Navigant Research Blog

In London, EV Charging Loses the Wires

— December 14, 2012

Sometime in the next few weeks the most significant trial to date of wireless EV charging will begin in London.  Mobile software and chipmaker Qualcomm, which acquired New Zealand-based HaloIPT, a developer of wireless EV charging technology, in November, 2011, will be piloting wireless-enabled vehicles from Renault and racecar designer Delta Motorsport (maker of the E4 coupe EV) in various parts of the British capital.  I interviewed Qualcomm’s London-based senior director for strategic marketing, Joe Barrett, for Pike Research’s just-published research brief, “Wireless Charging Systems for Electric Vehicles.”

Building on its long experience in microchips and software for mobile devices, Qualcomm has developed a customized architecture for its wireless EV charging system based on coils, made of a ferrite material that has very low resistance to magnetic fields, arranged in a double-D shape and embedded in a rectangular charging pad.  This technology, Barrett claims, allows for higher degrees of misalignment between transmitter and receiver than other systems under development.

Qualcomm is also pushing a more ambitious business case for the technology.  The standard line of companies developing wireless EV charging is that it will spread because it’s more convenient: drivers would rather simply pull the car over a charging pad, and have it connect automatically, than have to get out and plug in a charge cord.  That makes sense, as far it goes – many people in this fledgling sector compare it to garage door openers, a simple convenience that fuels a sizable global market – Barrett offers a rationale for the technology that goes beyond convenience alone.

“The growth of EVs has been slow because of two things,” Barrett told me.  “No. 1 is always range anxiety.  But the real reason is cost: an EV is a lot more expensive than a comparable conventional vehicle, by $15,000 to $20,000. That’s a barrier. Wireless charging has the potential to address that.”

Briefly, Barrett’s argument is that EV charging must shift from once a day, usually overnight, to many brief top-offs throughout the day.  That will allow automakers to install smaller, and thus cheaper, batteries.  The battery accounts for most of the price premium for an EV over a conventional car.  Seeding big cities, like London, with many wireless EV charging stations (which can be installed more easily and less expensively than conventional, wired charging facilities) would enable that shift.

Seen in this way, wireless EV charging is no longer simply a timesaving device; it’s a potential enabler for the entire EV market.  That’s an intriguing notion, if still some years away.  New forms of infrastructure can spread very rapidly, given sufficient demand – think of how fast WiFi hotspots sprang up – and big cities have a definite interest in enabling new forms of clean transportation, particular in Europe.  Assuming the London trial is successful, Qualcomm plans to have systems available, most likely as a dealer option, by 2015 at the latest.


Policy Support Signals Positive Growth for Advanced Biofuels

— December 14, 2012

This has been a tough year for the U.S. biofuels industry: drought curtailed corn starch ethanol production and investment in the industry shrank to its lowest level in nearly a decade.  Headed into 2013, though, industry momentum appears to be regaining steam.  Led by advanced biofuels, the potential for expanding biofuels production has improved dramatically as Washington offers clarity on key policy issues.

Last week, in a vote on partisan lines, the U.S. Senate extended support for the military’s efforts to scale up advanced biofuels production.  As reported in Biofuels Digest, it approved an amendment offered by Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina to repeal a section of the annual Defense appropriations bill that would have prohibited “the Secretary of Defense or any other official from the Department of Defense (DoD) from entering into a contract to plan, design, refurbish, or construct a biofuels refinery or any other facility or infrastructure used to refine biofuels unless such planning, design, refurbishment, or construction is specifically authorized by law.”

Over the past year, the U.S. military has emerged as a key torchbearer leading the commercialization of advanced biofuels.  Spearheaded by the Navy, which signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Energy (DOE) to develop cost-competitive advanced biofuels, the DoD has been a lone bright spot for an industry that has suffered from press blowback and investor retrenchment in recent years.

Only $84 Billion to Go

Prior to the Hagan amendment, the Senate approved another amendment, offered by Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, to repeal section 313 of the annual Defense appropriations bill.  Offered by Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Section 313 would have prohibited the DoD from procuring alternative fuels if they cost more than their conventional counterparts.  The section was introduced in response to the U.S. Navy’s highly criticized purchase of advanced biofuels from firms like Solazyme and Dynamic Fuels for its “Great Green Fleet” exercises off the coast of Hawaii, at an estimated price-tag of $15 per gallon.

These bills are expected to facilitate public-private partnerships and funnel much-needed capital to support advanced biorefinery construction within the United States.  In our Industrial Biorefineries report, Pike Research forecasts that at least 13 billion gallons of advanced biorefinery production capacity will come online over the next decade in the United States.  Although that falls short of the 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels carved out under the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), more than $60 billion will be invested over that same period.

With the minimum cost of scale-up to meet RFS’s advanced biofuel production mandate estimated at $84 billion, the industry still has significant ground to make up.  Although continued federal support will help assuage investor fears, uncertainties around feedstock supply and production profitability persist, translating into high levels of risk for investors.

Advanced biofuels, which address these concerns at least in part, have enjoyed a rising tide of policy support in recent months from Washington.  In August, Congress allocated $170 million to support the development of military biofuels and other defense initiatives, voted to extend key tax credits for advanced biofuel producers, and granted algae producers tax credit parity with other feedstock pathways.  Meanwhile, the recent commissioning of first-of-kind facilities from advanced biofuel producers KiOR and INEOS Bio are strong indicators of a maturing cellulosic biofuels industry.


Canada Takes EV Charging Station Plunge

— December 14, 2012

Canada has lagged behind the United States as a plug-in vehicle (PEV) market, both in terms of PEV availability and sales.  However, as reported in the Pike Research Electric Vehicle Geographic Forecasts report, all Canadian provinces are expected to have some PEV availability by 2013, and the country will experience a growth spurt in PEV sales over the next few years.  Pike Research projects that most sales of PEVs will occur in Canada’s largest cities, with Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver anticipated to have the highest concentration of PEVs.  (Tesla made a splash by recently opening its first Canadian dealership in Yorkdale, Toronto.)

In anticipation of increased PEV sales, Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia are each funding deployments of electric vehicle charging stations:

Quebec’s Circuit Electrique is the first to get EV charging equipment out and ready, with this program sponsored by Hydro Quebec.  The Circuit Electrique will feature a network of 120 public charging stations; as of December 2012, over 100 were in operation.  Drivers pay just $2.50 per charge, no matter how long the car stays, although the program’s operators anticipate that PEVs will not park at the stations for too long, something that has been a problem with some public charging spots in the United States.  Drivers access the units with a prepaid card.  The charging stations use Aerovironment hardware.  For now, the stations are concentrated in greater Montreal and Quebec City.

Earlier this year, the British Columbia government launched an extremely ambitious program to support deployment of 600 public EV charging stations by April 2013.  The province will provide a rebate of up to C$4,000 (US$4,036) for570 Level 2 chargers and a C$25,000 (US$25,230) rebate for up to 30 DC chargers.  The stations must be available for public or fleet use and networked.   The province expects to collect data from station usage, much as the DOE has from the Ecotality and Coulomb chargers funded by U.S. stimulus money.  Installation is to be completed by March 31, 2013.

The Ontario government is providing C$80 million (US$81 million) for public EV charging deployment.   The government is awarding funding based on an RFP process.   In addition, the non-profit Plug’nDrive Ontario has partnered with Hydro Quebec to support EVSE buildout across the two provinces.

In some ways, Canada is now going through the same phase of the EV charging equipment market that the U.S. did a few years ago, when the DOE launched its initial EV charging programs.  While this helps ensure the availability of public charging to support the emerging PEV market, it also has a distorting effect on the EV charging market, as manufacturers end up focusing on the government-fed demand, thus delaying the task of finding a true business case for public charging.  The United States is exiting this phase now, and equipment manufacturers are being hit with the cold reality that companies are much less likely to deploy a station for public use when they have to pay full price.  Companies in Canada should take heed and make sure they look beyond this temporary market bump.


AAA Weighs in on E15 Controversy

— December 14, 2012

In the United States, gasoline is a mix of 10% ethanol and petroleum fuel.  Since 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency has been considering a change to the ruling that would permit fuel stations to sell a mix of E15 (15% ethanol).  This switch is opposed by automakers, who are concerned with engine longevity issues when using E15.  In 2010, I wrote, “Some ethanol groups are starting to push for immediate approval of E12 (12% ethanol) as the tests continue.  As a result, I would not be surprised to hear, come November [2010], the EPA will delay a decision again until 2011 without any action on E12.”  Well, the approval of E15 didn’t end up coming until April 2, 2012 for 2001 and later model year vehicles, and as expected there was no movement on E12.

But the controversy didn’t come to a close on April 2, as many might have hoped.  Since that time, E15 adoption has been very low.  Now, AAA, the auto and travel association, has issued a warning that E15 could “damage millions of vehicles and void car warranties.” This warning can be expected to have an impact on the sale of E15, since AAA claims to have over 50 million members.  That number represents almost a quarter of the 209.6 million licensed drivers in the United States, giving AAA a big voice in the debate.

What does this mean for E15?  It seems likely that AAA’s foray into the arguments will likely scare off some stations that were considering making the investment to offer E15.  Making things worse, blender pumps, which would be the most affordable method for delivering E15 to the market, are required to sell a minimum of 4 gallons of fuel to prevent damage to small engines, such as lawnmowers.  Blender pumps blend gasoline and ethanol at the 10% proportion at the time of refueling, so new storage tanks would not be required, but since fuel remains in the hose some E15 would get into small engines and potentially cause damage.

The cost of E15 is below gasoline (about $3.28/gallon this past summer), but it also has 5% less energy than gasoline (about 2% less than E10) and therefore could ultimately cost consumers more as a result of reduced fuel economy.  One might surmise that since it might cost more, the fuel isn’t widely available, many stations don’t want to carry it, automakers warn it can’t be used in their vehicles, people have to buy a minimum amount in many cases, and now AAA is all but telling its members not use it, that the EPA would reconsider.  Don’t count on it.  Lawsuits from the automakers were thrown out this summer and the EPA has shown no signs of revisiting the topic.  One thing I think we can count on is more E15 controversy to come.


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