Though cars get most of the attention, batteries will participate in our cleantech energy transition on land, in the air and by sea. And in today’s Cleantech Talk, we cover them all. It’s something of a “double-cheeseburger” episode, in that we stretched ourselves around four topics instead of the usual two. Let us know in the comments if you liked the format, and if you have a few minutes, please leave us an iTunes review to make it easier for like-minded folks to find us!
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Nicolas started us off with a quick discussion of e-bikes — bicycles with an electric assist feature — as he’s been trialling the Jetson Adventure (webpage here and manual here). In an effort to be even-handed, he’s also testing a competitor’s product offering, though he was not allowed to discuss specifics yet. Two of Jetson’s competitors are GenZe and Flintsto — … just kidding, the other is GoCycle.
The battery is stored in the “downtube,” circled in the image below. And contrary to my speculation in the podcast, it turns out Jetson doesn’t use 18650-size batteries.
Jetson Adventure bicycle with downtube circled (product manual, page 4)
As we noted in the show, there are some interesting coincidences between the American bike and car markets. Firstly, if you count kids’ bikes, they’re about the same size, with roughly 17 million bicycles and 17 million passenger vehicles sold each year, allowing for some year-to-year variation. Secondly, it’s been estimated that the U.S. saw up to 250,000 e-bike sales in 2016, consistent with EV-Volumes’ estimates of 250,000 EV sales for 2017.
E-bike market share in Germany meanwhile is about 15%, just a bit higher than their electric vehicle share! (I’d mis-read this as 50% in the podcast.) No doubt e-bikes’ popularity rose with the arrival of inexpensive Chinese-manufactured e-bikes, much as the market for solar panels expanded with the arrival of inexpensive Chinese-manufactured cells. Well, just as there were complaints about Chinese companies “dumping” solar panels in the US a few years ago, there are now complaints in Europe about Chinese companies dumping e-bikes over there. I’m no international trade specialist, so I can’t comment on the merits of the cases, but there’s something hopeful in the fact that China is being accused of dumping ecologically-desirable products, as opposed to ecologically destructive ones…
Dyson & Tesla
Kyle Field put together CleanTechnica’s hot take on Dyson throwing its hat into the electric car ring, and Mike Barnard followed up for a deep dive of his own. It isn’t unexpected news, and for many consumer products such as cars, there’s room for a lot of premium brands. In a young field like electric cars, plenty of startups get launched, almost all of which shut down.
That said, Dyson’s EV probably has a better shot than any other new entrant, if only because it will start its life as an arm of an already fantastically-successful company. James Dyson owns more land in England than his Queen, the United Kingdom has a lot of industry talent thanks to the many auto factories there, and his company already designs and builds mass-manufactured goods.
Was talk of Tesla Model 3 VIN 1134 a cheeky reference to “production hell”?
As for Tesla’s very slow ramp, a bunch of news dropped late this week, which we’ll get to in a future podcast when we’ve had more time for review. For now, let’s just consider that Carlos Ghosn plans for the Nissan-Renault Alliance to increase production by 4 million cars in the next 5 years. Is Ghosn going to take Tesla more seriously or less seriously now that its third consecutive model (4th if we include the Roadster) is going through a slower-than-expected production ramp?
To use a sports analogy, there’s a risk that Elon Musk making cars might be like Conor McGregor boxing: good enough to win some early rounds, but not good enough to go the distance against world-class competition. The next few months will tell us whether Elon has given his manufacturing experts enough support and freedom (including the freedom to say no to overly ambitious plans) to succeed. If they do, much will be forgiven.
Of course, batteries aren’t just for cars and bikes; they can be used in boats as well. Canadian firm Corvus Energy recently won bids to provide battery power systems to hybridize two of Norwegian state oil company Statoil’s boats. The vessels provide support for offshore oil platforms, and the hybridization will help the company’s operations achieve increasingly ambitious emissions-reductions goals. (To Statoil’s credit, it’s two years ahead of schedule in this regard, and its oil production is half as GHG-intensive as the world average. Of course, the overwhelming majority of emissions from fossil fuels come when they’re used, not when they’re processed and refined.)
CleanTechnica earlier covered how Corvus had won a 10-year contract to supply batteries for hybrid propulsion systems for ferries in Scandinavia. The company seems to be the market leader in marine electrification, having installed half the world’s marine energy storage systems, comprising 50 MWh with 1.5 million operating hours across more than 90 installations.
And for any readers wondering whether there’s much of a market for pure battery-electric boats, a Corvus representative explained that almost all clients want hybrid systems. This makes sense considering that if your electric car battery dies on a road, you can call for a tow truck. But if your battery-electric boat runs out of charge when it’s carrying cargo or passengers, lawsuits become a distinct possibility!
Moving into the air, Nicolas covered Passenger Drone’s latest progress in commercializing its e-VTOL (electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing) helicopter. And while Passenger Drone may be at the forefront of the North American e-VTOL market, one of its Chinese competitors, EHang, has not only launched a service in China, it’s expanded into Dubai.
As marvellous as they might be, e-VTOLs will probably always be a more expensive “space pen” sort of a solution to traffic congestion, compared to taxis or public transit. As this New York Post article outlines, they’re probably going to be pretty loud (at a time when cities are getting quieter thanks to electric cars and trucks) and a host of safety criteria will also have to be considered. These issues can all be addressed, of course, but at the expense of adding complexity and cost.
All the same, e-VTOLs would let us open another front (however small) with which to chip away at the combustion engine, so it’s hard not to be hopeful for their eventual success…!
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