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April 2021

Get Down On It | Big Battery Technology Advances

By | Energy | No Comments

Happy Earth Day!

Speaking of Elon Musk, yes, it’s true. The recently (self) appointed Technoking, stirs up a fair share of controversy. But as Tesla has helped increase the overall production/demand for lithium-ion batteries, let’s not forget he’s also helping battery tech inch ever closer to the mainstream.This is basic economics. Make more of something and that something gets cheaper to make. Frankly, this is music to our ears. But even though this shift may be textbook, it’s exciting to see how much the price of lithium-ion packs has dropped over the last 10 years. It’s also exciting that these falling prices are allowing other innovations to emerge.

Wiser Times

Back in 2010, a 30w battery pack (typical for an electric car) cost over $35,000. But, according to Paul Cain of WTTW News, by 2019 the cost of that same 30w pack had plummeted to below $5,000.Now in 2021, as prices continue to drop, lithium-ion batteries that cost $100 per kilowatt-hour to produce looks to be our “holy grail.” Because it’s at this magical number that electric vehicles could comparably be priced to their gasoline and diesel-powered counterparts. 

This inflection point could then swing the door to EV mass adoption wide open. Even better? Government subsidies and tax credits introduced at this point could knock the door off its hinges.

Granted, this isn’t a linear drop in price over time. Every year it becomes trickier to squeeze a bit more out of lithium-ion chemistry and/or the materials used to create the packs themselves. And there is a theoretical wall to be hit out there where we’ll find it impossible to make lithium-ion better (or simply too cost-prohibitive to do so).

Good news though, as said wall is not standing in the way of our holy grail. In fact, battery pack costs in the states could hit $100 per kWh in the next two years. In fact, we could be looking at $58 per kWh by 2030.

But vehicles aren’t the only beneficiary of this big battery boom. As prices fall, it’s also getting easier to help our electrical grids go green.

California Dreamin’

As battery production costs plunge, major “grid-scale” battery projects are underway across the U.S. For instance, a decommissioned electric power station in California is now home to two mammoth lithium-ion batteries, 300 and 100 megawatts respectively. When fully online, these two titans will store enough energy to power 300,000 California homes for four hours, be that when demand is greater than supply, or during blackouts. This facility will soon be joined by others in San Diego, San Francisco, and Long Beach (among others) to establish California as the leader in high-capacity battery stations. As top dog, the Golden State will provide 1.2 gigawatts of the storage being established this year alone in the United States. A great start, yes, but work still needs to be done to enjoy true efficiencies of scale. 

As Cheryl Katz notes in her piece for Yale Environment 360:

“While energy storage is thriving in high-value markets, such as California, battery prices still need to come down more to reach large-scale global deployment. In the U.S., proponents hope the incoming Biden administration will pursue more favorable energy policies, including extending the Investment Tax Credit — which ramps down to 10 percent for commercial solar systems and ends for residential solar in 2022 — and expanding the benefit to stand-alone storage.”

And, if this wasn’t reason enough to keep Federal support for clean energy (battery tech especially) from winding down, there’s another major development to catch wind of.  

Will it Go Round in Circles?

As if there wasn’t enough epic clean tech news swirling around, off-shore wind farm projects are also picking up speed. For instance, by 2024 Ocean Wind, a major wind farm project will go live 15 miles off the coast of Atlantic City. 

The state’s first foray into off-shore clean energy, Ocean Wind’s massive Halide-X turbines sporting blades 351 feet in diameter (rotating 853 feet above the waves) will each provide enough energy to power 16,000 homes. There are benefits to going big (much as we noted in California) as fewer turbines are required per location the larger they are. And Ocean Wind turbines will go on to contribute to an estimated 61 gigawatts of power that will be generated by off-shore wind turbines worldwide by 2025. But epic size alone isn’t enough to outgrow one of wind power’s long-standing criticisms. Namely, nowhere does the wind blow 24/7, 365. But here again, the increasing availability of bigger, cheaper, better batteries is already having an impact. 

Chandu Visweswariah writing for Greentech Media breaks down the idea of hybrid power plants, and how ample data shows the combination of different types of clean energy tech and storage capabilities under one roof (so to speak) show promise of freeing us from the shackles of coal-fueled energy. But if the promise is so apparent, Chandu posits, where are all the hybrid plants? Chandu’s theory brings us back to something that’s looming right over the horizon:

“We fear that in many regions around the world, current government incentives for renewable energy investment, established well before the emergence of utility-scale battery storage, may be distorting this growing market. For example, in the United States the Investment Tax Credit for solar power includes investment in battery storage, while the Production Tax Credit for wind does not.”

He continues:

“Globally, we need to ensure that subsidies and credits do not introduce perversities or impediments to true progress; they should encourage investment in the application of storage but not favor specific technology or design choices.”

Yes. This is absolutely correct. 

Here on this Earth Day, you and I and every single body on this planet need to start thinking about ways we can work to keep the roads (and the fields, and the oceans) cleared for true progress. 

We’re finally experiencing some real momentum with regards to cleantech. And it’s exciting to work with people like Rich and the gang, who are tinkering away in the garage in an effort to help real change happen. 

But for the rest of us, especially folks like me who aren’t as handy with ratchet extenders and model view controller panels, let’s find ways to pitch in, too. 

One easy way is to make sure your voice is heard when it comes to supporting green tax credits and subsidies. Here in the states, make sure you contact your state representatives

But if you have other ways to pitch in and support progress, make sure to let us know.

(Let’s keep the music going…)

Ford’s New Mustang is an…Electric Mustang? (April Fool’s Day?)

By | Sustainability | No Comments

Maybe performance-focused green vehicle superfans won’t bat an eye at the mention of a new and completely electric Ford Mustang. But I’ll admit, a promoted tweet recently announcing this exactly caused me to do a bit of a…An electric Mus…what? 

Well, hey now. I’m all for giant auto companies bringing their most popular and beloved brands into the world of clean tech. In fact, in researching for this little diddy, I’ve learned the Mach-E was actually available back in November of 2019. But as you well know, the last couple of years have been a bit…intense…for everybody. So I’m not going to be too hard on myself here. Point remains though:

What IS an electric Mustang exactly? Like, as an IDEA…

Am I finally showing my age (and/or ignorance) in feeling like everything that’s made a Mustang a MUSTANG is almost the antithesis of environmentally-friendly transportation? 

Probably? 

But, unlike most of what I see promoted on Twitter, this certainly piqued my interest. Instead of clicking to read the tweet (sorry not sorry Ford Twitter Marketing Agency), I decided to canvas a few current independent reviews to see how people who really know their Mustangs were wrapping their heads around this electric offering.

Edmunds’ Expert Rating: “8.3/10”

In his review, Mark Takahashi notes that, while not being the fastest nor the most affordable electric vehicle now on the market, he feels it takes the top spot in their Luxury EV class. It’s a surprising call, but Mark’s reasoning based on the Mach-E’s starting price point is sound. 

(Though this would be in reference to either the Select or Premium model, as the California Route 1, First Edition, and GT models start roughly at 50, 59, and $61,000 respectively…with the GT not being available until late-summer 2021). Ford Mach-EPerhaps sensing the controversy he was stirring up, Mark goes on to note how much the Mach-E has going for it. For instance, I hadn’t realized this is the first vehicle from Ford designed specifically to be an electric vehicle. (That doesn’t mean much with regards to the actual car, but I thought it was neat.)

While you won’t confuse it for its older siblings that are packing a V-8, Mike’s opinion is that the Mach-E is fun enough to drive to comfortably exist within the Mustang brand. (Noted!) The Premium model also provides a solid selection of drivetrains and extended-range batteries available as an option on all models for those looking to cruise. 

All in all, not bad. But not everyone agrees. (Even if they kind of do?)

Car and Driver Magazine: “…when we think Mustang, hushed serenity isn’t what comes to mind.”

Okay, so, while Annie White’s Mach-E review for Car and Driver is as thorough as what we read at Edmonds’, she quickly taps into the source of my initial Lebowski-ing:

“…the Mach-E is quick enough to carry the Mustang name. But we’ve driven a lot of Mustangs, and we don’t like them just because they’re quick. The Mustang lineup includes some of our favorite engines, with intoxicating exhaust notes and more character than any electric motor. They are also thrilling to drive. The Shelby models, in particular, deliver direct chassis responses and steering that’s hyper-communicative, and the risk of getting bucked off the pavement due to your own inattention or lack of skill is quite real. Plus: those exhaust notes. Mustangs aren’t for everyone, which is exactly why the idea of aiming the Mach-E at the masses is so controversial.”Forgive the length of the quote, but (in my humble opinion) that there is some fantastic writing. It also carves right into the heart of what makes the idea of the Mach-E so challenging for some, even amongst the environmentally aware. 

It’s not that this new Mustang is flirting around in Prius and Leaf territory (note: casting no shade here, just making a point, friends). Annie confirms what Mark enjoyed about how it drives. It’s fast. The mid-tier model she helped test went from 0-60 in 5.1. That’s considerably better than my trusty 4-cylinder, Cherry Red Toyota Camry. And, unlike said Camry, the Mach-E has a super sexy design, an elegantly refined interior, and a surprising amount of cargo space (don’t fret though Lil’ Red, you’ll always be the reliable ride that carried me through the pandemic).

But…even with the boosts in performance, it just doesn’t CHUG like the Mustangs of yore. And, unlike the Tesla Model S, the shadows of generations of passionate fans and the legacy of the brand itself loom large over an electric-first Mustang. 

How would a true brand loyalist react? Let’s bring this home with the help of the Mustang Fan Club.

Mustang Fan Club: “My personal opinion on the Mustang Mach-E…”

I haven’t been able to find the name* of the Mustang Superfan who authors content at the MFC website (will update as able), but I did want to lead here with their self-described credentials:

“I personally have never owned another vehicle other than Mustang. My first car was a 2001 Mustang V6, the second was a 2011 Mustang GT and my current Mustang is a 2015 Mustang GT. All of them have been my daily driver. At times, a larger car would have been advantageous for me to own. I’m sure my bank account would like for me to stop going to the gas station every other day. 93 octane gets expensive! But I chose Mustang because it gives me a feeling no other car has given me. I have driven my fair share of high horsepower and exotic vehicles but at the end of the day, the Ford Mustang is where my passion stays.”

Okay, yes. This is my brand expert. 

And by “brand expert” I mean someone who is going to help me resolve what, in my mind, is this Mach-E brand identity paradox. 

And by “resolve” I mean I assumed I’d found someone who would say an electric Mustang isn’t a paradox, it’s an aberration. 

Someone who would probably lead with some nice comments about the benefits of electric vehicles and green tech followed by a bone-snapping takedown by someone furious at Ford for, despite any and all good intentions, so obviously straying from the Mustang Way. 

Man…

Was I wrong. 

And now I get it. 

And now I am at peace. 

Let’s begin with a POV only a true lifelong fan of the brand would think to add to their review:

“I want to mention the Mustang II generation for a second. Mustang II was produced during 1974 – 1978. During that time in history the OPEC fuel crisis was in full swing. This caused major restraints in the automotive world so therefore are beloved high horsepower, rowdy Mustangs we choked down to meet the automotive standards of the time.”“The Mustang community tends to forget the 1974 Mustang II was the first of only two Mustang models to be honored with the Motor Trend Car of the Year Award. Between 1974 and 1978 Mustang II models sold over 1,100,000 Mustangs within those four years. That’s just over 10% of total Mustang sales to date! The point I’m trying to make here is we all have our own opinion on what Mustang means to us. Mustang has been here for the past 55 years because of how it adjusted with the world around us.” 

How IT adjusted with the world around US.

Superfan continues:

“The slogan Mustang Fan Club has always gone by: “It’s not just a car, it’s a lifestyle”. We all have different lifestyles and Mustang fits into our lives differently…I have driven my fair share of high horsepower and exotic vehicles but at the end of the day, the Ford Mustang is where my passion stays.”

This all is just… fantastic. 

As a marketing, advertising, content…whatever the hell I am, I’ve spent a lot more time under the hoods of brands than I have cars. And there is a TON of to-do about how brands need to be like real people so that we (human beings) can relate to them. There is as much, if not more, to-do about whether or not that’s all bull pucky. 

Let’s (carefully) step over all of that for now. 

Because most of this bushwah focuses on how to make brands relevant, not how to keep them relevant. 

And what twaddle there is about brand relevance focus on what we, the consumers, want. Not what we need

And what we need is greatly, increasingly, critically determined by the world around us right now. 

We have 12 years left to make the changes needed to avoid the first big calamitous shift in global temperatures. And I say “first calamitous shift,” from a position of privilege, because our destabilizing climate is already impacting people world-wide. 

And folks under the hoods of brands like Mustang, big brands that thousands, if not millions, of people have big silly beautifully strong feelings for, should be doing exactly what Mustang Superfan nails in their review–pushing the brands in their charge to adjust with the world around us.

Not everyone will be happy. No one ever is. But we live in a world that needs us to make some major changes. Soon. So, here’s to more shake-ups caused by more electric Mustangs. It’s going to be an intense ride.

But intense rides can also be a lot of fun…

*Jaron Cole!