Sports cars got a fast start at the Detroit Auto Show last week while sales of electric vehicles are growing slowly. Transportation is only one way to reduce carbon footprint, and it seems that environmental concerns are taking a back-seat compared to speed and elegance. Tesla's Model S won the car of the year award in 2012 by surprising the auto fans with its best-in-class performance.
Auto manufacturers are still excited about the potential of EV's. Earlier this year, Ford announced a new energy initiative at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas , in partnership with Eaton, SunPower and Whirlpool. A study done in collaboration with Georgia Institute of Technology shows that a typical American family can reduce its carbon foot-print by 55% by combining renewable energy generation and smart devices such as plug-in vehicles and new home appliances.
I have talked before about the convergence of home and transportation, and the second generation of solar about to take place. I decided to talk to Ford about MyEnergi Lifestyle program, as well as their hands-on experience at the assembly factory in Michigan where they installed 500 kW of solar panels and 2 MWh of energy storage. Their take-aways are interesting.
Ford partnered two years ago with Detroit Edison and Xtreme Power to dramatically reduce carbon footprint at their factory in Wayne, MI where the Focus and Focus Electric models are assembled (picture below - courtesdy of Ford Motor Company). The fact that the initiative took place in Michigan is a surprise in itself. When it comes to green initiatives, the states of California and Michigan find themselves at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Last November, major green ballot initiatives had very different outcomes in the two industrial States. While California voted for additional funding for green projects and is on schedule to meet its 33% target by 2020, Michigan voters overwhelmingly rejected a similar proposal last November to generate 25% of its energy portfolio from solar, wind or biomass by 2025.
The current state of excitement for alternative energy in Michigan is actually representative of the rest of the country: Ford's pick-up truck series remains the top seller in the US while Toyota's Prius hybrid series took the number one spot in California. Like the rest of the US, Michigan still relies heavily on fossil fuels to make up the majority of its energy portfolio.
In 2011, 54% of Michigan's net electricity came from coal, followed by nuclear with 30%. What does this mean for drivers who are considering to switch to an Electric Vehicle (EV)? An EV powered in Detroit generates as much green house gas emissions as gasoline-powered vehicle with a 38 mileage-per-gallon (MPG). For the same EV, the number is 79 MPG in San Francisco. It really depends on where you plug-in (picture below - courtsey of Union of Concerned Scientists). Solar or wind powered EV's are the only vehicles to achieve close to zero emissions.
Ford adressed this issue at their Michigan assembly facility by integrating solar and energy storage. "The effect of the load of the vehicles charged on site was not seen by the grid, but it was instead supplied by the battery storage system", explained Jeffery White, Energy Efficiency Manager at Ford Motor Company. The battery storage system from Xtreme Power included 2 MWh of lead acid batteries and was powered by the 500 kW solar facility via the local substation and the distribution system at the factory.
Actually, Ford also considered to use re-purposed batteries from EV's. But they ran into many technology issues as there is currently no standard to control batteries from different makers, and the software interface to the hardware is often proprietary. "The owners of the IP are not very willing to share how to integrate the batteries and allow us to re-use them" according to Mr. White.
As a result, Ford changed the scope and direction of the project a bit. "We converted ten of the switcher type trucks that move parts on-site between our stamping facility and our assembly facility", shared the Ford representative. The trucks were upgraded from a diesel to an electric powertrain with Lithium Iron batteries from Balqon (picture below - courtesy of Balqon).
In addition, Ford installed 100A/ 480V/3-phase drops for each individual charger at the plant so the trucks could be recharged quickly mid-day. Trucks could also be recharged during the night using clean power from the sun and not from dirtier sources on the grid. That is the value for the local utility, Detroit Edison, because it is difficult to integrate a large amount of intermittent electricity back into the grid.
This is also a challenge from homes that deploys solar panels on their roof. I asked Ford if they planned to make an offering to the home market like Nissan did in Japan. The answer is no. They see themsleves part of the overall eco-system, and the project in Michigan was a pilot project to understand the economic benefits. They see the business case today to convert vehicles using batteries but they think they are too expensive still to be deployed within buildings.
Jeffery White decides to rephrase the question: "How do we as a nation leverage the existing infrastructure to maximize the capability to generate electricity so we don't have to make tremendous investments to meet the demand for Electric Vehicles as their load increases on the grid?" There is a lot of discussion right now on how not to penalize EV owners when they plug-in at their home.
Georgia Institute of Technology computer model predicts a 60 percent reduction in energy costs and savings of more than 9,000 kg of CO2 (55%t reduction) from a single home when changes from a MyEnergi Lifestyle product are incorporated. If every home in the U.S. were to implement these energy-saving technologies, it would be the equivalent of taking all the homes in California, New York and Texas off the power grid (32 million homes).
“More than ever, cars are sharing the same energy source as the home,” stated at CES 2013 Mike Tinskey, global director of Vehicle Electrification and Infrastructure, Ford Motor Company. “The time is right for the home appliance and transportation sectors to converge if we are going to tackle a myriad of sustainability challenges in a rapidly changing world.”