3p Contributor: Phil Covington

Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on electric vehicles and sustainable business matters in general. Twitter: @PhilCovBlog

Recent Articles

The Chevrolet Volt Fire in Perspective

| Wednesday November 30th, 2011 | 8 Comments

It was probably only a matter of time before we saw this story: An electric vehicle’s battery pack catches fire, drawing into question the safety of electric vehicles in general.

Ever since lithium-ion batteries were found to sometimes catch fire in laptops or cell phones, sooner or later we’d most probably see the same thing happening to a car battery – after all, EVs essentially use the same battery chemistry. So, as more electric cars hit the road, the safety concerns of the technology increase. But this is not a piece offering another reason why the world is not ready for EVs, but rather, it’s to shine a little perspective on the subject.

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Test Drive: Mitsubishi’s New MiEV, the Most Affordable EV?

| Thursday November 10th, 2011 | 9 Comments

Over the past year, the success of mass market electric cars has been judged on just two products; the  Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt – and of these, only the LEAF is truly fully electric.

Year-to-date sales figures through the end of October, reveal that 8,048 LEAFs versus 5,003 Volts have been sold in the USA, with the LEAF on target to exceed sales of 10,000 units by year’s end. These numbers suggest that electric cars have moved beyond the curiosity stage, and now have a viable, permanent marketplace in this country.

This view is apparently shared by other car makers. Next year, American EV customers will get even more choice, in the form of Ford’s new electric Focus and Mitsubishi’s MiEV. Both of these cars are scheduled to go on sale in the spring, while customers with deeper pockets can look forward to the much anticipated Tesla Model S – a vehicle aiming at a higher end of the market.

I was able to drive a pre-market MiEV last week, which Mitsubishi claims will slot in as the most affordable EV available on the market. Going in as a price leader will make it an interesting car to watch. So, how does it compare?

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EV Technology Company Mission Motors Powers Growth

| Tuesday November 8th, 2011 | 0 Comments

It’s been a fantastic year for electric vehicle technology company, Mission Motors. In July this year, the company’s electric racing bike, the Mission R, (at right) won the TTXGP at Laguna Seca by a sizable margin; show-casing their technology against a competitive field of other EV motorcycle developers, while demonstrating comparable performance with gasoline-powered racing bikes.

Subsequent to their success on the track, the bike went on to win a Core 77 design award, recognizing the Mission R for both its cutting-edge industrial design and execution, as well as helping to make electric vehicles exciting and aspirational.

Further success came in the form of securing $9 million series B financing led by a leading global private equity firm, Warburg Pincus, while the California Energy Commission awarded them a $94,000 grant to develop a lightweight on-board vehicle charger.

Capping off all of this, the Cleantech Group, in collaboration with the UK’s Guardian News and Media, named Mission Motors one of the Global Cleantech 100 companies – an accolade awarded to entities that are are expected to make the biggest impact on clean technology over the next 5 to 10 years.

With such good news coming thick and fast, I spoke to David Salguero, Mission’s marketing manager, to find out what all this recent recognition means for Mission Motors going forward.

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GM Switchgrass Could Boost Future Bio-Fuel Production

| Tuesday October 18th, 2011 | 0 Comments

Not so long ago, it seemed that biofuels were assumed to be the best means for us to wean ourselves from our oil addiction, with ethanol, in particular, attracting most attention as a putatively green-fuel. But then it became apparent that growing feed-stocks for biofuel production has some significant downsides – and perhaps now, electric vehicles have taken the spotlight as the antidote to oil.

Ethanol’s star fell for a couple of reasons. Production typically takes up land that otherwise would be used for food production – which, in turn, is bad for food prices. Then, experts started questioning whether ethanol production had any real environmental benefits to offer. One study conducted at Cornell University, found that the energy needed to produce corn-ethanol – the USA’s preferred feedstock for ethanol – may be up to 29% greater than the resultant energy in the bio-fuel itself. Why? Because heavy use of fertilizers to grow the corn, and the energy used to convert it to ethanol, both involve fossil-fuel energy.

So now, few seem to think corn-ethanol is the future. However, switch-grass has for a long time been regarded as a better feed-stock for ethanol production, and recent experiments by Berkeley biologist George S. Chuck suggest that the plant could become an important biofuel source, due to significant improvements in the potential energy yield of the plant.

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European Court Opinion: U.S. Airlines Must Buy Carbon Allowances

| Wednesday October 12th, 2011 | 0 Comments

Europe’s highest court released an opinion on October 6th, finding that the proposed mandatory inclusion of non-European based airlines in the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), is compatible with international law. The opinion by the Advocate General constitutes the latest development in the ongoing dispute.

Under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, beginning on January 1st 2012, all carriers must procure a carbon allowance for every tonne of CO2 emitted for all flights which either take off or land, in the European Union.

Last week, we reported that the EU will allocate 85% of these allowances to carriers for free, while the remaining 15% will be auctioned. A more detailed analysis of how the scheme will operate can be found here. The European Commission estimates the cost for compliance will add between $2.66 and $15.96 per ticket over the next decade.

What are the implications of this decision?

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Chevron Makes Use Of Solar Energy to Recover Oil

| Friday October 7th, 2011 | 2 Comments

Traditional oil pump jack

When you think of solar energy, it’s likely that you imagine a clean and renewable power source; something that goes towards getting us off our global dependence on fossil fuels. And while it probably won’t be a technology that gets us away from CO2 emissions altogether, every watt of solar energy produced is watt of energy that doesn’t incur greenhouse-gasses.

So, what if solar energy is generated in order to extract oil from mature oil fields? Does this constitute a spectacular irony, or a clever application of renewable energy; one that may be justified in a world where oil is likely to remain fundamental to our economy for a considerable number of years to come?

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European Airlines Add Voice to Fears Over Europe’s Cap and Trade Program

| Wednesday October 5th, 2011 | 0 Comments

The controversial European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) – a European wide cap and trade program – has sparked an ongoing dispute between the US and Europe regarding mandatory inclusion of non-European based airlines into the program.

In August, the potential for a trade war seemed possible due to mounting opposition both in the USA as well as other nations – notably China – over Europe’s insistence that no airlines would be exempt from participating in the scheme.

ETS requires that any airline taking off or landing in Europe, regardless of country of domicile, must produce a carbon allowance accounting for every tonne of CO2 emitted.

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Lighter and More Fuel Efficient, Boeing Delivers the First 787 Dreamliner

| Friday September 30th, 2011 | 0 Comments

Boeing 787 Dreamliner

This week, US aircraft maker Boeing celebrated the delivery of it’s first new-generation 787 Dreamliner to the Japanese carrier, All Nippon Airlines (ANA). This follows a series of setbacks which have beset the launch, delaying deliveries by around three years.

Despite the setbacks, Bloomberg reported in August that the 787 is the fastest selling aircraft ever. With the number of orders already secured, production of the 787 represents about 7 years of work for the company. These orders were all placed prior to 2011 however, and orders for 26 planes have been cancelled during 2011.

Still, the new plane continues the trend among aircraft manufacturers to increase fuel efficiency and reduce running costs for airlines, so the roll out of the 787 is an important one.

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Is Junk Food Really Cheaper? Maybe Sometimes

| Wednesday September 28th, 2011 | 1 Comment

The Sunday New York Times Review section ran an interesting piece this week that posed the question, Is Junk Food Really Cheaper? The premise of Mark Bittman’s article was to debunk the often repeated notion that the reason people are obese is because it is cheaper to fill up on calorie-dense junk food than it is to prepare healthy meals at home.

However, the author explains that this is not in fact the case. He illustrates the point by revealing that a variety of McDonald’s meal options for a family of four will run you $27.89, whereas a healthy meal cooked at home from pinto beans, rice, green peppers, onion and finished off with bacon, can be had for just $9.26.

So, while it’s certainly possible to eat healthily and cheaply at home,  I decided to head over to the golden arches myself to do some rapid field research.

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Ford Develops E-Bike Protoype

| Tuesday September 27th, 2011 | 4 Comments

So far, the only concept image we could find...

Earlier this year, Ford announced its ongoing commitment to vehicle electrification. The automaker will be sticking to expansions in four-wheel offerings, but, surprisingly they’re also also turning their attention to two-wheelers: E-bikes. While this change represents a radical departure from the company’s core offering, it’s a logical move nonetheless.

Vehicle electrification might be the sort of technology that forces a paradigm shift in personal transportation. Although electric vehicles have been around for as long as those powered by internal combustion engines, advanced batteries, sophisticated software controllers and modern and compact electric motors have created new opportunities to reinvent traditional vehicle platforms – the bicycle included.

Furthermore, despite the fact that most of the media buzz surrounds the new crop of electric cars hitting the market, projections suggest that E-bikes will sell in far higher numbers than will electric cars over the next decade. As such, Ford’s exploration into this space could prove to be a smart development for them.

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Is the Future of Solar Technology Looking Bright? Experts Discuss

| Wednesday September 21st, 2011 | 1 Comment

These are tough times for the solar industry. Companies such as Evergreen solar and SpectraWatt have filed for bankruptcy, while most famously, Solyndra, a recipient of tax dollars under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, closed up shop this month. On top of this, an excess supply of photovoltaic (PV) panels, especially from China, is causing price suppression; cutting the margins for those manufacturers still in business.

Timely therefore, that Renewable Energy Focus magazine hosted a webinar yesterday concerning the prospects of competing solar electric technologies. However, as editor and host David Hopwood conceded, many are asking whether it is less a question of which competing solar technology will win out, but rather, how robust the entire industry is compared with other renewable or traditional power generation industries?

The panel consisting of the CEO of solar company, Amonix, as well as the principals of solar consulting companies Navigant Consulting and SolarVision Consulting, didn’t try to sugar-coat the situation. But ultimately, they all remain resolute that solar will be a cost competitive renewable energy source in the long run. But given the current woes, what do these experts see as trends in the industry?

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American Green Vehicle IP Goes to China

| Friday September 16th, 2011 | 3 Comments

More traffic in China?

Though we have all become accustomed to China as a major net exporter of goods to global markets in recent years, in the automotive world, China’s burgeoning domestic car market inspires all the major global auto companies to compete vigorously for a piece of the action.

The size of the Chinese market is set to grow hugely in the near term, which explains why veteran companies like GM and Ford, along with leading European car makers, are keen to establish a significant footprint in China, especially since their own domestic markets are likely to remain flat. In doing so, they will be forced to go up against China’s own manufacturers; who themselves are keen to lead in green automotive technologies. And here is the dilemma – if foreign auto makers want to enjoy generous green-tech incentives to sell into China, they may be required to hand over their intellectual property. Will they be prepared to do this?

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Toyota Sets Electric Vehicle Lap Record at The Nürburgring

| Friday September 2nd, 2011 | 2 Comments

When auto makers get serious about developing a performance car, they invariably take a trip to Germany’s fabled test track, the Nürburgring Nordschleife, to gather data to engineer a true drivers car. The track is a popular test ground since it offers 40 left-hand bends, 50 right-hand bends with extreme gradients to fully put a vehicle through its paces over its 20.8 km length.

“The ‘ring”, as it is sometimes known, has been the preserve of petroleum powered racing and sports cars since it opened in 1927, and short lap times around the track are badges of honor and a measure of a performance car’s prowess. Now, electric vehicles are being put through their paces here too, and Toyota Motorsports Group just attained the electric vehicle lap record with their P001 EV.

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Sirius XM’s Customers Crowdsource Their Response to Channel Changes

| Tuesday August 16th, 2011 | 19 Comments

There’s a disturbance among listeners of North America’s satellite radio service. Last Tuesday, without warning, monopoly satellite radio provider, Sirius XM, pulled BBC Radio 1 from its channel line-up, replacing programming with an info-loop explaining they were “making way for a new channel.” Devotees of Radio 1 were not happy.

Why did Sirius XM do this? Who asked them to make way for a new channel? and why didn’t they advise listeners before the switch went into effect? Reasonably, former listeners expect answers to these questions – after all, Sirius XM is a subscriber based service. Surely, unlike commercial radio, which is answerable to advertisers, Sirius XM should be answerable to its subscribers – but alas, no such luck. The company is providing no answers or transparency over the decision – and transparency is surely fundamental to good customer care.

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Ford Announces Plan to Sell Rooftop Solar Panels with Electric Vehicles

| Friday August 12th, 2011 | 2 Comments

Auto companies with electric vehicle offerings are increasingly taking the opportunity to build links between their vehicles and renewable energy. Perhaps in response to those who say (incorrectly) that EVs do nothing to help mitigate carbon emissions – due to a prevalence of coal-fired electricity generation – manufacturers are forging strategic partnerships with solar companies to shore up the environmental case for the electric car.

Last month, GM announced a substantial investment in Sunlogics PLC, and in combination with this partnership, will deploy solar canopies at Chevrolet dealers in North America. The canopies will power-up Chevrolet Volts on dealer lots, with any residual power produced going towards offsetting the dealers’ energy needs.

This week, Ford has announced they will team up with SunPower Corp, under their “Drive Green For Life” program, though they will take a different approach than GM as to how they will promote solar. Ford will be introducing an all electric Focus this year, as well as the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid in 2012, and their approach will be to offer customers the option to purchase a rooftop solar system for their home at the point of vehicle purchase. As this Fast Company article humorously reports, when buying your car you may be asked, “Would you like some solar with that?

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