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Archive for the ‘Electric vehicles’ Category

’Tis the season for sharing. We share meals, drinks, and presents with friends and family, and maybe even dollars with charities. But must sharing and its many benefits be limited to the holidays?

The year-round benefits of sharing are nowhere more clear than when it comes to driving. Apart from saving money for those who prefer not to buy a car, car sharing takes a significant number of cars off the road, thereby reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Moving to electric vehicles (EVs) would take reducing GHG emissions to another level. But this promises to be a slow transition as people’s concerns about EVs often prevent them from buying one themselves.

What to do about this conundrum? All in a day’s work for the Sharing Economy! Yes — sharing is coming to the rescue as a powerful way to help spread the adoption of electric cars.

Sharing driving experiences

Even the car manufacturers that support EVs in a big way aren’t shouting about them from the rooftops. Whatever the reason for their lack of marketing, a new service, DrivingElectric, is stepping in to help.

An organization based on sharing among communities, DrivingElectric focuses on pooling neighbors’ resources to spread the good EV word. Felix Kramer, the founder, got the idea for DrivingElectric after seeing how much fun EV drivers have showing their cars. And he realized that EV owners, himself included, were essentially selling electric cars!

Why is this kind of marketing so effective? DrivingElectric is based on the idea that “it takes a driver to make a driver.” The “EV curious” can use DrivingElectic to connect with EV drivers in their area. This connection gives them a more realistic and positive picture of the experience.

And it often leads to taking a spin in a nearby EV. As Kramer describes the typical experience, “You get in the car, you close the door, and it’s solid, and you sit in there and you say, ‘This is a real car!’ It’s not a golf cart … And you can’t get that until you actually sit in the car and drive in the car.”

EV drivers can share not only their cars but also their experiences, both on the DrivingElectric website and in person — thereby helping alleviate concerns like range anxiety.

Sharing chargers

Say I’ve connected on DrivingElectric with EV drivers who have convinced me that an electric car would serve my driving needs on most days. But I’m still nervous about those rare times when I drive farther than their range allows.

Once again, sharing comes to the rescue! This time it’s in the form of PlugShare, an EV charging network. Using the PlugShare website or mobile phone app, you can find chargers on your route where you can plug in, sometimes for free. Even a non-EV driver can sign up to share their wall outlet.

Range anxiety alleviated!

Sharing cars

If you’re still not ready to buy an EV, or if you want more opportunities to try one out before purchasing, you can turn to car sharing. As car sharing becomes increasingly popular, companies like Car2GoMoveabout, and Getaround are including EVs in their fleets — providing the benefits of EVs while mitigating drivers’ concerns:

  • Range anxiety: Since people generally use car sharing for short urban trips, range is rarely an issue.
  • Charging: For the rare cases when customers do need a charge, companies with EV fleets provide easy ways to find charging locations — some even provide chargers.
  • Cost: Low maintenance and charging costs save money for the sharing company, and users save by not having to purchase an EV.

Some EVs are even being designed specifically for sharing in cities — a car used for this purpose can be smaller, and therefore easier to park and charge, and need not include extra features that would drive up the price.

Sharing the EV love

Moving to EVs is a crucial part of combatting climate change — and sharing in various forms can help us get there. If you own an EV or are curious about them, check out DrivingElectric. The more we share our experiences, the sooner we can make a real transition to cleaner cars.

This post was originally published on Mosaic.

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Oil use related to driving cars has led to profound economic, health, and environmental problems on our planet. One Bay Area company, Better Place, has a unique approach to helping solve those problems. At a Green Project Management seminar I attended in May, Peter Cooper of Better Place explained how the company is attempting to break oil’s monopoly on transportation — by accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles.

The past year has brought more news about new electric cars, and early adopters now have several makes of cars to choose among. But most people aren’t early adopters. How do you convince those people to drive electric cars? Many concerns remain about price, battery range, and charging. Better Place is trying to take a situation that doesn’t currently serve most consumers and change it to something that does work.

Read more in my blog post on the SF Project Management Institute chapter’s Green Gateway blog.

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In a recent post I covered some of what my employer, Adobe Systems, is doing in the area of sustainability. I’m glad to note that we’re just one part of a larger trend in business. Many others are joining in as they see the effects of going green on their bottom line, and a recent MIT Sloan report finds that most businesses are anticipating “a world where sustainability is becoming a mainstream, if not required, part of the business strategy.”

John Viera at the SF Green Festival

Auto makers are no exception. At the recent San Francisco Green Festival, John Viera, Director of Sustainable Business Strategies at Ford, gave a behind-the-scenes look at what that company is doing to not only be more sustainable but also encourage their suppliers to do the same — an important component in what large companies such as Ford are doing.

Ford has embraced a vision to provide sustainable transportation that’s affordable environmentally, socially, and economically. The strategy for achieving this vision has three phases:

  • Near term, happening now: Begin the migration to advanced technologies, including advanced gas engines, hybrids, and cars powered by natural gas.
  • Middle term: Fully implement known technologies, including electric vehicles, in addition to concentrating on areas such as weight reduction.
  • Long term (which stretches, for now, to 2030): Continue with hybrid technology and alternative energy sources such as fuel cells and hydrogen-powered engines.

In a major shift, the focus of the company has moved from maximizing speed and power to making engines smaller and more efficient, and improving fuel economy.

A big push at Ford now is electrification. This year they’ll  provide a couple EV models, and by 2012 they plan to have 5 new ones available in the U.S. They also make moving to an EV as easy as possible for the customer: their cars provide in-car information including icons that show you how efficiently you’re driving, and when you by an EV from them, the Best Buy Geek Squad will come to your home to install a charger.

To address concerns about battery disposal, Ford is collaborating with other auto companies in the End of Life Vehicle Solutions consortium on requirements for disposal and recycling.

In addition, Ford is using more renewable resources in their manufacturing. They’re known for incorporating recycled blue jeans in their cars but also use materials such as hemp, flax, and switch grass as fiber reinforcements. Ford vehicles are 85% recyclable, and the goal is to get that number to 100%.

Ford purchases their materials locally when possible, and they also produce as many kinds of vehicles as possible in one place — something made possible in part by the fact that they use the same basic structure for many of their cars. Their Michigan plant, for example, produces gas, electric, and hybrid vehicles. That factory is also home to Michigan’s largest solar array, at 500 KW.

There’s no disputing the fact that Ford, like many auto makers, still produces gas-guzzling SUVs with low mileage. But the fact that such a mainstream company is getting into the business of sustainability bodes well. While electric vehicles still can’t be said to be cheap, Ford’s commitment to provide affordable cars for the average consumer will help bring them within the reach of more people.

How sustainable are these efforts toward sustainability? Ford has been moving in this direction since at least 2007, and given the positive financial benefits, they’re likely to continue. In fact, the poor economic climate encourages sustainability, which tends to positively affect a company’s bottom line. That, coupled with regulatory requirements and pressure from consumers, should help keep companies like Ford on the path to sustainability.

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I put flowers on my car to tell it apart from others that park neaby.

When I bought my used Smart Fortwo last year, I had in mind not only fuel efficiency but also ease of parking, a valuable feature for a car in San Francisco. And that has in fact proven to be a major bonus that I wouldn’t easily give up. I don’t drive enough to be that concerned about gas prices, but when I do drive, of course I like to know I’m driving a cleaner car.

Now that so many electric car choices are coming out, including an electric Smart in the near future, I look forward to a time when I can afford one — and when we’ll have electric car plug-ins available at my condo, so that buying an electric vehicle would even be feasible. I’m working on that and will provide updates here. In the meantime, one of my consolations has been that Chelsea Sexton, a major electric car advocate, has also been driving a Smart car. But I still long for an electric car of my own.

So I was glad to see this year’s Greenest Vehicles list from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The list is not what you might expect, wwith the Honda Civic GX, a vehicle that runs on compressed natural gas — rather than an electric car — topping the list. It did make sense that in second place is the Nissan Leaf, an all-electric car. But who would have thought, with all these electric cars coming out, that the Smart would be number 3 on the list?

In fact, the list includes many standard cars interspersed with a few electrics and hybrids — many of them beating the Chevy Volt, which comes in at number 13. Why this odd mixture? The ACEEE explains how they rated the vehicles. They considered four types of data in their assessments: tailpipe emissions, fuel economy, vehicle mass, and for hybrids and plug-in vehicles, battery mass and composition. And they assessed the impacts of the cars through their lifecycle: materials production and product manufacturing, emissions and other effects when the car is in use, and the end-of-life effects of disposal and recycling.

The fact that so many conventional cars made it onto the Greenest Vehicles list shows how serious car manufacturers have become about increasing fuel efficiency. That’s a good thing — although electric cars promise greater emissions reductions in general, we’re going to be stuck with gas-powered vehicles on the roads for quite a while, so we should make them as clean as possible. As battery disposal and energy production improve, electric cars will rise to the top of the Greenest Vehicles list. For now, it’s good to see that we’re making strides with both electric and gas-powered vehicles. And it’s good to see my own car so high on the list.

p.s. The electric Smart Fortwo would have topped the Greenest Vehicles list, but it wasn’t included because of low sales volumes — this year, only 250 are available in the U.S. on a trial basis.

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This post was originally published on The Energy Collective. Since then, the first Nissan Leaf has been delivered to its proud owner. Electric cars are here!

Are you ready? I can’t say that I am, but I recently had the opportunity to learn more at the workshop Electric Vehicles: Innovations, Incentives, and Infrastructure, where panelists from various companies and government organizations presented the latest information.

I doubt anyone at this workshop needed convincing that electric vehicles (EVs) are good for the environment, but it was interesting to note these points:

  • Diesel and gasoline account for 40% of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Of the top ten most polluted cities in the U.S., five are in California.
  • Even though California’s population (both people and cars) has grown immensely, air quality has improved, because of emission controls.
  • In California, a small percentage (between 2% and 8%) of our energy comes from coal, large parts coming from natural gas, hydroelectric, and even some renewable energy.
  • Recessions tend to happen at times of high oil prices.

All of these add up to electric cars being a good option, especially in California — a state where 12% of the U.S. population has bought 27% of the hybrids. Here, because of our energy sources, driving an electric car can put a major dent in one’s carbon footprint.

Costs

I’ve already written about some consumer worries regarding EVs. But what about the price? Next year, EVs will finally be within reach of many consumers, and incentives and rebates will help bring the price down even more. A federal vehicle tax credit of $2500 – $7500 can drastically lower the price — but wait, there’s more! If you buy a new vehicle and lease or own it for at least three years, you’ll be eligible for a rebate of $3000 – $5000 at the time of purchase. So you can get a Nissan Leaf, with a starting price of $32,780, for just over $20,000. The Chevy Volt comes with a higher price tag of $41,000 and slightly lower incentives, but you can still bring its price down to around $30,000. While the federal tax credit will be phased out according to how many cars each dealer sells, other incentives are likely to come along.

Although an EV can be charged at any electrical outlet, using a charger is quicker and provides other advantages. Smart metering is available, and many chargers can be set up to delay charging to non-peak hours, reducing both costs and the risk of overloading the grid. Installing a charger can cost over $2,000, but it’s a one-time cost and incentives can be significant. They vary by area — in California, you can check the Center for Sustainable Energy site to keep up on the latest.

Once you purchase the car and charger, you can look forward to lower operating costs. EVs require almost no maintenance, and the electricity needed to power them runs about 2 cents a mile, compared to the 6 cents a mile for a gas-powered vehicle.

Infrastructure

Most people will be able to charge their cars at home, but there are also other options. San Francisco already has some chargers in commercial parking lots, and many more are coming soon. In the San Francisco Bay Area, $5 million has been slated to support the EV infrastructure, including hundreds of charge points and some fast chargers — good news for the many drivers who park on the street and have no way to charge their cars at home. Some workplaces, including mine, have committed to providing chargers in their parking areas.

Better Place, a Palo Alto company, offers an alternative model. They’ve partnered with car manufacturers to produce vehicles that use a uniform battery, which you can swap at one of their stations for a fully charged one. Since you’re only leasing the battery, which accounts for $12,000 to $14,000 of the sticker price, the cars are more affordable. Better Place provides a subscription plan that charges according to usage, much like a cell phone plan. Because they require a certain infrastructure, their projects so far have been limited to defined areas, such as Denmark and Israel. It will be interesting to see if they can spread their model further. They provide two major advantages for consumers: a cheaper car and ease of charging — swapping a battery takes less time than filling a gas tank.

Another infrastructure issue is the increased load on the electrical grid. Utilities companies are prepared, and they’ll be aided by the gradual adoption of EVs in the general population. Some areas that already use more power, such as those that rely on air conditioning in the summer, already have a system made to handle a heavy load. In other areas, transformers will need to be replaced. Charging cars at off-peak times will help — a good reason to get a charger with this option.

The future

We can expect to see many new charging stations and many new EVs in California in the next two years. But what about the rest of the country? There may be waiting lists for EVs, but that’s because a limited number are being manufactured. Most consumers still don’t see them as a mainstream choice.

And that’s where the early adopters are crucial. EVs have been almost invisible till now. We’re entering an exciting era where people will start to see them more and become accustomed to them. There may be waiting lists now, but almost 30 car companies are planning new EVs for the near future. The word will get out as more people drive electric cars and extoll their benefits.

As for myself, I’ve never been willing to spend the money to buy a new car, so I may have to wait. I’ll comfort myself with the thought that Chelsea Sexton, a major EV advocate, drives a Smart Car like I do. But I’ll be watching for prices to come down even more and for the technology to get even better. And I’ll ensure we install electric car plug-ins at my condo complex. When the time comes for my electric car, I’ll be prepared!

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This post was originally published on The Energy Collective.

Although electric cars aren’t exactly new, the first ones having been built in the late 1800s, they’ve taken a while to catch on. In recent times, consumers were limited to odd-looking vehicles that couldn’t go far or fast—except for those few individuals with enough money to buy the luxury Tesla sports car. That’s changing with the upcoming introduction of mainstream electric cars like the Nissan Leaf, and mostly electric ones like the Chevy Volt. On a recent weekend, the San Francisco Bay Area Green Drive Expo offered a chance to see some of the latest in this technology and to learn more about what’s coming.

Why has it taken so long for electric cars to become mainstream and within the reach of the average consumer? The answer isn’t simple, as revealed in the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? While it’s tempting to blame the oil companies, and they’ve certainly played a large role, widespread deployment of the electric car has also been stalled by other factors, such as consumers’ skepticism. Chelsea Sexton, featured in the documentary and now an electric-car advocate, discussed some consumer worries in her keynote:

  • Issue: Range anxiety, by far the most pervasive consumer fear, prevents many from feeling comfortable with the idea of an electric car. One man in the audience, who was sure he represented the views of most people, claimed he needs 200 – 300 miles per charge. The fact that 90% of our daily driving is well under the 80 – 100 miles a day that most manufacturers promise doesn’t always quell range anxiety. Add to that the reality that you might not get the full range if you’re running the air conditioner or heater, listening to music, and have a carful of passengers, and many might still hesitate to buy an electric car.
  • Answer: If range is really an issue, consumers have options like the Chevy Volt, whose gas engine kicks in when the battery is drained, or established hybrids like the Toyota Prius. For some two-car families, it makes sense to use an electric car as their second car. Or we have the choice to wait till the technology improves. Battery range is currently increasing about 7% a year, and this could speed up.
  • Issue: Performance is another worry; some people think electric cars aren’t as sturdy or reliable as their gas-powered counterparts.
  • Answer: The cars on the horizon (and even some past models, like GM’s EV1) perform beautifully and are well constructed, and people love driving them. The issue is not the technology but consumer adoption.
  • Issue: Electric cars might be inconvenient.
  • Answer: It’s easier to plug in your car at night than to make a trip to the gas station.
  • Issue: Electric cars won’t cut pollution if we’re getting the electricity to run them from coal.
  • Answer: Numerous studies have shown that even with coal-generated electricity, electric cars can cut emissions by 40%. In areas like California that have many alternative energy sources, we can cut emissions by as much as 90%.
  • Issue: Discarded batteries, with their toxic contents, are a source of pollution.
  • Answer: When a battery can no longer be used by a car, it still has 70% – 80% energy left for other uses, such as solar energy storage. We currently pollute more with discarded double-A’s than we would with car batteries. And we can extract lithium from old batteries for reuse. In addition, battery technology is likely to change to use different materials, as it has already.
  • Issue: We lack the necessary infrastructure for car charging.
  • Answer: Most people charge their cars at home. Building too much infrastructure before it’s needed could lead to vacant charging stations, creating a misperception that there’s a problem.
  • Issue: Many cars charging at once in the same area could lead to blackouts.
  • Answer: If cars are charged at off hours, instead of at peak-usage times, this shouldn’t be an issue. Chargers can be equipped with timers to allow for this, and electric companies can provide financial incentives to those who charge at off hours.
  • Issue: Electric cars are expensive.
  • Answer: Incentives and rebates for new electric cars can bring the price well within the reach of many consumers. And drivers will save money on gas, since the electricity needed to charge a car battery is much cheaper.

These issues and others need to be addressed by good marketing. Early adopters, prevalent in the audience at the Green Drive Expo, are crucial in showing that electric cars are a viable alternative. People have different reasons for wanting electric cars—financial, technical, environmental, sometimes even a coolness factor. But as Sexton noted, “I don’t care what brought you to the table—I care about the table.” We need to get electric cars on the road and make them mainstream. And now we’re finally taking real steps in that direction.

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