Clay Collier Talks Smart Charging at VERGE 19

By Steve Schaefer

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Electricity charging industry veteran Clay Collier spoke in a panel at VERGE 2019 about electric vehicles and connecting them to the grid. Afterwards, I caught him for some insights on what’s going on and where we’re headed.

Collier has a BA in Physics from U.C. Berkeley, co-founded Akuacom – where as CEO he worked with Lawrence Berkeley Lab and electrical utilities to connect cars to buildings and the grid using Automated Demand Response (ADR).

He sold the company and started Kisensum, a company that developed a suite of software for bidirectional V2G (vehicle-to-grid) applications. Again working with Lawrence Berkeley Lab and also the Department of Defense and California Energy Commission, Kisensum found a way to use “load shaping” to optimize vehicle charging assignments and also to limit and equalize the vehicles’ state of charge.

Kisensum participated in the four-second utility market. To meet the market requirements a resource must adjust the amount of energy supplementing the grid on a four-second basis, up and down, based on a signal from the utility.

“That just doesn’t pencil out,” Collier found. The costs of the vehicles, equipment, schedule coordination, and the rest make it too expensive. “Someday, with scale, it may become profitable,” he said.

For a project at the Alameda County Parking Facility, Kisensum enabled vehicle smart charging using an optimizer engine to flatten out power peaks, which achieves demand charge savings on the utility bill. They monitored the cycle changes and moderated the level – what’s known as “smart charging.”

When ChargePoint bought Kisensum, Collier became their VP of Energy Solutions.

Smart charging uses sophisticated software to coordinate charging. It works especially well with fleets of buses and trucks.

“It turns out that 80 percent of delivery truck routes are less than 100 miles—perfect for electrification,” said Collier.

The yard trucks that never leave the site are even easier, since they can be charged while the other trucks are out working.

Smart charging provides two main benefits to balance loads on the electrical grid—Adding capacity and grid balancing.

  • Capacity – The goal is to get as much power on the grid as possible at the times it’s needed most
  • Grid Balancing – Software monitors the grid to charge vehicles during lower usage periods and stop charging during peak usage periods.

Microgrids have an application for smart charging, too. For example, in a vehicle charging system you can balance the grid load by using battery power during peak usage periods, such as 6-9 p.m., and allowing charging directly from the grid when electricity is abundant.

Flattening the Duck Curve

In utility-scale electricity generation, the peaks and valleys of electricity usage are commonly depicted on the Duck Curve.

The Duck Curve is a graph of power production over the course of a day that shows the timing imbalance between peak demand and renewable energy production. The belly of the duck is overgeneration and the neck is the peak load. The term was coined in 2012 by the California Independent System Operator (Wikipedia).

The problem is that there is a mismatch as the highest demand for electricity is in the early evening, but solar generation is highest in the afternoon. Electricity storage is one solution to that discrepancy, and a major goal of setting up a two-way EV-to-grid connection is to use electricity stored in EV batteries to help “flatten the curve” as needed.

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What’s Coming

Collier sees mass electrification coming in two waves. The first is in commercial fleets. Electrification of fleets can save a lot on operation expenses. This will be especially relevant as cities start charging fees similar to existing “congestion charges” specifically to internal combustion engine vehicles ($50/day). Regulations are driving this change, and with competition, EVs are cheaper to operate.

The next electrification wave will be when passenger EVs take off. This will happen as people understand that with larger batteries and a built-out charging infrastructure, range anxiety isn’t really an issue. Autonomous fleets will help move people away from individual vehicles, too. The more these vehicles can be linked to the grid, the more they’ll help to balance electrical generation and flatten the Duck Curve.

Bird Flies Sustainably with Sturdy Scooters

An Interview with Melinda Hanson, Bird’s Head of Sustainability

By Steve Schaefer

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Bird, the two-year-old, Santa-Monica-based scooter sharing company, has been growing and developing its trademark electric scooters since it was founded in September 2017. One question about scooters, though, is how sustainable they are. I spoke with Bird’s Head of Sustainability, Melinda Hanson, at VERGE 19 in Oakland to find out.

Hanson has two facets to her role: One is promoting the carbon mitigation potential of electric vehicles while helping cities meet their clean energy transportation goals. The other is working to make sure Bird itself is a more sustainable company.

Hanson is focused on developing climate policy that gets people into EVs, including the small scooters that are Bird’s mainstay. She’s concerned emissions are still going up despite the rise of EVs and scooters.

As anyone who lives in a city can attest, the scooter sharing business is booming.

“The main growth in EVs in 2018 was in scooters,” said Hanson.

Hanson told me that Bird’s goal is to get people out of their cars for short trips, especially in crowded cities.

“The data shows that many car trips are less than three miles,” said Hanson. “They should be riding scooters.”

I asked if people were really replacing car trips with scooters and Hanson said that one third to one half of e-scooter trips were replacing personal car trips—and much of the rest was in place of using ridesharing services, such as Uber and Lyft—which are not environmentally positive if they’re internal combustion engines—and contribute to traffic congestion.

Bird takes its scooters seriously. They have developed and refined them over the last two years to be more robust, so they last longer.

“Our first scooters were consumer models, not rugged enough for many trips a day by multiple people,” said Hanson. Bird has built its own custom models now, which they test for ruggedness. They have learned a lot from the last two years.

“We used to have screws come loose, and shock absorbers wore out,” Hanson said. “We have increased frame density and put on better kickstands,” she said.

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The Bird 2 model—the newest one—is much improved. The company wants riding a Bird to be a great experience, so customers will come back and ride them regularly.

Bird has doubled the battery capacity of the latest scooters. This means that they can be used by more customers before needing to come in to be recharged. To facilitate local charging, Bird has a distributed charging program where gig workers can pick up the scooters and charge them at home and put them back on the street. These folks are called “chargers.”

“We want to reduce friction,” Hanson said. That means making not only the riding experience fun and easy but also signup and payment.

Bird has started collaborating with Scoot to bring out other types of two-wheel transportation, such as mopeds.

“We want to provide a bunch of vehicles for different trip modes,” said Hanson. But the starter vehicle is still likely to be the little scooter, which is easy to ride and easy to park.

Safety is a concern, and Bird has worked with cities to try to create bike lanes. They have offered to send riders free helmets (the customer pays only for shipping).

Hanson is looking for a systems impact. She thinks there’s room to start converting parking spaces to scooter parking at some point, when there are enough of them out there.

“When scooters become a major aspect of urban mobility the streets will start changing the way they look,” said Hanson.

Why will Bird succeed where others falter? Hanson thinks their emphasis on a great customer experience will lead to winning in the marketplace. And, their major investments in R&D to create better quality scooters will help too.

Summing up, Bird’s goal is to improve the overall efficiency of vehicles, using clean energy; they want to get people out of their cars for all those short trips. And they want to do it sustainably.