Mobility Future: Uber acquiring Postmates during a tough year, Best tech news sources to read

Green Auto Market will occasionally publish two special editions, Mobility Future and Sustainable Future — two topics integral to what’s next in clean transportation.

Big news took place this week for those following mobility, on Monday, when ride-hailing giant Uber announced that it had acquired major food delivery company Postmates in a $2.65 billion, all-stock deal. Food delivery is doing well these days, while ridesharing and ride-hailing is facing a tough time during COVID-19. Uber and Lyft went public last year, with two other delivery companies preparing to going public soon, DoorDash and Instacart. Being acquired can be an even better bet for founders and early investors in firms like Postmates.

Uber Technologies Inc
NYSE: UBER
IPO: May 10, 2019 opened at $41.57
Closed at $33.15 on June 9, 2020
Market cap: $57.48 billion
Q1 2020 Results: $3.54 billion revenue and a net loss of $2.9 billion

Lyft
NASDAQ: LYFT Inc
IPO: March 29, 2019 opened at $78.29 per share.
Closed at $29.84 0n June 9, 2020.
Market cap: $8.89 billion
Q1 2020 Earnings: $955.7 million revenue and a net loss of $398.1 million

Uber plans to run Postmates alongside its own food delivery business, Uber Eats. Combined, it will be No. 2 in meal delivery after DoorDash. Operations will be streamlined for efficiency, including having drivers delivering orders for both businesses. The deal came together after Uber failed to acquire another major food delivery company, Grubhub, which was instead acquired by Europe’s giant, Just Eat Takeaway, for $7.3 billion. The Postmates transaction is subject to regulatory approval and is expected to close in Q1 2021, at which point the two companies will integrate more of their efforts, according to Postmates.

For anyone following Silicon Valley startups in mobile apps, devices, software, hardware, connected cars, and autonomous vehicle technology, it’s very typical to see a startup like Postmates become acquired by one or more of the major players in the industry; while other startups sometimes go after IPOs with mixed results. Silicon Valley has extended out to other zones over the past two decades — Silicon Beach in Los Angeles; Austin, Texas; Seattle (including gaming companies); and an extended map from San Jose to San Francisco along US Highway 101. Many times, major companies like Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon, and Facebook, are setting up satellite offices in other cities. But San Francisco continues to be the home base HQ for many of the startups such as Uber and Lyft.

The impact of COVID-19 has been harder on Uber and Lyft than food delivery companies or grocery shopping and delivery company Instacart. As people have stayed home from work and other activites, having meals and groceries delivered has skyrocketed in demand. But for Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hailing firms, it’s been a tough time. One issue has been whether passengers can feel safe from Coronavirus while taking a ride.

Uber in May announced more than 6,500 layoffs, about a quarter of its workforce. The company said its ride-hailing business was down 75 percent from a year earlier. A month earlier, Lyft announced it would cut about 17 percent of its workforce (982 employees), furlough workers and slash pay in cost-cutting efforts to cope with lost sales during the pandemic. Lyft doesn’t report bookings, but analysts have estimated total rides will fall 63 percent in the quarter versus last year. Financial performance has never been strong for the two ridesharing giants, but Covid-19 has added to the pressure.

 

Tech innovation news sources you should know about
While I still read The Wall Street Journal and sift through news on my iPhone (typically from a few of the dwindling media outlets still in existence), I also spend more time reading relatively new publications. These media outlets cover technology innovations, startups, Silicon Valley, mobility, autonomous systems, sustainability, politics, and more. Here are the ones that seem to stand out most significantly, and that you might want to consider getting on their newsletter distribution lists.

TechCrunch
Founded in 2005 by Silicon Valley innovator and investor Michael Arrington, TechCrunch profiles and reviews new Internet products and companies. It also profiles startups and existing companies that are making an impact (commercial and/or cultural) in the digital revolution.
Crunchbase and Crunchbase News
Crunchbase was originally founded in 2007 by Michael Arrington, as a place to track the startups that parent company TechCrunch featured in articles. In 2015, Crunchbase separated from AOL/Verizon/TechCrunch to become a private entity. You can find information on equity and angel investor deals made on startups and existing companies, with Crunchbase News offering late-breaking news on the market.
Vox
A news analysis source in the spirit of investigative journalism with a bit of wry humor. Such as this one: “Truly, what is up with Elon Musk. Musk declared he’s selling all his possessions, and Tesla’s stock price dropped 10 percent in a matter of minutes.” Vox is left leaning, but it’s also in the spirit of the critical importance of journalism in US history — the fourth pillar of democracy, just as important as the three branches of government.
Wired
This magazine goes back the birth of the world wide web — 1993. It’s been devoted to covering, exploring, and analyzing cutting-edge technology ever since then — and has delivered. Wired is still a must-read for people in the tech business.
Quartz
Global news and insights including the future of mobility as one of its “obsessions” — along with global economic disruptions and the aging effect. If you’re going to read Quartz, plan for extra time to read long features (similar to The Verge).
The Verge
This is where you’ll see in-depth features on what’s behind movements in the world of mobility and tech startups, and a bit of investigative reporting. The Verge prides itself on providing breaking news in mobile app and digital tech innovations.
Mashable
This one tracks media and entertainment and the latest tech toys. Mashable also covers global news impacting new media and technology, such as government crackdowns on internet companies and mobile apps; along with some coverage on the latest from Uber, Lyft, and competitors.
Buzzfeed
Interested in lightening up and having a bit of fun? Buzzfeed offers quizzes, videos, celeb news, recipes, news analysis, photo galleries, ridiculous and hilarious tweets and text messages, and the latest buzz on trends. If you scan the news app on your iPhone or Android, you might see an article with a headline such as, “26 Popular Movies with Awful Endings;” or a photo gallery and captions called “18 Dogs Who Haven’t Let the Quarantine Stop Them From Being Utterly Ridiculous.”
Axios
Founded in January 2017 based on this belief: Media is broken, and too often a scam. Stories are too long or too boring. Websites are a maddening mess. Axios has attempted to simplify it with clear, smart, and efficient coverage of topics such as robotics, machine learning and AI; China’s growing influence; and how human activity is posing threats to Earth’s climate.
Digital Trends
The Portland, Oregon-based website publication offers news, reviews, guides, how-to articles, and descriptive videos and podcasts about technology and consumer electronics products. Digital Trends is a good place to visit while shopping for the latest in smart phones and other devices, laptops, TVs, and more.
Medium
Medium, an internet platform whose “sole purpose is to help you find compelling ideas, knowledge, and perspectives.” I first discovered the website through its in-depth coverage of Google getting into the self-driving car arena and becoming Waymo. Medium seems to be customized to those working in new media and tech. Hot topics more recently have been real issues between men and women, and how dating and relationships tend to go these days. There’s also been quite a few pieces on making it in freelance writing and other digital media opportunities. And what it’s like to work for Netflix, Facebook, and Google/Alphabet.
Another mobile app to know about: TikTok
An app for sharing comedic videos, skits, and karaoke — started in 2017 that’s become wildly popular. Real people making real videos, says TikTok. It’s brand name has been all over the news lately, including President Trump’s reelection event in Tulsa. TikTok users and fans of Korean pop music groups claimed to have registered potentially hundreds of thousands of tickets for Mr. Trump’s campaign rally as a prank.

Facebook is shutting down Lasso, it’s own version of TikTok. That decision was made as Instagram prepares to roll out Reels, a feature that will allow users to edit short videos in their stories and share it, a TikTok-like feature.

Transitional Technologies: Connectivity as the stepping stone to cars of the future

Connected cars, aka connectivity, is thought to have been the very first of the next-generation technologies serving as game changers for the auto industry, personal mobility, and ground transportation. The ideal will be to someday have automated, electric vehicles tied together through a Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) communication network — and connected to everything else through the next version, Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X). The hope is that traffic could be controlled, collisions avoided, and energy use made more efficient.

And it will be connected to everything else, such as your home. It’s becoming quite common to see intelligent mobile devices able to manage what’s going on in your house — security system, heating, lighting, recording a sporting event, etc. Why not tie you car into all of it for electric vehicle charging, checking diagnostics, energy consumption, and getting it ready to take you to work in the morning?

Connectivity goes back to General Motors and Motorola introducing OnStar in 1996, eventually offering subscribers security, emergency services, hands-free calling, navigation, and remote diagnostics. Once smart phones started showing up in the late 2000s, connectivity began tying phones to a car’s dashboard control panel for these types of convenience features; plus what became known as “infotainment” that could include hearing your favorite music artist or the Howard Stern show on SiriusXM Radio. It eventually shifted over to voice commands to keep eyes on the road and the process more automated and easy to use.

These days, three tech developments tend to come up when connected cars are being discussed — 5G, V2V/V2X, and IoT.

For 5G, debate continues over which region will win the race to bring the leading-edge technology and clear the hurdles for adoption — North America, Europe, or Asia? Having a mobile device with 5G means higher capacity and increased bandwidth compared to 4G. It has the potential to clean up the problems on 4G as everything you can think of switches over to intensive, sophisticated software and data transfer needing a lot more bandwidth.

But the revolution will take much longer than planned. Last year, AT&T and Verizon went live with their 5G networks in a small, targeted set of cities. T-Mobile promised to clear its acquisition of Sprint and integrate their networks into the largest 5G network out there. The legal hurdle was cleared on April 1, but its presence in 5G is at the beginning phase. Handset makers have been rolling out a number of new models compatible to the new standard. However mobile device users aren’t seeing any real improvements yet in the existing cellular networks out there from AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint/T-Mobile.

But the technology does have its champions in telecommunications and mobility. The GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association) said that by the end of 2019, 61 operators in 34 countries had launched one or more 3GPP-compliant 5G services. Of those, 49 operators had launched 5G mobile services, while 34 had launched FWA (Fixed Wireless Access) or home broadband services. The group sees the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) as fundamental for producing standardized reports and specifications for 3GPP technologies. Seven telecommunications organizations came together to create the 3GPP standards to support the development of 5G.

It does have its enemies — particularly those spreading concern that 5G will be dangerous to human health. Some experts see it as another conspiracy theory, and say that there’s no evidence that there’s anything to worry about.

V2V/V2X:  V2X is that latest standard to emerge from what was originally named V2V when the University of Michigan’s Mcity Test Facility gave it that badge. V2X is a vehicle communication system that integrates other more specialized types of communication such as V2I, V2N, V2V, V2P, V2D and V2G. Cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) is another development getting a lot of attention lately, and is expected to serve as the foundation for vehicles to communicate with each other and everything around them.

Automakers, tech companies, mobile phone networks, and auto suppliers, are waiting for 3GPP Release 16, which is expected to be finalized sometime this year. It covers all the bases on 5G coming out. One section includes specifications for C-V2X, that wold address issues such as platooning, extended sensors, automated, and remote driving.

The US Department of Transportation has been heavily involved with what technology will take the lead in 5G, and where V2X communications will go next. For V2X, DOT released a standard for review in February supporting the agency’s 5.9 GHz “Safety Band” spectrum testing. The devices will be used to evaluate the safety performance and capabilities of the devices through both small- and large-scale testing, including scalability and congestion, interoperability, and complex transportation scenarios.

Internet of Things — In 2010 when it first emerged in tech media, IoT at first seemed like the latest techie expression for the interconnectedness of devices, laptops, networks, mainframes, cell towers, and satellites; but it quickly became much larger than that.

What does it mean lately? IoT platforms are geared to analyze performance and share predictive and preventive maintenance, and other operational maneuvers to keep the participating organizations productive and efficient. It’s thought to bring together three factors: the ubiquitous internet, low-cost connected devices, and growth in data analytics solutions.

Smart appliances are tapping into the IoT mindset to allow end users to do everything in just a few commands. That might include planning out meals and getting reports on the nutrients and health implications of their planned meal. The IoT platform also enables more efficient use of energy as equipment makes intelligent adjustments to energy consumption. It helps reduce operational costs through enhanced predictive and preventive maintenance.

There’s also the revenue generating side that can help resolve one of the toughest questions of the day — finding additional revenue steams and offset some of the costs coming from development of the new technology. There are creative methods being explored that sell services to support connected products, rather than the products themselves. Many companies are bringing in specialists to tap into the developing technology. That could be through a tech consultant with IoT expertise, or through hiring new staff with a title like Business Development Manager, Internet of Things.

So when looking at 5G networks, V2X communication systems, and new IoT solutions, you can get a closer look at the elements shaping the contributions connected cars will make to the vehicle technology revolution.

And in other news……..

Tesla beats Toyota on stock market:  Tesla, Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA), which last month took its 10 year anniversary on the stock market, now has the largest market value among automakers — surpassing Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) and taking the lead. This morning, Tesla share prices have hovered right under $1,300 per share and a market cap at $240.96 billion. Toyota has been trading around $127 per share with its market cap at $206.1 billion. Tesla is weathering the COVID-19 storm well and has a loyal following in market analysts and shareholders. Expanding into China and Europe, and continuing to launch new products such as the Model Y, though investors are keeping the pressure on CEO Elon Musk and team to improve quarterly earnings.

Net-zero for America:  House Democrats last Tuesday released a bill that calls for the US to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, primarily through decarbonizing the electric and transportation sectors. It doesn’t remove natural gas fracking or coal-powered plants. Power plants would need to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040; with an economy-wide reduction expected by 2050 through building, transportation and industrial electrification.

Republicans on the select committee were frustrated the policy package did not go through the full committee process, meaning it will inevitably look different once it does get a full House vote. The sweeping plan for climate action embraces many of the goals of the Green New Deal that was released in February 2019, but wasn’t able to move forward in the House.

Diesel pumps changing:  Is it just me, or does it seem like more gas stations are adding diesel fuel pumps, and integrating them into all of the other fuel dispensers? According to Diesel Technology Forum, 55 percent of retail fuel stations in North America offer diesel fuel. It’s been gradually integrated into the main dispensers rather than setting up a solo dispenser for diesel. The organization says that diesel cars have the advantage of getting 20-to-40 percent more miles per gallon than gasoline-powered vehicles. They have less need to stop at the gas stations.

GAM editor on workplace struggles:  Do Amazon, Tesla, and other tech firms treat employees nearly as well as their customers? Those of us who drive a Tesla electric car, or belong to Amazon Prime, or take Uber and Lyft rides all over town, have an idea that while its fun to be a customer, you probably wouldn’t want to work for them. Read more in my LinkedIn Pulse commentary.

Countries with Highest CO2 Emissions
From Fuel Combustion

 

 

Energy-related CO2 emissions grew by 2.1% in 2017
and by 1.9% in 2018. Almost all countries contributed
to the rise except Europe and Latin America.
Study comes from Enerdata’s Global Energy
Statistical Yearbook 2019.

Transitional Technologies: Recovering from COVID-19 — Where do clean transportation and sustainability stand in importance?

How does one build the case for backing clean transportation and sustainability initiatives during a time like this? The US is facing increasing COVID-19 infection and fatality rates, outrage over racial profiling and use of force by police, depressing economic indicators, and gasoline prices staying quite cheap.

Electric car sales have been hit by the unexpected impact of COVID-19 — but at a much slower decline than overall new vehicles sales in the US. Converting vehicle owners — whether consumers, fleets, or trucking companies — over to clean vehicles, and the necessary charging and refueling infrastructure, is a much harder sell this year.

Events have been cancelled such as the popular ACT Expo in May, and many other conferences and exhibit halls. Some are being carried forward through online events — see news section below for news on one of these upcoming events.

Concerns over air pollution and climate change have been down on the scale lately. But its also an opportunity for stakeholders to reach out and practice social responsibility, according to a sustainability expert.

During a LinkedIn discussion group last week, that question was raised. Leaders in disease prevention, healthcare, social justice, and economic recovery, must be engaged and listened to with empathy, according to a prominent sustainability consultant. That could take place during a Zoom meeting or through other useful communication tools. They can’t be brushed off, he said.

That’s been reinforced by a recent Bain & Company report, as the impact of COVID-19 has been serving as something of a dress rehearsal for corporations preparing for the next disasters through climate change. Telework and virtual meetings have been reducing travel and forcing other alternatives on company operations. Satellite images have been reporting a steep decline in air pollution — showing the dramatic impact of taking away fossil fuel emissions. Another positive trend has been seeing corporations working closely with government agencies on accurate reporting of Coronavirus symptoms, testing, and how to practice social distancing and other safe practices.

Supporting disadvantaged communities
For those working in clean transportation and sustainability, the resources are there in government funding and incentives — and in investment funds in sustainability, social responsibility and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance). And there’s another opportunity to rejuvenate — tapping into government programs and alliances supporting clean transportation in disadvantaged communities.

California legislators winning over votes in Sacramento have emphasized the health risks for those living close to ports, cargo transport hubs, streets, and highways packed with diesel-powered commercial vehicles. Environmental justice is emphasized by legislators and community groups making the case for clean vehicles and fuels to displace traditional internal combustion engine vehicles.

The Greelining Institute, based in Oakland, Calif., sees economic barriers faced by communities of color as interconnected to several issues affecting quality of life. Vehicle exhaust makes tens of thousands of Californians sick and costs billions in avoidable health costs, with the worst effects often felt in low-income communities of color, the organization says.

The organization sees a clear correlation between economic opportunity — through job creation, support services, education, and other resources — and overcoming racial inequality. Breathing cleaner air is also part of tapping into government and business support for improving quality of life and leveling out the playing field.

“Race must never be a barrier to opportunity,” according to Greenlining.

Other states are including economic disadvantages in their framework for regions needing more electric vehicles and charging infrastructure to improve quality of life and address health concerns. Some of these states outside California with laws and funded programs in effect, or being considered by legislators, include Washington, Oregon, New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina.

Demand for disaster preparedness
In the fall of 2012, Hurricane Sandy’s impact was devastating, causing about $65 billion in damage. It eventually reached New Jersey and New York City, flooding streets, parking lots, tunnels and subway lines, and cutting power in and around the city. Now-defunct Fisker Automotive reported that 320 Fisker Karmas were destroyed at a New Jersey port by Hurricane Sandy.

In the immediate years that followed, the impact of climate change spread far beyond scientists and environmental groups. It became common to hear it referred to as “climate disruption” as a series of severe weather disasters on both ends of the spectrum were unleashed — from blizzards to heatwaves, brushfires, hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, and earthquakes. The impact has been devastating in lives lost, property destruction, and disruptive weather conditions outside what we’d been used to.

There’s been a growing need in finding skilled and experienced professionals who can protect public safety and restore damaged infrastructure. Engineering and consulting firms are being hired to address disaster mitigation, infrastructure protection, and bringing resilience back to impacted communities. COVID-19, and social upheaval across the country, have brought up even greater challenges.

Fleet professionals that I know have engaged me and many others in conversations on challenges they’ve been through such as flooding and power outage. Their stories have been sad — with millions of dollars on loss due to vehicles being unsalvageable due to flooding that had not been seen in previous years. Opportunities have also come through it — with fleet professionals gaining experience and technical know-how in utilizing electric vehicle battery packs for energy storage.

And in other news……..
California adopting clean truck rules:  On Friday, the California Air Resources Board passed a unanimous vote for the Advanced Clean Trucks Regulation, which will require truck manufacturers to sell a certain percentage of zero-emission trucks in the state starting in 2024. It will see a gradual annual increase in adding more electric trucks to fleets, with the goal of putting 300,000 electric trucks on California’s roads by 2035 and phasing out diesel trucks by 2045. Heavy-duty trucks are considered to be responsible for a third of California’s smog-causing nitrogen oxides (NOx) pollution and a fifth of its greenhouse gases.

Virtual clean transportation conference coming up:  AltWheels 2020 will be hosting its first ever virtual event on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. The Boston conference started 17 years ago and became fleet-focused 14 years ago. The event organizers want to make sure that fleets and other stakeholders will be able to continue attending and sharing information on making clean transportation work. Green Auto Market will serve as one of the co-hosts of the conference, and will be covering the event throughout the year.

Fleet Day at AltWheels 2020 will include speakers and a breakout session, exhibits, along with leading alternative vehicles of all sizes and the latest options for fleet managers. Last year’s event featured 30 expert speakers, 31 exhibits, and 20 on-site vehicles for display. More than 200 fleet managers from corporate, municipal, and state organizations from across New England and New York were in attendance last year. It provides attendees an opportunity to gain the latest updates in fleet transportation technologies, alternative fuels, and fleet management practices. Further information on AltWheels Fleet Day including photos and videos of last year’s sessions is available online at this website.

Resources to Tap Into:
—Research Determines Financial Benefit from Driving Electric Vehicles
Over a 15-Year Life, EVs Can Save Thousands of Dollars in Fuel Costs Compared to Gasoline Vehicles
Click here for analysis conducted by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Idaho National Laboratory (INL).

—How to Leverage LCFS to Increase EV Sales: OEMs and Dealers Toolkit
Click here for a study from GNA and ACT News.

Connecting the Dots
Market data to follow

 

AAA reports that the national average for regular gasoline as of June 28 was at $2.178, and  diesel came in at $2.441. Natural gas continues to have stable and competitive gallon gas equivalent (GGE) pricing compared to gasoline and diesel. Ethanol is even more competitive, with most of it consumed through E-10 blends. US Energy Information Administration reports that there are about 3,625 public E85 fueling stations are located around the country. Most of that takes place in the Midwest.

Lyft wants all electric fleet by 2030, Ford and VW partnering on commercial vehicles and electrification

Will Lyft go electric?  Ride-hailing company Lyft has committed to do big things by the 2030 benchmark — led by making sure its fleet is 100 percent zero emission. In collaboration with Environmental Defense Fund, other initiatives will be included in coming years such as bringing in autonomous vehicles, and rolling out its Express Drive rental car partner program for ride-share drivers. The challenge will be getting its drivers to switch over to EVs, as Lyft will continue to be a mobile app company partnering driver/car owners to customers needing a ride. The company won’t block drivers who don’t have EVs from accessing their network and getting business; Lyft has to talk them into it. That will be without incentives. The company is counting on governments spiffing up their programs for clean air and fighting climate change.

“We will aggressively promote and help drivers access incentive funds,” a Lyft told TechCrunch. “If policymakers do their part in the next few years, EVs should reach cost-parity with gasoline vehicles by mid-decade.”

Lyft will be working with EDF and other environment groups to lobby for EV incentives and charging infrastructure development. The challenge will be steep as Lyft drivers are used to getting good mileage in small, fuel efficient cars from Asian manufacturers. Another challenge will be Honda putting out a hybrid CR-V on the market soon, providing larger passenger and cargo space with great mileage from a non-EV.

Ford and VW working on electric vans:  Ford Motor Company and Volkswagen AG signed agreements on June 10 that expand their global alliance and take the next step from their initial alliance forged July 2019. They’re seeing increased demand in commercial vehicles and high-performing electric vehicles in Europe and other regions. Their alliance will produce a medium pickup truck engineered and built by Ford, for sale by Volkswagen as the Amarok starting in 2022 within the Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles lineup. Next up will be a city delivery van built by VW’s commercial vehicle group; and later onto a 1-ton van created by Ford. By 2023, they’ll be powered by Volkswagen’s Modular Electric Drive (MEB) toolkit, expanding on Ford’s zero-emission capabilities in Europe. The two global automakers will also work with Argo AI to independently develop autonomous vehicles at scale based on Argo AI’s innovative self-driving technology. Argo AI is a Pittsburgh-based company in which Ford has ownership and development interests.

For those interested in Ford’s new Mustang Mach-E electric performance SUV, it’s coming equipped with a more precise predictor of available range. Mustang Mach-E’s innovative Intelligent Range can accurately estimate how much range the all-electric SUV has left, helping reduce anxiety about when and where customers can recharge.

NREL sees hope in blockchain tech:  Blockchain continues to be taken more seriously as unexpected parties like the US Dept. of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), based in Golden, Col., enters the game. But this won’t be about tapping into the highly volatile cryptocurrency capital market. The power grid is bringing in blockchain technology to help ensure the reliability, resiliency, and security needed to distribute energy. With this stability, NREL is ready to take on a major opportunity: how property owners can sell unused power from their rooftop solar panels. Blockchain will serve as a distributed digital record of actions agreed and performed by multiple parties, to facilitate moving clean energy and its efficient distribution effectively. NREL researchers have been evaluating the use of blockchain for transactive energy using hardware in the laboratory’s Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF). So far, they’re impressed.

Automating driving on hold:  BMW Group and Mercedes-Benz AG put development cooperation in automated driving temporarily on hold. Their joined efforts on next-generation technology for automated driving will be placed on the back burner for now. Both companies are emphasizing that cooperation may be resumed at a later date and that the two companies’ underlying approach to matters such as safety and customer benefits in the field of automated driving remains highly compatible. Autonomous vehicle projects are being led by automakers in partnership with competitors and technology suppliers. As COVID-19 continues to hit all of the global markets, these ventures have to be placed on hold for now.

DOE funding advanced lithium-ion batteries:  The US Dept. of Energy is making up to $12 million available for projects that address capability gaps for enhanced lithium-ion batteries, next-generation lithium-ion batteries, and next-generation lithium-based battery technologies. Working through the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office and Vehicles Technologies Office, funding is available for projects that address these four areas: materials processing and scale-up; innovative, advanced electrode and cell production; designer materials and electrodes; and formation. DOE will be woking with National Laboratories to establish public-private partnerships that solve engineering challenges for advanced battery materials and devices, with a focus on de-risking, scaling, and accelerating adoption of new technologies. The agency is soliciting proposals for projects that can meet these objectives.

Transitional Technologies: Honda getting hacked shows urgency of facing cyber security

Historic breakthroughs in clean, automated, shared, and safe mobility are expected to arrive relatively soon. Flying cars, autonomous rides taking us anywhere, unlimited wireless charging, renewables becoming cheap and abundant, and regular flights to the moon and Mars — we’re seeing what used to look like sci-fi lately achieving tangible, real-world achievements and gaining support.

Then there’s the horrific scenario of hackers taking over cars, raising red flags for those concerned about transitioning over to fully autonomous vehicles. For now, hackers are more likely to take over internal computer networks and temporarily shut down operations — as Honda just experienced. Another concern: hackers figuring out how to manipulate the electric vehicle charging infrastructure and its connection to the power grid.

Analysts have been expecting 2030 to be the turning point for historic transformation, though it’s likely to take a few more years to reach mass-market scale. The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in the works, and will probably extend that period of real change. There’s also gaining broad support for the new technologies in the regulatory structure, insurance and risk management, capital sources, and end users willing to purchase the vehicles.

Safety and protecting data must be resolved first — which usually fall under the category of Cyber Security. In future Green Auto Market commentaries, other concerns will be explored shaping transitional technologies: recovering from the impact of COVID-19, connectivity, automation, renewables, and next-gen batteries.

What happened to Honda?
Why did the Honda Automobile Customer Service’s Twitter page announce that both customer service and financial services networks were “experiencing technical difficulties and are unavailable” on June 8? Honda’s factories in countries around the world were temporarily stopped after the company sustained a ransomware attack beginning on Sunday, according to the BBC. The ransomware is known as SNAKE.

Honda has said very little about the incident. A spokesman told Popular Mechanics that “there is no current evidence of loss of personally identifiable information. We have resumed production in most plants and are currently working toward the return to production of our auto and engine plants in Ohio.”

The company did confirm later to BBC that “a cyber-attack has taken place on the Honda network.” In another interview with The Verge, Honda wanted to reassure readers that there’s been no evidence that “personally identifiable information” has been leaked to the public.

Hackers could use EVs to break down the grid
Researchers are concerned that the integration of electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) taking shape in powerful chargers, along with the electricity grid, could be ripe for hackers. “You do reach a tipping point where you’ve got so much load on the grid provided by these chargers, that if you could control it and manipulate them in aggregate, you would start to see power system problems,” said Jay Johnson, principal manager of technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories.

Hackers could take over enough chargers to theoretically cause a grid blackout. With EVs taking off in sales and charging networks in the US and other countries, a few cybersecurity researchers and industry groups are looking into weak points in the charging infrastructure that could exploited to wreak havoc.

The Sandia National Laboratories team is exploring ways to prevent such a grid attack. “EV charging is right there at the intersection of two U.S. critical infrastructures, the transportation sector and the energy sector. But we need to understand that it also intersects with a lot of other critical infrastructure in the United States,” Johnson said.

Why the general public is alarmed by hackers
Privacy and protection of personal and financial information is a major concern for many Americans. Having all of that data stolen, and possibly used in a scam or another costly criminal undertaking, has raised hackles and commitments from automakers, banks, credit card companies, and others, to protect private information. Surveys continue to show that consumers are angry and annoyed that all of their personal information can be exposed to anyone wanting to research it; and that their back accounts and identities could be wiped out by hackers and other criminals.

An IT manager I know has warned me and others about the huge implications and threats of hackers taking over corporate networks, personal devices and laptops, digital streaming services, and social media. The notorious incidents affecting major companies and millions of people have been spreading over to the average person more recently; or at least they’re being sent spambots, viruses, and malware. I’ve asked my IT friend, and read interviews with experts on the subject, on why hackers are doing it. Some hackers have political causes they believe in, and there could be millions of dollars stolen. But the main motivation seems to be that they love disrupting institutions — hacking the system and getting it to stop, at least temporarily.

I had this warning illustrated last week while using a popular grocery shopping mobile app. During the shopping trip, I thought that the shopper doing my batch over at Costco had completely lost it — by sending me jarring and pornographic images and messages. It turned out that the shopper assumed I was the perpetrator, and minutes later responded to my texts stating that assumption. It turns out that a third party had hacked their way into my personal account and took it over for that shopping trip. What did they get out of it? No money was stolen, and no one’s identities seem to be hurt. The hacker seemed to get a rush out of disrupting our lives for several minutes.

Not long before that debacle, Green Auto Market’s distribution list was taken over by a hacker. I was contacted by email marketing service Mailchimp that something fishy was going on with my email distribution list for the newsletter. I soon found out that a spambot had been let loose that created about 450 fake subscribers to the newsletter over about three weeks. I figured it out with all the new subscribers who had jumbled names and emails that didn’t seem real. After talking to someone with experience in computer networks about it, I realized that the hacker wasn’t doing what I thought might be going on — such as sending my readers a bunch of spam, or selling them phony get-rich-quick schemes. Nope, he or she was just hacking.

Where it all started in a big way
The current wave of hacking — which can include identity theft, electronic banking fraud, breaching of high-security computers, wiping out computers with a virus or malware, and crashing a network — started hitting major targets about 2012. State-held oil giant Saudi Aramco was hit by the Shamoon virus in 2012, which wiped out computer disks held by targeted government agencies and private companies. It was brought back in 2017 as Shamoon 2, thought to be sent by a group named “Cutting Sword of Justice” which claimed responsibility.

Companies hit hard by hackers in recent years have included Adobe, eBay, Equifax, Sony, LinkedIn, Marriott International, and Yahoo. Another big one happened last year when a software engineer in Seattle hacked into a server holding customer information for Capital One and obtained the personal data of over 100 million people.

If US consumers are going to buy into autonomous vehicles and flying cars in any significant way, the issue of vehicle safety and freedom from takeovers will have to be resolved. This applies to services such as Amazon Prime Air delivering packages in 30 minutes or less using small drones.

The US military has been testing out unmanned combat aerial vehicles for several years, along with unmanned ground vehicles. These vehicles and their collected data have been tapped into by autonomous vehicle research centers at universities like Carnegie Mellon, vehicle manufacturers, and AV technology supplier partners.

Tesla’s Berlin plant speeding up faster than China, AD publisher looking for Fixes and Solutions to everything

Tesla speeding up European plant:  Rumors are floating that Tesla may be able to beat the timing on its second plant opening in China with its Berlin vehicle manufacturing facility. Some of those working on the German plant are bragging they are three months ahead of where the Chinese plant was at this time last year. You can also view a video on the plant’s construction, with the nickname of GiGA4Berlin. Tesla continues to work quickly through the COVID-19 crisis and inner turmoil over management turnovers. One theory is that CEO Elon Musk and team are learning big lessons from crafting two vehicle plants and one battery factory to produce four models to production scale (with the fifth, the Model Y, slowed down for now with some production issues). That lesson would be how to standardize building the production plants and speeding everything up. Tesla is on its way to become a true global automaker serving the biggest markets: North America, China, and Europe.

Automotive Digest going away, welcoming new media platform:  Automotive Digest will soon be closed down for good, sad to say. But Chuck Parker will be staying in the game, having recently launched his Fixes and Solutions new media content platform. His new title describes it well: Editor, Publisher, Strategist, & Fixer. The focus here is on identifying and exploring the problems, issues, and obstacles along with possible fixes and solutions that are shaping the country, society, and the world — and not just the automotive industry. It’s also a good space for experts/analysts to voice their concerns, as editorial contributions are being accepted.

What does that look like? A few topics featured in its published articles tell the story…….. How robotics startup Starship Technologies is making its way through COVID-19 and building up its fleet of autonomous sidewalk delivery vehicles……… Federal courts are starting to protect laws that the Trump administration has been dismantling over fossil fuels’ impact on the climate…………. Can leaders from the US and Europe seize the moment to take on the challenges of stopping pandemics, solving climate change, and dealing with inequities of race and economies?…….. How online therapy app, Talkspace, has given counselors, therapists, and medical professionals a new functional means to delivering therapy without being in the same room or office with the client……. and much more.

China investing heavily in coal power:  China is in the process of undercutting all the capital and resources invested in clean energy and electric vehicles. The country permitted more new coal-fired power plants in March than it did in all of 2019. It comes right after a surge in coal plant construction last year. China already consumes more than half of the world’s coal. The country has almost as much new coal generation in planning or construction (206 gigawatts) as the US has in operation (235 GW at the end of 2019). It came from the economic turmoil the country started experiencing a decade ago, with the government putting investing huge sums through state-owned enterprises, with much of it going into coal-fired power.

Zobel heading hydrogen council:  The California Hydrogen Business Council (CHBC) has named Bill Zobel, a prominent figure in natural gas vehicles, as the executive director of the organization. Zobel joins CHBC after over ten years at Trillium, where he served as vice president of business development and marketing. During those years, Zobel helped to diversify the company’s alternative fuel portfolio to include hydrogen refueling in order to meet changing market conditions, customer needs, and company goals. He also worked to secure two premier hydrogen projects in the transit sector with the Orange County Transportation Authority and Champagne-Urbana Mass Transit District.

Clean Transportation group looking for active members:  If you’re a LinkedIn member, come by the Clean Transportation group. I’d started it a few years ago, but let it go dormant. Like other LinkedIn groups, it’s a good platform for telling the story on projects you’re working on, and critical issues facing the future of clean transportation, alternative fuels, and the future of transportation. Another one to check out is Sustainability Working Group, which delves into how sustainability is embedded in organizations and the impact this has on environmental stewardship, stakeholder well-being, community development and shared value. And one more thing, check out my article published in LinkedIn, “What’s the state of the economy as the ‘new normal’ drags on?”

Hyundai and Kia tapping into heat pump EV efficiency:  Hyundai Motor Company and Kia Motors Corporation released details of their innovative heat pump system, deployed in Hyundai and Kia’s global electric vehicle (EV) line-up to maximize their all-electric driving range in low temperatures. It’s extending per-charge driving range by tapping into waste heat to warm the cabin for passengers traveling through cold weather. It was first tied out in the first-generation Kia Soul EV, which used its compressor, evaporator, and condenser, so that the heat pump was able to capture waste heat given off by the vehicle’s electrical components, recycling this energy to heat the cabin more efficiently.

Hydrogen seeing breakthroughs at fuel pumps, Offerings in consulting and research services

Hydrogen seeing competitive fuel stations:  French fuel company Air Liquide just released a new product in the US that can make hydrogen competitive with the average gasoline and diesel fuel station. Its high capacity of 1,000 kg and dual filling positions are capable of fueling 250 vehicles per day. That will make it quite competitive with gas stations that can fuel up to 1,000 cars a day. A hydrogen station with four-to-six of these new pumps can be quite competitive with gas stations. Hydrogen stations in California are already going this route, thanks in part to the new capacity credit in the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard. First Element/True Zero now offers a 25 percent emissions reduction at its new Oakland station compared to the company’s other stations. Of hydrogen stations opening up in the near future, three will offer two fueling positions with a dispensing capacity of 800 kg, and many will offer three or four fueling positions at 1,200 kg stations, according to California Fuel Cell Partnership. Hydrogen is continuing its trajectory as a commercially viable clean fuel — meeting stringent zero emission vehicle and LCFS in California and other states, and finding growth in Japan, South Korea, and European fueling stations.

Need some consulting and research support?  For those of you interested in finding consulting and research support services, see my LinkedIn page for details on my offerings. Stakeholders in clean transportation, fuels and energy, advanced vehicle technologies, sustainability, and market intelligence, are looking forward to the chaos coming from COVID-19 and social upheaval in many of our cities starting to stabilize. They’re beginning to see signs of a the “new normal” emerging, meaning that consulting and research projects for clients in corporations, government agencies, universities, and the like, are starting to show signs of coming back. I’m putting out the word on my availability to provide services to support your team getting back on track — from a work history and skillset in editorial, market research, and business analysis and consulting.

SpaceX breakthrough and Musk’s reputation:  While rioting and the Minneapolis incident that caused it, and the toll of Covid-19, have been depressing, there was one bright spot over the weekend. On Saturday, SpaceX became the first private company to send humans into space. A day later, the two NASA astronauts, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, docked at the International Space Station on board SpaceX’s Dragon capsule. Good news for the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, who also runs Tesla — and can be the center of criticism coming from his fiery personality and management tactics. On the other hand, both companies can benefit from Musk’s presence — such as Tesla seeing its stock price go back up after SpaceX’s success. “Elon Musk is every bit as identified with the creation and ambition of SpaceX as he is with Tesla,” wrote Adam Jonas, an automotive analyst for Morgan Stanley, after the launch. “As such, we believe the success of SpaceX in achieving some of the most sophisticated challenges in science has a direct bearing on public, investor and government perception of his ability to lead and execute.”

Then there’s the dark side. ”Musk is very much more directly involved in the day-to-day management of the company than he is at SpaceX,” said Sam Abuelsamid, an auto analyst for consultancy Guidehouse LLP. “And I think that shows in the execution, which tends to be shoddy and half-assed.”

Nikola gets the backing it needs:  VectoIQ Acquisition announced yesterday that its much-anticipated merger with hydrogen-powered heavy-duty truck maker Nikola Motor has closed, a day after its shareholders voted to approve the transaction.  The deal provides Nikola with more than $700 million in new cash, much of it from a related “PIPE” (private investment in public equity) transaction where investors bought shares of the combined company at a discounted price. One part of Nikola’s appeal has has been offering buyers their choice of big rigs powered by a proprietary high-energy-density battery or a hydrogen fuel cell. Nikola reports that it has over 14,000 pre-order reservations for the trucks, representing more than $10 billion in potential sales.

Subaru takes sustainability award:  Subaru of America, along with the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), announced they have been awarded the 2020 Silver Halo Award in the ‘Best Sustainability Initiative’ category by Engage for Good. The automaker and NPCA were recognized for the Don’t Feed the Landfills initiative, an environmentally focused campaign aimed at preserving national parks. Since 2015, Subaru of America has worked with NPCA and the National Park Foundation (NPF) toward a shared goal of reducing landfill waste in America’s national parks. That’s led to achievements such as the pilot parks nearly doubling their recycling and composting capabilities, keeping more than 16 million pounds of waste out of landfills, which is equivalent to the weight of 40,000 grizzly bears.

Sprinter van 25 year anniversary:  The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter commercial van is celebrating its 25 year anniversary. The van built in Germany made its way to the US in 2001 offering a state-of-the art van built for cargo movement in increasingly congested urban markets. As part of the 1998 merger with Daimler, Chrysler began offering the Dodge Sprinter. In 2014, that platform changes with the Ram ProMaster coming from Chrysler and Daimler keeping the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter alive and well in the US and other markets. Today, both manufacturers serve commercial clients like Amazon in its 30,000 unit delivery van fleet. That will be changing in the near future when Amazon adds 100,000 Rivian electric vans.

Hertz bankruptcy a major road sign toward the future of cars and transportation

It was sad to see the oldest car rental institution in the world, Hertz, file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday, given the severe impact of COVID-19 on travel and the economy. But the story is a much bigger one — it reflects the difficulties of building a solid, profitable company in the car business with healthy cash reserves to survive a catastrophe; and it points to the fundamental changes in how people will be using cars, travel, and taking short rides in the city, in the years ahead.

I’d learned a lot about the car rental business and other elements of its supply chain — automaker fleet departments, airlines, hotels, travel management companies, reservation systems, and the used car remarking arm — as the editor of Auto Rental News; and later working with car rental industry expert and consultant Neil Abrams as the manager of his Abrams Travel Data Services business unit. Learning about the nuts and bolts of how car rental companies work gave me a wonderful education in economics, the auto industry, and the growing importance of travel to consumers and corporate executives — almost like an MBA. Automotive Digest Publisher Chuck Parker had served as the publisher of ARN, and encouraged me to take that publication where I wanted it to go — analyzing market data and offering readers a big-picture perspective on how all of this dynamic change would likely affect their future.

A Bloomberg article on the Hertz bankruptcy cited a ranking of top car rental companies that I put together for ARN in 1994. It ranked Enterprise its new No. 1 by fleet size and number of offices, bumping Hertz off its top spot for the first time. It was also during the time when Hertz’s advertising spokesman OJ Simpson was taken off his mantle and had his years-long contract with the auto rental giant taken away as his murder trial was scheduled. The 1990s also saw the beginning of company mergers and buyouts; and smaller car rental companies having to shut down and leave the business. The global economy was seeing similar trends with mergers and acquisitions taking center stage for automakers, airlines, hotels, media and entertainment companies, banking and investment firms, healthcare, and tech companies.

Over the next 20 years, we would see Enterprise purchase National and Alamo, Avis buy Budget and car sharing leader Zipcar, and Hertz buy Dollar and Thrifty. Hertz would take on Enterprise in the local market with its Hertz Local Edition division — offering replacement cars for repair and service, and weekend rentals to nearby residents who wanted a nice big vehicle to take a road trip. Hertz and Enterprise started car sharing units to compete with Zipcar and its parent Avis, along with Daimler’s car2go and General Motor’s Maven business units.

But what’s happened since then?

—Building a profitable business model continues to be tough:  Carl Icahn, a famous activist investor with plenty of holdings in the oil industry, could lose big with Hertz. Icahn, who owns nearly 40 percent of Hertz, is expected to lose his entire $1.5 billion investment if the company can’t survive its reorganization. Icahn had stepped in during 2014 to stabilize the company’s debt from its acquisition of the Dollar and Thrifty car rental competitors, and to take on competition from new modes of transportation led by Uber. Hertz had owed about $500 million in debt recently and had renegotiated a longer payment plan — given that it only had $1 billion in capital; but that payment was missed. The game is changing dramatically and COVID-19 isn’t at the root of it. It’s not the profitable model that major investors and stock market shareholders will need in the new economy. That’s the same for automakers, with Tesla going outside the norm as high-performing stock to own — unlike GM, Ford, and the other major manufacturers.

—Competitors like Enterprise, Avis, Uber, Lyft, and Zipcar, are preparing for a future with autonomous, shared, and electric rides.  That’s also the case for the two giant European car rental companies, Sixt and Europcar. But the car rental giants haven’t even started offering customers electric cars for rental. They might have a few hybrid models, but they have been sticking to the traditional vehicle choices. Hertz was set back by not getting enough SUVs into its fleet recently — as gasoline prices have stayed down and renters want to load up midsize-to-large crossovers and SUVs for long road trips. But that’s expected to change in the new decade as we emerge from the coronavirus, as environmental regulations take hold in North America, Europe, and Asia — meaning less gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs, and more electric cars and fuel-efficient vehicles. Consumers and fleets are starting to become more interested in owning EVs and taking shared, automated rides in autonomous shuttle buses. That will take a while to get a firm hold in the marketplace, but expectations are starting to change. Some analysts believe that COVID-19 is continuing to cause a series of changes in the general public’s priorities and expectations.

—Most companies in the global economy are dependent on steady revenue streams based on demand with very little in capital reserves — as well illustrated by Hertz.   When demand gets sidetracked for whatever reasons, there goes the company. Japan’s lean supply chain model has had a great deal of influence on all of it, but that was discredited in part by the 2011 nuclear power disaster — and its harsh impact on automakers around the world dependent on Japanese suppliers. Some countries like Japan are more willing to bail out their major corporations and keep their share. The US gave GM and Chrysler great deals with low-interest loans on their post-bankruptcy bailouts that were paid off. Will Hertz be able to find it from the Trump administration to emerge from BK in a stronger position?

—Hertz will have to save face on generous executive payments.  Hertz Global Holdings said today it has paid about $16.2 million in retention bonuses to a range of key executives. President and chief executive officer Paul Stone was paid $700,000, and executive vice president and chief financial officer Jamere Jackson $600,000 as retention bonuses, Hertz said in a filing to US regulators. That doesn’t look very good after laying off 10,000 of its employees in April. The business community and consumers do expect more from corporations these days — honest reporting, equity, treating employees respectfully, adopting sustainability practices, and supporting their local communities.

—Car rental holding companies are in a sound position for being leading players in the future of mobility.  They have the largest fleets in the world, historic brand names and public awareness, and infrastructures in place for serving airports and, especially for Enterprise and Hertz, serving local markets including much-needed replacement vehicles. What about adding EVs, autonomous shuttles, hourly rentals, and cheaper shared rides?

—Car rental companies are facing a serious turning point.  How will they compete in car sharing when those companies start to grow their audiences and car rental companies haven’t taken the segment very seriously? What about rental electric cars? It’s not happening yet. How do you compete with ride-hailing and ride-sharing giants out there in the global market? Consumers are changing their mobility methods and business travelers have been leaning in this direction too. COVID-19 and emerging from bankruptcy offer rare opportunities for stepping forward and doing the right thing.

China auto sales coming back, but US languishing for near-term future

China’s auto market grew in April, overcoming an early-year collapse triggered by the coronavirus shutdown — and ending a nearly two-year streak of sales declines that has shaken the world’s largest auto market. Before the coronavirus, China had been seeing an economic downturn following years of historic growth in new vehicle sales.

The market’s new energy vehicles also saw a turnaround during that month. China includes all electric, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in these totals for passenger and commercial vehicles.

The Tesla Model 3’s sales in China fell over 64 percent last month compared with the previous month. That sales decline happened despite a 9.8 percent month-on-month increase in electric sales in China last month. The Model 3 did see very good months in the first quarter, bucking China’s trend in new vehicle sales plunging.

All of this is happening as the Covid-19 crisis impact has started softening in China’s economy and the world’s largest auto market. China’s recovery could be a good sign for the start of economic recovery that should slowly spread to the US.

But China’s leading auto trade group warns that the fight won’t be over — with sales expected to be down 15 percent overall versus the previous year. Much of that took place in the first quarter of this year, with sales improvements expected to continue for at least two more months.

US new vehicle sales volumes were down about 50 percent year over year in April. Car shoppers are staying out of dealerships during the pandemic — and that includes online sales. Tesla does have the advantage of getting its customers to go that route from its very beginning, with some analysts pointing to Tesla’s retail model as a sign of the future for competitors and their dealer networks.

Data on plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicle sales in the US is very difficult to find these days, as the leading sources stopped publishing their reports last year and into this year. One analysis piece expects that EV sales will decline in the US for up to 12-to-18 months. A real double whammy has hit the market through the Covid-19 pandemic and drastically lower oil prices.

EV sales of course won’t be going away entirely in the US, and some automakers will continue to prioritize their lineups. Volvo Cars was pleased to announce that its Recharge lineup of plug-in models doubled in the first four months of this year from 7 percent of its sales to 14 percent. The company also reported seeing a nearly 44 percent drop in overall new sales last month.

Tesla chief Elon Musk was pleased to tell stakeholders at the company’s recent earnings call that the Model 3’s prices will be going down in China. That should help bring it back to competing with market leaders. BYD and Ford took the two top spots in China last month in EV sales, with the Model 3 coming in third.

Tesla wants to open up its third auto assembly plant in Germany, which appears to be going forward. For now, China will be a very important market to establish firm footing within. That’s the case for a few other major automakers that have put lots of capital into EV sales in China — including General Motors, Ford, and Volkswagen.

Renewable energy ready to grow, Fun activities to overcome cabin fever and boredom

Spain, one of many countries hit hard by Covid-19, is sending workers out to continue building up renewable energy to power its grid. Workers on the 500-megawatt Núñez de Balboa solar park have been wearing protective gear to finish installing the nearly 4 square miles of panels to supply power up to 250,000 people, becoming the largest in Europe.

That power grid is run by Iberdrola, a multination energy company based in Spain, but its one of many renewable energy projects continuing during the coronavirus crisis — even when oil prices have plunged downward. Fossil fuels make up a big chunk of power for the global energy grid; some countries may be adding it and taking advantage of the low cost, but renewables look like they’ll continue growing rapidly.

It’s a major trend to follow for those planning the future of energy used in generating electricity — along with fueling transportation. Opponents of adopting ambitious government mandates on bringing their country’s fleets over to electrified vehicles can point to the fact that natural gas, coal, and nuclear make up most of the power grid in the world — and that renewables like solar, wind, hydropower, and geothermal have a long way to go. Electric vehicle advocates lose some of their arguments made when the total lifecycle of the vehicles and their energy sources don’t clearly stand out from internal combustion engine vehicles — or from other alternative fuels.

As for growth, renewables have been the big winner in recent years, and that trend should continue. The International Renewable Energy Agency reports that between 2015 and 2019, renewable energy grew to make up 72 percent of of all new power generation last year. It outpaced nonrenewable energy during that time period.

The International Energy Agency (a separate agency from IREA) expects renewable power to grow by another 50 percent by 2024 with solar leading the way. The agency expects it to be the only energy source to grow this year, with fossil fuels taking a major hit because of decline in energy demands coming from the pandemic.

However, fossil fuels may also be coming up for a boost in energy consumption. Dan Jørgensen, Denmark’s minister for climate, energy and utilities, said he’s concerned that the recent dive in global oil prices might lead countries “that are built on an old-fashioned fossil economy” to see the transition to cleaner energy as unnecessary. It could be set aside in a few markets.

Jørgensen shared these perspective during IEA’s meeting last month with lawmakers and companies from around the world focusing on the role of renewable energy in the economic recovery expected to follow Covid-19. A common theme by speakers was not repeating the cycle following the 2008 financial crisis that had benefited suppliers of fossil fuels. Jørgensen said that the argument needs to be made that investing in renewables is a smart business strategy and not just an ideological choice.

The US has a long way to go in making this transition. The US Energy Information Administration reports that fossil fuels are by far the largest sources of energy for electricity generation. It’s led by natural gas, which made up about 38 percent of electricity generation in the US last year, followed by coal at 23 percent and petroleum at less than 1 percent. Nuclear powered 20 percent of US energy last year.

Renewable energy made up about 17 percent of electric power in the US last year. Hydropower plants made up about 7 percent of total US electricity generation during that time, with wind power making up that same share. Solar made up 2 percent and biomass was about 1 percent or energy in the US last year.

Hydropower plants using flowing water to spin a turbine connected to a generator — such as the Snake River providing Idaho’s energy. Wind turbines convert wind power into electricity. Photovoltaic (PV) and solar-thermal power are the two main types of solar electricity generation technologies being used in the US. As for biomass, that comes from steam-electric power plants that can convert gas that can be burned in steam generators, gas turbines, or internal combustion engine generators. Geothermal power plants contribute about a half of one percent of US power last year, and that comes from steam turbines.

Renewable energy made up a segment of US job creation efforts in the years following the Great Recession that struck in 2008. Advocates cite these projects and business startups that have thrived, and the contribution it’s making to reducing dependency on fossil fuels and to reducing carbon emissions.

From my blog:  Getting cabin fever? Looking forward to Covid-19 no longer running our lives? 
Along with taking all the social distancing and cleanliness guidelines suggested by the CDC seriously, it seems like a good idea to use the downtime for something good. My list of activities for your consideration to help get through the coronavirus includes watching the Oscar-winning Parasite. One way I could tell it was a great movie when a turn in the storyline happened, and I thought, ‘What the hell is going to happen now?’

Looking at advanced mobility in new publication: Automotive Digest Publisher Chuck Parker has a new publication called Fixes and Solutions geared toward automotive professionals looking out a the next wave of technology and industry changes — well beyond coronavirus. I just wrote a piece on the District of Columbia releasing a study examining four plausible scenarios on how autonomous vehicles could be adopted in the area. Economic growth and greater transport solutions for local communities are advantages, but new problems could arise from adoption of the technology. However, there is more I could write about. In fact, here are eight topics that will have to be considered as challenges to overcome and integrate before we all get to ride around in autonomous electric shuttle buses………. cyber security, Internet of Things, cloud computing, robotics, renewable energy, batteries, mobile devices, and 5G.

BYD and Hino commercial EVs:  BYD and Hino Motors have signed a strategic business alliance for collaborating on commercial battery electric vehicles development. The two companies will work together to develop the best-fit commercial BEVs for customers to achieve carbon reductions. Commercial fleet customers will be served, and BYD and Hino will cooperate in retail and other related business that will promote the adoption of BEVs. Hino’s director and senior managing officer Taketo Nakane said, “We are pleased with this collaboration aiming to realize commercial BEVs that are truly beneficial to customers both practically and economically. By bringing together BYD’s achievement in BEV development and Hino’s electrification technology and reliability built over years of experience in developing hybrid vehicles, we will develop the best-fit commercial BEV products for consumer in working towards swift market introduction.”