Sunday, July 31, 2016

Public Charging Awareness Needed!

To say there is an energetic debate or who should be ponying up the cash for a public charging network is probably an understatement as compared to any question except maybe the question, "Will we need a public charging system when the 200 mile EVs come out?"

Well both questions are flawed, both rely on weak premises, and both center on all or nothing ideologies.

The need for a public charging network will always be great even with 200 mile EVs clogging the streets.  Why is that you ask? Unlike gas, one can leave home with a full 200 mile range meaning any charging network that would be needed would be something following the freeways, right?

Well, no... not even close.  There are several factors at work here and the biggest factor is the assumption that people will see the immediate value of an "affordable" EV in the $35,000 range (which would be true on the TCO over a relatively short period of time)  and flock to them instead of buying the much referred to new $32,000 gasoline car.  Well saving money is always a big consideration but emotions generally play the biggest part of an automobile purchase which means if you filter out trucks (average selling price over $40,000) sports cars, full sized SUVs, etc. you quickly find the selling price of the market that a 200 mile EV would be siphoning from is basically two segments; the car priced in the mid 20's.  The next segment would be the "bargain, commuter only" car in the high teens and low 20's.  Now we have a $10,000-$15,000 price difference to explain away.  And yes, compelling offers in the EV arena will siphon sales from all categories but we are just sticking with general trends.

It is this reason why the 100 mile EV is here to stay and stay for a long time. Now a few things to understand here. No amount of innovation will drive the price extremely low so compromises will need to be made. Nissan had a GREAT idea when they released a stripped down LEAF.  This is a very viable niche.  Supply a 100 mile EV (using the 30 kwh pack) at a price starting in the mid 20's and you WILL have a hit on your hands.  This is a niche car for sure but a niche that a huge majority of households have. The 2nd car primarily used during the week to drive back and forth (usually alone) to work!

Wait! you say.  The S Trim is currently in the low 30's without the 30 kwh pack so how we gonna get it to the mid 20's with the pack?  Well, remember the $7500 fed credit is still in effect and if in WA, you are saving another $3,000 by not paying sales tax so that actually brings it to the low 20's!  Now the only thing to work on is lowering costs between now and the time the Fed Credit ends, which is not an insurmountable challenge by any means. (the State Credit is in until 2019)  Either way, one thing that is very clear and that is not supplying the 30 kwh battery to the S Trim was a monumental mistake on Nissan's part.  I fully expect that to change for 2017 but because of the fed credit wind down (made famous by Tesla's goal of milking for as much as they can) Nissan and others probably have at least 2 more years to get the price right.

The credit remains at 100% until the quarter after the quarter in which the sales figure is reached. The sales limit is 200,000 per manufacturer so suppose Nissan hits that number the first day of a new quarter say July 1st for example. They would have the full credit for the remainder of the quarter plus the next quarter ending Dec 31, meaning the first reduction to 50% of the credit would not happen until Jan 1st of the next year.

Either way, more choices, more range, more EVers means one thing; our current, already inadequate public charging system is not going to work.  Right now its common to have to wait for someone to finish their charge before you can start yours.  During 3 day holiday weekends, popular stations (which in the public charging world means "working and the only option for 50 miles!") can have 3 or 4 cars waiting.

So public charging needs a shot in the arm, a HUGE one.  What is needed is a "Moonshot" effort to get the network built as soon as possible.  But waiting on private industry to do it has simply not worked. We have several networks that are here and there that provides bare bones coverage in most areas.  (We still have VERY desirable locations unreachable by LEAF)

So why is this happening?  In most areas, charging companies are now pretty much on their own to expand their networks. Federal assistance has all but dried up. New installations now are usually due to a benefactor AKA host willing to pay for nearly everything.  NRG made a big splash in the Pacific Northwest early Summer of 2015 announcing fast charger placements at 4 major malls. The speed in which they were installed gave everyone hope that NRG was a motivated player who was "all in" for us!

Well, that was not the case.  In reality the likely story was a single company, Simon Malls who put up the money for the initial installs. Unfortunately, there are only 4 Simon Malls in Western Washington so additional expansion, though ongoing, has been painfully slow. The ongoing issue of providing access to the Washington Coast is still completely unresolved.   Add to the fact that NRG has a subscription requirement for decent pricing which complicates the matters because nearly no one is in a position to access these far flung locations on a regular basis, making the subscription model, the one year contract requirement, and early termination fee very undesirable. In defense of NRG; I do know two people who terminated their subscriptions early without penalty. Now both had very valid reasons so maybe NRG simply did the right thing instead of not holding fast to the policy.  Now, I am not familiar with NRG's newer installs in the area but guessing it was due to hosts stepping up and paying for most of the costs and why do I think this?

Demand charges are a monthly fee added to an electricity bill if a draw exceeding a predetermined level is maintained for a period of time. (15 minutes in some cases) The charge is levied once per month and is for each KW over the threshold.  This can add hundreds of dollars to the monthly bill and some localities only apply the demand charge based on the highest usage for the previous year meaning one poorly timed fast charge could have a year long consequence!

Now one could argue that demand charges can be mitigated by having multiple meters at one location but most utilities have that covered as well. Several schedules have very large basic monthly fees. I went thru EVERY schedule Puget Sound Energy offered and looks like this would be the best option.  Now, even the busiest location is not likely to use anywhere near this much power during the month.

Now Puget Sound Energy has dozens of schedules for billing customers and here is one example. Here demand charges don't start until the instantaneous usage exceeds 50 KW which is actually fairly generous compared to several utilities in the region.  So imagine a "bare bones" charging station consisting of a single fast charger and 2 L2's.   Keeping in mind that only a brief time at high power usage is all that is needed to create a demand charge, we could see a 30 kwh LEAF at 45 KW along with 2 other LEAFs each pulling 6 KW or a total of  57 KW.  Now we are seeing a demand charge "starting" at $42.14 to $63.14. (7 times the applicable demand rate)  The problem is that there will be other power needs present including lighting and connectivity needs.  Also keep in mind; these are somewhat "low ball" figures considering that charging speeds will only be going up.

Unfortunately these "favorable" rates are not everywhere. In Washington, the Pacific Coast is a highly desirable location especially for simply spending the day walking (or driving) along beach.  But there is no real charging network located there. Yes, there is one at a lodge past Ocean Shores (unreachable by a 24 kwh LEAF) and an L2 at the Chevy Dealership in town but on a day trip, only fast charging will allow the trip to happen.  A quick glance at Grays Harbor PUD business rates quickly reveals why this is likely true.

In my travels for work I talk with a lot of business and franchisee owners including a business owner in Aberdeen, WA who drives a Chevy Volt. He was mulling the idea of putting in charging stations at his 3 business locations but was hesitant over the cost.  This was back in 2012 and I was completely unfamiliar with what businesses had to deal with and I thought demand charges was something only high cost Californians dealt with. Imagine my shock when I look at his bill and realized it STARTED at $500 BEFORE any usage costs were added in.   Now to be fair, he had gas pumps (which he did not pay any of the cost of including the electric bill) and his one other location that had no gas was a bargain where the bill was roughly "only" $300 before any usage charges were added.

Unlike Puget Sound Energy, Grays Harbor PUD applies a demand fee on EVERY KW! (Kudos to Snohomish PUD where demand fees start after 100 KW!) All of a sudden, it becomes very clear why there are no fast chargers in Grays Harbor County!  In reality; the only way to affordably put in charging stations is the "Small Use" rates which have a $20 service fees, higher usage rates starting at 9 cents per kwh but no demand charges. Problem with that is you are restricted to 200 amp service (240 volt feed) or 48 KW. Not sure what the continuous load restrictions are but if its the 80% max then we are looking at 38.4 KW which means barely enough for 3-4 L2's with some over head for lights, etc.... But the number of L2's doesnt really matter unless we can blanket the area with them making them destination chargers.

With these kinds of obstacles, it becomes very clear that governmental intervention is needed. Puget Sound Energy  is regulated by Washington Utilities and Transportation (WOW if that is not an EV marriage dream come true!!) Commission (UTC) and I think this ( is where we need to start. Unfortunately, this is only a start and it doesn't even address the horrors of being a business customer of Grays Harbor PUD. So what is the right answer?

Maybe a requirement to allow fast chargers to get demand fees waived. Or perhaps require certain amount of fast chargers to be installed in a county based on EV registrations. Either way, there is no perfect solution and only State law can force privately owned public utilities to comply.

Currently WA State is in the process of launching a new program funded by the increase in EV registration fees that will earmark one million dollars to encourage private investment in charging stations.  The ideology is the hope that grants and other financial incentives will lower the start up costs and attract local businesses.  But with ongoing demand fees, I am afraid areas like Grays Harbor will find very few takers.

 I have struggled with the end of this blog for several days now. An easy solution to this issue is simply not there. It has become much clearer to me why public charging is struggling here. There is a lot of obstacles including us EVers who quite frankly are clueless as to how expensive it is to maintain a charging station.  We only know the 8-10 cents per kwh we pay at home.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

June 2016 Drive Report; Gas Tax Goes Up, EV Registration Fees Go Up, Commuting Time Goes Up

As mentioned several times, my lease mileage is not going to survive til the end of my lease (Dec 2016) so I made the painful decision to gas it a bit more this month... a BIG bit more.

The Corolla drove 1108.2 miles at a cost of $67.81 or 6.1 cents per mile.  It gathered no other expenses other than few top offs of the oil here and there.  My previous long term plan was to drive the Corolla until it needed tires then dump it but the additional load its taking on might force my hand on the tire thing. Sucks...

The LEAF went 1248.9 miles costing $30.09 or 2.4 cents per mile. This includes $8.10 in public charging fees as my free settlement juicing has sadly expired. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted and it was nice to see how the other 90% lives (me being one of the very very few to have driven two new LEAFs without NCTC...) At just under 39,000 miles, I have 6,000 lease miles and just under 6 months to go... *sigh*

Anyway, enough of this; on to life!!  Its July and its supposed to be getting hotter (week long forecast for the mid to upper 60's here) eventually so the concern here is fast charging during the heat of Summer.  Now, I haven't had a lot of chances to test this since my charging times tend to be as far from the heat of the day as one can get when a lot of them happening before 6 AM but did have one this week.

On Monday after a very long day, we had to stop and charge at the Blink in Fife with temps hovering in the mid 80's all day.  I started the charge and the battery temp (have to think its an anomaly) jumped from 77 to 89º within 20 seconds (LEAF Spy had only been running a few seconds before the charge started)  I charged for 24 mins gathering 12.48 kwh. Temps started at 89/90/90.1, finished at  97/98.6/96.6. Took off and continued upwards to 99.6/100.6/96.4.  This heat up after charging was complete did happen in stop and go traffic with ambients in the upper 70's (it was 8:24 PM) and only lasted a few minutes, roughly 3 minutes and 12 seconds.

Now the ambient pack temps being in the high 80's is very believable as we had been crawling along I-5 with the pavement probably very close to 90º even at that late hour (Sun was still up)

In other news; this month signals the cost of driving going up.  The WA State gas tax goes up 4.9 cents per gallon moving us to 2nd place in that race.  The EV registration tax goes up to $150.  The extra $50 will be partly used to fund a pilot program encouraging private businesses to host charging stations in the form of grants and favorable pricing.  The fund will be capped at one million dollars and before you ask; no, the fee will not drop back down to its previous $100 level when the money has been collected. As far as the gas tax hike; it apparently isn't enough. My local gas stop's prices did not budge an inch after the increase.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

To Tax Or Not To Tax?

Recently a Seattle LEAFer posted a comment urging support for lesser vehicle tab renewal fees.  In some areas, EVers are faced with a $150 EV tab fee along with a Mass transit support tax which can push the annual renewal fees on their LEAFs to over $300.

Well his suggestion did not go over well with the forum and there was a lot of valid reasons why although I am disturbed that we are seeing great programs slighted or simply getting lost in the big picture.  I can understand whining about a $150 EV tax fee (I can understand the dissention but I FULLY support the fee) but then sacrificing the parks system by saying no to $5?? Yeah, that's right; FIVE BUCKS!

So what is the real issue here? overtaxed EVers? Not quite.  Its gasoline withdrawals.  We have been spoiled by the subsidized cost of driving our gasoline cars which has been underfunded for decades.  This allowed us to become addicted to super cheap transportation. So how did this happen?

Loss of Free Choice

Think back to all the old car commercials you remembered seeing as a kid. What is the one theme that you remember most?  Being stuck in traffic? Sucking up someone else's exhaust?  Avoiding other careless drivers?

No, of course not.  How can anyone sell cars with those kinds of messages? What we saw was a single car driving into the Sunset alone on a highway fading into a picturesque horizon, usually a beach or mountain getaway.

Remember the Jeep ads with the car sitting on a mountain top that would challenge any Mountain Goat?  Ever wonder how that car got there? Well, no of course not because your brain was too busy absorbing the subliminal message that with a car, anything was possible!

During our brainwashing, the Oil companies were secretly insuring that our "free will" to choose the car as the primary mode of transportation had no competition. Slowly, support for the train system eroded.  Intercity transit funding faded away as Oil company lobbyists made sure every available dollar was earmarked for the support of cars, gas stations and parking lots. In fact; what little we were paying was also being minimized. The last federal gas tax increase was in 1992. Now its currently 18.4 cents per gallon. Had it been raised based on inflation it would now be 32 cents per gallon or roughly 14 more cents.

14 cents doesn't seem like much and it really isn't but it would have put billions into the support of the highway fund. Now would that 14 cents saved any lives on a Minnesota bridge? Who knows but the fact is that it hasn't been raised so the money to maintain the roads is either siphoned from another program or people die...

But the key takeaway here is that Big Oil got away with destroying public transportation because they created the illusion of free choice. We accepted what Big Oil did because in our own minds, we "chose" cars. Because of that, Big Oil was let off the hook because we were lead to believe we didn't care about mass transit.

Fast forward to today.  Most people still don't care about mass transit because they are too busy bitching about traffic and driver's with minimals skills they have to share the road with.   What is shocking to me is the ONLY reason they are there is because mass transit has been crippled to the point where it CAN'T meet the needs of a large portion of the population who would rather not drive.

Thurston County runs a shuttle service that you must qualify for based on need, income,  etc. Its primarily for the handicapped, elderly, infirmed, etc.  This program is a great idea but is hampered by overwhelming need.  I had a neighbor who drove and by every measure, her license should have been taken away YEARS ago.  We lived on a cul de sac off a main road and too many times I was stuck behind her for several minutes while she waited for a week long opening to make a right turn onto the road. Thank God she almost never turned left!   But that was the start of it. She never drove faster than 20-25 mph but was at least alert enough to pull over to allow us to pass her, something she did several times per mile!

Now some people do have a leg to stand on when complaining about taxes, especially the RTA tax levied for people in a select area to pay for a light rail system that will service the entire region.  The funds are collected by increased sales tax and vehicle registration fees for select areas of Western Washington.

Now, this may come as a shock to those who have declined to pay FIVE BUCKS to the State Parks but I am opposed to the collection of the tax because it is unfairly applied to people in the immediate area while I, who has to drive that region nearly every day, pay nothing.

This means a MUCH slower payoff, a MUCH less effective system when it is built and worst of all; a traffic situation that is getting worse and worse every day.  I posted a link on an earlier post here that stated commuting times have increased nearly 40% since 2012. That is ONLY 4 years ago!

Now, we all know that gas tax, vehicle tab renewals, etc. don't come close to paying for the roads around here. So where does the extra money come from?  Well, in some cases, it comes from the general fund, in other cases, its simply maintenance not done.  I often marvel at the differences in location around the State.  I live in the state capital of Washington and yes, that does mean something.  Right now as we speak, Highway 101 entering Olympia is being resurfaced including parts of I-5.  This part of the freeway was pretty much rut free before the resurfacing mostly because it was just resurfaced about 3-4 years ago and yes, a major portion of the resurfacing was done because of a landslide.  But the fact remains we are spending big bucks to fix a road that didn't need fixing while I-5 around Southcenter looks like ground zero of a bombing run!

So we have two issues; an inequitable spending of funds and an inequitable collection of funds. So why am I not paying my fair share! Who determined I did not want light rail to extend to Thurston County or is it simply the law makers living in Olympia have insured we have ample smooth roads to drive on?  Well, I hate to burst your bubble but the drive home which used to clear up at DuPont is now sucking ALL THE WAY TO OLYMPIA!!!