Tesla Model 3 Deliveries Deliver on Promised Features

Posted by Ed Burke on Sep 15, 2017 2:03:00 PM

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This August, Tesla employees receieved the first deliveries of the much anticipated Tesla Model 3. By all accounts, the Model 3 was met with fully positive feedback upon test driving. If you recall, the Model 3 got half a million pre production money down "reservation" orders in the absence of a test drive or really any standard marketing campaign in place. (For a refresher on the Model 3 debut, read this: Tesla's Model 3 Debut Stuns Industry)

The Model 3 starts at $35,000 but most reviewing is based off the $44,000 level model including the $5000 premium package add on, as this is the model currently available now (the "standard" Model 3 will be available in November) 

The number of EV Charging Stations in the US that are part of Tesla's "supercharger" network will increase by a projected 6500 by the end of 2017. It will be interesting to see how the EV station network expands with the increase in demand for electric vehicles we're seeing with options like the Model 3, new Chevy Volt, and the Nissan Leaf, which are all more readily available to the average consumer than the high end Tesla's and other models. 

I wrote an article for the September issue of Oil & Energy Magazine regarding the Model 3 - you can read it in full here: Tesla's Model 3 - Definitely Innovative

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Topics: EV Charger, electric vehicles, tesla

Air Conditioning Goes Global - but Environmental Cost Could Be High

Posted by Ed Burke on Aug 15, 2017 9:05:00 AM

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Air conditioning is the new big thing globally. The huge increase in demand and the pace at which it is occuring, particularly in countries that are relatively rural with less reliable electricity, is bringing air conditioning to the forefront as a huge environmental concern that was essentially overlooked historically.

We tend to think of air conditioning as a sort of add on luxury item, but clearly the demand growth indicates it is becoming more and more of a standard item globally. We need to seriously look at how we approach making it a less energy intensive and environmentally destructive product. 

The issue with air conditioning, in terms of environmental impact, that is of particular concern (in addition to the huge energy usage and carbon emissions) is that older air conditioners are dependent on hydroflourocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are used as refrigerants and have hundreds of thousands of the heat trapping power of CO2. HFCs account for only 1-2% of warming currently, however, given their use in air conditioning and the increasing demand, projections put HFC contributions to emissions at up to 19% should their use continue unchecked. 

So what do we do?

As we discussed before, the Montreal Protocols were the critical factor in the global community moving away from CFCs, and there has been a demonstable effect on the ozone as a result of action on those protocols. The protocols replaced CFCs with HFCs - now we move into the second phase of the process, where HFCs also get phased out. 

I wrote an article for the August issue of Oil & Energy Magazine that details what the increasing AC demand looks like and goes into more of the process involved with the Kigali Amendment, Montreal Protocols, and the effect taking those actions is expected to have on the pace of Climate Change. You can read the full article here: Bringing Air Conditioning to Developing Countries

 

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Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, climate change, carbon emissions, Air conditioning, HFCs, Montreal Protocol, Kigali Amendment

Turning CO2 & Sunshine into Fuel: The Bionic Leaf

Posted by Ed Burke on Jul 25, 2017 10:39:59 AM

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"Bill Gates has said that to solve our energy problems, someday we need to do what photosynthesis does, and that someday we might be able to do it even more efficiently than plants...That someday has arrived" - David Nocera, Harvard University

David Nocera & his colleague Pamela Silver, professors of energy science, biochemistry & systems biology (respectively) have co-created a system that combines H20 splitting solar energy and hydrogen-eating bacteria to essentially produce liquid fuel from sunlight, carbon dioxide and water. 

The "Bionic Leaf" (version 2.0) is a cutting edge hybrid approach to artificial photosynthesis that can convert solar energy to biomass at an efficiency rate of about 10% using pure CO2 and 3-4% using air, which believe it or not, far surpasses "real" photosynthesis. ("Real" or plant based photosynthesis generates about 1% return of carbohydrates from solar energy in efficient plants)

Generally speaking, artificial photosynthesis seeks to use solar energy, water, and carbon dioxide to produce energy dense liquid fuels in the same way that plants use the same elements to produce energy. The process has the potential to be carbon neutral, which is a huge upside, environmentally speaking. Pretty exciting stuff!

I did an article for Oil & Energy Magazine this month that deals with the Bionic Leaf & Artificial Photosynthesis, if you want a little more on the chemistry and details involved you can read that article here: "Bionic Leaf Turns Sunshine, Water and CO2 into Liquid Fuel" 

 

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Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, Solar Energy, carbon emissions, bionic leaf

Clean Power Plan Rollback - Serious Issue or Symbolism?

Posted by Ed Burke on May 31, 2017 10:25:38 AM

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This March, President Trump signed an executive order to potentially roll back the Clean Power Plan, as part of a broader order regarding Energy Production & Independence in the US. The order directs the EPA to review the ruling and make a determination on whether to "rescind, repeal, or revise".

The basis of the order is the idea that the regulations hinder US energy production and have a job limiting effect. The administration has posited that the Clean Power Plan is an overstep by governmental regulating bodies, particularly the EPA, and is a part of the "War on Coal" that they promised to stop during the campaign season. 

The order does not detail what replacement protocol would be in place, or what impact the change or repeal of the Clean Power Plan would have on the Paris accords, the global agreement that essentially rests on the CPP being in effect in the United States (Refresher on that here: Senate Strikes Down Clean Power Provisions Ahead of Climate Change Summit

The Clean Power Plan, as put forth by the Obama Administration, would require States to limit carbon emissions from power plants by 32% of 2005 levels over 25 years. Initially, the 2014 drafts indicated much of the reduction would be achieved by a switch to natural gas (from coal and other carbon intensive sources) but the finalized 2015 version indicated most of the reduction would be achieved by moving to solar, wind, etc. (For details and a refresher on the power plant portion of the Clean Power Plan and the industry criticisms of it, particularly the renewable versus nat gas portions, you can read this article: "Obama, EPA announce First Ever Federal Regulations on Power Plant Emissions")

An interesting wrinkle to the entire debate raging over the CPP & the new Executive Order is that the Clean Power Plan is actually not currently in effect, officially anyways. The Plan is held up while pending lawsuits in many states, who have refused to comply with the plan details until the litigation is settled. 

However, be that as it may, many States are addressing carbon regulation concerns themselves, joining states like California and basically the entire Northeast Region in handling in-house (For example, this article in Fast Company regarding the steps being taken by Virginia's governor, among others:"Obama's Clean Power Plan might be dead in DC, but States are rebuilding it themselves" 

In addition to States handling much of the issues in contention themselves, according to the State of Electric Utility Survey for 2017, when the folks who handle energy mixes for power plants were asked what the future of their energy production looked like, less than 4% of respondents indicated they anticipated adding more coal to their energy mix, with 52% predicting their coal usage would plummet. 

So, how much of the executive order is merely symbolic? If many states and power generation companies are addressing the issue of coal and/or emissions themselves, its quite possible that even should the EPA greatly roll back the CPP, it may not be the "sky is falling" situation that many believe it would be. 

I wrote an article about the current state of the Clean Power Plan, and what's happening in light of (and despite) the President's directive. You can read that article in Oil & Energy online here: The Clean Power Plan: Repeal or Replace?

What do you think the future holds for the Clean Power Plan?

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Topics: EPA, clean power plan

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

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