Navigant Research Blog

PG&E-Bidgely Pilot Yields Energy Savings, Now It Needs to Scale

— April 20, 2015

Separating energy use in a home down to the appliance level for improving efficiency has long been a goal of technology vendors and utilities alike—some call it a holy grail. The latest effort by California utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and partner Bidgely yielded up to 7.7% energy savings among some 850 participants in a pilot program. The results were announced recently and highlight one of several methods aimed at energy load disaggregation.

The PG&E-Bidgely pilot lasted from August through December of last year. Customers who took part were given an in-home energy monitor that gathered real-time electricity consumption data from a smart meter and broke it down by device. For example, the amount of usage by an air conditioner, refrigerator, pool pump, or clothes dryer was broken out along with a cost estimate. The Bidgely system then provided updates and alerts to customers through online access or mobile devices. Armed with this data, customers could take steps to reduce their consumption, such as delaying a dryer cycle until rates were lower or adjusting the air conditioner (AC).

Points of Entry

Other vendors in this space, like PlotWatt and Smappee, offer to analyze and interpret energy consumption down to the appliance level, as well. Both offer ways of detecting appliance-level consumption and utilize a separate device to do so. But unlike Bidgely, these companies are not focused on utilities as their market point of entry. PlotWatt aims its service at residential customers and restaurants, while Belgium-based Smappee is going direct to consumers for now.

The other big player working to help utilities’ customers reduce consumption is Opower. Though it does not disaggregate household load, its programs do help residential customers change their behavior to reduce consumption. Opower programs have shown that energy use can be reduced by 1% to 3%. In behavioral demand response programs, peak demand has been lowered by up to 5%.

Mainstreaming

For its part, Opower has been able to convince dozens of utilities to deploy its solution at scale among millions of end users. The challenge for Bidgely and the disaggregation competitors is this issue of scale. Can they also provide insights and help change user behaviors across a large number of customers? These latest results are promising, and Bidgely has expanded with projects at Texas utility TXU and London Hydro in Canada. As noted in Navigant Research’s report, Home Energy Management, there is growing momentum and consumer awareness around the latest tools for reducing energy use. The trick will be in sustaining this momentum and moving beyond early adopters and into the mainstream.

 

After a Century, the Era of the Cadillac V8 Is Over

— April 16, 2015

Twenty years ago, the thought of building a flagship Cadillac sedan without a V8 engine under the hood would have been virtually unthinkable. Nonetheless, in the coming months, the all-new Cadillac CT6 will hit the road to take on the likes of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series with only 4- and 6-cylinder engine options to start with plus diesel and plug-in hybrid electric capability in the future. General Motors (GM) has created what it hopes will be a viable competitor to the segment leaders by harnessing a combination of advanced powertrain technologies and lightweighting to achieve both its performance goals and increasingly stringent fuel efficiency and emissions targets.

Cadillac introduced the first mass-produced V8 engine 101 years ago and, until as recently as 2010, every top of the line Cadillac had a minimum of 8 cylinders under the hood. After first being teased in a television ad run during the 2015 Academy Awards broadcast, the CT6 is debuting at the 2015 New York Auto Show and goes on sale later this year.

Bigger, Better, Not Heavier

In order to help meet the often conflicting goals of performance, driving dynamics, and energy efficiency, Cadillac is incorporating all of the major technologies discussed in Navigant Research’s Automotive Fuel Efficiency Technologies report. Despite its significantly larger size compared to the existing CTS sedan, the CT6 is estimated to weigh about the same 3,600 lbs thanks to extensive use of aluminum in its structure.

A combination of stampings, castings, and extrusions accounts for 64% of the mass of the structure and contributes to an overall reduction of 198 lbs compared to a comparable steel version. GM developed new techniques for laser and spot welding of aluminum in addition to the rivets, screws, and adhesives used extensively by Ford in its new F-150 pickup trucks.

Still High Performance

Starting from a lighter platform enables the engineers to utilize smaller, more efficient engines without sacrificing the performance that customers in this segment expect. At launch, the CT6 will be available with GM’s existing 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, an all-new 3.6-liter normally aspirated V6, or a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 producing 400 horsepower and 400 lbs-ft. of torque. All of the engines feature direct injection and variable valve timing. The V6s will be GM’s first overhead-camshaft engines to feature cylinder deactivation with the ability to disable valve actuation and fuel flow on 2 cylinders under light load conditions.

Each power plant is paired with one of GM’s new 8-speed automatic transmissions and has auto stop-start functionality to shut down the engine when the vehicle comes to a stop to prevent wasting fuel while idling. Cadillac won’t reveal fuel economy numbers for the CT6 until later this year, but the new 3.6-liter V6 is expected to increase fuel economy of the midsize CTS by 9% compared to the 2015 model.

V8 86ed

In addition to these advanced gasoline engines, Cadillac plans to add both diesel and plug-in hybrid electric powertrains to its lineup over the next several years. What about the classic V8 configuration? Those are now limited to a pair of niche but still highly profitable segments, the ultra-high-performance CTS-V sedan and the full-size Escalade SUV. The rest of the lineup will rely on fours, sixes, and electrification from now on. It seems that a century after it began, the era of the mainstream Cadillac V8 engine has drawn to a close.

Update: Shortly after this blog was posted, Cadillac president Johan de Nysschen contacted me to confirm that the brand does in fact have a new high-performance V8 engine in development. While V8s will no longer be the volume powertrain, they will remain part of the future Cadillac lineup.

 

Seeking Fuel Economy, Automakers Slim Down

— April 16, 2015

As automakers scramble to stay on track to meet the 54.5 mpg corporate average fuel economy mandate by 2025, weight reduction is expected to be one of the key pathways to hitting that target. During 2015, General Motors (GM) is launching a wide range of new-generation vehicles—from its subcompact Chevrolet Spark up through its flagship Cadillac CT6 sedan, with virtually every new model boasting significant weight reductions thanks to new computer-aided engineering (CAE) processes.

Lightweighting and Global Platforms

In Navigant Research’s Automotive Fuel Efficiency Technologies report, lightweighting is identified along with engine downsizing and engine stop-start technologies as the main vectors for achieving the most cost-effective improvements in fuel efficiency for high-volume vehicles. GM is pursuing all of these approaches, but its weight reduction efforts are among the most notable. Similar to Ford’s approach of rationalizing its product lineup with common vehicles sold in global markets, GM also made a shift to global platforms in the latter part of the last decade.

Designing global vehicles that must conform to often conflicting crash safety standards led to a first generation of vehicles that often turned out heavier than previous models because they were not properly optimized. For GM, the problem was exacerbated by the financial difficulties it faced during the late 2000s leading up to its 2009 bankruptcy reorganization. The continuous effort to cut costs led to a gutting of engineering resources as staff were either laid off or fled for greener pastures in other industries.

Revving Up

Over the last 5 years, as the auto industry has recovered to prerecession sales levels, the once sparsely populated engineering centers at GM, Chrysler, and Ford are now full again and new design techniques are being applied to the next generation of vehicles. We’ve already seen Ford introduce an all-new aluminum-bodied F-150 pickup truck that cut nearly 700 lbs of weight.

So far in 2015, GM has announced the next-generation Chevrolet Volt and Malibu and the new Cadillac CT6 sedan, with a new Chevrolet Camaro and Cruze still to come. The Volt and Malibu will be nearly 250 lbs and 300 lbs lighter, respectively, while the CT6 is projected to have a base curb weight of about 3,600 lbs. The latter is comparable to the midsize CTS sedan, which is 8 inches shorter and 2 inches narrower. The CT6 is roughly 800 lbs lighter than the Mercedes-Benz S550, 700 lbs less than the current BMW 740i, and 400 lbs less than the similarly sized Cadillac XTS.

Optimization

GM has achieved these impressive reductions through extensive application of multidisciplinary optimization (MDO). Traditionally, the development of various aspects of a vehicle was siloed, with teams responsible for specific aspects of the design. The expanded use of advanced CAE and simulations has enabled greater collaboration early in the design process, leading to more granular optimization. Engineers are able to select a wider variety of materials, including aluminum and high-strength steel alloys, to achieve the best balance of weight, strength, manufacturability, and cost.

Just as Ford was able to maintain or improve the payload and towing capabilities of its trucks while shifting to smaller, more efficient engines, GM is able to improve the performance and driving dynamics of its vehicles despite downsized engines. Chevrolet has projected a 7% improvement in combined fuel economy for the base gasoline engine Malibu to 31 mpg, while the new hybrid version is projected to achieve 47 mpg combined. Over the next 10 years, this pattern of weight reduction is expected to continue as other new materials such as carbon fiber composites are put to use, benefiting both electrified vehicles and those that continue with internal combustion engines.

 

Surprises in U.K. Renewables Bidding Round

— April 15, 2015

The U.K. Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) has announced the results of the first competitive Contracts for Difference (CfD) allocation round. CfDs are designed to give investors the confidence and certainty they need to invest in low-carbon electricity generation. The government does this by paying the generator the difference between the cost of investing in a particular low-carbon technology, known as the strike price, and the reference price, or the average market price for electricity. Generators participate in the electricity market, including selling their power, as usual. This means that if the reference price is higher than the strike price, generators must refund the difference.

The DECC assigned 27 contracts, totaling 2.1 GW of capacity, in round one; the government estimates its total spend will be £315 billion ($470 billion in 2012 prices). Wind projects will supply 1,910 MW of capacity, of which 750 MW will be onshore and 1,160 MW will be offshore. These projects, along with the five offshore projects (3,184 MW) that were allocated CfDs in the so-called round zero, underpin Navigant Research’s forecast in our World Wind Energy Market Update 2015 report that the United Kingdom will install 10.6 GW of wind capacity in the next 5 years.

Low-Balling

In addition to the wind capacity, round one winners include two energy-from-waste projects, with associated combined heat and power systems, that total almost 95 MW of capacity. Three additional projects that use biomass gasification technologies have a combined capacity of 62 MW. Finally—and perhaps surprisingly, given the well-known cloudy and windy British weather—five solar plants, with a total capacity of 71 MW, are also included.

The winning strike prices also brought some surprises. On the one hand, low-bidding solar projects outbid onshore wind projects—which are usually considered the cheapest source of renewable energy. The solar projects offered £50 per MWh, or roughly $0.075 per kWh—very close to the current U.K. wholesale electricity price.

On the other hand, the offshore wind winning bids offered £114.39 ($0.169/kWh) and £119.89 ($0.178/kWh). Interestingly, the Danish Energy Agency announced the winner of its 400 MW Horns Rev. 3 offshore wind farm on the same day. The winning bid was 52% lower than those in the United Kingdom were and will run for 3 fewer years.

Storm Clouds 

If these solar projects actually get built, they will put solar costs in the United Kingdom at a similar level to winning bids in regions with excellent solar resources, such as Dubai and Texas. But there are some clouds on the horizon. James Rowe, director with Hadstone Energy (the developer of one of the lowest bidding projects), put this construction in doubt in a pair of LinkedIn posts (“We Got Our CfD … Oh Dear” and “What Went Wrong with the CfD Auction for Solar?”) in which he explored the reasons why the players (including Hadstone) bid so low.

At this point, it’s difficult to measure the level of success or failure of this allocation round. The solar bids at £50 per MWh are unlikely to ever be built. If others, which bid £79.23/MWh, do come online before the end of 2017, it will be the first time that solar in a resource-poor country has outbid onshore wind in a country with good wind resources.

 

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