The analogy to Netflix is fascinating. As GTM points out, Netflix started out competing with Blockbuster in video DVDs, but then spilled over into video streaming (BTW, a market that Enron famously thought it could corner in the last 1990s.) So Netflix is now competing with both cable and broadcast companies. One can see how renewables could jump out of just electric service to building space conditioning and water heating, and vehicle fueling. Tesla is already developing those options.
General Motors announced the new Chevy Bolt with a 200-mile range at $30,000 after federal incentives (and less with state incentives). This range works for most households as a primary car (versus a commuter with a 40-50 mile range) and it’s in the price range of many other alternatives.
The question is whether EVs are environmentally beneficial yet in the eastern U.S. Car technology may be getting ahead of the electricity grid.
I’m not the only one asking whether California’s High Speed Rail (HSR) project is the best way to reduce climate change risk. Dick Startz from UC Santa Barbara confirmed in the LA Times my observation that creating an electric vehicle through-way along I-5 probably can serve the same purpose for much less cost, while delivering GHG reductions much sooner.
As I pointed out, the HSR GHG reduction analysis incorrectly assumes that the mix of motor vehicles will remain gasoline-dominated past 2030. Even an updated analysis cited by HSR proponents ignores the likely penetration of non-hybrid EVs required to meet the state’s emission reduction goals (prepared in a different study by UC Berkeley–shouldn’t a university more fully coordinate it’s related research?) Shouldn’t the HSR Authority be coordinating it’s studies with the planning parameters being used by the Air Resources Board in preparing its GHG reduction plans? Other studies have shown the HSR is not particularly cost effective.
Widespread and effective charging networks are being developed that makes a high speed EV corridor feasible. Access to such a corridor might even encourage EV diffusion. As Startz writes, we should be looking for solutions from this century rather than the last.
One of the key questions about how to bring in more renewables is how do we provide low-cost storage? Batteries can cost $350 per kilowatt (kW) and pumped storage somewhat lower. Maybe we should think about another potential storage source that will be very low cost: automobiles.
California has about 24 million autos. The average horsepower is about 190 HP which converts to about 140 kW. Let’s assume that an EV will have on average a 100 kW engine. Generally cars are parked about 90% of the time, which of course varies diurnally. A rough calculation shows that about 2,000 GW of EV capacity is available with EVs at 100% of the fleet. To get to 22 GW of storage, about 1% of the state’s automobile fleet would need to be connected as storage devices. That seems to be an attainable goal. Of course, it may not be possible for the local grid to accommodate 100 kW of charging and discharging and current charging technologies are limited to 3 to 19 kW. So assuming an average of a 5 kW capability, having 20% of the auto fleet connected would still provide the 22 GW of storage that we might expect will be required to fully integrate renewables.
The onboard storage largely would be free–there probably are some opportunity costs in lower charging periods that would have to be compensated. The only substantial costs would be in installing charging stations and incorporating smart charging/storage software. I suspect those are the order of tens of dollars per kW.
As I was driving back from Los Angeles to Davis, I thought about how convenient it would be to turn on an auto pilot that allowed us to lock into the train of cars up Highway 99. The only reason I really had to pay attention was due to the varying speeds of the traffic. But that future may be nearer than we might think. Google’s self-driving car is getting most of the press, but in fact there are many similar technologies already on the road. In fact, there’s been some concern that drivers are already pushing the limits on current controls, but collision avoidance devices may soon be standard equipment.
Which brings us to the question: How will high speed rail fare in a world with driverless electric cars? The high speed rail travel forecast appears to assume a similar mix of gasoline-fueled automobiles; in fact, the word “electric” isn’t even in the report. On the other hand, studies show that EV market share probably needs to reach 45% by 2030 to achieve an 80% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050. And the Air Resources Board is considering regulations to implement “fast refueling / battery exchange” that would make the LA-SF trip even easier in an EV. Given the shorter life of automobiles, we might expect that almost all of the highway trips are with EVs by 2045.
We’re left with the question of what are the true emission reductions from HSR in such a world? Are we building a project that’s truly useful life is less than a decade?
Tim O’Connor of EDF writes about the benefits of transportation diversification at EDF’s California Dream 2.0. I think that fuel diversity is a useful objective, but achieving that will be difficult due to the network externalities inherent in transportation technologies. Gasoline and diesel vehicles became dominant because having single-fuel refueling networks is more cost effective for both vendors and customers, and reduce the search costs for drivers to find those stations. Think of how many fueling stations someone might have to pass to reach their particular energy source. Investing in a particular fuel requires a certain level of revenue. Note how many local gas stations have closed because they didn’t have enough sales.
For a more recent example, we can look at cell phone operating systems. Initially each manufacturer had their own system, but now virtually all phones are driven by two systems, Android and iOS, while Windows 8 keeps trying to make inroads.
We need to be very aware of the fueling network economics when pushing for new transportation energy sources. Investing in a system is as much a set of business decisions as a policy decision. One approach might be to focus on using particular fuels in a narrow set of sectors and discourage broad sector-wide use. Another might be to use a geographic focus and to set up means of interconnecting across those geographies.