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Ten Big EV Developments That Transpired During Covid (2020 – mid 2021)

1) Tesla sales soared globally and nationally, jump-starting the EV revolution and attracting big investments in EV companies. Tesla dominates the global market for BEVs; no other manufacturer has even a fifth of the global sales of Tesla. At one point Tesla’s model 3 sales in California made it the single most popular new vehicle model bar none. As Tesla stock soared in price (at one point giving Tesla a market valuation greater than that of all the legacy car manufacturers combined), investors sought out other firms in which to plunk their money. Rivian raised several billion in new funds. Other investors were not so lucky. Nicola apparently fudged the numbers and collapsed after the Securities and Exchange Commission went after them. Lordstown fibbed when they said they were ready to begin sales, and its stock also collapsed, in part because Ford announced that Ford was to market to exactly the same niche market (electrical utility fleets) that Lordstown had bet its future on.

2) The major legacy car manufacturers got into a publicity arms race over promises about the future of EVs, but didn’t actually produce many. Most announced they were going to spend X dollars pursuing electrification, and that they planned to have Y percentage of their sales electric by date Z (or cease selling regular vehicles ICEs (Internal Combustion Engines) by a certain date. Given their inability to meet any of the previously announced EV sales deadlines, one has reason to be skeptical, but the fact that they feel compelled to (over?) promise may be better than inaction.

3) VW may be an exception, as they committed billions of their own money to ramping up charging infrastructure. Whereas VW was legally obligated to spend the fines leveled as a result of the diesel cheating scandal to construct the Electrify America EV charging network (by the end of 2021: 800 sites in the US, featuring 3500 chargers), VW recently committed to spending about $2B of their own unrestricted funds to more than double the size of the Electrify America charging network. To put their claims in context, the US presently has about 41K charging sites and 100K public chargers. By 2025 Electrify America intends to have 1700 sites and 9500 chargers. Electrify Canada will be similarly expanded, and VW expects to spend $86B by 2025 to pursue electrification. This one-upped GM, which had only promised $35B for the same time period. So there!

4) Tesla announced a vague plan to someday share its charging infrastructure with others, which will double the infrastructure for non-Tesla EV drivers. The financial details remain to be worked out. Presumably the fillup cost to non-Teslas will be higher than those to Tesla owners, though the costs might alternately be borne by the other car manufacturers (as being discussed in Europe). Regardless, when you find yourself somewhere with a nearly drained battery and a handy Tesla supercharger, the cost differential might be immaterial. How this would work physically (who needs to buy which conversion cables) remain to be determined. With the rapidly dwindling number of CHAdeMo connector users, this portends a glorious future in which the connectors become uniform and interchangeable. However, some car manufacturers (e.g., Porsche) are pushing for a doubling of the fast-charging voltage standard (from 480 VDC to 960 VDC), which might complicate things and raise the cost of building fast-chargers.

5) Biden targeted EV infrastructure for a massive buildup, but so far the Republicans have stymied it; the White House has plans for covering some of the blocked buildup using budget legislation. Political inertia is with the Democrats, but political power on the Hill is very close to gridlock. Stay tuned.

6) EV sales have spread out from sedans to SUVs and crossovers. There are now many all-wheel drive vehicles (AWDs) at mid- or higher price points, though availability is somewhat limited in some places. Among the car models with at least an AWD option are (ordered by base MSRP from low to high) (see link for pickup trucks):

Tesla Model 3

Ford Mach-E

Tesla Model Y

Polestar (Volvo) 2

Mercedes EQC-400

Jaguar i-Pace

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model X

Porsche Taycan

7) EV pickup trucks were supposed to emerge in 2020, but did not. First at bat is Rivian, but for the last year this new manufacturer has been promising deliveries in about “a month or so.” Ford and Tesla are teasing mass-market EV pickups, but no firm sale dates have been announced; Ford will sell them to electric power company fleets in 2022. GM is teasing a $117K Hummer EV: that’s a little rich for me, but the day of capable AWD electric pickups is nigh. I expect to see one locally in September.

8) Policy makers have woken up to the cost and complexity of rapidly expanding clean power generation and delivery of electrons for EVs, but no coordinated response is evident. For most, the major expenses have been penciled in for “later”. Texas ran into catastrophic grid failures during a winter cold snap, in part due to their inability to obtain power from neighboring states, which had power (Texas is the only continental state with a stand-alone grid). Texas legislators are now patting themselves on the back for bold new initiatives long adopted by other states (e.g., requiring the utilities to cold-harden their generators), but connecting the Texas grid to the rest of the nation is not on the table.

9) Climate-related natural disasters make the front page almost daily, but most media outlets cry for money to build structural defenses, not prevent climate change. Record-breaking temperatures, unprecedented wildfires, smoke plumes reaching almost all of North America, chronic coastal floods, record-setting deluges around the world, and agriculturally debilitating droughts would seem to be enough to get the worlds’ attention, but media coverage has focused only on mopping up the mess.

And locally:  
10) The city of Durango and La Plata Electric Association (LPEA) wrote a seminal EV readiness plan, but near-term changes are underwhelming. For example, in the “lead by example” element, LPEA committed to buying two Ford EV pickups when they become available sometime in 2022 (or 2023). Meanwhile, fast charging (DC) has finally reached the local area, with Pagosa (2020), Durango (July 2021), and Purgatory ski area (late 2021) acquiring moderately fast-charging capability. Those chargers should boost visitation by tourists and provide solace to local EV owners who might suddenly need to go a long distance. The EV readiness plan has put all the right processes in place; the heavy lifting – you guessed it – comes later. Stay tuned.

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Can you drive from SW Colorado to Michigan in a 2018 Battery Powered Chevy Bolt? YES YOU CAN! Part II

As promised, here are answers to the more basic questions about doing a long-distance road trip in a mid-distance, 235-mile range, Chevy Bolt EV.

Starting the final leg with 75% State of Charge.

Was it cheaper than paying for gas would’ve been?

At home, where DC fast charging isn’t necessary for us, driving the Bolt is about 40% less expensive to fuel than using gasoline for a comparable car. On this 1,600 mile trip, we charged four to five times a day on high voltage, DC fast chargers. Assuming we would’ve driven a car getting 30 mpg, it cost 15% more than we would have paid at gas stations in the Midwest, where gas was running about $2.10/gallon. The electric fuel cost us $135 for the one-way trip, about $20 more than gas. We charged overnight at hotels for free on two nights, waking up with a full tank.

In Iowa, local electric companies MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy provided free fast charging at all their stations. We used two of them. These were slower rate fast-chargers, with top potential of 50 kW, unlike the 62.5 kW we would start with from the Electrify America chargers. They were pleasantly located with grassy areas and picnic tables nearby.

Avoca, IA at a Casey’s General Store

How much extra time did it add to the trip?

On the days when we drove more than 500 miles (10-11 hours of driving time), we spent four to five hours charging at four to five different fast chargers. Yes, that is a lot of time. The 2018 Chevy Bolt is slow to accept charge. No matter how fast a charger is able to provide electricity, the 2018 Bolt will accept a maximum of about 53 kW. It drops off in a step-wise fashion after the battery gets 55% full until it gets down to 25 kW when the battery is at 80%.

This image is from https://allev.info/2020/03/chevy-bolt-2020-dcfc-charge-curve/ and is for the 2019 and 2020 Chevy Bolts.

In contrast, a Tesla Model 3 can take a maximum of over 100 kW, depending on the power of the charger being used. Over a 30-minute Tesla Supercharger session it will accept power at an average of 85 kW. That said, the Model 3 long range version cost about 50% more than a Chevy Bolt in 2018 when Chevys’ were still getting the full federal tax credit while Teslas’ was phasing out.

Driving the Bolt for this trip was inconvenient. It was not pleasant to spend more than an hour in a Walmart parking lot 100 feet down-wind from a truck-stop hosting at least 50 idling semi trucks. Yes, a lot of time is spent in big parking lots on today’s cross-country EV road trips.

Can you see the DCFC station in this picture? Look to the left, past the lovely garden. It’s the orange and white thing past the fence.

However, there were a fair number of very pleasant charger locations. There was the brand-new station in Saugatuck, MI, where the parking lot was shaded by thick deciduous forest. The charger there faced an open, grassy sculpture garden and was next to a REALLY good breakfast restaurant.

In the case of the free Alliant Energy charger at Grinnell, Iowa, we were able to park about 2 miles from the freeway at a quiet Alliant office surrounded by corn fields and several acres of preserved prairie with a walking path mowed around it. We spent about 75 minutes there, walking and picnicking, wanting to fill up a bit more than usual because it was our last fast-charger stop of the day.

While at this stop, in the nearby fields we noticed all the corn, which was still green and had been quite tall, was laying down flat on the ground with fat, full ears still attached, unharvested. It turned out three weeks before our visit an extreme straight-line windstorm with winds up to 126 mph tore through a large section of central Iowa. It destroyed 7- to 8-million acres of corn and beans. It crushed many empty silos, setting the state’s farmers up for problems finding grain storage this fall. Four people were killed. 1.9 million people across several states lost power, some for as long as thirteen days.

If you’re curious about what it was like to be hunkered down in a suburban Iowa home during this storm, take a look at this video. Note the contrast of the idyllic scene at the beginning with what happens after minute 14. Not very pleasant.

This extreme weather event was more than inconvenient for Iowans. It threatened life and livelihood. Climate events of this magnitude are becoming so common, it barely made the news. We are at the point where government action has taken too long to adequately slow emissions down. Individual actions, such as buying an EV if you can afford it and turning a long 2-day road trip into a more relaxed 3-day road trip, are among the most immediate actions one can take to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Were the charging stations working and available?

In short, yes. They were all working, though we had significant difficulty getting the Electrify America (EA) fast chargers to initiate charging at the Flagler, Colorado and Colby, Kansas locations. We were eventually able to charge at all of them, but only after spending 20-30 minutes on the phone with an EA representative. That was very frustrating knowing we had to spend another 45 minutes to an hour at the station once the charging finally started. EA also, through an error in their software, double-charged us at every station on our trip out. The problem was fixed by the time we returned home a couple weeks later, and EA completely refunded all the fees for those charging stations. The effect of those refunds is not reflected in the $135 spent on electricity given above. That value is the cost on the way back when we were charged the correct amount at all the EA stations.

What would we do if we arrived at a charger to find it in use by someone else?

This did not happen to us on this trip. The fast-chargers we stopped at usually had room to charge two to six vehicles at a time. We only had even one car pull in while we were charging on three occasions.

While we never had to wait to charge, we did block a station for another person at the single fast-charger station on the Tollway south of Chicago for about half an hour. It was a 50 kW unit, so slower to charge anyway, and we needed enough charge to make a long jump to the next station which was located in Michigan. As we lounged on the grass under a shade tree, we watched a guy pace back and forth for half an hour waiting for us to be finished. It was a friendly encounter, but we felt bad about it, knowing we’d be sad to be in his shoes with the final 300 miles to go in our trip.

A portion of the Illinois DCFC desert, just south of Chicago on the I-80, I-294, I-90 Interstate corridor. There is a DCFC in Joliet, but it has been extremely unreliable since it was installed in early 2020. How do you find out how reliable a station is or has been? Check www.Plugshare.org, and share your experiences there, too!

Let me take this moment to beg whoever is empowered to increase the availability of faster public fast chargers in south-east Illinois and north-west Indiana, please get busy. After having no trouble finding fast-chargers across Nebraska and Iowa, it was a slap to have so few options on this urban major interstate route. Between Geneseo, Illinois and Michigan City, Indiana, over almost 200 miles there is only one non-Tesla fast charger available and in working order, and it is a single, slow 50 kW unit at a Tollway rest stop. ComEd and Indiana Gas & Electric, can you help get some public EV fast-chargers on I-94 please?

How was it better than a long trip in a gas-powered car?

There were some pleasant surprises. The EV trip was three days of more relaxed driving. The pace was easier to take. We used the stops to stretch our legs walking and to eat without having crumbs fall in our laps. The trip felt less stressful because we weren’t pushing for maximum miles. We arrived at our destination less achy and irritable. The inconvenience was vanishingly small when compared to the climate-related catastrophes being suffered by people coast-to-coast on a now yearly basis.

Person-by-person, mile-by-mile we can make a difference. YOU CAN DO IT!

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Can you drive from SW Colorado to Michigan in a 2018 Battery Powered Chevy Bolt? YES YOU CAN! Part I

This post is divided in two parts: PART 1- Why do it? And PART 2 – Answers to the basic questions of how much time did charging add to the trip? What if all the charging stations are taken when you show up? How much did the cost compare to gas?

On August 28 of this year, 2020, the day after Hurricane Laura mowed into Louisiana, my husband and I started a 1,600 mile road trip from Durango, Colorado to Beulah, Michigan driving our all-electric 2018 Chevy Bolt. A couple weeks later, we’d have to turn around and do it again to come home. In 2018, the trip would not have been possible. The fast charging infrastructure we used was installed in 2019 and 2020, so it felt like an adventure.

Iowa, where wind energy produces 42% of the state’s electricity, the highest of any state.
  • How would the costs measure up?
  • Would the charging stations be working and available?
  • How much extra time would it add to the trip?
  • What would we do if we arrived at a charger to find it in use by someone else?

The answers to all these questions will be provided in Part 2 of this post, which will be published a couple days after this one. For now, let’s start with more basic questions:

  • “WHY?” Why would anyone try to do that now?
  • Doesn’t it take SO much longer with the charging stops?
  • I can’t buy an EV until my current car rusts into a pile of dust, so isn’t it a waste of money to buy an all-electric vehicle before the vehicle technology and charging infrastructure are more mature and built up?

I can’t answer those questions for you, but I can tell you a bit about me and why I did it. I graduated in 2000 with a master’s degree in geology, and I’ve worked the past twenty years as an air quality specialist, with seven of those years doing greenhouse gas emission inventories for industry. I’m a scientist at heart. I strongly believe analyzing empirical data, when it’s available, is really good input to base decisions on.  However, also as a scientist, I DO mean to sound alarmist about climate change and Americans’ contribution to it from their traveling habits.

Hurricanes have become stronger worldwide during the past four decades, an analysis of observational data shows, supporting what theory and computer models have long suggested: climate change is making these storms more intense and destructive.

Henry Fountain in the New York Times, May 18, 2020

Global warming is likely worse than you think, because most climate scientists don’t want to sound alarmist. They are even-minded, non-biased scientists, after all. So what you hear about in the media and from the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) reports about climate change are actually the low end, least destructive scenarios of what climate models predict will happen if we continue at our current rate of emitting greenhouse gas emissions. We need to slam the brakes on these emissions.

Massive forest fires in California redden the sky in Michigan, 2,400 miles away, July 8, 2020. You can run, but you can’t hide from the effects of climate change.

We are at the point where government action has taken too long to adequately slow emissions down.  Individual actions such as buying an EV if you can afford it are among the most important, immediate steps we can take to lower our personal greenhouse gas emissions and signal our governments we are ready to step up to the challenge of slowing climate change.

Nope. Didn’t carry all that in on our backs.

As a western US outdoors-loving environmentalist, over the last 25 years this knowledge has been the root of a fair amount of psychological stress for me, triggered by cognitive dissonance. I’ve lost count of the number of river trips I’ve been on, serviced by one or more large pick-up trucks traveling several hundred miles carrying hundreds of pounds of rafts, waterproof boxes of food and gear for groups of up to twenty peoples’ pleasure. And I’m a kayaker! I don’t really need that much gear to go down a wild river, but it sure is nice to have rafts carrying friends and coolers of cold beer along. However, I have also known for more than 25 years how harmful this way of loving the wilderness is. Traveling long distances at high speeds in either cars, trucks or airplanes fueled by fossil fuels creates larger amounts of greenhouse gas than any other thing individuals do.

So in early 2017, when Nissan offered their all-electric, 136-mile range Leaf at a VERY reasonable price, I figured we had to do it. Finally, the world came around to creating electric cars which cut emissions so significantly that regardless of any inconvenience, we had to step up and early adopt.

Sweet lil’ EV. So sweet.

The Leaf was a great commuter car. I was surprised at how nice it was to never have to stop at a gas station as part of my routine. Never. I just plugged it in at home when needed (two or three times a week in my case), and it would charge overnight. When the opportunity to buy a higher range (235 miles) Chevy Bolt came up, we jumped on it. We wanted to use an EV for more of our less frequent, middle-distance trips. We owed the world something for all the fossil-fuel enabled pleasure we’d taken. We could finally start paying it back.

And, as this round-trip to Michigan proved, you pay more than just money to settle a greenhouse gas emissions debt. However, the slower rate of travel had some benefits, too. Tune in to PART 2 of this post for answers to questions posed at the beginning of this post.

Hurricane Laura also traveled generally to the north-east as we drove on those August 2020 days. It killed fourteen people, half of them by carbon monoxide poisoning from the use of generators indoors. Power was knocked out for days for 360,000 people. As late as September 2, tanker access to liquid natural gas plants and oil refineries was still limited by debris and salvage operations in the waterways which lead to those plants.

Hurricane Laura, which one was that? There were so many this year. And so many last year. It sucks to have your home destroyed by fire or hurricane. Not so much to spend a couple thousand more for a car, and a bit more time fueling your vehicle.

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New fast chargers in our area

New fast chargers in our area

The daisy-chain of high-speed chargers planned for the US-285/US-160 corridor between Cortez and Denver is finally springing to life. Pagosa Springs (445 Pagosa St.) has a new fast charger with CHAdeMO and CCS/SAE connectors (adaptor required for Tesla). The new chargers are right downtown, overlooking the river, next to the existing level II chargers. There are two stations, each with both types of connector; if both connectors for a given station are in use, each connector will deliver 62.5 kW, but a single user will receive 125 kW. The full amount will charge most pure electric vehicles to 80% of full charge in 30-50 minutes.

Next in line is Durango, where a similar Charge Point fast-charging station is planned for early 2021 at the transit center (250 W. 8th St.). Further west there are existing fast chargers in Bluff UT and Monticello UT; further north there are similar but slightly slower (62.5 kW) chargers in Lake City CO and Creede CO. The Tesla Superchargers (150 kW) in our area are in Farmington NM (4200 Sierra Vista Dr.) and Blanding UT (12 N. Grayson Parkway).

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New Mexico Charges Up EV Infrastructure!

Some great Earth Day news from New Mexico for EV drivers! New Mexico awarded the maximum amount allowed under the Volkswagen settlement agreement, 2.7 million, for electric vehicle charging infrastructure projects. More than 116 new charging stations will be built in 23 of New Mexico’s 33 counties.

In a rural state like New Mexico, installing charging infrastructure is critical to encouraging and increasing the use of electric vehicles, resulting in fewer emissions and better air quality, as well as decreasing the state’s contribution to global warming.

NMED’s VW Settlement Funding Recipient Announcement

The chargers planned for the Four Corners area include:

  • Farmington – Level 2 at Farmington Workforce Development Connection,
  • Five DC Fast Chargers (DCFC) and 11 Level 2 chargers for various municipalities and the Picuris and Taos Pueblos in the Kit Carson Electric Coop service area,
  • Santa Fe – Several new Level 2 locations,
  • Albuquerque – Many new Level 2 locations, including the UNM Hospital and UNM Campus, and DCFCs at the Sunport Airport and Bernallio Road Runner Station,
  • Los Alamos – DCFC and a Level 2 at the White Rock Visitors Center,
  • AND forty-nine new DCFC stations across the state.

The Earth Day Announcement didn’t include a timeline for the installation of these charging stations. Keep an eye on PlugShare over the next year to see where they pop up.

Here’s a link to the complete list of charging station locations. And here’s a link to NM Environment Department’s full announcement.

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Electrify America – Problems and Solutions for Non-Tesla Fast-Chargers

Grand Junction Fast charger
Electrify America Fast Chargers (for Non-Teslas), Grand Junction, CO

Electrify America (EA) is the organization charged with installing fast chargers along all US Interstate Highways for non-Tesla battery electric vehicles (BEVs). In the Four Corners, we care about them because they will help connect us to the rest of the country. For example, in 2018 I could not drive my Chevy Bolt from Durango, CO to Flagstaff, AZ without making a two day trip of it to allow for overnight charging time. Since May 2019, when an EA charger was installed at Gallup, NM, I can now make the trip in a day with a fast charge in Gallup before continuing west on I-40. As more people begin to feel comfortable in their BEVs, more of us are pushing the limits of our range anxiety. The last thing we need to hear is one of the few fast-chargers available to us might not be working when we arrive at it.

EA’s roll-out has not been smooth. Trouble with credit card readers not working, brand-new chargers not working, and apparently the charge plugs getting locked on to Audi e-tron ports. The website insideevs.com contacted EA about the problems. Instead of providing a “public relations whitewash”, EA invited insideevs.com to their headquarters to talk about the problems, their roots and the work towards solutions. Read the whole story here: Electrify America Talks Charging Network Problems, Has Solutions

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