Monthly Archives: January 2015

The left-hand headlight assembly with the rubber cover removed (Image: T. Larkum)

Changing the Headlamp Bulbs in a Renault ZOE

ZOE Headlight Bulb and Owner's Manual (Image: T. Larkum)
Figure 1: ZOE Headlight Bulb and Owner’s Manual (Image: T. Larkum)

The headlights in a Renault ZOE are not particularly powerful at the best of times, but recently it became clear that my car was giving out so little light that it must have a blown headlamp. Having often changed the bulbs in other cars I decided to take this job on myself, despite finding that changing the bulb in my wife’s Ford Focus was something of a trial.

The left-hand headlight assembly with the rubber cover removed (Image: T. Larkum)
Figure 2: The left-hand headlight assembly with the rubber cover removed (Image: T. Larkum)

I dived into the Owner’s Manual (see Figure 1) to confirm the type required – “Bulb Type: H7, use anti U.V. 55W bulbs so as not to damage the plastic on the headlight” – and picked one up from the local Halfords.

Renault ZOE headlamp bulb assembly (Image: T. Larkum)
Figure 3: Renault ZOE headlamp bulb assembly (Image: T. Larkum)

The process of changing the bulb (the left-hand one) was surprisingly easy:

1. Pull off the rubber cover. See Figure 2 – the bulb is located in the housing just below the big white sticker.

2. Reach into the housing and grasp the headlamp assembly – it’s pretty fiddly, particularly if you have large hands – see Figure 3.

3. Twist the headlamp assembly anti-clockwise about 20 degrees. This is the trickiest bit as it’s both hard to hold and see. I jiggled it and eventually it turned enough to come out.

4. Pull out the bulb from its holder, and replace. Again this is a bit tricky as the bulb can be seated very firmly, just pull and jiggle to get it out. See Figure 4.

5. Repeat sequence in reverse, but try not to touch the glass of the new bulb.

Headlamp assembly removed ready for new bulb (Image: T. Larkum)
Figure 4: Headlamp assembly removed ready for new bulb (Image: T. Larkum)

That’s it – job done, and it was much easier and quicker than many other cars (including the Ford Focus!).

Plug-in Car Registrations in UK – December 2014 (Image: Inside EVs)

Plug-In Electric Car Sales In UK Continue To Grow

December 2014 was the second best month ever in terms of plug-in electric car sales in the UK.

2,114 registrations (2,141 according to data in the SMMT table here) is seven times more than in December 2013 and allows plug-ins to take over 1.27% market share.

For the year 2014, registrations reached 14,498, four times more than in 2013.  Average market share for the year is rising – 0.585%.

Plug-in Car Registrations in UK – December 2014 (Image: Inside EVs)
Plug-in Car Registrations in UK – December 2014 (Image: Inside EVs)

Mitsubishi stated that the Outlander Plug-in was the best-selling plug-in car in the UK, without revealing numbers though:

“The Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in electric vehicle has been the major highlight of the UK car market in 2014. Its introduction has transformed the plug-in market, which it now leads by a significant margin, accounting for nearly half of all FYTD sales.”

As we know from previous stories, Nissan LEAF had 4,051 registrations (55% market share of all-electrics).

There are now over 23,000 plug-in electric cars in the UK.

Source: Inside EVs

General Electric Watt Station Charge Post (Image: GE)

Innovative on-street EV charging solutions

While around 70% of UK households have access to an off-street location which can potentially be used for charging an EV, around 30% of UK households (40% in London) do not have a suitable location for home-based, overnight EV charging. This is potentially a significant barrier for EV adoption given the early stages of UK market development.

For EV-owning households with no off-street parking provision, the technical options and level of financial support are limited. While, in principle, local authorities are able to apply for funding to install an on-street charge point close to the EV-owner’s property, recent information from the DfT reveals that only two local councils have opted to provide this type of support.

Given that on-street units are also costly to purchase and install, the challenge therefore is to develop innovative and low-cost EV charging solutions for households and residential areas where no off-street parking/ charging facilities exist.

General Electric Watt Station Charge Post (Image: GE)
General Electric Watt Station Charge Post (Image: GE)

This white paper therefore outlines five possible alternative options which, depending on context, could provide safe, low-cost EV charging solutions for households with no off-street parking:

1. Cable channels and guides
2. Drop kerbs
3. ‘Pop-up power’ units and ‘power bollards’
4. Street lighting – shared power supplies
5. Shared EV-parking solutions

While, relevant legal and regulatory factors would have to be checked as would electrical safety, insurance and liability issues, it is hoped that the alternatives outlined will provide local authorities with new approaches to supporting the use of electric vehicles within their respective areas of influence.

This white paper is published jointly with Ecolane Consultancy.

Download: White paper: Innovative on-street EV charging solutions

Source: Next Green Car

Electric Cars Fast Charging (Image:

11.5 Million Drivers Missing Out On Cheaper Motoring

MILLIONS of drivers could be missing out on savings of around £860 per year in fuel and tax because myths still exist about running electric and plug-in hybrid cars.

The findings are the result of new research released today by Go Ultra Low, a joint initiative by government and the UK automotive industry.

According to the research, around 11.5 million motorists could benefit from the lowest cost, tax-free motoring by switching to pure electric vehicles, because in a typical year they don’t drive further than 80 miles in a single trip.

Millions more could benefit from other ULEVs, which can travel between 150 and 700 miles between charges thanks to range-boosting petrol and diesel assistance.

The Go Ultra Low research shows that 70% of car owners are planning to change their car within the next four years, while three in ten say they have considered purchasing a ULEV. Two thirds of motorists under the age of 24 have considered a ULEV compared to just a quarter of drivers over 55.

The survey also reveals that the majority of motorists still don’t fully understand how electrically-powered vehicles work and believe outdated myths across a number of topics, from range and charging to cost and practicality.

Commenting on the findings, motoring journalist Quentin Willson, said:

“Ultra low emission vehicles make so much sense, they are cheap to run, hugely practical and now almost every major manufacturer has something to offer.

“The Go Ultra Low research shows that a host of misconceptions are hampering consumer uptake, and more needs to be done to educate people about the numerous benefits of these vehicles.”

The survey discovered that a quarter of motorists misunderstand the range capabilities of ULEVs, with 16% believing electric vehicles are unable to travel 50 miles without recharging.

Yet the research also shows that more than a third of drivers said the furthest they drove in a single journey during 2014 was 80 miles or less.

With pure-electric vehicles able to travel up to 100 miles on a single charge and other plug-in ULEVs boasting up to 700 miles’ range, the survey’s authors claim electrically-powered cars are a viable, low cost option for millions of motorists.

Go Ultra Low is a campaign to help motorists understand the benefits, cost savings and capabilities of the raft of new ultra-low emission vehicles on the market.

The collaborative campaign is the first of its kind, bringing together the Department for Transport, the Office for Low Emission Vehicles, SMMT and a consortium of leading car manufacturers: Audi, BMW, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Renault, Toyota, and Volkswagen.

Source: Press Association

Offshore Oil Rig (Image: Corbis)

Saudi prince: $100-a-barrel oil ‘never’ again

Saudi billionaire businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal told me we will not see $100-a-barrel oil again. The plunge in oil prices has been one of the biggest stories of the year. And while cheap gasoline is good for consumers, the negative impact of a 50% decline in oil has been wide and deep, especially for major oil producers such as Saudi Arabia and Russia. Even oil-producing Texas has felt a hit. The astute investor and prince of the Saudi royal family spoke to me exclusively last week as prices spiraled below $50 a barrel. He also predicted the move would dampen what has been one of the big U.S. growth stories: the shale revolution. In fact, in the last two weeks, several major rig operators said they had received early cancellation notices for rig contracts. Companies apparently would rather pay to cancel rig agreements than keep drilling at these prices. His royal highness, who has been critical of Saudi Arabia’s policies that have allowed prices to fall, called the theory of a plan to hurt Russian President Putin with cheap oil “baloney” and said the sharp sell-off has put the Saudis “in bed” with the Russians. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: Can you explain Saudi Arabia’s strategy in terms of not cutting oil production?

A: Saudi Arabia and all of the countries were caught off guard. No one anticipated it was going to happen. Anyone who says they anticipated this 50% drop (in price) is not saying the truth.

Because the minister of oil in Saudi Arabia just in July publicly said $100 is a good price for consumers and producers. And less than six months later, the price of oil collapses 50%.

Having said that, the decision to not reduce production was prudent, smart and shrewd. Because had Saudi Arabia cut its production by 1 or 2 million barrels, that 1 or 2 million would have been produced by others. Which means Saudi Arabia would have had two negatives, less oil produced, and lower prices. So, at least you got slammed and slapped on the face from one angle, which is the reduction of the price of oil, but not the reduction of production.

Q: So this is about not losing market share?

A: Yes. Although I am in full disagreement with the Saudi government, and the minister of oil, and the minister of finance on most aspects, on this particular incident I agree with the Saudi government of keeping production where it is.

Q: What is moving prices? Is this a supply or a demand story? Some say there’s too much oil in the world, and that is pressuring prices. But others say the global economy is slow, so it’s weak demand.

A: It is both. We have an oversupply. Iraq right now is producing very much. Even in Libya, where they have civil war, they are still producing. The U.S. is now producing shale oil and gas. So, there’s oversupply in the market. But also demand is weak. We all know Japan is hovering around 0% growth. China said that they’ll grow 6% or 7%. India’s growth has been cut in half. Germany acknowledged just two months ago they will cut the growth potential from 2% to 1%. There’s less demand, and there’s oversupply. And both are recipes for a crash in oil. And that’s what happened. It’s a no-brainer.

Q: Will prices continue to fall?

A: If supply stays where it is, and demand remains weak, you better believe it is gonna go down more. But if some supply is taken off the market, and there’s some growth in demand, prices may go up. But I’m sure we’re never going to see $100 anymore. I said a year ago, the price of oil above $100 is artificial. It’s not correct.

Q: Wow. And you said you are in agreement with the Saudi government to not give up market share?

A: This is the only point I’m agreeing with the Saudi Arabian government on oil. That’s the only point, yes.

Q: Should the Saudis cut production if they get an agreement with other oil producing countries to take oil off the market?

A: Frankly speaking, to get all OPEC countries to approve and accept it, including Russia and Iran, and everybody else, is almost impossible You can never have an agreement whereby everybody cuts production. We can’t trust all OPEC countries. And can’t trust the non-OPEC countries. So it’s not on the table because the others will cheat. The past has proven that. When Saudi Arabia cut production in the ’80s and ’90s, everybody cheated and took market share from us. Plus, remember there is an agenda here also. Although Saudi Arabia and OPEC countries did not engineer the reduction in the price of oil, there’s a positive side effect, whereby at a certain price, we will see how many shale oil production companies run out of business. So although we are caught off guard by this, we are capitalizing on this matter whereby we’ll live with $50 temporarily, to see how much new supply there will be, because this will render many new projects economically unfeasible.

Q: What about the theory of the pressure on the Russians? There’s a theory that the U.S. and the Saudis have agreed to keep prices low to pressure Russia because of what Putin has done in Ukraine.

A: Two words: baloney and rubbish. I’m telling you, there’s no way Saudis will do this. Because Saudi Arabia is hurting as much as Russia, period. Now, we don’t show it because of our big reserves. But I’ll tell you Saudi Arabia and Russia are in bed together here. And both are being hurt simultaneously. And there’s no political conspiracy whatsoever against Russia. Because we are shooting ourselves in the foot if we do that.

Q: You said the price of oil will dampen the shale revolution in America. How?

A: Shale oil and shale gas, these are new products in the market. And we see big ranges. no one knows for sure what price is the breaking point for shale. Wells have a higher production cost. And very clearly these will run out of business, or at least not be economical. At $50, will it still be economically feasible? Unclear. This is a very much developing story.

Q: Some people believe this crash in oil will create a lot of new mergers in the energy industry. Do you agree?

A: No doubt about that. For sure there’ll be a lot of consolidation in the market. Because many small and medium-sized companies can’t afford this. Because they are very much dependent on the price of oil. Big companies like Exxon and Chevron are weathering the oil market crash because they are integrated vertically. But no doubt there’ll be some mergers and acquisitions coming in one to two years.

Read more: USA Today

Tesla Model X (Image: Tesla)

Top 10 Electric Vehicles Coming Soon in 2015

Last year marked a big breakthrough for electric cars; the majority of major manufacturers invested heavily in developing electric drive-trains and subsequently added an array of appealing battery-electric (BEV) and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models to their rosters.

By the end of 2014 there were over 17,000 plug-in cars and vans on UK roads with that number expected to more than double by the end of this year.

As noted by Dr Ben Lane, Managing Editor of Next Green Car: “2015 will see a continuing roll out of battery electric and plug-in hybrid models as UK motorists become more accustomed to electric drive-trains. This year will be the year when EVs start to considered as ‘normal’.”

The future is only looking bright for electric mobility and there a number of exciting EV prospects expected to feature prominently this year. Below is Zap-Map’s list of top 10 electric vehicles coming soon in 2015:

1. Tesla Model X – BEV

Tesla Model X (Image: Tesla)
Tesla Model X (Image: Tesla)

Originally scheduled for 2013, Tesla recently announced that the eagerly anticipated Model X crossover will be launched in the third quarter of 2015. Despite being larger than the Model S, the all-wheel electric drive will give the Model X a similar level of performance (that’s 0 to 60 mph in around 5.9 seconds!). With 10% additional weight, the expected driving range will be slightly less; around 170 miles for the 60 kWh battery pack or 230 miles for 85 kWh battery. One the striking features of the next Tesla will be its rear ‘Falcon’ doors which open upwards instead of swinging outward. Final pricing has yet to be announced. Although it’s been a while coming, with the new Model X, Tesla is unlikely to disappoint.

2. Volkswagen twin-up! – PHEV

Volkswagen twin-up! PHEV (Image: VW)
Volkswagen twin-up! PHEV (Image: VW)

The twin-up!’s 55kW powertrain consists of a 0.8 litre TDI diesel engine working in conjunction with a 35kW electric motor. The energy storage system includes a lithium-ion battery (energy capacity: 8.6 kWh), a conventional 12V battery for on-board electrics, and a 33 litre capacity fuel tank. On the official test cycle, the twin-up! delivers a combined fuel economy of over 250 MPG with a CO2 emissions of just 27 g/km. In zero-emission operation the PHEV can cover a range of 31 miles and is anything but a slouch: the twin-up! accelerates up to 62 mph in 15.7 seconds and has an all-electric top speed of 80 mph. Pricing to be announced.

3. Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive – BEV

Mercedes B Class Electric (Image: Mercedes-Benz)
Mercedes B Class Electric (Image: Mercedes-Benz)

The Mercedes-Tesla relationship is evident (and welcome) in the B-Class ED with the drive-train and battery pack coming from the California-based company. Capable of 125 miles per full charge, the B-Class ED provides electric motoring in a quality package with more reserved styling than some other brands such as the BMWi range. While the motors can deliver up to 179 bhp (Sport mode), two other driving modes are available: ‘Economy’, where power is limited to 131 bhp; and ‘Economy Plus’ with just 87 bhp and a maximum speed of 70 mph. Expected to be priced from around £27,000.

4. Volvo XC90 plug-in hybrid – PHEV

Volvo XC90 PHEV (Image: Volvo)
Volvo XC90 PHEV (Image: Volvo)

No doubt encouraged by the huge success of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, Volvo will bring its own plug-in SUV to market in 2015, in addition to the usual range of petrol and diesel engines. While all will offer four-wheel drive, for the first time there will also be a front-wheel drive option. The XC90 PHEV will also feature a collection of entertainment and safety technology including a 9.3 inch screen compatible with Apple’s new CarPlay interface and Volvo’s new collision avoidance system. The XC90 range is priced from £45,750.

5. Volkswagen Passat GTE plug-in hybrid – PHEV

Volkswagen Passat GTE PHEV (Image: VW)
Volkswagen Passat GTE PHEV (Image: VW)

Now in its eighth incarnation, the new Passat range includes the GTE, the first Passat with a plug-in hybrid drive. Powered by a turbocharged direct injection petrol engine (TSI) and an 85kW electric motor, the GTE is capable (on the official test) of over 141 MPG (petrol) and 13.0 kWh/100km (electric) with CO2 emission of under 45 g/km. On a full tank and fully recharged 9.9 kWh lithium-ion battery, the new PHEV has a total driving range of over 620 miles. In ‘E-Mode’, the Passat GTE can also cover a distance of up to 31 miles with zero emissions. AC charging options include standard (or ‘slow’) charging at 2.3 kW from a domestic socket in 4.25 hours or an optional a home 3.6 kW charger which provides a full charge in 2.5 hours. Anticipated pricing from around £20,000.

6. BMW X5 e-drive – PHEV

BMW X5 e-Drive PHEV (Image: BMW)
BMW X5 e-Drive PHEV (Image: BMW)

The BMW X5 e-drive concept was first unveiled at the 2013 Frankfurt International Motor Show and is seen as the logical next step for the successful X5 series. Combining a four-cylinder combustion engine with BMW TwinPower Turbo technology and lithium-ion battery, the plug-in hybrid can driver approximately 19 miles solely on electric power. There is a choice of three driving modes, depending on requirements and situation – the intelligent hybrid drive option for a balance between sportiness and efficiency; pure electric and therefore emission-free driving; or Safe Battery mode to maintain the current battery charge. According to BMW, the X5 e-drive is capable of 74.3 mpg and on average emits 90g of CO2 per kilometre. Estimated to be priced at £55,000 – £60,000, the X5 e-drive is on course to directly compete with the Volvo XC90 PHEV.

7. Renault Zoe 2015 (new battery) – BEV

Renault ZOE EV
Renault ZOE EV

Renault’s battery-electric Zoe, the second best-selling EV after the Nissan LEAF, will be revitalised by a smaller and more efficient electric motor in 2015. By reducing the motors size, Renault expects a 10% increase in the Renault Zoe’s official 130 mile range. Renault also claims the improvements will reduce charging time by 20-30 minutes when using low-level power supply such as a 3kW 3-pin slow charging unit. The upgrades to the Zoe will be added to all new models from Spring 2015 Renault say.

8. Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV S – PHEV

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV-S (Image: Mitsubishi)
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV-S (Image: Mitsubishi)

Following on from the successful Outlander PHEV launch in 2014, Mitsubishi plans to release the Outlander PHEV-S. Power for the Outlander PHEV-S is expected to come from the same four-cylinder 2.0-litre petrol and twin electric motor system that drives the original car. This will see up to 204bhp sent to all four wheels, resulting in a 0-62mph time of 11 seconds and a 106mph top speed, whilst offering 148mpg and emissions as low as 44g/km CO2. The main difference will be in appearance, offering a refined interior and exterior design that will magnify the Outlander PHEV’s unique driving experience. Pricing to be announced.

9. Audi Q7 Quattro plug-in hybrid – PHEV

Audi Q7 e-tron Quattro (Image: Audi)
Audi Q7 e-tron Quattro (Image: Audi)

The Audi Q7 e-tron quattro, which will be launched soon after its conventionally powered counterparts in the spring, is the first plug in hybrid from Audi with a diesel engine. It is also the world’s first diesel PHEV with quattro all-wheel drive in the premium SUV segment. It returns the equivalent of up to 166.1mpg, which corresponds to less than 50 grams of CO2 per kilometre and can travel just under 35 miles on battery-electric power alone. Pricing to be announced.

10. Peugeot Quartz – PHEV

Peugeot Quartz PHEV (Image: Peugeot)
Peugeot Quartz PHEV (Image: Peugeot)

The Quartz plug-in hybrid concept mixes elements of a crossover vehicle and a saloon, to bring a new take on the SUV segment. It uses a plug-in hybrid drive train comprising of a 1.6-litre petrol engine supplemented by two 85kW electric motors, driving each axle. When the vehicle is in ZEV mode, it utilises the electric motor only and can cover up to 31 miles on a single battery charge. Peugeot have estimated the vehicle will not reach production until 2016; it will be interesting to see if the striking design mellows between now and then.

Source: Zap-Map

Gasoline Price vs Electricity Price (Image: EEI)

Oil Price Drop Kills Electric Car Sales?

Cheap Oil and Electric Cars

You are probably aware of the massive drop in the price of crude oil. It started before Christmas and it continues to fall.

This can only mean one thing, electric car sales will plummet, people will start buying bigger cars with bigger engines because petrol and diesel will be dirt cheap. Forever.

We all know that, once the price of oil goes down, it stays down, forever.

Oh wait, I’ve just remembered, no it doesn’t. It goes up again just as sharply, then down again, then up.

Gasoline Price vs Electricity Price (Image: EEI)
Gasoline Price vs Electricity Price (Image: EEI)

It’s a highly volatile market which keeps financial journalists busy so that’s good for them.

So why did the price of oil go down?

Oh yes, fracking. Of course, if only the namby-pamby-greenie-weeny-nimbies would allow this government and their mates to frack the hell out of Berkshire we’d have almost free oil and gas forever.

Except of course we wouldn’t, and now it seems even more unlikely.

Here’s an idea.

The tar sands in Alberta, the gas and oil in shale rock thousands of meters beneath the surface, geologists and oil companies have known about that stuff for decades, it’s only recently been financially viable to extract it because the oil price has been so high.

So extract it they did, they had a bonanza! Woop-de-doodie.

Then some chaps in Saudi Arabia noticed a bit of drop in demand for sweet crude (that’s a proper term by the way) and they said, ‘either we turn off the taps and make do with several billion dollars a day less than we’re used to, or we flood the market and put all the tar sands dudes and frackers out of business overnight.’

They did the latter.

It is now economically ridiculous to spend the amounts of money and energy to extract tar sands, fracked oil and all the associated problems that go with this absurd, last gasp effort to keep burning fossils. The fossil companies are moaning, they want more tax breaks or they’ll go out of business. Naturally they have the full support of the public….. not.

And interestingly this massive temporary reduction in the oil price has had no effect on electric car sales, they just keep going up.

It’s still tiny, it’s still a fraction of the total but the increases are in the 100’s of % per year.

Because as anyone with two brain cells is aware, people don’t buy electric cars just because petrol is expensive or cheap. There are hundreds of reasons, the main one being that the technology is more interesting, impressive, reliable and it is possible to make your own fuel.

That’s disruptive, that’s upsetting to the entrenched and well defended monopolies that govern us…. via the governments they pay for.

So I would suggest that electric car sales will not be affected by the drop in the price of oil.

As I always say, electric cars won’t save the world, but they might be pointing in a direction we should all be looking at.

Source: Llew Blog

Offshore Oil Rig (Image: Corbis)

At least one major oil company will turn its back on fossil fuels

Jeremy Leggett, former industry adviser, warns over plunging commodity prices and soaring costs of risky energy projects

The oil price crash coupled with growing concerns about global warming will encourage at least one of the major oil companies to turn its back on fossil fuels in the near future, predicts an award-winning scientist and former industry adviser.

Dr Jeremy Leggett, who has had consultations on climate change with senior oil company executives over 25 years, says it will not be a rerun of the BP story when the company launched its “beyond petroleum” strategy and then did a U-turn. He said:

“One of the oil companies will break ranks and this time it is going to stick. The industry is facing plunging commodity prices and soaring costs at risky projects in the Arctic, deepwater Brazil and elsewhere.

“Oil companies are also realising it is no long morally defensible to ignore the consequences of climate change.”

Leggett, now a solar energy entrepreneur and climate campaigner, points to Total of France as the kind of group that could abandon carbon fuels in the same way that E.ON, the German utility, announced plans before Christmas to spin off coal and gas interests and concentrate its future growth on renewables.

Pressure on the energy industry to pull out of fossil fuels has grown in recent months with a campaign for pension funds to disinvest from coal, oil and gas.

A new report published this week by researchers at University College London deepened the message that vast amounts of oil in the Middle East, coal in the US and gas in Russia cannot be exploited if the global temperature rise is to be held at the 2C level safety limit agreed by countries.

Leggett, who once conducted research into shale funded by BP and Shell, chairs Carbon Tracker Initiative, a thinktank which aims to raise awareness among key decision-makers about the risks that fossil fuel investments pose to wider financial stability. He believes the current 50% slump in the price of Brent crude will cause the US shale boom to go bust with potentially alarming consequences for the financial system.

“Many of the shale drillers have been feasting on junk bond finance, which was so easy when oil prices were above $100 (£66) but with prices at $50 confidence is going to collapse,”

he said.

“Should the shale narrative evaporate then it is going to be very embarrassing for all sorts of political promoters of the industry, including George Osborne.”

Leggett said that despite the price collapse due to oversupply, he remained convinced the “peak oil” theory that supplies will eventually be unable to meet demand remains intact.

This is not because there are not the oil or gas reserves in the ground to meet future growth, but because they are too costly and environmentally dangerous to produce, he argues:

“I would say to both the utility industry and the oil and gas industry: its game over, guys. You have got to identify the point at which it’s all going to be thoroughly changed and you have got to map back from it.

“You have to think strategically. The point to map back from is zero carbon in the energy system, not the electricity system, by 2050, because more than 100 governments want that in the [next UN climate change] treaty being prepared for signing in Paris.”

But he also believes the energy industry is privately aware of the problems as it watches its own costs of fossil fuel extraction going up while the costs of solar and other new technologies are coming down.

Leggett, who plans to stands down as chairman of the highly successful Solarcentury renewable business he founded to focus on climate change campaigning, holds what he calls “friendly critic” sessions with the fossil fuel sector these days. The tone of the meetings has changed significantly over the past two years, he said.

“Before it was know your enemy. Now it’s: ‘Crikey. A lot of this may be coming true on our watch. What shall we do about it?’ There are top-to-bottom strategic reviews going on in E.ON but in other companies as well, utility and oil and gas. So it will be really interesting to see which is the first of the oil and gas companies to break from the pack, although I fear BP and Shell are going backwards not forwards on carbon.”

Source: The Guardian

Workers for SolarCity installing solar panels (Image: JE Flores/NYTimes)

Is the solar panel & battery combo ready to change energy markets?

The big idea right now for solar and batteries is this: put solar panels on your roof, a battery in the backyard (or basement), and become utterly independent from the power grid, using free electricity from the sun. Batteries have long been looked to as a way to store energy solar energy during the day to be used at night, but they have long been too expensive to be used widely. But many companies are looking at 2015 as a very important year for the solar and battery partnership and I’ve heard the word “tipping point” being used repeatedly about this intersection recently.

Why all the excitement and why now? First off, traditional lithium-ion batteries — the kind being widely used in cell phones and laptops — are becoming cheaper than ever before. Electric car company Tesla and Japanese battery giant Panasonic have been working closely on lowering costs of their lithium-ion batteries significantly, and with Tesla’s “gigafactory” the companies expect to be able to reduce the lithium-ion battery cost by another third.

Navigant Research estimates that Tesla pays about $200 per kWh for its Panasonic battery cells today, and that price could drop as low as $130 per kWh by 2020 when Tesla’s massive factory — which is expected to more than double the world’s lithium-ion battery production — is fully up and running in Nevada. Several years ago, lithium-ion batteries cost closer to $1,000 per kWh. Tesla plans to sell some of the batteries from its factory into the power grid market, and SolarCity (the installer company chaired by Tesla CEO Elon Musk) already uses Tesla batteries for a solar panel energy storage system.

Lithium ion batteries are becoming such a clear low cost platform for energy storage that other startups beyond Tesla are adopting this idea, too. At CES last week, a startup called Gogoro launched an electric scooter and battery swapping infrastructure based around modular lithium ion batteries designed also in conjunction with Panasonic. Owners of the Gogoro scooter will some day be able to swap out their two depleted batteries at a nearby battery swap station, and they will likely pay a subscription for access to the batteries.

But it’s not just the economics of lithium ion batteries that are driving the pairing of solar and batteries. Other startups have been developing newer, low-cost battery chemistries that are optimized for the power grid, like Aquion Energy and Ambri. Aquion Energy last week announced that one of its largest battery installations to date (2 MWh) is going into a solar system on the Kona coast of Hawaii.

The surge in solar panel installations is one of the main drivers behind this grid battery trend. There’s a lot bigger market these days for solar: More than a third of all new electricity installed in the U.S. in the first three quarters of 2014 came from solar panels, both utility-scale solar and solar panels on residential rooftops. That’s second only to new natural gas plants.

Solar companies, like SunPower, SolarCity, Sunrun and others, are doing deals with battery makers, looking to offer new services. Startup Stem, which uses distributed battery packs to work like virtual power plants, is working with Kyocera Solar.

Then there’s the grid battery market that’s being opened up by the state of California’s aggressive mandates for energy storage. California utilities are being asked to buy 1,325 megawatts of energy storage services by 2020, and utility Southern California Edison has already said it will buy 250 MW of energy storage systems. Part of SCE’s plans will be made up by a huge 100 MW battery plant from AES Energy Storage and a 85 MW contract from Stem.

So clearly, utilities aren’t worried about energy storage in general, because they will some day be major users of this technology. But in the short term, some are worried about so-called grid defections. If your solar panels and battery offer you all the electricity options you need, why do you need the utility?

However, according to a recent report from Moody’s, batteries and clean power are just still too expensive to be too threatening right now. Moody’s said that even with battery prices at $200 per kWh, and solar panels at $3.50 per watt, these technologies are “an order of magnitude too expensive to substitute for grid power.” Battery prices would have to be closer to $10 per kWh to $30 per kWh range to be cost competitive widely for the power grid, said Moody’s.

Those costs might be difficult for (most) residential customers to justify, but it could be a different story for commercial building owners. GTM Research says the market for solar panels paired with batteries will surpass $1 billion in annual revenue by 2018 (up from just $42 million last year), with collectively 318 MW of solar and storage capacity installed in the U.S. by that time. One in ten new commercial solar customers will opt for an energy storage addition by 2018, predicts GTM Research.

Source: Gigaom