Recargo’s Research

In surveying users of the recargo website, they determined that people had a longest trip in the Electric Vehicle of just 90 miles. One out of ten people found public EV charging sites to be reliable. The key lack is of adequate availabilty of DC Fast Charge stations which allow compatible cars to be charged to 80% capacity in 20 minutes.

According to Norman Hajjar from Recargo this is the biggest barrier to EV adoption.

Tom Turrentine, Institute of Transportation Studies, UC Davis, has found in his research that the “sweet spot” for range seems to be 120 miles which seems to meet the majority of people’s needs. Also, with a DC fast charger, it is realistic to double one’s range during an extended pit stop, provided of course that one can count on charging at one’s destination. I’d like to add that with an extended stay at the end of one’s trip, a standard 110 volt outlet can be sufficient to charge provided the car won’t be used extensively for a day or two.

BMW has tried to address this issue with their i3 which will offer both a range extender that adds 80 miles to the cars range as well as the option to have a DC Fast Charge port installed.

Personally, I like Fiat’s approach of offering a few car rental credit for those rare longer drives. Personally I only drive on long road trips two or three times a year so renting for those occasions is perfectly reasonable, especially with the cost included in the lease price of a car. The exceptional situation for me is when I would drive a bit further than normal, such as from Berkeley to San Jose and thus would need to charge at my destination, or take a different car, or public transportation. So in affect, it might prevent me from taking the car I want but it’s a rare occurrance and why focus a solution on the rare exception rather than the normal need?

Driving Demand: Britta Gross, Director, Advanced Vehicle Commercialization Policy, General Motors

Growing the market requires a focus on the vehicles. Will take time to get all dealerships up to speed on EVs.

The biggest challenge dealers have is the financial details. Consumers don’t always consider tax credits and rebates. California is an exception — there dealers can be confident and clear about what qualifies for how much.

We need to help dealers do homework and determine pricing with incentives.

GM has installed 395 workplace chargers. Provided for free to promote technology. Valuable for people who don’t have access to charging (or have 120volt only) at home.

GM has found that when targeting people and getting them to take a test drive of the Volt, then one out of three will buy a volt within several months. The key is getting people inside these vehicles.

Hard to communicate total cost of ownership to prospective buyers.

Fact is that EVs are luxurious compared to gas vehicles, quieter, better acceleration from standstill, no trips to gas station,

Via Motors at Plug-in 2013, Plug-in America’s Annual Conference

Via is targeting trucks as the light duty pickup trucks are the best selling vehicle in America. Some of their trucks offer the ability to export electric power at 110v and 240v to power tools. Fleets can receive up to $57,000 per vehicle as an incentive.

Key Fleet Customers include: Verizon, Coca Cola, Fedex, PG&E, Aaramark and many others.

Goto Viamotors.com/payback to determine how much an electric work vehicle can save you. Eight life cycle savings can be over $70,000. This is in addition to the zero emissions benefits!

Clean air and huge savings — sounds good to me!

Plug-America with Jessie Knight, Jr., SDG&E

Jessie Knight, Jr.

Jessie Knight, Jr. from SD&E, speaking at Plug-in America

Jessie spoke about San Diego Gas and Electrics accomplishments and goals going forwards. First he told us about San Diego’s adoption of Electric Vehicles including 600 charging stations and over 6000 electric vehicles on the road. 80% of all charging is accomplished between 12am and 5am when there is excess capacity on the grid and rates are lowest. SDG&E has already brought significant solar PV onto the grid to use for powering EV charging stations (EVSE). As the use of solar powered renewable energy increases, and abundance of electricity will be available at the peak of sun during the day. SDG&E plans to create a variable rate structure to promote EV charging when an over abundance is present — even if it is in the middle of the day!

What he didn’t discuss is how the charging stations will know about the rate changes and turn on and off. Most home charging stations are simple and do not have such technology built in so this functionality may be a ways off. In the long term, however, I think it is an invaluable way to balance individual needs while stabilizing the grid.

Plug-In 2013 in San Diego

I’m here in San Diego getting ready to attend the official opening party for the annual conference about electric vehicles. Things have come a very long way since I attended my first such event in 2010.

Earlier today, I had the opportunity to test drive both the new Chevy Spark EV as well as the relative old-timer, the Chevy Volt. I’ve previously driven the Tesla Model S, the Nissan Leaf and the Toyota Rav 4 (the last of which seemed to garner the least bit of interest).

For now, I’ll say that the Spark lives up to its reputation of being a surprisingly powerful if somewhat unrefined vehicle. It’s very much a go-kart like experience and while acceptable for a short commute I would not relish an extended drive in it. The Volt is much more refined, relaxed, and not nearly as impressive in its power-to-weight ratio.

Stay tuned for a more detailed write up of my test driving experiences along with news and photos from the conference.

$1000 Savings on Solar for rest of September!

A few times a year Sungevity ups their normal $500 referral bonus to a cool $1,000 and they currently are doing so! We are super happy with the Suniva panels we purchased from Sungevity and were lucky enough to get it when we could get a big discount and I’m sure some of you would like to take advantage of it too! Here’s a link you can use: http://www.sungevity.com/get-your-iquote?&referral-code=159195&oursun=tw&#step-1

Just use the link

The Fiat 500e Recall is Complete — They are shipping now!

If you’ve been reading my blog and noticed the new header image from a few months ago it might not be any surprise to hear that we ordered our very own Fiat 500e some months ago. Like everyone else, we’ve been waiting as patiently as we can, to hear news from Fiat that they are releasing them for sale to buyers.

For those who haven’t been following this story as closely as I have, in mid-August Fiat announced a recall on all of the 274 Fiat 500e electric cars that had been delivered in California to date. The problem was due to two bolts that attached the “half-shaft” of the vehicle and which could separate rendering the power-train inoperable (translation, sudden and complete loss of power while driving). The half-shaft is the shaft that connects the two front wheels to the gearbox. The 500e doesn’t have a traditional transmission so in this case it is the connection to the gear reduction system that is involved. The problem was discovered when a Fiat 500e owner’s car lost power. According to, Green Car Congress, the problem was caused by two steps in the vehicle assembly process that had not been completed properly. It’s not clear what those steps were and if the wrong bolts were used. According to Kristean von der Heiden, Brand Manager of Berkeley’s McKevitt Fiat, who I spoke with in detail earlier today, the reason the recall process took as long as it did was that the bolts had to be delivered from Germany.

According to Kristean von der Heiden, 600 Fiat 500e’s will be arriving at California Fiat dealerships this month. A large percentage of those electric cars will be heading to the Berkeley dealership given the huge waiting list they have amassed for the vehicles. And this waiting list is full of people who are serious; each one of them put down a $1,000 deposit to hold their place in the queue.

Kristean told me about his experience driving a production 500e. This was a car that in his words “will never be sold to a customer,” so he decided to try pushing it to its limit. He and a colleague were heading to an event in San Francisco. Kristean was driving the 500e the other person a 500 Abarth (the gas engine based performance version of the 500). They raced the two vehicles and the 500e left the Abarth in the dust as its high torque electric motor took off! The car had reached a quarter-mile when the Abarth passed it at over 60mph. In short, the 500e is faster than an Abarth at all but top highway speeds.It also performs better in ways thanks to the more even weight distribution afforded by the battery pack.

Are you waiting for your 500e? Well, there may be a way to skip ahead in the line. According to Kristean von der Heiden, the most popular color is orange but most of the vehicles shipping are black or white. So if you are willing to pick the less popular colors you will get your car a lot sooner. Personally, I’m holding out for orange, or as Fiat calls it “Electric Orange.” With less than 7% of the cars the Berkeley dealership expects to receive this month coming in orange, that may be a long wait.

Energy Efficient Vinyl Windows — An Environmental Hazard to Avoid!

Along with our solar project we’ve been working with a local contractor on energy efficiency improvements to our nearly 100 year old home. Our windows are original and let in lots of heat when the sun beats down on them which can be very uncomfortable in the summer and they are quite drafty and cold to the touch in the winter.

My ideal option would be to replace the existing glass in the windows with dual pane insulated glass and add weather-stripping to improve them. Unfortunately its not feasible to replace the glass given the amount of labor involved and the additional thickness of the dual pane windows. It’s also dangerous and toxic to try to refinish the windows given the layers of lead paint that were put on them before lead was outlawed as an additive.

The cheapest and perhaps most popular option is vinyl-clad windows. They are now available in different colors but you are stuck with what you get and deciding to paint the house differently in the future will make those windows stand out like a sore thumb. Most available and popular are vinyl windows with white sashes and one can see them in homes throughout the bay area and I imagine across the country. In older homes they can stand out like a “sore thumb.” Even worse is that vinyl is PVC (poly vinyl chloride), a substance that has gotten lots of press over recent years for the way it out-gases toxic fumes. We try to avoid products made of it for our health and that of our 2 1/2 year old. My fears were confirmed by articles I read online such as this one from ehow.com and this online discussion on a green building website.

I also learned about composite windows that have some unknowns for their durability and the risk of different contractions/expansions with temperature changes of the composite materials. These include aluminum/wood clad windows as well as ones made in part with fiberglass. Overtime as they age it’s possible for water to get trapped between the composite materials causing rot of the wood. With either these windows or vinyl ones, it’s likely they will need to be replaced in the future and will end up in landfill where they will long outlast our lifetimes and many that follow.

Ultimately, the best option for us was to stick with wood windows. They do require more maintenance most of which is simply painting them every few years, less frequently perhaps for ones that are in the shade and more frequently for the ones that have direct sun exposure. The downside of switching to new wood windows is that they are created from new growth wood which isn’t as strong as the old growth wood used to create the original windows that were most likely made from redwood. In my opinion the benefits of getting windows that are well insulated, open and close smoothly and don’t have any lead paint on them, outweighs the negatives of needing more TLC and of course the cost involved.

I’ll follow this up with a full report once our new windows, most of which are Marvin Tilt-packs, are installed. I’ll also be writing some follow-up articles about the other improvements we are making including insulation, air sealing, and more.

Making Solar Make $ense

The general guiding principal around the decision of whether to or not to invest in solar over the past few years has been tied to the price of one’s electric bill. In general, if your electric bill is $100 or more it’s been argued to make economic sense and if it’s less than perhaps not. The reality however, is less simple.

Future cost vs Current Cost of Electricity

The $100 figure is based on the current cost of electricity. What about the future cost? Looking at the EIA provided chart below, we can see that the trend for the price of electricity is upwards. By all accounts this will continue to increase in future years.chart

It’s likely that the cost of green house gas emissions will be added in whole or part in the future which will increase the amount we pay for our electricity. Consider that some of our relatively cheap electricity, in particular that from nuclear reactors is waning as reactors are being retired while new ones are not being built to replace them.

Efficiency of Electric vs Gas

While people tend to think of gas as being better for heating than electricity, the truth is that gas is actually less efficient even though it is currently cheaper at least when comparing traditional heating of air and water. The optimal use of electricity is in the form of a heat pump. A heat pump takes heat from one place and moves it to another. This isĀ  more efficient than directly heating the water. The mechanism is similar to an air conditioner but uses less energy. For example, a hybrid heat pump water heater such as the A.O. Smith Voltex can provide an abundance of hot water for less than the cost of a traditional gas or electric hot water heater. Add this to a home powered by solar photovoltaic and you can really benefit from the savings.

We recently had such a water heater installed and are experiencing more hot water at a lower cost than we paid with our traditional gas-fired hot water heater.

Hybrid Heatpump Water Heater

A.O. Smith Voltex Hybrid Electric Water Heater

We installed our new water heater as part of an overall energy efficiency upgrade and were able to get the majority of the cost including installation back as a rebate making this a phenomenal deal for us. This was thanks to the program offered by “Energy Upgrade California” and other options are available in other states. See the dsireusa.org database to see what incentives are located in your area. Now in the interest of full disclosure our water heater went into operation before our new solar array was activated. The increase in our electric use cost more than our decrease in gas use saved due to it moving us up to a higher tiered rate. Once our solar array is online the little electric that we will use from the grid will definitely be at the lowest tier. So if you are considering a heat pump water heater instead of gas, it may not save you money unless you have a lower kWh rate than we do in California and/or have a solar array you are using to generate power.

We will also be switching to a time of use plan which will lower our rate in the morning and overnight while charging us higher rates in the afternoon through 7pm. This will lower our bill significantly as most of our use occurs outside of the higher rate window and our water heater only runs during and shortly after use of hot water which is generally first thing in the morning and later in the evening.

Savings through Tax Benefits

Solar would not make sense financially for most of us without the huge incentives that exist. The tax rebates are only the tip of the iceberg. With a leased solar system, the legal owner of the system (either the solar provider or a bank) is currently able to not only receive all of the federal and local rebates, they also can depreciate 50% of the cost of the system in the first year of the lease! The rest of the depreciation can occur during an accelerated schedule of just a few more years despite the fact that system will generally last in excess of 25 years! Better yet, after the most common, twenty year lease term expires, the system will be worth less than the cost of labor to remove it and return the roof to pre-installed condition. This means that one can expect to keep the system without additional charge after the lease expires. The other benefit of a lease is that most companies include inverter replacement after ten years without additional charge and performance monitoring and warranties throughout the duration of the lease.

The very best prices are on pre-paid leases in which the full set of payments is made at the beginning of the lease. The price is generally much lower than a cash purchase would be even when considering rebates.

In our case we purchased premium American designed and manufactured Suniva panels which inflated our system cost. Even with that additional cost our price for the system we leased came to just $2.50/watt from Sungevity. At that price we should have a full payback of our investment in just a few short years with immunity to future increases in the price of electricity for many years to come!

 

Installation of Solar PV Completed

Here’s a run-through of installation day including receipt of panels through installing them onto rack-mounts. Amazingly, they installed all 4.68kW of panels in just one day! The installers were Sunburst Solar and contracted by Sungevity. They were courteous, patient with my questions and chill about my coming up on the roof to watch and photograph.

Our system exceeds our historical demand by a fair bit but with our second EV coming in the near future (more on that in a subsequent post) and an intentional shift from some gas appliances to electric, we should be taking full advantage of our considerable production. Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting about the changes we made, why they are a good idea and of course, about the new EV that’s coming soon!

Big thanks to my awesome project manager (and fellow Presidio Grad) Stuart Fishman and Solar Consultant extraordinaire Nadia Michalack who couldn’t have made this experience any better! Thanks also to David Julius whose installation team did an impeccable job!

Arrval of Solar Panels

The Suniva Panels arrive and everyone on the Sungevity install project gets busy!

Crate of Suniva Solar Panels

Crate of Suniva Solar Panels

Prepping the roof

Installer prepares wiring and junction box.

Panels are installed into racking system

Panels are installed into racking system

Inverter and wireless monitoring

Inverter and wireless monitoring