The best way to charge an electric vehicle is to use renewable energy to emit no pollution. That is what two e-globetrotters did today with their Citroen C-Zero near San Francisco, at the 150MW Shiloh II wind plant operated by EnXco. When Xavier Degon and Antonin Guy took the road back in February from Strasbourg, France they wanted to bring awareness on electric mobility as a viable daily mode of transportation.
Not everybody can connect today to clean energy, even less take a year off to tour around the world. Nine companies including EDF, the parent company of EnXco, are sponsoring the project called Electric Odyssey. But the two adventurers argue that "If we can do a world tour in a standard electric car, you can use it for your daily rides!”. For Xavier and Antonin, it has been an interesting journey across the US in the last month. They will head to Japan next week and be back to France in September after driving through 17 countries, just in time for the 2012 Paris Motor Show.
Fans of the Electric Odyssey can follow the two adventurers who were inspired by the original trip around the world of Andre Citroen in the thirties. Each night, Xavier and Antonin download pictures from their iPad connected to the Internet thanks to a M2M devices provided by Orange, another sponsor of the project. "Pluggers" can also invite them on the web portal to stop at their place for a recharge.
That is the case of Lisa in San Francisco: “Please stop by for a charge from our solar-powered 220V charger. And enjoy a walk through San Francisco's Mission District while you're juicing up... lots of restaurants, fun shopping and great people watching! Have a great trip, sounds like a fantastic journey.”
I caught up with Xavier and Antonin at one of the wind turbine location in Solona County. "Most people we have talked to during our trip are very friendly", stated Xavier Degon. Every 50 mile or so, they ask for someone to allow them to connect to their plug. "Only 10% of the time, people say no, either because they are afraid it is going to cost them a lot, or they think maybe our car is going to blow up their electrical system".
Thanks to the support of EnXco, they were able to do a "clean charge". Most of the electricty grid today is powered with fossil fuels like coal or nuclear. Each wind turbine on Shilo II plant generates up to 2MW and is connected to the grid. In this case, the power came from a nearby turbine. The turbine site that the car used was not producing energy at that moment due to the direction of the wind but other turbines on location. "It was honestly a green charge" stated Sandi Briner, Director of Communication for EnXco.
The power generated by the turbines is fed to the grid via the local sub-station. PG&E purchases the electricity under a 20-year agreement to satisfy with the California targets for renewable energy. EnXco remains in charge of the operations and maintenance. “They are good turbines so they do not require a lot of repair. But there is a lot of electronic components so there is quite a bit of preventive maintenance” explained to me one of the staff members of the Shilo II operations. Two maintenance interventions are all the cattle see every year. Herds of cows and sheeps are still pasturing on the land where the wind turbines are installed.
Xavier and Antonin used an extension cord to connect their electric vehicle to the control mainframe with a standard AC power plug available (picture above). Charging time depends. With a standard outlet, it takes 8 hours to do a full recharge but it takes less than 3 hours with higher current charging stations. They tested one in Sacramento on their way to the wind power plant off Highway 80.
They have a $300 energy budget for their tour around the world, a fraction of the cost it would take with a gasoline car. That is maybe the biggest message of their tour. Electric vehicles are not only cleaner but also cheaper to drive. This resonated with the people they met along their trip from New York City to San Francisco.
"The price of gas is on everybody's mind. Independence to foreign oil is usually the main reason people are interested in learning about electric vehicle", explained Xavier Degon. It did not matter whether they were in the Midwest or California. The Citroen C-Zero, available as the Mitsubishi MiEV in the US, is a competitor of the Nissan LEAF. Sales of plug-ins are starting to take-off now that mainstream brands like Toyota and GM are making them available in addition to new entrants Tesla Motors and Coda Automotive.
After Japan, the Electric Odyssey will go through Thailand, China, Russia and Eastern Europe. “'The most challenging area will be the border between China and Kazakhstan” noted Xavier Degon. There is little electricity infrastructure and they are not sure they will be able to plug-in at the locations they planned. "People may not be there and electricity is sometimes only available 10 hours per day in that country known for oil and gas extraction".
A proper infrastructure is required to power millions of electric vehicles on the road as California and Europe want to achieve by 2020. The automaker conglomerate PSA, parent company of Citroen, is working with EDF in France to see how the electricity grid can support a massive deployment of electric vehicles. The pilot project is limited to 100 vehicles in Paris but EDF is taking into account that application as the energy giant retrofits France with smart meters.
Antoine Aslanides, Director of Innovation for North America at EDF, estimates the cost of the retrofit to $8Bn. Deploying millions of smart meters and providing a good quality of service is not a small endeavor, and that is just one part of the smart grid. Allowing a larger contribution of renewable energies is even more challenging due to intermittence.
However, the intersection of smart grids and electric vehicles is a new opportunity for renewable energy developers beyond traditional applications that require subsidies. For example, the main solar installer in the French Island of La Reunion, Sunzil owned by EDF and Total, is working with the local Renault dealer to deploy solar powered charging stations. According to Yannick Melle, the Director of Sunzil’s operations in La Reunion, the launch of Renault plug-in models on the island is an opportunity to compensate partially for the loss of business following the end of generous solar subsidies.
Renault is also working closely with Better Place, the company headquartered in Silicon Valley. The start-up, led by the former SAP xecutive Shai Agassi, recently delivered the first 100 Fluence cars in Israel. They have plans to deploy an electric car service infrastructure in several countries including Denmark. Their idea is a bit different as they designed the cars so owners do not pay for the battery up-front but get it from Better Place.
The key will be ease of use as well as guaranteeing that the energy comes from renewables rather than coal or other fossil fuels. Zero emission charging is not yet a reality but initiatives like the Electric Odyssey with EnXco engages the public and various stake-holders to deliver on the promise in the next few years. Tomorrow, the two adventurers will be hosted by the French community in Palo Alto and watch the “Revenge of the Electric Car”.