U.K.’s Royal Mail Goes Electric, Reducing Tailpipe Emissions and Lowering Operating Costs

Photo of Arrival's Royal Mail electric delivery vehicle.Growing up, I remember finding out the mail was delivered because my dog barked on hearing the mail truck. Starting later this year, lucky customers on certain routes in the United Kingdom will no longer have that convenience because the U.K.’s Royal Mail Fleet has begun deploying more than 100 electric delivery vehicles. Not only will neighborhood and city streets be quieter, electric vehicles will also put an end to belching tailpipe emissions exacerbated by frequent starts and stops. (The vehicle pictured above, manufactured by U.K.-based Arrival, offer an additional innovation, namely compliance with London’s vehicle design standards intended to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety by greatly improving visibility from behind the steering wheel.)

Last-mile services and urban or stop-and-go driving such as mail delivery are perfect applications for electric vehicles because these conditions provide the optimal mileage per kilowatt-hour. With today’s falling battery prices, along with unpredictable oil prices and the health hazards presented by tailpipe emissions, there is little excuse for light-duty vehicles such as mail trucks not to convert to electricity.Photo of Royal Mail's electric delivery vehicle manufactured by Arrival.By traveling on fixed routes with highly predictable conditions and returning to the same facility each night for charging, little is left to chance. Unlike high speed driving or conditions requiring rapid acceleration, demands which require a lot of energy, gradual acceleration and slow speeds such as on mail routes draw paltry amounts of stored electric energy while regenerative braking constantly charges the battery.

In addition, lacking most of the complex systems and parts found in vehicles powered by an internal combustion engine (e.g., engine, transmission, fuel pump, catalytic converter), the Royal Mail’s electric vehicles will enjoy sharply-reduced operating expenses even before fuel is taken into consideration.

Silent, clean, and inexpensive to operate, the Royal Mail’s zero-tailpipe-emission vehicles will be supplied by Arrival (nine vehicles now beginning a one-year trial period, pictured above) and Peugeot (100 Partner L2 Electric vans, expected by year-end, pictured below).

Photo of Peugeot Partner Electric.Each electric Peugeot Partner will carry a 22.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack and offer a payload capacity of more than 1,000 pounds with a range of up to 106 miles. The Arrival vehicle’s specifications reportedly are similar, with the possible addition of a range extender.

The ~100 mile all-electric range being tested will be sufficient for a typical mail route, especially because regenerative braking recharges the battery throughout a day’s journey. When driven at slow speeds or with frequent stops, such as in urban environments or on mail delivery routes, electric vehicles are exceptionally efficient. And when the vehicles return to the depot, they can be easily charged using electricity priced at a less-expensive off-peak rate.

The Peugeot is charged with a Level 2 charger (for overnight) or a CHAdeMO direct current fast charger (providing an 80 percent fill-up in 30 minutes if starting from empty). As an alternative to grid power, the large roofs at mail facilities may offer the prospect of these vehicles being truly 100% emission free by utilizing rooftop solar panels, storing the energy in batteries during the day, and then using that energy to charge the delivery vehicles overnight.

Paul Gatti, Royal Mail Fleet Director, said: “Our research has shown that electric vans are a good operational fit with our business and we are delighted to be ordering such a large volume to use in our daily operations. This is good news for our customers and the towns and cities which we serve. It also means we are on the front foot for future changes in emissions legislation. Emissions are an important issue for us at Royal Mail and we are continuously looking at new and innovative ways to reduce our carbon footprint and our impact on air quality. Improving the efficiency of our fleet by introducing electric vans is just one example of this.”

The delivery vehicle specs are modest compared to a passenger vehicle such as the BMW i3, which generates 170 horsepower from a 125 kW motor producing 184 pound-feet of torque. The electric Partner, by comparison, produces 67 horsepower from a 49 kW motor with maximum torque of 148 pound-feet. But the Royal Mail’s vehicles’ moderated performance will provide reliable operation that is environmentally friendly, safe, and highly energy-efficient.

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Audi to Introduce Solar Roofs, Improve Fuel Efficiency and EV Range

Thin-film solar cells in panoramic glass roofs of Audi models: Audi and Alta Devices, a subsidiary of the Chinese solar-cell specialist, Hanergy, are working together on this development project. With this cooperation, the partners aim to generate solar energy to increase the range of electric vehicles.
Photo courtesy Audi AG.

Audi today announced a plan to increase the range of the company’s electric vehicles by generating onboard solar energy using thin-film solar cells. Audi and its partner, California-based Alta Devices, a subsidiary of the Chinese solar-cell specialist Hanergy, are taking an incremental approach and will first integrate Alta’s efficient, thin, and flexible mobile power technology into panoramic glass roofs. A prototype is expected by the end of this year.

Recognizing that drivers demand maximum range from their electric vehicles, and also responding to ever more stringent fuel economy requirements around the globe, Audi and other vehicle manufacturers are going to great lengths to maximize every opportunity to increase overall efficiency as well as replace liquid fuels with electricity. Consistent with this effort, Audi’s next step after integrating solar into glass panels will be to cover almost the entire roof with solar cells.

By generating onboard and clean renewable power for systems such as air-conditioning and seat heaters, the solar cells will reduce the demand on an all-electric vehicle’s main battery, thereby providing a longer range for driving. But solar cells also can improve fuel efficiency in mild-hybrid vehicles by making the gasoline or diesel engine’s output more fully available for moving the vehicle instead of producing electricity for in-cabin use. Eventually, Audi and Alta envision solar energy directly charging a fully-electric vehicle’s main battery. “That would be a milestone along the way to achieving sustainable, emission-free mobility,” said Bernd Martens, Audi’s Board of Management Member for Procurement.

The partnership with premier automaker Audi is a high-profile opportunity for Alta, holder of multiple world records for energy conversion efficiency. “This partnership with Audi is Alta Devices’ first cooperation with a high-end auto brand. By combining Alta’s continuing breakthroughs in solar technology and Audi’s drive toward a sustainable mobility of the future, we will shape the solar car of the future,” said Alta CEO Ding Jian.

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Will Mahindra, Owner of Legendary Pininfarina, Take On Tesla?

Photo of Mahindra Electric VehicleWith India’s power minister having recently announced that by 2030 “not a single petrol or diesel car should be sold in the country,” Anand Mahindra, Chairman of industrial giant Mahindra Group, discussed on CNBC this week his company’s commitment to electric vehicles. Given the huge market opportunity even if the minister’s extraordinarily aggressive goal is not fully achieved, Mahindra and Tesla’s Elon Musk exchanged tweets on prospects for electric vehicles in the potentially huge market:

Mahindra says he is not worried about Tesla, and that “[Tesla] coming into India would actually increase the awareness of electric vehicles [and] increase the size of the pie.” On the question of whether the company will expand its fully-electric portfolio beyond the e2oPlus subcompact, eVerito compact, and eSupro van, Mahindra said that he plans to build fully-electric vehicles and is “not going to take the halfway measure” with hybrids.

Mahindra is already producing vehicles at the entry-level of the market, and it has the resources to cover all segments, but whether it will go head-to-head with Tesla remains undecided for now. If Mahindra does take on the luxury EV market, the company is expected to turn to Pininfarina, the legendary Italian designer of iconic vehicles such as Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, and Maserati, which Mahindra acquired in late 2015.

Photo of Pininfarina FerrariTransitioning to clean transportation is a high priority for India. According to a report by NITI Aayog, India’s most influential government think tank, switching from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles would save the country $60 billion in energy and decrease carbon emissions by 37%. Reducing emissions is a particularly important issue because, according to a 2014 World Health Organization study, 13 out of 20 of the world’s most polluted cities are in India, and tailpipe emissions are dirtier per unit of energy produced than power plant emissions. That said, there is an emphasis in India to avoid the already-strained electrical grid altogether and charge EVs with solar panels. Each EV produced by Mahindra gets its first charge at the factory from solar panels, and customers can purchase their own solar panels for off-grid charging at home.

Photo of Mahindra EV Solar ChargerIn light of the country’s efforts to move away from traditional vehicles, Mahindra Electric recently announced its roadmap for the next generation of electric vehicles, an initiative dubbed “EV 2.0.” Speaking on the subject of the roadmap, Dr. Pawan Goenka, Chairman of Mahindra Electric, said, “The time has now arrived for EVs to become mainstream and Mahindra has the right technology and products for India. We will actively engage with the government . . . and other private players for setting up a robust EV ecosystem. We are also ramping up our investments towards developing the next generation of EV technologies and products that will cater to the smart cities of tomorrow.”

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Debate Flares Over Electric Grid Fuel Supplies

Graph showing PJM Cleared ICAP by Delivery Year
Data source: PJM Interconnection

In a thinly-veiled swipe at renewable energy resources, Energy Secretary Rick Perry is reportedly ordering a study to determine whether the proliferation of renewables is threatening grid reliability by causing baseload (i.e., coal) resources to retire prematurely. The target of the report is not renewables, per se, but rather the compensation scheme for wholesale power in restructured markets around the country, and whether these markets are over or under-compensating various resources and therefore resulting in a sub-optimal fuel mix.

The subjects of generator compensation and fuel diversity are hotly contested in the energy world, as new (and renewable) resources such as wind, solar, and storage seek to compete with traditional resources such as gas, coal, and even nuclear. These new resources, which are favored by regulators in many states (including Perry’s home state of Texas), to date have generally complemented the existing resource mix and grid operators have been able to balance increasing quantities of intermittent resources; while industry insiders have debated the merits and value of various resource types, for the most part these arguments have taken place outside of the spotlight.

Now, though, with the new administration’s efforts to support coal power, along with nuclear operators loudly arguing their plants are being under-compensated and threatening shutdowns in New York, Illinois, and Ohio, and also as wind and solar generation reach ever higher levels of penetration and threaten to upend the historical pricing and production models in states such as California and Hawaii, the fight for the future of the grid is bursting into the headlines.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission next month will be holding a technical conference, during which Commission staff seeks to discuss long-term expectations regarding the relative roles of wholesale markets and state policies in the Eastern RTOs/ISOs in shaping the quantity and composition of resources needed to cost-effectively meet future reliability and operational needs.

Testimony for the technical conference will be forthcoming, but in the meantime the nation’s largest electrical grid, PJM Interconnection, has issued a report concluding that today’s resource profile “is both reliable and diverse,” and that not only does a more diverse grid not threaten reliability, “[t]he expected near-term resource portfolio is among the highest-performing portfolios and is well equipped to provide the generator reliability attributes.”

As the resource mix moves in the direction of less coal and nuclear generation, according to PJM, generator reliability attributes of frequency response, reactive capability, and fuel assurance decrease, but flexibility and ramping attributes increase. With regard to solar capacity, PJM concludes that this resource cannot feasibly exceed 20 percent of the mix due to unavailability at night. That said, assuming other nighttime resources, PJM “could maintain reliability with unprecedented levels of wind and solar.”

As for the grid’s reliance on individual fuels, PJM advises that heavy reliance on any one fuel type may negatively impact resilience. For example, gas plants can generally be relied upon to serve up to 86 percent of demand, but risks include interruptions in fuel deliverability in extreme conditions such as a polar vortex; for coal plants, operational risks include coal piles freezing or an inability to replenish coal supplies in extreme conditions.

The resource mix within PJM has become more evenly balanced in recent years. In 2005, coal and nuclear resources generated 91 percent of the electricity on the PJM system. Over time, policy initiatives, technology improvements, and economics spurred a shift from coal to natural gas and renewable generation. From 2010 to 2016 in PJM, coal-fired units made up 79 percent of the megawatts retired, and natural gas and renewables made up 87 percent of new megawatts placed in service. PJM’s installed capacity in 2016 consisted of 33 percent coal, 33 percent natural gas, 18 percent nuclear, and 6 percent renewables (including hydro).

Without identifying the optimal resource mix, PJM concludes that “there are resource blends between the most diverse and the least diverse portfolios which provide the most generator reliability attributes.”

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More Customers to Benefit from Florida Power & Light’s Commitment to Solar

Florida Power & Light Company, the third-largest electric utility in America and the largest generator of solar energy in Florida, this week announced an accelerated timetable to build nearly 600 megawatts of solar capacity across eight locations. The energy these projects will produce, which will be enough to fully support approximately 120,000 homes, will diversify the source of electricity for all customers on the grid and efficiently provide a little more green energy to the entire customer base.

Utility-scale solar is a cost-effective way of delivering renewable energy to everyone, and for customers who rent their homes or whose roofs are not suitable for solar panels, the type of projects FPL is undertaking may represent the only way of obtaining renewable energy. “We have been working hard to drive down the costs of adding solar so we can deliver even more zero-emissions energy to all of our customers. As the first company to build solar power generation cost effectively in Florida, we are proud to continue leading the advancement of affordable clean energy infrastructure. We have proven that it’s possible to cut emissions and deliver reliable service while keeping electric bills low for our customers,” said Eric Silagy, FPL president and CEO. Construction is expected to commence this spring. During peak construction, an estimated 200 to 250 people will be working at each site.

The company expects the new installations will be cost-effective over their operational lifetimes, which is consistent with other reported metrics. For example, FPL reports that its carbon emissions today are lower than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan’s goals for 2030, while the company’s typical residential customer’s 1,000-kWh bill is approximately 25 percent lower than the latest national average. Last year, according to the company, FPL’s residential bills were the lowest in Florida among reporting utilities for the seventh year in a row. In addition to the grid-scale projects announced this week, FPL has installed small-scale solar arrays for more than 100 Florida schools and other educational facilities.

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With 300-Mile EV, Mercedes-Benz Flips the Switch on Electric Mobility and Launches “Generation EQ”

Mercedes-Benz today unveiled an aggressive plan to electrify its fleet. Dubbed “Generation EQ” (EQ stands for Electric Intelligence), the first glimpse of the future is an all-wheel drive sport SUV coupe concept (shown above) having an output of approximately 400 horsepower (with 0 to 60 mph in under 5 seconds) and an all-electric range of more than 300 miles.

Speaking at the Paris Auto Show, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche explained that:

The mobility of the future at Mercedes-Benz will stand on four pillars: Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electric. Generation EQ is the logical fusion of all four pillars.

Elaborating on the particular subject of electrification, Zetsche announced that “the emission-free automobile is the future.” Recognizing the consumer interest and regulatory imperative to reduce tailpipe emissions, Generation EQ is the clearest signal to date that Mercedes is committed to the transition from gasoline to electric transportation.

Mercedes’ new generation of electric vehicles will be based on an architecture developed specifically for battery-electric models, and which the company says is scalable in every respect and is usable across all models. For example, all system components, especially the batteries (which can be configured to exceed 70 kWh of storage), are variable thanks to a modular building-block system. Vehicle weight is an important consideration with regard to safety, fuel efficiency, and cost, and Mercedes’ new vehicle architecture builds on an intelligent multi-material mix of steel, aluminum and carbon fiber already incorporated in the company’s latest models.

Customization, Touch-Based Controls, and No Knobs

Mercedes Benz Generation EQ Concept Car InteriorThe focus of the driver-oriented cockpit is on simple, touch-based controls. The innovative digital user experience differentiates Generation EQ from the familiar controls in today’s vehicles, while giving a peek into the future of user interaction at Mercedes-Benz.

Unlike traditional dashboards containing a predetermined (and typically mechanical or physical) set of controls and displays, the Generation EQ concept features a massive and customizable 24-inch TFT high-definition wide-screen display presenting as much, or as little, information as the driver desires. In a nod to the fact that the vehicles will be all-electric, a clever and convenient feature is that the navigation display will inform the driver about their driving style and how to achieve the best possible range, while also showing all the destinations that can be reached based on the battery’s current state of charge and other relevant factors such as outside temperature and vehicle speed.

Features such as climate control and infotainment systems are controlled via touch controls on the digital display rather than physical buttons. Generation EQ also does away with conventional exterior mirrors; instead, cameras project an image of the traffic behind onto integrated displays in the doors.

Charging and Energy Technology

In keeping with Daimler’s commitment to the complete driving experience, Generation EQ offers a comprehensive electric mobility ecosystem with products, services, technologies, and innovations. The spectrum ranges from electric vehicles to wall-mounted chargers to charging services to home energy storage units. Mercedes-Benz will market future battery-electric vehicles under the brand name EQ.

Mercedes Benz Generation EQ Concept Car ExteriorWith regard to charging, Generation EQ brings together the latest technologies. The vehicle is ready for Level 2 wired and wireless charging, as well as for rapid charging at direct current (DC) fast chargers. Mercedes is adopting the Combined Charging System (CCS) protocol that is also generally being used by all of the European and American OEMs (other than Tesla). Today’s CCS chargers typically top out at 50 kW, though output up to 150 kW is possible. In the medium to long term, a charging capacity of up to 300 kW is planned. This would enable sufficient power for 60 locally emission-free miles to be recharged within five minutes.

Many EV drivers like the ability to charge their vehicles using solar power but this is not always possible, for example when the vehicle is not home during the day when the sun is shining. To serve this market, Mercedes will be offering battery systems so that solar energy produced but not consumed by other electrical devices in the home can be stored for later use. Policies relating to home solar production vary greatly by utility and by jurisdiction, so before investing in stationary batteries customers should explore the economics of storing excess energy vs selling it back to the grid.

Autonomy

Mercedes Benz Generation EQ Concept Car ExteriorNo major announcement would be complete without a discussion of autonomous driving technology, and Generation EQ checks that box. Using highly accurate maps, the vehicle’s systems know millions of data points, including for complex scenarios such as traffic circles. By intelligently combining a massive amount of information from many difference sensors and data sources, a process Mercedes calls “sensor fusion,” the vehicle can automatically adjust the speed and driving dynamics to assist the driver in a wide range of situations.

Anticipating a future in which cars will talk to each other as well as to surrounding infrastructure, Mercedes is incorporating “Vehicle-to-X” technology. This will be important for services such as safe autonomous driving, notice of relevant information (including but not limited to safety), enhanced navigation, and route options to maximize mileage based on the battery’s state of charge and information about charging stations when necessary.

The concept vehicle unveiled today is described as “close to production,” and will be the foundation for battery-electric vehicles across all models, from the compact to the luxury class.

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Nevada Solar Dispute Nears Resolution After Court Remands Controversial Ruling

Picture of residential rooftop solar panels.A Nevada state court this week set aside part of the Public Utilities Commission’s controversial decision to change rates on existing solar customers because the Commission’s process lacked adequate notice to the public, but due to ongoing discussions between the parties the hotly contested issue may soon be at least partially settled anyway. Regardless of what happens at the Commission, the subject is certain to be revisited when the legislature next convenes.

The immediate result of the court’s ruling is that the part of the Commission’s order which would have reduced bill credits to customers who already have solar panels is set aside and remanded to the Commission, while the remainder of the ruling upholding the Commission’s order relating to new solar customers is affirmed.

But the court’s remand is likely to be superseded because the Commission, at a hearing coincidentally scheduled for tomorrow, will consider a settlement between utilities and customers to grandfather the 32,000 existing residential rooftop customers on the old rate for 20 years. If, as expected, the Commission ratifies the grandfathering agreement, the remanded case will become moot.

Since 1997, Nevadans have participated in a program called net energy metering, under which customers earn a kilowatt-hour bill credit for each kilowatt-hour of clean power they produce that exceeds their own consumption. The high value of the credit was a key factor in many Nevadans’ decision to install solar because the credit offset a meaningful portion of cost. The Commission’s recent decision radically changed the way credits are calculated and valued, and replaced the framework with a new system that values the excess much lower than before.

Recognizing that a critical element in the financial model for solar installations went away overnight, the Commission’s ruling caused nearly every solar installer to immediately abandon the state. The new formula also caused an uproar in the renewable energy community because it significantly reduces income that solar customers had been expecting to receive, causing what had been good investments to go under water (financially). The move to not grandfather customers also set a precedent that alarmed renewable energy advocates concerned that commissions in other states might follow Nevada’s lead.

While states do periodically shift gears on rates on a going-forward basis, it was well-known in Nevada that customers relied on the net metering tariff in making relatively significant long-term investments. While the Commission is legally entitled to change the tariff in a way that reduces payments to customers for excess solar production, for policy reasons such changes are often made only to new customers, not existing customers.

With regard to the process the Commission followed in this case, the court found that the Commission did not sufficiently notify the public of its intention, and therefore the public was deprived of its right to participate in the proceeding. It is well established in American law that public entities such as the Commission must provide notice of the matters before it. As to the question of how specific notice must be, the Nevada Supreme Court in a previous case explained that “[i]nherent in any notice and hearing requirement are the propositions that the notice will accurately reflect the subject matter to be addressed,” and that “notice must be specific enough to alert all interested persons of the substance of the hearing.” When notice is deficient, the court found, the result is a “denial of fairness and due process.” The requirement, which falls under the legal description “subject matter jurisdiction,” cannot be waived, does not require the affected parties to have been absent from the proceeding, and may be raised by any party or the court at any time.

The notice in this case not only did not include a sufficient description of the issue that was ultimately addressed, the notice specifically excluded the highly controversial matter by saying that the proposal “does not . . . [a]ffect the rights of [existing solar] customers in any way.” Based on the fact that courts as high as the Supreme Court of the United States have, for decades, held notice to be an “inexorable safeguard,” the Nevada court rejected a multitude of arguments that the deficient notice should not result in the court throwing out the Commission’s ruling.

However, the court also explained that its ruling in this case is limited to the procedural requirement of notice for existing customers, not to substantive policy issues related to existing solar customers or to anything relating to new solar customers. In fact, the court specifically rebuffed all objections raised by solar supporters relating to the validity of the Commission’s order on new solar customers, finding that the Commission’s order is not contrary to law, is not arbitrary or capricious, and does not violate the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

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100 MW Mustang Solar Project Begins Commercial Operation

Photo of Mustang Solar Project.
Mustang Solar Project

Thanks to a large new solar installation constructed by Recurrent Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of Canadian Solar Inc., approximately 45,000 more homes in California will now have access to 100% renewable energy. The Mustang solar project, spread across 1,000 acres in Kings County, California, has reached commercial operation and is expected to produce 100 MWac/134 MWp of electricity.

“The commercial operation of the Mustang solar project continues a historic year that will see Recurrent Energy complete more than one gigawatt of U.S. solar photovoltaic (PV) projects,” said Dr. Shawn Qu, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Canadian Solar.

The renewable energy generated by Mustang’s single-axis trackers will be sold under long-term power purchase agreements to Sonoma Clean Power and MCE. The project is expected to produce enough electricity to power approximately 45,000 homes.

Sonoma Clean Power and MCE are both not-for-profit agencies, offering their customers the option of using environmentally friendly power, generated by renewable sources, like solar, wind and geothermal, at competitive rates.

The power purchase agreement allowed Recurrent Energy to secure a tax equity investment commitment from U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation. Adam Altenhofen, the bank’s vice president, commented on the reasons for the investment by saying “High-quality solar projects like Mustang are an important strategic investment for U.S. Bank, which provide jobs to local communities, while delivering clean, reliable energy to the state of California.”

Recurrent Energy employed approximately 450 during the peak of construction, and supported the local economy by spending more than $3 million on local construction materials and services such as food and housing. In terms of long-term economic benefits, the project will generate $3.6 million in tax revenue for the county and $8.1 million in tax revenue for the state.

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Tesla’s Elon Musk Updates “Master Plan” – More Vehicles and Technologies Are Coming

Tesla Model X - Front View Doors UpWith the tenth anniversary of Elon Musk’s “Master Plan” approaching, the co-founder, Chairman, CEO, and Product Architect of Tesla Motors this week issued “Master Plan, Part Deux.” In the past decade, Musk has achieved (or is on the cusp of achieving) his previously-stated goals of:

  1. Creating an expensive, low-volume car (the Roadster);
  2. Using proceeds from that car to develop a lower-price medium-volume car (the Model S);
  3. Using proceeds from that car to create an affordable, high-volume car (the Model 3); and
  4. Providing solar power (SolarCity).

Musk remains intent on “accelerating the advent of sustainable energy,” and here is what he plans to do next:

Integrate Energy Generation and Storage

batteryBackupImage_ForWeb-2The goal of integrating energy generation and storage is why Tesla is acquiring SolarCity. Some on Wall Street are expressing skepticism of this transaction, but Musk justifies the combination on the basis of providing customers with a seamless experience that cannot be achieved by two separate companies.

Expand to Cover the Major Forms of Terrestrial Transport

Photo of Tesla Assembly Line

Following the highly-acclaimed Model S and plus the eagerly-anticipated Model 3, Musk reports that Tesla’s model line-up is set to expand with a future compact SUV and “a new kind of pickup truck.” He also writes in his blog that heavy-duty trucks and “high passenger-density urban transport” are in early stages of development and should be ready for unveiling next year.

We don’t know exactly what he has in mind for the Tesla Semi, but Musk says it is expected to deliver a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transport while being safer than today’s comparable vehicles as well as being “really fun to operate.”

With regard to a new form of urban transport, here Musk is referring to autonomous vehicles that will “transition the role of bus driver to that of fleet manager.” Musk envisions a future of on-demand door-to-door transportation designed to accommodate all passengers, including those with wheelchairs, strollers, and bikes.

Autonomy

Image of Autopilot

Recognizing that fully self-driving technology involves far more than simply installing cameras, radar, sonar, and computing hardware, Musk nonetheless continues to forecast Tesla vehicles that are fully autonomous and possess “fail-operational capability,” which means that any given system in the car could break and the car will still drive itself safely. As for today’s Autopilot mode, Musk explains that the name is derived from autopilot in aircraft, where pilots are expected to continue to pay attention, monitor the technology, and be prepared to take control at any moment. In other words, Autopilot is actually partially, not fully, autonomous, and does not justify driver complacency. Moreover, even today’s Autopilot, despite extensive internal validation, remains in beta and will continue to be labeled as such until the technology is 10 times safer than the U.S. vehicle average.

In addition to the technological hurdles, Musk acknowledges that there will be a significant time gap, which will very widely by jurisdiction, before true self-driving is approved by regulators. Musk anticipates that worldwide regulatory approval will not occur without six billion miles of experience. Assuming today’s pace of 3 million miles of such experience per day today, we are about five years from the target.

Sharing

Uber NY Request Screenshot

Musk envisions privately-owned vehicles being available to shuttle others around using self-driving capabilities when not needed by the owner. With most cars sitting idle 90% to 95% of the day, the ability to hire one’s car out can generate income and offset the cost of owning or leasing. To make this easy, Tesla expects to incorporate a car-sharing feature into its phone app.

Musk also writes that in cities where demand exceeds the supply of customer-owned cars, Tesla will operate its own fleet.

Conclusion

In short, the goals outlined in Musk’s updated Master Plan are to:

  • Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage;
  • Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments;
  • Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning; and
  • Enable your car to make money for you when you aren’t using it.

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Major EV and Solar Semiconductor Supplier Acquired by Infineon

IFX_LOGO_RGBInfineon Technologies, Europe’s biggest chipmaker by revenue, is demonstrating its expectations of continued strong growth in electric vehicles (EVs), solar panels, and the Internet of Things (IoT) by purchasing Cree’s Wolfspeed Power subsidiary for $850 million. Wolfspeed specializes in power electronics used in a wide range of key components such as inverters. With this transaction, Infineon is showing that it intends to remain the industry leader for the technologies not only of today, but also of tomorrow.

Headquartered in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, 28-year-old Wolfspeed employs more than 550 highly-skilled workers across ten locations on three continents. The company, which holds (or has pending) more than 1,800 patents, promotes its hardware as providing greater power density and better efficiency than alternatives such as silicon. Power density and efficiency are particularly critical factors in high-voltage energy-intensive applications such as electric vehicles and solar panels.

Photo of Wolfspeed SiC Planar MOSFET
Wolfspeed SiC Power Semiconductor

Frank Plastina, Wolfspeed CEO, said: “By joining the Infineon team, Wolfspeed will now have all the advantages of a global company in our sector, including the ability to leverage Infineon’s market reach and infrastructure. With Infineon’s complementary culture and additional investment, we’ll be better positioned to unlock the potential of our portfolio and our people.”

Infineon ranks No. 69 in the Automotive News list of the 100 largest global suppliers with estimated worldwide sales to automakers of $2.8 billion in 2015.

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