http://paloaltoonline.com/print/story/print/2013/05/03/the-promise-and-reality-of-electric-cars


Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - May 3, 2013

The promise and reality of electric cars

by Debbie Mytels

While environmentalists are calling for an end to fossil fuel pipelines, and oil company apologists claim that Greens want to force everyone onto mass transit, electric vehicles (EVs) are emerging as a solution to this name-calling battle, and people are starting to respond.

"EVs are selling at a faster rate than hybrids were when first introduced," explained Rafael Reyes, executive director of the Bay Area Climate Collaborative, a nonprofit that's leading several initiatives to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Moderating an April 2 discussion about "The Promise and Reality of Electric Cars" that was organized by Acterra, a local non-profit environmental group, Reyes asked how many attending owned an EV. About half of the 70 persons in the audience raised their hands.

Without counting the "conversion" EVs built by hobbyists, Bay Area roads currently host 7,000 plug-ins, Reyes said. Holding up his cell phone and reminding us how unusual, and clunky, they were 15 years ago, Reyes predicted that EVs would take off just as fast.

He ticked off the reasons why: "An EV fuels at half the cost of a gasoline car, and they need only half the maintenance. For the environmentally conscious, a fully electric EV will deliver about 70 percent lower emissions than a gasoline vehicle — and if it's charged by solar cells or wind power it's truly a 'zero emission' vehicle."

Moreover, the Federal tax credit of $7,500, combined with a California state rebate of $2,500, brings the price within reach for many.

Calling himself a "gearhead," Gary Lieber is co-founder of SF Bay LEAFs, an organization of Nissan Leaf owners. "It's amazing how fast it's happening," he said. Noting that Nissan has now sold 75,000 Leafs worldwide, he added, "Everybody's reporting record sales right now. And Silicon Valley has quickly become 'ground zero' for innovative ideas in personal transportation."

There are a number of motivations for getting an EV, he said. "The coolness factor, the savings, the environmental responsibility — these mattered to the early adopters. Today the motivation is a little less about environmentalism and a little more about saving a few bucks."

"The standard objections to EVs are dropping away," Lieber said. If you can drive 1,500 miles for $45 worth of electricity, you can no longer assert that an EV is too expensive, he said. And the question of "range anxiety" is being overcome by improved, lighter-weight batteries.

Beyond battery power and the call for "clean" electrons not produced by burning fossil fuels, a whole new set of EV-related issues is emerging:

* Should electricity rates be modified for EV users?

Paul Stith, executive director of Project Green OnRamp, explained how the California Public Utilities Commission is exploring this question, since EV drivers want predictable information about how much it will cost them to charge up every day. A five-cent per kilowatt hour overnight charging rate is going up to 10 cents, in part because other ratepayers are objecting to preferential rates for EV users.

* How do you stop people from parking all day at a charging station site?

Jim Helmer, president of LightMoves, said cities need to rethink how parking spaces are used, converting many to charging stations and putting a price on the electricity — along with a time limit for parking there. "We also need to develop some etiquette. I don't want to see a plug-in Prius in a public charging site," he said, because that car can get home with its gasoline assist.

Paul Stith added that the seven EV charging sites in downtown Palo Alto are already in such demand that you need to arrive by 5:30 a.m. to get plugged in. Charging for the power, time limit signs and an indicator signal when the car is charged could help smooth out this access issue, he said.

* Where can we put all the needed charging stations?

Everywhere! Stith said that Washington state now has a model ordinance requiring developers to put chargers in home and office buildings, and Sonoma County is looking at such a law to support its eco-tourism initiative of a "no carbon" trip from SFO to Sonoma vineyards.

Helmer said 50 percent of California drivers don't have their own garages, so publicly available sites will be essential. However, putting charging stations along the freeways makes little sense. "You need to put chargers where people are spending a longer amount of time — homes, offices, grocery stores. Investing in a system of EV chargers along the highways should be a lower priority," Reyes stressed.

* Where will we get all the energy we need for EVs?

Conservation is one answer. In his previous job as director of transportation for the City of San Jose, Helmer explained how he set up the first on-street, public charging station across from San Jose City Hall, using the same pole where an energy efficient LED street light had been installed. "You get from 50 percent to 75 percent energy savings by switching from older lighting to LEDs," Helmer said. "What could we do with all this energy not being used at night?"

* How will we pay for road repairs when gasoline tax revenues decline?

This is already becoming an issue. The recession has reduced vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and "smart growth" planning means that people are living more closely together. Clearly, the source of funds for road repairs will have to change. Reyes thinks that the funds will be there for reallocation: If the Bay Area's goal of 100,000 EVs by 2020 is met, the region will collectively save $120 million to $200 million a year, he said. "These funds could be invested into our local economy," including roads and other infrastructure.

Debbie Mytels is associate director for programs at Acterra. A Midtown resident, she has been involved with many community organizations and plans to buy an EV within the next two years.

Comments

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on May 3, 2013 at 9:28 am

Don't mind the EVs, like the idea of getting away from fossil fuels. The concern is this, you got 100 cars that are replaced, you still need space for 100 cars.

You will still have traffic, bad driving habits and accidents with other users of the public right a way.

Will it decrease the amount of solo use driving.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on May 3, 2013 at 10:36 am

>* Where will we get all the energy we need for EVs?

Conservation is one answer. In his previous job as director of transportation for the City of San Jose, Helmer explained how he set up the first on-street, public charging station across from San Jose City Hall, using the same pole where an energy efficient LED street light had been installed. "You get from 50 percent to 75 percent energy savings by switching from older lighting to LEDs," Helmer said. "What could we do with all this energy not being used at night?"

This lame non-answer is similar to the ones typically heard from high speed rail supporters. They ignore the scale. Switching from incandescent light bulbs to LEDs may be a good thing, in terms of efficiency, but how many kilowatt-hours are saved, compared to the demands of EV and HSR? Are the savings even enough to supply the increased demand for vibrating electrons to power home computers and cell phones?

Carbon-free electricity, at large scale, can only come from massive solar cell developments, wind power developments, or nuclear. They all have their environmental drawbacks, but nuclear is the only one that is ready to go. Demand for EVs means a huge increased demand for electricity. The 'exhaust' end of EVs is a coal-fired power plant somewhere else, or a desert covered by solar cells, or industrialized wild ridges for wind power, or nuclear power plants with disposal issues.

I don't oppose EVs, but I do oppose those people who are pretending that they are environmentally friendly, without considering the displaced costs.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2013 at 12:03 pm

I don't mind the EV cars, but I do mind them getting their charge for free in Palo Alto - in other words I'm paying for it. These charging stations in garages should charge for their charge.


Posted by Joy, a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2013 at 5:21 pm

The Leaf is a really cool car, and though I don't have one, all the owners I've met are really enthusiastic. I just can't wait to see an EV that can also be a practical family trip car (find some way to mimic a long day's drive with fuel stops - maybe up to 500 miles).

Honestly, I don't think anyone loves being a slave to gas stations or oil foreign or domestic, and I also think its so unlikely that in the US people will abandon their cars in large numbers for public transportation.

I am excited for all the future innovations for electric cars. We all should be!


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on May 3, 2013 at 5:45 pm

>I am excited for all the future innovations for electric cars. We all should be!

Joy, I understand your joy, but where do the excited electrons come from? Do you have a clue about the laws of physics?


Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2013 at 10:05 am

Craig and others:

The questions you ask are good, but, not to worry. Someone has gone to the trouble to collect a lot of the information you are asking about and put it on this Wikipedia page:

Web Link

These cars range from 88-138 MPG equivalent. That is, if all the electricity came from burned oil, it still looks extremely good-- especially in city driving, where most cars get poor-fair mileage. In northern California, quite a bit of that comes from hydro and some from wind and geothermal, so, from the carbon standpoint, it is even better. There is a huge advantage to the environment of switching from a car getting 20 MPG city actual, or an SUV getting 10 MPG city actual, to an electric getting 88-138 MPG city equivalent.

It is true that from a traffic and parking standpoint, it is still a car. No question that public transit is a better option for those who are able and willing. But, for those who are driving, electric is a great way to go.



Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on May 5, 2013 at 11:50 am

Anon.,

I do not argue that electric vehicles are not more efficient than internal combustion vehicles. Electric motors are inherently more efficient than internal compression (heat) engines. EVs also have the advantage of regenerative braking. I like them!

My point is that EVs will cause a huge increase in the demand for electricity. Since you seem to like large hydro projects, you might find it interesting that the state of California does not recognize large hydro as renewable energy. Are you suggesting that we build more and bigger dams on our remaining wild rivers? Or would you prefer that we increase the number of nuclear power plants? Or cover our wild deserts with solar panels; our wild ridges with industrial wind turbines?

The 'exhaust' from EVs gets displaced on other people/places.

There is no free lunch, regarding energy.


Posted by Why an issue, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Craig,

Most of the charging takes place over night in home owners garages. Capacity won't be an issue.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on May 5, 2013 at 3:35 pm

>Most of the charging takes place over night in home owners garages. Capacity won't be an issue.

This is the type of uniformed assertion that gets passed off as green truth.

Let me try to reduce it for you, in its simplest terms. Assume that all electricity is produced by large hydro, and that all carbon-based fuels are banned. So, imagine that all those EVs are charging at night, in the garage. This would mean that the dams would need to increase releases at night. Where would the water capacity come from, other than more/larger dams?

Your statement reminds of urban kids being asked where milk comes from, and their answer is "milk cartons". Having been raised on a farm, I can assure you that it is much more complicated, labor-intensive, and costly than that!

I can only shake my head when I read such assertions as yours. The basic laws of physics don't suddenly disappear, simply because you want them to. There is no energy free lunch, period.


Posted by Why an issue, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Craig,

Clearly there are gaps in your knowledge on the topic.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on May 5, 2013 at 7:53 pm

>Clearly there are gaps in your knowledge on the topic.

Please identify them, then I will address them. I can assure you that I will try to not violate the laws of physics.

Be specific, please.


Posted by why an issue, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2013 at 8:27 pm

Craig,

Start by explaining how charging cars at night violates the laws of physics. ;-)

Keep in mind that you attributed a whole lot of things you find at fault about where cars might get energy. Where did I mention any of those? Where did I state that energy had to be produced with hydro. Where did I say energy could not be produced with hydro carbons, or nukes, or even coal. You have told me what I think before I say it. So no, I wont be having this discussion with you. You clearly have a fixed idea of what can be and have labelled me as knowing nothing without even knowing what I know. ;-) Why would anyone want to engage a person like that? Just to butt heads? No thanks.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on May 5, 2013 at 9:58 pm

>Start by explaining how charging cars at night violates the laws of physics. ;-)

It doesn't, but you still need to explain where the electricity will come from, night or day. My assumption, given the direction of this thread, was that it would need to be carbon free. If you are allowing for coal and natural gas, then that is an extended discussion. Is that what you are saying? If so, then we can drill baby, drill. In that case then charging at night does make some sense. Is this what you are saying?


Posted by Gary, a resident of Downtown North
on May 5, 2013 at 11:18 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2013 at 8:54 am

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on May 5, 2013 at 9:58 pm

> >Start by explaining how charging cars at night violates the laws of physics. ;-)

> It doesn't, but you still need to explain where the electricity
> will come from, night or day. My assumption, given the direction
> of this thread, was that it would need to be carbon free. If

In case the electricity came from wind or hydro, it would be.
However, I don't recall anyone saying that in general all
electricity would be carbon free.

> you are allowing for coal and natural gas, then that is an
> extended discussion. Is that what you are saying? If so, then
> we can drill baby, drill. In that case then charging at night

Someone mentioned that in regard to your question about *capacity*.
Limited new capacity would be required. And, in fact, because so
much would be consumed at night, overall, it makes distribution
cheaper and more efficient, since there would be less idle capacity
at night.

> does make some sense. Is this what you are saying?

Craig, you are missing an important point. Yes, in California,
much of the new *energy* would come from natural gas. But, even
if it was generated from *oil*, it would still be much more
efficient. How many full-size sedans do you know of that get
80 MPG in city driving? Overall, switching to an electric version
of the same size car consumes about 1/4 of the equivalent oil burned. That is worst-case, since, some of the energy comes from
carbon-free sources.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on May 8, 2013 at 10:44 am

Anon,

Please read the original article that this thread is based on. Clearly, the thrust is for zero carbon. For example:

>Sonoma County is looking at such a law to support its eco-tourism initiative of a "no carbon" trip from SFO to Sonoma vineyards.

You mention that "Limited new capacity would be required". If all or most of California vehicles become EVs, that will be a very large new demand for electricity. If the demand is met with supply from natural gas power plants (or coal, for that matter), then the supply can be met, as long as the plants are permitted (very difficult in California). However, if the idea is that EVs should lead the way to "no carbon", then there are very limited large sources: Solar/wind, hydro and nuclear, all of which have serious environmental consequences.

No matter the efficiencies of EVs, compared to internal combustion (fossil fueled) vehicles, there will be a very large increased need for new electricity. The question for you is: Where will this supply come from, assuming that it needs to be carbon-free?

BTW, I happen to agree with you that the new supply will come from natural gas (fossil fuel), which is not carbon-free.

I don't oppose EVs, in fact I like them, but I think it is disingenuous for anyone to promise that simply plugging them in at night, in one's garage is an environmentally pure solution. It is not.

There is no free lunch, with respect to energy sources.


Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2013 at 9:16 am

Craig,

I just re-read the article and I disagree with your summary. Several people were quoted. The article said things like:

"He ticked off the reasons why: "An EV fuels at half the cost of a gasoline car, and they need only half the maintenance. For the environmentally conscious, a fully electric EV will deliver about 70 percent lower emissions than a gasoline vehicle — and if it's charged by solar cells or wind power it's truly a 'zero emission' vehicle." "

Seems clear to me. 70% less for some combination of fossil fuel. "Zero emission" (there is a legal definition) if charged by solar or wind.

Now, unfortunately, I don't have 90K to spend on a Tesla Model S, but, according to Consumer Reports, it is tied for the highest rating of a car ever. This is what the sfgate summation of the Consumer Reports review said:

"Charging the Model S costs about $9 at the national average of 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, the magazine said, making the car equal to running a conventional vehicle on gasoline that costs $1.20 per gallon, Consumer Reports said. The magazine calculated that the Model S got the gasoline equivalent of 84 miles per gallon."

As I said the first time, if you take the liquid fuel that a car would be consuming at 14-25 MPG (actual) average, burn it in a fossil fuel power plant, and charge the hybrid, you are, what, 50-60 MPG ahead? I don't see what the issue is, other than the cost of batteries, which are coming down, but, not fast enough for me yet. But, if I could afford it, or, if I had to do something because of long commutes, I would love to have a car that gets the equivalent of 84 MPG.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on May 9, 2013 at 11:08 am

Anon,

Where will the new power plants be located to produce the required charging capacity (from fossil fuels)? Are you willing to have some of them in the Bay Area? Palo Alto? Or do you want to displace them onto other people and places? Since Palo Alto is likely to be big users of EVs, wouldn't it be fair that we take on a new power plant (natural gas)?


Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2013 at 9:46 am

Craig,

Normally you don't put power plants in the middle of residential neighborhoods, so, I'm not sure why you are asking. But, some of the newer smallish (primarily for co-generation) facilities are pretty inconspicuous.

Short term, in most locations, you have to do exactly *nothing*. That's right. For the first 1 Million or so users in California, all we have to do is make sure they don't do much charging between 10 AM and 8 PM, and, make sure everybody doesn't plug in at exactly the same second.

Let's look at the total electricity generation capacity of California. You can find that right here:

Web Link

Web Link

At the moment, that is 74 GigaWatts peak capacity.

Now, I don't see a 2012 demand curve handy, but, this one for 1999 shows what always happens. In 1999, on this particular hot day, peak demand was twice the minimum baseline demand:

Web Link

Perhaps you can do me a favor and find a similar 2012 graph. In that year, peak was twice the low point and average was pretty much in between.

Now, here is a page showing what some of the power requirements are for the Tesla Model S that was being talked about:

Web Link

The peak demand using the high power connector option is 16.8 KiloWatts. We'll round to 17 KW. So, 1 Million Tesla Model S's plugged in and charging at the same time using the high power option, at night, is still within the nighttime capacity of the California system. That is quite a few to get started, so, I'm not worried in the short term.

As the number of vehicles builds up, smarter charging will be required. With smart, load-sensitive charging, I estimate about 4-6 million electric vehicles could be charged using the existing capacity, (out of about 18 Million total registered vehicles). There are also something like 14-15 Million people working in the state. So, with my back-of-the-envelope calculation, it looks like the majority of California workers could commute using electric vehicles using smart, load-sensitive charging. To get to 100%, capacity would have to be increased. (Or not, depending on how effective energy conservation is. For example, a lot of web server farms are being moved out of state to cooler climates, and are now being built to not require air conditioning.)

Overall, these are trade-offs I would love to have, since it would mean major use of electric vehicles, a large decrease in overall energy consumption, and a large decrease in carbon emissions.





Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on May 10, 2013 at 10:45 am

Anon,

A few years back, a California governor was recalled, largely due to brownouts. California produced fewer vibrating electrons than it used, put simply. EVs will put significant added pressure on demand. A moderate drought could significantly cut down on carbon-free hydro. Opposition to nuclear could diminish that major (carbon free) source, too. An improved Calif. economy would also increase demand.

Since you are willing to go with natural gas, then you must support fracking, right? Many of the EV supporters do not support fracking, but you must disagree with them? FYI, I support fracking.

I see no reason that regional power plants cannot be built in the SF Bay area...why not, if we are creating the demand? Social and economic justice practically demands it. BTW, do you support or oppose nuclear power? FYI, I support it, although I don't think it stands a political chance...as nuclear gets diminished, it will cause more pressure on supply, substituting carbon-based fuels for carbon-free fuels.

I like EVs, at least in concept. They are already an expensive, but real opportunity for urban commuting, without suffering from range anxiety. They are inherently efficient. If the battery issues get sorted out, then they might be long-range opportunities. However, the more they become popular, we will need significant new electrical generation. No way around it.

BTW, if the push for carbon-free electricity proceeds, as many EV owners dream about, then the cost of electricity will go up for everyone, even those who do not own an EV. This would mean that relatively rich EV owners would be subsidized by relatively poorer people. Same thing for road repair. Are you willing to specifically tax the EVs (e.g. a license to (smart) recharge, with significant tax premiums)?




Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2013 at 9:08 am

Craig,

A couple of points in response. First, there are already natural-gas fired power generating plants among us now. They are not that conspicuous except on a cool, damp, but clear morning when you can spot the unusually large clouds of steam. Since I live in the Bay Area, I obviously don't object to living among them. Coal-fired plants are a different story. I think we all know that electricity doesn't appear by magic, and, everything we do has a social and economic cost. But, the energy source does matter, and natural gas is clean compared to oil (hardly used for electricity generation now) and especially coal. Fortunately, only a tiny amount of power in California comes from coal. Electric cars are still a win, even from coal-produced electricity, but, the carbon savings are not as dramatic. Coal needs to be phased out. Lots of sources online for all of this. For example:

(Web Link)

You raise some other issues and I don't have time to deal with all of them, but, small, light cars (gas or electric) cause very little wear and tear on roads compared to trucks. The majority of wear nationwide is caused by heavy trucks, and it is heavy trucks that have been subsidized for decades by homeowners, cars, and light trucks. Between fuel taxes and use taxes, heavy trucks only pay for about half the road wear they cause. So, very seriously, if you want to work on leveling the playing field, start with heavy trucks:

Web Link




Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on May 14, 2013 at 11:39 am

>But, the energy source does matter, and natural gas is clean compared to oil (hardly used for electricity generation now) and especially coal.

Anon.,

So you support fracking, right? Nuclear?

Surely, you cannot be serious about dumping the full costs of road repairs solely onto the truckers, and leave EVs and other cars out of the mix. All this would do is pass the costs of trucking goods onto the consumers, whether they own a car or not. Realistically, what is your concept of how EVs would pay for their road taxes?


Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Craig,

You wrote:

> Surely, you cannot be serious about dumping the full costs of road repairs solely onto the truckers, and leave EVs and other cars out of the mix. All this would do is pass the costs of trucking goods onto the consumers, whether they own a car or not. Realistically, what is your concept of how EVs would pay for their road taxes?

Realistically, I see nothing shocking in making heavy trucks pay for their road wear. Ask yourself why trucks in particular should be subsidized. I would rather subsidize cell phones, shoes, and bicycles. Or Netflix for that matter. By subsidizing heavy trucks, it causes all sorts of distortion in the economy by sending the wrong price signals. Not everything would cost more, BTW. For one thing, there are a lot of conservation measures that are badly underused. If you have ever driven East-West Interstate highways in the West, you should realize that a lot of heavy truck traffic flows straight across between the West Coast and the Midwest. Most of this could easily travel on containers and be offloaded near the destination at considerable fuel and road wear savings. It would happen much more if the correct price signals were sent.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on May 14, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Anon,

I think you are dodging a bit, although I can appreciate your point that rail transfers are a possibility. I just don't know about the incentives and subsidies, and if they pencil. Do you?

Still waiting for your notions on fracking and nuclear. Care to step up to plate? Since you have sincere views, care to reveal your real name? If so, it would help your argument, at least for me.