Videos of the Better Place project and battery swap.
Project Better Place
Electric car battery switching station
Videos of the Better Place project and battery swap.
Project Better Place
Electric car battery switching station
Reflecting on my interviews with various leaders in the energy efficiency space there are five things you must have to successfully reduce energy use and carbon emissions.
First you need leadership commitment.
Second you need a measurement and monitoring system. Whether you are a school (listen to Hannah Lewis, Westernport Secondary College, which has halved its energy use in the last four years) or a major corporation such as Wesfarmers, you must be able to track your progress.
Third you need more than one person active and driving the program. Witness Linfox, where a few programmers voluntarily took on the extra project of building a carbon tracking tool.
Fourth you need a well informed plan as to what you need to do. An energy audit by experienced energy efficiency engineers will provide this.
Fifth, you need investment. Money is needed to get the savings. The money could be spent on people (eg the driver training undertaken by LinfoX) or technology (eg lighting upgrades at Darebin City Council and Newcastle City Council, or the new paint plant at Toyota).
Do this and with time you’ll have a self-funding system that will continue to reduce your energy use and carbon footprint.
If you’ve bought a new home in Victoria in the last few years the builder would have impressed you by saying its an “energy efficient” 5 star home (or maybe even 6 stars).
Unfortunately even if all existing homes were converted to 5 star homes this won’t get us to the low carbon future we need. And in fact many new 5 star homes use more energy than forty year old 2 star homes. The 5 star standard is misleading, and needs to change if we are to have truly low energy homes.
The major flaw with the 5 star standard is that its focus is solely on the theoretical heating and cooling performance of the home. A 5 star home should use less energy to heat or cool per square meter than a homes with a lower rating. However the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in most Victorian homes now is not heating and cooling – its appliances! Additionally most new homes feature halogen downlights – one of the most inefficient forms of lighting on the market. Finally, there is no validation that the specified insulation and sealing of the building – key to minimising heat loss and gain – is done properly.
Homes now have more appliances in them than ever before. And I’m not talking electric can openers. In particular large screen plasma and LCD TV’s use several times more power than the modestly sized CRT screens they replaced. A large plasma TV will draw 400 watts. To put that in context, if the TV runs 12 hours a day, it will produce more than half the greenhouse gas a car produces in a year. But the Victorian home energy standard doesn’t take appliances into consideration.
Walk into any display home, and it will be filled with bright halogen downlights. For some reason these are still often linked with low power consumption because they are “low voltage”. To the contrary, to produce a given amount of light halogen downlights use five times as much power as an energy efficient fluorescent light. I’ve heard of new homes that have over 50 halogen downlights in them. If all these lights were on you would require a $40,000 solar PV system to keep them illuminated . But the Victorian home energy standard doesn’t take lighting into consideration.
The Victorian home energy standard does take heating and cooling into consideration. But only on a theoretical basis. Two fundamentals of high performance passive solar design are high levels of insulation and good sealing. The home energy rating specifies the level of insulation and sealing that a building must install in a given home. But unfortunately there is no inspection in place to verify that this level of insulation and sealing is actually installed. I recently undertook a major home extension, which required that the entire house, including the original part of the home and the extension, was a 5 star standard. I spent a lot of effort and time getting the insulation and sealing right. However, had I been lazy and not bothered to spend dozens of hours with a caulking gun and gap sealant, my house would still be classified as 5 stars because the design was certified as a 5 star design. The problem is that there is no mandated inspection to verify the quality of sealing and insulation. There are inspections for the footings and the framing, but not for the insulation and sealing. My building inspector didn’t even notice the effort I had gone to properly seal the sisalation around the windows. The home is certified as 5 star as designed but not as built. In effect its up to the builder as to whether they do the job properly or not. And considering that making sure that batts are not compressed and there are no gaps, and that all penetrations to outside must be well sealed is time consuming and costs money, why would a builder bother if there is no inspection to validate the quality of the work?
On the other hand the Australian Building Greenhouse Rating Scheme (ABGR) for commercial buildings is actually effective in reducing building energy use. The reason for this is that it is based on the actual performance of the building, based on one year’s worth of billing data. It cuts straight to the bottom line – the actual amount of greenhouse gas produced when operating the building. So the type of appliance (eg computers), the lighting, and the actual heating and cooling performance are all important to achieve a 5 star whole of building ABGR rating. These building genuinely use less energy, and produce less greenhouse gas emissions, than lower star buildings.
The bottom line when it comes to averting dangerous climate change is reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The residential 5 star standard isn’t achieving this, because it doesn’t focus on the bottom line – the actual energy use and greenhouse gas emissions of the home when occupied and in use.
Yesterday Better Place announced that Canberra would be the first site in the national rollout of its electric vehicle recharge network.
Construction of the network will begin in 2011, with services available to electric vehicle owners from 2012.
ActewAGL – the electricity distribution business and retailer in the ACT – responsible for sourcing and distributing the renewable energy that Better Place will use to power electric vehicles within the ACT. “A significant influence on our decision to choose Canberra was the enthusiasm and support we have received from Michael Costello and his team at ActewAGL” said Evan Thornley, Chief Executive Officer of Better Place Australia.
The deployment of the network will include:
The vision of Shai Agassi, Better Place founder, is for electric vehicles to be cheaper and more convenient than fossil fuel powered cars. Australia is one of three countries where the technology is being rolled out globally. Its great to see this vision now being translated into concrete plans.
Linfox is well known for the “You are passing another Fox” sign on the back of its vehicles. But the company has also cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 9% in the last eighteen months, and is on track to cut its emissions by 15% by December 2010.
I had the privilege of interviewing David McInnes, Group Manager Environment and Climate Change yesterday and being inspired about Linfox’s approach to the climate change challenge. It was refreshing not to hear the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme mentioned once in the interview. Linfox is reducing its carbon emissions because it wants to, not because its being forced to, and is quietly getting on with it.
So how does a organisation with 15,000 staff, whose carbon emissions mostly come from diesel consumed in trucks, reduce its per km emission by 9% in eighteen months? You can find the interview on our “Good News Interviews” page.
For me a couple of the standouts from the interview were:
After the interview we discussed Linfox’s Greenfox program, and I wish I had left the voice recorder on. This is a fantastic program. Staff can become a Greenfox by passing five training modules. Everyone who completes the training gets a framed certificate, and drivers who complete the training get a Greenfox badge on the shoulder of their uniform. David mentioned that Greenfox’s often become ambassadors, with truck drivers going to their kid’s schools and talking about climate change.
Also not covered in the interview was the great help David got from Linfox’s IT department in modifying SAP. Normally there is a long queue in the organisation for projects requiring SAP changes. The carbon accounting adjustments though were undertaken by the SAP programmers on top of their normal requirements, such was their commitmen to the company reducing its carbon footprint.
Finally David also spoke off the record about the need to focus less on the science and more on the community and the emotional response that when sparked can result in great change.
As one of Australia’s larger businesses Linfox is taking a leadership role by getting on with reducing its corporate carbon footprint. David McInnes is providing inspirational leadership. Take half an hour to listen to David McInnes and I guarantee you’ll come away motivated and hopeful about what is possible if we focus on cutting carbon emission.
Today I had the fortune to see Shai Agassi, founder of Better Place, talk about his vision for the electric car future. Shai calls himself an imaginer – “I imagine the future and engineer towards it”. His vision of an electric car future is elegant, simple, and achievable. Australia is a key part of his strategy to get the world to a tipping point which results in all cars becoming electric.
For electric cars to replace petrol cars they must be cheaper and more convenient. Yet the electric cars available now are more expensive and less convenient because of their short range and limited recharging options.
One of the keys to Shai’s vision is treating the battery – the single most expensive component in an electric vehicle – like gasoline. The battery becomes a consumable, not owned by the car owner. By taking out the battery its possible to make vehicles that are price competitive with gasoline vehicles.
A second key is the electricity grid, which is everywhere, and which he called “the longest extension lead in the world”. By extending the grid to having recharging points where cars are parked, vehicles can be charged whenever they are not in use. Better Place will be buying only wind or solar generated electricity for use in its vehicles.
A third key, for longer trips, is batteries that can be swapped over in a minute. The first prototype has just been built in Japan. So on a long trip (over 200kms) you pull into a battery station, change your battery, then keep going. It will take less time to change your battery than to fill your car for petrol. For a typical suburban vehicle typically there would be around 12 to 15 battery changes per year.
Paying per km you travel – for the electricity and battery amortisation – is still cheaper than the equivalent cost of petrol per km.
The result is:
Of course a large investment is needed to build the infrastructure – the recharging points and battery change stations. But if cars are cheaper, if they cost less to run, if petrol is only going to keep increasing in price, and if there is going to be continued regulation and incentive to reduce carbon emissions this is not a insurmountable hurdle.
Shai believes that the “tipping point” will be reached once three countries have proven the concept. Then the rest of the world is likely to follow – and follow quickly. The first country is Israel, which first supported the idea. Renault are investing one billion dollars in producing a electric vehicle, which will first be sold in Israel; they are aiming to sell 150,000 vehicles in the next few years. The second country is Denmark. And the third country is Australia, with Looksmart founder and former Victorian parliamentarian Evan Thornley heading up Better Place in Australia. Australia was chosen for a couple of reasons. First its big, unlike Israel and Denmark, and thus provides a demonstration that the technology is suited to big and small countries. Secondly we have large sprawling cities, involving a long suburb to city commute, not dissimilar to many North American cities. A third reason would be that we have a relatively small population of cars, so the net capital cost is relatively low. Shai also said that Australia has lots of Lithium, iron and phosphate, the components used in electric vehicle batteries.
With a country full of electric cars, each with large storage capacity, the intermittent nature of electricity generation from wind and solar can be overcome. When the wind blows and the sun shines batteries in parked cars everywhere will be charged. When its calm and cloudy cars can then feedback into the network. And we move towards the smart grid or distributed network.
The choice of Evan Thornley as Australian CEO is interesting. Clearly Better Place will need tremendous IT and communication infrastructure to communicate with vehicles and the smart grid and monitor battery condition and charge levels. Its hard to go past one of the people who was involved in driving widescale uptake of the internet as a leader.
This future is not that far away. Various governments around the world are now offering subsidies to those who purchase electric vehicles. And in Beijing gasoline cars will be progressively banned from the streets. By 2014 no fossil fuel powered vehicles will be allowed in Beijing.
Shai believes that within 10 years we could have three to four million drivers using electric vehicles in Australia.
Shai Agassi spoke at the inaugural 2009 Alfred Deakin eco-innovation lecture. These lectures will feature optimistic innovation driving a more sustainable world. Shai’s positive vision is a great inspiration and a fantastic way of kicking off the lectures.
Virtual desktops provides large computer energy savings and are becoming easier to deploy. Great for schools, universities and offices!
Most of the time only a small fraction of a computer’s power is being used. If you took a office or school with say 100 PCs, with an average load of say 15%, in effect 85 of the PCs would be redundant if it was possible to take advantage of the full power of 15 PCs across 100 work stations.
By employing “thin client” or “virtual desktops” this is made possible. With virtual desktops one PC “box” can then be used to power multiple workstations. This leads to very large energy savings. Additionally by reducing the number of “boxes” there is a resource saving. Maintenance costs are reduced and total lifecycle cost is lower.
There are some impressive examples of where this technology is now being used. Ncomputing is a vendor of virtual desktops, with 180,000 units deployed in schools in Macedonia. Canon in Thailand are using virtual PCs, as is DHL in Peru. In the USA virtual desktops are being used in schools in California and Wisconsin. In Australia its customers include schools such as Wondonga South Primary (Vic), Brighton Public School (SA), MacGregor State High (Qld).
In Australia Gold Creek and Parlmerston district schools in the ACT are using thing client computers supplied by Dycom. RMIT University in Melbourne is also using thin clients.
Take up of thin clients could however be much stronger. Victoria’s Department of Education and Early Childhood Development has reported weak demand from schools inquiring about the National Secondary School Computer Fund which is part of the Commonwealth Government’s Digital Education Revolution.
The flexibility of notebook computers is certainly an advantage over thin clients. However for total minimum power use and minimum life cycle cost and resource use its hard to beat a thin client or virtual desktop system. Thin clients should certainly be seriously considered by anyone involved in computer purchasing and network administration.
General Electric is developing “smart” appliances that can integrate with “smart meters” and thus potentially schedule loads in a way that reduces maximum demand.
With time of use pricing in place, the GE system will use pricing information to schedule loads real time. So for example if a washing machine was running it might switch it off if the price of electricity increased, then switch it back on again when the price dropped.
GE have a dedicated website looking at the smart grid as part of its “eco-imagination” drive. If you have the patience for the flash animation to download its a superficial visual view of the smart grid and smart meters, but with little detail of the technology.
I attended a workshop today in Melbourne run by iGrid, a consortium of universities and the CSIRO preparing a model of the intelligent energy grid of the future.
Its been identified that peak demand, which is rising faster than electricity consumption, is one of the most critical issues that a distributed generation network can address.
Dr. Muriel Watt, Chair of the Australian Photovoltaic Association and Project Manager with IT Power gave a presentation about the future pricing of PV, with similar themes touched on by Michael Williamson from Sustainability Victoria.
Solar PV prices have historically decreased by roughly 20% for every doubling of global production. At current growth trends this means that the cost of PV generated electricity in Australia is likely to reach grid parity within the next five to ten years. “Grid parity” meaning that the cost of generating electricity from a PV system will be equal to the cost of buying electricity off the grid. This assumes some government support.
The $8,000 government rebate for a 1kW system has resulted in around 100,000 Australian households now having PV systems. As prices continue to lower it will become economic for business to also install PV.
As prices approach grid parity and take up of PV systems grows strongly we should see a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Most of these systems will be grid connect. Along with the uptake of other technologies, such as small scale co-generation, the electrical distribution grid will be transformed from one that provides for a one way flow of energy to one in which two way flows are experienced.
This in itself will generate other challenges, such as the need for energy storage in the grid. Several presenters discussed electric cars as a storage solution. Most cars are in use for less than two hours a day, and the rest of the day, if the appropriate infrastructure exists, could provide storage capacity to the electrical network.
There will need to be significant investment into the electricity distribution network to make it smart. Regulatory changes will be needed to facilitate this.
The upcoming “smart meter” rollout in Victoria, set to start over the next few months, is just one step in this direction. The distribution network itself needs to get smarter (so for example voltages can be adjusted), and the information collected by the smart meters should be made available to customers to result in a more effective demand side response, particularly if time of use pricing is introduced. There is opportunity for innovative new products to use this data to shift loads and influence consumer behaviour.
A few months ago I wrote a blog posting about how tighter regulation of electricity supply voltages could save Australia 15 million tonnes of greenhouse gas a year.
However a comment on that posting suggested that voltage reduction may not result in any useful savings.
Below I report on the results of an experiment we undertook to identify how much power can be saved, if any, by operating equipment at a lower voltage.
We measured a variety of single phase loads at different voltages. A variable transformer was used to vary the voltage. A German made Power Tech plus plug in power meter was used to measure voltage, current, power and power factor at the different loads. Loads experimented with included typical single phase lights, computer equipment and a fan.
The experimental set up is shown above. Below is a graph showing the results of the testing.
This graph clearly shows that for common lighting loads power consumption decreases with decreased voltage
The reduction in power consumption with the T5 fluorescent (with an electronic ballast) was unexpected.
The fan, with a single phase (shaded pole?) motor, also used less power with lower voltage, interestingly the power factor improved as voltage was lowered, with the power factor the highest at 220 volts.
The PC computer and monitor both showed lowest power consumption at 230 and 240 volts, but power consumption generally did not decrease with voltage. Power factor improved a little at lower voltages.
This experiment shows that for a variety of loads power consumption is in fact less at lower voltage.
For heating or cooling loads equipment may need to run longer when at lowered voltage to reduce the same amount of heating or cooling, with no net energy savings.
Three phase synchronous motors are unlikely to use any more or less power (a theoretical assertion, we don’t have the equipment to test), having the motors run at 230 volts rather than 240 or 250 volts however is unlikely to cause motor damage due to excess current as the voltage difference is only small.
But with lighting and many single phase motors power consumption drops with lowered voltage.
My back of the envelope calculations still come up with a saving of around 15 million tonnes of greenhouse gas if voltages were closer to the 230 volt standard rather than being at 240 to 250 volts.
If high voltage drops in distribution were a problem additional network infrastructure could be used to deliver a more consistent voltage across the network. 2009 is the year of the “smart grid.” A smart grid could mean multitap transformers that can be changed on the fly to deliver a more consistent 230 volts across the whole electrical network.