The EV Charging Quest

Everyone wants the EV charging experience to mimic the way they drive their internal combustion choices.  Seems only reasonable right?  Once again, we are asking the wrong question.

First, let’s make this very easy to understand and use my Tesla as an example.  I visit a recharge station with my Tesla battery just less than half full… say 100 miles showing and charge it to 200 miles in about a half hour.  Adding 100 miles requires about 35 kWh and I do that in 30 minutes so the average demand while I am charging is 70 kW.  On average I am adding 3.3 miles to the battery each minute.

Stay with me now.  As I watch the charging cycle on my dash I see the instantaneous charge rate starts out much higher than that indicating my electric demand is actually several hundred kW.  Since modern electric utilities measure demand as the highest amount of energy in 15 minute blocks for commercial customers, let’s just say the actual registered demand when my Tesla plugs in is probably 200 kW.

Now, let’s imagine I have a new Tesla with a 400 mile range and want to do the same thing.  My demand would be closer to 400 kW.  And, let’s imagine that I wanted my recharge experience to be similar to my gasoline powered car … say 5 minutes and not 30 minutes.  That means the demand is 1,200 kW.

All along the average demand at the charging station is dropping which makes the business case for the electric utility serving that site less and less attractive.  Therefore, the quest for short charging cycles is in complete opposition to economics and efficiency. Yet, we hear more and more of our taxpayer money being spent to promote the construction of these fast charge stations.

Am I going to fast?  In this modern era of electricity system emphasis on load management, why on earth are we suggesting that EVs should recharge at these rates… just because we want more and more people to have them?  Instead, why aren’t we thinking of offering customers pricing that reflects their choices on recharging.  If you want to recharge in 10 minutes, you pay a higher price compared to recharging in 30 minutes.

Why is it that I don’t hear anything about this kind of thinking?

Oh, I forgot … people are not thinking.

The Real Meaning of ESG

You have been thinking that ESG stands for environmental, social, and governance.  After attending the daylong GreenBiz Group teleconference called VERGE Net Zero, I am convinced it stands for the Environmental and Social Gravy Train.

Today’s intellectual elites love aspirational standards that organizations should follow as they strive to be more socially responsible. And, the concept that ESG reporting is important because it helps investors evaluate whether or not to invest in a company.  However, after hours of platitudes and some frank admissions that things are just not working as planned, I conclude this is just one more gravy train.

This slang expression gravy train usually describes something as an easy way of earning a lot of money over a long period.  You usually use this expression in a disapproving way. In the United States, `gravy’ was slang for money or profit. Railway workers invented this expression in the early 1920s to describe a regular journey which provided good pay for little work.

Nobody …not one single person … brought up the blinding flash of the obvious: we can’t simply keep up our extractive uncontrolled consumption of the planet believing that in some magic way we will meet the energy, no less food and water needs, of a growing population with an appetite for goods and services using wind and solar.  Yes, for those of you who know, wind is a subset of solar … I know.

Our social responsibilities include recognizing that we have moved way beyond food, shelter, and living safely in our communities.  We are the lucky few who have these basic needs: rare to say the least for most of the rest of the world.  They are right to want them as well, but as they do, the energy footprint to meet those needs will rise as well.  We can’t build our way to a balanced supply/demand without flattening that demand curve.

It is interesting to note that today’s Climate Tech Weekly gave credit to the person who started the movement to reduce the demand curve: the legendary Amory Lovins (engineer and co-founder of Rocky Mountain Institute) who called the “largest, cheapest, safest, cleanest way to address the crisis” — conservation and energy efficiency. As he told GreenBiz in 2019, “Since ’75, the cumulative energy saved by reduced intensity is 30 times the cumulative extra supply from doubling renewable output.”

Maybe we will see a sea change.  I would hope so.  However, the lure of the governmental spending has brought forth thousands of firms who want to study how technologies will somehow solve the problem.  None of them … except for firms like us … have focused on flattening the curve.

One of my favorite professionals described this as: everyone is more concerned about getting their straw into the governmental punchbowl and sucking as fast as they can so they can get the most out of the boondoggle before anyone discovers it is waste (the Welfare Act for Scientists, Technologists, and Engineers).


Can we Count on Commitments?

I remember when we were asked to reduce speed limits to 55 mph because the energy crisis in the late 1970s was the “moral equivalent of war.”  But, I really wonder whether we have lost that sense of national commitment to reduce energy use when I feel going 75-80 in a posted 70 mph speed zone poses the real danger of being mowed down by those trying to get around me at 90 mph and higher speeds!  I do get a sordid sense of gratitude occasionally when I pass them pulled over on the side of the road getting a speeding ticket, but not often enough.

Everyone in the United States seems to say they are concerned about climate change.  But, it seems no one is concerned any longer about the trash we produce, the single use water bottles we throw away, or the appetite we have for things that are unnecessary for daily life.  This is all in stark contrast to the way Germans are responding to their energy crisis.  There is something to consider here.

The recent article in the Wall Street Journal points to the results of a national push to conserve and to do without. Read more here.  Actually, I am not really surprised.  Europeans have always been more tolerant of discomfort and doing without.  We used to be that way.  I still remember my parents talking about the Great Depression and how they conserved.  The joke was that my mother still had food from that period in her freezer.

Some of you will remember that the electric utilities used to make requests during heat waves that customers turn off appliances and set up their thermostats.  Utilities could and actually did count on these as predictable responses.  But, as the frequency of these requests increased, they noticed that customers would not respond to the same extent, and if you pushed these requests to more than two or three days in a row, they virtually disappeared.

This was not lost on the public service commissions nor the utility planners.  Hardware based programs emerged to directly cut water heaters and air conditioners off and some incentives were offered to customers for this inconvenience and/or loss of control.  Over the past few decades, smart thermostats have been added to the portfolio.  But, in most cases, the consumer has the right to opt out.  Yes, they may lose the economic benefit, but the electric system loses the safety net it had counted upon for system reliability.

And that is the rub, now isn’t it.  Our grid reliability hangs in the balance.  We all will suffer if the utility can’t control voltage and frequency.  Their only choice is to cut the power off.  We have watched that happen out West.  What do customers do then?  They buy generators.

Are we thinking clearly with all this as we pursue carbon reduction goals by asking customers to participate in these thermostat programs?  Might it not become terribly important that we educate customers that simply dropping out and buying a generator to eliminate their sense of obligation to a greater good is perhaps ignoring the obvious?


Profits of Doom

No, I did not misspell the word prophet.  It is a deliberate play on words.

We have all seen the person holding the placard saying “Repent, the end is near!” usually along with a scriptural reference or two to validate the prediction.  Some might defend this person for their evangelical zeal, but most will dismiss him or her as delusional and irrelevant.

Almost everyone knows the media loves to scare people … it sells papers.  “If it bleeds, it leads!”  We all see examples of this every night when they offer some tantalizing tidbit soundbite at the beginning of the news broadcast in the hope that we will stay tuned to hear it.  And, of course, they put it at the very end, and all too often we find out it is far less interesting than promised. For example, “Study regarding link between homework and cancer!”  Only to hear at the end of the broadcast they found none.

So, it was a surprise to me to see an article offering the opposite point of view just a few days after the doomsday clock update. Read the USA Today article here. 

It was refreshing to see a news article that promoted reason and care as antidotes to the fear life exposes us to.  Most of us have read Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People where he cautions us to look carefully inward and “begin with the end in mind.”  There are so many other remarkably helpful books written suggesting how we can stay emotionally balanced when life dishes out disasters.  And, we admire those who demonstrate that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” to quote my adorable wife.  Of course, she also reminds me that “if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”

So, how do we reset the doomsday clock in our lives?  Surely this requires more than dismissing the warnings completely.  There must be at least some truth to the fear mongering … or the intellectuals would cry foul, wouldn’t they?

Not necessarily.  There is a lot of money to be made scaring people, playing on their insecurities, and pandering to their selfish desires.  One of my favorite speakers, Suzanne Shelton used to state that beer commercials often implied that drinking their brand was going to improve the odds of a guy “scoring.”  And, we all know the Dos Equis beer commercials with the “most interesting man in the world.”  Somehow he is always surrounded by beautiful women.

Perhaps the most disgusting example of this is the bitcoin fallout from all the ads indicating “fortune favors the brave,” implying that you are wisely investing if it requires overcoming your fears of loss.  Haven’t we learned anything from Las Vegas where you can indeed drive there in a $100,000 Mercedes and come home in a $500,000 Greyhound Bus.

Perhaps the best advice is also the simplest.  Follow the money!  How is it that the author profits from the message being delivered?  In my case, I have no monetary implications.  I only offer thoughts because I am concerned for my fellow citizens of this world that we are being duped by those who do plan to profit from their messaging.  That is the key to unraveling it all.

Always follow the money.