Category Archives: Energy Storage

The Chevy Bolt & The Tesla Model 3: The Solar-Powered Restoration of American Energy Independence

Originally published on CleanTechnica

July 4th is Independence Day in the United States, and as with similar holidays in countless countries around the world, it is the perfect occasion to reflect on what it means to be independent. One key aspect of independence today is intimately tied into energy. How many countries around the world have found themselves economically enslaved to the energy economics inherited from past generations?

The US is the largest consumer of oil on the planet by a long margin, consuming more oil than any other country, regardless of population. While the US is also the largest “producer” of oil, it does not produce enough oil to satiate its seemingly endless thirst for it.

The capitalist country is embattled with modern-day oil barons fighting for lower fuel efficiency standards while climate change believers fight to raise fuel efficiency standards, enact a universal carbon tax, and work to create incentives for battery electric vehicles. The gridlock of the past took a turn for the worse with the Trump administration, which continues to plod forward in the mindless push to unshackle the American capitalist machine from the trio of perceived anchors that are the Clean Air Act (of 1970), the Clean Water Act (of 1972), and the much more recently added Clean Power Plan (of 2014).

In the face of this political uncertainty, a few beacons of hope have emerged, shining out of the dust of the recently fallen environmental protections. They give us hope for a future where our children and grandchildren can breath clean air, can drink water that is free of heavy metals and toxins. A future where the vehicles that move us from place to place move silently around, powered by clean technologies and whirring electric motors.

The Chevrolet Bolt, which launched in December 2016, and the Tesla Model 3, which will be delivered to its first customers later this month, are the first vehicles of a new generation of long-range, affordable electric cars that carry the keys to unlocking the most American of all values — true energy independence. For the first time in many, many decades, America has within its grasp the ability to harvest electricity from the wind and sun that will not run dry — using power systems that emit no pollution into the air and require minimal emissions to manufacture.

The shift from fossil fuel–fired vehicles to electric vehicles presents a rare opportunity for any country in the world to catalyze a paradigm shift in energy generation. The opportunity to convert to locally produced energy brings along with it the possibility to keep millions and billions of dollars of energy spending inside the country. For the United States, this means weaning itself off of the ill-adopted relationships with countries around the world that have failed to move forward adopting minimum standards for human rights. For many nations in Eastern Europe, the opportunity to throw off the shackles from oppressive regimes that have for too long throttled the supply of energy as a means of controlling the economies of those less endowed with natural resources has the potential to reinvigorate the people and catalyze a positive change in these countries.

Clearly, these changes are not being led solely by two vehicles, but these vehicles embody the broader movement that is only now reaching its climactic moment in history. Affordable electric vehicles let the average person purchase a vehicle that has the range to make 99% or more of all trips possible with an electric vehicle. When combined with the fact that electric vehicles are also cheaper to drive on a cost of fuel per mile basis, it starts to get interesting — my wife and I have saved nearly $2,000 in 2½ years of owning our first electric vehicles versus the cost of gasoline.

Electric vehicles also require significantly less maintenance, with thousands of fewer moving parts than their fossil fuel–fired counterparts, resulting in even more savings. Electric vehicles are much quieter to drive, and without the controlled explosions of a fossil fuel engine under the hood, don’t vibrate their passengers to death. Removing that combustion engine from the vehicle and replacing it with an electric motor also allows for completely new vehicle designs that have resulted in the Tesla Model S being rated the safest vehicle to ever be tested by the NHTSA, with the Tesla Model X coming in at number two — a ranking unheard of for a sport utility vehicle. The Chevy Bolt received top honors for its safety results as well, recently being selected as an IIHS Top Safety Pick.

Roll that all together with extreme performance and supercar 0 to 60 times and electric cars start to look appealing to people from all walks of life. Until these two cars rolled onto the scene, these benefits were only accessible to those who were willing to compromise on range with a ~100 mile electric vehicle or those with the finances to throw down $60,000 or more for a Tesla.

Driving an electric vehicle is great, but here’s where it gets interesting: Electric vehicles unlock much more than that. A core American value — and if we’re honest, a core human value — is the desire to not be dependent. Electric vehicles tap directly into that with the ability for homeowners, property owners, and many people around the world to install solar or wind on their residence to generate all the power their homes, businesses, and vehicles will use. The solar installation on my rooftop generated enough power last year to completely power our home and one of our electric vehicles. Another couple of panels and we will be generating the vast majority of the power we use in our lives on our roof. That is straight out of a science fiction novel but it is a true possibility for billions of people around the world today … and it gets even better than that.

With the massive improvements in production and scale that have been made over just the last 10 years, solar and wind are now extremely cost competitive — even beating out the competition in many areas of the world … today … right now. That’s right, you can create this utopian lifestyle today … and save money while you’re doing it.

That is the beauty of the paradigm shift that is occurring right now. We are living through an historic transition that our grandchildren will read about as the turning point in energy economics, globally. Entrenched trillion-dollar industries will crumble in decades along with the household-name companies that operate within them. Amidst the rubble, new companies, new individuals, and new nations are rising to the forefront of the discussion as leaders in never-before-seen industries that bring with them new possibilities for economic freedom and energy independence.

Transitions of this magnitude are apparent from the early birthing pains that manifest themselves in the form of federal policy debates, vicious catfights over government incentives, kickbacks, and tax breaks. The transitions are rarely fair, but with so much at stake, bloodshed on both sides is to be expected.

Rolling back to where we started, what seems like a domino effect of toppling regulations led by industry insiders that have been put in charge of the agencies that formerly regulated their industries have left many dumbfounded. The foundations of American environmental protections have been stripped bare in a matter of weeks. But all is not lost. The brazen disregard for the charter on which the Environmental Protection Agency was founded has woken millions from the enchanted slumber, just as Rip van Winkle awoke after many years of sleep into a frenzy.

The people of this great nation and many more around the world demand that the governments they voted into place protect their most fundamental rights to clean air and clean water. The catalyst could not have come at a better time, as affordable electric vehicles and cost-saving solar and wind generation allow individuals to cut the cord from the very capitalists who now move to enslave the population.

It is time to rise up and regain the independence that our ancestors fought for in years past, but this time we fight against those in charge in our own nation. The time is now to go test drive an electric vehicle. If that’s not enough time to get a feel for life with an electric vehicle, rent or borrow one. Services like Turo and Maven are lowering the bar to get into an electric vehicle just as the Chevy Bolt has and the Tesla Model 3 soon will for hundreds of thousands more people around the world.

If renting isn’t an option, it may be time to step up the game and steal one … or, rather, get a steal of a deal on one at a local dealership. While you’re at it, don’t forget that to really, truly cut the cord takes a little more work to ensure that the power you’re pumping into your vehicle every night comes from renewable sources as well, preferably from a solar installation or wind turbine on your property.

That, my friends, is what it truly means to be independent. Celebrate yours by taking action today. The future is electric. The future is now!

Stuttgart: A City Caught Between Two Worlds Part 2

Originally published on CleanTechnica

The City of Stuttgart in Germany is a case study in the clash between the old world & industries that humans have developed over the centuries and the new realities resulting from the very same industries that have elevated humanity: air pollution, hazardous waste, and soot-covered buildings. Traffic clogging its streets that resonate with the static emanating from thousands of autos idling in traffic.

But not all is lost. This is not a story of defeat but rather, of a city boldly reimagining its future. Stuttgart is a city that is plowing a path forward to an electrified future powered by renewable wind and solar energy. Its leaders envision citizens zooming around on electric bikes that can be loaded onto silent electric trains headed to destinations near and far.

In part one of the story, we mapped out the history of Stuttgart which is intertwined with the evolution of the internal combustion engine and the automobile over the last 100 years. That has resulted in a city that benefits from the innovative lifeblood of the industry and is, at the same time, mired in the worst particulate pollution in Germany.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

The citizens of Stuttgart take an immense amount of pride in the innovative, dynamic history of the region and are not content to let that rich history go by abandoning their automobiles for public transit, nor are they willing to concede to the otherwise imminent fate of going down in history as the most polluted city in Germany. With such entrenched forces brought to bear against each other, and with the 2.3 million member strong union IG Metall also aligned against any change so radical that it might disrupt the stability of the petrol-centric German automotive industry, the city of Stuttgart and the state of Baden-Württemberg as a whole are at a historic crossroads.

In spite of the tension, local citizens and a handful of the leaders of Stuttgart are banding together to map out a path towards a clean air future for the city. The plan is a smorgasbord of solutions that all center around the controversial Stuttgart 21 that aims to modernize Stuttgart’s Central Train Station,  more efficient buses, an intentional effort to maximize the walkability of the city and even a push towards ebikes.

Stuttgart 21: A Massive Transit Upgrade

The tip of the spear in the effort to modernize Stuttgart’s transportation centers around the 4.5 billion euro ($5 billion USD) project to upgrade Stuttgart’s central train station known as Stuttgart 21.

Stuttgart Central Station

Stuttgart 21 aims to transform the central station from a terminus station — where trains must pull up to a dead end stop and then back out again to continue — to an underground pass-through station that even with half the number of lines, will allow for more trains to flow through with fewer delays.

The controversial project was originally announced in 1994 with work starting in 2010 against an estimated budget of 4.5 billion euros ($5 billion USD). It was originally scheduled to be completed in 2019, but that timing has slipped to 2021 which has come with an increase in the estimated cost to 6.5 billion euros ($7.3 billion USD) (via Wikipedia).

Local activist groups have rallied in opposition to Stuttgart 21 on the grounds that it is too expensive, will provide diminished access to the neighboring “Green U” park that surrounds central Stuttgart, and that it does not respect the historic nature of the Stuttgart central station. With the funding being provided by the German national rail system Deutschbahn, the federal government, the state of Baden-Württemberg, and the City of Stuttgart, the decision is out of the control of just the city and thus, more complicated to oppose. Even with the fierce opposition, the majority of the Stuttgart residents have continued to support the undertaking over the years.

Vehicle sharing

To ensure citizens who embrace life without a personal vehicle retain the means for longer road trips, Stuttgart has also encouraged vehicle sharing services like Daimler’s Car2Go and Deutsche Bahn’s Flinkster to come into the city. Car2Go has the added benefit of getting the population familiar with electric vehicles without the commitment of a purchase or lease. The system acts as a safety net for those unsure of whether or not a new form of transportation will work and enables flexible travel options.

The vehicles, like this Smart forTwo electric, are scattered about the city at predetermined charging locations that can be found with the easy to use smartphone app.

Public Bike Sharing

Stuttgart has partnered with Deutsche Bahn and its ‘Call a Bike’ rental scheme which was designed to give train riders an easy way to get from train station to and from their final destination. Users simply have to set up a single account that can be used in cities all around Germany to rent bikes.

These types of systems are perfect for cities and nations with well developed mass transit, as they provide a solution for the “last mile” which is a generalized figure for the distance from the end of a mass transit route to the traveler’s ultimate destination. At the handful of stations we visited in Stuttgart, we found the bike rental stations to be consistently well used, even empty at times, indicating that the system is seeing heavy use.

Hybrid buses

For trips around the more popular routes in town, Stuttgart has a healthy bus system that has received an injection of electrification in recent years in the form of Mercedes-Benz hybrid electric buses.

Electric Scooter Sharing

Stuttgart has also become home to an electric scooter sharing service that offers all the mobility of a vehicle at a lower cost. The deployment of scooters is also much easier as they can be parked on curbs as compared to hard-to-find street parking. Over the last few months, 75 of the iconic blue electric scooters from Emco have appeared all around the city.

As anyone who has ridden a scooter or motorcycle knows, they are great for getting around the inner city and allow riders to stay much more connected to the city without having to stay in the cocoon of a car.

Importantly, the e-scooter program was not incentivized by the city but evolved out of the natural demand from the market which lined up perfectly with the only recently available electric scooters. This trend is happening in cities like Berlin and Paris as well with the COUP scooter sharing program.

eBikes

Stuttgart is also looking to ebikes as a key piece of the solution to the transportation puzzle. As residents get increasingly frustrated with the traffic in Stuttgart, they have started turning to alternatives like ebikes to fill in the gaps of their commutes. To stimulate this trend, the city of Stuttgart holds education sessions for ebikes to give residents the inside scoop on the new technology and to showcase the ways electrified bikes can help with their commutes.

In travelling around the city for a few days, ebikes were everywhere. Residents zoomed around on the many bike paths, stores featured them, and city officials were familiar with them as a key component of the solution to the city’s mobility challenge. For those that have not ridden an ebike, they are leaps and bounds easier to ride than a traditional bike as they do not require any sort of strength or endurance from the rider. They simply have to get on, select how much assist the motor will provide and off they go. Configurations and price points vary significantly so it’s worth reading up on them before diving in.

The Control Center – Stuttgart’s Transportation Hub

The City of Stuttgart manages the entire transportation system for the city from a new, high tech control center that is shared with the city Police Department and Fire Department. This ensures that the city resources are positioned to respond from anything from a minor traffic collision up to a major disruption of city services.

The hub brings together all of the sensors, cameras and data collected from the transportation system staffed by a team of skilled first responders that are trained to react quickly and appropriately to any need, big or small.

What does the future hold?

The leaders of Stuttgart have no plans to let up in their efforts to reduce sources of pollution in and around the city on the path leading to clean air in Stuttgart for the residents, workers, and for future generations. While their passion and drive to create the Stuttgart they envision is driving near term results, the outcome is all but certain.

Opposition from the entrenched industry threatens to stifle progress. Fearful unions threaten to delay the transition to electric vehicles in the city and around the world. Companies with holdings and future business tied to legacy business models are resisting the transition. Not everyone in the city is on board with the multi-billion dollar plan to gut the city’s historic train station in favor of a modern train station that will be better suited for the hub Stuttgart has become.

What is certain is that the seeds of the future Stuttgart have been planted and they are taking root. The future is coming. and I for one am hopeful that Stuttgart will indeed pivot past these struggles to become the city its residents want to live in. To become the city known not for diesel engines and particulate, for traffic congestion and feinstaubalarms but for its parks, for the innovative spirit of its residents. It will take immense amounts of effort and many years but it is possible. The future is now.

Stuttgart: A City Caught Between Two Worlds, Part 1

Originally published on CleanTechnica

The City of Stuttgart in Germany is a case study in the clash between the old world & industries that humans have developed over the centuries and the new realities resulting from the very same industries that have elevated humanity: air pollution, hazardous waste, and soot-covered buildings. Traffic clogging its streets that resonate with the static emanating from thousands of autos idling in traffic.

stuttgart

Downtown Stuttgart

But not all is lost. This is not a story of defeat but rather, of a city boldly reimagining its future. Stuttgart is a city that is plowing a path forward to an electrified future powered by renewable wind and solar energy. Its leaders envision citizens zooming around on electric bikes that can be loaded onto silent electric trains headed to destinations near and far.

Stuttgart’s History of Innovation

Stuttgart’s story starts with the birth of the automobile. The first 3-wheel and the first 4-wheel internal combustion powered automobiles were invented in the greater Stuttgart area. The diesel engine was also invented in the region, which builds a strong case as to why the people of Stuttgart hold the automobile so close to their hearts. It is a legacy, a passion, their history.

The automobile grew from a series of inventions into companies. Those companies grew into legacies now known by iconic names like Daimler, Benz, Maybach, Diesel, Porsche, and many more that harken back to the days of fervent innovation as the creative juices of brilliant minds unleashed wave after wave of petrol-fired innovation that led humanity into the industrial age by way of the internal combustion engine. From wikipedia:

  • 1860 — Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir produced a gas-fired internal combustion engine
  • 1864 — Nikolaus Otto patented the first atmospheric gas engine
  • 1876 — Nikolaus Otto, working with Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, patented the compressed charge, four-cycle engine.
  • 1879 — Karl Benz patented a reliable two-stroke gas engine
  • 1885 — Karl Benz built the first 3 wheeled horseless carriage which he named the Benz Patent Motorwagen. In 1889, Benz revealed the world’s first Model 3 (Sorry, Elon)
  • 1890 — Daimler Motor Company was founded by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in Stuttgart and produced motors and later, automobiles
  • 1892 — Rudolf Diesel developed the first compressed charge, compression ignition engine
  • 1931 — Porsche was born out of the factories of Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart which still maintains center stage on its emblem.
  • 1936 — the Mercedes-Benz 260 D in the W 138 series was the world’s first series-production diesel passenger car.

stuttgart

These early days of automotive innovation drove the automotive roots of Stuttgart deep into the foundational industry and innovation that helped forge modern Stuttgart.

In an attempt to summarize what he was looking for from a cutting-edge race vehicle, Emil Jellinek — one of the original designers of the first Mercedes-Benz vehicle — said simply, “I don’t want a car for today or tomorrow, it will be the car of the day after tomorrow.” In many ways, we are back at the same intersection of the end of an era of old technology as it is faced with the dawning of a new era.

stuttgart

Entrenched Industries & Powerful Unions

The blossoming automotive industry launched Stuttgart into an age of prosperity as automakers developed models for the masses, as widespread electricity distribution and assembly lines came together to usher in a new age of industry in Stuttgart with loads of money following close behind.

What started out as a single innovation grew into powerful companies and industries. To keep these powers in check, unions like powerhouse IG Metall in Germany rose up to ensure the voice of the worker was not lost amongst the drive for production and profitability. As with the companies they work in, IG Metall continues to represent workers’ rights to this day, even posing a challenge for Tesla with a threat to unionize its new German engineering unit, Tesla Grohmann Automation.

What’s a little feinstaub between friends?

Along with the industry, jobs, and money that came to Stuttgart in the early days, the natural bowl shape of the geography in the region kept many of the emissions coming from the manufacturing plants in the region from dissipating. Feinstaub is German for “fine dust” or “particulates” and has become a part of the local language as modern sensors have revealed that the beautiful city of Stuttgart is home to the worst PM10 concentrations in the country.

stuttgart

You wouldn’t know it from a walk in the park or along one of the many walking paths in the city, but the data tell a different tale. Local officials have taken to the offensive to tackle the problem, focusing efforts on a campaign geared towards raising awareness and driving behavioral changes on days where particulate and nitrous oxide (NOx) levels are especially high. A “feinstaubalarm” has been created to notify local residents and commuters of days when particulate and/or nitrous oxide levels rise above designated trigger levels.

On feinstaubalarm days, mass transit is half price, with all the locals clued in on the fact that they are able to buy a child’s ticket (kinder) on feinstaubalarm days. When travelling around the city, I was told by several locals about the phenomenon — though, I did not realize why it was okay to buy a child’s ticket at the time.

stuttgart

The rollout of the feinstaubalarm program has been an all-out blitz on the town, with the alarm status posted for the next calendar day on a central website and radio spots announcing the status as a way to not only mitigate short-term emissions but also to raise awareness of the environmental impact of commuting in general.

The town is not just asking for help from the public. Stuttgart has developed a holistic approach to combating the pernicious particulate and nitrous oxide emissions, with the approach spanning all sources and solutions. The focus of all the programs is on the Umweltzone, which is the defined environmental zone or low emission zone that is the key area in which NOx and particulate emissions must be reduced on feinstaubalarm days.

The city has identified that motor vehicle traffic is a key contributor to the high particulate and NOx emissions and is considering banning diesel vehicles from the city on feinstaubalarm days as a result. Combined with reductions in fares on public transportation, the city hopes that its citizens will, out of obligation, cut their travel by car and achieve the required reductions in emissions, but environmentalists are not so keen on the voluntary nature of the proposal. Even if it were to go into effect, the fine for violating the ban is so low as to be trivial and the local police have already declared that they are not staffed to enforce such a massive ban across the city.

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

The citizens of Stuttgart take an immense amount of pride in the innovative, dynamic history of the region and are not content to let that rich history go by abandoning their automobiles for public transit, nor are they willing to concede to the otherwise imminent fate of going down in history as the most polluted city in Germany. With such entrenched forces brought to bear against each other and with the 2.3 million member strong union IG Metall also aligned against any change so radical that it might disrupt the stability of the petrol-centric German automotive industry, the city of Stuttgart and the state of Baden-Württemberg as a whole are at a historic crossroads.

Stay tuned for part two where we will dive into the transportation solutions being explored and implemented across Stuttgart.

Disclaimer: Travel to and around Stuttgart provided by the Clean Energy Wire to showcase the clean energy transformation currently underway in the Stuttgart.

Residential Energy Pilot Explores Use Of Storage To Balance Neighborhood Solar Generation

Originally posted on CleanTechnica

A new residential energy storage pilot seeks to better understand how batteries installed in homes can be used at the neighborhood level by grid operators to absorb solar power generation excesses during the day and discharge them when needed later in the day.

A partnership between battery manufacturer Moixa, electricity distributor Northern Powergrid, and the community energy company Energise Barnsley aims to put the idea to the test with a new pilot. Specifically, 40 homes will have Moixa lithium-ion batteries installed, including 20 x 2 kWh batteries and another 20 x 3 kWh batteries.

Simon Daniel, CEO of Moixa, said:

“Solar homes with batteries can halve their electricity bills, and this solution will become increasingly popular as costs of storage and PV fall.

“We are working closely with Northern Powergrid and this project will deliver insights to develop incentives which we hope will allow us to roll out solar plus storage to tens of thousands of homes in their region, by creating a business case for homeowners to invest and also by increasing the number of solar connections allowed on each substation.”

These 40 batteries and homes will be linked into a Virtual Power Plant (much like what Next Kraftwerk is doing today but on a smaller scale) which the utility can then utilize to absorb power when solar production is peaking. Conversely, at night when the sun isn’t shining on all those glorious solar panels, or anytime demand exceeds production, the utility can tap into this Virtual Power Plant to supply power to the grid.

neighborhood

Most of the homes in the pilot already have photovoltaic (PV) solar installed (30 of the 40 homes) which will allow the pilot operators to better understand how residentially installed solar PV can play well with residentially installed lithium-ion batteries.

In this pilot, the batteries will be installed at no cost to the residents, with all funding provided by Northern Powergrid in an effort to support the masses of solar being deployed by Energise Barnsley.

Andrew Spencer, System Planning Manager for Northern Powergrid, said:

“This partnership is one of a number of ways we’re working to explore innovations that can benefit our customers and the communities we serve.

This pilot probes some of the potential solutions for problems grid operators around the world are quickly encountering as more residential PV solar is brought online and as battery prices continue to drop.

neighborhood

Does it make more sense to install and subsidize solar at the utility level or residential? Is storage better for the grid at the utility scale or residential, or when residential installations are pooled together into a virtual power plant?

The future for residential storage and PV solar is packed with opportunity and it’s great to see progressive utilities and energy companies working together so closely with manufacturers like Moixa on neighborhood-scale pilots like this to work out the kinks.

Source: Moixa Press Release and Solar Power Portal UK

Images Credit: Moixa

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