Is Apple Developing an Electric Vehicle?

According to Bloomberg the answer to the question posed in our title is a most definite yes! In a February 19th article Tim Higgins says that:

Apple Inc., which has been working secretly on a car, is pushing its team to begin production of an electric vehicle as early as 2020, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The timeframe — automakers typically spend five to seven years developing a car — underscores the project’s aggressive goals and could set the stage for a battle for customers with Tesla Motors Inc. and General Motors Co., both of which are targeting a 2017 release of an electric vehicle that can go more than 200 miles on a single charge and cost less than $40,000.

then adds that:

Apple representatives declined to comment for this story.

According to Bloomberg, however:

Apple began around June an “aggressive campaign to poach” employees from A123 Systems LLC, the Waltham, Massachusetts-based battery maker said in a lawsuit against Apple filed this month.

Apple hired five people from A123 and has tried to hire battery experts from LG Chem Ltd, Samsung Electronics Co., Panasonic Corp., Toshiba Corp. and Johnson Controls Inc., according to the lawsuit.

Bloomberg also talked to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who told them:

That Apple was seeking to hire away his workers, offering $250,000 signing bonuses and 60 percent salary increases.

It seems as though when it comes to EVs, there’s never any smoke without fire?

[Edit – Saturday February 21st 2015]

This morning’s edition of The Economist includes an article on the Apple EV rumours:

APPLE’S ability to make desirable iGadgets designed for easy portability is beyond question. Reports emerged this week that it is planning to make a mobile device that will instead carry its users—an electric car. Apple’s plans are unclear and unconfirmed. By some accounts it has put a few hundred people to work developing cars to match Tesla, another Silicon Valley firm that makes fast and luxurious battery-powered saloons. Others reckon that it is working on a self-driving car.

Plenty of other tech firms are turning their attention to cars. In February Uber, a firm that provides taxis through a smartphone app, said it would set up a laboratory in Pittsburgh to develop self-driving taxis. Sony recently put money into ZMP, a self-driving car startup; Google has been working for years on driverless cars.

The Economist doesn’t sound optimistic about the future for the alleged Apple EV:

The likes of Apple may not know much about pistons and gearboxes, but the big challenge for electric cars is batteries. Battery-powered cars have many advantages: refuelling at home, cheap running costs and no tailpipe emissions. But the market for pure electric vehicles is tiny:

Expensive batteries make for costly cars, and limited range and a lack of recharging infrastructure have put off most drivers. Nissan’s Leaf, the world’s best-selling electric car, attracted only 40,000 buyers last year compared with the 250,000 the company once hoped to shift. Tesla aspires to enter the mass market but so far it has dealt with the battery problem by putting lots of them in a big, expensive car, thereby limiting it to a luxury niche. The plunging oil price dents the prospects for electrification still further.

and concludes:

Tech firms may be better off working with carmakers, to develop the software that will provide the brains of the self-driving car, and to improve the range and battery costs of the electric car. In the motor industry, supplying the key parts is generally more profitable than putting the cars together, even if you do not get your company’s badge on the bonnet. In the future cars will be different but the brands will probably be much the same.

 

The Open Source Electric Vehicle Hall of Shame

This morning I wrote an article about Elon Musk’s announcement that Tesla would be:

Applying the open source philosophy to our patents.

The headline put the words “Open Source” inside quotation marks, because Tesla are not now offering the world an “Open Source Electric Vehicle”, although a British company called Riversimple did do that many years ago.

It has now come to my attention that a variety of so called “news” organisations are propagating the myth that “The Tesla Model S just became the world’s first open-source car”. That just ain’t so, and spending a few moments at Google or Wikipedia should be sufficient to persuade the most slow witted of investigative journalists of that fact. Here we will name and shame those who have proved themselves gloriously unable to tell fact from fiction, or Riversimple from Tesla Motors:

Zacks.com @ NASDAQ – “It’s the first ‘open source’ automobile manufacturing company”

The Los Angeles Times – “The Tesla Model S just became the world’s first open-source car”

The Chicago Tribune – “The Tesla Model S just became the world’s first open-source car”

The Seattle Times – “The Tesla Model S just became the world’s first open-source car”

Government Technology – “The Tesla Model S just became the world’s first open-source car”

Google search for “The Tesla Model S just became the world’s first open-source car”

Google reports 774 versions of the same "open source" nonsense

Google reports 774 versions of the same "open source Tesla" nonsense

If you discover any new variations on this recurring theme please feel free to let us know by filling in the comment form below.

Tesla Electric Vehicles Now “Open Source”

In a blog post yesterday Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that:

Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.

Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

When I started out with my first company, Zip2, I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them. And maybe they were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors. After Zip2, when I realized that receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit, I avoided them whenever possible.

Mr. Musk’s blog post doesn’t define “good faith” precisely, but he goes on to say that:

At Tesla, however, we felt compelled to create patents out of concern that the big car companies would copy our technology and then use their massive manufacturing, sales and marketing power to overwhelm Tesla. We couldn’t have been more wrong. The unfortunate reality is the opposite: electric car programs (or programs for any vehicle that doesn’t burn hydrocarbons) at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales.

At best, the large automakers are producing electric cars with limited range in limited volume. Some produce no zero emission cars at all.

Given that annual new vehicle production is approaching 100 million per year and the global fleet is approximately 2 billion cars, it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis. By the same token, it means the market is enormous. Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.

We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.

Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers. We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.

Teslas are by no means the first Open Source Electric Vehicles (or OSEVs for short). Here in the UK Riversimple open sourced their hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicle many moons ago. Here’s what their conception looks like:

Tesla certainly isn’t that sort of OSEV company. Where are the CAD models for example? Nonetheless maybe a few enterprising entrepreneurs can now combine the best of both worlds and start making some real inroads into “the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day”?

Here’s what the two vehicles look like in action, emphasising the differences between the two companies’ approach to the technology:


Please also note that the Tesla Model S is now available “with the steering wheel on the right side of the car”!

The First Great Dunchideock Blackout

At May’s film night in Dunchideock Village Hall it was announced that anybody interested in learning more about the recent power cut in the village could “read all about it” on this very web site. A cry was heard from the audience:

Which one is that then?

It has now been brought to my attention that the other end of the village has suffered far more from the absence of electricity this year than my own particular neck of the woods. Having engaged in further communications with some local residents and Western Power Distribution I have another long tale of woe to tell!

There was undoubtedly much wet and windy weather around the Haldon Hills earlier this year. According to the UK Met Office, handily situated just up the road in Exeter, in their summary of Winter 2013/14:

Winter 2014 was an exceptionally stormy season, with at least 12 major winter storms affecting the UK in two spells from mid-December to early January, and again from late January to mid-February. When considered overall, this was the stormiest period of weather experienced by the UK for at least 20 years. An analysis of pressure fields by the University of East Anglia suggests this winter has had more very severe gale days than any other winter season in a series from 1871.

All those storms didn’t appear to have any long lasting impact on the southern side of Dunchideock at the time, but the story is rather different slightly to the north. Here’s a map of Western Power Distribution’s high voltage electricity network in the area:

WPD map of 11 kV (red) and 33 kV (green) cables south and west of Exeter

WPD map of 11 kV (red) and 33 kV (green) cables south and west of Exeter

Hopefully it is now apparent to you that the northern part of Dunchideock is on a completely different “circuit” to the southern part. You can also see that there have been a few electricity supply issues over the past few months! Taking them in chronological order, the first outage was on Tuesday February 4th. It’s unlikely to be mere coincidence that on the same day the Met Office issued a press release saying that:

The stormy conditions are expected to bring damaging gusts of wind of up to 60 mph inland and perhaps as high as 80 mph along some southern and western coasts of Britain on Tuesday night and Wednesday. These severe gales, combined with further heavy rain may cause some disruption because of fallen trees and high waves in coastal areas.

The net result as far as northern Dunchideock was concerned was:

A power cut from 21:00 to 02:00 on the 5th. When the power went off alternate houses in the road came back on after a minute or so and stayed on.

According to Western Power Distribution the immediate cause was that:

One of two low voltage fuses blew (on a split phase transformer). Hence 50% of customers would be on supply.

Transformer 31/0174 near Thornes Meadow, Dunchideock

Transformer 31/0174 near Thornes Meadow, Dunchideock

Ten days later the real “Great Dunchideock Blackout” occurred. According to the Met Office once again, in their forecast for Friday February 14th:

The Met Office was so concerned about the wind speeds on Wednesday a Red weather warning was issued for wind, the first red warning since January 2013. Extremely strong winds were seen in the south and northwest of England and parts of Wales.

We have another weather system crossing the UK on Friday bringing further heavy rain and very strong winds, leading to a number of weather warnings being put in place. The rain will push into the UK from the southwest during Friday morning, moving quickly north eastwards.

There are Yellow weather warnings for wind in place for the South coast and round into East Anglia with an Amber weather warning for wind along the South coast. We are expecting some gusts of around 60 miles per hour inland and perhaps 80 miles per hour in exposed areas along the coast itself. With these very strong winds large waves will push onto the coastline with dangerous conditions possible as well as some localised coastal flooding.

Here in Dunchideock, for the residents of Thornes Meadow at least, the result was a power cut lasting almost two days:

The second power cut was on 14th February at 19:30 and the electricity did not come back on until 14:00 on the 16th. Everybody in Thornes Meadow was off this time. The recorded messages of restoration times were continually put back.

As you may be able to imagine, in such circumstances Western Power Distribution had a very long list of problems to deal with. The immediate issues for Dunchideock were:

Two separate  High Voltage faults (conductors down due to trees and an entire barn roof being blown onto the line).

Due to the number of faults WPD had to bring in extra engineers from the Midlands and South Wales to help with the repairs. In normal circumstances the UK electricity market regulator Ofgem specifies a maximum 18 hour time limit on restoring electricity supplies. However in extreme circumstances this can relaxed. Ofgem themselves foresaw the potential difficulties, and issued a news release of their own on February 12th, stating that:

Severe weather is currently forecast across Great Britain. Electricity distribution companies, who own and operate the local networks, are making preparations ahead of this weather. We set rules on how quickly companies have to respond to restore power in both normal weather and severe weather conditions.

For severe weather there are different categories according to the severity of the storm. The category sets the amount of time companies have to restore power before compensation must be paid. The category is determined by the number of major faults experienced within a 24 hour period on the distribution company’s network.

The distribution company may be able to give an initial early view of what category the storm is but the data is checked and verified by us. The time you are off supply before being able to claim payments varies according to severity of storm. This is because the companies will have more work to do to fix faults.

  • Category 1: After 24 hours
  • Category 2: After 48 hours

In this case the storm was ultimately classified as category 2, and hence the unfortunate residents of Thornes Meadow are not entitled to any compensation despite being without any electricity supply for nearly two days.

Moving on to the next outage, which took place on “February 25th from 18:50 to 19:45” on which date there were no special press releases from the Met Office. Thankfully this power cut was of much shorter duration than the previous one, and was because:

A high voltage fuse operated. Restoration was via HV fuse replacement.

Finally we come to May 14th, when “a faulty high voltage insulator” led to a power cut in properties supplied by transformer 31/6871 in the vicinity of Dunchideock Church. Once again the weather wasn’t sufficiently inclement to warrant a Met Office press release.

Transformer 31/6871 near Dunchideock Church

Transformer 31/6871 near Dunchideock Church

All of this additional information leads me to conjecture yet again about all those blown fuses and faulty insulators. What stresses and strains is our local electricity distribution network being subjected to these days by the combination of lots of inclement weather and renewable electricity generation, down here in not always Sunny South West England?

Rather too many for comfort would seem to be the answer, if Dunchideock’s recent experience is anything to go by.

 

 

California Invests $2.3 million in V2G Technology

The California Energy Commission have announced that they have awarded:

A $2.3 million contract to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will help fund demonstration of an all-electric, heavy duty, non-tactical vehicle-to-grid (V2G) fleet at Moffett Field near San Jose. The vehicles will explore the revenue-generating capability of V2G technology to participate in California’s electricity markets, where the vehicles can both get charged by the grid and send energy back to the grid to help meet demand.

The money comes from the Energy Commission’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program (ARFVTP)

Sinopoly to Invest $42 Million in Smith Electric Vehicles

Smith Electric Vehicles also have a factory here in the UK, but they stopped production at their U.S. factory near Kansas City airport late in 2013. Now they have announced that they have:

Secured a $42 million commitment from Sinopoly Battery Limited, a worldwide leader in the research, development, production, distribution and sale of Lithium-ion batteries and related EV products. The first $2 million in funding closed today, and the remainder will be invested in two tranches pending milestones to be achieved by both companies in the coming months.

The $42M investment will position Sinopoly as a strategic shareholder in Smith Electric. Under the agreement, Sinopoly will become Smith Electric’s exclusive supplier for batteries in vehicle applications that are compatible with Smith Electric’s platforms and customer requirements. Sinopoly will also become a preferred supplier for certain electric vehicle components that can be manufactured in its Hangzhou facility.

Bryan Hansel, chief executive officer of Smith Electric Vehicles, said that:

Demand for all-electric commercial vehicles is rapidly increasing in China, and Sinopoly’s investment in Smith Electric highlights the important role we will play in the global marketplace,” said Bryan Hansel, chief executive officer of Smith Electric Vehicles. This investment provides both companies with the opportunity to leverage the synergies between our operations while Smith maintains the financial and operational flexibility to scale manufacturing, transition and strengthen our supply chain, and move toward company profitability.

whilst Mr. Cao Zhong, the chairman and executive director of Sinopoly Battery Limited, said that:

Smith is an internationally renowned supplier of EVs. Sinopoly’s investment in Smith represents an important and strategic advance step in establishing Sinopoly as a significant integrated player in the EV industry. The combined expertise of Smith and Sinopoly, which will adopt the name of FDG Electric Vehicles Limited shortly, along with the macro-subsidy policy for alternative energy vehicles, uniquely positions us to capitalize on the rapidly growing commercial EV market in China and the U.S.

Smith (or should that now be FDG?) chairman of the board Charles Gassenheimer hinted at a future IPO, saying that:

Sinopoly’s investment in Smith Electric Vehicles marks an important milestone in recapitalizing and restructuring the company in preparation for the public market. This agreement underscores Sinopoly’s institutional understanding of the global electric vehicle industry and the company’s commitment to working with Smith Electric to create a major player in the market.

Western Power Distribution will be one of many UK companies breathing a sigh of relief that Sinopoly have breathed new life into their favourite supplier of electric commercial vehicles. Perhaps the U.S. Department of Defense will do likewise?

A Smith Electric Vehicles Newton stake bed truck

A Smith Electric Vehicles Newton stake bed truck

The Great Dunchideock Blackout Saga

We recently suffered a power outage, or power cut as we prefer to call such things here in the UK. This wasn’t any old power outage either. Let me explain.

The lights went out at 17:44 on Friday April 11th 2014. I hurriedly powered down everything in the lab and office except my laptop and our broadband router, which was by then being powered from the battery in an uninterruptible power supply. When the lights hadn’t come back on a few minutes later I telephoned our local Distribution Network Operator (DNO for short), Western Power Distribution, to enquire what the problem was, and when it might be fixed. WPD’s automated system suggested that our power should be restored by about 21:00 that evening.

9 o’clock came and went, by which time the batteries in my laptop and UPS were flat. I called WPD again, to be informed that the latest estimate for the time at which I would be able to get connected to the internet once again would be 01:00 on Saturday morning. I figured I’d allow WPD a bit of leeway, and eventually went to bed having set the alarm on my smartphone for 02:00. The alarm went off, but the lights still hadn’t come back on.  I phoned Western Power again to be informed that things should be back to normal in an hour or so. Bleary eyed I returned to bed.

When I arose next morning I wasn’t in need of any lights, but my router and laptop were working once again. There was, however, the continuous drone of an engine audible not too far away so I set out to investigate by following the sound, and here is what I discovered:

Generator on the track to Haldon Belvedere on April 12th 2014

Diesel generator on the track to Haldon Belvedere on April 12th 2014

Another call to Western Power Distribution elicited some further information. I managed to speak to WPD’s standby manager for the day, who explained what had happened the previous evening. Initally over 300 properties had been without electricity following the operation of an automatic circuit recloser mounted on pole NLT1M in Alphington, as shown at the top right of the map of WPD’s network below (click the image for a larger version), and in this photo I took subsequently:

Schneider pole mounted recloser and air break isolator in Alphington

Schneider U-Series pole mounted recloser and an air break isolator in Alphington

WPD map of 11 kV and 33 kV cables Southwest of Exeter

WPD map of 11 kV (red) and 33 kV (green) cables south west of Exeter

At that point everything powered via the 11 kV 3 phase (thick red) cables running from top right to bottom left of WPD’s map was without electricity. By around 21:00 the problem had been isolated to somewhere in the bottom left corner of the map, and power now reached as far as pole NLK19, near the north east corner of The Lord Haldon Hotel car park.

Pole 31NLK19, whilst The Lord Haldon Hotel and The Haldon Belvedere were running from WPD generators

Pole 31NLK19, draped with extra cables, whilst The Lord Haldon Hotel and The Haldon Belvedere were running from WPD generators

Unfortunately the hotel itself, which had a wedding reception booked that night, and everyone else in our corner of the village of Dunchideock and Haldon Hill were still without power, and WPD still didn’t know where the fault was. I am assured by a local resident that once it had got dark his wife noticed some arcing at the top of an electricity pole in a field behind his house, so he drove to the hotel car park and informed the WPD engineers gathered there about her discovery. The problem ultimately proved to be a faulty pole top cable termination, shown below in situ together with some inquisitive lambs:

A 48 year old cable termination at the top of pole NLK20

Youthful interest is shown in a big hole in the ground

Some youthful interest is shown in a big hole in the ground

By the time the likelihood that this was indeed the ultimate cause of the problem had been established time was pressing. According to WPD they have a self imposed 12 hour time limit on turning the power back on after any interruption in supply, and there was no way this problem would be fixed within that timeframe. That being the case some generators would be required, which presented WPD with another big headache. It seems there had been some other problems in Devon on the same day, and there weren’t enough generators in Exeter to go around, so WPD brought some more in from Torbay. That still wasn’t adequate for the scale of the problem, so they brought some more in from Taunton. Even that wasn’t sufficient, so finally they had to hire a few more from Bristol, one of which was emitting the dulcet tones that greeted me on Saturday morning. Here’s one of WPD’s own generators, that was located a bit further up the road near the entrance to the hotel:

WPD Generator hard at work outside Pen Hill Cottage

WPD diesel generator hard at work outside Pen Hill Cottage

All in all, by the time everyone affected had their electricity supply restored, which in our case seems to have been at around 3:30 on Saturday morning, 9 diesel generators were scattered across the north side and ridge of Haldon Hill. WPD assured me there was no danger of any further power cuts, since every 12 hours or so they would be hauling a bowser around the local vicinity to top up the tanks of any generator that might be running low on diesel fuel.

Whilst they didn’t have such a thing last time I checked, during the recent winter storms, I was also informed that Western Power now provide an online power cut map. This is how it looked on the morning of Saturday April 12th 2014:

Western Power Distribution power cut map at 08:39 BST on Saturday April 12th

Western Power Distribution power cut map at 08:39 BST on Saturday April 12th

 

It seems as though “running off a generator” doesn’t count as a “power cut”, because Dunchideock isn’t on that map, all of which meant that WPD could now fix the problem as and when time permitted. Here’s how things were looking by Sunday evening:

By Monday morning the epoxy resin in the Lovink red box had set, the big hole in the ground was filled in, and we were all back on mains power once again. All of which raises a few questions, in my mind at least.

In my conversations with WPD’s duty engineers I enquired whether this particular failure might be in any way attributable to the recent wet and windy winter weather here in South West England I alluded to earlier. I was told that while a causal link with any single failure was impossible to establish, it was conceivable that WPD’s electricity distribution network had suffered additional “stress” due to increased lightning strikes and the potential for trees to be more easily toppled by strong winds whilst their roots were sitting in sodden soil. I also idly enquired about the stresses placed on the network by renewable generation in the South West, but that story will require an article of its own at the very least.

In the meantime I’ve been pondering how this saga would have panned out if some of the homes in Dunchideock had already been in possession of an electric vehicle and some vehicle to home or even vehicle to grid technology. Since the powers that be here in the UK don’t seem to be wild about either of those concepts maybe a pile of shiny new lithium ion batteries from Tesla in the corner of each garage in Dunchideock might be more realistic to speculate about, or at the very least some second user EV batteries that are at least receiving some R&D funding on this side of the Atlantic? In that case perhaps we should add distributed storage to grid (or S2G for short) to our list of TLAs under consideration?

The lights wouldn’t have gone out in any V2H or storage equipped home. Their broadband would have kept on working too, so information about the failure could have been swiftly despatched to WPD’s control centre to enable the location of the fault to be pinpointed more swiftly. If some people had V2G and/or S2G installed as well, and subject to being suitably reimbursed for their public spiritedness, they could have kept their neighbours’ lights on as well as their own provided that WPD’s equipment was capable of sectionalising their network with greater granularity than at present. As luck would have it there is a pile of such equipment already in Dunchideock, although it’s only in the V2G lab at the moment rather than attached to any of the WPD poles I’ve mentioned apart from the one in Alphington, or in the corner of anyone else’s garage in Dunchideock. Here’s what a remote terminal unit looks like from the outside:

A Lucy Switchgear Gemini Remote Terminal Unit plus PakNet PAD

A Lucy Switchgear Gemini Remote Terminal Unit plus PakNet PAD

and here’s what the ARM powered CPU board on the inside looks like:

Gemini ARM CPU card

A Lucy Switchgear Gemini ARM CPU card, connected to the internet

As you can see, in actual fact it’s not a whole lot different to a Raspberry Pi, or the guts of the average smartphone for that matter:

A Raspberry Pi model B, connected to the internet

A Raspberry Pi model B, connected to the internet

Hence such a piece of electronics wouldn’t in and of itself add a whole lot to the price of an electric vehicle and/or a garage in Dunchideock, or anywhere else on the planet for that matter.

In conclusion, I also cannot help but wonder how much the Great Dunchideock Blackout cost Western Power Distribution, how much the evidently changing climate in this part of the world is costing and will cost them, and how their electricity distribution network is coping with the assorted stresses and strains generated by all the renewable power sources currently being tacked onto it down here in not so Sunny South West England that do not currently have any form of energy storage associated with them.

Used Nissan EV Batteries Now Provide Grid Scale Storage

Nissan have recently announced that:

The manmade island of Yumeshima in western Japan’s Osaka is now home to the world’s first large-scale energy storage system, a project that also highlights the potential to reuse electric vehicle batteries.

Hikari-no-Mori – or Forest of Light – is a mega-solar project of 36,000 solar panels built on top of a landfill and managed by Sumitomo Corporation.

The first paragraph is not strictly accurate, since as we reported a couple of years ago, such things have been in use in Spain for a while now. Sumitomo’s press release about the project was nearer the mark stating instead that:

Sumitomo Corporation has developed and installed the world’s first large-scale power storage system which utilizes used batteries collected from electric vehicles.

Nissan did however also release the following video, so we can see for ourselves what the partnership has in fact developed:

According to Sumitomo once more:

Over the next three years, the system will measure the smoothing effect of energy output fluctuation from the nearby “Hikari-no-mori,” solar farm, and will aim to establish a large-scale power storage technology by safely and effectively utilizing the huge quantities of discarded used EV batteries which will become available in the future. This project has been selected as a model project for “Verification of the battery storage control to promote renewable energy” for the fiscal year 2013 by the Ministry of the Environment of Japan.

Sumitomo Corporation created the joint venture company, “4R Energy Corporation”, in collaboration with Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. in September 2010, to address the secondary use of EV lithium-ion batteries. The used EV batteries that will be recycled into this large-scale storage system have been recovered and have gone through thorough inspection and maintenance at 4R, to confirm safety and performance. This prototype system (600kW/400kWh) consists of sixteen used EV batteries.

The 600kW/400kWh rating of the Japanese energy storage system compares unfavourably with the 1.1MW/560kWh of the lithium-ion battery Saft system installed in Spain, so it can’t even claim to be the largest such system in the world, but the French system uses new batteries rather than ones that are no longer up to the job of powering an electric vehicle. Here’s what the 4R system looks like:

A glimpse inside a 4R Energy used EV battery storage system

A glimpse inside a 4R Energy used EV battery storage system

It seems to have 12 battery packs per container, although Nissan claim that:

A joint venture between Sumitomo and Nissan called 4R Energy – Reuse, Resell, Refabricate and Recycle – uses 16 lithium-ion batteries from EVs to help monitor energy fluctuations and store the solar farm’s energy output.

Judging by both Nissan’s video and Sumitomo’s picture there looks to be two of those on the man-made island, so maybe the actual number is in fact 24?

Continuing with some further (hopefully accurate!) quotes from Nissan’s press release:

Natural energy sources, such as solar and wind, vary in strength and frequency, and the innovative battery management system developed by 4R is the first of its kind, says the firm’s President Eiji Makino.

“Depending on use, a battery’s degree and rate of deterioration and the battery’s condition vary by vehicle,” says Makino. “So 4R has created a technology that allows us to have optimal control in regulating those conditions.”

The project is part of a three-year test under Japan’s Environment Ministry to expand renewable energy resources and power grid management. In Japan, electricity liberalization will be realized after 2016.

The batteries have up to 70% of capacity remaining – the average left after 100,000 kilometers or five years of driving.

Sumitomo General Manager Norihiko Nonaka said his company, in cooperation with 4R, expects to make the results of the project commercially viable in 5 years or so.

“The electricity-value-chain is divided into 3 sections: electricity generation, transmission and distribution. We would like to focus on electricity generation and transmission. If we rely on renewables to obtain energy – like solar and wind – they don’t always generate the necessary amount of energy and that may cause an issue with supply-and-demand,” said Nonaka.

“On the other hand, if the cost of batteries is too high and is economically inefficient, 4R will have to continue to work and investigate the situation and market in the long term, about 5 years or maybe after 2020.

In conclusion I fear I may have to disagree slightly with Sumitomo for a change. Why should “the electricity-value-chain” not also include community renewable energy projects such as the South Brent Community Energy Society’s 250 kW wind turbine, which is located a few miles down the A38 from the V2G offices, and of which I am a proud (albeit modest) shareholder?

Independent Body of Experts Needed to Inform Energy Policy

The Institute for Sustainability at Newcastle University have announced this week that:

The UK’s energy industry is fragmented and a ‘system architect’ is needed to inform technical decisions and take a holistic view of the energy system in order to secure the country’s future energy supply, experts are warning. Now academics at Newcastle University are calling on the Government to create an independent, expert body to inform energy policy.

The recommendation is included in a briefing note on energy policy, being sent today, 6 May 2014, to relevant MPs and other organisations, outlining a number of concerns about the fundamental problems facing the UK’s energy market. These include: energy storage and distribution; energy pricing models; lack of competition; and water use in electricity generation.

The press release goes on to quote Professor Phil Taylor, Director of the Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability, as saying that:

Energy is a hot topic at the moment and the Government has made some positive steps to open up competition in the market, but much more work is required – and quickly. There’s an urgent need to reduce carbon emissions while protecting the UK’s future energy security. It’s vital that politicians move beyond short-term political soundbites and instead support those initiatives that could make a real and sustainable difference.

The University is calling on the Government to establish a group of experts that can take a long-term view about what is required and inform technical decisions and energy policy in a more effective manner than the current situation. For instance, debate among policymakers focuses almost exclusively on issues of affordability and emissions reductions, ignoring the vital issue of the energy sector’s use of water. This thinking risks locking the UK into a future in which water availability could put energy security at risk, and power stations could be forced to reduce production or even shut down if there isn’t sufficient water available to keep them safely operational.

The briefing note itself elucidates:

The Energy Act received Royal Assent on 18 December 2013. The Act is designed to establish a legislative framework for the delivery of secure, affordable and low carbon energy. However, we are concerned that the Act does not take into account some of the more fundamental problems facing the energy market, putting the sustainability of the UK’s energy systems at risk. We believe there are five areas that need further consideration:

  1. Energy storage and distribution
  2. Energy pricing models
  3. Competition
  4. Water use in electricity generation
  5. The need for a system architect

Here at V2G we have long championed the cause of distributed energy storage, so we have nothing to quibble about with this from the first bullet:

The national electricity network… cannot feasibly be replaced. But it will struggle to cope with the substantial additional demands likely to be placed on it over the coming decades, such as decarbonisation and additional electrification of transport and heat demand.

Policymakers and energy providers need to do more to understand how and why customers use and generate energy, so they can look at ways to enable behaviour change and reduce demand on the network in peak times.

  • We need to find ways to store energy efficiently and effectively when plentiful and low carbon so it can be released during periods of high demand, high carbon or to keep the lights on after major storms have damaged network assets.
  • In addition, smart grids… will provide better understanding of when and why people use energy in the ways they do.

Moving on to competition:

The way energy provision is managed needs to be transformed. Currently, companies that develop and build energy generators, whether wind farms, solar panels or tidal turbines, have to sell the energy they produce on the wholesale market. This puts them at a serious disadvantage to the big six energy suppliers, who can generate energy and then sell it back to themselves at preferential rates, before selling it on to customers at a profit.

Agreed. Pricing models next:

  • Currently, energy companies make very small margins on each unit of energy produced, so they need to sell volume in order to make a profit. This leads to a bad deal for consumers, as there is no incentive for companies to help customers reduce their energy use.
  • Instead, energy providers should be rewarded for providing tools and techniques that help customers use energy efficiently and cost-effectively.

So far so good, but how might that second bullet be implemented in practice?

The Government needs to work with the energy industry to fundamentally change the way energy is priced, to enable us to move from a system where generation follows demand to one where demand is based on the cost of generation, storage and distribution at any given time.

For us here at V2G this is the 64,000 ExaPound (E£64k for short) question. That’s very easy to say Phil, but how on Earth do you achieve it in practice? Given the fact that I sit on international standards committees that discuss this sort of thing on a regular basis, perhaps I might rephrase the question as “What international standards for deregulated energy markets will be required in order to facilitate a system in which demand follows generation + storage at any given time?”

The Guardian “Energy Industry” section has published an article on this topic, but they seem to me to miss that vital (IMHO!) point. They lead off with a picture of some electricity pylons with no storage in sight, and say that:

The government must urgently establish a strategic authority to oversee the future growth of Britain’s ageing energy infrastructure, a study argues on Tuesday .

Academics at Newcastle University challenge the government’s market-based approach, saying the £100bn needed to secure energy security is not being delivered by a fragmented system that lacks central direction.

The academics, led by Prof Phil Taylor, argue that the country needs a “systems architect” and that energy, at least for the bulk of the population, is too cheap, which is leading to waste.

While the Labour party has already said it wants an energy security board, one leading figure in the industry has said that Taylor was highlighting that “nobody is in charge” of the country’s energy policy.

The Guardian doesn’t mention the word “standards” once, and neither do Newcastle University. Here are their concluding bullet points:

  • There are a number of problems facing the energy market, and policymakers need to think seriously about the wide ranging and long lasting effect their decisions will have.
  • The Government needs to ensure that the price of energy reflects the cost of storing and distributing it, as well as generating it, and that those firms that provide energy to the wholesale market are rewarded fairly with respect to those who sell it direct to consumers.
  • In addition, the impact of energy generation on water availability must be considered to avoid a future in which the UK faces power shortages and even blackouts.
  • Finally, the Government should make better use of independent experts when considering energy policy.

Hear, hear! To that last bullet point at the very least! For the Guardian and anybody else out there that might be interested, here’s what some storage in Spain looks like:

Saft 1 MW Li-ion storage module in northern Spain

Saft 1 MW Li-ion storage module at Tudela in northern Spain

Nick Clegg Promises £500 million for ULEVs

The UK Government has announced in a press release that the:

Deputy Prime Minister takes ‘green’ cars up a gear!

The government will invest £500 million to boost the ultra low emission vehicle industry and help drivers both afford and feel confident using electric cars, the Deputy Prime Minister announced today.

The automotive sector is a success story of the UK’s economic recovery, with a new vehicle rolling off a UK production line every 20 seconds and the industry is worth £11.2 billion to the economy. The production of ultra low emissions vehicles (ULEV) is a major part of growth both now and for the future.

The investment of £500 million between 2015 and 2020 will create jobs, reduce emissions and set the agenda for the industry, for our towns and cities, and for motorists, so that Britain remains at the forefront of green technology.

The £500 million on offer will be divided up amongst four target areas which the press release itemises as follows:

Create ‘Ultra Low City Status’
Local areas coming up with the most ambitious plans can win a share of £35 million to make the leap to becoming ultra low. Winning cities could, for example, incentivise drivers of green cars by letting them use bus lanes or allowing them to park for free. Additional funding of £50 million will also be available for local areas to invest in cleaner taxis and buses.

Create jobs and innovate
We will invest £100 million in research and development in ULEV to cement the UK’s position as a leader in the development of these technologies. The UK’s automotive industry has undergone a renaissance in recent years and we have the potential to emerge as a world leader in the development, design and manufacture of green vehicles. This investment will help create skilled British jobs and have further positive impact down the supply chain.

End ‘range anxiety’
£32 million funding boost for charging infrastructure including plans to install rapid chargepoints across the ‘M’ and ‘A’ road network by 2020 so that drivers can find a rapid chargepoint when they need one. Rapid chargepoints mean that a car can be charged in as little as 20 minutes.

Save consumers money
To encourage more people to use ULEV, car grants of £5,000 off the upfront cost will be extended. This is worth at least £200 million.

More detailed information on reducing “range anxiety” reveals that:

The average journey made by motorists is just 7 miles, with the typical range of a pure electric car being around 100 miles. For the longer journeys, there will be a rapid chargepoint (20 minutes to charge up) at every motorway service station by the end of 2014, and a network of 500 rapid chargers across the country by March 2015 – the best network in Europe.

Accompanying Nick Clegg on his recent visit to the  the Transport Research Laboratory was Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander. He had this to say on the economic benefits of the planned investment:

Our economic plan is delivering a growing economy, rising employment and making Britain a more attractive place to invest. But there is still a large amount to do to ensure our recovery is sustainable and prosperity is secure.

That is why it’s right that we squeeze spending elsewhere to invest in the interests of the future.

Ultra low emission vehicles bring together our most successful manufacturing sectors with our biggest long-term challenge – climate change. Britain can be the leading country in the world in developing, manufacturing and using ULEV. This half billion pound government investment will help to ensure we rise to the challenge.

From a personal point of view my own average journey is a lot longer than the figure quoted by the government.  I don’t drive in cities, I don’t commute to work, I shop largely online,and most of my mileage involves journeys over 100 miles. What would suit me best would be the ability to recharge an electric vehicle at any and all of the surf beaches along the north coast of South West England, but for some strange reason Nick and Danny make no mention of that!

They also make no mention of the possibility of any of those shiny new rapid chargepoints, or any other type of chargepoint for that matter, supporting vehicle to grid technology. It looks as though I’ll have to give Nick and Danny a ring and challenge them to part with some of their £100 million R&D budget to help fund a project along the lines that interest me!