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.”

Telling your story on how you got here, Trump admin rolls back clean car standards

For those of us homebound during the Covid-19 outbreak, what’s the best way to avoid cabin fever and bleak news saturation?

A few good ones I’ve heard or experienced have been: catching up on a good TV show like Westworld, finally getting around to using an exercise machine, cooking healthy meals at home, playing board games with co-residents, chatting with friends and family on Zoom, and writing (or attempting to write) the Great American Novel.

And there’s always telling a good story. One of the best work experiences I’ve had in recent years has been asking stakeholders in advanced, clean transportation how they got here in the first place. How did they get so passionate about the subject matter?

That might have happened during a video interview for Automotive Digest; or a phone interview for an article; or during a luncheon at ACT Expo; or by exchanging emails after connecting on LinkedIn; or watching them give a presentation on the vehicle, fuel, or technology they’ve been championing for years; or talking with them during monthly calls of Green Auto Market’s editorial advisory board.

I’ve had a few more good questions to ask them, or that I got asked. These might include:

 

  • What do you really think it will take for clean vehicles to reach 10 percent (or 25 percent, 50 percent, etc.) of US new vehicle sales?
  • What are the most compelling points to make about switching over from gasoline and diesel to electric vehicles; or hybrids; or hydrogen; or natural gas; or propane autogas; or biogas; or renewable fuel?
  • What comes first — the chicken or the egg? The vehicle or the charging/fueling infrastructure? Or, are they equally important?
  • How did you pick this field of endeavor over something more established and safe?

Readers of Green Auto Market have told me quite a few fascinating stories. Their passion for the subject matter and staying informed might have started years ago when they took over fleet acquisitions for a city directed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; or they’ve been obsessed with electric vehicles ever since they made their first do-it-yourself low speed, short range EV from a kit — and years later bought a Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, or Tesla Model S; or they’ve worked for a government agency promoting adoption of alternative fuel vehicles; or they’ve worked in one or more startups breaking into the world of EVs and charging; or for a major automaker setting up a division in EVs, autonomous vehicles, or mobility services; or they just love to read and talk about the latest in cars, fuels, and vehicle tech.

For those of you interested in sharing your stories about getting hooked on clean transportation — and about what you’d like to see happen in the near future — in Green Auto Market, please email at jlesage378@gmail.com. It would be best to include your name and affiliation (employer, organization, area of interest, etc.); or you can remain confidential about your name and affiliation, if need be.

Speaking of which, here’s my story………

I started following the subject matter in the 1990s while serving as an editor at Automotive Fleet. I spent time talking to fleet managers who were testing out vehicle conversions to natural gas and propane autogas; they started receiving funding grants from Air Quality Management Districts in California (and other agencies around the country) to convert vehicles over to compressed natural gas fueling systems and to have a fueling dispenser placed at their base location.

During that time, I might also have been interviewing someone involved in testing out other alternative fuels such as ethanol and methanol. Support for methanol didn’t last very long after engine corrosion became a major concern. I’d also heard about limited test projects being done — electric vehicles (one of them later becoming General Motors’ EV1), a self-driving truck by the military, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles that picked up more support from automakers and government agencies by the early 2000s.

For the most part, interest in clean transportation faded away by the second half of the 1990s. Cheap gasoline and diesel prices; attractive fleet incentives for full-size cars, trucks, and vans; and domestic manufacturer truck and van models that could be customized and equipped for utility fleets, construction, and maintenance operations, took away much of the interest in alternative fuel vehicles by the late 1990s.

The turning point for me was in 2007. As I’ve shared with some of you, on Aug. 12 of that year, I was struck with encephalitis — an inflammation of the brain caused by a previous infection activated again. That one had been herpes simplex that started when I was a child with chicken pox. It was reactivated in 2007 primarily by stress; though it was largely unknown at the time, and it wasn’t diagnosed correctly at first. On that day, my heart stopped twice and I had to be revived — or I wouldn’t have lived through it.

I was hospitalized for about two months, with the encephalitis swell blocking my memory (front, left cortex of the brain) for most of that time period. I wasn’t able to return to my office for work until after the first of the year. During that time after getting out of the hospital and staying home, I found myself going on the internet to research and read about subject matter I’d been digging into earlier — such as while attending the Alternative Fuels & Vehicles Conference in Anaheim earlier that year. Topics that grabbed my interest included concern over global warming; cleantech startups being a hot commodity, with capital available for EV startups and solar and wind power companies; and reading about corporate sustainability policies.

My interest transitioned over to fascination during 2008 — from the gasoline and diesel price spike and volatility, and doing features for LCT Magazine on chauffeured transportation fleets starting to try out alternative fuels. During that year, I profiled the Econation startup company— which was bringing in Priuses, hybrid SUVs, and CNG-powered Lincoln Town Cars to its fleet for corporate trips in Los Angeles.

I was blessed with support for my interest and fascination in these cars, fuels, and technologies while working with Automotive Digest and its team (led by Publisher Chuck Parker). Green Automotive Digest started up in 2010, which gave me an excellent channel for meeting and interviewing several stakeholders in the field.

During all of this time period, I became most fascinated with two key themes — clean transportation offering pragmatic solutions; and the absolute necessity of transportation in our economy and lifestyles. I would end up talking about, and writing about, these topics quite a few times — at least as a backstory to a news item or feature I was digging into.

Here’s a question for you to consider. What if you could help clean the air, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs, and support technology innovation? Would you consider that intelligent, practical, and inspiring? That’s been a key piece of the formula when a new vehicle technology is introduced to the public. A piece of the press release might state something like: “This fuel will reduce carbon emissions by 1.2 million tons this year compared to diesel fuel.”

As for the role of transportation in our cultural and economic development, I think it’s been as important as power, communications, lighting, medical care, and distributing water. The essential value and role that ground transportation has played in human history for 200 years started with rail, and later with internal combustion engines and crank-up starters, the first electric vehicles, and bringing steam-engines over from trains to cars. With it came the eventual domination of petroleum and serious threats to air quality and sustainability of the world we live in.

I have to admit that I do love fast cars that can guzzle a lot of gasoline — with the 1968 Pontiac GTO being my favorite. That wasn’t the second car in the legendary car chase scene in the 1968 movie Bullitt — that was another of my favorites, the Dodge Charger, taking on the classic Ford Mustang. I believe we have the right to own and retain these cars, but they’re certainly not practical for daily commuting.

I would gladly ride to work in a shared, automated, electric SUV or bus. Why stay stuck in traffic, resenting other drivers and feeling bored and restless when you could be chatting with ridemates, playing a video game, watching something really good on a screen, reading your favorite humor columnist, texting comments to friends and family, and more?

I have appreciated researching and writing about the subject matter for previously mentioned publications. I’ve also appreciated my freelance writing with Autoblog Green, Hybridcars.com, and Oilprice.com. I had some good years conducting market intelligence studies on car rental, business travel, and travel management for Abrams Travel Data Services. I’ve also valued participating in speaker panels at AltCar Expo. I do look forward to what’s next, and expect that Covid-19 will be overcome and we’ll get back the business of green cars, fuels, and technologies.

And in other news:

White House finalizes clean car rules:  Last week, the Trump administration announced its rollback of Obama-era fuel-economy regulations from 2012, which aimed to require automakers to up the average fuel economy in their fleets to 54.5 mpg within the next few years. The administration finalized the second part of the rollback, which is formally known as the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule. The second part of the SAFE rule would require automakers to increase the fuel economy of passenger cars by 1.5 percent each year. That’s far less stringent than the standards set by the Obama administration, which mandated a 5 percent annual increase in fuel economy. But it’s less dramatic than the Trump administration’s original plan, which was to freeze the standards at 2020 levels through model year 2026. Court challenges are expected to be filed once again. President Trump posted tweets similar to comments he’d made last year: ”My proposal to the politically correct Automobile Companies would lower the average price of a car to consumers by more than $3500, while at the same time making the cars substantially safer,” he tweeted. “Engines would run smoother. Positive impact on the environment! Foolish executives!”

Automakers close plants, making ventilators:  Here’s a list of US auto factory shutdowns and scheduled dates of reopening in 14 states across the US. Several of the plants will be opening up again this month, between April 13 to 20. Ford and General Motors announced in late March that they’ll be building thousands of ventilators to fight Covid-19. These are taking place in plants that had been shut down from car production. Tesla is showing a new video posted on the company’s YouTube channel, where its engineers show off two versions of a ventilator, a prototype model with its components laid out across a desk, as well as a packaged model that shows how it might look when used by a hospital. CEO Elon Musk made a commitment to build the ventilators last month after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio asked for the company’s help.

BYD wants to improve EV battery safety:  BYD last week unveiled its Blade Battery, designed to resolve concerns about battery safety in electric vehicles. At an online launch event, Wang Chuanfu, BYD’s chairman and president, said that the Blade Battery reflects BYD’s determination to resolve issues in battery safety while also redefining safety standards for the entire industry. The Blade Battery has been developed by BYD over the past several years. Due to its optimized battery pack structure, the space utilization of the battery pack is increased by over 50 percent compared to conventional lithium iron phosphate block batteries. While undergoing nail penetration tests, the Blade Battery emitted neither smoke nor fire after being penetrated, and its surface temperature only reached 30 C (86 F) to 60 C (140 F). It would be far less susceptible to catching fire – even when they are severely damaged — than other batteries on the market.

China extending EV sales incentives:  China agreed to extend tax breaks and subsidies on electric-vehicle purchases for two years to provide relief for the struggling industry in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The government will keep waiving the 10 percent sales tax on EVs, a benefit that began in 2014 and was due to expire at the end of this year, through 2022, according to a media report. The state council overseeing the program also agreed to prolong subsidies for EV purchases for two years. The sales tax waiver and subsidies apply to battery electric, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Emissions drop during pandemic:  The coronavirus pandemic is offering one advantage: shutting down industrial activity and temporarily slashing air pollution levels around the world, satellite imagery from the European Space Agency shows according to Wired. Readings from ESA’s Sentinel-5P satellite show that over the past six weeks, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over cities and industrial clusters in Asia and Europe were markedly lower than in the same period last year. Nitrogen dioxide produced from car engines, power plants, and other industrial processes, is thought to exacerbate respiratory illnesses such as asthma.
(Editor’s Note: Look for the April issue of Wired to read a special section on climate change, entitled, “We Have One Earth — And The Technology To Save It. Go!”)

Autonomous a decade away? What about connected smart apps until then?

Last week saw the big CES show in Las Vegas, where autonomous vehicles took over five years ago; the star then was the Audi A7 self-driving prototype. Many attendees this year were very disappointed that automakers and tech partners have changed their story from the AV Revolution over to cool, connected features being added to new cars.

This topic has been further explored in a Green Auto Market analytical report. Click here to see the market report available for purchase and download.

 

 

Highlights from this year’s CES:

  • Sony unveiled an electric car concept that could set the Japanese tech giant up as a partner for self-driving EVs of the future. The company said sensors are embedded within the vehicle, in order to “detect and recognize people and objects inside and outside the car, and provide highly advanced driving support.” Magna Steyr built prototype, and Sony listed Benteler, Blackberry, Bosch, Continental, Elektrobit, Genetex, Nvidia, Qualcomm, and ZF Friedrichshafen as partners.
  • Along with reminders about its intelligent mobility offerings, Nissan revealed a new twin-motor, all-electric, all-wheel-drive system. It’s expected to debut in Nissan’s first all-electric crossover utility vehicle that may arrive in the US in 2021. Called e-4ORCE, the new system will deliver high-torque, precision handling and stability, Nissan said. This will be possible by optimizing power delivery to each of the four wheels.
  • Toyota’s Woven City was shown off as a prototype community of the future that will be built near Mount Fuji in Japan. The 175-acre site will house an experimental laboratory of future technologies including self-driving vehicles run on hydrogen fuel cells, robots, smart homes and new forms of personal mobility. People will be able to live in this community of the future.
  • Hey there, hardcore gamers:  This year, both Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation will launch new, next-generation game consoles. Both are scheduled to arrive this holiday season, and both are being slowly finished up for major launches. And you can always get a cutting-edge TV of the future to play the games on and watch your favorite show. Samsung showed off its Q950 8K TV with a minimal 15mm frame and AI processor that can track screen objects and position the sound to match. LG unveiled its latest rollable OLED TV, that can roll down from the ceiling like a projector screen with no need for a projector; there’s also a more affording OLED TV with a smaller 48-inch display.
  • Uber and Hyundai Motor Co. have a new partnership to develop Uber Air Taxis for a future aerial ride share network, and the new partners unveiled a new full-scale aircraft concept. Hyundai is the first automotive company to join the Uber Elevate initiative, bringing automotive-scale manufacturing capability and a track record of mass-producing electric vehicles.
  • Renault is developing a solution enabling automatic and secure interaction and communication between cars and connected objects in homes in partnership with French smart-home startup Otodo. Users will be able to control their home’s connected objects directly from their vehicle’s dashboard, as well as send instructions from their home, using a smartphone or connected speaker, to their connected Renault vehicle to prepare or share an itinerary, and other functions. It will be available in all Renault models that have the new Renault EASY LINK multimedia system, including the all-new Zoe, Clio, and Captur.
  • Hey there, Avatar fans:  Something that could be called “Ava-car” will be launched to promote upcoming sequels to the hugely popular Avatar movie made by the legendary director James Cameron. He spoke at CES to announced an Avatar-themed partnership with Mercedes-Benz, revealing the futuristic AVTR concept car. It offers what the German carmaker sees as the future of automotive design, featuring things like a steering wheel that will “merge” man and machine. AVTR will be able to recognize the driver based on their heartbeat and breathing patterns. The look of the car is based on non-human characters from Avatar’s fictional eco-universe. The seats and floor are made from sustainable materials, and the battery is recyclable, too.

US more energy independent now, Ford Mustang Mach-E electric SUV a star at LA Auto Show

“America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.”
President George W. Bush during State of the Union speech, Jan. 31, 2006 

I had a fascinating conversation with an economist at a social gathering last week. We discussed the impact of oil imports and exports on the global economy — especially its impact on US energy independence and climate change policies. The US has entered a new place in the world’s oil supply, now exporting more oil than importing it — and less vulnerable to occasionally turbulent global oil prices than was the case years ago.

This economist finds it quite ironic that two other countries have reputations for supporting sustainability and other forward-thinking policies, but are also leading global oil exporters. The US will have to face this scrutiny as well, he said.

One of them is Norway, a leading backer of the UN’s Paris agreement on climate change, and the most impressive nation in the world for per capita electric vehicle sales; along with generous government incentives for EV purchases and charging infrastructure.

Norway was the 13th largest global oil exporter last year, at 1,254,920 barrels per day.
It was named the 20th most oil dependent country in the world during 2016 in another study, with 3.84 percent of its GDP coming from oil revenue, and fuel exports making up 53 percent of its merchandise exports that year. About 45 oil wells were drilled in 2018, up from about 30 in 2017.

Canada, the second nation mentioned by the economist during our conversation, is recognized for having the best healthcare system in the world and for being proactive on climate change through its government’s policies. However, it was the fourth largest oil exporter in the world last year.

Canada exported 3.5 million barrels of oil per day to the US in 2018, 96 percent of all Canadian crude oil exports, according to Natural Resources Canada. Canada supplied 43 percent of US oil imports last year; followed by Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela, and Iraq.

The US was the eighth largest oil exporter last year. Saudi Arabia and Russia were No. 1 and No. 2. Saudi Arabia has much larger export volume than any other country in the world.

2018 Largest Oil Exporters — Barrels Per Day

1. Saudi Arabia — 8,300,000
2. Russia — 5,225,000
3. Iraq — 3,800,000
4. US — 3,770,000
5. Canada — 3,596,690
6. UAR — 2,296,473
7. Kuwait — 2,050,030
8. Nigeria — 1,979,451
9. Qatar — 1,477,213
10. Angola — 1,420,588

Sources: CIA World Factbook and US Energy Information Administration

The US is not an oil-dependent country on the import vs. export ratio as of 2019, but the addiction to petroleum continues. On the bright side, the US is less dependent on OPEC, the league of oil producing nations that caused energy and economic chaos in the US twice in the 1970s (along with the Iranian revolution in 1979) — and that continues to be a major power player in the global oil market.

The US is now exporting crude oil to more nations than it’s importing from, the Energy Information Administration said in a new analysis in late October. During the first half of the year, US crude oil exports average 2.9 million barrels per day, according to the EIA, a number that’s gone even higher in the second half of 2019. In the first seven months of this year, the US imported oil from a maximum of 27 nations during a given month; that had gone as high as 37 nations a decade earlier.

A surge in domestic production has made the US a crude oil export powerhouse, a goal that had been the basis of the Bush administration’s energy policies in the previous decade that first created the Energy Policy Act of 2005; and with some of it carried over to the Obama administration. Bush’s famous State of the Union quote on oil addiction has been used as both an irony (raising the question: How serious was the Bush administration on weaning the US off petroleum?), and supporting moves to stabilize US energy through reducing oil imports from countries like Iraq and Kuwait where America had sent troops to; and other countries, especially OPEC members, with hostile attitudes and actions toward the US.

The Energy Policy Act promoted US nuclear reactor construction through incentives and subsidies — which has since been discredited and sidelined following Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011. The Act also provided loan guarantees to entities that develop or use innovative technologies that avoid the by-production of greenhouse gases.

The Act also launched the Renewable Fuel Standard that requires transportation fuel sold in the US to include a minimum volume of renewable fuels. The RFS was expanded and extended in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. These federal laws were where standards came from governing the amount of biofuel that must be mixed with gasoline sold in the US. It soon because the source of a battle between oil companies and refineries versus corn farmers and ethanol producers.

Crude oil is produced in 32 US states and in US coastal waters, according to EIA. In 2018, about 68 percent of total U.S. crude oil production came from five states. Texas is the leader with 40.5 percent of domestic oil coming from that state. North Dakota was the second largest at 11.5 percent, followed by New Mexico at 6.3 percent, Oklahoma at 5 percent, and Alaska at 4.5 percent of domestic crude oil last year.

It’s one of the reasons gasoline is much cheaper in Texas than other states that have to ship and pipeline over their oil and might have state regulations that raise the price at the pump. For example, gasoline recently has been more than $4 a gallon at some California gas stations. In Texas, it’s been a little bit over $2 a gallon.

The US has seen its supply of oil and natural gas surge over the past dozen years through domestic wells and with natural gas coming much more from shale gas fields. Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has been the key driver of change in domestic fuel — where oil and gas are extracted from tiny pores in rock formations coming from shale, sandstone, and limestone. Fracking breaks up the rock in formations creating pathways drawing out oil and gas from the rock layers. It involves forcing water, chemicals, sand, or other materials under high pressure into the wells. Steam, water, or carbon dioxide (CO2) can also be injected into a rock layer to help oil flow more easily into production wells.

Fracking has been the source of public protests and litigation from environmental groups, pushing the federal government to enforce regulations. It won’t be going away anytime soon with advocates insisting its become safer and an economical use of clean energy. Critics say fracking brings devastating consequences to drinking water supplies, air pollution, releasing more greenhouse gases, and triggering earthquakes.

More recently, new applications of fracking technology and horizontal drilling have led to the development of new sources of shale gas that have offset declines in production from conventional gas reservoirs, and has led to major increases in reserves of US natural gas. Oil supply has been helped by the Trump administration weakening environmental regulations for offshore and land oil drilling.

What does it mean for transportation fuel in the US going into next year?

The EIA expects regular gasoline retail prices to average $2.65 per gallon in November and fall to $2.50 per gallon in December. The agency forecasts that the annual average price in 2020 will be $2.62 per gallon. EIA expects that Brent and West Texas Intermediate oil prices will see gradual changes next year — up to $65 per barrel compared to $61 this year for Brent; WTI prices are expected to be about $4 per barrel lower than Brent in late 2019 and throughout 2020.

The US Dept. of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center sees price stability for these fuels since 2014 — compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, propane, electricity, ethanol (E85), and biodiesel (B20 and B99-100). Gasoline and diesel have seen more fluctuation in the past five years, but have stayed within a $2 to $3 per gallon national average (with diesel slightly over $3 lately).

Electric vehicle sales are down now in the US, and fuel-efficient smaller cars and crossovers have been down in sales compared to trucks and SUVs since oil prices plummeted downward in 2014.

Spiking oil prices in 2008, and periods of turbulent pricing in 2010 through 2012, helped automakers sell smaller vehicles, EVs, hybrids, and smaller crossovers. All of that changed in 2014 when oil prices plummeted downward — and gasoline and diesel pricing also dropped — helping pickups and SUVs take the lead in new vehicle sales.

Being less dependent on oil imports has helped US gasoline and diesel prices remain stable and less prone to price spikes than a decade ago — less affected by decisions made by OPEC and disruptive events in key supplier markets. It also raises the bar on making the case for consumers and fleets to purchase new vehicles powered by electricity, hydrogen, propane autogas, natural gas, and renewable fuels.

And in other news……..
Ford is rolling out the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E electric crossover SUV at this week’s LA Show press days. It will have two different battery sizes, with one of them having the capacity to go up to 300 miles per charge. Buyers can also choose from rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, and different power outputs. Ford thinks the Mach-E will make a big splash, its first ever all-out competition against Tesla and the majors, tapping into the performance history and style of the Mustang. EVs are expected to play the leading role at this year’s LA Auto Show product launches, with the Audi E-Tron Sportback and, post-show, Tesla’s Cybertruck. Overall, new SUVs/crossovers will be the leading vehicle classification on display.

California announced yesterday that it will halt all purchases of new vehicles for state government fleets from General Motors, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, and other automakers backing the Trump administration in a battle to strip the state of authority to regulate tailpipe emissions. It’s been a good market for OEMs on the fleet side; between 2016 to 2018, the state said it purchased $58.6 million in vehicles from GM, $55.8 million from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, $10.6 million from Toyota, and $9 million from Nissan.

Volkswagen’s Electrify America announced today an agreement with Lyft to provide the ride-hailing company’s Express Drive program renters of electric vehicles with convenient and included charging on its DC fast charging network. Express Drive is Lyft’s short-term car rental program that gives people wanting to drive on its platform access to an electric vehicle through its rental providers.

Test projects may be tipping point for mobility, Uber and colleagues battling California labor law

Here’s the final commentary in a series on predictions that 2030 will be the watershed year to watch for when vehicles, transportation, and the entire auto industry itself will look quite different than it does today.

 

This topic has been further explored in a Green Auto Market analytical report. Click here to see the market report available for purchase and download.

 

And in other news……..

Uber and other mobile apps fighting California’s new labor law:  California’s leading mobile app companies — Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates, and Instacart — will be fighting the state’s new law, AB 5, that was approved and signed by the governor in September. AB 5 will essentially be making drivers employees after it becomes enacted on January 1. The Silicon Valley mobility companies are backing what’s called the Protect App-Based Drivers & Services Act, which will become a ballot initiative for the November 2020 election once enough Californians sign a request to have it placed on that ballot. Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash have each contributed $30 million to get the initiative approved by voters; Postmates and Instacart are each contributing $10 million. If enacted, their law would cancel AB 5; it’s being written to ensure drivers and couriers can continue to be independent contractors with flexible work hours. Drivers have been marching in support of the new initiative, which will have incentives built in such as guaranteeing they receive at least 120 percent of minimum wage while on the job. It would reverse the new rules that AB 5 has created for the state. Legal battles are likely to take place in the state’s courts, with class-action lawsuits for workers and suits filed by the mobile app companies attempting to thwart AB 5. For now, Uber and the other Silicon Valley startups are being quiet about how their drivers will be treated after January 1 — if the companies will follow AB 5, or if it will be ignored as they scramble to organize their lobbying and legal battles.

Ford v Ferrari:  For car buffs and racing fans, “Ford v Ferrari” will be a real treat. Released in theaters this coming Friday, the movie dramatizes the 1966 Le Mans 24-hour endurance race, where legendary designer Carroll Shelby’s Ford GT40 was able to knock out reigning champion Ferrari. Mat Damon plays Shelby and Christian Bale plays maverick driver Ken Miles. The filmmakers borrowed cars shown in the film from California-based Shelby Legendary Cars and its parent company, Superformance.

Uber and Lyft riders not happy with LAX:  Airline passengers coming in to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) have to wait longer now to get into their Uber and Lyft rides. Uber and Lyft passengers can no longer wait for the car to arrive curbside at terminals; they have to get on what’s called the LAX-it shuttle and be taken to an offsite station to meet their drivers. The airport continues constructing a major changeover, with a new people mover being set up to carry passengers across the expanding terminals. LAX ground transportation guidelines have been changing for a few years now, and passengers have become more agitated with the wait time and gridlock at the airport with continued construction and roadblocks. Airport administrators hope that setting up the new ride-hailing station will reduce traffic overall for drivers dropping off, and picking up, family and friends on the LAX terminal loop. Getting a ride from Uber and Lyft had been a convenient, cost effective transportation option in the past few years. That’s all changing now, with much of that efficiency being taken away. Air travelers and those driving them have been avoiding LAX whenever possible as traffic has gotten worse. Solutions for travelers include going to another nearby airport whenever possible. However, many cross country and international flights have to go in and out of LAX — and not the Orange County, Long Beach, or Ontario Airports. So changes at LAX greatly affect regular travels living and working in the LA and OC area. For taxi, chauffeured transportation, and shuttle operators, LAX’s changes affecting Uber and Lyft are just deserts for stringent and costly regulations imposed on them for several decades by airports and cities. Uber and Lyft are facing more regulations and fees in London, and the companies can expect government entities around the world to extend more of their own rules and fees as ride hailing continues expanding rapidly in these markets.

BYD Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. announced last week that they have signed an agreement to establish a joint company to research and develop battery electric vehicles (BEVs). The new R&D company, which will work on designing and developing BEVs (including platforms) and related parts, is anticipated to be established in China in 2020, with BYD and Toyota to evenly share 50 percent of the total capital needed. Additionally, BYD and Toyota plan to staff the new company by transferring engineers and the jobs currently involved in related R&D from their respective companies.

How a major oil refiner is earning GHG credits in California

For anyone wondering how things are going in California with compliance to AB 32 and the 2016 revision demanding that greenhouse gas emissions be scaled back 40 percent to 1990 levels by 2030, here’s a quick case study. Marathon Petroleum Co. is asking for permission to generate Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) credits at its Tesoro refinery in Martinez, located in the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area. California Air Resources Board posted a refinery project application for public comment on Sept. 20, which will close on Sept. 30, 2019.

You can read CARB’s summary of the project, which the agency said it plans to endorse if all the received comments are addressed satisfactorily by Marathon. In 2017, the company took on an electrification project that replaced a natural gas-fired turbine with an electric motor that drives the refrigeration compressor at the alkylation unit. The project also reduces criteria air pollutants and toxic air contaminants emitted by the refinery. (By the way, the Tesoro brand name is going away following a 2017 rebranding as Andeavor Corp. and a $23.3 billion merger last year of Andeavor and Marathon. Now everything falls under the Marathon corporate logo.)

The Martinez refinery has crude oil capacity of 161,000 barrels per calendar day (bpcd), and employs about 740 workers. Marathon’s other California location, the Los Angeles Tesoro refinery based in Wilmington, has crude oil capacity at 363,000 bpcd, about 1,620 employees, and is the largest refinery on the west coast. Marathon is earning additional LCFS and other California credits at the Watson Cogeneration Plant located within the Wilmington refinery’s complex. The  cogeneration plant produces 400 megawatts for local refineries and sells excess electricity to the local utility grid. Marathon and Tesoro bought former majority owner BP’s share in 2012.

Marathon explained to investors in its annual report that the company has to meet compliance with the state’s stringent climate change and clean air rules — and LCFS credits and the state’s cap and trade quarterly auction system are the best ways to hit the target. “We may experience a decrease in demand for refined products due to an increase in combined fleet mileage or due to refined products being replaced by renewable fuels. Demand for our refined products also may decrease as a result of low carbon fuel standard programs or electric vehicle mandates,” Marathon said in its 2018 annual report.

The LCFS requires a gradual reduction in carbon intensity, reaching a 10 percent reduction in 2020, and last year CARB extended that out to 20 percent by 2030. CARB sees LCFS working well, helping the state meet its 3 percent annual GHG reduction targets and helping to clean the air at some of the nation’s most polluted metro zones. It’s also spurred innovation in low-carbon transportation fuels such as hydrogen, electricity, biodiesel, and renewable natural gas.

Oil companies and refineries have done their share of pushing the state to rollback some of the stringent and costly requirements that the oil industry (and others such as power plants) has to meet. But more of the battle was against farmers and ethanol producers over blocking extending the national E-10 gasoline standard to E-15 or higher. California’s compliance options have been more viable for some of the oil companies and refineries.

In June, CARB reached a $1.36 million settlement with Tesoro and owner Marathon for violating the LCFS. The company had informed CARB of its misreporting of its transportation fuels sold in California. Marathon does seem to accept the challenges of doing business in California and probably won’t be pulling the shutters on its refineries anytime soon. While there are less expensive states to do business in, California is a major market for oil shipping, refining, and keeping gas stations supplied.

It’s been a win-win scenario for California with GHG reductions and well-funded clean transportation and renewable energy programs coming from compliance. In October, CARB approved a $483 million plan to fund clean car rebates, zero-emission transit and school buses, clean trucks, and other innovative, clean transportation and mobility pilot projects. Of that total, $455 million came from the cap-and-trade program, and the remaining $28 million came from the Air Quality Improvement Program. Another recent contribution came from $92 million in LCFS credit funds supporting transportation electrification in 2016.

California’s LCFS is being adopted in other states and Canada, and its ZEV mandates and clean vehicle incentives have followed a similar path. The state led a federal lawsuit filing on Friday that includes 22 other states against the Trump administration’s move to revoke their rights to enact fuel economy and emissions rules outside the national standard. It includes those 13 states that had joined California’s coalition following its vehicle emissions rules — but it also includes states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina that Trump had won in the 2016 election. It’s a an age-old battle in the US: state rights vs. Washington’s ultimate power; and it shows the wide polarity between the Trump administration and the state of California.

Toyota rolling out new EV lineup, Renault refreshes ZEO

Toyota EV lineup based on new platform:  Toyota is working hard at shedding its image as a major automaker lagging way behind on electric vehicles. The company has unveiled six new battery electric vehicle concepts it will roll out before 2025.
The new electric vehicles, with the working name of EV-e, will have long wheelbases, plenty of interior space, camera mirrors, and ventilated front corners with automated driving sensors. The company is showing off life-sized clay concepts to tell the story. They represent a lineup that Toyota designers have been working on since 2016, based on the Toyota New Global Architecture (e-TNGA) modular platform
It ties into a previously announced larger goal of bringing more than 10 EVs to the market by the early 2020s. One of these, the electric C-HR subcompact crossover, will come out next year and will be based on the existing nameplate; and there will be other electric versions of its lineup.
Toyota expects demand for EVs to go way beyond cars and sedans. The e-TNGA platform will potentially house EVs that could include a three-row SUV, a sports car, and a small crossover.

Fuel cell vehicles getting ready to take off in China:  The man credited with bringing electric vehicles to China is now focusing on hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
China’s science and technology minister, Wan Gang, a former Audi executive, will be continuing the country’s subsidy program for hydrogen-powered vehicles as EVs see incentives wane and phase out next year. He’ll be leading the Chinese government committing resources to developing fuel-cell vehicles.
“We should look into establishing a hydrogen society,” said Wan, who’s now a vice chairman of China’s national advisory body for policy making, a role that ranks higher than minister. “We need to move further toward fuel cells.”
Shares of some hydrogen-related companies rose after Wan’s interview was published on June 9. Wan has a lot of influence on the market, being credited with leading China into becoming the dominant EV market in the world with half of its sales.
Wan sees electric cars dominating inner-city traffic in the near future, while hydrogen-powered buses and trucks could become commonplace on highways for long-distance travel.
He understands that fuel-cell vehicles have quite a long way to go with only about 1,500 of them on Chinese roads, versus more than 2 million battery electric vehicles. He’s championed three selling points that will carry over to hydrogen-powered vehicles: boosting economic growth, tackling China’s dependence on oil imports, and its mounting levels of air pollution.
He dismisses the list of roadblocks that typically come up over fuel-cell vehicles going mass market.
“We will sort out the factors that have been hindering the development of fuel-cell vehicles,” Wan said.
It’s no secret that the 66-year-old began his return to China by studying and researching the fuel cell industry himself—he developed three FCVs under a series called Chao Yue (meaning “to surpass”) during his time from 2003 and 2005 (link in Chinese) as chief scientist for China’s 863 Program.
Toyota Motor Corp. will supply its fuel cell vehicle technology to major Chinese automaker Beijing Automotive Group Co. (BAIC) as it seeks to expand business in the world’s largest auto market. BAIC’s commercial vehicle division will manufacture buses powered by Toyota’s fuel cell system. The production of the buses may increase toward the 2022 Winter Olympics to be held in Beijing.

News Briefs:
New Zoe:  Renault’s deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles appears to be over for now, and life goes on. The French company just unveiled a refreshed version of this popular Zoe small electric car. The company says it will be getting 242 miles per charge based on the new WLTP conditions.WLTP was released nearly two years ago by a United Nations working group to resolve criticism of the previous NEDC standard. It’s goal is to provide uniform and more realistic test conditions worldwide. Extra power and range will come from a 52 kWh battery, and a powerful 100kW electric motor. It also has a restyled exterior and new colors.

Volvo working with NVIDIA:  The Volvo Group has signed an agreement with NVIDIA to jointly develop the decision making system of autonomous commercial vehicles and machines. The two companies want to bring autonomous trucking and freight hauling to highways built on NVIDIA’s full software stack for sensor processing, perception, map localization and path planning It could serve a wide client base in freight transport, refuse and recycling collection, public transport, construction, mining, forestry, and more. Separately, Volvo is tasing out what it’s named Vera, an electric, autonomous truck being tested moving goods from a logistics center to a port terminal in Gothenburg, Sweden. It’s part of a new collaboration between Volvo Trucks and the ferry and logistics company, DFDS.

EVs at Disneyland:  Anaheim Resort Transportation (ART) will be bringing 40 BYD all-electric buses to its fleet serving Disneyland. Visitors to California’s most popular theme park can manage admission tickets, public and private transportation all in one app. ART’s new app RideART combines everything necessary for a seamless trip to Disneyland’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

Volvo and Uber:  Volvo Cars and Uber are jointly developing production-level autonomous vehicles, the next step in their strategic collaboration that started in 2016. For now, the Volvo XC90 SUV that was just displayed is the first Volvo production car that in combination with Uber’s AV system is capable of fully driving itself. The XC90 base vehicle is equipped with key safety features that allow Uber to easily install its own self-driving system, enabling the possible future deployment of self-driving cars in Uber’s network for shared rides.

It ain’t over till it’s over:  CEO Elon Musk and his company have been hit hard in the past year on several fronts, but new vehicle sales is offsetting some of that damage. Edmunds.com estimated that Tesla’s May sales were up 71 percent from the same month last year, which is much higher than any other automaker selling any kind of vehicle in the U.S. market. It was the central theme at Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting on Tuesday. Scrutiny has been pervasive recently about a poor quarterly earnings report and battery fires in Teslas. Some car shoppers aren’t happy with window sticker prices, but long-term, it’s not really an issue, the CEO said. “I want to be clear: there is not a demand problem,” Musk said at the beginning of his presentation. “Absolutely not.”

 

Adoption of autonomous vehicles may take longer than hoped for, Tesla trying to clean up SEC fight and poor quarterly report

Buying into self-driving vehicles:  What’s it going to take for autonomous vehicles to become typical on city streets? Perhaps longer than advocates of the advanced technology had hoped for. In a new study by Reuters/Ipsos, half the respondents believe that autonomous vehicles won’t be as safe as vehicles currently on roads. Nearly two-thirds of the U.S. adults participating in the survey said they would not buy a fully autonomous vehicle, and the same amount balked at the prospect of paying significantly more for the added features. AVs will be staying in the test phase for a few more years. Companies such as General Motors, Tesla, Waymo, Alphabet, Uber, and Lyft, will continue testing the technology and trying out convenient mobility and shared ride experiences for users. Fleets will continue playing an important role in advancement of the technology through projects such as truck platooning, electric automated shuttle vans, and urban delivery showing positive signs of potential for adoption. Safe travel is a key issue, as Tesla and Uber have discovered in fatal incidents involving AV technology in recent years. But as marketers of electric vehicles know, building up mass adoption of a radical new technology takes millions of miles and a few years of positive driver experiences.

Electric automated trucks:  Speaking of adoption of the new technology, a new report by Wards Intelligence says it will take until the early 2020s for new electric and automated trucks to take root. Medium-duty truck fleets will lead the way in electrification, but “long haul will probably be the last to see electrification because they’ll probably need fuel cells to get the range they need, and those are still in development,” said Megatrends 2019 Trucking author, Jim Mele. Trucking fleets want to see longer range and faster fueling, so fuel cell trucks may have an edge here — with Nikola Motor and Toyota poised to take the lead.

Tesla and SEC dispute settlement and quarterly report:  Tesla is still trying to clean up problems that have been building in the past year. Tesla CEO Elon Musk was “very happy” about a federal district court judge telling the company and the Securities Exchange Commission to settle the SEC’s complaint out of court. The SEC asked the court to hold Musk in contempt for violating their previous settlement over a tweet they thought violated rules over what the publicly traded company can divulge or express opinions over. This time around, the SEC filed a complaint in court over a photo musk had posted on Twitter of the electric automaker’s manufacturing plant — that Musk said would be able to produce 500,000 vehicles in 2019; he recanted that tweet, going back to the original forecast of 400,000 units being what the company expects to deliver. Another tough one has been reporting to investors that sales saw a big drop in the first quarter of this year. About 63,000 Tesla vehicles were delivered in the first quarter — a 31% drop compared to the prior quarter and the the largest drop ever for the company. Some commentators have wondered if an April 19th event for Tesla investors on new autonomous vehicle improvements will be an attempt to deflection attention on the poor performance.

Welcome to 2019, and what to look for in clean transportation and mobility

All-new electrified models:

  • Audi joined the electric vehicle race with the Audi e-tron crossover SUV, its first all-electric production model. The e-tron gets over 200 miles per charge and shows of a luxury design and has all-wheel drive performance.
  • The Jaguar I-Pace was launched, with a sporty design and luxury appointments, and a 240-mile all-electric driving range.
  • The Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid is an all-new version of the plug-in hybrid model. It’a powered by a 3.0-liter gas engine and a 136 hp electric motor.
  • The Range Rover P400e is a plug-in hybrid variant of the Range Rover SUV. It comes with a 2.0-liter gas engine and a 114 hp electric motor.
  • The Hyundai Kona is now available in an all-electric variant that delivers 258 miles of range.
  • The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV finally made it to America. The full-size SUV runs off of a 2.0-liter gas engine and two electric motors, plus greater efficiency and AWD.
  • The all-new Volvo XC40 compact SUV, the first model built on Volvo’s Compact Modular Architecture (CMA), features an efficient four-cylinder Drive-E powertrain.
  • Toyota has changes to its hybrid lineup. The Avalon Hybrid is longer and lower and higher mpg, with its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and all-new Toyota Hybrid System II powertrain. The all-new Lexus ES 300h comes with a fourth-generation hybrid system delivering a class-leading 44 combined mpg. The Lexus UX entry-level luxury model now comes in the UX 250h hybrid version.
  • The Honda Insight comes in its third-generation version with an advanced two-motor hybrid system that delivers an EPA estimated 55 highway mpg.
  • Kia and Hyundai will launch electric crossovers in 2019, named the Niro and Kona respectively. Hyundai also has a new fuel cell vehicle, the Nexo, available in regions where it can access hydrogen filling stations.
  • On the commercial vehicle and fleet side, Workhorse Group has closed a financing round of $35 million with Marathon Asset Management, with $25 million being a revolving credit line to meeting existing and future purchase orders of its electric trucks.
  • Daimler Trucks is leading a $155-million investment round in electric bus maker Proterra; with Tao Capital Partners, a San Francisco investment firm, as the other lead investor. Daimler sees a growing market for electric buses as public transit districts and school systems in the U.S. and around the world move to reduce emissions. Proterra and Daimler also have an agreement to explore the electrification of a few Daimler heavy-duty vehicles.

Plug-in vehicle sales:  Finalized plug-in vehicle sales figures will be coming out in the next few days for December and all of 2018; but so far, it was clearly a year of record-setting plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles sales in the U.S. Through November, U.S. sales were at 312,887 for plug-in vehicles, compared to 194,479 for all of 2017, according to Electric Drive Transportation Association. Assuming 350,000 units will be sold in 2018, the increase would be about 55% over the previous year. InsideEVs estimates the Tesla Model 3 closed the month with 25,250 sold in the U.S. That compares to 18,650 sold in November. Lately, there’s been a wide gap between the Model 3 and every other plug-in vehicle sold in the U.S., with top sellers like the Tesla Model S and Model X, Chevrolet Bolt and Volt, and Toyota Prius Prime, each hovering somewhere around 3,000 units sold per month. The Nissan Leaf was able to see its first sales increase in a long time.

Mobility going mainstream:  Mobility services like ride-sharing and car-sharing are moving beyond initial excitement by early adopters and over to the mainstream. The Mobility Revolution: A Primer for Fleet Managers, explores four trends that are shaping the near-term future of vehicles and transportation — connected, electric, shared, and autonomous vehicles. The study was sponsored by NAFA Foundation as a tool for fleet professionals to prepare for the near future. The pressure is on for fleet managers and operators to reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions, make their fleets safer, and to try out connected, automated systems for these goals and cost containment. The paper delves into ways that fleets are already testing and exploring these changing technologies and methods, featuring a few successful case studies. Another watershed moment in this new year will be seeing ride-hailing company Lyft beat much-larger rival Uber in filing for an initial public offering. Lyft has been valued at about $15 billion, with its IPO slated for the first half of 2019, sources have told Reuters. Uber is expected to pursue an IPO next year that could value it at about $120 billion. Room rental company Airbnb Inc, valued at $31 billion, is also seen listing in 2019.

Autonomous vehicle test projects:  When, oh when, will autonomous vehicles move beyond the testing phase and be given the green light? It’s not clear, but more companies are entering the testing phase in California and others states. Uber is starting to recover from nine months ago when one of its autonomous test vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz. The return to road testing in Pittsburgh will be at a much smaller scale than the company’s previous program. Another significant event was learning that Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrids have been through nearly two dozen attacks from irate locals in the Chandler, Ariz.. Over the past two years, irate locals have expressed frustration with tire slashings and pelting these vehicles with rocks. One local resident made multiple attempts to run Waymo vehicles off the road using his Jeep Wrangler, including driving toward one of the Waymo minivans head-on before turning away. He said it came from a Waymo vehicle nearly hitting his 10-year old son while the boy was playing in a neighborhood cul-de-sac.

The battery war continues:  Battery maker 24M just received $22 million in funding for its SemiSolid lithium-ion battery that would beat Tesla and other automakers in electric vehicle driving range and energy storage. The startup company, made up of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists and a former A123 Systems co-founder, offers longer driving range, lower battery cost, and faster manufacturing time. The company is also targeting the grid energy storage market, competing with Tesla’s energy storage unit, along with Daimler, BMW, Renault, Nissan, and other automakers. The SemiSolid speeds up the manufacturing process by cutting out a number of steps typically used in EV battery production. It also cuts down the need for materials such as copper, aluminum, and plastics. That will bring down the battery’s costs and the amount of energy needed to charge up the EV batteries.

Renewable energy trends:  Renewable energy went up a point in 2018 — up to 8% of U.S. power generation through the third quarter of 2018. There’s been a lot of concern over America’s trade war with China that includes renewable energy, but demand continues to grow. One study sees growth continuing in 2019, based on emerging policies that support renewable growth; expanding investor interest in the sector; and advancing technologies that boost wind and solar energy’s value to the grid, asset owners, and customers. Growth was driven by declining wind and solar generation costs, improvements in battery storage, and grid operators’ growing experience in integrating intermittent renewable power into the grid. Demand was strong, as well, with voluntary procurement (purchases not driven solely by government incentives) representing 52% of utility-scale solar projects in development and 73% of projects announced in the first half of 2018.

The trade war may change course:  The U.S. and China may be ready to end, or adjust, the trade war started last year by President Donald Trump. A U.S. government delegation will be traveling to Beijing next week to hold trade talks with Chinese officials, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke with Bloomberg. The Trump administration launching the trade war — which added more than $200 billion worth of imports from China by the third quarter of 2018 — is considered a key factor in destabilizing oil prices last year. It’s also hurting China’s weakening auto sales, which is seeing its first decline in two decades — during a time U.S. auto sales are expected to decline. Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk and other automotive executives were pleased to see China reduce tariffs to 15 percent from 40 percent after that meeting. Tesla was able to lower prices for its Model S, Model X, and Model 3, which are scheduled to be delivered to customers early next year. BMW AG and Daimler AG were able to cut prices on their U.S.-made luxury vehicles, bringing prices down to the level there were at before the extra duty was added last July. Automakers in the U.S. are waiting to see whether Trump will be hitting vehicle imports with tariffs.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and stations:  Hyundai has delivered its first Nexo hydrogen fuel cell SUV in the U.S. market. The 2019 Nexo – which replaces the Tucson Fuel Cell – can go up to 380 miles, starting at $58,300 (including $13,000 on its hydrogen fueling card). It joins the Toyota Mirai and Honda Clarity in the fuel cell vehicle market.
The California Energy Commission and California Air Resources Board released a report in late December with some interesting numbers:

  • Public support and public funding remain necessary to achieve the 100-station goal, and more funding will be needed to support the 200-station goal.
  • The current network of 65 stations (including those still in development) provides enough fuel for the existing FCEV population, but capacity will need to double by 2024 to meet projected FCEV growth.
  • Estimated greenhouse gas emissions reductions from funded stations are nearly 76,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2024.
  • More than 5,000 FCEVs are registered in California as of October 2018, nearly double the number from the previous year.

Uber and Lyft going public, Highlights from AltCar Expo speakers

Ride-hailing firms going public:  Uber and Lyft, the top rivals for the U.S. ride-hailing market, are engaged in another race to see who can launch a successful stock market public offering first. While Uber went through disastrous upheaval not long ago, CEO Uber Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over a little more than a year ago, appears to be reviving the ride-hailing giant. Uber may be getting a 2019 offering at a $120 billion valuation, far above recent private market levels. Lyft, meanwhile, could find a public valuation of over $15 billion, which is much closer to IPOs than what some analysts expect Uber to find next year in initial market value.

Musk going to Mars:  While 2018 is turning out the worst of times for Tesla CEO Elon Musk, things are looking brighter on the space transport side of the business — with his grand vision of taking passengers to Mars. His SpaceX company’s Big Falcon Booster will see a factory being built in the Port of Los Angeles, 15 miles south of the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne. SpaceX is getting a lot of support for its Mars mission from NASA, along with contracts for cargo delivery. Another federal agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, has taken a dim view of Musk, but that’s getting worked out with a federal judge approving Musk’s settlement with the SEC. Musk’s mission to Mars goes back before he came over to Tesla. In 2002, he founded the space travel and exploration company through his frustration that NASA wasn’t doing enough to get humans to Mars. It’s typical to see him featured in interviews wearing his “Occupy Mars” t-shirt to get the message across.

Highlights from AltCar Expo:  AltCar Expo speakers talked about the key issues that government regulators, fleet managers, automakers, and technology partners are facing deploying clean vehicles and supporting clean fuels and energy in California. The popular ride-and-drive was a showcase for green vehicles of all types, including the debut of Electra Meccanica’s Solo single-passenger electric vehicle. The Audi etron 55 quattro was displayed and discussed in a panel by Audi of America’s Spencer Reeder; and attendees had a preview of the new Chanje V8100 Generation 2 Model of the electric van by the Chinese manufacturer.

Terry Tamminen, who now serves as CEO at the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, talked about the lack of clear understanding in the federal government over climate change and its devastating impact from Hurricane Michael and other signs of dire conditions. Former head of California’s Environmental Protection Agency and later Cabinet Secretary under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tammimen served as architect of key legislative changes including the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, the Hydrogen Highway Network, and the Million Solar Roofs Initiative. He sees California playing a critical role in the future of government policy and supporting growth in clean transportation. The state’s mandate to have 100% renewable energy by 2045, and tapping into more renewables to power the state’s energy grid, are signs of the state’s commitment to fight climate change. The cost of electricity dropping from $4 a watt when Schwarzenegger took office to under $1 a watt now is a sign the economic dynamics are coming together, as well, he said.

Santa Monica city council member, and Innogy e-Mobility US strategy and market development head, Terry O’Day, had a conversation with annual AltCar award winner Phillip Kobernick, Logistics Service Manager for County of Alameda, about the latest in Bay Area developments for clean vehicles and infrastructure. The county’s fleet now has 300 hybrid vehicles and 80 all-electric vehicles in its 1,300-vehicle fleet. Hybrid police patrol cars, motorpools, and car-sharing programs are supporting these efforts, he said. The County of Alameda and other government fleets in the region are tapping into incentives for chargers being purchased and installed, with the county reaching about 1,400 charger locations, he said. Kobernick offered three suggestions for meeting sustainability targets: gaining better data from EV usage patterns, similar to what’s available now on gasoline-engine vehicles; more charging options based on fleet vehicle duty cycles — such as when Level 1 charging can work and nighttime charging; and becoming smart users in the electricity grid — how to work with utilities on avoiding being penalized with extra fees during peak demand periods. He’s also interested in exploring whether battery swapping might work in EVs, such as police patrol cars that don’t have downtime to wait for charging.

Stay tuned for an upcoming video link in Green Auto Market that will show the Friday speakers. That will also include “Is California Past the Turning Point?” moderated by Marco Anderson, Southern California Association of Governments and featuring Clinton Bench of UCLA Transportation, Kobernick, and Ken Reichley of Southern California Edison. “Are Auto Makers Truly Committed to Low- and No-Emissions Technology?” was moderated by Sue Carpenter of KPCC “Take Two” and featured Anthony Luzi of Electra Meccanica and Spencer Reeder of Audi of America. Reeder also discussed where Volkswagen’s Electrify America program will be going in the next couple of years.