EV charging infrastructure: Who? How? Why?

EV Charge StationThere have been lots of people asking why the makers of plug-in vehicles, other than Tesla, aren’t getting more involved in charging infrastructure roll-out. I wrote about the business model for charging infrastructure, shortly after getting our first two Chevy Volts. I was considering starting a business that installed and operated EV chargers. The path to profitability did not seem viable to me. In fact, it seemed so difficult to achieve profitability, that I still don’t understand how these companies plan to survive! In Texas, there’s an added obstacle: Only energy retailers can sell electricity to the public on a per-kWh basis and the EV charging companies do not meet that standard (unless the law gets modified). In order to resolve this, many EVSE companies have based charging on time connected. This places an undue burden on EVs that charge more slowly than others. For example, the Gen 1 Chevy Volt charged at about half the speed of a Gen 1 Nissan Leaf. By charging, based on connect time, it’s as if one gasoline-powered vehicle was charged twice as much per gallon than a different gasoline-powered vehicle.

EV Charge StationLooking back, five years later, I’ve realized a few things:

  • Plug-in hybrids do not need to charge on public chargers. There, I said it. Better yet, I’ve lived it. In over five years of driving Volts, I have plugged into a public charger under five times, mostly out of curiosity. WHY would I want to be stuck at a public charger to add ten miles of range for each hour I was charging? I can just pull into a gas station and fill up, if my battery won’t get me home.
  • EV etiquette arguments spring up with shorter-range BEV drivers (Leaf, Spark, iMiEV, etc) complaining that they can’t get home because a hybrid was plugged in. The hybrid camp responds with, “Exactly! That’s why we did the ‘smart’ thing and bought a hybrid.” P.S. The correct answer is, “You’re right. Since you asked politely, I will give up the charging spot to you. I’d rather drive home on gasoline than give the anti-EV crowd another nonsense issue with which to dissuade others from buying plug-in vehicles.
  • I believe the newer, longer-ranged EVs, when being used for driving less than 200 miles per day, also will not have a real need to charge at public chargers. If the owner can charge at home, doing so will open up charging stations to those who cannot charge at home (like apartment dwellers).
  • Our government entities are planning on using budget for DC fast-charging infrastructure to build them, primarily, in large, metropolitan areas. This is where they believe the chargers will be most needed because that’s where the EVs are located. That’s fine for Level 2 chargers, since an EV in a large city, is probably less than 25 miles from home and a one hour charge would satisfy that need. But the most critical need will be between major cities, to help EVs make it from one city to another. This is what Tesla has been building: “Destination chargers.” Being from the western U.S., where there’s hours of driving between major cities, I may have a regional bias here…EV Charge Station
  • We need to be smarter about charging locations: Here are some things to consider:
    • Charging centers cannot replicate gasoline filling stations. Have you ever been to a gas station and thought, “This would be a great place to hang out for a couple hours!”?
    • There has to be another attraction, that the EV owner would actually want to use, to fill the charging time and add revenue for the charging station owner. A movie theater and restaurant are good starts. However, movie theaters probably won’t work for destination chargers, as people will show up at all times, not just when a movie is about to start. To facilitate this, you need the ability to stream a movie from the EVSE to the EV’s infotainment system or passengers’ tablets/phones. In this way, the movie starts right when you arrive. This adds another revenue stream to support the cost of the charger.
    • A nice club, like frequent flyer clubs in airports, could be nice. Very clean, quiet reading rooms, restrooms and nice grounds for picnicking, game rooms/arcades, swimming pools, and gyms would be something most EVers would ante up for. Trailheads with chargers (or buses that go to and from the chargers to the trailheads) for nice one to two hour hikes would be a big hit.
    • These “destination chargers” could be a boon to a small town (since that’s where they’d be located). A nice, downtown shopping area, that could be strolled through, would be an invitation for EV owners and their disposable income to stay a little longer…
    • The destination chargers need to be located where they can do the most to push the evolution of transportation forward. Getting to Colorado from east Texas is very difficult because there are no DC Fast Chargers available to the average EV in the Texas panhandle. Due to this, the EV driver has to plan a route that takes them days out of their way, or find hotels/RV parks, with chargers or outlets available for charging overnight. THIS sounds like an obstacle AND an opportunity for small towns who wants to attract visitors.
    • It would be nice, if there was a small EV-specific garage at the destination chargers. Someone who could top off battery coolant, replace or repair leaking tires, replace 12V batteries, etc. Concerns about getting basic EV service in a small town is surely holding back some buyers.
    • These chargers are not going to help move the switch to fun, clean EV driving, unless they are available. Every state needs to have tough fines/towing laws on the books for vehicles (both plug-in and non-plug-in) that are parked at a charger but not charging. There should be a timer, showing time since charging ceased, to prevent fining someone who got back a little bit late. There should also be video surveillance of the site, for the safety of nighttime charging.
    • One last thing that would help: Each charger should have multiple connectors so that the next driver (and the next?) could go ahead and plug-in, knowing that their EV will wait until the previous EV is through charging, before their EV will begin charging. This can make each charger’s utilization climb because, as long as the next EV is in line and plugged in, the charger will experience no downtime or lost revenue.

EV Charge StationNow, who is to responsible for all this infrastructure?

  • The EV manufacturers (some, very late to the EV game) are up to their eyeballs in developing new EVs and trying to get to profitability. I don’t expect much from their camp.
  • The EVSE manufacturers will probably continue to try to ally themselves with EV manufacturers and offer free charging or free memberships. I’m not sure this will do much for those who have already owned a plug-in vehicle, but it will help ease fears of new EV buyers.
  • The government is getting money from the Volkswagen “diesel-gate” scandal and is applying a lot of that to charging infrastructure. Now might be a good time to use some of that to build destination chargers in a small, strategically located town and getting the town to develop surrounding attractions to grow with the charging site. By doing this, we will quickly determine what works and what doesn’t, in added attractions and revenue streams.EV Charge Station

Taxing rumor mill…

CongressSeveral sites are quoting an unnamed Republican and announcing that the Federal Income Tax Credit for plug-in vehicles will be retained in the “reconciliation” bill.

For those unfamiliar with how our legislative process works, here’s a quick intro:

  • Lobbyist proposes a change to current law or a new law
  • Trench-coat-garbed smoking men meet in darkened public parking garage to exchange money and verbatim text of proposed law.
  • Congressperson enters new law as a bill.

(just kidding…I hope…)

  • The Senate and House both propose bills, in this case a tax reform bill.
  • Both the House and Senate committees debate and pass (or fail to pass) the bill from committee.
  • The bill is heard by the respective chamber and the entire chamber votes on the bill.
  • If the bills pass both the House and the Senate, someone has to iron out any differences, so that a singular, unified bill goes to the President’s desk for signature. This is done by a “reconciliation committee,” that makes compromises needed to assure passage through both chambers.
  • Both chambers vote on the reconciled bill.
  • If the reconciled bill passes both chambers, the bill is sent to the President for signature, making the bill the law of the land, or veto.

The big news for the last several weeks, in the EV world, is the House of Representatives had a clause, in their version of the tax reform bill, that eliminated the income tax credit, effective this December 31st. The Senate version kept the tax credit in place.

The first rumor I saw was that the reconciled bill contained the House’s wording, eliminating the tax credit.

Now, the latest rumor is exactly the opposite. Many sites are proclaiming the tax credit is saved.

My advice is unchanged: If you were considering the purchase or lease of a plug-in vehicle and the income tax credit was a major factor in the decision, do the following:

  • Do NOT trust. Verify. If there is no public announcement before January 1st, consider pulling the trigger on your acquisition instead of taking the risk of not getting the tax credit.
  • KEEP up the calls, emails, letters, tweets, Facebook posts, petitions, etc to your elected official up. Do NOT release the pressure, until we know the tax credit has been preserved!
  • Of course, if it is announced the tax credit is ending, I recommend taking advantage of it before year’s end. I wish I could do the same, but my current Volt lease doesn’t end until March 2019.
  • Of course, if both houses prematurely end the tax credit, vote against every single incumbent, regardless of party, in the next couple elections. Only then, will they remember who their bosses are and that they are in a subservient role.

Giving America’s future to China

The big news in the EV business for the last month or so has been tax reform. The House of Representatives passed a new tax bill that eliminates the Federal Income Tax Credit on plug-in vehicles. Fortunately, the Senate is working on their version of the tax bill, which (at this time) retains the tax credit. If the Senate version passes, as is, it’ll be decided in conference committee, behind closed doors without us having a say in the matter. As displeased as I have been with the methodology of the tax credit (see this and this), I believe it is absolutely essential to keep it, so we do not trade away America’s leadership in EVs.

For a little background: My career began in manufacturing, specifically oil field manufacturing. I worked for wellhead and down-hole manufacturing companies from 1976 to 1985. In 1984, the price of oil collapsed, devastating the industry. My home town, Houston was brought to its knees. A huge number of people lost their jobs and their homes. When I got laid off, I had to move to the Dallas/Fort Worth area to find work and was fortunate to find it. I left the oil patch and worked as a manufacturing engineer for a printing press manufacturer and after three years, transitioned into the software industry. I was the technical member of a sales team that offered computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) solutions, across many different industries. I eventually left that field to go back into manufacturing engineering in the aerospace and defense sector.

During my entire career, in manufacturing, I read about the decline in manufacturing jobs in the U.S. The primary issue was, as global communication and transportation became more inexpensive, manufacturing shifted to emerging markets in Asia and South America and Mexico. Wages were much lower there, and factory automation reduced the skill level required to produce products. Only the products most difficult to manufacture, or seen as a strategic priority (military) continued to thrive in our country.

Americans seem to have difficulty with long-term memory. In World War II, American automobile manufacturers produced aircraft and tanks. The domestic strength in manufacturing was one of the reasons we prevailed. Today, those same companies are global, with parts (and entire vehicles) produced overseas. Our continued desire for big SUVs, trucks and cars illustrates that we’ve forgotten when OPEC crippled our economy (twice). Today, OPEC is weaker and is not perceived as a threat. Saudi Arabia recently announced a shift away from an oil-dominated economy and will focus more on global finance (thanks to the tons of money earned by selling their oil to the world). The Saudis have read the writing on the wall and are responding appropriately. That’s one of the strengths of a state guided by a monarchy.

If only our government had the same foresight.

Unfortunately, our democracy, due to what appeared to be minor tweaks in our tax laws, over decades, has become an oligarchy. Money, rather than individual votes, rules the day. The loss of manufacturing jobs meant a loss of union influence because there were fewer and fewer middle-class people employed in manufacturing. In my early career, I got a new job offer monthly and my employers knew this. My wages increased regularly. I felt secure in my job and could save and invest in my family’s future. Today, wages are stagnant. As a result, I moved to a career in sales. This allows me to have some control over my earnings and my future, but nowhere near the security I felt back in the 70’s and early 80’s. The recession, after 9/11, ended my career in software. The reckless gambling, by mortgage bankers, that caused the global recession in 2008 (which lingers to this day) destroyed my retirement savings. However, the bankers and investment houses have worked to minimize the effect of legislation to curb their behavior and are working to undo the last of the changes enacted to prevent future irresponsibility.

America leads today in two industries, which arguably started here: electric vehicles and the internet.

The internet gave the ability to publish to even the smallest organization or even individuals. My blog is an example. My words and opinions have been shared with literally thousands of people, around the world and allowed me to share thoughts about things important to me.

Much more importantly, it has enabled those being oppressed by tyrants to share their plight with the world. We’ve seen people rise up, with a united voice, in lands where small groups would have been snuffed out quickly. We’ve seen light shine, just this week, on slave auctions, things we thought were from the distant past. Now, the monied interests are plotting to end Net Neutrality so that only those with wealth can have a voice and only those willing to pay extra can search for the truth about the world in which we live. The Internet started as a DARPA-funded project, paid for by the tax payers. Now, the politicians are going to see to it we have no voice.

Electric cars started, over a century ago, in the U.S. Gasoline, with a better capacity to store energy (back then) came to dominate transportation and our nation grew and thrived, due to it. However, times, and technologies, change. A new way is being pioneered by Tesla Motors, General Motors, Ford Motor Company and yes, Nissan. I’ve written before about the countries that have stated their intention to end gasoline-powered cars, within their borders. We can lead the way and have those countries buy our vehicles or we can ceded our lead and watch other countries continue to develop ideas that came to fruition here. China represents more than 1/3 of the global market for vehicles. They will move to cleaner forms of transportation. If they have to, they’ll develop their own vehicles and we’ll be buying Chinese cars a decade from now. They’ll use the old smoke screen of “letting the free market decide the winners,” while ignoring the fact that our tax dollars subsidize the fossil fuel industry to the tune of billions of dollars a year.

Want a level playing field so the market can decide? Fine. End all subsidies for renewable energy and fossil fuels. Let the chips fall where they may. If the gutless politicians don’t have the testicular fortitude to pull our tax money from their masters, they sure as hell shouldn’t cripple our nation, as they line their pockets.

As we say in Texas, we all have a dog in this fight. Let your elected officials know exactly where you stand on these critical issues.

Dark clouds on the horizon.

IRS logoAccording to an article posted by Green Car Reports today, the Federal Income Tax Credit for plug-in vehicles may be in danger of being eliminated prematurely. Based on the picks that have been made to head up departments like the EPA, Department of Energy, etc, this could be a very real threat.

There are two courses of action:

  • If you’ve been considering a plug-in vehicle, you may want to purchase or lease one before the end 2017.
  • If you’re opposed to this action, contact your elected representative and make your voice heard!

Book review: Dark Money

Dark MoneyWant to get really depressed? Have I got a book for you!

Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money,” is a thoroughly researched, very detailed account of how small, tactical changes to laws have changed politics in our country. At a time when Americans are deeply disgusted with politics, it’s an interesting and important book.

I realize both sides of the political spectrum are using dark money to manipulate the masses and to frame today’s political discourse, but this book really explains how it has been done. It describes how our democracy has been stolen from us, with our approval. It explains how we, as a people have become so polarized, but more importantly, who (at least in the case of conservatives) is behind it and why.

The names involved include a who’s who of current political events, like Charles and David Koch, The DeVos family, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Mitch McConnell, as well as other names familiar to you.

My interest is in the current climate change debate and how we went from a point where the majority of Americans believed the scientific consensus to the current point of constant debate. Make no mistake, the same firms that confused the public about whether or not tobacco was harmful were involved in creating the confusion about global climate change. In fact, their slogan was “Doubt is our product.” And who pays these firms for their work? Why those who have been fined millions upon millions of dollars for damage to the environment and see rules preventing them from doing this as infringements on their freedom. Those who, to make an extra $7 million, reopened a gas pipeline they knew to “leak like swiss cheese,” killing two teenagers, when it exploded, resulting in a $298 million dollar civil judgement against them. Those whose employees, when they reported dumping of MERCURY onto the ground near rivers, were terminated for reporting the crime to management or the authorities. One instance of mercury dumping poisoned the fish for fifty miles downstream and made it into people who unknowingly ate those fish.

Did you know your politicians created a law allowing the very wealthy to place their children’s inheritances into trusts, where if the funds remained untouched for twenty years and the interest earned was donated to non-profit organizations, became a tax free inheritance? That doesn’t sound so bad, until it is uncovered that those same rich people created their own non-profit organizations which then distributed the interest earned to political campaigns, via donations to other non-profits, which removed their fingerprints from the funds. Some of the schemes were described by the officials trying to investigate them as “Russian nested dolls.”

It is one thing to confuse smokers into believing that the product they’re using isn’t killing them. That affects the users of tobacco and their families, but leaves the rest of us unscathed.

It is quite another thing to confuse the public into believing in “clean coal” or that global climate change is a “job killer” or is an evil plot by liberals to redistribute wealth from “doers” to “takers.” In this latter case, we all lose if we kill the planet.

Again, I believe both sides are doing this and the media is complicit, focusing on false “outrages” to keep the people of America distracted.

When will we wake up?

Will it be too late?

Where are the true statesmen/women?

Time is fleeting.

A lot of my friends, whom I hold in high regard, are silent on social media, or so it seems. It is well past time that we spoke, in a unified voice, against white supremacy, Nazi flags/regalia/salutes, nighttime torch marches meant to intimidate, violence against others due to race/religion/sexual orientation/ethnicity.

If you refuse to believe that one political party courted the alt-right, in order to win elections (or at least held their noses/comments so as to not alienate those voters), let down your guard for just a moment and listen to your heart. We all make mistakes. We are all human.

If you have forgotten a candidate who did not renounce endorsements by racist, terrorist organizations, while deflecting media inquiries about the lack of renunciation, let down your guard for just a moment and listen to your heart. We all make mistakes. We are all human.

If you are a proud Southerner (as I am), but have been swayed by arguments that the monuments & flags of the defeated Confederacy are your heritage and have not been twisted for the purposes of being racist and used for intimidation, let down your guard for just a moment and listen to your heart. We all make mistakes. We are all human.

Real Americans, join hands!We all make mistakes, out of anger, me included. However, we are approaching a moment from which our country will be unable to turn back. America will become that country that gave way to dark forces, which the world WILL rise to defeat, after much noble sacrifice. Generations of Americans, decades, if not centuries from now, will have to hang their heads in shame, when discussions of the coming war arise.

I implore you to let go and search your soul, without blaming yourself, to find the good person I know you to be. Then speak up against the hatred and violence, AND all politicians that are complicit. American politics is not a game, like football. Sometimes, it’s okay for your team to lose, if it makes the country better and your children safer.

It was the silence of very good people and an anger and frustration that had been building for decades, that caused a good country to lose its way, just 80 years ago. An extremist minority there, thought they were justified, in their anger and hatred and lit a fuse that devastated a generation worldwide. They thought their country to be invincible and it almost was. If only their good people had risen up to say, “No! This is wrong! The demagogue speaking now, does NOT speak for me!” then perhaps history would have been different.

It is easier to put out a torch than a forest fire.

We need your good voice, before it is too late.

We’ll always have Paris…well, no. We won’t.

Paris vs. Big OilThe Trump administration today backed out of the Paris Climate Agreement, which had all but two countries of the entire planet as signatories. This action starts a process that will take until 2020 to complete. During his campaign, Trump had claimed that climate change was a non-issue, created by the Chinese to make American manufacturing less competitive in world markets.

Of course, today’s news comes as no surprise. Trump’s selection of the head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, benefitted from campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry. Lobbyists, from the fossil fuel industry, drafted letters that Pruitt sent out on state stationery, when he was Oklahoma Attorney General. He sued the EPA, repeatedly to stop implementation of environmental protection rules. On the campaign trail, Trump said he wanted to get rid of the EPA and/or slash its number of employees, making it ineffective. The EPA, under Pruitt, has removed all mention of global climate change from the agency’s website.

On Trump’s first foreign trip, during his stop at the Vatican, the Pope gave Trump a copy of his encyclical on climate change, as a gift. I have to wonder if that embarrassing incident caused Trump to dig in his heels, even more, with regards to the Paris accord…

Now, it’s up to each of us, to save the planet. At the state and local level, we must push for changes to reduce carbon emissions. Local governments need vehicles. They should be looking at hybrids and EVs, where they are appropriate. Government buildings should be topped with solar panels or wind turbines.

We, as consumers, have the power to drive or accelerate change to reduce greenhouse gases. Your wallet is a powerful weapon. If you have the ability to shop for your electricity provider, select one who uses renewable energy, instead of coal or natural gas. I did this over 16 years ago, by switching to Green Mountain Energy. In the beginning, I paid a little more for this. Now, they are very competitive with other, non-renewable energy providers.

If you’re a homeowner, consider adding solar panels to your home. Generate your own, pollution-free electricity from the sun. Lately, I’ve seen companies advertise that they are building solar farms and will provide electricity at a flat, monthly rate to those who cannot put solar panels on their residence (apartment dwellers, those who don’t have good southern exposure, renters, etc.).

When you’re out shopping, select vendors who are making changes to be environmentally responsible. If they have chargers for electric vehicles, hybrid delivery vehicles, solar panels on the business, frequent their establishment and make sure the manager/owner knows that their behavior is what made you their customer.

Recycle as much of your trash as possible. The more we can recycle materials, rather than make them from scratch, the less pollution we generate and the less room we’ll take up in landfills.

Drive a vehicle that is appropriate. If your daily commute is you, alone in a vehicle, do you really need that large SUV? Wouldn’t a hybrid, electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicle work? There are tax incentives (for now, at least). Take advantage of them! Ask your friends, who have these cars, what the pros and cons are. If you have a large family, that requires a large vehicle, use that room to carpool, reducing the number of vehicles on the road. Take mass transit, if possible. Is this convenient? Maybe not. Suffering from lung disease isn’t either.

Most importantly, make sure your elected officials know that environmental stewardship is important to you. Call, write, email them. Let them know this is a primary way you’ll determine who you’ll vote for, and then VOTE! There are many hot-button issues that the politicians use to keep us divided. The pro-life/women’s rights argument has swayed many an election. Ask yourself, “How many babies will struggle to breathe, if we abandon effective environmental stewardship?” One of my daughters struggled every time there was an ozone alert in our area. It sounded like she had whooping cough. It was agonizing for us. “How many babies will starve to death, if we create a new dust bowl?” If you are really concerned about the fate of the unborn, this should be an important issue for you, as well.

Nothing can change a politician’s actions quite as quickly as the threat of impending unemployment. Organize and push for term limits for Congress. Most elected officials today have one, most important issue, with which they’re concerned. It’s keeping that cushy job, in Washington. It takes a lot of money to get elected. They can spend all their time trying to get small, individual donations, or they can have a few dinners for their wealthy contributors and rake in the cash. Then they have become a minion of these donors. Someone like Bernie Sanders only comes around rarely. Most politicians take the easy way out and sell their influence for campaign donations.

But, you already knew this.

Start to act on it.

This behavior only exists because we allow it to exist. We are part of the problem. Instead of complaining about our elected officials’ corruption and short-sightedness, look in the mirror. Change starts with you.