plug-in Hybrids: The Cars That Will Recharge America.

Some are celebrities like Tom Hanks, who has been driving electric vehicles for years including his RAV4 EV and Scion xB that was converted to an EV by AC Propulsion. Other celebrities have deposited $100,000 each on average, eagerly awaiting the Tesla Roadster electric vehicle with its 245 mile electric range.

Electric vehicles are not just for celebrities. Many are priced at a more modest $10,000 and only go 25 miles per hour. They are popular in fleets of university campuses, large facilities that need zero-emission in-door vehicles, shuttles in corporate multi-building campuses, and even the military. They are a popular second car in two vehicle households. These low-cost EVs are fine for those who will compromise on speed and range. Reasonably priced new vehicles are coming with few compromises and many exciting features.

Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (7211:JP) has been demonstrating its new electric-vehicle, the iMiEV Sport which it plans to launch in Japan and possibly other countries in 2009. The car has a range of 93 miles (150 km) and a top-speed of 93 mph (150 km/h).

In 2009, the smart ev may be available in the U.S. The cars 70/70 specs are appealing for city drivers: 70 mile range, 70 mile per hour freeway speed. Daimler’s (DAI) smart ev is in trial in the UK with The Energy Saving Trust, Islington and Coventry Councils, Lloyds Pharmacy, The CarbonNeutral Company, EDF Energy and BT. To achieve a range of over 70 miles, it is using the Zebra sodium-nickel-chloride battery which has caused maintenance difficulties in some U.S. fleets. More than 40,000 of the gasoline fueled smart fortwos have been sold in the UK since the car was launched here in 2000. The vehicle is popular in London, where electric charging is free and daily congestion taxes are high for petrol guzzlers.

In addition to electric-vehicles, plug-in hybrids have captured the imagination of many. These vehicles are often designed to go a number of miles in battery-electric mode before internal combustion engines are engaged. Last week, I attended a General Motors (GM) showing of its Chevy Volt. The Volt is an elegant four-door sedan. One GM designer admitted that the Mercedes CLS gave some inspiration for the Volt. The Chevy Volt can be driven 40 miles in electric-mode using 16kW of lithium batteries, before its small 1L engine is engaged. 16kW is twelve times the storage of my Prius NiMH batteries.

40 miles accommodates the daily range requirements of 78% of all U.S. drivers. The Volt uses an electric drive system with a small ICE in series that is only used to generate added electricity, not give power to the wheels. GM’s modular E-Flex propulsion could be adapted to various engines including diesel, fuel cells, and potentially battery-electric. At the Frankfurt Auto Show, GM showed the European sibling of the Volt, the GM Opel Flextreme concept car, which included a 1.3L diesel engine.

Look for more E-Flex announcements from GM in 2009. Announcements could include a more compact global vehicle at an appealing price point and a commitment to a diesel E-Flex vehicle.

GM Manager, Rob Peterson, emphasized that GM is committed to electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. To keep the Volt on track, issues that might delay a normal vehicle in development are resolved by the E-Flex Leadership Board Committee which includes Bob Lutz and Larry Burns.

The Volt is targeted to go on sale November 2010. I told a General Motors executive that if it were priced under $40,000, then I would be interested in buying one. He confidently smiled and replied, “Have your checkbook ready.”

If you need to carry more people and cargo, GM plans to start sales of its Saturn Vue plug-in hybrid in 2009. Even though the vehicle will use a 3.6L gasoline engine, it is likely to offer the best mileage of any SUV on the market.

Toyota (TM), Ford (F), Volvo, and Saab all have plug-in hybrids in early fleet trails. Other fleets are doing their own custom integration of plug-in hybrids from sedans to heavy vehicles.

Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan Motor Co and Renault SA, said that his auto group is planning to mass produce an electric car mainly targeted at big cities by 2012. From London to Shanghai, he sees increased possibilities that only ZEV will be allowed in city centers.

Look for a number of exciting choices in vehicles that use little or no gasoline, improving energy security and addressing the threat of a potential climate crisis. Other Clean Fleet EV Articles

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report.

California’s Low Carbon Diet

By John Addison (12/5/07). When Coke and Pepsi were in the middle of their diet wars, California was an early battle ground. It is a state which tends to do much in excess, including drinking colas. In fact, only a handful of countries spend more money on beverages. Parties of happy and surprisingly fit youth were shown on TV commercials drinking their beverage of choice.

Now millions of Californians are being targeted as early adopters for a low carbon fuel diet. More miles, less carbon emission. It is the law. Executive Order S-1-07, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), calls for a reduction of at least 10 percent in the carbon intensity (measured in gCO2e/MJ) of California’s transportation fuels by 2020. Low Carbon Fuel Standard Program

Successful implementation of the LCFS will be critical to California’s even more ambitious law, the California Global Warming Solutions Act (AB-32), which requires California’s 2020 greenhouse gas emissions to not exceed 1990 emissions. The challenge is that in 2020, California’s population will be double 1990.

Because transportation is the main source of greenhouse gases in California, it is urgent that Californians use vehicles with better miles per gallon and that less greenhouse gases be emitted from the use of each gallon of fuel.

The world will learn from the successful implementation of LCFS because gasoline and diesel are currently becoming more carbon intense. There has been a shift from oil that is easy to get, to extraction and refining that increases greenhouse gases, as we make gasoline from tar sands, coal-to-liquids, and a future nightmare of shale oil. For example, monster earth movers strip-mine northern Alberta, extracting tar sands. Elizabeth Kolbert reported in the New Yorker that 4,500 pounds of tar sand must probably be mined to produce each barrel of oil. The converting of tar sands to petroleum will require an estimated two billion cubic feet of natural gas a day by 2012. Carbon intensity includes all the emissions from the earth movers and all the natural gas emissions from refining.

“All unconventional forms of oil are worse for greenhouse-gas emissions than petroleum,” said Alex Farrell, of the University of California at Berkeley. Farrell and Adam Brandt found that the shift to unconventional oil could add between fifty and four hundred gigatons of carbon to the atmosphere by 2100. Article

So, how can California reduce the carbon emission from fuel use? As a major agricultural state, E10 ethanol will be part of the solution. E10 can be used in all gasoline vehicles including 40 mile per gallon hybrids and in the new 100 mile per gallon plug-in hybrids being driven by early adaptors. Higher percentage blends of next generation ethanol are even more promising. Biodiesel is better at reducing carbon intensity than corn ethanol. Most heavy vehicles have diesel engines, not gasoline. Exciting new European diesel cars are also starting to arrive.

There are over 25,000 electric vehicles in use in California. Heavy use of electricity for fuel would take California far beyond the minimal target of a ten percent reduction in carbon intensity. This is especially true in California where coal power is being phased-out in favor of a broad mix of renewable energy from wind, geothermal, solar PV, large-scale concentrated solar, ocean, bioenergy and more.

California Low Carbon Fuel Standard Technical Analysis documents that there is a rich diversity of sources for biofuels within the state and in the USA including the following in million gallons of gasoline equivalent per year:

In-state feedstocks for biofuel production Potential volume
California starch and sugar crops = 360 to 1,250
California cellulosic agricultural residues = 188
California forest thinnings = 660
California waste otherwise sent to landfills = 355 to 366
Cellulosic energy crops on 1.5 million acres in California = 400 to 900
California corn imports =130 to 300

Forecasted 2012 production capacity nationwide Potential volume
Nationwide low-GHG ethanol = 288
Nationwide mid-GHG ethanol = 776 to 969
Nationwide biodiesel = 1,400
Nationwide renewable diesel = 175

A variety of scenarios have been examined with detailed analysis by U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, and stakeholder workgroups that include technical experts from the California Energy Commission and the California Air Resources Board. Several scenarios are promising including one that would achieve a 15% reduction in carbon intensity with the following percentage mix alternate fuels and vehicles of some 33 million light duty vehicles by 2020:

Fuels:
Low-GHG Biofuel 3.1%
CNG 1.7%
Electricity 0.6%
Hydrogen 0.4%
Low-GHG FT Diesel .9%
Sub-zero GHG Biofuel 3.9%

Vehicles:
CNG vehicles 4.6%
Plug-in hybrid vehicles 7.4%
Flex-fuel vehicles 34.7%
Diesel vehicles 25.5%
Battery electric vehicles 0.5%
Fuel cell vehicles 1.9%

The ultimate mix will be determined by everyday drivers in their choice of vehicles and fuels. Low emission choices are becoming more cost-effective with the growth of electric vehicles, waste and renewable hydrogen, fuel from biowaste and crops grown on marginal land, and even fast growing poplar trees that absorb more CO2 than is emitted from resulting biofuels. The alternatives make fascinating reading for those interested in future scenarios for fuels and vehicles:

California Low Carbon Fuel Standard Technical Analysis and Scenario Details
California Low Carbon Fuel Standard Policy Analysis

California’s ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will benefit by the increased motive energy per CO2e that is described in these scenarios. California will also benefit from vehicles that will go more miles with the same energy input. Vehicles are getting lighter and safer as high-strength carbon fibers and plastics replace heavy metal. The shift to hybrids and full electric-drive systems allow replacement of heavy mechanical accessories with light electric-powered components. Hybrids allow big engines to be replaced with smaller, lighter engines. Pure electric vehicles can eliminate the weight of engines and transmissions. Less fuel weight is needed. Aerodynamic vehicles are becoming more popular.

Employer programs are leading to more flexible work, less travel, and increased use of public transit. Demographics may also cause a shift to more urban car sharing, use of public transit, bicycling, walking, and less solo driving. It can all add-up to a celebration of low-carbon living.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report which includes over 50 articles about clean transportation.

All Electric ATV – No myth to bust on this one

I had a chance to visit with the founders of a new San Francisco Bay Area cleantech startup called barefoot motors, which is building an all electric ATV. I think is a great idea for an untapped electric vehicle product. Think about it, of all the potential electric vehicles out there ? ATVs suck down a comparably large amount gasoline a lot of gasoline per mile and are used primarily for short range transport (range is a longtime achilles heel of electric vehicles). And riders have a serious problem with the noise and the noxious exhaust fumes. Add to that the fact that ATV riders want a combination between acceleration and power that electric drive systems are particularly good at doing, and you should be able to get a really great product from an electric all terrain vehicle. According to barefoot, Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters fame agrees. He had a big hand in the prototype.

I have followed the barefoot story for some time, but this week one of the cofounders, Melissa Brandao who was formerly with the electric vehicle company Zap, spared a few minutes on the record to give Cleantech Blog the rundown.

So Melissa, give us the story.

barefoot motors is proud to be the first company to offer Earth Utility Vehicles. Our first vehicle is called the Model One, it’s an all electric, heavy duty ATV for primarily agricultural and industrial applications. It has all the power and speed of a conventional heavy duty ATV with the added benefits of being eco-friendly lower cost of ownership driven by fuel savings, quieter and more comfortable to ride, along with those expected perks like rebates and other incentives that are likely to be instituted in the coming years to help reduce air quality issues faster. As far as air quality goes, replacing ONE conventional ATV with the Model One is like taking FOUR cars off the road. There are 1.6 million of these ATVs running around California. But because they are not in plain site they are often overlooked and forgotten by all of those that do not encounter them regularly. ATVs, unlike cars, are not highly regulated, and it will take years to change that.

Why Electric ATVs? What is better about them than electric cars?

Electric ATVs are not better than EVs they’re just different, as off-road vehicles are different than on-road vehicles. The premise at barefoot was to build a comparable vehicle to the heavy duty ATVs that were currently available knowing that the one area that we would have to address is range. What we discovered is that the principal application for our vehicle did not require an 80 mile range to fit their needs. They simply need a good, reliable, heavy duty work horse that will work around their property throughout the day. That is the Model One’s sweet spot.

What exactly is your Electric ATV going to look like?

That is under discussion as we speak but fundamentally it will look like an ATV with some design changes based on innovation as well as the distribution of weight and space, in essence there’s less stuff on the Model One so there is more space to work with.

Melissa, you told me Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters fame had a big hand in the prototype?

Yes, I met him at Maker Faire two years back and we have stayed in touch since then. When I introduced him to the idea of collaborating with barefoot motors, a green utility vehicle company, he was keenly interested for two reasons. One, he has been an advocate of alternative fueled vehicles for a long time. He even rides an electric bicycle back and forth to work. Two, Jamie was raised on a farm and he rode his grandfather’s 3 wheel ATV on the property, so he understands the importance of a good utility vehicle for agriculture. In essence, this project hit home. As a prototype builder Jamie can create elegant solutions that are simple and functional, he is the holder of several patents and he has a deep knowledge of electronics, robotics and rapid development. In building the Model One, Jamie has been the driver behind the choice of technologies and packaging. He has kept us focused on that same principle of simple but elegant design. The proof of concept, Model One, achieves our initial performance requirements, in fact, it has exceeded expectations and it’s so fun to ride, as you can see from the video of Jamie riding it. When are we going to get you on it?? (Soon Melissa, very soon).

Will it have more or less pulling power than a conventional one?

In towing capacity we can handle 1,000 lbs. That is our baseline performance which is on par with a conventional heavy duty ATV.

What about range?

Our prototype is getting about 30 to 40 miles on a charge. The BIG difference when you talk range is that an ATV encounters many variations in the off road terrain, mud, sand, gravel, dirt, steeper slopes which can skew the range figures more than it would on a standard car that drives almost entirely on asphalt.

Is there a list I can get on to buy one?

First, check out the video clip. Then yes, please contact melissab@barefootmotors.com if you are interested in purchasing one, we are building about 150 next year. We are asking for deposits of roughly 10 percent which we will apply to the price of the vehicle. It is fully refundable at any time.

Are your battery needs much different than from cars?

Our choice is lithium ion batteries we feel the density and efficiency you gain is significant enough that it only makes sense in this application.

Are we going to have a naming contest for your Electric ATV? Do we need a new acronym? EATV sounds dull. How about Electric Warthog?

Sorry, we got the name already, but I like the idea of customer interaction so you will see some clever ideas from barefoot in the coming months!

Thanks Melissa, great story. And we will put them video clip of the electric ATV up on the blog as well.

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 and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks.

Electric cars and hybrids: Silicon Valley vs Detroit

As consumers, we generally like choices. In the world of cleaner cars, those choices have been few and far between, but slowly that is changing.

I had a chance recently to test drive two of the cars whose creators are bent on changing the way we view transportation, a converted all electric Scion eBox by Silicon Valley startup AC Propulsion, and a Saturn Vue Greenline hybrid. Both were highly enjoyable. The first, with a $70,000 price tag and a $10,000 deposit, is clearly an EV targeted at Conspicuous Sustainability consumers. I guess then, that the Saturn Vue Greenline with a $24,000 price tag, is perhaps the hybrid for the rest of us.

One of my friends, who was considering buying an eBox invited me to take it for a spin up and down some of the San Francisco hills with him while he was test driving. I have to admit, coming down California Street into downtown, one of the City’s steeper hills, is an entertaining way to get used to the feel of regenerative braking on a true EV. I highly recommend it. For most of the drive I never touched the brakes. To stop you simply take your foot off the accelerator. And for those who have not driven an EV before the acceleration itself is phenomenal. Touch, and Go. Of course, with a $55,000 price tag for the EV conversion (you provide the Scion), limited range, and few electric charging stations, a purchase would be a hard call for me to make. The payback on fuel savings, many times the useful life of the car.

In contrast, General Motors (NYSE:GM) had given me a 2007 Saturn Vue to drive around for a week, to get the feel of it. If anything, GM is not known as an innovator of clean technologies. They are still tarred with the who killed the electric car brush by many environmentalists. That has only made it harder for GM to get out the message on things like its massive R&D effort in fuel cell cars, its push into flex fuel and ethanol with the Live Green Go Yellow campaign, and now hybrids. Having been to a number of their press luncheons on some of the new technologies they have been developing, I had some idea what to expect, but had not written about it before. The Vue is what is known as a mild hybrid, and its lack of bleeding edge, ultra green technology compared to a Prius had a few of my greener friends turning their noses up at it. But this didn’t really phase me after I drove it. As a car and SUV, I found it quite impressive. It handled wonderfully, was extremely quiet, and quite comfortable. You can feel the regenerative braking, but only as a slight tug, so besides the lack of noise, it is like driving any other SUV. Saturn bills it as getting the best highway gas mileage of any SUV, and the cheapest hybrid SUV on the market (not to mention a little quicker than the conventional Vue). Like all hybrids today, the payback is real, but not so great. At the average miles driven per year for most Americans we are talking 9 to 11 years or so compared to the standard Vue, according to my conversation with the Saturn people. If you happen to a real heavy commuter 25,000 to 30,000 miles per year type of thing, the payback may be down towards 5 or 6 years. In short, despite the c. 20 percent fuel savings, a consumer is looking at 120,000 to 150,000 plus miles before reaching a payback, depending on your assumptions, for this or almost any hybrid. The real payback, as always, comes from just buying a smaller car, hybrid or not.

What I love is that the Vue Greenline is really just the first in the Saturn line of hybrids and cleaner fueled cars. GM is basically planning on making virtually the entire Saturn line as green as can be. It is rolling out something like 8 new hybrids or hybrid versions of existing Saturn makes as we speak over the next couple of years. And at a $24,000 price tag, I could actually see buying one of these.

So whether you have the pocket books to look for full EV conversion or just a mild hybrid to make a small difference like the rest of us, the choice is there.

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 Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, and a blogger for CNET’s Green tech blog.

The Wright Way to the Electric Car

As with most things, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about electric vehicles. Last Friday Ian Wright and I spent a couple of hours around my conference table discussing our philosophies on electric cars. Ian knows something about this topic, as he was formerly an executive at EV startup Tesla Motors, and is now the founder and CEO of Wrightspeed, a Silicon Valley based startup whose first car is going to be a high performance electric supercar, price tag just shy of $200K. And as it’s electric, Ian expects it should outstart, outrun, outturn, and generally outperform anything in its class.

While it has been a hot topic recently in the cleantech sector, I am known among my friends as being a real skeptic when it comes to EVs, but behind Ian’s business plan he got my attention with two ideas that are worth repeating: payback and plug-ins.

First, Ian doesn’t care about gas mileage per se – he cares about performance, power, and most importantly, payback. Focus on the vehicles actually burning the most gas, irrespective of fuel efficiency. That is, instead of making tiny, compact, fuel efficient target cars more efficient with EV and hybrid technology – focus on the gas guzzlers. Ian’s point is well taken. A small, fuel efficient car that gets 35 mpg and drives a typical 12,500 miles per year only uses about 350 gallons per year. A large pickup truck that gets 12 miles to the gallon uses over 1,000 gallons for the same mileage – nearly 3x as much. And if that truck is a work truck driven 25,000 miles per year, it would use over 2,000 gallons of fuel per year, nearly 6x the little car. That truck owner may spend upwards of $50K in fuel over its life, where the commuter car owner may spend a small fraction of that.

When I asked him for comments on my example Ian added: “The special case of congested city driving might be worth mentioning, since everyone thinks a lot of fuel is wasted there. But if you drive a Prius 10 hours/week in congested city traffic, it’s only about 150 gallons/year! Not much point in trying to improve on the Prius for that use. (The arithmetic: congested traffic is defined as 12mph average; 10 hours/week would be 120 miles/ week, or 6240 miles/year. The Prius shines in this application, getting maybe 40mpg, so 156 gallons/year.)”

Putting expensive hybrid and EV technology in the small car not only has a worse financial payback – compounding the perennial problem of EVs being too costly, but the same 20% efficiency improvement does very little to reduce overall fuel consumption for society compared to the same efficiency gains in a big truck that drives a heck of lot of miles.

So Ian asks, if we want to both find a way to save car owners money, AND save the world – wouldn’t we focus on applying technology to where the problem is the worst and the returns are the best?

When Ian looked at the automotive landscape and asked the question, where is the most fuel being burned, and how do we reduce that with technology? The answer? Performance cars and big work trucks. Not surprisingly, these are his target markets.

And why are high performance vehicles like sports cars and Ford F350s so fuel inefficient anyway? Take this as an example answer. If you need a big truck to have lots of power for short periods of time (for instance, in towing), then the truck engine and systems have to be sized to deliver the maximum power. But anytime you’re not using all that power (ie, most of the time), the truck is usually running well below its optimum – and burning lots of fuel for no extra gain. It’s the same rationale for a sports car designed to run optimally at 90 mph, which performs worse at the average driver’s speed of 50- 60 mph.

Ian’s more detailed explanation to me put it very elegantly: “Roughly speaking gasoline engines are most efficient at wide open throttle and the rpm that gives max torque. If you try to operate a supercar at wide open throttle, it will be doing 200mph, and of course you’ll be losing most of the energy to aero drag. The ENGINE will be operating efficiently… but if you operate the car down where aero drag is reasonable – 50mph – then the engine will be operating at a few percent of rated power, and very inefficient. Why is it inefficient? The simple answer is that since the throttle is almost closed, there is almost a vacuum in the intake manifold, and the EFFECTIVE compression ratio is very low. You are trying to compress a vacuum. Engine efficiency is very dependent on compression ratio.

80 years ago, there were cars that could transport a family of 4 at 50mpg. The Austin 7 comes to mind. Engine technology has improved dramatically since the 30s, yet the best modern cars don’t do any better than the Austin 7. Why is that? One big reason is that the Austin 7 had, well, 7 horsepower (actually about 10hp – the “7” was “RAC hp”). So it was working hard most of the time. The family car that my wife drives makes 250 hp, and that’s just an average family car these days.S o if you displace the Prius with an EV, you can get maybe a 2x efficiency gain. But if you displace a high performance vehicle that operates most of the time at low power settings, you can get a 10x efficiency gain. That’s the main reason that 18 wheelers aren’t a good target. They have powerful engines, but their power/weight ratio is very low (when fully loaded) and the engines work pretty hard. So in fuel per lb mile, they are pretty good already.”

To deal with this issue, Ian isn’t all about the all electric. He’s pushing plug-in electric hybrids. Electric motors powered off of batteries charged from the wall or with an onboard diesel generator. The generator also acts as a booster for those times when extra power is required. Hybrids are really good at solving these power vs. efficiency problems, since you can essentially design a system that can optimize for either performance or efficiency much easier than a straight gas or electric engine could.

Ian’s vision also addresses one of the long running achilles’ heels of electric cars – the lack of fueling infrastructure. Regardless of your feelings on the matter, it’s generally bad business to try and bet on an expensive infrastructure rollout. And if it means slower and lower uptake of fuel efficient vehicles, then calling for infrastructure change that’s not going to happen is bad for the environment, too.

That’s why I’ve been such a big fan of plug-in hybrids. We can have our cake and eat it too. It’s all about payback and plug-ins. And it’s good to see electric car gurus finally getting this message.

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 Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, and a blogger for CNET’s Green tech blog.