Navigant Research Blog

Tesla Looks to Autonomous Vehicles

— September 23, 2013

In August, Tesla announced that its Model S had been awarded the highest safety score ever by the United States’ National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).   The combined record score of 5.4 stars was made possible by the underlying vehicle architecture, which gives Tesla an advantage over other manufacturers who must optimize conventional vehicles.

The biggest advantage is that the Model S does not have a large, rigid body in the front (i.e., the engine), which makes it easier to design the structural members to collapse steadily and absorb the impact energy.  Building the car out of aluminum also helps the crash performance because the aluminum sections have thicker walls than steel-bodied cars, making it easier for the engineers to design collapse modes that absorb more energy.  Locating the battery under the body also improves stability.

While all this passive safety is a good thing, the leading luxury manufacturers are now concentrating on “active safety,” otherwise known as ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems).  Having now made the interior as safe as possible in a crash, the next goal is to reduce the number of crashes.

Changing the Game

The core functionalities of ADAS – adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and blind spot detection – are notably absent from the options list of the Tesla Model S.  However, tech savvy owners have already been digging around in the onboard menu system and found references to ADAS features for future use.   And to further support this step, Tesla is currently looking for an engineer to implement “fully automated driving.”

On September 18, CEO Elon Musk said in an interview with the Financial Times that Tesla will have an autonomous car by 2016, but then clarified that it would only hand over 90% of the vehicle control.  That remaining 10%, left in the driver’s hands, is essential to meet current legislation.  And how do you calculate control percentages?

So it appears that Tesla is already thinking ahead to the upcoming race toward autonomous driving.  My recent report, Autonomous Vehicles, indicates that Tesla engineers have about 6 years to perfect the technology if they want to take a leadership position in the market.  It seems that they’ve already taken the first steps by building in an upgrade capability in the first of the Model S vehicles.  Add the necessary sensors and a software upgrade and existing owners will have access to the latest ADAS features.  Traditional OEMs prefer their existing customers to trade their vehicles in to get the latest systems, so maybe this is another example of how Tesla is changing the automotive industry.


Auto Suppliers Crash the E-Bike Party

— September 23, 2013

Predictably, another Tier One automotive supplier has stepped into the e-bicycle market in a big way.  ContiTech Power Transmission Group, a subsidiary of Continental, is using an electric motor developed by Brose, another automotive supplier, to provide a mid-motor e-bicycle system.  Similar to the Bosch e-bike system, the Continental/Brose system is a complete package with motor, battery, and controller for e-bicycle manufacturers.  In 2012, ContiTech showed a belt drive similar to the well-established Gates carbon drive system, which is targeted toward both e-bicycles and traditional bicycles, and Benchmark Drives announced a deal to supply the Continental belt drive with its e-bicycle system.

It is difficult to get a sense of Continental’s ultimate success in the mid-motor business, since the product is not available yet.  E-bikes come with motors located in the front wheel hub, rear wheel hub, or mounted in the middle of the bike, at the bottom bracket with the pedals.  This mid-mount market is becoming very competitive.  In the few specifications released for the ContiTech model, the motor is almost a pound lighter than Bosch’s motors, but the battery pack is about a pound heavier.  Because the battery pack can be located in a rack above the back tire (or inside the frame, depending on the bike manufacturer’s choice), my personal preference would be to have any extra weight in the motor at the bottom bracket.  On the whole, though, the complete system looks fairly similar in terms of specifications.

More Expensive in Europe

Bosch certainly isn’t standing still waiting for Continental to come charging into the market.  At Eurobike this year, Bosch showed a new controller, the Nyon, that will incorporate a number of new features, including navigation, smartphone integration, and fitness tracking.  However, Bosch and Benchmark Drives are not the only current mid-mount players: another well-known manufacturer, Yamaha, also announced a new e-bike system on Giant bicycles specifically for the European market.  TranzX showed off new smaller, lighter motors; and Panasonic, which has apparently seen its market share erode, also continues to be a major competitor.

Percentage of Annual E-Bicycle Sales by Motor Location, Western Europe: 2013-2020

 EBike Sales Chart

(Source: Navigant Research)

As the Western European market for e-bicycles continues to grow rapidly (sales are expected to increase 18% in 2014 over 2013), the attractiveness of the market for automotive suppliers is increasing.  Because many (if not most) bicycle manufacturers are largely still reluctant to bring the needed engineering in-house to develop proprietary e-bicycle systems, the market remains open to systems integrators.  Additionally, the e-bicycle market in Western Europe prizes high quality, and prices have remained high compared to other regions (the average price in Western Europe is $1,697, more than $250 higher than any other region).  With this in mind, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that auto suppliers are putting their expertise and existing technology to work in this market, and it won’t be a shock when other large automotive suppliers follow suit.


In China’s Hinterland, Microgrids Emerge

— September 23, 2013

My research has made it clear that the United States is the best current market for microgrids, in large part due to the declining reliability of the incumbent utility grid, made more evident by Tropical Cyclone Sandy and other recent extreme weather events.  However, the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium (M-WERC) recently asked me to identify the world’s top non-U.S. markets for microgrids.  The results of that analysis revealed that remote off-grid systems will lead the market over the next 7 years – a conclusion also demonstrated in our newly released report, Remote Microgrids.

On the surface, the fact that 95% of the population of China is connected to a power grid might indicate that opportunities for remote microgrids are limited.  Yet, the sheer size of the country translates into one of the world’s best markets: 30 million people living in 20,000 villages and 7 million families on small farms have yet to be connected to a power grid.

While the development of grid-tied microgrids is limited to the two nationalized grid companies, third-party projects are allowed for off-grid applications.   Many of the areas not connected to one of the two main grid companies burn diesel for electricity, which is expensive and, therefore, power may be available for only a couple of hours per day.  Additionally, China has hundreds of inhabited islands, so the market for off-grid systems is substantial.

Tops Outside the United States

China has been investigating microgrids for the last 3 or 4 years, and the 12th Five-Year Plan for energy production, produced by the Energy Bureau, sets a target of 30 microgrid installations of 1 MW or larger by 2015.  In the analysis we conducted for M-WERC, China is expected to be ranked as the top non-U.S. microgrid market by 2020.  Even more interesting is that three of the top five markets (China, Australia, and India) will be led by remote off-grid systems.

Annual Total Microgrid Capacity by Top Five Export Markets, Conservative Scenario, World Markets: 2013-2020   

Microgrids Country Chart

(Source: Navigant Research)

One of the sleeper markets for microgrids not currently in the top 10 is South Africa, which is largely served by the nationalized utility Eskom.  Eskom provides the country with 95% of its power and supplies 45% of the entire African continent’s power.   At present, an unspecified number of remote microgrids that incorporate solar PV, wind, diesel, and energy storage have been installed.  Ranging in size from 6 kW to 200 kW, these systems serve farms and entire off-grid communities.   A typical community of 100 homes would need a remote microgrid of 100 kW to meet its most basic needs for lighting, entertainment, and refrigeration.

The best near-term market segment for microgrids in South Africa, though, is not communities but the numerous remote platinum, gold, and coal mines that dot the country.  A smart mining movement is taking hold in South Africa, with projects in the design stage ranging in size from 30 MW to 50 MW; this is also among the market segments examined in our new Remote Microgrids report.


On the Job, EV Drivers Say ‘Charge It’

— September 23, 2013

Both Siemens’ decision to cancel its public EV charging equipment program and electric vehicle (EV) charging station provider ECOtality’s bankruptcy filing highlight the challenges companies face in the public charging market.  However, while public EV charging receives an outsized share of attention in both the media and the EV charging industry, workplace charging is more likely to be the next forefront of charging deployment.

Most EV stakeholders believe that the workplace will be second to home as the place where most EV charging will occur.  One reason for this is the length of time spent at work.  Longer parking times translate into ideal opportunities to recharge a battery EV, or even a plug-in hybrid.  The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has made workplace charging the focus of its current efforts to promote electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) proliferation through its Workplace Challenge, which was launched in February 2013.

Within Range

Recent data on the habits of plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) drivers is confirming the importance of workplace charging deployments.  The EV Project’s 2Q 2013 report found that around 74% of Nissan LEAF drivers and 80% of Chevrolet Volt drivers charge their vehicles at home.  What’s more, according to the report, private charging units have almost twice as much utilization as public units.  This data confirms that the workplace is the second most likely place for charging after the home.

Another study, which examined the workplace charging habits of 40 LEAF drivers in North Carolina, provides additional confirmation.  The June 2013 report by Advanced Energy, Workplace Charging in the Real World, found that 52% of the participating drivers charged daily at their workplace – again demonstrating that real demand exists for workplace charging.

Of course, if you look at the glass as half empty, this study also shows that almost half of the participating drivers got through their daily commute without charging at the office.  But if workplace chargers become commonplace, consumers with daily commutes beyond the range of an EV will become potential EV buyers.

The Next Frontier

Indeed, the characteristics of the participants in the study confirmed this impression.  The study found drivers with only a Level 1 home charger, and no workplace charging, had the smallest commutes, less than 10 miles round trip.  Drivers with either a Level 1 home charger and a workplace charger, or a Level 2 home charger and no workplace charger, had commutes of 22 to 24 miles round trip.  Drivers with both a Level 2 home charger and a workplace charger had commutes of 32 miles round trip.  While the study had a very small sample size, it nevertheless suggests that more charging corresponds to more consumers with longer commutes who find that an EV meets their driving needs.

It appears that the DOE is right to be targeting the workplace as the next frontier for charging.  Unfortunately, the DOE is not able to provide offset funding, as it did for the public and residential units placed through the EV Project.  The reports mentioned here demonstrate to businesses that if they build charging stations, the drivers will come.


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