Navigant Research Blog

SunEdison, Green Charge Networks Team Up for Solar Plus Energy Storage Project

— July 1, 2015

On June 24, SunEdison, a leading solar panel manufacturer, project developer, and residential leasing provider, announced that it had joined forces with Green Charge Networks to deliver a solar plus energy storage system (ESS) to the municipal utility Silicon Valley Power. Green Charge, the largest provider of commercial energy storage in the United States, will work with SunEdison to install the ESS in the Tasman Drive parking structure next to the San Francisco 49ers new football stadium. The ESS will be added to the solar modules that were installed at the end of 2014.

In California, commercial customers have to pay for the total electricity consumed and for the load consumed at any time. The Tasman Drive parking structure’s solar array has allowed Silicon Valley Power to reduce its electricity consumption by 1.18 GWh, reducing its energy-related part of the bill.  However, the utility has been less successful in trimming costs on the demand side of the bill due to the difference in the solar irradiation daily pattern and peak load of the utility. Silicon Valley Power hopes that the system will allow it to reduce both of these costs by time-shifting the electricity produced by the solar array to times when the utility’s load is peaking, therefore reducing peak load costs.

Pros and Cons

Current regulatory frameworks around the world are based on feed-in tariffs and net-metering, and the tariff structures used for small and medium electricity consumers (residential and some commercial users) play against systems like this. In addition, the cost of an ESS is still relatively high compared to the equivalent service provided by the grid.

But, as solar economic incentives are reduced and new tariff structures that take into account the grid-associated costs are set into place, Navigant Research expects that solar plus ESSs will become commonplace. This is projected as both solar and ESS costs are expected to fall significantly in the next few years. These topics will be covered in Navigant Research’s forthcoming report, Distributed Solar Energy Generation.



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Longer-Range LEAF Aims to Alleviate Anxiety

— July 1, 2015

At Nissan’s recent annual shareholder meeting, CEO Carlos Ghosn announced that the driving range of the LEAF battery electric vehicle (BEV) would be extended to 125 miles (200 km). The update is expected to reinvigorate sales of the LEAF in the United States, which fell by 25.5% during the first 5 months of 2015, according to hybridcars.com.

That BEVs have a shorter driving range than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles is one of the factors that has limited sales, as drivers on longer trips don’t want to have to worry about having enough juice to get to their destination. If the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gives the LEAF the proposed 125-mile range rating, that would be a boost of nearly 50% over the current 84-mile range. Since 125 miles is well beyond the range of most daily round trip commutes, more car shoppers would likely consider switching to a LEAF.

Ghosn also said the company has a prototype battery that could give the LEAF up to 310 miles of range, which would make it much more competitive with ICEs. Other BEV manufacturers, including Ford and General Motors (GM) are targeting a minimum of 200 miles of range for their next-generation BEVs to battle the upcoming Tesla Model 3.

According to Navigant Research’s Electric Vehicle Geographic Forecasts report, by 2018 (when several 200-mile range BEVs priced under $50,000 are expected to be available), annual sales of all plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) are expected to have grown by 168% over 2015 sales.

Decoding the Data

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is conducting a study to see how households with both LEAFs and ICE vehicles  apportion their driving miles. As previewed during the DOE’s Annual Merit Review meeting, the study will survey 37,000 consumers and study in depth the driving habits of 144 households. According to preliminary data from the study, 60% of LEAF households drive the BEV more than their ICE car, and the study looks to understand factors such as greater range or access to charging infrastructure that could increase electric miles driven.

BEVs are suitable for two-car (or more) households where the ICE is used for longer trips. However, the share of households with multiple cars (currently at 57%) is expected to steadily fall in the future as carsharing programs and other mobility services remove the need for a second car. According to the recently published Navigant Research report Urban Mobility in Smart Cities, participants in North American carsharing programs are expected to grow by 10% annually to more than 4 million by 2021.

 

Time-Based Rates: What Works, What Doesn’t

— June 30, 2015

A new interim study of time-based or time-of-use (TOU) electricity rate programs shows that certain approaches and technologies get better results than others, and that utilities in the planning stages can learn some valuable lessons before they launch their own versions. For instance, the average peak demand reductions for customers on critical peak pricing (CPP) programs were nearly twice the amount (21%) compared with the average reduction among customers in critical peak rebate (CPR) programs (11%).

Opt-In or Opt-Out

The study also explored the process of enrolling customers in programs, employing either opt-in or opt-out approaches. The results showed that enrollment rates were much greater and peak demand reductions were generally lower with an opt-out approach, but retention rates were nearly the same (91% opt-out vs. 92% opt-in) for both. Given these results, there appears to be an overall cost-benefit advantage to opt-out approaches versus opt-in, though additional analysis is needed to validate and replicate this conclusion, the report authors noted.

In-Home Displays Make Little Difference

The use of in-home displays (IHDs) was also scrutinized, and results showed these devices made little difference to enrollment or retention rates. Moreover, Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) found that its program offerings without IHDs were more cost-effective for the utility in all cases than those with IHDs. This has led SMUD officials to say they do not intend to offer IHDs in the future.

PCTs Show Better Results

The use of programmable communicating thermostats (PCTs) yielded generally better results than among customers that did not have this type of device. Peak demand reductions for CPP and CPR customers with PCTs (27% to 45%) were higher than among customers without a PCT (-1% to 37%). Results from Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E) showed that rate offers for customers with PCTs were more cost-effective for the utility than for those without the device.

Besides SMUD and OG&E, the study involved eight other U.S. utilities that were part of the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) program: Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company (CEIC), DTE Energy (DTE), Green Mountain Power (GMP), Lakeland Electric (LE), Marblehead Municipal Light Department (MMLD), Minnesota Power (MP), NV Energy (NVE), and Vermont Electric Cooperative (VEC). The DOE plans to publish five more reports using data from these utilities in the coming months, with a final report expected in the first quarter of 2016.

Given the wide variety of options, designing effective time-based rate structures and processes can be a significant challenge for utility managers. What works for one utility’s customer base might not work for well for another. Yet, these interim results do provide some solid guidance, and with careful planning (noting what has and has not worked), a reasonably positive outcome is a likely result for both the utility and its participating customers.

 

Reliable Service Parts Critical to Autonomous Driving Future

— June 30, 2015

Short_Bridge_webThanks to advances in materials that increasingly avoid corrosion, modern engineering and manufacturing processes that improve build quality, and electronics that improve performance and efficiency, cars now last longer than ever. The average age of the more than 200 million cars on American roads today is nearly 11.5 years, and 20- to 30-year old machines are shockingly common. Despite how well-built vehicles have become, parts still eventually break or wear out and need replacement; this includes the sensors that control the vital systems in modern vehicles.

As cars become increasingly automated, the number of sensors has grown dramatically, and they need to be functional and reliable. This potentially poses a significant problem for vehicles after they are out of warranty or out of production. My friend Richard Truett, engineering reporter for trade publication Automotive News buys older vehicles, repairs or restores them, drives them, and sells them before moving on to the next vehicle.

While most of Richard’s vehicles are older British sports cars that predate the electronic age, he recently bought a 1988 Pontiac Fiero with relatively low mileage that was in need of his TLC. As Richard went through the car from the wheels up, he attacked the engine control electronics that were keeping the car from running properly. In the process he discovered issues that could pose serious problems for future automated vehicles. It’s actually not uncommon for people to manage to get around for months or years with the tell-tale “check engine light” illuminated, usually indicating some sort of sensor fault. For automated vehicles, that is less likely to be an option because of the dependence on sensors for basic functionality.

Lessons to be Learned

Standard industry practice after a vehicle goes out of production is for automakers and suppliers to license the production of replacement service parts to third-party manufacturers. In many cases, these service part manufacturers will also reverse engineer the original parts and produce compatible replacements. What Richard discovered when trying to replace the oxygen sensors and spark plugs on his 27-year-old sports car was that compatibility and functionality were often not a sure thing. The electronic systems in the Fiero were comparatively primitive by 2015 standards, but brand-new components as basic as an oxygen sensor or throttle position sensor fail out of the box—that’s a bad sign and these aren’t even safety-critical systems.

The sensors being used for automated driving systems are far more advanced, and the technology is evolving rapidly so components are less likely to stay in production with the original manufacturer than they were 3 decades ago. It may not even be possible for third-party manufacturers to replicate the original parts, and if they do, they may not perform to the same standard, thus hampering the performance of safety-critical automated systems.

Navigant Research’s Autonomous Vehicles report projects that by 2030, 40% of new vehicles will have some sort of autonomous driving capability built in. Those vehicles will be totally dependent on sensors that must provide accurate and reliable information about the world around that vehicle in real-time. Before we become overly reliant on these systems to get us where we need to be on our daily rounds, manufacturers need to sort out solutions that will ensure a more robust and reliable stream of service parts. Perhaps this should even be part of the safety regulations that govern automated vehicles. There are still many fundamental questions to be answered before you can summon an autonomous Uber car from your wrist and service parts is just one.

 

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