Chevrolet Bolt EV — Still Fine in its Fourth Year

By Steve Schaefer

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An automotive writer normally tests a car for a week and based on that, attempts to provide an impression of what it would be like to own it. In the case of the Chevrolet Bolt EV, I can provide five days of recent experience plus three years of personal history.

The bottom line? The 2020 Bolt EV I just tested is almost exactly the same as the 2017 model that I leased on January 8, 2017, with a few important differences. In some ways, that’s a good thing, because the Bolt was remarkably well thought out and executed at its debut.

The Bolt EV was the first affordable all-electric vehicle with decent range. In California in 2017, if you bought the car, you could take $10,000 off with federal and state credits. Back then, Teslas retailed at significantly more, and the Model 3 wasn’t even out yet. Other EV choices then included cars like the Nissan LEAF, with under 100 miles of range, and the VW e-Golf with 124. The Bolt EV boasted an impressive 238 miles of range, enough to eliminate most range anxiety.

The Big News

The big news with the 2020 Bolt is that it now has 259 miles of range, a nice boost of 21 miles. GM improved the battery chemistry to make the same size battery store more electricity (60 to 66 kWh). From a marketing standpoint, this development may also be an attempt to outdo the Hyundai Kona, which debuted after the Bolt and boasts 258 miles of range.

My test Bolt EV wore low-key Slate Gray Metallic paint—a far cry from the eye-popping Kinetic Blue Metallic of my car. But there seems to be a demand now for colors that mimic a filing cabinet. It was, however, beautifully applied, and is new for 2020. The test car featured the Dark Galvanized/Sky Cool Gray interior—my car’s had white on light gray. The newer Bolts have a handy sliding sunvisor, too, but otherwise, the interior looked identical.

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I loved my Bolt’s Kinetic Blue paint.

Plenty of Room

The Bolt is a tall hatchback, not an SUV, so it’s not exactly the hot design in the marketplace. It may resemble a subcompact Honda Fit, but in fact it has midsize room inside, with tall chairs up front and plenty of rear legroom. The tall roofline helps. The car is relatively narrow, so four people will be comfortable and folks sitting three across in the back might be happier if they are children.

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The Bolt EV is much larger than my current car, a Fiat 500e. 

Being a hatchback, the Bolt easily drops its rear seats flat to make room for a huge load of cargo. I carried an upright bass and amplifier in mine (bass guitar and amp pictured). A hard panel at the rear can create a level load floor or drop down into the cargo area for taller items. The charging cable (for Level 1 household current) lives under there, but it’s also a nice space to hide things while the cargo space is exposed. The car comes with a dainty cloth cargo cover for when the seatbacks are up that does an adequate job.

Load gear

Generous Power

The Bolt provides a firm ride and vigorous acceleration. Its 200-horsepower motor produces up to 266 lb.-ft. of torque, which pulls the car along virtually silently from 0-60 in just 6.5 seconds. You can set the car’s one-speed automatic transmission to have very light energy regeneration (feels like a typical automatic) or click the lever into “L” for higher regeneration, which adds more energy to the battery. As with my own Bolt, I used the L setting virtually all the time, so I could do “one pedal driving.” This means you can use the accelerator to move forward when you press down and also to slow down—even to a complete stop—by lifting off your foot. It becomes a fun game to see if you can just make it to the line at the stop sign or stoplight without touching the brake pedal. The brakes themselves work fine when you need them. Strong regen feels a little like downshifting in a manual-equipped car.

Packed with Conveniences

The Bolt was a new design in 2017 and has all the modern safety and internal conveniences you could want. As in my own car, I used Apple CarPlay app to verbally send and receive texts while driving (with help from Siri.) The 10.2-inch center screen is bright and clearly laid out. Preferably when parked, you can scroll through and see how you’re doing saving energy. Redundant audio controls on the steering wheel make it easy to pick music selections and control volume, or you can touch the screen itself.

Some people have complained about the Bolt’s firm, narrow seats, but the 2020 model ones felt a little more comfortable. As a Premier model, my tester had leather chairs, which I have heard are more comfortable than the standard cloth ones in the LT, but you should spend some time in them yourself if you opt for the base model.

If anything, the Bolt EV is very much what it was designed to be and offers a solution to EV motoring for most people. It’s not the hottest product on the market, with Tesla providing the sex appeal and Hyundai a true crossover look with its models. And choices from more manufacturers are on the way. But prices have remained about the same, and surely by now GM has ironed out any issues with the platform. A new Bolt-based crossover is coming soon, if you can wait a year or so.

The Bolt EV is base-priced at $37,495 for the LT. The Premier, with extra comfort and convenience features, plus upgrades like leather seats, polished alloy wheels, a cool video rear view mirror, and roof rails, comes to $41,020. My tester had $1,840 worth of options, including $750 for the fast-charge plug (worth it if you travel longer distances, and should really be standard equipment), and totaled $43,735.

The rebates are fading away, but there are some great deals now. I saw an online offer of an $8,500 Cash Allowance or (for well qualified buyers) 0% APR for 72 Months. Lease rates on an LT start at only $199/month for three years. Check with your dealer for details and read the fine print.

Wrapping Up

If you don’t know the Bolt EV, you should sample one before signing a deal on an EV. It’s fun, spacious, seemingly well made, and if you have a European sensibility and like hatchbacks, it’s perfect. I had virtually no service needs during my three-year lease. One battery issue was fixed free on warranty (including a free loaner), and all I did was rotate the tires and change the cabin air filter. And I never went to a gas station.

Ford Mustang Mach-E: Selling Car Buyers on Going Electric

By Steve Schaefer

A new Mustang for a new world.

If we believe the growing scientific consensus, we must reduce our CO2 emissions by at least half in the next decade to hold global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. Warming above that is considered to be catastrophic. Since the largest (but by no means only) source of these emissions is transportation, moving to an all-electric vehicle fleet, powered by sustainably generated electricity, is urgent and necessary.

That message is about as welcome as the cancer warning on a pack of smokes. And similarly, not often heeded, either.

Susan B. Anthony is not sexy

But how do we get people to buy EVs? As long as customers have a wide choice of gasoline-powered vehicles, only early adopters and climate activists are snapping up what companies have provided. It’s like the dollar coin—regardless of whether you put an abolitionist, an historic Native-American, or a president on it, it has been a nonstarter as long as folks could use the good old paper bill (or today, their debit card).

It’s also like selling cereal—the “good for you” Bran Flakes may attract a certain health-conscious (or constipated) clientele, but it’s not where the action is. Captain Crunch with Crunchberries, filled with sugar and marketed breathlessly to children, is the volume seller.

For a century, car marketing has evoked emotion to sell cars, and has built its products to reflect customer demand, which in turn, is fueled by massive marketing and advertising campaigns. Although there have always been compact, fuel-sipping vehicles that practical people bought because they couldn’t afford more, the action has been on style and performance, from fins to V8 engines and today, to loads of high tech features.

So far, only Tesla has been the brand to offer an exciting EV experience in all of its cars. It works because first of all, they sell ONLY EVs and secondly, they have made them attractive and powerful. In contrast, Nissan’s LEAF, while certainly practical and environmentally conscious, is too close to automotive bran flakes. GM’s excellent Bolt EV is another fine car, without the range limitations of the LEAF, but for $40,000, one could also bring home a 3-Series BMW. Not sexy.

The automotive equivalent to Bran Flakes.

Using the climate crisis as a marketing tool, then, clearly isn’t working. And in a consumer-driven economy we can’t force people to buy EVs if they don’t want them. Which brings us to Ford’s upcoming Mustang Mach-E crossover.

Ford’s EV history has up to now featured the lackluster battery-powered Focus and a few hybrid and plug-in hybrids, including the attractive midsize Fusion sedans and European-design C-Max. Now, with Tesla as an inspiration, Ford has decided to blend their most iconic model with the most up-to-date tech in today’s most popular body configuration to create a real Tesla competitor.

I attended a compelling online presentation by Mark Kaufman, Global Director, Electrification at Ford, yesterday, in which he outlined the plans the company has for its EVs going forward, with an emphasis on the exciting new Mustang, which will be sold alongside its gas-powered coupe stable mates.

The Mustang was an instant hit when it debuted in April 1964. Based on the tried-and-true platform from the popular but dowdy compact Falcon, it hit a sweet spot and sold half a million copies in its first year. Surely Ford’s leaders are savoring another blockbuster like that with the Mach-E. As Kaufman said, it is the only EV with the soul of a Mustang (sounds like a great advertising pitch, doesn’t it?).

The Mustang has always been a coupe, fastback, or convertible, so making it a five-passenger crossover is a nod to what’s hot today. Also, Kaufman stated that while many people love their Mustangs, when the kids come along their beloved cars are simply too small. So, it all makes sense.

Admitting that global catastrophe is not a compelling sales tool for most people, the planners at Ford will offer a GT version of the Mach-E that puts out 600 horsepower and can run from 0-60 in the mid three-second range. No climate leader has ever said that was important to them, but for the mass of car enthusiasts, especially of American iron, that’s extremely attractive (and very much a page out of Tesla’s gameplan). Kaufman mentioned an “Unbridled” setting that sounds a lot like Tesla’s “ludicrous” mode.

The arguments against buying an EV often center around the whole charging/range anxiety problem, so Ford is giving the regular, rear-wheel-drive model a 300-mile range (230 for the muscular all-wheel-drive GT). The company will promote installation of home chargers that can put in 30 miles of range in an hour. DC fast charging allows 61 miles of range in 10 minutes or 40-45 minutes to 80 percent. They have also built out the FordPass Charging Network, which isn’t new charging stations but combines four existing networks with one payment setup, for ease and efficiency. They’ve designed a slick phone app to track the process as well. Once again, Tesla is the model for a unified network, although they built their own equipment.

What else? Ford flaunts its more than a century of car sales and service, with virtually all service done by more than 3,000 dealers nationwide, of which 2,100 or more are certified to work on EVs. Tesla can’t match that. Also, the new shopping experience targets millennials with online reservations for shopping and service.

I am eager to test this exciting new product. However, I wonder how we can get the fleet electrified in 10 years. Nobody expects it to be 100 percent electric by 2030, but I’d like to see half of the cars be EVs by then. Kaufman said, reasonably, that most predictions are based on past performance and that this won’t work here, but he also said he expected a third of cars to be EVs by 2030. That’s why Ford has plans for an electric F-150 pickup (America’s best-seller for decades) and an electric Transit van, as well.

To speed the conversion of the vehicle fleet to electric, Ford and other companies must not only provide thrilling EVs, but solid mass market EVs soon. That means we need all-electric Honda Accords and Toyota RAV4s. Buyers need to start viewing gas cars as old and out of style. Certainly the auto industry, which created the whole idea of planned obsolescence, can make fuel-burning vehicles obsolete, can’t they?

The 2021 Mustang Mach-E is due out at the end of the year. 

2020 Mini Cooper SE – Electricity Plus Charm

My first COVID-19 test car

By Steve Schaefer

I’ve loved Minis since they arrived in the U.S. in late 2001 as 2002 models. Cute, fun, and cheeky, they are longtime favorites.

Now I’m an EV guy, so I don’t drive gas cars anymore. But the day is saved, because Mini has finally released an all-electric model–the Mini Cooper SE. It’s everything I’ve always wanted, except for one thing.

Please read my story on Clean Fleet Report for the details.

A Gift of Clean Air: Let’s Move to EVs in the Post-COVID-19 World

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The Himalayas are visible in India for the first time in 30 years.

I have spent the last seven weeks working from home—sheltering in place to avoid catching or spreading COVID-19.

As I’ve stayed home, the world has suffered greatly, and people have gotten sick and died. That’s very upsetting. But one thing has improved substantially–air quality. From a sparklingly clear Los Angeles to India, where the Himalayas are visible for the first time in 30 years (see above), it’s been an exciting peek at what we can do if we set our minds to it. We need to get through this crisis now, but for the future, we must reduce our CO2 levels significantly–by 50 percent in the next 10 years and be carbon neutral by 2050. EVs and sustainably-generated power are a big part of that solution.

With that in mind, I have decided, after 28 years of automotive testing and writing, that I will now test and review only pure, all-electric vehicles. It completes the move away from testing gasoline-only cars that I made after my Climate Reality Leadership Training in August of 2018.

On April 20th, I published my last two reviews of cars with gasoline engines in them, in Clean Fleet Report. Please go there for the details on the Lexus RX 450hL hybrid crossover and the Hyundai Ioniq plug-in hybrid sedan. Both nice–neither full electric.

As I mentioned in that story, I believe that in the post-COVID-19 world, we will need to continue to find alternatives to driving and cleaner ways to move around. Public transit will likely take a while to feel safe again, especially before a COVID-19 vaccine is found and administered. More people may discover they like working at home, and their companies may find it’s a good arrangement for them, too. Carsharing and ridesharing services will rebound when they seem safe, too. In cities, we need more bicycle-friendly roads and infrastructure. And as automakers bring out more pure EVs and the charging infrastructure is built out, we must move away from hybrids and PHEVs entirely–maybe even from cars themselves.

Although I will be testing, reviewing, and writing about only all-electric cars, there are still many hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles that are better for the environment than gasoline-only vehicles. If an EV won’t work for you (and they don’t yet, for everyone), please consider them over a gas-only vehicle. But if you can drive an EV–do it!

Let’s keep those skies blue.

Farewell to My Chevrolet Bolt EV

By Steve Schaefer

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Today, I said goodbye to my Chevrolet Bolt EV, affectionately named, in the style of Pee Wee Herman, “Bolty.” My Kinetic Blue 2017 all-electric hatchback served me well for three years and 26,490 miles, but a lease is a lease and I had to return it by January 8th.

Origins

I’ve driven and tested cars for nearly 28 years, mostly with weekly test vehicles. As I learned about and drove electric cars, I became very interested in them. I sampled a Nissan LEAF when it arrived in 2011 and a few other EVs, but the real turning point was when I convinced the generous folks at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to lend me a baby blue Fiat 500e for three months in early 2016. My happy time with that little car, whom I named Fidelio, convinced me that I wanted an EV of my own.

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Fidelio I.

I began to focus on only electrified vehicles in my auto review column and blogs. I started www.stevegoesgreen.com to write about my adventures with Fidelio, and it’s since expanded to cover other climate-related topics.

The Bolt EV was a revelation—with its 238 miles of range it would be able to handle almost anything, including the 165-mile round trip to visit my granddaughters. I ordered my car in October of 2016 without ever driving or even seeing a real car. I was hoping I’d like it.

I impatiently waited for delivery, and finally, the very first week of 2017, I got the phone call that my Bolt was on the truck and being delivered. In a day or two, I was down at Boardwalk Chevrolet in Redwood City, CA to pick it up.

Taking delivery 1-8-17

Exactly What I Needed

I took to my new car immediately, and it proved to be exactly what I needed and wanted. It may look compact, because it has almost no front or rear overhangs, but the Bolt is spacious for 4 or 5 passengers and the hatchback folds down easily to carry lots of gear, including an upright bass or two electric basses, amps, and the works. The high roof means abundant headroom, even for tall folks (I’m only 5-8).

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One of the wonders of EVs is how quickly they accelerate, and the Bolt, while not Tesla fast, is as quick as a Volkswagen Golf GTI – about 6.3 seconds zero-to-sixty. The weight of the 960-pound battery means a low center of gravity, for taut responses and level handling.

And it does it all virtually silently. If you turn off the audio system, you’ll hear a very low hum from the motor, and wind and tire noise are muted. And, since there’s nothing reciprocating, like pistons in a gas engine, there’s no vibration. You get used to it, and gas cars then feel rough.

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Visiting my old house where I lived as a teenager.

Electric cars don’t need transmissions, since maximum torque is delivered from the first moment the motor spins, but the Bolt has an “L” (Low) setting on the one-speed transmission’s lever. If you use D (Drive) it feels like a normal automatic transmission, but in L, when you lift off the accelerator pedal (not the “gas”) the car slows down quickly—even to a complete stop. When you get used to this “one-pedal driving,” it feels natural, and you can barely tap the brakes as you slide into a red light and stop on a dime. It feels like downshifting a manual transmission. The regenerative braking helps charge up the battery, too.

I ordered the light interior—white and light gray–which felt airy, but by the end of three years, the white leather on the driver’s seat was looking grayer. But other than that, and one little hook for the rear cargo cover that occasionally popped out, everything in the interior was solid and worked as it should.

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Of course, the best thing of all is that my Bolty didn’t use one drop of gasoline for three years! At first, I plugged it in at work, but last April I finally installed a Level 2 (240-volt) charger in my garage when my solar panels went up (on Earth Day). So, for more than half of 2019, Bolty ran on sunshine.

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Solar array went up on Earth Day 2019.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The Bolt embodies all the strengths and weaknesses of EVs. The obvious strengths are the low environmental impact, quick acceleration, and quiet operation. There’s essentially no service, either, except tire rotations—no oil changes, no radiator flush. There are a lot fewer moving parts to have problems. And when you use regenerative braking, the brake pads last practically forever.

So, what about weaknesses? The most significant is the range issue. Although today’s EVs easily top 200 miles between charges, and some can go more than 300 miles, it still takes time to charge, and you may not be able to find a public charger when you need it. Even fast chargers take longer than a stop at the gas station. It may not matter in most situations, but on a long trip it requires some careful planning and willingness to be flexible. I avoided it, because the couple of times when I knew it would be an issue, I took a gas-burning vehicle. Yes, I feel a little guilty, but that’s a good way to drive an EV 51 weeks a year.

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Charging at work.

I expect the charging problem to be solved as charging stations proliferate and fast charging gets really quick.  And actually, most charging can and should be done slowly at home or at work while the car sits parked. I know this won’t work for everyone, which is why I test and recommend hybrids and plug-in hybrids for those situations. Someday, the subscription model may become popular, where you no longer own a car, but simply reserve the kind you want as you need it, from a fleet. Then, you could select a long-distance vehicle for a trip and use a less expensive, smaller low-range vehicle when you stayed local.

Another issue with EVs is that initial costs of purchase or lease are higher, mainly because batteries are still expensive, even though prices have come down. My upper-level Bolt Premier with options had a sticker price of nearly $44,000. With $5,500 in rebates and financing assistance, I put down $10K and paid $332/month for three years. This price disparity will go down over time, but it can be intimidating. However, if you look at the total cost of ownership over several years, EVs come out ahead, with much cheaper fuel (electrons) and virtually no service required.

A third concern is choice. The Bolt has company now, as more and more EVs and plug-in hybrids are appearing in showrooms. But there still is no all-electric pickup truck, for example (but there will be soon). In the next few years, manufacturers will fill in their lineup with many more EV and hybrid models, from hatchbacks to sedans to SUVs.

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Enough range to travel–we drove to Bodega Bay and back.

Only One Significant Issue

The only notable problem with my Bolt happened last year, when, after what the dealer told me was a routine software update, my car’s battery suddenly charged only to about 100 miles and not the 200+ it should. I tried running it way down and charging, but it wouldn’t move past 100. That made my car like one of the older EVs, such as a LEAF, Kia Soul EV or VW e-Golf. I complained to my dealer, but they were unresponsive. I tried another Chevy dealer closer to my house and they checked with GM headquarters and got the OK to do a battery swap for me, at no charge. It restored my range and happiness.

Sharing the EV Love and Information

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National Drive Electric Week at Marketo.

As an EV driver and auto writer, I valued the Bolt for giving me a way to experience the EV life firsthand, so I could share my car and my knowledge in my columns and blogs. I could participate in events, such as National Drive Electric Week (each September) and Earth Day events in April. I hosted National Drive Electric Week events for two years at my workplace, where EV driving employees parked their cars in rows in the parking lot and talked with other employees. I am an EV Ambassador for Acterra, a Palo Alto-based environmental organization. And I now work at Ridecell, where we develop and sell software for carsharing and ridesharing fleets, including the 260-Bolt Gig Car Share fleet in Sacramento.

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You can rent a Bolt by the minute or the hour in Sacramento.

As an EV person, I began phasing out gasoline-only test cars in 2018, and in 2019, I tested only one—the short-term Chevy Cruze rental I had when my Bolt got its battery swapped.

What Next?

I considered buying Bolty at the end of the lease, but even though the bring back value was barely more than half the initial price, it would still cost more per month to finance than my lease. I looked at other EVs, including the worthy Hyundai Kona Electric (258-miles of range), but I was hoping to lower my monthly costs.

I researched used EVs, and It turns out there are some screaming deals. Second-hand early Nissan LEAFs can run as little as $6,000. I ended up buying a little Fiat 500e, just like Fidelio, my 2016 test car. I got it at Rose Motorcars, in Castro Valley, CA. They specialize in the secondhand EV market, and I like the way they do business.

My new Fiat is the same color as the first one, too, so I’ve named it Fidelio II. A 2017 with 23,000 miles on it, it feels like new, and cost just $10,000 (under $200 a month). It’s smaller, and most significantly, has a third of the Bolt’s electric range, but I plan to use it for my local errands. There will likely be another EV in my future, but for now, Fidelio II should work fine.

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Fidelio II is taking over for Bolty.

What I’ll Miss

I’ll miss some of Bolty’s features. Fidelio II doesn’t have the high regenerative braking (L) transmission setting, so no one-pedal driving. My Bolt’s inside rearview mirror was a video camera—much better than a regular mirror.

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And, the backup system, with multiple cameras, provided a birds-eye view of my car in the big 10.2-inch center screen—so parking squarely in a spot and avoiding curbs was a snap.

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My Bolt had the upgraded Bose stereo, for premium sound, with Apple CarPlay, so I could hook up my phone and play my music. It also used the phone for navigation, which meant I could set up a destination before I got in the car and it was projected onto the dash screen. I’ll miss the ability to send verbal texts (through Siri) as I drive.

For safety, I had blind spot monitoring, a very worthwhile feature, and cross traffic alert told me if there were cars on the road behind me when I was backing out of my driveway.

Last Thoughts

I like the styling of the Bolt—inside and out—but I’m an old hatchback guy. I had a 1986 Honda Civic Si back in the day. Apparently the gently sweeping interior was designed by a woman—unusual in the industry. The use of white accents gives it a certain sparkle.

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I loved the rich blue exterior paint—and enjoyed seeing my car across the parking lot. I took photos of it in various scenic locations, just for fun.

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The Bolt is a product of GM Korea, the former Daewoo, but it’s built in Michigan. That’s the way the auto industry works these days. The LG battery is Korean, as well. In any case, quality is high.

My personal goal, as a Climate Reality Leader and car enthusiast, is to spread the word on the joys and benefits of electric motoring. We need clean cars and clean energy! I will continue testing and reviewing every new EV I can get, but I’m going to miss my Bolty.

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Turning in Bolty after a great three-year run.

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles — A Different Path to Clean Driving

By Steve Schaefer

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When people are thinking about “clean” cars, I suspect their minds picture hybrids, like the uniquely styled and long-established Toyota Prius. Or, they may be aware of pure EVs, such as the Nissan LEAF, and certainly Tesla’s glamorous suite of offerings. But who thinks about hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs)?

The technology is not new. Toyota’s been working on it since 1992, and debuted their first concept FCEV in 2011. Mercedes-Benz has been experimenting with their “F-Cell” cars since 2002, and just introduced a new model for the German market. Honda offers a fuel-cell version of its Clarity. Hyundai recently brought out the all-new Nexo, its second fuel-cell car (after its fuel-cell version of the Tucson). It’s the only FCEV shaped like a crossover in the U.S. market, which seems like an advantage.

Most recently, I spent a week with a 2019 Toyota Mirai. See the full review in Clean Fleet Report.

The essence of a fuel-cell vehicle is that it doesn’t have a conventional engine. It processes compressed hydrogen fuel through a sophisticated device that creates electric energy by blending hydrogen fuel and oxygen to charge a battery and power one or more electric motors to move the car. Although the only byproduct is harmless water (H2O), the process of creating the fuel itself can be less “green.”

Although hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles are sold in other countries, in the U.S., most live in California. That’s supported by the California Fuel Cell Partnership, which has been slowly building out a network of stations. But once you cross the state line, you could be out of luck.

Bottom line? For someone who wants to have an environmental impact and is willing to put up some inconvenience, it can be a very satisfying choice.

 

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.

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.

America, at 243, is Slow to Adopt EVs

By Steve Schaefer

2013 Nissan LEAF

Red Generation 1 LEAF

Two days ago, I received an email from Plug In America, inviting me to join in the First Annual Independence Day EV Count. Modeled after the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, it’s meant to be a non-scientific study of what’s going on around you.

I’ve hosted and attended the group’s Drive Electric Week events and they’re a great organization, so why not?

Today, July 4th, after lunch, I decided to join the EV count. I needed the exercise anyway, so  I grabbed my trusty pad and a ballpoint pen and headed out into my Castro Valley, California neighborhood. It was clear and in the low 70’s–perfect.

The rules of the EV Count are simple:

  1. Walk or drive in your neighborhood and count all the cars you see
  2. Note the all-electric cars and plug-in hybrids
  3. Tally it up, fill out the online form, and send it in

The group doesn’t include regular plugless hybrids (their name is Plug In America, after all), but I noted them anyway, just to satisfy my own curiosity.

I walked a loop that I often take to add a couple thousand steps to my Fitbit. I started out well, as I could count my personal Chevrolet Bolt EV and the Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid I’m currently testing right away. However, as I walked and wrote, the bad news piled up.

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White Generation 2 LEAF

When I returned home and tallied up the numbers, I had:

  • 118 cars total
  • 3 EVs (my Bolt and two Nissan LEAFs)
  • 2 plug-in hybrids
  • 7 regular hybrids

That’s pretty disappointing.

Perhaps Castro Valley is a little behind–I know I see more EVs in San Francisco, where I work. And it wasn’t a scientific study–just a small sample. But it means that I need to work harder to get the word out on the many benefits of EVs–and the necessity of stopping using fossil fuels now to help control the effects of the climate crisis.

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My Blue Bolt EV

In 2019, as the U.S. turns 243, we have a long way to go to significant EV adoption. At least in my neighborhood.

 

 

Two Years with My Chevrolet Bolt EV!

by Steve Schaefer

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Today marks two years of my life spent with my Bolt EV. It’s been a great ride, so far since that rainy January 8, 2017 when I took delivery (below).

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At this juncture, the three things that stand out for me are:

  1. It’s done exactly what I wanted, with virtually no problems
  2. Time has flown
  3. I really do love my car

As a longtime automotive writer (27 years), I approached Bolt ownership as a very long-term test. I remembered my wonderful three-month test of a Fiat 500e in the first quarter of 2016, and assumed that I’d take an analytical approach once my new car arrived.

What I’ve found is that unlike the standard week-long evaluation, living with a car for years makes it really “yours.” I now have to deal with dust on the dashboard, used kleenexes in the cupholder, and the light gray and white leather seats need cleaning. But as an EV, the car has needed exactly zero maintenance. I’m planning to take it in soon for belated tire rotation and a general inspection.

The main reason to have an electric car of my own was to truly experience life with one. I assumed that if I was going to prescribe switching to EVs to my readers, I had better “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk.” It’s easy to have a car for a week and give it a glowing report. But this was meant to be a long-term relationship.

I leased my Kinetic Blue Bolt for three years at 10K miles a year, assuming that there’d be better choices down the line and also that that number of miles made sense with my periodic testing. As it turns out, I hit 20,000 miles on December 27 on my way home from work. Perfect.

20K

I’ve tested 34 hybrid, plug-in hybrid, electric, and fuel-cell vehicles since my Bolt arrived. I always use my car as a comparison vehicle. Is it as easy to drive? How are the seats? How much range is available? How does the regenerative braking work? Especially these last two questions are crucial for electric vehicles.

Regarding range, my Bolt’s EPA 238 miles of range eliminates most of the problems that early LEAF drivers experienced, with around 80 miles available. I only experienced a couple of times where I couldn’t use my car and instead opted for an alternative. In one case, I had to attend a chamber music workshop last summer that was 300 miles away, with few charging stations of any kind on the way. I opted for a gasoline-powered test car.

Recently, I drove my car for a few days without a recharge and I found myself with 50 miles range. Based on that, I chose to go to a nearer destination than I originally intended because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to charge up where I was headed and make it home. Oddly, it was at a shopping center that had NO charging stations. Seemed odd, since they are often located there. Easy access to charging is still an issue for EV drivers, although it is improving, and many more stations are coming. I normally can do fine charging at work or at home.

Regenerative braking is the way that hybrids like the Toyota Prius get all of their power, since they have no plugs. For EVs, it’s a way to extend range, and also enables one-pedal driving. When I put my Bolt into “L” mode (instead of “D”) using the shift lever, I can press down on the accelerator to move forward and release it to slow down. With the Bolt, you can literally come to a complete stop in this mode. I’ve honed my skills to where I can see a red light ahead and ease off on the pedal and arrive right at the line without touching the brake pedal. You can imagine how long my brake pads should last!

Some cars have adjustable amounts of regeneration, and some release the regen at a few miles per hour, necessitating the brake. But my Bolt lets me stop on a dime.

One requirement for getting an EV was I had to be able to travel the 85 miles to my granddaughters and back without having to charge. With 238 miles, this is no sweat, but I’ve noticed that in colder winter weather, my car’s range goes down a bit. It’s now closer to 200, and that means it’s a little dicier. On Christmas day, I arrived at my family destination with about a half battery of charge left. Just to be safe, I plugged into my son’s household current (level 1 – 120 volts) and partially refilled the battery overnight.

During the two years, most of my charging has happened at work, at the row of ChargePoint chargers. It takes a couple to several hours to fill the battery, depending on how much it’s depleted. I sometimes just skip charging, since there’s plenty there, but it’s nice to keep it topped up. Starting in April, I’ll charge at home using my new solar panels.

I’ve gotten the official 238 miles of charge that the EPA gives the Bolt, but in colder temperatures, and if I’ve driven on the freeway a lot, it averages more like 200 or so, which is normally plenty. Right now, it’s saying about 185 or 190 when it’s “full,” so I’m going to have my dealer check it when they look over the car at it’s “two year inspection.” Of course, there will be no oil change or radiator flush (there aren’t any). They’ll rotate the tires, which is an overdue service (at no charge).

The Bolt has cost me zero dollars and time in maintenance. The electricity I’ve bought at work costs less than half the price of gasoline. I’ve also saved half off my bridge tolls by getting my stickers to drive in the carpool lane alone ($22/year). Just before the new year, I stuck new red ones over the original white ones, so I can continue saving time and money. The stickers last until January 1, 2022.

With my own EV, I’ve participated in a bunch of electric car events, including a couple I hosted at my office for National Drive Electric Week. These events give prospective owners a chance to sample EVs without salespeople or pressure. We usually let the people ride in and sometimes, even drive our cars so they can understand how great EVs are. I’ll be doing more company things this year, looking toward the first annual Drive Electric Earth Day events.

Some people tell me that they’re waiting for an EV that looks like a “regular car” before they’ll consider one. I agree that the Bolt is proportioned like the Nissan LEAF hatchback–the pioneer–and the odd-looking BMW i-3. As for me, I really like the way the Bolt looks, and my affection for it has grown over the years. When I see another one drive by, I holler, “Bolty!”

But manufacturers have a whole fleet of new EVs coming in the next few years that will make choosing an EV easy. The Hyundai Kona small crossover EV should be on sale now. I’ve driven the gas version and seen the EV at the auto show, and it’s the kind of small, usable car I like. It’s compact, but unlike the Bolt, it’s a crossover, not a tall hatchback (a fine but important distinction) and with an EPA-rated 258 miles of range and a lower price than the Bolt, it should make a big impact.

The Tesla Model 3 has been the big EV star in 2018, selling a whopping 145,846 cars, which dwarfs EV sales by the other companies and is a big number for almost any  model. Maybe it’s the Tesla magic, or the fact that it looks like an attractive sedan. It’s more expensive than a Bolt, but that doesn’t seem to have prevented it from proliferating.

My car’s hatchback configuration has proven to be exactly what I need to carry my musical gear. An upright bass slides right in. I even found a way to carry the big bass plus two bass guitars, an amplifier, and my cords, cables, stands, etc. When not hauling gear, there is plenty of room for two adults in the back (and room for a kid in the middle, if necessary).

The low window line up front gives the Bolt a spacious feel, as does my car’s light gray and white interior. I chose the brighter dash, seats, and doors when I placed my order without knowing exactly what it would look like. The car I saw at the auto show that year had the black and dark gray interior, which I believe is the standard one. The only downside is the tendency of the light gray upper dash panel to reflect in the windshield, but with polarized sunglasses, it’s never a worry.

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Electric cars have great torque, and my little car can really take off when I step on it. I rarely push it, as it’s a waste of battery charge, but accelerating up an on ramp is fun. The 6.3-second zero-to-60 time is equivalent to a sporty Volkswagen GTI. With 900+ pounds of battery below the floor, the Bolt boasts a low center of gravity, which means stability in curves.

I now have a year to enjoy the Bolt before it’s time to turn it in. What should I do? I know there are lots of new cars on the way from VW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Volvo, and others. The Hyundai Kona and Kia Niro crossovers are compelling (and affordable), as is the third-generation Kia Soul (if you like boxes). GM may have another all-electric available in a year–the concept images look impressive. The MINI EV is due by year’s end, too. Further upscale, the all-new Mercedes EQC–the first of the brand’s new EQ lineup of electrics–was introduced today at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Should I see what kind of a deal I can get to just buy the Bolt? I have time to think about it.

I never expected to drive a Chevrolet, frankly. Although my family had Chevys when I was growing up, including a few Corvairs, I always owned old VWs and new Hondas and Toyotas. Domestic vehicles didn’t have high quality years ago, although I did try the first year Saturn. The good news is, today the domestic brands have quality parity with the leaders. Other than a couple of minor electric glitches (that didn’t affect driving) and one loose plastic clip in the rear cargo area, the Bolt has been rock solid.

Yes, the interior isn’t luxurious, but I still appreciate it’s flowing design every day. The 10.2-inch center screen is great to work with. Apple CarPlay is sublime, as is the Bose sound in my upgraded audio system. The seats, which some buyers complained about, work fine for me.

I’ll continue to write about my Bolt this year, and as 2019 winds down, I’ll share my thoughts about the future with you. Please continue to check here for stories about going green. You can read all of my EV stories at www.cleanfleetreport.com.