All posts by Kyle Field

Leveraging Technology To Settle The Climate Change Debate

Originally posted on CleanTechnica

The Backstory

Climate change is a challenge unlike any other ever faced by humanity. It is the slow creep of change starting as a result of actions taken by humanity, building industries that helped hoist us out of thousands of years of toil into decades of technology-enabled prosperity.

But that prosperity exacted a toll that amassed into a series of inconvenient realities that have begun to confront humanity in ways we never could have imagined. Further complicating an already unenviable scenario, the fortunes extracted from the earth were redirected on humanity to intentionally obfuscate the truth, to intentionally introduce doubt to the equation.

These “Merchants of Doubt” had vast funds at their disposal and leveraged past experience to skillfully muddy the waters of truth, converting millions over to the opposition. These factually challenged fellows fight for the old way. They fight for antiquated methods and gladly embrace the blindfolds that keep them in the dark.

The Problem

The great iron of the climate change challenge is that the solutions humanity needs to leverage to reduce emissions at a rate necessary to avert catastrophic climate change already exist. We can generate power in renewable, sustainable ways that are more than sufficient to provide for our current needs and even well into the future.

Electric personal transport, mass transit, and bulk commerce solutions exist and are already being deployed around the globe. Adding insult to injury, many of these technologies are cost competitive with legacy power generation and transportation solutions today, without government subsidies. Change, it turns out, is not easy.

Distilling the problem down to the core issues and pairing them up with respective potential solutions has already been done for many cities, states, and even whole nations.

The missing technological development is not, in fact, another clean technology. We don’t need another 10% efficiency improvement in photovoltaic solar panels or another 200 miles of range in electric cars or even lower-cost lithium-ion batteries for cheaper grid-scale battery installations.

The Solution

What we need is to get clear on the facts. As President Obama recently stated in an interview with Bill Maher, because of this obfuscation, “people have difficulty now just sorting out what’s true and what’s not.” With the explosion of social media over the last 5–10 years, the way people get their news … and the facts that it should contain … has radically changed.

Now, one zinger headline on a clickbait article or picture with a catchy caption can provide a critical mental linkage that reinforces a social or political bias subconsciously. What’s scary is that, as the 2016 US election proved, the facts don’t even matter too much. You read that right — it doesn’t matter if the article, headline, or picture is true.

We latch onto them and share them out to our friends and the echo chamber effect continues. Obama triaged the struggle to communicate the facts, asking “How do we create a space where truth gets eyeballs?” He closed the segment with the summary problem statement: “Let’s agree on facts then argue about means after that.”

Ultimately, this single item — developing and leveraging technology to communicate the facts to the public in a way that is universally accepted — is the largest challenge facing climate change. The day we can communicate truths and facts to the public in a way that’s meaningful and believable is the day the masses will start working in earnest to make the required changes to avert catastrophic climate change.

We already have the technical solutions we need to solve the problem. But it’s all for naught if the people don’t take action.

All images by Kyle Field | CleanTechnica

If you’re looking to buy a Tesla, feel free to use my referral link (here) to save $1,000, which is the only way to get a discount on a new Tesla.

91% Of Tesla Owners Would Buy Another Tesla, Tesla Takes #1 In Consumer Reports Survey

 Originally published on CleanTechnica

Consumer Reports finds itself between the proverbial rock of its own creation — the low reliability rating of Tesla vehicles — and the cold, hard reality that is the uber positive opinions of thousands of Tesla owners. The 2016 Consumer Reports Owner Satisfaction Survey found that Tesla owners were amongst the most satisfied and that 91% would purchase another Tesla.

That puts Tesla #1 in owner satisfaction … by a landslide. It beat #2 Porsche (84%) by a whopping 7 percentage points and #3 Audi (77%) by 14 percentage points.

I have to admit that I do not come into this news as an outsider, but rather, as a veteran owner of a Tesla Model S. My first year of ownership was well documented in our ongoing long-term review, with a more refined summary in my recent “year in review” article.

The results of the Consumer Reports Owner Satisfaction Survey put Tesla far above well established brands such as Porsche, Audi, and Subaru — an impressive result to say the least, especially in light of the well documented reliability issues that persist, particularly in the Tesla Model X.

Rank Brand Would Buy Again
1 Tesla 91%
2 Porsche 84%
3 Audi 77%
4 Subaru 76%
5 Toyota 76%

The Consumer Reports Owner Satisfaction Survey was looking at overall owner satisfaction, with a specific focus on whether they would definitely buy the car again:

“Our brand rankings represent owner sentiment across each brand’s product line. (Model satisfaction is determined by the percentage of owners who responded “definitely yes” to the question of whether they would buy the same vehicle if they had it to do all over again.) To determine brand love—or disdain—we took a straight average of the satisfaction score for each brand’s models.

“Our survey revealed that the TeslaPorscheAudi, and Subaru brands remained in the top four spots again this year. Some other brands were on the move. Lincoln climbed from 21st place last year to 12th this year, and Hyundai shot up to 13th from 24th, based on the strength of new and recently redesigned models.“

While this is only one data point, it highlights just how important the improvements are that Tesla has delivered to consumers (zero emissions at the point of use, electric drive, smooth ride, quiet interior, user-friendly tech, Supercharger network, great customer service, not treating service centers as profit centers, manufacturer owned dealership experience, etc., etc.) when weighed against less-than-stellar reliability that is inevitable in a new mass-market vehicle.

On the flipside of the electric revolution, slow adopters and dieselgaters (cough … VW) didn’t fare so well in the survey:

“Meanwhile, Ram, a brand that sells just pickup trucks and vans, took a huge tumble from last year’s 5th place ranking to 17th. Other brands that fell in the rankings include BMW (from sixth to 14th place) and Volkswagen (from 16th to a dismal 24th).”

Hat tip to Curt Renz over on the Tesla Motor Clubs Forums for highlighting this gem.

If you’re looking to buy a Tesla, feel free to use my referral link (here) to save $1,000, which is the only way to get a discount on a new Tesla.

All images by Kyle Field | CleanTechnica

Tesla Model S – Thoughts After 1 Year of Ownership

Originally published on CleanTechnica

In December 2015, I hatched an admittedly convoluted plan to purchase a Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Tesla Model S some 2,600 miles away in Columbus, Ohio; fly out to pick it up; … then drive back to my home in California with a few fun stops along the way. Thankfully, just about everything worked out flawlessly and I made it home safely.

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Picking up my Model S in Columbus, Ohio

Having owned the beast for a year now, I took some time to step back to think about what it’s been like to own a Tesla Model S as compared to our 85 mile range Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive — as well as what ownership is like compared to more conventional gasmobiles.

Summary

Taking a 30,000 foot view of the last year, it has truly been phenomenal. The car drives like a dream. It’s quiet. Thanks to the skateboard design of the battery pack, it has an amazing center of gravity which is a key contributor to great traction, which doubles up with the super intelligent traction control system that all but prevents the wheels from slipping and “burning out.” It’s packed with technology making an IT geek like me smile every time I get in. And it has enough range to make range anxiety a thing of the past.

The Power of the Supercharger

While on my road trip, I vetted the Tesla Supercharger network, which I found to be more than sufficient for long-distance road trips across the arterial highway routes in the US, and with more Superchargers being added seemingly every week. Coming from a year of driving my wife’s electric Mercedes and a few months in a Nissan Leaf of my own, the Tesla Supercharger network truly was a game-changer.

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With CHAdeMO and SAE Combo Level 3 chargers (aka DC fast-charging stations), there are usually only one or two chargers per location. On top of that, they aren’t fast enough to add enough range to truly enable anything even remotely resembling a road trip. On the Chevy Bolt, for instance, stops will have to be ~60 minutes to get a 20–100% charge. Yes, that’s not terrible, but it’s also less than half the speed of a Supercharger, which will add ~170 miles of range in just 30 minutes.

On my road trip and many long-distance trips since, the Superchargers provide the perfect balance of a pit stop — time to go to the bathroom (which are typically in high demand after 2+ hours of driving with my family), grab a coffee or a bite to eat, stretch my legs, and get back on the road. Extending that to an hour adds quite a bit of idle time to the agenda. Yes, it’s still possible … but it’s going in the wrong direction.

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Supercharging is a game-changer for today’s EVs and becomes an absolute “have to have” for EVs with 200+ miles. This single fact will become evident as the masses of Bolt owners hit roads around the US over the next few months.

Service

For better or worse, I was able to experience Tesla service firsthand a few times over the last 12 months. I had my door handle extending mechanisms replaced, which took a ranger appointment and an in-house visit to fix completely. Initially, they were only going to replace the one … but when they were at my house fixing it, they confirmed that the others needed to be replaced as well. To Tesla’s credit, the process was painless and they came out and picked up my car, brought a loaner to me, and vice versa to return my car to me.

Everything about how Tesla processes service requests to how the services are scheduled to the unique approaches to repairing vehicles is a vast improvement over conventional dealerships. For the first door handle, Tesla offered to fix it in my garage with the Ranger service. That meant no dropping my car off, no waiting an hour at the dealership, no hassle of loaner cars … I opened the door and they went to work while I went inside and made dinner. It was great.

For the seatbelt recall earlier this year, Tesla staffed service techs at Supercharger locations to perform the quick 5 minute recall check in order to make it even easier for customers. This was a great example of how Tesla can and is leveraging its unique differences to improve the customer experience.

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In another interaction with Tesla service, I received a proactive call from Tesla Service to schedule a replacement of an electrical switch for the battery that wasn’t performing up to Tesla’s high standards. There was no impact to me and I received a loaner for the duration of the check. It took all of 1 day and I actually enjoyed getting to try out a different configuration of the Model S for a day.

This shows how Tesla is thinking of the vehicle as more of a smartphone than a car. Remote monitoring of vehicle health including diagnostics enables a level of preventive maintenance that simply does not exist in other car companies. This is just one more example of how Tesla doesn’t just have the longest range EV on the road but has exceeded current vehicles in just about every way.

Finally, in my most recent service experience, a notification popped up in my car that my 12 volt battery needed to be replaced. This was a known issue but it happened 2 days before Thanksgiving — for which we were planning to drive several hours a day for the entire weekend. I called Tesla and in under 5 minutes on the phone Tesla had confirmed that the battery needed to be replaced (again remotely, with no action required from me), confirmed that the battery didn’t need to be replaced immediately (had 2 weeks of life left), and had an appointment booked for early the following week.

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Overall, my Model S has had more service issues in 1 year of ownership than my Prius did over 6 years, but frankly, because of how much better the car is than any other car out there, AND just how painless Tesla Service is, I don’t mind it one bit. In fact, I enjoy calling them about an issue because they’re just so darn good at doing service.

A point of caution moving forward: it will be challenging to deliver the same high quality of service as they do today when Model 3 … and Model Y come online. I fully expect service staff to grow over the next 2 years and for the number of service locations to increase accordingly.

The Best Jerry, The Best*

My favorite part of owning the car is the rearview mirror. It’s no technical marvel — though, it is photochromatic, meaning it gets darker when bright lights (headlights) are shining in it, but that’s beside the point. I love seeing the people behind me pointing at my car and having little discussions. In addition to being in a Tesla, which draws looks by itself, my license plate is “NOGAAAS,” which helps close the gap for folks who aren’t as familiar with Tesla or electric cars.

I imagine what they’re saying and can honestly tell when they are talking about the car. I love that the car gets people talking about it. They may just know that Tesla is a nice car or a fast car or a high-tech car, which gets people excited about it … but it’s also an electric car, and to have people excited about electric cars and to get them talking about them is a huge win.

The car starts the discussion and I’ve swooped in many times to fill in any gaps in knowledge about it — dozens of times over the months I’ve owned it. For people I know, I’ve had several dozen people drive it. Again — it’s a sexy car and that draws people in and gets things going. Perhaps unsurprisingly, nobody was asking to drive my LEAF when I owned it … or my wife’s electric Mercedes. The Tesla is a different beast.

*This subheading refers to a somewhat obscure scene / character from the popular sitcom Jerry Seinfeld. 🙂

Put a Bow on It

In summary, this is the best car I’ve ever owned. When combined with the Supercharging network, it definitively puts range anxiety to rest once and for all. It packs more tech than any car I’ve seen in a way that’s more intuitive than I would have thought possible. It drives better (and quieter!) than any other car out there, and is faster to boot.

The Tesla app on my smartphone gives me all sorts of fun control and visibility of what it’s doing that has been helpful to me more than a few times. It can even unlock and turn on the car, allowing it to drive without a key in it. My wife — who’s not the most tech-friendly person and not a huge EV fan — feels comfortable driving in it with minimal instruction … which is great for my stress level and our marriage. 🙂

The only downside is the price … and that’s going to improve by leaps and bounds in another 12 months.

If you’re looking to buy a Tesla, feel free to use my referral link (here) to save $1,000, which is the only way to get a discount on a new Tesla.

All images by Kyle Field | CleanTechnica

Maxem Adds Intelligence To Residential Home Electric Systems

Originally published on Clean Technica

Transitions Now was founded by Jan-Willem Heinen with a very simple goal that is summed up on its homepage: “we build cleantech companies.” After a bit of research into Transitions Now and the companies operating within, I had seen enough to want to dig in a bit further, and seeing as how I was already planning to be in Amsterdam for a few days in July, I arranged for a visit to the office.

After a bit of searching and a fair amount of exploring the new city on bike (aka, getting lost), I found the offices tucked away in a modern neighborhood in northeastern Amsterdam. Stepping into the office, I could feel the excited energy of the place as if it were almost tangible. People buzzing around in all directions, huddled around desks, fervently working on the latest challenge or development … it was clear that progress was being made, the common goal was being moved forward.

I was primarily interested in the one startup underneath the Transitions Now banner, Cohere, and its flagship product, Maxem. Cohere was launched in 2011 as the brainchild of Jan-Willem Heinen, who saw a gap in the current EV charging offerings when it came to enabling homeowners to charge at home on the often current-limited home electricity grid connections that are typical in Europe.

maxem_grid_charges

A Connected, Intelligent Solution

Maxem is an end-to-end solution that revolves around a small piece of hardware that taps into the home electric box as well as key large power users in the home like EV chargers, the heat pump, home energy storage, and residential power generation units like solar or wind.

With all of this connectivity, the Maxem solution maximizes the synergies between the various systems with a focus on first measuring consumption and generation, then applying its intelligence to control the individual appliances on the home grid. The ultimate goal of Maxem is to help the electricity appliances in the home work together to reduce peak energy pricing costs, eliminate the need to pull power from the grid, and, ultimately, to reduce the carbon footprint of the home.

maxem_installed

Dynamic Scaling

Maxem speaks in kilowatt-hours as the universal language of energy and can dynamically scale the power consumption of these major consumption units to smooth out the power pulled by the home.

For example, if the EV is charging during the middle of the day, the power from the rooftop PV solar system can be directly funneled into the EV instead of pulling from the grid. In markets where net metering accommodations are not available or are not consumer friendly, keeping PV generation on site is a big benefit.

The system also dynamically balances home energy usage and EV charging draws to stay under max loads. When home energy usage drops, Maxem intelligently funnels the unused capacity to the EV and, conversely, will slow down EV charging if the home energy usage increases.

maxem_high_low_evcharging

The Dashboard

Underpinning the Maxem hardware is the brains of the operation, which the owner interacts with through a streamlined, modern software dashboard that shows with beautiful simplicity the work being done by the system. Key metrics include Solar Generation, Home Usage, EV Charger Usage, % Sustainable, and other key metrics.

For me, this is data that I pull manually and dump into my home energy tracking spreadsheet, so having an intelligent, beautiful system pull it for me would be a huge win. The metrics are all presented in a “single pane of glass” with obvious color coding that makes it clear how the home is performing vs. the ideal state.

Check out the very recently launched beta of the dashboard here (that actually went live when I was there!) to see what it looks and feels like.

maxem_dashboard

Availability, Pricing, etc.

The Maxem solution is currently available throughout Europe, with global deployments in the works. Due the hardware connectivity of the solution, each region is being assessed individually to ensure the tightest integration possible.

The solution is currently priced at €595, which includes installation by a certified professional. This is sure to be another challenge for the solution, as building a network of certified, trained installers takes time — though, on the upside, the solution install appears fairly straightforward and is something most electricians should be able to tackle.

The Tesla Supercharging Crisis On The Horizon

Originally published on CleanTechnica

With several affordable vehicles on the horizon that will be capable of 200 miles or more of all-electric range, the last major problem for EVs and EV manufacturers to truly solve is super fast public charging, or what we have dubbed Level 4 charging.

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Image courtesy Redditor Dakujem

Tesla is currently the only automaker to offer reasonable long-distance charging with its Superchargers running at ~135 kW, but that infrastructure is about to be pounded into the ground by hundreds of thousands of Tesla Model 3 owners unless something changes.

In the Model 3 unveiling last week, Elon Musk shared that Supercharging would be included with the Model 3 but stopped short of claiming that it would include free Supercharging, as has been the case with the Model S and X. This is a divergence from previous statements that Supercharging would be free for the Model 3.

Tragedy of the Commons

Looking at Supercharging, one of the key challenges is that it’s free. When humans can get something for free, even when it’s just a few bucks worth of power, we act irrationally and selfishly, which is a behavior captured in a theory call the “tragedy of the commons.” Per Wikipedia, the tragedy of the commons is:

“an economic theory of a situation within a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently and rationally according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting that resource.”

Stories of wealthy Tesla drivers using Superchargers every day as their main charging solutions are on the forums and are evidence of this behavior. Spending 30 minutes every day to sit around to save $3 in electricity at home is not a logical behavior for someone driving a $100,000 car, and results in charging stations being unavailable for long-distance drivers.

Tesla has already reached out to frequent … excessive … abusive … and even some infrequent Supercharging users, asking them to take it easy … and this is just with the Model S putting load on the Supercharging network. Imagine when we have 2 more years of full production volume of the S and the X weighing down on  it… Tesla Superchargers could be in for a world of hurt in no time, as defined by long lines and general unreliability of the Supercharging network.

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Supercharging in Redondo Beach | Image Credit: Kyle Field

Why Supercharging

Fixing Supercharging doesn’t mean that all of a sudden everyone has to pay for Supercharging. Stepping back from the problem to look at why Supercharging exists in the first place helps us to understand what levers can be pulled to improve the system.

Tesla developed and deployed Supercharging to fill a functionality gap for EVs and to enable long-distance travel. That’s the base use case and in these early days of Level 4 infrastructure deployment, the key reason for Level 4 chargers. This is not saying that Superchargers are not great for a quick topup or for filling up after a long day of driving around town … but that’s not what Tesla built them for.

As Supercharging networks continue to grow, there will be a natural evolution of the system to support additional use cases, but in the meantime, there is an opportunity to leverage system controls to optimize system availability. Long-distance travel and fast charging become much more relevant considerations as EVs with more than 200 miles range become the norm — as long-distance travel with sub-100 mile range EVs is painful in most scenarios anyway.

The Radius Model

Finding the sweet spot in keeping the system functional while also assuring availability is a delicate balance but is not unsolvable. Implementing a system wherein charging closer to home is not free provides an incentive for EV owners to charge at home and lightens the load on the distributed public charging network that otherwise becomes clogged by the tragedy of the commons effect we typically see with free charging.

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Great availability, low utilization | Image Credit: Kyle Field

For local charging within 50 miles of home, it is critical to bill for EV charging, as this is where 90%+ of all driving takes place. When local charging is not regulated, EV drivers gravitate towards utilizing public charging stations instead of home charging, which consumes charging spaces that could otherwise be useful for long-distance travelers. A healthy price point for local charging would be to use peak electricity rates.

For mid-range charging at ranges of 50–100 miles from home, an EV driver can still round-trip a destination on a single charge, so public charging at these distances is not absolutely required. Charging pass-through rates for power at mid-range charging stations strikes a balance that allows EV drivers to charge remotely without a penalty but clearly removes the incentive to “convenience charge.”

For long-range charging over 100 miles from the home, Level 4 charging can remain free as this is the intended use-case.

Implementing a radius model to govern charging ensures that chargers are available for the base use case while also giving EV drivers the freedom to utilize public super fast charging stations if needed, with minimal penalty. For EV drivers without home chargers, workplace chargers provide the best balance between cost, availability, and charging time.

As the Level 4 charging network catches up with EV sales growth, models can be adjusted to strike the right balance between cost, availability, and charging time. Currently, the balance is tenuous at best, but with Tesla being the only EV manufacturer to truly invest in a Level 4 charging network and ensure integration with its fleet of EVs, the balance is sure to deteriorate as Model 3 comes online.

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Tesla Model 3 on the test track | Image Credit: Kyle Field

At the Model 3 unveiling last week, Tesla shared plans to double the Supercharging network by the end of 2017, and a parallel effort to improve the destination charging program with a planned four-fold increase in the same timing.

Building and managing Level 4 public charging is a key step to ensuring robust EV charging that meets the needs of EV drivers, but with Model 3 on the horizon, it is at a critical junction as EV adoption moves from the Early Adopters to the Early Majority and the volume of EVs on the road ramps up significantly. Left unmanaged, the volume of vehicles would quickly overwhelm the current and planned super fast charging network and render it effectively unusable.

Putting A Price On Home Energy Efficiency

Originally published on CleanTechnica

Buying a house is an exciting part of life, the start of a new chapter, and frankly…freakin’ scary! Typically that’s not because of any spooky creatures but because of the massive mortgage that people usually take on to afford one, the number of things that can go wrong, and unforeseen financial burdens that these ‘money pits’ can become.

Many of the financial pitfalls can be identified early on in the buying process as part of a quality home inspection, but there’s one big dirty secret that many homes have that is a bit harder to wrap your head around when buying a new place – energy. I’m not talking about the qi (or ch’i) of the house or anything like that, but literally about the energy used by the house on an annual basis in all forms – electricity, natural gas, propane, heating oil, solar, wind, solar thermal, geothermal, etc

Let’s back up a bit. Pretend you’re buying a new car. Do you check the window sticker to see what options it comes with? How about the fuel efficiency? Estimated cost to operate for a year? Me too! …and it’s the same for a house. We want to know which energy options it comes with. Does it use natural gas for heating? Have a high tech heat pump in the basement that is dirt cheap to own and operate?

Fuel efficiency similarly translates into energy intensity. You thought I was going to say energy efficiency there, right? The actual metric for putting data behind this is the amount of energy used per square foot of the house. Roll that up over the size of the house and the months of the year and you get the mega-metric – the total cost of energy to operate for a year.

Before cars kept track of fuel efficiency, knowing what miles-per-gallon your car got was irrelevant to the market – you don’t care what your car gets and the market doesn’t value it…and it’s the same thing with a home. You can invest $15k in solar panels, $10k in energy efficiency improvements, and $3k in a new heat pump, but you’re not going to see much of that money rolling back into the valuation of the house because people don’t speak that language yet.

We need to retrain our brains, and the market, to accurately value not just the cost of the house but the cost to run the house month to month. For example, let’s dig in to the numbers on two houses:

  • House A is $1000/month to buy for 1700 square feet, but costs $300/month for the electricity bill and another $150/month to heat it.
  • Across the street, House B is also $1000/month to buy for the same 1700 sq ft footprint, but due to the solar panels on the roof and the extra insulation in the walls, floors, and ceiling, only costs $50/mo for the heating bill, with no electric bill to speak of.

Obviously the second house is worth more, and is a better value for the same purchase price. But just how MUCH more does an energy bill that’s $400 lower (every month!) make the house worth? Backing up a bit, how do we even quantify the monthly cost of energy for a house?

Putting a price tag on the cost of energy is the first step in getting a handle on the value of residential renewables – such as solar – into the valuation of the house. That allows homeowners to see the month-to-month cost and quickly extrapolate the cost of energy over the life of the house (the long term cost of energy).

This could be accomplished by reapplying the concept of the Energy Star label on appliances:

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Beyond just the base concept of putting a dollar value on, and an increased visibility of, the cost of energy, less efficient homes are actually more risky to banks. Think about it. In the example above, house A carries an energy bill of $450/month vs house B with just a $50/month bill. That’s an extra $400 of monthly debt on house A that will never go away for the homeowner.

That effectively takes the monthly payment for the house from $1000 to $1450 whereas House B is only going to cost $1050/month – a huge difference. One of my favorite sayings that I’ve heard about solar is that it takes a monthly liability (the monthly bill) and turns it into an asset (increased value of the house).

Homes with higher energy bills are riskier investments for banks, as the monthly energy cost is not taken into account when the home is financed. It’s essentially a highly variable chunk of debt (particularly in this era of increasing efficiency and solar) that the bank not only doesn’t know about, but doesn’t seem to care about.

In markets where the energy bill is a large percentage of the mortgage, this can play a large factor in whether a homeowner can actually afford the full cost of the home or not. Further, the variations in energy price can, and likely often do today, single-handedly sink the homeowner’s monthly budget and kick the loan into default.

Finally, these energy costs can be rolled up over the life of the loan as part of the purchasing process. House B might only cost $18k in energy costs over 30 years whereas house A would tip the scales at $162k!! Granted, not many people are interested in stepping back and looking at the total cost of energy over 30 years, but lifetime costs often paint a picture compelling enough to trigger small changes.

If we looked at energy costs this way more often, solar and energy efficiency would be much more likely to have increased value when the house hits the market. Markets value what is measured. We need to measure energy use and turn consumption into an easy to understand comparable metric – like MPG is for fuel efficiency.

Doing that will trigger banks and financial institutions to dig a bit deeper into the value of energy efficiency and residential power generation as a part of the lending process and overall risk assessment. If Energy Use Intensity is being looked at by financial institutions, services like Zillow will start reporting EUI, which completes the cycle back to the consumers.

Homeowners would have more incentive to invest in technologies that are better over the long run and often for the planet, such as making that $5k investment in more insulation, spending $300 on LED light bulbs, or $15k on solar. Homeowners can have the confidence that they are making an investment in the house and in a reduction in monthly operating costs over the life of the home, or at least of the product being installed. For LEDs, that’s just 22.6 years…what a ripoff :)

EV Charging — The Time For A Single Fast-Charging Standard Is Now!

Originally posted on CleanTechnica

The EV charging network is the gas station network for EV owners — the only place to fill up and top off when out on the town, driving around the fringes of an EV’s range. What’s more, charging up an EV takes longer than fueling up an ICE vehicle, so the quantity and availability of charging stations makes a huge impact on the functionality of EVs. To further complicate matters, the growing fleet of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) that don’t have the same “need” to charger can frequently be found charging at public EV charging locations, blocking out battery electric vehicle (BEV) drivers that, as a result, might not be able to get the charge they need to continue to their destination.

As BEVs and PHEVs increase in popularity, the current public EV charging infrastructure will also need to be scaled up to support the fleet. The lack of an EV fast charging standard further complicates the landscape, fragmenting the already struggling infrastructure with several standards competing for dominance, and manufacturers are drawing lines in the sand and picking teams to determine which standard will reign supreme.

Where We Came From — Level 2 Charging

With the initial deployment of EVs, what we now call Level 2 chargers were deployed far and wide to incentivize the public to purchase electric vehicles. These chargers provide charging rates of 6.6 kilowatt-hours for each hour of charging. In a Leaf, that equates to around 24 miles of range per hour of charging. These chargers were a fantastic start at developing a public charging network and gave early adopters the confidence to purchase a $30,000 vehicle with a reduced range.

Level 2 public chargers allowed people to extend the practical range of their EVs with just a few hours of charging required to top off their charge before heading on to another destination. Level 2 chargers are now installed in garages of many EV owners and the public network of chargers has only continued to grow as EV adoption has increased.

Building a Better System — Early DC Fast Charging

To complement these chargers, Level 3 chargers — or DC fast chargers — have started popping up. Level 3 chargers brought a significant advantage to the table in terms of charging speed and were able to push ~19 kWhs in a 30-minute session, equating to the addition of roughly 80% of the charge or an extra 76 miles of range. Charging rates slow as the battery nears the 90% full range, so, your mileage may vary.

DC fast chargers have grown into the gas stations of the EV charging network in most areas, as they allow ~80% charge in the time it takes to enjoy a cup of coffee or grab a bite to eat.

Similar to early Level 2 chargers, Level 3 chargers are expensive, with installations requiring significant electrical infrastructure in addition to a hardware cost upwards of $100,000 each in the US. Due to the high capital cost required to install Level 3 chargers, early installations have been slower and mostly implemented by companies dedicated to charging infrastructure likeNRG EVgo and ChargePoint. These chargers started popping up in major cities, then made their way into smaller cities across the nation.

DC Fast Charging Today

Which brings us to today. In the southwestern United States, we have a healthy network of Level 2 chargers supported by a sprinkling of Level 3 DC fast chargers. On top of this mature network, EV sales have ramped up and are weighing heavily on our primarily Level 2 charging network. Many modern EVs are equipped with fast charging capability, with many supporting higher speeds than the current networks even provide. As we approach the next step change in EVs — with ranges of 200 miles requiring batteries of 60 kilowatt-hours and more — we are again approaching a point where even our fastest chargers today will not meet the needs of the masses.

CHAdeMO

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Kia Soul EV CHAdeMO Adapter (on right) | Image Credit: Kyle Field

CHAdeMO plugs are the size of a large firehose, making its charging cables unwieldy, and it is the fast charging adapter of choice for the Kia Soul EV, Citroen, Mitsubishi EVs, Peugots, and of course, Nissan and the established Leaf (as an option). CHAdeMO offers charging speeds of up to 70 kW, with real-life 30-minute charging sessions delivering just over 19 kWh of charge or around 75 miles of extra range (on a Nissan Leaf). CHAdeMO is seeing extremely rapid adoption in Japan, with around 5,500 stations deployed today (crazy considering how small Japan is!). The US — specifically, California — is ramping up deployment of CHAdeMO stations quickly as well, where over 1,300 stations have been deployed.

SAE Combined Charging Solution

Competing with CHAdeMO for the DC fast charging crown is the newer SAE Combined Charging Solution (aka SAE Combo, or CCS), which is a standard J1772 plug with 2 additional DC fast charging ports below it (hence the combo moniker). This newer standard is the fast charging standard of choice for Audi, BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Porsche, and Volkswagen. Most notably, this port can be found on the BMW i3, the Chevrolet Spark EV, and the Volkswagen eGolf. Combo adapters are similar in size to CHAdeMO, though due to the utilization of the existing J1772 plug, only require a single port on the car, whereas CHAdeMO requires 2 separate on-vehicle ports.

These Combo plugs offer maximum speeds of up to 90 kW (DC Level 2) with theoretical speeds of up to 240 kW. In real life, SAE Combo charge rates are comparable to CHAdeMO, delivering roughly 80% of the range of ~100 mile EVS in a 30-minute fast charging session.

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Tesla Supercharger in Oxnard, CA | Image Credit: Kyle Field

Supercharged

Finally, the Tesla charging format supports all charging levels from Level 1 (normal wall outlets at 110 volts) up to the Tesla-only DC Supercharging network which boasts the fastest broadly available charging speeds, cranking up to 400 miles of range per hour (design rate) with a real-world miles delivered in 30 minutes of Supercharging sitting at 170 miles. This does not scale up linearly (170 x 2 = 340 miles of range delivered per hour), as charging slows when the battery approaches capacity — but it’s still extremely impressive and much faster than any other fast charging standard with a substantial deployed footprint.

The Tesla charging standard is also much more compact than the other standards and can be used for all charging speeds — from 110v wall charging @ 15 amps all the way up to Supercharging.

The Road to the Future

Where to from here? Ultimately, the market will decide which manufacturer and, thus, which standard prevails. Manufacturers are realizing the negative sales impact the current, scattered public charging network is having and building out branded charging networks. Much like the VHS vs Beta or the HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray battles of the past, fragmented landscapes rarely last for long. We will likely converge on a single standard, but the longer the transition is drawn out, the more consumers — and EV adoption rates — will suffer. We need a fast charging standard now to give manufacturers and consumers confidence in EVs long into the future.

Several clear paths exist — though, with sides having already been chosen, no option will be pain-free. An NGO or charging alliance could be formed as a neutral self-governing body to select a dominant standard moving forward. Though, this is challenging as these organizations cost money and offer little financial upside for participants. Government mandates can also create results and that feels like what may be required to unify manufacturers as an effort to protect consumers from non-value-added infrastructure fragmentation.

Whatever the path forward, the time for action is now. Consumers are calling out for a single EV fast charging standard to carry us several decades into the future….

My Epic Tesla Road Trip

Originally published on CleanTechnica

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Upon rolling out of the Tesla Dealership… er… Service Center in Columbus, Ohio, a few things hit me right off the bat: The new-car feeling, realizing that this was my car. The realization that now I really was pretty much on the other side of the country and actually had to drive back across the ~3,700 kilometers at around 33 hours of driving. The fact that I only had one room booked between Ohio and Vegas … and what the heck, I just bought a Tesla!?!

I wanted to take off like a bat of hell and drive 120 miles an hour down the road, tearing up the asphalt… but I’ve been there and done that and tickets (and accidents!) are expensive no matter what state you’re in. So I calmed myself down, took a sip of the coffee CJ had so generously hooked me up with, set the cruise control for 65, and pointed the wheels to the west.

The next day, after a few hours of rest, several stops at Superchargers, hundreds of miles, and too many cups of coffee, I had a good feel for the car and how it worked on long road trips. While the car generally met my expectations, a few things stuck out to me about the car that I hadn’t expected.

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Supercharging in Columbia, MO

Automagic Unlocking

Locking the car, for one. The Model S automagically locks (it’s an optional setting) when the driver walks away with the key fob. At first, I would nervously look out at the car from the gas station, coffee shop, or lunch stop to confirm that the handles were in, lights were off, and all that. After several stops, I realized that it just works. Put it in park, get out, walk away, and you’re good. It’s awesome. No parking brake, no locking or unlocking the car… easy.

Power at Your Fingertips

The power of the car is also amazing. With a single-motor, non-performance version of the Model S, I was not expecting amazing performance, but it blows me away. I used to have a ’97 Pontiac Trans Am, which I had done some work on, so I’m familiar with performance cars, but the smooth, torquey power of the Model S is a different beast altogether, and a lot more fun in my opinion.

Going 30 but want to go 65? Done. Going 65 and want to pass the smoggy diesel pickup in front of you? No problem. It’s something I’m still working on dampening, as it just begs to go faster than most laws allow. My favorite is pounding the pedal while cruising at around 20–30 miles per hour. It jumps like nothing else… okay, except may be a P90D with Ludicrous Mode :D.

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Supercharging in Colorado

Supercharging

I will go into more detail about Supercharging in a separate article, but suffice it to say that it blows the competition away. Triple the speed of the next fastest charger, predictable, built into the navigation, and easy to use. It’s great. I loved being able to punch in whatever destination I wanted, however far away, with the confidence that the car would navigate to the nearest charger automatically.

Most of the Superchargers were located at hotels, gas stations (of all places!), shopping plazas, and otherwise near facilities that could occupy 30 minutes of a day, which was nice. A few stops required a bit more creativity to answer the calls of nature or get a bite of food. I found the ability of the car to keep the heating on while charging to be a great feature that I took advantage of extensively on my journey.

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My favorite Supercharger — at a BP gas station in Effington, IL

Indecisive Navigation

One glitch that I noticed in the navigation is that, after topping up at a Supercharger then heading down the highway, the navigation would occasionally try to route me back to the charger I had just left (after charging for the amount of time it told me to charge for).

This even happened a few times after I was 20 minutes down the road like it suddenly realized I needed more capacity to make the next charger. It did not make sense to me, as I typically had 50–80 miles of “spare” range above and beyond what was required to get to the next charger. It was not a deal breaker and I was able to manually navigate through it by turning off charging stop recommendations, but it seems like a bug in the logic that could be corrected.

Navigation Range Estimation

Along similar lines, the navigation is conservative, but with caveats. First — it is conservative as it tries to ensure that you have WAY more charge than needed to get to the next destination. If I’m going 65 miles to the next charger, it wants me to have at least 110 miles of range to move on.supercharging

The caveat to the estimated range is that external factors like elevation gains, climate controls (heating/cooling), driving speeds, and outside weather can (and did!) have large impacts on range. It was not clear if the navigation was actively taking those factors into account — or at least for the static, predictable factors — but it seems like it could more accurately describe why it wants more charge at certain times.

On my trip, I drove over the Rocky Mountains (very steep, cold mountains in the Western United States), drove in sub-zero temperatures, and as a result, used the cabin heating frequently. I was aware of the impacts these would have, but an unfamiliar driver, not realizing the interrelationships between these factors could easily end up stranded in their Tesla. These factors are also present in gasmobiles, but with gas stations on every corner and most freeway exits, it is less of an issue. Growing pains…

The video below details some of my jumbled learnings from the road. I was happy to find that the speedometer display was the right angle to capture this specific angle with my phone, making it easy to record videos and video chat with my kids while out on the road. Technology is amazing.

All images and videos by Kyle Field

EVs & PVs — You Can Drive on Sunshine!

Originally published on CleanTechnica

This is an overview for how to assess a solar installation for a residential property and pair the system with an EV or two to generate your own power and drive on sunshine. This is not an attempt to document every scenario, but rather to share the overall direction and flow from which you can, with your newfound knowledge, move forward with an installation of your own. Let’s get started!

When we first put solar panels on the roof of our 2-story home here in sunny Southern California, I understood the concept but had some questions about how it all actually worked. It was quite the learning process, and since then, I have continued to add panels to the roof to offset our base usage while also adding more load to our system with the addition of 2 EVs in the last 12 months. With all this, we are now living the dream and effectively “driving on sunshine.” As there were so many learnings with both systems, this article will help frame both pieces of the puzzle in order to help others understand some of the nuances and how they work together.

The Roof today with our 17 solar panels

The first step towards getting solar panels up on your roof is sizing the system. This is one of the first steps a solar installer will typically do for your site, but you can also go through it yourself to understand the details or for a DIY installation. Many factors dictate system size but the two big ones are the usage you want to offset with new solar generation and the solar potential of the installation location.

Calculating your estimated usage is very straightforward, as your utility has a vested interest in tracking usage accurately so it can bill you for it. Look up the last 12 months of bills and capture the monthly usage in kWhs for each month. The resulting total is your starting point for annual usage. Next, take into account any big project that could impact your usage in the next few years — adding an EV (I’ll review estimating EV usage below), removing a hot tub, installing LED lighting, etc., and either add or subtract those from the annual usage total. Finally, determine what % of that usage you would like to offset. Most installers will use 90% of the production, as any excess is typically not a good investment for the homeowner. My personal goal is to continually generate at least 105% of my total usage.

To understand the solar potential of your location, use an online solar production potential calculator like PVWatts. You enter the key details of your system — some which take more work than others, like installation address, system size (from your work in the previous step), tilt, module type, etc., and the system spits out a nice annual chart of estimated production by month, including the value of the energy produced.

PVWatts Estimated Production

One of the first question folks normally ask about residential solar is “but, what about the batteries?” In most residential installations, the PV solar system will be connected to the grid, meaning that any excess energy produced will be sent to the grid. In a net metering arrangement, the utility will track how much the PV generation sends to the grid and keep a tally sheet, “netting out” usage vs generation at the end of the year. Why annually? This allows systems that generate more in the summer and less in the winter to level out over the year instead of the utility paying the customer in the summer and vice versa in the winter. This could be a whole separate article but I’ll leave it at that for now.

Now that we have our system sized up, let’s go get some bids from installers! I went with SunRun (previously REC Solar and recommend Evergreen Solar as a great unbiased solar installer finder) I’m not going to go into full detail on how systems are priced out, but there are primarily 3 options:

  • Buy this system outright with cash. The system is yours and all generation is “free” after the initial purchase.
  • Sign up for a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). The installer will front the money for the system and you agree to buy power from them for a predefined term of 20, 25, or 30 years. Terms such as annual % price increases, duration, upfront cost, and savings vary. Do yourself a favor and read the fine print… that’s a long period of time to be locked into bad terms. 🙂
  • Financing. Finance the system through the installer. These contracts are getting sticky so definitely another one to watch out for. It may be better to finance through an unrelated bank to pay for the system vs finance through an installer. A great article on Solar Love flagged some key details on a new SolarCity financing scheme that seemed less than consumer friendly.

My Solar System's Production Summary

Before you lock in and sign papers, dig into the return on investment that the solar salespeople (yes, they are trying to sell you the system, even if it’s a zero-down deal) pitch to you. A few tips — look for price increases in the retail electricity they are comparing to. For instance, in my area, Tier 1 rates were $0.12/kWh when I signed up and they projected 5% increases every year. To validate that, I went in and flattened the price of electricity for a “worst case scenario” payback. Since 2011, however, we did offset the small amount of Tier 2 power we had been paying for ($0.19/kWh) and our Tier 1 pricing has gone up quite a bit and is now $0.15/kWh which is inline with the solar company’s projections.

I have also built an Excel sheet (as I’m prone to doing) to track our solar production, home usage, efficiency savings (improvements in total usage vs base), payback, etc. There’s a notable blip in Jul ’13 when we went from 5 to 12 panels, with each calendar year change as we “net out” and either add or subtract the annual bill or credit into the equation and add in any pricing changes in the “SCE $/kWh” column. I dropped a copy into my Dropbox public folder if anyone wants to find all my errors/reapply/make it your own (link).

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What a whirlwind of data. Now that your head is spinning with numbers, take a break, grab some coffee, and come back in 5.

We’ve determined what your usage is for the year, adjusted for all the great efficiency improvements you’re going to make with your tax returns (right?), sized the system based on your specific location, and worked through the financial side of the system. What now? Let’s throw an EV into the mix! Put some miles on those solar panels! But seriously, how do you figure out how much power you’ll need to get back and forth to work? Come with me, friend…

When buying an EV, you enter a new world of numbers and metrics. Nobody will tell you the most important factor in calculating your energy usage, but it’s simple — miles per kwh. Basically, how far you can drive on one unit of electricity. Boiling it down to the basics, your EV has a certain battery size — say 24 kWh — and gets a certain range — like 84 miles. Roll those two together and you get the manufacturer’s estimated miles/kWh rating. In this case, that’s 84/24 or 3.5 mi/kWh for my 2014 Nissan Leaf. I must have a light foot because I have averaged 4.1–4.3 mi/kWh since we’ve had it… which also means I get more miles out of a charge, which is nice.

Now that we know how efficient your EV (or EV-to-be) is, just roll that into the number of miles you drive per year or plan to drive in the years ahead to get your EV’s annual kWh usage. You can run this through the same usage-to-system-size calculation to determine what size PV system you need to power your car. In my case, I used the actual production averages from my panels to calculate this at a “high” miles per year number (12,000) and a “low” miles per year number (8,000) to understand what those thresholds looked like, then sized accordingly.

Our Leaf Charging in a Santa Monica, CA Parking Structure FREE!

Tracking solar generation allows us to understand our system payback vs retail pricing, aka “what you would have paid for the power” — or the cost of the solar system per month. Keeping a running total of the savings allows you to estimate payback time for the system, at which point the system is effectively producing free power. Tossing an EV into the mix, I track EV savings as :

[miles driven / mpg of the car we replaced * price of gas for the month (actuals)]

minus

[miles driven / (mi/kwh of the car) * retail cost of electricity/kWh]

Or… in simple terms, the amount of money we would have spent on gas minus the money we would have spent on electricity = savings from the EV vs a gasmobile.

Solar-powered charging at home is the most cost-effective, environmentally friendly form of vehicle-based transport that fits our lives (today). After we added the first EV in late 2014, we decided to go all-in and added a second EV just a few months ago. We are currently saving money on our electricity bill with the 17 solar panels we have up on the roof, with another 10 panels that we’ve already purchased that are currently waiting for a home electrical panel before we can add those to get back to a state where we are producing more power than we use. The second EV put us back “into the red” but also gets us off gas, which is a bigger win in my book. :)