All posts tagged 'EV'

Clash of the (Electric Vehicle Charging Station) Titans: ECOtality v. NRG

May 27, 2012 21:29
by J. Wylie Donald
What do you get when the beneficiary of “the largest public/private federal transportation electrification grant provided by the U.S. Department of Energy” concludes that “one of the country’s largest power generation and retail electricity businesses” is not playing fair?  What you get is quite an interesting lawsuit filed in the California Court of Appeal.  See ECOtality, Inc. v. California Public Utilities Comm’n, et al., Verified Petition for Writ of Mandate (attached).  ECOtality, the project manager of The EV Project, filed suit last Friday seeking to upset a settlement NRG Energy, Inc. has entered into with the California Public Utilities Commission arising from the “California Energy Crisis” of 2000-01.  You didn’t think ECOtality even existed back then.  You would be wrong (it was formed in 1989), but you would be right in concluding that its present lawsuit has nothing to do with what NRG (actually its predecessor) did or didn’t do back in 2000.  The present lawsuit is all about who will dominate the electric vehicle infrastructure marketplace in California in 2012 and beyond. NRG is settling the PUC’s claim to resolve price-gouging allegations of nearly $1 billion.  Payment of $122,500,000, combined with an earlier payment of almost $300 million “captures significant value for California under circumstances where contentious and expensive litigation would otherwise have continued for many years and with uncertain results,” according to California PUC Commissioner Mike Florio.  ECOtality sees things differently.  “If the [settlement] Agreement stands, it will permit NRG, subsidized by the value of the California ratepayers’ released claims, to establish itself and its subsidiary company, eVgo … into a controlling market position for electric vehicle (“EV”) charging facilities in California. The consequence is that NRG will not only be permitted to pursue monopolistic pricing to the injury of California consumers, but also effectively destroy its competitors – including Petitioner ECOtality – in this nascent marketplace, utilizing a rate-payer subsidy.”  Petition at 4.  ECOtality charges the PUC failed to follow proper process, ignored legislative directives, acted ultra vires its authority and unlawfully failed to restore overcharges to the ratepayers.  Petition at 27-31. What are you to make of this?  On the one hand is NRG.  According to ECOtality, NRG is a colossus delivering over 2 gigawatts of power to over 2 million customers in 16 states.  Its subsidiary, eVgo, “created the nation’s first comprehensive, privately funded electric vehicle infrastructure of home charging stations and public fast charging stations, ensuring that EV drivers have complete confidence they will never run out of power on the go.” Petition ¶ 11.  NRG’s and eVgo’s websites confirm all this.  More specifically, for $89 per month on a three-year agreement, eVgo will install a home charging station and give you non-peak electricity to charge your car at home, and anytime at eVgo network stations.  But you can only do this in Dallas-Forth Worth and Houston at about 5 dozen built and planned stations.  eVgo isn’t operational anywhere else. On the other hand is every other business interested in electric vehicle infrastructure.  ECOtality’s Petition identifies a number of them, like Better Place, Car Charging Group, Inc., Coulomb Technologies, Aloha Systems, Incorporated, Tesla Motors, TechNet, City CarShare, and Evercharge, each of  “whose business includes participation, either presently, or in the future, in the California marketplace for electric vehicle charging services.“  Petition at 2.  And it includes ECOtality, whose residential charging operations in California include 1245 in the Bay Area, 729 in the San Diego area, and 418 in the Los Angeles area, and whose commercial facilities include 159 stations in the San Diego area (447 planned) and 177 in the Los Angeles area (214 planned).  Petition ¶ 6. ECOtality is also the data gatherer for the Department of Energy’s EV Project, which is collecting information on the use of electric cars in a half dozen states (California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Texas, and Tennessee, as well as the District of Columbia).  The EV Project numbers don’t reflect total regional or national sales or production.  But they do give some information on the penetration of electric cars in the market.   As of the end of March California users had logged over 12 million miles.  See Q1 2012 EV Project Report at 6 (attached).  Texas users trailed every other state, at 575,000 miles barely doubling the miles put on by District of Columbia drivers. So what bothers ECOtality about the NRG-PUC settlement?  Under the agreement, NRG is set to become a major player in California.  One aspect of the agreement is the payment of $20 million “cash consideration” to the PUC.  Another aspect is the construction and operation of 200 fast charging stations that will be available for use by the general public, at a cost of $50,500,000.  Then there is the development, funding and implementation of pilot programs for EV-related technology and EV car sharing. But all of that is nothing when compared with the massive involvement NRG is mandated to make in the California market as set out in the Joint Offer of Settlement:  “the installation of infrastructure to support ten-thousand privately-owned chargers at a total of one-thousand multi-family, workplace and public interest sites (e.g., public university).”  In the language of the settlement, NRG is providing 1000 Make-Ready Arrays, which will provide 10,000 Make-Ready Stubs, to which property owners can attach charging stations.  This is to cost $40 million over four years with minimum numbers of facilities specified in various areas.  NRG has discretion to complete the build-out both geographically and by site-type (e.g., multi-family, retail) in the manner most advantageous to it.  If NRG builds along the lines of the minimum distribution mandated by the settlement, that translates to 5500 chargers in Los Angeles, 2750 in San Francisco and 1000 in San Diego. NRG has exclusive rights to provide service to the Make-Ready Stub for 18 months after the stub is ready for operation. In other words, ECOtality’s market dominance in California will be challenged.  Specifically, “By giving NRG an 18 month head start, subsidized by ratepayers, the Agreement permits NRG to “cherry pick” 1,200 of the most favorable California real estate locations for [electric vehicle charging stations] in a manner that will not only saturate the market, but permanently disadvantage its competitors, including Petitioner, by relegating them to much less valuable secondary locations.”  Petition ¶ 40. Our take on all this is that this is all about timing.  Get there fustest with the mostest is poor English, out-of-context and ahistorical, but nevertheless apt. Stated differently, keep the other fellow from getting there with anything. When the cavalry is unavailable, try a lawsuit.  As the market for electric cars cranks up (ECOtality’s website reports 28 million miles driven so far in the EV Project), the difference between success and failure may come down to location, brand recognition, and market access.  The battle is joined on all three in California.  We will not be surprised by variations on this theme elsewhere.   20120525 ECOtality v California Public Utilities Commission et al, Verified Petition for Writ of Mandate.pdf (286.06 kb) Q1 2012 EV Project Report, ECOtality.pdf (8.31 mb)

Regulation | Sustainability | Utilities

Travails of A123, Fisker and Ener1 Don't UnPlug Nissan CEO Ghosn at New York Auto Show

April 5, 2012 07:05
by J. Wylie Donald
 Imagine an industry.  Let’s make it a high technology industry.  And we’ll make it risky.  It will be a new technology, linked to other new technologies.  We’ll have over a dozen companies in this industry and some of them will partner with their suppliers or their customers, just as established industries do.  And just because it is new technology doesn’t mean that old issues don’t matter.  Each company will still have to satisfy investor expectations, raise money, hope demand stays ahead of supply, beat out their competition (both domestic and overseas) and avoid snafus of all sorts. And if some of the companies in our imagined industry failed, would that surprise any of us?  And if they got sued in shareholder derivative suits alleging misrepresentations in their 10Ks, that would be par for the course in the United States in the early 21st century, right? Now hold those thoughts and transport yourself back to reality and listen to Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan, at the New York Auto Show yesterday. His talk was basically an advertising pitch for Nissan, its turnaround and its increasing presence (with its partner Renault) in the world market.  But if you can get to the question and answer session about halfway through you will get some insight into what the third largest car company alliance in the world is thinking about electric cars, and specifically about the Nissan Leaf.  According to Mr. Ghosn by 2020 the Leaf will have ten percent of the market where it is available because Nissan is moving to local production, which will remove a bottleneck.  It has built a quality product as evidenced by the remote monitoring being done by Nissan on every car:  they have no quality problems.  Consumer surveys show people want low carbon vehicles. And last, as the American and world economies get back on their feet, gas prices will continue to rise and the economic incentive to drive an electric vehicle will only become more powerful. Mr. Ghosn is not alone in his vision.  Nearly every other car company is in, or getting in, to the electric car business. And nearly every bank was making subprime loans and we know how great an idea that was.  And let’s not forget the train wrecks caused by the internet bubble when everyone could make millions off of companies like iVillage and AOL and it was a verity that bricks and mortar were things of the past. And if we look at the electric vehicle segment we see lithium ion battery maker A123 and two of its officers subject to suit on March 2 for false and misleading statements where its stock price tanked after A123 disclosed that it was recalling thousands of batteries because of a manufacturing problem.  In February automobile startup Fisker Automotive was sued by an investor upset that he was being forced to put more money into Fisker, which hadn’t met DOE funding milestones nor sales targets and needed millions more in cash.  And in January  Ener1 (parent to battery maker EnerDel) filed for bankruptcy citing increased competition from Korean and Japanese battery makers.  Some take these as signs of the demise of the industry.  But if we go back to our imaginary industry, we see that none of this is surprising.  Of course there are lawsuits, squabbles over the chase for funding, and bankruptcies.   Wikipedia makes clear, however, that this is a competitive, active industry.  It lists over a dozen battery companies in this new high technology area, joined with another new high technology industry (electric cars).  We list them all below to emphasize the point. The travails of A123, Fisker and Ener1 prove nothing more than that it is a tough marketplace.  1List of Electric Vehicle Battery Manufacturers:  A123Systems, Altairnano, Axeon, Concorde Battery, E-One Moli Energy, Electrovaya, EnerDel, Li-Tec Battery GmbH, NEC, Primearth EV Energy Co., Sanyo, Thunder Sky, XINCHI Li-ion Battery, Valence Technology, LG Chem, SB LiMotive, GS Yuasa. 2 List of Plug-In Electric Vehicle Manufacturers: Audi, BMW, Citroen, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Opel, Peugeot, Renault, Rolls-Royce, Saab, Subaru, Suzuki, Toyota, Volkswagen, Volvo.

Carbon Dioxide | Sustainability

Notwithstanding Solar Bankruptcies, Government Clean Technology Funding Has Not Stopped (For Electric Vehicles Anyway)

October 9, 2011 21:13
by J. Wylie Donald
Notwithstanding the bad press garnered recently by some clean technology business models that relied on government largesse (most notably the failure of Solyndra LLC and its accompanying half-billion dollar government guarantee), government funding of "green" is not going away.  Last Thursday, ECOtality announced the award of a five year $26.4 million contract with the Department of Energy to continue to test and evaluate advanced vehicles.   As stated by ECOtality, "The primary goal of the Advanced Vehicle Testing and Evaluation project is to provide key data for technology modeling, and research and development programs, by benchmarking and validating the performance of light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles."  So ECOtality is testing; is anyone buying?  The predictions are that quite a few will be.  The Department of Energy and others have put together $230 million to promote the development of electric vehicle infrastructure in six states (Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Texas and Tennessee) and the District of Columbia.  The EV Project, as it is called, is a significant venture and one in which ECOtality is heavily involved.  This month marks the beginning of the third and final year of the project.  How many drivers are we talking about?  Initially, the numbers are small, but the upside is not.  To quote ECOtality again:  "The ultimate goal of The EV Project is to take the lessons learned from the deployment of these first 8,300 EVs, and the charging infrastructure supporting them, to enable the streamlined deployment of the next 5,000,000 EVs."   As of the end of September the lead electric vehicles in this country are Nissan's LEAF, with sales of approximately 7,000 and General Motors' Volt, at a little more than half that.   So there is a ways to go. But we are confident that we will get there.  Although justifications for shifting to electric vehicles include minimizing carbon emissions and energy independence, the reason the switch will happen is cost.  The advantage over the internal combustioin engine is immense.  According to General Motors:   "The Volt should cost less than 2 cents per mile to drive on electricity, compared with 12 cents a mile on gasoline at a price of $3.60 a gallon."  Which leads to the most interesting part of the story:  the companies that are part of all this.  Besides electric utilities and state and local governments, partners in the EV Project include, among others, retailers (IKEA, Sears, Macy's, Best Buy), property managers (Jones Lang Lasalle), restaurants (Cracker Barrel), hotels (Loews), oil companies (BP), and supermarkets (FredMeyer).  The business model is simple.  With a high-speed charging connection, a customer's EV can be recharged to 80% in about 30 minutes.  Enough time for a quick lunch or a little shopping.  And if the customer will be there longer (like at work or overnight), then there is a further opportunity.  Practitioners should take note.  Even if EV's are not here yet, the leases and zoning approvals that one is negotiating now could be set up to ensure that the opportunity will be available, but only if one is thinking about it. 

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