Need a Fill Up? There's an App for That

Posted by Ed Burke on Apr 27, 2017 11:56:39 AM

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A number of start ups are seeking to replace your trip to the gas station with the tap of an app. Much in the same fashion you would use a ride share service, or a mobile glass replacement service, these apps would allow you to request a fill up via smartphone from your home, office, or wherever is convenient.

Two models in play currently are a weekly service based on a monthly membership, or essentially "touch fueling" cars (instead of 18 wheelers or equipment) on larger business campuses.

These types of start ups are still in the early stages, despite initial success. There are a lot of questions on how successful these types of apps would be nationally, as local regulations and variances could vary widely, as would requirements for drivers  - getting approval in Dallas TX may be different than doing so in Cambridge MA, for example.

I did an article for Oil & Energy Magazine this month running through the basics of these new apps, two of the successful early companies running them, and what types of integration with vehicles we may see in the future. If you'd like to read the article you can do so here:  "Fill Your Car's Gas Tank by Smartphone"

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Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, Technology

The Struggle is Real when it comes to Regulating Autonomous Vehicle Safety

Posted by Ed Burke on Mar 23, 2017 3:00:00 PM

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Self-Driving vehicles (or AV's - autonomous vehicles) are the undisputed next frontier in consumer transport technology. Automakers, it appears, are anxious for Federal Guidelines to be put in place in order to tailor their roll outs, and be assured that they are in compliance with safety expectations, as well as in order to circumvent the mess of State's adopting their own patchwork regulations in leiu of uniform federal regulations. 

There is a difficult cost-benefit analysis in play on timing rollouts, especially as pertains to Safety. 

AVs have the potential to have a life changing positive impact on people who are disabled or otherwise not physically able to drive a standard vehicle. Additionally, AVs remove human error from traffic incidents - and human error is estimated to be responsible for 94% of all traffic fatalities. 

The problem is, how safe is safe enough for AVs to rollout?

It's somewhat of a "catch 22" - autonomous vehicles "learn" to adapt by reacting to real world driving situations to improve their own safety, essentially, but what is the threshold at which we allow them out onto the roadways to improve in the first place? How much of a risk will early adopters be taking? 

I wrote an article for this month's issue of Oil & Energy Magazine on the topic of making Autonomous Vehicles safe enough - what that means, and what the next steps are for the industry and the federal government. You can read that article here: "Making Driverless Vehicles Safe"

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Topics: Safety, Technology, AVs

Uber's Otto Delivers on Driverless Big Rig Technology

Posted by Ed Burke on Feb 20, 2017 3:00:00 PM

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This past October, a Volvo 18 wheeler delivered 2,000 cases of Budweiser in Colorado - with no driver at the wheel!

Say hello to Otto, Uber's self-driving big rig.

Before you panic - It's hailed as a solution for the trucking industry's driver supply problem, versus being a replacement for drivers in general. The company is quick to point out that the application is only really able to be used on the highway i.e. long haul routes. The technology is nowhere near where it would need to be to even consider reacting to real world tough urban obstacles like bike riders, pedestrians, and things like tourists trying drive through the Back Bay in Boston.  

As of now, the pilot programs appear to be going well when it comes to these self driving big rigs. Arguably, long haul truck routes should be the initial phase in of AV technology, because of the lack of aforementioned city obstacles.

The how safe equation is an ongoing issue when it comes to autonomous cars as well (you can read about that here: "The Struggle is Real when it comes to Autonomous Vehicle Safety" But it appears that the big rigs are passing thus far with flying colors, and multiple manufacturers are looking to get similar options onboarded. It's big news potentially for the trucking industry as well, as drivers retire and move on, there has been a real struggle to find qualified applicants to fill the spots. (They just don't make 'em like they used to, as they say... We're looking at you Kevin!)

I wrote an article for this month's edition of Oil & Energy Magazine detailing Otto's debut, and what it means going forward for the trucking industry as well as the technology itself. You can read that article here: "Otto: Uber's Self Driving Big Rig Delivers"

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Topics: Safety, Oil & Energy Magazine, AVs

Sterling MA Launches Utility Scale Battery Project

Posted by Ed Burke on Nov 21, 2016 3:00:00 PM

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The Sterling Municipal Light Department in Sterling MA is building the first utility scale battery storage system project in Massachusetts. It's  not only the first in Mass, its also the largest in New England -a 2-megawatt, 3.9 megawatt-hour battery storage system to be exact. Its kind of a big deal!

The system is designed to boost grid resiliency - it will allow the town to be able to "isolate" from the grid and provide up to 12 days of backup power for the police and dispatch center.

Sterling has jumped on with the Governor and the state initiative to embrace energy storage as a comprehensive part of cleaner energy solutions. Sterling has been developing a well balanced energy portfolio, including aggressively installing PV solar in recent years and is currently 7th in the nation in installed PV per capita, so a large scale energy storage project like the one underway makes sense for the town. It should also serve as a fantastic "pilot program" of sorts for other communities looking to launch similar projects.

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine that goes into more detail about the project, the goals, and the role the state and US Departments of Energy would like to see the project play in moving the country forward on energy storage, especially as it relates to renewables. You can read that article here: "Building New England's Largest Energy Storage Project" 

(For some background on energy storage battery technology, and why its so important for utilities, you can also read: "Persuing the Holy Grails of Battery Tech" )

I look forward to following the project and updating about its success. Congratulations, Sterling MA, on being pioneers in the future of energy in Massachusetts!

  

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Topics: Mass DOER, renewable energy, battery

Control Costs By Embracing Technology

Posted by Ed Burke on Sep 21, 2016 3:00:00 PM

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Let's face it - innovation is often driven by either a desire to control costs, or a refusal to accept inefficiency. Often, it is both. Its hard to beat smart solutions that both control costs and allow for greater efficiency and productivity at the same time. In our unending quest to make things as efficient as possible, we've tried out and expanded tons of different systems for everything from financial data, to e-logs, to payroll, to website visits.

One of the biggest "bang for the buck" tools we've integrated into our daily business:

Tablets.

I can not say enough great things about our decision to move our drivers and dispatching to a tablet based system. Our tablet apps integrate mapping with GPS, so drivers can automatically track and then e-file their daily logs, and vehicle inspections. This saves mutiple hours per week, not even counting the time (and frustration) it saves in the office not having to sort, cross reference, and store stacks of paper.

The GPS tracking also enables us to easily file miles-per-state reports per IFTA regulations - instead of a driver writing out miles per state every day we simply run a report and file.

Integration allows dispatch to more efficiently assign loads, and automatically ensures that they have up to the minute information on the drivers hours of service so we can easily ensure compliance. 

Drivers also use their tablets to punch in and out, so payroll flows seamlessly from the app to HR. No more calling in hours, missed punches or snafus with vacation scheduling, its all handled within the apps. 

I wrote an article discussing tablets as well as a few other cost saving technologies we've employed that had additional time savings, insurance savings, etc (such as our phone apps). You can read the article here: "Controlling Costs and Staying Competitive" - you can read more about our cell phone app system here as well: "Want Safer Drivers? There's an App for That"

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Topics: Cell Phone Policy, Oil & Energy Magazine, Technology, tablets

MIT: The Ozone is Healing, Thanks to CFC Ban

Posted by Ed Burke on Aug 15, 2016 2:03:00 PM

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Scientists at MIT have published findings that the "first fingerprints of healing" are evident in the ozone layer over the Antarctic.  In the published paper they show that the hole in the ozone (first discovered in 1985) has shrunk over 4 millon square kilometers since its peak in 2000.

Credit is given to the ongoing decrease in atmospheric chlorine as a result of ever diminishing use of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons). If you recall, the world essentially banded together 30 years ago and agreed to the Montreal Protocol, a global effort to ban production of CFCs and other ozone depleting chemicals. (No small feat by the way, at the time, CFCs were in essentially everything from air conditioning, to aerosol hairspray, to chemical solvents)

I wrote an article for the August issue of Oil & Energy Magazine discussing the paper and the history of the ozone hole and the effort to ban CFCs as a result. You can read that article here: "The Hole in the Ozone is Getting Smaller"

As interesting as the ozone changes are, it is worth noting that there may be a takeaway lesson here for alternative energy efforts in the future on other fronts, in terms of proving the effectiveness of global agreement on limiting or banning harmful chemicals or their by products and its potential positive impact on the environment. Time will tell.  

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Topics: MIT, CFCs, ozone, alternative energy

EPA's 2017 RFS Volume Proposal Draws Familiar Concerns

Posted by Ed Burke on Jul 20, 2016 8:20:00 AM

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This past May, the EPA released its 2017 RFS volume standards. The 2017 levels are a 3.8% increase over 2016 but are still well below the original levels for the year as proposed in 2007.

In both the stakeholder commentary period and the period immediately following the volumes' release, we saw the usual cast of characters come forward with their concerns about the mandated levels. That included biofuels proponents who see the EPAs levels as a "cave" over the blend wall, and industry members who are concerned about the market and practical feasibility of ever increasing levels and who carries the obligation to meet mandated levels. 

You can read more in depth about the diverse reactions the EPA ruling had in the recent article I wrote for Oil & Energy magazine here: "Proposed RFS Changes Draw Diverse Reactions" 

 

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Topics: EPA Mandate, Biofuels, RFS

Solar Power - New Developments Off Of the Rooftop

Posted by Ed Burke on Jun 10, 2016 3:30:00 PM

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Solar Power has seen a huge growth in installations - from residential neighborhood rooftops to large installations along highways throughout the country.

However, the new and exciting developments in solar are all off rooftop, with potential applications from wearable tech to on board setups in trucks across the nation, to floating panels in reservoirs. MIT is working on photovoltaic solar cells so light they can rest on soap bubbles without popping them. Amazing stuff!

To read more in depth about the new frontiers being explored you can read my most recent article in Oil & Energy Magazine here: "Solar Power: Looking Beyond the Rooftops"

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Topics: Solar Power, MIT, photovoltaic

Tesla's Model 3 Debut Stuns Industry

Posted by Ed Burke on May 12, 2016 2:30:00 PM

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Tesla's Model 3 launch saw unprecedented and unpredicted preorders come in around 400,000 - for a car that isnt even out for about 2 more years! 

The car boasts a $35,000 dollar price tag - compared to the high price of some previous Tesla models, the model 3 is an opportunity for lovers of the Tesla branded vehicles to get into one themselves. The car also boasts a 200+ mile electric only range, and some neat tech features including a heads up display and the standard Tesla car software "upgrades".

I wrote an aticle for Oil & Energy on the Tesla model 3 launch, it's features, as well as possible issues that could be on the horizon for the company in terms of hitting deadlines on the Model 3, especially in the face of demand that tripled even the most optimistic preorder projections. You can read that article here: Oil & Energy Magazine:"Impressive Launch for the Tesla Model 3"

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Topics: electric vehicles, tesla

Battery Tech Advances Could Change U.S. Energy Storage Outlook

Posted by Ed Burke on Apr 14, 2016 2:00:00 PM

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Batteries had a great year in 2015 - with costs going down and large scale installations occuring, primarily in the utility sector. The United States energy storage capacity grew by 221 megawatts in 2015, which is triple the capacity added in 2014.

Batteries serve to bridge the gap between renewables like wind and solar and the grid. Wind and solar are both intermittent in terms of power generation, and battery storage technology is a necessary to ensure power is available when its needed versus when it happens to be generated. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy magazine going into depth on new developments in battery technology and what the future holds in terms of the goals of cutting edge developments at MIT, Harvard, and the Department of Energy. You can read that article here: Oil & Energy Magazine: "Persuing the Holy Grail of Battery Tech"

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Topics: Solar Energy, renewable energy, energy storage

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