National Drive Electric Week – Cupertino 2019

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My Chevrolet Bolt EV

National Drive Electric Week is a nine-day celebration of the electric car. Now in its second decade, it grows annually, and spanning two weekends and the days between in the middle of September, offers EV enthusiasts a chance to meet and compare notes as well non-EV drivers a chance to look at, and sometimes even drive, the current crop of plug-ins outside of a dealership environment.

I attended the Cupertino, California event on Saturday, September 14–the first day of NDEW 2019. I brought my Chevrolet Bolt EV, which I’ve enjoyed–and showed–since I got it in January of 2017. With its three-year lease running out on 1/8/2020, it’s likely the last chance I’ll have to share it before switching to another EV next year.

The Cupertino event has a long history, and there is where you can still see some of what EVs used to be–labor-of-love science projects. I’ll talk about a few shortly.

EVs You Can Buy or Lease Now

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Hyundai Kona  Electric

With a bit smaller number of display cars than it was last time I attended, and a thin crowd, it was a little disappointing, but many of today’s pure EV options were there. I saw three Chevrolet Bolt EVs, including my own. A compelling new entry, the Hyundai Kona Electric (shown above), was there, sporting a white top over its jaunty blue-green.

The Kona, with a 258-mile range, is the next-best thing to a Tesla for range, and probably today’s best deal for range. This base model, at about $36,000, sat mere steps away from a 2019 Jaguar i-Pace, which starts about about twice that price. The Jaguar offers great style and luxury, and with 220 miles in the big battery and all-wheel-drive, has its own, different, buyer.

Nissan brought a new LEAF to show, and from its booth awarded prizes throughout the six-hour event. It was the one chance you had to ride in a car. Some NDEW events are more experience-oriented, but this one was more of a show and meet-up.

I saw a BMW i3 down at the far end, and a couple of Tesla Model 3s. Also nearby was a plug-in hybrid Ford Fusion, flanked by two Ford Focus electrics. These EVs, with just 76 miles of range, would make cheap used cars if you wanted a stealth EV.

At the other end was a Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid. It’s actually a significant vehicle, since it’s the only PHEV minivan available in the U.S. Its 33 miles of electric range is plenty for local soccer practice shuttles and commuting. This one sported a little extra flair.

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EVs are not just cars, of course. I saw some electric motorcycles and bicycles there, too, but as I stayed near my car much of the time, I didn’t spend time with them. I have ridden a few, and they are a fine option for some people under particular circumstances (good weather, short trip, no baggage, etc.). I did hear one motorcycle zoom past a few times with its electric whine. I’ve considered getting my motorcycle driver license just so I can test these in the future.

Here’s Roberta Lynn Power with her folding Blix electric bike from Sweden.

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Historic EVs

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EVs have been available in major manufacturers’ showrooms since 2010, when the 2011 Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt came out. But before that, besides the conversion projects, there were few. One model that had two representatives there at the show was the Toyota RAV4. Built just around the turn of the century, it put Toyota ahead of the crowd. Too bad they didn’t keep building them, because the RAV4 is a very popular body style now. You can get a new one as a hybrid today.

A pair of cute little Corbin Sparrows sat together. Not much more than shrouded motorcycles, these little pods would make perfect little errand-runners or last-mile transit connection vehicles.

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The tiny German 1993 City-EL weighs a mere 575 pounds and can shuttle one person for about 40 miles at up to 45 miles per hour. This one is nicknamed “Lemon Wedge.”

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Pioneers, Projects and Conversions

As long as there have been cars there have been tinkerers–people (mostly, but not exclusively, men) who enjoy a tough project. While some folks like to make a classic Mustang faster and louder, others enjoy electrifying an old gasoline car. The man displaying the Jaguar i-Pace had converted a Mazda Miata before.

I spent some quality time with George Stuckert, a retired engineer who also serves as secretary of the San Jose chapter of the Electric Auto Association. This group, a major sponsor of NDEW, was founded way back in 1967. They used to host a Cupertino event that was all project cars. George is glad that you can buy a new EV at a dealership today, but his pride and joy at this event was his 1996 Volkswagen Golf, which he converted ten years ago. It looks like an old Golf, but has a clever pinstriped design with a plug along the side (that I somehow managed to forget to photograph). It’s filled with electronic tech.

George proudly displayed a large card with photos of the project, and showed me his notebooks of carefully documented steps and the book that got him started.

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It was not a smooth process, and included a few spectacular explosions, but he showed the grit and determination that’s what I admire about people willing to get their hands dirty and triumph over failure to ultimate success. The fact that you can buy a used 2015 VW e-Golf that is superior in every way to George’s car is completely missing the point.

In the front corner of the exhibit were two fascinating displays that, along with George’s Golf, gave a look at what a Cupertino Electric Auto Association event was like before the NDEW and mass market EVs. Bob Schneeveis, a local legend, showed off his two-wheeled inventions, including a prototype steam-powered bike.

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Yes–you read that right. Although it’s not quite in the “drive it around the lot” stage, it is a beautiful piece. His electric motorcycle featured a fascinating front fork that made the ride soft and smooth. As a novelty, he had a “chariot” with a horse up front with “legs” made from brushes that capably gave rides to lucky attendees.

I enjoyed an extended conversation with Jerrold Kormin, who brought two displays: his converted Honda Insight and his prototype solar panel trailer. The former, besides swapping its engine for a motor and batteries, had new fiberglass nose and radically changed tail (and just one rear wheel). These design changes, per Kormin, gave the car a 15 percent improvement in its coefficient of drag.

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The car was being charged by Kormin’s fascinating portable solar generator. The inventor’s goal is to replace dirty, noisy Diesel generators. He is renting his prototypes out now. One appeal of replacing Diesel, Kormin told me, was that companies can avoid the major inconvenience of refueling Diesel generators, which adds complexity and expense. He claims customers can save $500 a month in fuel costs with a solar generator working just a 40-hour week. The trailer folds up for easy towing and takes about 5-6 minutes to open up. Learn more at his website.

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I met Joseph, an entrepreneur who was showing his Cirkit electric bike prototype. Looking clean and simple, it reminded me a bit of early minibikes, that you would assemble from a kit and the engine from your lawnmower! Click the link above to go to his website for more information.

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Vendors and Services

EVs need to be charged, which is why you’ll always find a friendly ChargePoint booth at EV shows. ChargePoint is a leader in chargers (I have one in my garage).

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I also met Shane Sansen, the owner of DRIVEN EV. His company works directly with manufacturers to acquire their lease returns and sell or lease them directly to customers. A great idea, and one I’m considering for my next EV. You can learn more at their website.

Besides seeing the vehicles and booths, I had a chance to network with some other folks who are working on EVs and climate action. I met up with my friend Greg Bell, who told me about his exciting new job working with Home Energy Analytics. Offering the Home Intel program, Greg meets with homeowners and shows them how they can reduce their energy consumption and save money. It can be as simple as replacing incandescent bulbs with LED ones, or more. Find out more at their website.

So, having consumed 3-1/2 pints of water and all my snacks, I packed up and drove home. It was a good day.

You can attend an NDEW event in your area through Sunday, September 22. Check their website for details.

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Climate Reality Leadership Training–One Year After

By Steve Schaefer

Me in the circle-edited

August, 2018 in Los Angeles

The certificate on my wall from the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training carries today’s date—August 30—from 2018. One year ago, I spent three powerful days in Los Angeles with Al Gore and 2,200 other people learning and bonding. I left with a mission. What have I done this year? What’s changed? What should I do better or more of in the coming year? Here’s what I said then.

In the last 12 months, I’ve met and worked with the local Climate Reality chapter, put solar panels on my roof, given four climate presentations, performed 30 Acts of Leadership (including writing blog posts), attended an important clean energy conference, built up my reference library, focused my auto writing on EVs, and even changed jobs to work at a company focused on sustainable mobility.

Local Climate Reality Chapters

I had already met my climate mentor, Wei-Tai Kwok, and joined the Climate Reality Bay Area chapter before my training.  When I returned, I continued my participation, along with my training mentor and chapter co-leader, Steve Richard. As part of the drive for more climate action, local Climate Reality Project chapters bring people together. Some of us from the Los Angeles training have continued to work on events and actions, and we have brought in others, including interested people who have not yet spent three days with Mr. Gore. The Bay Area chapter is now one of the largest in the country, with more than 600 members.

After I got back from training, I proposed a monthly chapter newsletter, and as part of the Operations team, I have produced them monthly since November 2018. It’s a focused bit of information gathering, editing, and processing in Mailchimp once a month, but it does get read, and helps move people to action, so I’m glad to do it.

Solar on My Roof

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Immediately upon returning home, I got the first of four quotes on solar panels for my roof. After four bids, I chose one and signed a contract in November. On April 22, 2019—Earth Day—my panels were finally installed. Now, the electric car I’ve driven for more than two-and-a-half years is powered by sunshine. My utility bill has dropped to next to nothing, too (by about the amount of my solar panel bill every month).

Climate Presentations

Former Vice President Al Gore began the Climate Reality Climate Leadership Corps in 2006 to train others to present his famous slideshow. Adding thousands of trained leaders makes it easier to spread the word, since despite his award-winning films and bestselling books, Mr. Gore can’t be everywhere at once. When Gore delivers the training, by the way, he’s with you nearly the entire time.

Besides presentations, trained Climate Leaders perform Acts of Leadership, which can include writing a blog, attending an event, contacting political leaders, and other efforts to move the climate crisis dialog along.

I’ve given four presentations, with varying degrees of response. I believe that more is always better, but I understand there is also a ramp-up. I attended a helpful chapter-sponsored bootcamp session where I learned about presenting and also about seeking out opportunities.

Presenting is not difficult for me. I’m not nervous in front of an audience and am a total extrovert. I just wish that the crowds could be bigger. In September 2018, not long after the training, my first talk was to people at my company, to introduce the National Drive Electric Week (NDEW) event I was hosting for the second year in a row. The 20-25 people seemed to appreciate the message, and I gained some practice in front of a friendly crowd. I’m attending the NDEW event in Cupertino, CA this year, but not hosting one.

Because my special focus is electric vehicles, I have added a little “infomercial” at the end of my climate talks, and that’s the section I delivered when I co-presented with a very experienced fellow chapter member, Gary White, to a nice big roomful of college students.

My third presentation was at a church in Palo Alto, where my message was familiar and appreciated—somewhat preaching to the choir, as that community is in the forefront of green energy adoption.

The fourth talk was at my local public library. Despite fliers in the library and a listing in the local paper, I got fewer than 10 attendees! I did give them a good show, though. You have to be a pro and learn something from every talk.

My next scheduled presentation will be on November 21st as part of the 24 Hours of Climate Action.  That’s Mr. Gore’s special project this year. He usually does a 24-hour show, like a Jerry Lewis Telethon. This year, he’s asking climate leaders across the world to present at the same time, making it the largest climate education event ever.

I’ll be addressing my company—a different one since last year. My new employer, Ridecell, develops and sells software to power carsharing and ridesharing fleets, and also has an autonomous vehicle division. I’m finally working in a business that moves towards electric and shared mobility.

Acts of Leadership

I’ve performed 30 recorded acts of leadership this year in addition to the four presentations. My acts have included attending events, writing climate-themed blog posts, and contacting leaders. I have certainly done more than the required minimum, but I would like to do more. I don’t count my normal electric vehicle reviews, since I would do them anyway, but any of my blog posts that are directly climate-related I do. I’ve attended events with speakers at Acterra in Palo Alto and written up those stories, which helped spread the word on various climate issues, including the food system and electric car adoption.

Working toward Sustainability

Last October, I attended a day of the VERGE sustainability conference in Oakland, put on by Greenbiz. While there, I attended panels, but also interviewed three industry executives, which led to three published articles. This October, I’m signed up again, and will hope to attend two or even three days. It’s an amazing event—in its own way as powerful as the Climate Reality training.

I have continued my vigorous recycling efforts, but also found a few items that represented reuse. I ordered new glasses frames made from sea plastic from www.sea2see.org. I also bought a hand-made bass guitar crafted from recycled Brazilian teak wood from a deck. These are small ways to help clean up our mess and also reduce energy use.

Building a Reference Library

I already had some books in my library when I attended training, but I now have more than 50. I have read many but not all of them. I’m currently in David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth—a truly sobering treatise on what we have to look forward to in the 21st Century. I have recently read Bill McKibben’s Falter, about whether mankind may be not only ruining the climate, but meaningful life. Books like Acorn Days, about the founding and growth of the Environmental Defense Fund, were easier to take.

My library includes a textbook called Power Driven Technologies that I started when I got back from the training last year and plan to complete to further educate myself on the realities of the way we generate power in the world today. I have books on eating clean, recycling, and much more. Of course, I have both of the An Inconvenient Truth books, as well as two other Al Gore books. On my Kindle, I have Earth in the Balance—Gore’s first groundbreaking book, which came out before he was elected VP. My Kindle books also include Jeremy Rifkin’s The Third Industrial Revolution and Justine Burt’s excellent The Great Pivot from this year.

Electric Vehicles Only, Please

As a weekly auto columnist since early 1992, I’ve tested more than 1,300 vehicles for a week at a time. After the training, I gave up on gasoline-only cars. I now test only EVs and hybrids, and I will drop the hybrids at some point. However, that means I get fewer test vehicles and write fewer stories now, as the journalist fleet is still mostly petrol-based cars. I am not interested in promoting gas-burners anymore. See my auto writing at www.cleanfleetreport.com.

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I have driven my Chevrolet Bolt EV now for most of its three-year lease period, racking up about 25,000 miles when I’m not testing another car. It has been wonderful, with only the need to have the battery replaced (at no cost) marring the perfection. Now, I’m seeking its successor. There are more choices now, but in the interest of cost saving, I’m considering picking up a used EV. That will limit my range, unfortunately, but the low cost of even a 2016 model EV makes them great entry points for anyone to move to electric.

New Friendships

I’ve built some new friendships this year. The Climate Reality Bay Area chapter has more than 600 members now. About half of them are not trained, and I wonder how “sticky” their membership will be, but at this point, whoever raises a hand is welcomed to the group.

The Sad Truth

It’s exciting to be part of this crucial and historic move to save our planet from the climate crisis. But this is not just some hobby or fraternal organization. The truth is, the climate crisis is deadly serious, yet despite increased climate crisis news coverage and awareness, most people are not doing much of anything about it.

Even I, who have attended Climate Reality Training, read at least half of my dozens of books, absorbed innumerable news reports, read the digests of the IPCC and EPA reports, and truly believe we are in a crisis, often find it hard to act on what I’m hearing. As I look around, I see that we are very busy with our families, jobs, personal interests, and cell phones. I have a wife, two grown sons, and two granddaughters. I also have musical passion, playing bass in bands and orchestras. I enjoy a good beer. I better understand now why Mr. Gore called it “An Inconvenient Truth.” Although I may understand the situation, sometimes I don’t really want to accept it.

How can we all work together to make the impact we need to keep the temperatures from climbing to where they kill us? I have considered this as I work on my presentations and as I talk with people about the climate crisis. I usually wear my Climate Reality logo cap and my green circle pin on my jacket, and the subject comes up. But, truly, even If I am aware and trying to make a real effort, much of the time I’m not. Why can’t I give up all my distractions and focus exclusively on saving the world? I don’t know, but I can’t—at least now.

At 66 years old, I plan to continue working on climate matters, aiming toward the time when I can “retire “and spend all day writing and working with organizations that directly influence the climate crisis. My current company is doing that, but eventually I will do even more. I’ll contact my elected leaders (and do whatever I can to get rid the denier in the White House!). With children and grandchildren who will bear more of this problem than I will, this is no longer about me. And it’s not just my family—it’s everyone. I can’t sit idle while the earth burns.

Three Kinds of Climate Deniers — Which One Are You?

By Steve Schaefer

There is scientific consensus that the earth is warming and the climate is changing.  We are starting to see actual changes, the U.N. IPCC reports come out regularly, and the news media features climate change content every day. Yet, we are still living in a state of denial. And it’s easy to understand why. As Al Gore said years ago, it’s “an Inconvenient Truth.”

I believe there are three kinds of climate deniers.

The first kind of denier knows that climate change is real, but has too much to lose, so although they may officially say it’s not true, they are working to obscure the facts or create denial in others. They are protecting their livelihood in any way they can. Think of coal plant managers, oil industry executives, or automobile industry leaders. The changes we need to make will devastate their business model. They must change, but they are going to resist. This is understandable, but is also a real problem.

The second kind of denier is likely to call climate change a hoax. This person could be a Trump supporter who believes his every tweet, or may simply be stupid. It’s inconvenient for them, too, but they also want to make it into a political issue. If they are not stupid, they still see the changes we must make as taking away their job, sending the economy into a recession or depression, or may believe it’s a plot for the government to take over and tell everyone what to do. 

The third kind of denier knows that climate change is real, and may sincerely want to act, but is too deeply involved in their work or other activities. Somehow, they just never get around to shopping for an electric car, changing their diet, attending an event, writing their congressperson or learning more than the frightening top of the news. They may wake up with the best of intentions, but by the time they get to work, it’s heads down (not unreasonable as they’re just doing their job) and when they finally get home, a refreshing beer beckons and it’s time to wind down.

Which one are you? I’m in category three. Despite three days of intense Climate Reality Leadership training with Al Gore a year ago, a library full of climate-related books (many of which I’ve read), emails daily from a variety of climate-related websites, and writing an automotive column that features electric and hybrid vehicles, I still long to be free to live my daily life. I do drive and promote electric vehicles and I have installed solar on my roof. I recycle diligently. I’ve presented four climate talks. I sometimes pass on the beef and take chicken. But I am still denying the true urgency of the situation in some way. I crave a “normal life.”

So, what should I do? What should we all do? The Green New Deal is an example of how we can work together to make a difference. The bottom line is, if this is a real emergency, we need to act like it and pitch in. The Green New Deal takes Roosevelt’s Depression-era New Deal as a model. We can use the World War II mobilization as a model too. Or, we can think about the way we banned CFCs years ago to help close the hole in the ozone layer.  

I believe that we need to somehow provide enough information and motivation to people while balancing the frightening future and current problems with the promise and excitement of the possible solutions. We need to act like it’s the most important thing we can do while avoiding despair or missing the day-to-day beauty of living on this earth with each other. 

So, let’s define the Climate Crisis accepter–and become that person.

The Great Pivot, by Justine Burt

A book review by Steve Schaefer

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There are many books, videos, and news stories out on global warming and climate change. Some are filled with scary predictions and are good at shocking us into action. But the best kind are the ones that try to paint a picture of ways we can take action to make a difference. The Great Pivot is one of the latter category.

The current carbon-based business model is becoming unsustainable. So, dealing with the huge tasks before us means not only deciding what to do but who’s going to do it. The Green New Deal, which is the subject of the last chapter (and is throughout the book in spirit) says that people want and need meaningful work. So why not get two for one?

That’s what the 30 pivots in The Great Pivot are meant to do. Burt’s carefully developed ideas show how we can scale up efforts to build a sustainable future. This means both creating meaningful jobs for workers and generating more sustainability project opportunities for investors.

Burt begins by addressing the employment situation today. The low official percentages don’t reflect the 37 million people ages 25-64 who are out of the labor force. With outsourcing, automation, and the gig economy, it’s tough out there. Today, the middle class is disrupted by changes in the work place and rising costs, and wages have been stagnant. We can rebuild the economic safety net with new sustainability jobs.

The author proposes five categories for job creation and devotes an entire chapter to each. They all have the goal of stabilizing the climate:

  • Advanced energy communities
  • Low-carbon mobility systems
  • A circular economy
  • Reduced food waste
  • A healthy natural world

Starting with Zero Net Energy, the first few pivots involve electrifying single-family homes and then spreading to multi-unit dwellings and commercial spaces. Existing technology can make all spaces more pleasant and energy efficient.

Twenty-eight percent of our greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, and Burt spends significant time discussing low carbon mobility. Besides moving to electric cars, we also need to develop clean mass transit, safe bicycling options, walkable communities, mobility-as-a service options, and build out the EV charging infrastructure. All of these are pivots that require people to do them.

The circular economy is a worthy goal to get us to our goal of climate stability. Instead of the current take-make-waste economy, a circular economy reuses and recycles. There are many jobs in waste prevention and building deconstruction (instead of demolition). How about a tool lending library combined with a repair café and maker space to reuse things rather than replace them?

It’s pathetic that 40 percent of food grown and raised in the U.S. is thrown out, for various reasons. Wasted food has a large impact on the climate. Jobs to prevent, recover, or recycle food waste make for excellent pivots. Many of these jobs do not require higher education—just training—so they would be available to many people who need meaningful work and steady pay.

Restoring nature is a valuable and meaningful form of employment that would help the planet recover. Ways of sequestering more carbon in the soil can improve agricultural yields while reducing carbon in the atmosphere. There is good work in restoring forests, waterways, and wildlife. How about creating furniture or other useful items from drought-stressed trees? Then we could leave healthy trees in place to do their job of pulling carbon out of the atmosphere.

Besides these actions, we can start looking at the economy differently. We need to disrupt business as usual. For example, we should decouple growth from the traditional measurement of using gross domestic product (GDP). Burt proposes four goals:

  • Shift from fossil fuels to renewables
  • Create a circular flow of materials
  • Dematerialize by shifting to digital products and services
  • Radically reduce waste

It’s fine to get people working, but investors can make a big impact too, by funding the projects we need as part of the overall process of transforming our economy. Burt discusses bootstrapping, crowdfunding, direct public offerings, private equity, and other ways to get investors involved in the right way.

The book ends by discussing meaningful work and relating it to the goals of the Green New Deal, including leaving no person behind. We have many ways to move forward, and the 30 pivots are a great place to start. We need to do it now.

 

The Great Pivot by Justine Burt

MP Publishing, 2019

2018 in Review – Going Greener!

By Steve Schaefer

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My Bolt EV hit 20,000 miles of trouble-free driving.

For me, 2018 was a busy year for auto writing, and also for climate action.

In a normal year, I’d have 52 week-long test drives, a bunch of short tests at the annual Western Automotive Journalists event, and maybe catch a few more at some manufacturer’s event, too.

This year, I tested only 28 cars for a week each instead of 52. I did have some quick sample drives at the WAJ event–mostly EVs. The biggest change has been my moving away from gasoline-only cars over the last couple of years, and stopping my testing of them entirely in September.

When I wasn’t testing a car, I was driving my own all-electric Chevrolet Bolt EV. My Bolt EV just turned over 20,000 miles, and with 10K/year on my lease, that’s perfect. Its two-year anniversary is January 8th. Maybe I’ll take it to the dealership for a check-up, since it’s never been back!

Why the the complete end of ICE cars? That’s because on August 28-30, I attended Al Gore’s three-day Climate Reality Leadership Training in Los Angeles, where I became a Climate Reality Leader. As an electric car advocate and now, a climate activist, I have to put my efforts towards guiding people to what’s most important for the long-term health of the planet. And, I want to explore and provide guidance about all the great new EVs that are coming in the next few years. We know that petroleum-fueled cars will not disappear overnight, but there are lots of other fine journalists who can take care of reviewing them.

Most of my auto writing, since it’s green cars only, is happily housed these days on www.cleanfleetreport.com, but I also run stories regularly in my original venue, the San Leandro Times (my first story appeared on February 8, 1992), as well as monthly in the Tri-City Voice out of Fremont, California.

Steve Goes Green may have been home to fewer car reviews in 2018, but it has featured some new material on “going green” in other ways. Some stories came from attending talks at Acterra, a Palo Alto based organization that’s educating people and acting to fight climate change. See recent stories, such as Teaching Kids about Climate Change with Green Ninja and Ertharin Cousin – We Need a Food System for Human and Planetary Health.

Of the 28 cars I tested this year, only seven had no electric motor, and they were all in the first 2/3 of the year. Naturally, with the limitation I’ve set, I can’t and won’t review everything, but that’s OK. Many of the best, most efficient gas-burners are featured on Clean Fleet Report, so it’s worth checking them out there.

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The most unusual EV this year was a 1967 MGB GT that a work colleague spent a year convering into a pure EV. The most exciting EV was the Jaguar i-Pace, which was an all-new crossover from a brand that’s looking toward the future. I expect lots of new models and electrified versions of current cars to appear in the next couple of years.

In September, I planned and hosted the second National Drive Electric Week (NDEW) event at my company. I also attended the Acterra NDEW event and it was very busy! I let people drive my Bolt EV there, and I hope that experience led some of them to go out and get their own EVs.

The NDEW event is an important way for people to learn about EVs directly from owners, not salespeople, and it’s fun for us EV owners to collaborate and share stories. In 2019, the first ever DEED (Drive Electric Earth Day) will take place, presented by the same folks who do the NDEW, and I plan to participate at work and elsewhere.

In October, I attended one day of the three-day VERGE conference in Oakland, which is put on annually by GreenBiz as a coming together of green businesses. There are lots of them, and my busy day generated three stories (two published, one on deck). Here’s a general article on the day itself, and another on what GM is doing to purchase clean power for its plants. I look forward to attending events in 2019 and writing more of those kinds of articles.

Clean Fleet Report gave me lots of quick news assignments over the year–26 were published–which brought my annual story total to around what I’m used to. These are quick takes based on press releases and other information. See my story on a new VW-based electric Meyers Manx. I also contributed stories on different subjects from personal journalist experiences, such as my visit to the Manheim Auto Auction.

In November and December, I spoke with four solar companies, and a few weeks ago, signed up for solar panels on my roof! They’ll go on in April, and when they do, I’ll start charging my car at home. I’ll report more about my solar adventure right here.

2019 will have more EVs and more ways to go green! I plan to learn more about the way our food system affects the climate–from reading, studying, and interviewing folks, and also by slowly changing how I eat.

Happy New Year, and thanks for reading!

David Hochschild — California and the Dawn of the Clean Energy Era


David Hochschild

On Wednesday, October 24, David Hochschild, a commissioner on the California Energy Commission, delivered some hopeful news about the progress California is making to reduce climate pollution. His talk, sponsored by Acterra, took place at the Foster Art and Wilderness Foundation in Palo Alto and was titled, “Sunrise from the West—California and the Dawn of the Clean Energy Era.”

Hochschild was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to the California Energy Commission in February 2013 in the environmental position. A longtime solar energy advocate, he worked with San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown to put solar panels on public buildings, and cofounded the Vote Solar Initiative, an organization advocating for local, state, and federal solar policies. He served as executive director of a national consortium of leading solar manufacturers and worked for five years at Solaria, a solar company in Silicon Valley.

Hochschild’s goal now is to “bring light in dark times,” when the national government is going in the opposite direction from what we need for clean energy development. He believes that California can show the rest of the country—and the world—how it’s done.

First, he showed how predictions of the growth of solar and wind were way too low. While the line on the graph for the prediction of solar implementation barely moves up, the actual installed solar generating capacity jets up at a steep angle.

On a different graph, going down in exactly the opposite direction, is the line representing the value of the top four coal companies. They have lost 99 percent of their value in recent years.

“It’s the beginning of the end of an era,” said Hochschild.

Hochschild disparaged the long history of subsidies to the oil industry—which are still going strong with no end date. Meanwhile, the much smaller subsidies for solar have short time spans.

“This causes a tilted playing field,” said Hochschild. “We’re wasting money propping up the oil industry.”

California’s economy has grown, as has its population, but the state’s emissions have gone down, except in one area—transportation. But with the passage of SB 100 with Governor Brown’s signature in September, the state is on track to reach 100 percent clean energy by 2045.

Hochschild explained that the 100 percent number represents “clean” energy, which is still being defined, but would not include nuclear. To get there, we will need to have diversity in the portfolio, including wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, and others.

“For years, skeptics have said that moving to clean sources of energy would ruin the economy, drive up unemployment, and raise energy rates, but it hasn’t,” he said.

California actually leads the rest of the U.S. in renewables installed but has had 46 percent economic growth while over the same period the U.S. has seen 35 percent.

“Because we set energy standards, we use half the energy that the U.S. uses,” said Hochschild. “These old arguments are just wrong.”

Hochschild said that as a large market, California can affect manufacturers’ decisions on what to build. For example, our standards on the energy efficiency of TV sets saves consumers $1 billion a year, but the effect is magnified because companies choose to incorporate those standards into their products for everyone.

Three light bulbs

One easy way to save energy is to switch to LED light bulbs from traditional incandescents, which are being phased out. Starting on January 1, 2018, stores in California were permitted to sell the incandescent bulbs they had in stock but couldn’t order more. As it is, customers are embracing LED bulbs, which cost a little more (prices have been dropping) but last 20 to 25 years and use 80 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs.

Newer LED bulbs are available in a soft white and other shades, so they feel more familiar, emitting a warm glow. The compact fluorescent bulbs, which tended to have a harsh light quality, have faded away now that LEDs have taken over.

Topaz Solar Farm

Topaz Solar Farm in California

Hochschild displayed images of large solar farms in the California desert that are producing vast amounts of electricity. The technology is improving so fast, he said, that they were able to incorporate improvements into the panels and the installation process mid-project.

The major computer and software companies, such as Google and Facebook, are all signing on for 100 percent renewable energy. Hochschild showed an aerial view of Apple’s massive donut-shaped campus, covered with 17 MW of solar panels.

The list goes on. California has the world’s second-largest lithium-ion battery plant (behind Tesla’s giant Gigafactory in Nevada). California leads the nation in energy from biomass, too.

Block Island

Block Island Offshore Wind Farm in Rhode Island

Offshore wind farms are developing—we saw the Block Island offshore wind farm in Rhode Island – the first one in the U.S. Offshore farms are easier to construct in the East, Hochschild explained, because the Atlantic shoreline is shallow, while the Pacific’s drops off. However, there is a new way of creating offshore wind energy in the Pacific Ocean by installing floating platforms for the windmills, tethered down to the sea floor. There are some significant benefits.

“Offshore wind installations out at sea are not only invisible from land, but more important–the wind blows more of the time out there—60 percent versus 35 percent on land,” said Hochschild. “And because it blows at different times of the day from the times when the sun is shining, it can offset times when solar panels aren’t generating electricity,” he added.

Offshore windmills are more expensive to install, but with greater capacity, they catch up by generating more energy.

Regarding employment, there are 86,400 solar workers in California. That’s more than the workers in every other energy industry. And, it’s growing, as solar installations are increasing, reaching about a million in California.

Hochschild believes that the best plan for clean energy would be to electrify all services and run them off a clean grid as we reduce use of natural gas. He talked about how much natural gas is used in homes today for furnaces, stoves, water heaters, and some dryers. But some new homes are being built without gas lines at all.

“It saves $3,000 right away by not having to run the gas pipes,” he said.

The good news continued. One hundred percent renewable energy will power the state’s high-speed rail system, when it’s built. California institutions have taken $6 trillion out of investments in fossil fuels.

Hochschild compared the fossil fuel industry methods now to the tobacco industry in the 1950’s. Service personnel during World War II were given cigarettes as part of their rations, building lifelong habits. Advertisements showed celebrities like Marilyn Monroe smoking, and even a doctor. Hosts smoked on TV. About half of the population were cigarette customers then.

“The industry was selling cigarettes and also doubt about the health risks,” he said, comparing it to the way fossil fuels are denying climate change today. “But with rigorous campaigns and limitations, such as placing warnings on the packs, removing cigarette ads from TV, raising the age to buy cigarettes, and increasing taxes, smoking is at about 15 percent now, and is heading down. We need to do the same thing with the fossil fuels industry.”

Electric vehicles are part of California’s plan to reduce CO2, and the state adopted the Zero Emission Vehicle Action Program in 2013. In January, Governor Brown signed Executive Order B-48-18, which sets goals of building 200 hydrogen fueling stations and 250,000 electric vehicle charging stations for 1.5 million EVs by 2025. The goal is 5 million EVs a year by 2030, which means that 40 percent of new vehicles would have to be EVs by then.

Per the ZEV Action Program’s website, in 2017, 5 percent of vehicles sold in California were EVs. There are now about 474,000 EVs in California, so there’s a long way to go to meet the goals, but sales are increasing, and Hochschild thinks it will accelerate.

“100 percent clean energy is solvable—but it’s not a silver bullet—it’s silver buckshot,” Hochschild said. “It is a combined effort of developing clean energy sources, increasing battery storage, lowering demand, and creating a regional grid,” he added. He also said that it’s likely that the first 80 percent of the way will be easier, while the last 20 percent could be more challenging.

So, although things look dire, California is leading the way, and will be doing a lot more in the future.

Acterra is a San Francisco Bay Area 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Palo Alto that brings people together to create local solutions for a healthy planet.

A Dose of Climate Reality

Me in the circle-edited

Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training

Yesterday, I became a Climate Reality Leader when I completed three days of training in Los Angeles. Now, I am committed to doing everything I can to fight global warming and the climate change it brings, as a writer, environmental activist, and a grandparent.

Here is the mission of The Climate Reality Project:

“Our mission is to catalyze a global solution to the climate crisis by making urgent action a necessity across every level of society.”  

The Climate Reality event I attended was the 39th training led by former Vice President Al Gore, who has spent 40 years studying, writing about, and advocating for this topic. This training was by far the largest, with 2,200 people in the energy-efficient Los Angeles Convention Center. The first one, in 2006 in Mr. Gore’s barn in Tennessee, trained 50.

Over the three days, we covered many areas. We heard from distinguished scientific experts, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, community justice advocates, policy makers, and experts in how to present this crucial message. Amanda Gorman, the 20-year-old Youth Poet Laureate of the United States, read her poem. One young woman described her difficult life living next door to an oil well.

Numerous panels discussed the various aspects of the crisis and the many solutions that are already in process. I met and spoke with dozens of people. And throughout the three days, Vice President Gore was present, usually on stage, guiding the program.

Vice President Gore gave a special two-hour version of his famous climate presentation early on, and near the end, showed us his compact 14-minute one. That’s the one we will start with ourselves. The message, regardless of length, is compelling, and I will share the essence of it below.

I originally created stevegoesgreen.com to tell about my personal experience of electric vehicles. Now, it will expand to talk about a wider range of environmental and sustainability issues, but will focus on:

  • Replacing gasoline vehicles with EVs
  • Moving from carbon-based energy generation (coal, natural gas) to clean power (solar, wind, hydroelectric, etc.)

We can create a new, better way of life, while keeping our economy strong. In 2016, solar energy employed more than 373,000 Americans and wind energy more than 101,000. Only the coal and oil companies will be unhappy about the move to renewable resources.

Here’s the Problem

The basic science behind global warming is simple, but the processes are very complex and interconnected.

We may look up and think the atmosphere goes a long way out into space, but it’s actually a thin shell. And we are dumping 110 million tons of manmade global warming pollution into it every day.

Sun to earth

Energy comes from the sun to the earth as light, which warms it. Much of the energy bounces back into space, but some remains. This is the well-known greenhouse effect, which you can experience for yourself if you sit in a car with the windows up on a summer day.

Our atmosphere has done a great job of keeping conditions right for us, but the added pollution, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), has thickened it, so now, more heat remains, warming the planet.

There are many sources of global warming pollution, but the largest is from burning fossil fuels for power generation and in vehicles. There’s been a huge spike in emissions since World War II, and that has caused the surface temperature of the earth to gradually rise. Sixteen of the hottest 17 years ever recorded have occurred since 2001.

The oceans are warming, too. Warmer air holds more water vapor, leading to stronger storms. When the land can’t absorb the additional rainfall fast enough, it leads to floods. Extreme rain storms have become more common since the 1950s. And the disruption of the established patterns and flows on the earth leaves some areas with more rain and some with much less.

An additional problem is that as the ocean absorbs the extra CO2, it becomes more acidic, creating problems for shellfish and bleaching coral reefs. It can affect the flow of ocean currents and the lives of fish, too.

The added trapped heat dries out the land, leading to higher fire danger. The fire season in the Western U.S. is 100 days longer than it was in the 1970s. It sure has been awful this year in California.

Another issue is that with higher surface temperatures, glaciers start to melt and contribute to a rise in the oceans. This can flood coastal cities—and it’s already starting. Low-lying Miami is a mess, with flooding even on sunny days.

All of these disruptions can lead to the spread of pandemic diseases, as tropical insects move north, and create water and food shortages. Animal habitats change, and species can become extinct. And beyond all that, as floods and drought displace people, migrations can cause serious refugee crises.

We must change, but what can we do? There is great progress in renewable energy. Wind and solar energy have become dramatically cheaper and capacity has grown exponentially. Countries like Chile have made huge advances. It’s cheaper now to use renewable energy, so why not?

windmills

There’s more than enough sun and wind to power everything, and battery storage is being developed to hold electricity generated when the sun is shining, or the wind is blowing for use when they’re not. Battery tech improvements are essential for EV progress, too.

In the next few years, there will be many more choices of EVs, and prices will go down as batteries get cheaper. Range and charging speed and convenience will go up. Soon, it won’t make sense to drive a gas car.

The ideal situation is to have 100% renewable energy powering an EV fleet.

There’s so much more to deal with, including other global warming pollution such as methane, and the cutting down of rainforests (which reduces the earth’s ability to absorb the CO2), but there are solutions. We need to act on them quickly.

So, we can change. We need to muster the political and social will to do it. And it starts with understanding the problem, feeling the urgency, and taking action. Then we will change.