Solar EV Chargers Make Zero Emissions a Reality

July 27, 2011 at 8:39 pm

“Zero emissions” is a tricky phrase. Electric vehicles produce zero emissions at the tailpipe, but more often than not there are emissions at the power plant. The only way to have a truly zero-emissions EV is to get your power from a renewable source like the sun.

SolarCity is making it a whole lot easier to do that. The California company has started offering solar EV chargers to customers in 11 states and Washington, D.C., allowing people to drive their cars purely on sunshine.

“It allows for the carbon-free lifestyle. You can go EV and PV and drive on sunshine power,” Ben Tarbell, vp of products, told us. “There are a lot of environmental and economic benefits for our customers.”

The company, fresh off a $280 million investment from Google, makes it easy for people to embrace solar power by leasing them complete photovoltaic packages. It’s been dabbling in solar chargers for awhile, and it installed solar EV charging stations along highway 101 between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 2009.

But the arrival of the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, not to mention the plethora of EVs and plug-in hybrids automakers promise to deliver by 2015, makes it time to go all-in, Tarbell said.

“There are a significant number of mainstream electric vehicles available, and our customers are asking for this,” he said. “The market is catching up. We’re seeing an uptick in demand for this.”

The Level 2 (240 volt) ClipperCreek charger costs $1,500 installed. The photovoltaic cells needed to keep the juice flowing will set you back $50 a month. By SolarCity’s math, the average urban driver spends about $230 a month on gasoline (at an average of $3.65 a gallon). Plugging into the grid cuts that to $107 a month, and a SolarCity rig brings it to $54.

Of course, SolarCity is happy to set you up with solar power for the entire house. The cost varies with your energy needs, but a typical home in the San Francisco Bay Area will pay $60 to $200 a month for a 20-year lease, the company says.

The solar chargers are available now in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington D.C.


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CARB Approves Extension of Clean Vehicle Rebates

July 25, 2011 at 5:29 pm

The California Air Resources Board (CARB), the funding agency behind the state’s zero-emissions Clean Vehicle Rebate Project (CVRP), has proposed a significant increase in funding for CVRP in 2011-2012. CARB is proposing tripling the funding from last year’s level of $5 million to $15 million. Since the Board approved the Draft Funding Plan on July 21st, this level of funding, along with the reduced rebate amounts, is technically official.

While we can’t say for certain when 2011-2012 funding will be allocated, we can shed some light on the allocation process. Even though the Draft Funding Plan has been approved, CARB must wait until the state budget is finalized. As a state agency, CARB is not allowed to spend money until California’s budget is set. Once approved, CARB will then open up a competitive bidding process to organizations interested in administering the CVRP and, upon evaluation, award the grant to a successful organization.

The per-vehicle rebate amounts will be reduced for 2011-2012. Here’s a look at the rebate breakdown:
Light-duty, Type II, III, IV or V zero-emissions vehicle (i.e. Nissan Leaf): up to $2,500
Type I.5 (range = or >75, but <100; i.e. Azure Transit Connect) zero-emissions vehicles: $2,000 Type I (range = or >50, but <75 miles) zero-emissions vehicles:$1,500
Light-duty plug-in hybrid vehicles (i.e. Plug-in Prius): $1,500
Neighborhood electric vehicles: up to $900
Zero-emissions motorcycles: $900

Like before, CVRP funds are limited and will be handed out first-come, first-served. Last time ’round, CVRP funds ran dry in less than 16 months, but now that the per-vehicle amount has been reduced, this round should last longer. We’ll see


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NHTSA Looking to Implement New Noise Enhancement Rules for Electric Vehicles

July 14, 2011 at 7:48 pm

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced on July 7, that it plans to implement new regulations requiring electric vehicles to emit some as yet undesignated “noise” to warn pedestrians of its approach. This move comes on the heels of passage, by Congress, of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010, which requires the NHTSA to take action to protect pedestrians from the nearly noiseless electric (and hybrid) vehicles that lawmakers believe pose a hazard to unsuspecting people crossing roads, especially those with hearing impairments.

The legislation has come about as a result of two studies that indicated that might be at increased risk of being run over by . The first, conducted in 2008 by Lawrence Rosenblum, a University of California perceptual psychologist, showed that subjects wearing blindfolds were able to hear a Honda Accord with a gas engine approaching from as far away as 36 feet, but were only able to hear a  (hybrid) when it drew as near as 11 feet.

In the other study, done by the NHTSA itself, research indicated that there was a higher percentage rate for electric vehicles running into pedestrians, than gas powered models.

And while some may debate the accuracy of the research (the NHTSA study used data from just 12 states and only for one year) or the degree to which electric vehicles actually pose a risk, the bottom line, is that new regulations are very likely going to be implemented, a draft standard will be issued in 2012, with the new rules going into effect in 2015.

Thus, the issue now is just what sort of “noise” will the car manufacturers be required to add. Some, such as the Nissan Leaf, already make a sort of whoosh sound, and Ford is opting for a crowd sourced option that will hopefully come up with a sound that the majority of electric vehicle owners won’t hate. All this might be moot however if the NHTSA picks a noise on its own. Also an issue is whether such cars would be required to make the noise all the time, or just during slow driving when it more likely matters. They could also decide to add different noises for different activities, such as when a vehicle is moving in reverse or turning, a likely possibility since the legislation spurring them to action in the first place also applies to light and low-speed vehicles, motorcycles, buses, and heavy-duty trucks.


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Israel to Get Electric Car Battery Swap Stations

July 12, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Battery swap Station

Next month, Better Place, a start-up based in California, will begin selling electric cars in Israel that come with subscription packages that include a leased battery and the cost of recharging it. Gasoline is expensive and taxes on gas-powered cars are high in Israel, and the company says the packages could make owning an electric car 20 percent cheaper than owning a gasoline-powered car.

Better Place is trying to solve the biggest challenge to the widespread adoption of electric cars: the limitations imposed by battery chemistry. A battery big enough to give an electric car the same range as the average gas car would be far too large and expensive; and recharging battery packs takes hours at standard outlets, compared to the minutes it takes to refuel a conventional car.

Better Place will sell a new electric sedan made by Renault that has a range of just over 100 miles on a charge—enough for most daily commutes. For longer trips, Better Place provides battery swap stations, where an automated system switches out a depleted battery for a fully-charged one in less than five minutes. Instead of owning the batteries, the car owners buy subscriptions for a certain number of kilometers of driving per year. They can choose from several plans, much the same way mobile phone owners subscribe to minutes.

The size of Israel limits the number of swap stations needed. What’s more, high taxes on gas-powered cars, as well as high prices for gasoline (about $8 a gallon), should help make electric cars more attractive.

Better Place offers one package that includes the cost of the car and three years of driving 25,000 kilometers per year for $46,000. The company says this price amounts to a 35 percent savings over buying and fueling a gas car in Israel over three years. Other packages include a cost of about $36,000 for the car, with monthly subscription fees ranging from $320 to $470 a month for 20,000 to 30,000 kilometers of driving per year, respectively. For both packages, the price includes the installation of a charging station at home.

Michael Granoff, head of oil dependence policies at Better Place, says the company has 20,000 individual customers on a waiting list to buy the cars, and 70,000 tentative orders from fleet customers. “That’s nearly half the car market for Israel,” he says.


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General Motors Shows Vision of Urban Mobility

July 11, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Tom Brown, General Motors

From inside the bubble, the futuristic EN-V feels like a living organism as it slowly rises from a crouching position, before balancing on two wheels as if they were legs.

Unlike a motorcycle, which has one wheel in front of the other, the two-seater electric car has one wheel on either side of its flimsy body.

The light-weight design makes it as agile as a ballet dancer. Turn the steering wheel hard to the side and the car, if that is indeed the best way to describe this peculiar vehicle, turns on a sixpence.

Push the wheel – which is more of an iPad-inspired joystick – forward and it surges ahead into a sprint at speeds of 25mph (40km/h) or more, depending on how the computer is programmed, delivering a 25 mile (40km) range per charge.


Travelling at such speeds may seem hazardous, given that the car has been designed without bumpers, air bags or any other conventional crash protection devises.

But according to the people who make it, the EN-V – short for electric networked vehicle – is smart enough to avoid collisions.

“Unlike a conventional car, which is designed to prevent its passengers and pedestrians in the event of a crash, the EN-V is more like an aircraft, in that it is designed to avoid crashing in the first place,” explains Tom Brown from the research and development department at General Motors (GM).

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Electric Roads to Charge Electric Cars

July 7, 2011 at 9:38 pm
USU researchers set an electrical coil or pad on the floor. Plastic cylinders on top of the pad are used as spacers to create the 10-inch gap. A receiving pad goes on top of the cylinders. Electric current in the lower pad creates a magnetic field that bridges the gap.

USU researchers set an electrical coil or pad on the floor. Plastic cylinders on top of the pad are used as spacers to create the 10-inch gap. A receiving pad goes on top of the cylinders. Electric current in the lower pad creates a magnetic field that bridges the gap.

Electric vehicles have long been touted as the answer for drivers who want to avoid high gas prices and help protect the environment. But the heavy, short-lived batteries are a big obstacle to the vehicles becoming affordable and commonplace.

Suppose an electric vehicle could just go on and on, without stopping to recharge batteries. Suppose it was continually charging as it drove along the highway.

A technical breakthrough at Utah State University could make that happen. The idea is to make the highways themselves a source of energy.

“I definitely think it’s going to happen,” said Hunter Wu, electric engineer at Energy Dynamics Laboratory.

As a visual metaphor of the highway of the future, consider the old hobby of slot-car racing. The electric toy cars don’t need batteries. They get their power directly from the track by dragging an electrical contact in a power slot that runs the length of the raceway.

But what if the electricity could literally jump from the highway to the car? USU researchers have managed to get 5 kilowatts of electricity to jump up to 10 inches with 90 percent efficiency. That’s easily enough to light up two-dozen light bulbs.

“If we have an infrastructure on the roads to power electric vehicles, then we don’t have to carry that power in the vehicle itself,” Paul Israelsen, deputy director at Energy Dynamics Laboratory, said.

To demonstrate the concept, USU researchers set an electrical coil or pad on the floor. Plastic cylinders on top of the pad are used as spacers to create the 10-inch gap. A receiving pad goes on top of the cylinders. Electric current in the lower pad creates a magnetic field that bridges the gap.

“So this magnetic field is basically jumping from this bottom pad to this top pad,” Wu said.

In the upper pad, the magnetism induces a current that lights up the bulbs. The principle has been in use for decades, but USU researchers claim the highest efficiency yet.

“And also to achieve an air-gap of up to 10 inches, that is quite remarkable,” Wu said.

This summer they’ll place the upper pad on the bottom of an electric vehicle and test it by driving onto a stationery charging pad.

“We’re getting efficiencies that are comparable to the same efficiency you would get with a plug-in electric charger,” Israelsen said.

The next hurdle is to get the technology to work with a moving electric vehicle at, say, 70 mph.

If transmitting coils were placed under the pavement every few feet or so, an electric vehicle could, in theory, operate much like a slot car, drawing power from the pavement and traveling many miles without stopping to recharge.

“What this technology, when it’s placed inside the road, allows us to do is significantly reduce battery size by up to 80 percent,” Wu explained. That would bring down the cost of electric vehicles substantially and make them competitive with gas-powered vehicles.

“We believe it’s doable,” Israelsen said. “It’s going to take a year or two of some science, and some work to get it done, and some funding from some different sources, but we think it can be done.”

Of course, the question is would it be done.

Would we ever invest the money to electrify highways and abandon gas engines? It’s not a scientific question.

Israelsen said those economic and social issues are much bigger and tougher to solve than the technical issues.

“It’s going to take a concerted effort for someone like the president or Congress to stand up and say we need to put some significant infrastructure in place to help electric vehicles move forward,” Israelsen said.

He believes it may take a decade or two, but it will happen.


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Solar-Powered Rail Tunnel Connects Paris to Amsterdam

July 6, 2011 at 7:31 pm

Europe’s first high-speed international trains to use solar panel generated electricity are now up and running. The trains link the cities of Paris and Amsterdam.

Solar power is used in a 3.6 kilometer (about 2 mile) stretch of tunnel crossing Antwerp, Belgium. 16,000 solar panels were installed on the tunnel’s roof and cover an area of 50,000 square meters (about 12 acres.)

The project costs about $22.8 million.

The panels produce 3,300 megawatts per hour of electricity, or the average annual consumption of nearly 1,000 families, reports Agence France Presse.

They will not only power the high-speed rail, but also support inter-city trains while providing enough electricity to charge the train station, according to The Daily Mail.

The electricity produced feeds into the line’s infrastructure, for lighting, signals and in-train power points, Frederic Sacre, spokesman for Infrabel, which runs the rail network, told AFP.

47.3 million kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions are expected to be eliminated by the project over the next 20 years.

Below is a link to a video of the solar tunnel:

Solar Powered Train


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New UK association to promote electric motorbikes is announced and calls on British Government for support

July 5, 2011 at 6:13 pm

A major boost to the electric motorcycle industry was announced on 20th June as a new association, the eMCI was launched to increase the number of electric motorbikes on the roads

With the growth of cycling and the evolution towards alternative power sources, the Motor Cycle Industry Association (MCI) is establishing the eMCI to represent those who want to accelerate the adoption of electric Powered Two Wheelers (ePTW) in the UK. ePTW manufacturers, technology providers, Government and current major motorcycle manufacturers strongly support the development of eMCI, which complements the MCI’s existing activities – a trade association which has been at the forefront of representing motorcycling technological development for over a century.

Industry argues that more Government support is needed for ePTWs in the areas of financial and practical incentives, particularly when such initiatives are in place to help expand the eCar sector. Sales of electric Powered Two Wheelers support this need as there are currently twice the number of eCar sales.

Kulveer Ranger, the Mayor’s Director of Environment and Digital helped to launch the Association by viewing the latest electric motorbikes at City Hall. He said: “We already know there is a massive appetite for two wheel travel in this city and I think the time is absolutely right for greater support and representation for those opting for cleaner, greener electric motorbikes. The Mayor, Boris Johnson, recently launched Source London, the largest charging network in the capital as part of his plans to make London the epicentre of electric vehicle driving in Europe. That is why we are delighted to host the launch of this important new initiative here at London’s City Hall.”

Steve Kenward, MCI CEO, said: “The eMCI is calling for the Government’s ‘Plug In Grant’ for cars to be extended to ePTWs, the inclusion of the ePTW in all future EV planning and policy and recognition of the added benefits of the ePTW in terms of congestion, parking and most importantly, the charging infrastructure. eMCI is also seeking Government support to technology start up businesses working in the area of low carbon technology for ePTWs.”

The UK electric powered two wheeler sector is expanding rapidly, driven by a genuine enthusiasm for a greener, low emission transport alternative. This evolving sector is employing new solutions to the issues of design, manufacture and sales of a whole new generation of electric powered two wheeled vehicles, creating routes to market that are fresh and designed to meet the demands of a new generation of commuters. Traditional manufacturers are also engaged in developing new technologies and significant investment by major manufacturers is taking place.

To stand a chance of fully exploiting the sector’s enormous potential, to deliver a genuine ‘ultra low carbon’ transport solution and to help position the UK as a technological centre of excellence for Electric Vehicles, the eMCI will support the industry by facilitating focus in areas of technological and public policy.

One of the most significant challenges facing the ‘electric revolution’ is re-fuelling. There are relatively few Electric Vehicle (EV) charging points and recharging is even more significant for those who have no off-street parking. These are the very individuals – urban dwellers whose daily commute is short and generally congested – who could benefit most from EV’s.


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