Author: Jennifer Sensiba

Fēnix News

If Passed, EV Tax Credit Expansion Would Help Used…

With the current tax credits about to run out for some automakers, congress is starting the process of possibly expanding the program and lifting the 200k vehicle cap. Not only would this draft bill help sell new EVs, but the bill would also expand the program to help with used electric vehicles.

For those unfamiliar, the current EV tax credit program allows a reduction of up to $7500 in federal taxes owed, but only for the buyers of the first 200,000 electric vehicles from a manufacturer. Once the 200,000 sales are reached, the credit phases out over several quarters until it goes to zero. The manufacturer is never given funds by the federal government under this program, and the credit is not refundable (ex. the Earned Income Credit), so people who don’t owe taxes or owe less than $7500 benefit less from the program.

With GM, Tesla, and Nissan approaching the end of the tax credit, many are wondering whether it’s a good idea to reward the automakers who didn’t step up and build EVs first, while raising the tax bill of people buying from more established EV players.

The most recent draft bill proposes first to increase the number of EVs sold to 600,000 before phaseout begins again. This would allow 400,000 more vehicles with the full tax credit for automakers already up against the 200,000 limit. To make up for the cost some, the credit would be reduced to $7,000.

On top of supporting used sales, the EV tax credit would also be extended to those buying used EVs. While more complicated than the credit for new EVs, it would allow a maximum of $2500 for each sold. The used EV must be between 3x the credit amount and $25,000 to qualify, and the program phases out for higher incomes.

One great thing about encouraging used EV sales is that they’re more environmentally friendly. Instead of building a new EV to replace a combustion vehicle, an EV that has already been working toward its environmental breakeven (the point at which emissions savings outweigh the extra emissions of manufacturing it) gets to replace the ICE vehicle.

The other exciting thing is that increased demand for used EVs is likely to increase their resale values. This makes it more economical to repair them and keep them on the road than to throw the rest of the vehicle away when a battery pack ages.

We look forward to being part of this solution, whether or not this latest draft bill is successful.

Fēnix News

What Makes More, EV Batteries or Storage Projects?

A recent article from CNBC shows us an important struggle Tesla is going through. When they don’t have enough battery cells, Tesla prioritizes vehicles over stationary storage, mostly because the vehicle business is more profitable. When batteries become more widely available, like they’re starting to, then they try to do both businesses more.

Tesla’s large energy storage project in Australia. Image from Google Earth.

While the report is mostly about Tesla, it does give us a broad variety of insight into the general state of the different industries that are starting to use large volumes of battery cells.

Getting into building EVs is a much bigger challenge than starting a local solar install business, and thus the competition in both spaces is very different. When buying a solar system, many customers are purchasing power by the kWh, and are more able to shop around looking for different installers.

Because of all this, battery systems and rooftop solar can’t be sold for as much.

On the other hand, innovation is a key factor. When everyone is offering basically the same product (sun collects energy, lights inside the house come on at the right times), there’s no advantage to choose one over the other except on price. When a company comes up with unique or better technology, they’re able to command a premium.

The big question is whether products like Tesla’s solar roof, and better prices on battery packs due to volume production with cars, will lead to a better situation.

There’s a whole lot more information in the article if you’re willing to dig to the bottom, so be sure to check out the whole thing!

Fēnix News

Geotab Just Gave Us All A Massive Treasure Trove…

While EV batteries have generally proven to do better than the oil companies would like us all to believe, there’s still a lot of room for improvement (we’re looking at you Nissan!). On the other hand, the EV community has largely stumbled in the dark over battery life.

Until now, at least! Geotab just released data based on the observed real-world degradation of over 6,000 electric vehicles.

The good news: EV batteries are generally doing pretty good. Based on the data, Geotab tells us that the “vast majority” of electric vehicle batteries will outlast the rest of the vehicle. If this continues to hold (and it should), electric vehicles are poised to really prove themselves over the next few years.

The bad news: not all EVs are created equally. Some are doing far better than others, even when driven the same, used the same, and living in the same climates. As many LEAF owners already know, the biggest thing that’s making the difference is cooling. Vehicles without a good temperature management system for the pack don’t do as well as those that have one.

You can create your own charts here.

Speaking of temperature, vehicles that live in hotter climates don’t tend to do as well as those in more moderate environments. Even with a good cooling system, the time spent sitting in the heat when the vehicle is not on doesn’t do it any favors.

Speed and state of charge are also proving to be a big factor. For example, they show that vehicles doing more “Level 3” rapid charging tend to degrade much faster than those using slower methods more. Also, keeping the battery between 20% and 80% (like the Chevrolet Volts did) has proven to minimize degradation.

The great thing about this emerging pool of real world knowledge is that future vehicles and vehicles we refurbish will benefit. By refurbishing your Nissan LEAF’s battery system in 2020 and beyond, you’ll get the advantages of newer EVs without giving up the low price of keeping your existing 2011-2016 vehicle.

Fēnix News

CleanTechnica EV Survey Data

If you haven’t noticed already, a lot of articles in this blog are about data different organizations, businesses, and governments are collecting. That’s no coincidence. When it comes to making a good product, or more importantly, a product that matters, you have to sift through a lot of data and adjust accordingly going forward. Any entity that doesn’t consider the data will get outmaneuvered by competitors who do.

Information about batteries, vehicles, and other technological things does very little without data about the drivers and buyers of vehicles, and that’s exactly what we see from CleanTechnica again in their latest report.

When it came to seeing what electrified vehicle owners want to buy next, Tesla was basically the most popular. With the best ranges and best charging networks, that should be no surprise. Also popular (more than half also liked these), were the Kia Niro EV, Hyundai Kona EV, Nissan LEAF, Chevy Bolt, and Renault Zoe.

When it comes to how much range a prospective buyer wanted, they found that people generally want more than 200 miles. What was surprising, though, was that there are upper limits to people’s expectations. Most buyers didn’t expect their next EV to have more than 340 miles of range.

Another interesting set of findings were related to solar:

“Respondents were also quite likely to have rooftop solar panels — 32–52% of respondents indicated they had rooftop solar — and another 10–15% of respondents planned to be getting solar panels soon. Plug-in hybrid drivers and Tesla drivers in North America were least likely to have rooftop solar (32% of each group), but 14–15% of them expected to go solar soon. Tesla and other pure-EV drivers in the UK were most likely to have rooftop solar (52% and 43%, respectively), and another 10–14% (respectively) planned to go solar soon.”

All of this goes to show just how strong the market for solar is among EV buyers. When you also consider that the environment remains an important motivator among EV drivers, this should be no surprise.

We’re also starting to send out our own surveys to customers and mailing list subscribers to learn more about how EV battery degradation impacts people’s lives, watch for an update later that shares some of the statistics we’ve learned. It truly is amazing how much restriction people will live with as their batteries fade, simply because they love their car, the EV movement, and what it means for cleaner air.

Fēnix News

What We Will Be Doing Q1 of 2020

I hope you’re as excited as I am about our CEO, John Bysinger’s, recent announcement. In case you missed it, here’s the video:

For those of you who need a quick summary of his announcement, or a quick recap:

One thing John said in his announcement really stood out:

“How many of you get in your car, you push that ‘on’ button, and the first thing you do is look at your battery health gauge, and you wonder, ‘Is today the day I’m going to lose another bar?'” he asked. “It is our job to help take that worry away from you.”

“You get to enjoy your car, and we take care of the worry for you, in a way that’s affordable.”

Everybody at Fenix knows that there are a lot of people counting on us to deliver on that promise. That’s the center of what Fenix is all about. At the same time, we also know that some of you count on your LEAF and can’t wait much longer while we develop our modular battery system.

Sure, we could quickly rig together a quick DIY-style battery pack with spit and bailing wire that could get a LEAF working again with great range, but we can’t in good conscience use our customers as beta testers–not when it’s something as important as their transportation and their safety. We’d rather take the extra time needed to make sure the system is not only working, but is something we’d stake our own family’s safety on.

To make sure our customers are taken care of during this testing time, we want those who can’t wait longer to have another option for the meantime.

This option will be to install newer Nissan OEM LEAF battery packs in your older vehicle for now. The idea is to bring your vehicle’s range a lot closer to what it was new so you can hang in there for now.

To determine which customers are most in need of this short-term solution, we will be distributing a quick survey for all reservation holders to fill out. We won’t be skipping anybody in line, but we will see who is willing and able to wait, and who needs some temporary relief right away.

We will also be gathering other information in the survey about your preferred automotive shops, what you do with your vehicle, and much more. Keep an eye on your inbox!

Also, if you’re wanting to become a reservation holder in the near future, you will also receive a copy of the survey. We aim to take care of all customers who need a battery badly, including our newest customers.

There’s a whole lot more to announce during 2020, both about the details of this battery upgrade program and the modular battery system we are developing for long-term. Please be sure to follow us on social media to stay up to date.

Fēnix News

World’s Biggest Battery is Making Big Money

The Hornsdale Power Reserve in southern Australia. Image by Google.

A recent piece at Seeking Alpha explains that Tesla’s giant installation of grid-connected batteries is doing very well financially.

For those unfamiliar, the Hornsdale Power Reserve in southern Australia is a big bank of lithium-ion batteries located next to a large windfarm. The idea is to charge the batteries when power is plentiful and release the power back into the grid when extra power is needed. This is done in two ways: by giving big boosts of power (for 10 minutes) when there’s a problem with the grid, and by load-shifting power under normal circumstances to help make renewables more reliable.

While the Seeking Alpha post goes into great detail, the important thing is this: the world’s biggest battery is not only doing well, but it’s doing well in ways that people didn’t predict. The battery is providing the services they expected when it was built, but also doing things unexpected, like allowing some peaker plants to stay off.

Because of all of this, the battery is about to be expanded 50%. With around 50% renewables in that part of Australia expected to grow further toward 100%, they’re going to need more storage not only to do what has been done already, but for new roles on the grid.

While this may seem pretty far flung from the business of replacing the batteries of vehicles like older Nissan LEAFs, that’s really not the case. Keep in mind that big batteries like the one in Australia are made up of many smaller ones, and are ultimately made of the same kinds of cells you’d find in an electric vehicle.

There have been many experiments, including in the United States, with using EVs to do the same things this big battery in Australia is doing. By allowing utilities some control over EV charging, and allowing them to take some energy from the batteries at key times, EV batteries have been able to be part of a broader solution and not just a load on the grid.

Industry News

A 150 mile EV–50 Years Ago

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and feel like we are at the pinnacle of technology today. In many ways, it’s true, but in others, we aren’t moving along as fast as we might think.

People familiar with old AMC cars, like the Pacer and the Gremlin, will recognize this right away. This car didn’t make it to production, but it definitely inspired the style of cars that followed in in the years later.

Background

While AMC didn’t have the deep pockets of the “Big 3” automakers, several developments pushed them to produce this prototype.

First, air quality was getting downright lousy in major American cities. Smog, smoke, and other contaminants were getting to the point where kids couldn’t go outside on some days. This was especially true in cities like Los Angeles that were designed around the automobile. Congestion and gridlock on major routes only made it worse, as cars would sit and pollute while going nowhere.

This all led to legislation meant to clean up the air. Most people know about CARB, federal emissions equipment requirements, unleaded gasoline, catalytic converters, and the beginning of air testing for vehicles in many places. What is less known is that the federal government also provided funding for electric vehicle research, prompting automakers to start these efforts.

Finally, the 60s and 70s were a time when the United States found itself struggling with reliance on foreign oil. During the worst of it, people put up with shortages and long, long gas lines as some countries choked off the supply of fuel to push the U.S. political buttons. Electric car prototypes, which didn’t make it to production, did show the public that automakers and the government were looking for other options.

AMC and other automakers were experimenting with a variety of different drivetrain and engine options at the time, including GM’s rotary engine program that AMC planned to procure engines from. While none of the alternative power plants made it to production, it was definitely a time of innovation that led to the later success of electric vehicles.

What Made This Vehicle Unique

Like many other EV prototypes of the era, the Amitron was small and light. It had a much more aerodynamic shape than most blocky cars of the era, and was designed more for efficiency than for speed or utility.

What made this vehicle different from the other efforts was its two-stage battery pack. Lithium-ion batteries of the time were the best possible option for energy density, but chemistries of the day simply weren’t up to the task of providing high amounts of raw power or charging quickly when trying to use regenerative braking. To solve this problem, engineers decided to use a bigger lithium pack to charge a smaller nickel-cadmium pack that could handle acceleration and regenerative braking.

This put the Amitron ahead of other manufacturers’ prototypes, which couldn’t accelerate quickly or provide regenerative braking. The few that could used odd battery chemistries that were prohibitively expensive and/or had very poor longevity.

After The Amitron

After the Amitron, AMC did go on to produce other prototypes, some based on the Amitron. Most didn’t go onto any kind of mass production, but the overall shape and style of the Amitron did inspire the Pacer and Gremlin production gas vehicles.

AMC ultimately did produce a limited run of small EV Jeeps for the U.S. Postal Service, with several hundred put into service for a few years in the most polluted cities. The “Electruck” didn’t set any records with its 33 MPH cruising speed and limited range, but was a good fit for the USPS mission of delivering mail.

It would be decades before more serious efforts like the GM EV1 and Nissan LEAF came along, but the Amitron’s 150-mile range and advanced features did show automakers that a practical and usable electric vehicle was at least possible. That alone gives the little car a very good legacy.

Fēnix News

Nikola’s Battery Claims Draw Skepticism

A recent article in Forbes shows us that there’s a lot of promise in battery technology, but big promises draw big skepticism.

Double the density, less than half the weight, and at half the cost–that’s what Nikola Motors’ CEO Trevor Wilson promised to show us in the second half of 2020. Such battery cells would revolutionize the industry, but only after giving Nikola Motors a big edge over the competition.

Wilson’s claims weren’t backed with much other information, but he did tells Forbes that the improvements came from eliminating costly metals such as nickel, cobalt and magnesium, use of a “free-standing electrode” and a “whole different type of chemical, with a lithium component.” 

Understandably, battery experts are going to be skeptical of such claims. One said, “…it’s safe to dismiss this out of hand.” while others said it was unlikely, but possible with sulfur-based chemistries. Many scientists and companies are working on improved battery cell technology, and it surprised them to hear Nikola make such claims.

While there’s just not enough information for anybody at Fēnix to make heads or tails of this and say it’s true or not, we do know that eventually battery chemistry will radically improve and that battery technology is definitely going to improve over time.

That’s one of the great things about being able to upgrade your EV’s battery. With electric vehicles like the Nissan LEAF, you don’t have to be stuck in 2010 forever. As battery technology improves, we can help you stay at the front of it over time.

Fēnix News

Lithium-Ion Batteries Are Hitting a Tipping Point

A recent article in Forbes shows us that lithium-ion batteries are about to hit a major milestone, and it’s going to transform more than the EV industry.

Over the last 9 years, prices for lithium-ion batteries have dropped considerably already. In 2019 dollars, we’ve already gone from over $1100 per kWh of storage to only $156 today. That alone is a major factor in the increasing affordability of electric vehicles. Further, it makes it easier and cheaper to keep existing EVs around, as it’s cheaper to restore the battery packs with newer cells that are not only better, but cheaper than what came with the car originally.

The major tipping point happens at around $100/kWh, and that’s projected to happen around 2023. However, the author does point out that even the Forbes data is probably behind the times. The writer says that his sources already are seeing prices pretty close to $100 today.

Why is $100 important? Mostly because it’s the point where the battery production is competitive with the older technologies that battery packs seek to replace. For example, an EV can cost the same as a gasoline-powered vehicle without losing any of the savings inherent to an EV. At this point, there’s no reason to keep buying gas vehicles (at least in places with good charging infrastructure).

The advantages of cheaper lithium-ion batteries don’t stop there, though.

One major industry that’s going to see big changes is the utility industry. Cheaper grid storage will lead to less dependence on “peaker” plants, and will allow more excess renewable energy to be used through the times when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow. That’s not all, though. Microgrids, home energy storage (plus solar), and a number of other technologies will start lessening reliance on the grid itself.

EV charging and other high-power equipment will also be interacting with the grid in much cheaper ways. Utilities make a lot of money from customers who pull large amounts of power for short periods by charging a whole-month “demand charge” for the extra juice. This money does go to financing the extra infrastructure needed for high-draw users, but it’s also a great way to keep prices low for people drawing less juice.

As charging stations and other industrial users install battery packs, though, this changes. Instead of pulling their peak power use directly from the grid, they can pull it from a battery that slowly recharges the whole day. That way, utilities don’t get to charge for demand peaks, but often will need to leave the expensive infrastructure in place, and that’s assuming that the company keeps pulling power from the grid at all most days.

Finally, there’s the issue of the non-electric industries impacted. The largest will be the oil industry, as people shift away from oil for transportation and for energy generation. Just like coal, other industries will also be disrupted.

As battery technology continues to get cheaper, the effects become harder and harder to predict. We are likely to see things get more and more interesting in the coming years!

Fēnix News

All EV Batteries Aren’t Equally Clean

Image from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

An important thing we like to keep in mind at Fēnix is that all batteries aren’t the same. While a battery cell’s ability to hold energy, charge fast, and last a long time get most of the press, there are other factors we have to keep in mind. One of the most important is where the battery’s components come from.

A recent piece in Greentech Media illustrates this well. While many like to focus on the cobalt and lithium mining in battery production, one of the most common components in battery cells is graphite, like you’d find in the common #2 pencil we all grew up with in school.

While graphite is a great substitute for toxic lead in pencils, it has much more important properties in batteries. Graphite is very conductive, and its layered composition allows it to work very well with lithium ion to store energy.

Greentech points out:

This is the crux of the emissions issue: Graphite is only produced by crushing and then roasting a mined product or as a byproduct of coal mining or oil refining…

These two types of graphite, natural and synthetic, compete in the battery anode materials market; the split of demand was around 50:50 in 2018.

Synthetic graphite is the higher-cost option for anode material, but its higher purity makes it preferable for use in premium batteries. Most battery anode producers use a blend of synthetic and natural materials, balancing costs and performance. But increasingly, the lower electrical resistances and greater consistency offered by synthetic have resulted in advanced technologies, such as NCA and NMC 811, coming to use more synthetic graphite.

They go on to point out that the demand for synthetic graphite (that comes from fossil fuel production) is only projected to go up in the next few years, as advanced battery technology needs it.

While there are limits to what we can do when making our battery packs, we do keep the environment in mind and try to do our best in that regard. We take the cleanliness and decency in our supply chains seriously, and strive to not only do our best in that regard but continue to improve going forward.

We will be announcing a new recycling partnership in the next few days, with this partnership Fēnix Power will be able to recycle 100% of the batteries we take out of service!