Monthly Archives: October 2016

Information Wireless Charging: Coming Soon to an Electric Vehicle For You

Wireless charging could be a game-changer for electric vehicles — and a crucial step in the shift to mass EV adoption.

Mercedes-Benz is currently poised to be the first automaker to offer wireless charging for a production vehicle. In June, the German automaker announced the new feature would be coming to market in 2018 with the S550e plug-in hybrid (PHEV) luxury sedan. Earlier this month, it was revealed that Mercedes would use a version of Qualcomm Halo’s technology, manufactured by an unnamed Tier 1 power electronics supplier.

Qualcomm and Mercedes — through subsidiary Qualcomm Technologies and parent company Daimler AG, respectively — already work together in a strategic partnershipannounced last spring to pioneer wireless charging and other connected-car technologies. Qualcomm acquired HaloIPT in 2011, and has been developing and deploying wireless electric-vehicle charging (WEVC) systems for the Formula E electric-vehicle racing series since 2014. Now, having been used on racetracks around the world, the technology is nearly ready to go mainstream.

Qualcomm Halo wireless inductive charging systems have already been successfully integrated and tested on a number of different consumer vehicle platforms, including Renault Fluence, Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, BMW i8 and the Honda Accord, Anthony Thomson, vice president of business development and marketing at Qualcomm, wrote in an email.

“The number of development contracts and requests for quotation from automotive OEMs is rapidly increasing, and it is expected that a number of production orders will be placed soon,” he said. “We will start to see further WEVC systems on production vehicles from other OEMs in the next few years.”

“One barrier to mass uptake of EVs/PHEVs is the need to constantly plug in to recharge,” Thomson added. “Most automotive OEMs are investigating WEVC technology as a convenient and easy method to recharge the EVs/PHEVs without the constant need to plug in; additional benefits include potential reduction in battery size by giving drivers the option to ‘charge little and charge often.’”

Qualcomm envisions a future where Halo technology is embedded into roadways, offering effectively limitless EV range. Wireless charging is also an important step in making vehicles truly autonomous, because they will be able to both drive and fuel on their own. But to date, wireless technology has had limited commercial availability, being offered by only a handful of aftermarket companies.

Evatran, for instance, is currently taking reservations for a WEVC system calledPlugless that’s designed specifically for the Tesla Model S. The $2,400 system provides roughly 20 miles of driving range per hour. Soon, Evatran plans to offer a charging system for the Chevrolet Volt as well. And by the end of next year, the company claims it will offer systems compatible with 80 percent of EVs on the road in North America. In August, the initial Tesla Model S system was believed to be just”weeks” away from release.

So far, Mercedes is the only automaker to confirm it will offer wireless charging directly on a production vehicle. Last year, Tesla previewed the “solid metal snake,” the prototype of an autonomous (and somewhat creepy) charging system. But Tesla has yet to introduce a wireless charging feature — leaving that to Evatran and others for now. Once wireless charging becomes widely available, automakers believe it will expand the EV market beyond early adopters.

“We already have a lot of very good electric vehicles on the road today, and there will be a lot more over the next year or two or three — a lot more,” said William Craven, senior manager of regulatory affairs at Mercedes-Benz USA. “So we’re now going into a market phase where the [vehicles] are there, but is customer demand going to be there? And if it isn’t, how are we going to increase that demand? How can we help customers embrace this type of technology? Inductive charging is one of those ways to increase that demand.”

To add range, owners of a S550e equipped with wireless charging will simply have to park atop a special pad and charging will begin, no plugs or cables necessary. Qualcomm Halo WEVC technology uses resonant magnetic induction to transfer energy between the ground-based pad and a charging pad on the EV. Pricing has yet to be released, but it is unlikely to be much of a concern given the S550e’s $96,600 base price.

Price could become a concern as wireless technology makes it way to lower-cost vehicle models, however. Also, the 3.6-kilowatt Qualcomm system is only designed to top up the S550e’s 8-kilowatt-hour plug-in hybrid battery. The system would need more than triple the charging power to fill up a 60-kilowatt-hour pure-EV battery, like that in the Chevy Bolt, in a reasonable amount of time.

Standards represent another speed bump. A consortium of technology developers and auto manufacturers are currently working with SAE International to produce industry-wide inductive charging standards. In May, SAE approved guidelines for power transfer between infrastructure and plug-in vehicles — a major milestone for WEVC technology. Next, SAE will test prototypes based on the guidelines before they can be finalized.

Since the automotive industry is coalescing around a single set of standards — rather than battling over competing technologies, which was the case with wireless cell phone charging — Mercedes decided to commit to commercializing WEVC technology. Still, the feature won’t be available until 2018.

“We can go out and offer product without SAE standardization guidelines or a final standard; however, we take on a lot of risk and liability and a chance of causing confusion out there in the marketplace as to what vehicle can be charged by what device,” said Craven.

“This is not uncommon for this to occur…but it’s not the best way to roll out [new technology],” he added. “If you can have a unified industry, like we do on EV inductive charging, it makes things a lot simpler and allows companies to come out with product using the guidelines.”

The only concern right now is that SAE testing will cause the standard to change, beyond just a few tweaks. SAE is also brokering talks in North America, Europe and Asia to set a global WEVC standard, which isn’t required, but would enable a much faster technology rollout. Inconsistent standards around the world add cost, because products have limited volume. Also, quality is typically better when products are the same globally. According to Craven, a global standard “would be huge,” providing a major boon for the burgeoning industry.

Here Approved for PG&E’s Record-Setting EV Charger

After years of fighting over the details of Pacific Gas & Electric’s plan to bring up to 7,500 electric-vehicle chargers to Northern California, EV-charging providers and consumer and environmental groups are praising a new compromise plan that has just received approval from state regulators.

On Thursday, the five-member California Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved a decision (PDF) directing PG&E to move ahead with what will be the country’s largest utility-led EV charging deployment.

The “Charge Smart and Save” plan includes 7,500 EV charging points in workplaces, multi-unit residential buildings and disadvantaged communities, and is capped at a cost of $130 million.

That’s smaller than PG&E’s original $650 million, 25,000-charger proposal, though it’s still more than twice as large as the EV charging pilots approved for California’s other big investor-owned utilities, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.

The new decision, crafted by a CPUC administrative law judge, also makes a lot of changes to how much of this new infrastructure PG&E can own, and how much control it can exert over the technology and business model choices available to the “site hosts” — the owners of the workplaces or multi-family dwellings where the chargers will be installed.

These are the key points that worried the opponents of PG&E’s original plan, including the Electric Vehicle Charging Association (EVCA) representing EV charging companies ChargePoint and Volta, some consumer and environmental advocates, and TechNet, a group with members including Google and eBay.

Earlier this year, these groups asked the CPUC to consider an alternative plan, with a few key differences to what PG&E had been asking for. And according to their response to Thursday’s approved plan, they’ve mostly gotten what they had sought.

“We believe that the commission accurately reflected our concerns on competition and customer choice,” Anne Smart, ChargePoint’s vice president of public policy, said in a Thursday interview. “This really does create a national model that other utilities and states should look at,” she added.

One of the most important changes to the plan involves the ownership structure between PG&E and the site hosts, the EVCA pointed out in a Thursday statement. In most cases, “PG&E’s role will be to provide rebates for customers to own and operate an EV charging station of their choice,” the group wrote, with the utility’s ownership stake limited to the “make-ready” infrastructure such as wires, conduits and metering needed to prepare the parking space for serving an EV charger.

In the case of multi-family dwellings and disadvantaged community installations, PG&E will be able to own and operate up to 35 percent of the chargers themselves. Still, those site hosts will be able to choose their own charging station provider, and will have an option to own the equipment themselves.

These ownership restrictions are similar to those set up in SCE’s rollout, but are more restrictive than PG&E’s original request to retain ownership of a larger portion of the EV chargers. The compromise on ownership is meant to create “a hybrid ownership model whereby the site host has flexibility to choose to own the electric vehicle charging equipment or have PG&E install, own, and operate all the equipment,” CPUC Commissioner Carla Peterman said in a Thursday statement.

PG&E wrote in a statement that it looks forward to “partnering with charging service providers to increase access to EVs to drivers and communities that haven’t previously had the option. This critical infrastructure will jump-start the EV market with greater access to safe, reliable, affordable, and clean electricity.”

The newly approved plan also makes an important, if technical, change in ownership structure, according to EVCA. That’s to change the definition of the “customer of record” — the entity that’s considered to be the utility’s end customer for the electricity being used to charge EVs — from the charging system operator to the actual owners of the site where they’re installed.

That’s important, because a 2011 state law, AB 631, precludes utilities from imposing pricing of EV-charging services on any EV-charging site host. But it doesn’t specifically include EV network services as a group that’s free of utility pricing requirements.

That technical twist, EVCA said, could have allowed PG&E to force charging service providers like ChargePoint and Volta to use a restricted set of pricing programs imposed by the utility, rather than the more flexible pricing schemes each company could choose to set up.

Making the site owner the customer of record, by contrast, “will allow the program to support different business models and ensure that building owners can integrate EV charging with other energy management systems,” EVCA wrote in its Thursday statement.

PG&E, for its part, had wanted to set up a time-of-use (TOU) rate that would charge more for electricity bought during times of peak demand on the electricity grid. That’s an important tool for encouraging EV drivers to charge up during off-peak hours, and avoid making EVs an additional burden on the state’s electricity network.

To keep this underlying principle intact, the CPUC’s decision will allow each site host a set of TOU pricing options, including passing them through to drivers directly, or choosing a “rate-to-host” option where charging providers “will be able to propose alternative pricing and load management tactics” while also serving their site’s needs.

“By increasing access to reliable and affordable charging stations, the program promises to deliver Californians cleaner air and cheaper fuel,” wrote Max Baumhefner, attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which helped to broker agreement on the PG&E program. “By matching EV charging to hours of the day when wind and solar generation are plentiful, the program will also lower the costs of meeting California’s goal of procuring at least half of its electricity from renewable resources by 2030.”

California currently leads the country in electric vehicle ownership, and Gov. Jerry Brown has set a goal to have 1.5 million EVs on the road by 2025.

Faraday Future Vows to Defy Skeptics

The secretive Chinese-backed electric vehicle company Faraday Future is running out of roadway.

There were several news reports about the company’s financial distress and unstable business operations in the weeks leading up to the highly anticipated launch of Faraday Future’s production vehicle last night at CES 2017.

“If they don’t find money after CES…they will be out of money by February,” a former executive told The Verge. A former employee familiar with Faraday Future’s finances told BuzzFeed that the company is more than 30 days overdue on more than $100 million worth of payments to vendors and suppliers. The electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer currently faces lawsuits from a supplier and a landlord.

It’s been a year since Faraday Future, or FF, emerged from stealth mode. At CES 2016,FF launched an electric supercar concept that was lambasted for being ridiculously out of touch with market wants and needs. The FFZero wasn’t anything like the autonomous consumer car FF had been teasing on social media. The FFZERO wasn’t even functional.

Since the first launch, FF has seen a slew of employees leave the company. Top executives Joerg Sommer, vice president of product marketing and growth, and Marco Mattiacci, global chief brand and commercial officer, left the company just days before last night’s big reveal.

The launch event did not disappoint in its grandeur — but it did little to ease concerns that the FF 91 is no more than a hype machine.

Company leaders announced some impressive stats. The FF 91 has a 130-kilowatt-hour battery with a 378-mile all-electric range, a 1,050-horsepower engine, and a 0-60 mph acceleration time of just 2.39 seconds. Executives showcased the FF 91’s speed in a simulated drag race with a Bentley Bentayga, a Ferrari 488 GTB and a Tesla Model S. The audience watched each vehicle zip across the pavilion. No surprise, the FF 91 appeared to win.

The FF 91 isn’t only designed for speed — it’s also equipped with a suite of self-driving technologies, including 10 cameras, 12 long- and short-distance radars and 12 ultrasonic sensors. The car can park on its own. The FF 91 can also interact with the driver using facial recognition technology to automatically adjust vehicle settings, and help the driver reach the outside world through on-board high-speed Wi-Fi.

Nick Sampson, FF’s senior vice president and de facto spokesperson, said interested customers can now sign up for one of the company’s 300 Alliance Edition launch vehicles, set for release in 2018, by putting down a $5,000 refundable deposit. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to an environmental production fund, to be named at a gala in March.

“We have to flip the automotive industry back on its head, break it down and build it up the way it should have been in the first place, independent of fossil fuels,” said Sampson.

Nothing was said at the launch event about FF’s financial standing, or even about the company’s production plans. Executives didn’t even disclose the FF 91’s final price. However, at the end of the event, Sampson did address the company’s critics.

“Despite all of the naysayers and skeptics, we will persist,” he said. “We will carry on to make the impossible, possible.”

If Faraday fails, it’s a loss for EVs

During the nearly 90-minute CES presentation, company leaders painted a picture of how the FF 91 could alter the current driving experience. The crossover design has a full-length sunroof that’s intended to enhance the passenger experience, as well as a similar look to the Mercedes’ 2015 self-driving concept car. The FF 91’s powerful electric drivetrain also makes it fun to ride in and emissions-free.

But it’s not just a vehicle; it’s a “mobility ecosystem.” The FF 91’s connected and autonomous vehicle technologies make transportation personalized and convenient –when the technology works. Creating an “FFID” account for each person in the car enables the vehicle to remember seating and entertainment preferences that can be transferred across the FF EcoSystem — a concept that seems to lend itself well to car sharing.

Considering that the vast majority of cars today sit idle 95 percent of the time and spew out harmful pollution while they’re in motion, the FF 91 EV seems to be moving the auto industry in the right direction — although the lack of information on FF’s rollout plan make it hard to see how the company will progress.

“FF packed a punch with its first production vehicle, FF 91, crammed with eye-popping specs compared to all electric and/or luxury vehicles on the market today, but the launch event left many questions unanswered (not completely unlike its competitor Tesla’s prior launch events) on matters of practicality such as price tag, production timelines, and targets,” said Ravi Manghani, GTM Research energy storage analyst, who also tracks EVs.

“While the presenters very deliberately mentioned the company as a risk-taker that’s not burdened with prior history, it will be almost impossible to disassociate from the recent negative coverage of its financial troubles,” he added.

It’s important to cut through the PR spin, but it’s also important to consider how FF fits into the larger EV and mobility story. It’s difficult to launch a new automotive company, and an electric one in particular. Only Tesla has been able to pull that off in a meaningful way in recent years, and even Tesla’s fate is still far from certain.

While FF lacks a charismatic cleantech hero like Elon Musk as CEO, the company is still fostering innovation. As Electrek’s Fred Lambert recently pointed out: “There’s no doubt that they are over-hyping their products for a company at this stage of development, but they also have over 1,000 employees — most of them engineers — working on real electric-vehicle technologies, and that’s not vaporware.”

Faraday Future is in trouble, but that doesn’t mean the staff and the concepts are bad. If FF does fail, it would be a black eye to the entire EV sector. FF’s demise could spook investors and keep them away from EV technology for years, the way the bankruptcies of Fisker and A123 did in 2013. Furthermore, a bankrupt EV company gives ammunition to cleantech opponents, in the same way Solyndra’s bankruptcy has hurt the broader solar industry.

“As consumers watch the industry evolve and see more EVs hit the road, and the Trump administration assesses the state of regulation and advanced vehicle technology, high-profile setbacks will do lasting harm to the EV industry, which has shown such promise and is so critical to severing our oil dependence,” said Robbie Diamond, president and CEO of Securing America’s Future Energy, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit focused on reducing U.S. oil dependence.

Just because FF’s work has purpose (at least to some), that doesn’t make the company’s problems go away. FF leaders need to be careful not to over-promise and under-deliver, said Diamond. At the same time, if the company manages to build strong interest in its new product, it could help FF raise the money it needs to realize the vision.

What’s up with Faraday anyway?

Things have always been a little weird at Faraday. The company was founded in 2014, but has never had an official CEO.

It was also initially unclear who was backing the company, which turned out Jia Yueting, founder of Chinese tech giant LeEco. Ding Lei, a top executive at LeEco was reportedly serving as FF’s “global CEO,” but recently left the company.

LeEco, meanwhile, is developing an electric car of its own called LeSEE, and has a partnership with Aston Martin separate from Faraday.

Putting aside negative response to the FFZero at CES 2016, FF appeared to be on a roll early on last year. The company was scooping up employees from Tesla, Apple, BMWand other top tech brands. In April, FF was ramping up its $1 billion manufacturing plant in Nevada, where the state legislature approved $215 million in tax incentives.

Then things really started to go downhill. Last summer, Jia sent a letter to employeesacknowledging that LeEco had overextended itself. In November, news broke that FF has stopped working on the Nevada factory.

Despite facing economic woes, LeEco just broke ground on its own $3 billion Chinese EV manufacturing plant. There are doubts as to whether FF or LeEco will actually be able to bring a car to market.

Jia, who attended last night’s FF launch event, seems committed to keeping the dream alive. “We share a dream to restore the blue sky,” he said.

“I’m willing to devote everything to my dream — even my life.”

Info Report Predicts Euro EV Adoption Will Take Off

European electric-vehicle adoption won’t take off until at least 2025, according to research by GTM’s parent company Wood Mackenzie.

The high cost of new cars, coupled with limited battery life and vehicle range, is hampering the take-up of EVs compared to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, says Wood Mackenzie in a study titled Is the European EV Market on the Verge of a Breakthrough?

Today, EVs account for less than one in every 500 cars on European roads, and mainstream adoption is not likely to happen until battery costs drop from their current level of $200 to $400 per kilowatt-hour, down to around $100 per kilowatt-hour.

“’Mainstream’ would be defined as the moment when EVs are able to exhibit sufficient range and reliability at an affordable price to compete effectively with conventional ICE cars,” said study author Iain Mowat, Wood Mackenzie senior research analyst for refining and oil product markets.

While EVs could start to do this sooner in the executive and upper-medium car segments, it’s really when EVs start to dominate new car sales in the lower-medium and small-car markets that these low-emissions vehicles could be regarded as reaching mainstream status, he said.

It will be more challenging for carmakers to produce competitively priced EVs in the small and lower-medium segments, he said. This is where ICE cars are least expensive and have the best fuel economy.

EV pricing means adoption across Europe is, for now, heavily dependent on government subsidies.

Not coincidentally, the only European country where Wood Mackenzie believes EVs are nearing mainstream adoption is Norway, which also has the most generous support schemes.

“The government has restructured the fiscal framework for passenger cars to ensure EVs are now cheaper than conventional ICE cars,” said Mowat. “EV penetration is now higher in Norway than any other country in the world.”

This approach would be harder in a country with a manufacturing base of ICE cars, he stated. “With no indigenous ICE manufacturing, and a fully renewable power grid, Norway is a trailblazer for EV adoption.”

Wood Mackenzie believes most other European countries cannot afford to match these subsidy levels.

There are limited EV subsidies in place across France, Germany and the U.K., but if these were stripped out, then battery costs would leave all-electric vehicles “at the high end of the car market, discouraging wider take-up,” Wood Mackenzie said.

Another factor that other studies may have overlooked is how the price of electricity might affect the economics of EV ownership.

In Germany, for example, the high cost of grid power — which is, ironically, partly a result of government actions to support the move to a carbon-free economy — means it is more expensive to run an EV than it is to drive a diesel car, Mowat said.

The study cites a number of other potential roadblocks for EV adoption, the impact of which is more difficult to ascertain at present. One is EV charging station availability.

Mowat said uncertainty over regulation and business models for charging infrastructure could act as a drag on charger deployment. But availability is ramping up quite quickly and will be perceived as less of a barrier for consumers once range starts to improve to around 300 kilometers per charge, he said.

Another potential challenge is how battery cost reductions might be affected by raw materials prices, particularly for lithium, cobalt and nickel.

Mowat agreed with other industry observers that lithium availability, at least, is not likely to be a big problem for the battery industry. The lithium supply chain is already responding to increasing demand for the material, he noted.

But materials such as cobalt and nickel are more significant cost components in a lithium-ion battery, so the global supply and price of these commodities could become a major factor in terms of how the EV market evolves.

A final factor in the EV cost-reduction path is whether or not car manufacturers are able to offset the upfront cost of batteries by reusing them in second-life stationary storage applications. Mowat confirmed EV makers would probably attempt to do this.

“There will likely be a secondary market for batteries,” he said.