Author Archives: Megan Geuss

America, your offshore wind is coming: 1.2GW in contracts awarded

By | May 24, 2018

European offshore wind farms have made big US projects possible.

Massachusetts and Rhode Island both awarded major offshore wind contracts on Wednesday, underscoring the increasing economic viability of a kind of renewable energy that has been long considered too expensive.

The Massachusetts installation will have a capacity of 800MW. Situated 14 miles off Martha’s Vineyard, the wind farm will be called “Vineyard Wind,” and it has an accelerated timetable: it’s due to start sending electricity back to the grid as soon as 2021. According to Greentech Media, the contract was won by Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, both companies with headquarters in Europe. The two share 50/50 ownership of the project and beat Deepwater Wind and Bay State Wind in the bidding.

Massachusetts recently approved an ambitious goal to build 1.6GW of wind energy capacity off its coast by 2027. This new contract gets the state half of the way there. According to a press release from Vineyard Wind, the owners of the project will now begin negotiations for transmission services and power purchase agreements. The press release added that the project “will reduce Massachusetts’ carbon emissions by over 1.6 million tons per year, the equivalent of removing 325,000 cars from state roads.”

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Apple, VW sign driverless car deal for Apple campus shuttles, NY Times sources say

By | May 23, 2018

Enlarge / A T9 Transporter van like this could soon shuttle Apple employees. (credit: Volkswagen)

The New York Times reported this evening that Apple entered into a partnership with Volkswagen Group to pair a number of electric T6 Transporter vans with Apple’s proprietary autonomous vehicle software. The vans will reportedly be used to shuttle employees around Apple’s company campus, and it’s not clear whether the deal will extend from there.

The Times says that this deal only comes after Apple tried to find a partner in BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The company has shed hundreds of employees on the project, in a department that once boasted about 1,000 workers.

According to the Times‘ sources—”five people familiar with the negotiations who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly”—BMW and Mercedes-Benz rejected a partnership with Apple due to requirements from the Cupertino-based firm to turn over all data and some design aspects of the car.

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Musk: Shipping base-price Model 3 at this point would cause Tesla to lose money

By | May 22, 2018

Enlarge / Elon Musk, Chairman, CEO, Tesla. (credit: Getty Images)

After announcing a $78,000 performance version of the Tesla Model 3 on Saturday night, Tesla CEO Elon Musk again took to Twitter over the weekend to say that it may be months more before customers will be able to buy a base-price Model 3. Thus far, all Model 3s delivered have been $49,000 models, according to The New York Times. On top of that, Consumer Reports released a review of the Model 3 that pointed out issues with its braking. Musk admitted the issues on Monday and said he believes they could be fixed with a firmware update.

On Sunday, the CEO tried to explain why people who want base-price Model 3s are still waiting. “With production, 1st you need to achieve target rate & then smooth out flow to achieve target cost. Shipping min cost Model 3 right away wd cause Tesla to lose money & die. Need 3 to 6 months after 5k/wk to ship $35k Tesla & live,” Musk tweeted.

The $35,000 Model 3 has long been billed as a more affordable take on a luxury brand. The lower price would popularize electric vehicles (EVs) among more middle-class consumers, and promises of high-volume purchases have kept investors optimistic. Still, Tesla has struggled to push out significant numbers of Model 3s due to bottlenecks in the manufacturing process.

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Elon Musk tweet-announces a $78,000 performance Model 3 with all-wheel drive

By | May 20, 2018

Enlarge / WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 26: Tesla’s new Model 3 car on display is seen on Friday, January 26, 2018, at the Tesla store in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

On Saturday night Tesla CEO Elon Musk made a few announcements via Twitter about new options for the Tesla Model 3. Specifically, the CEO said that in July the Model 3 would be available with options for a dual-motor and all-wheel drive. On a normal Model 3, that addition will come at a cost of $5,000.

Musk also announced a “performance” Model 3, which will also have dual-motor, all-wheel drive. That model will cost $78,000. What you get for all that extra cash will be the ability to go 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds, with 155 mph top speed and at range of 310 miles. “Cost of all options, wheels, paint, etc is included (apart from Autopilot),” Musk tweeted.

In 2016, Tesla announced similar upgrades for the the Model S and Model X in the P100D version. The Model S P100D offered 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds and a 315-mile range. The Model X had a similar option available, though the heavier car went from 0 to 60 in 2.9 seconds and had a 289-mile range. Upgrading those already-pricy cars cost $10,000 at the time. In November 2017, Tesla announced a new Roadster that it says will take 1.9 seconds to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour, with a 620-mile range. That performance vehicle has yet to make it to production.

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Utilities, Tesla appeal federal rollback of auto emissions standards

By | May 18, 2018

Enlarge / Charging at night. (credit: Jordan Golson)

A coalition of utilities and electric vehicle makers, including Tesla, filed a petition with a US Federal Appeals Court to force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reconsider its recent work to roll back auto emissions standards.

In April, the EPA said that it would relax greenhouse gas emissions standards that had been put in place for model year 2022-2025 vehicles.

One of the first actions that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt took when he assumed office in 2017 was to start the process of rolling back passenger vehicle greenhouse gas standards for automakers. The standards had been made official late in the Obama presidency, but the Trump administration claimed that the standards were too burdensome for automakers to adhere to. Automakers agreed, despite having been party to years of negotiations with the previous EPA to determine what was technically and economically possible from a fuel efficiency standpoint.

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Elon Musk talks proof-of-concept tunnel parallel to the 405 in Los Angeles

By | May 18, 2018

Enlarge / Elon Musk speaking to a crowd in Los Angeles

On Thursday evening in Los Angeles, Tesla, SpaceX, and Boring Company CEO Elon Musk laid out plans for The Boring Company to start building longer tunnels under the city. The first step? A 2.7 mile north-south test tunnel parallel to one of the city’s most congested freeways, the 405. This test tunnel won’t carry the general public, but The Boring Company does intend to do test rides to get user feedback eventually.

The company has buy-in from LA Metro, the city’s public transportation provider. In a short, tweeted statement Thursday evening, LA Metro announced: “Metro leadership and CEO Phil Washington had a great meeting today with the talented staff of the @boring_company. They will coordinate with us as they move ahead with their proof of concept tunnel under Sepulveda Boulevard to ensure it doesn’t interfere with our Sepulveda Transit Corridor rail project. We’ll be partners moving forward.”

(The Sepulveda Transit Corridor is in preliminary stages, and could be a public transportation route linking the San Fernando Valley and LAX).

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Energy jobs reports say solar dominates coal, but wind is the real winner

By | May 17, 2018

Two updated energy jobs reports have been released, and they paint a picture of how the last year has affected different energy sectors. The news is good for wind and natural gas. The news is less good for solar and coal.

The first report, called the US Energy and Employment Report (USEER), comes from the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO), and it looks at energy jobs across the US in all sectors of the industry. The second comes from the Solar Foundation, a pro-solar association that tracks jobs with a nation-wide survey from year to year.

According do the USEER, net new energy jobs in the US increased by 133,000. In the “electricity generation and fuels” category, fossil fuels and greenhouse gas-free energy jobs are approaching a half and half split, with 1.1 million jobs in coal, gas, and oil and 800,000 jobs in nuclear and renewable generation jobs.

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Tesla’s new battery in Belgium shows value is in dispatch speed

By | May 16, 2018

Tesla Powerpacks balancing the grid in Terhills, Belgium.

Thus far, batteries haven’t taken over grids around the world. Due to the sheer expense of batteries, large installations have generally been government mandated or heavily subsidized. In South Australia, though, Tesla’s giant 100MW/129MWh battery has seen a lot of success—not by selling power to meet general demand but by providing so-called “frequency response services.” And a company called Restore has just partnered with Tesla to replicate that success for itself in Belgium.

In South Australia, Tesla Powerpacks are charged by the energy from a nearby wind farm, and the battery installation dispatches electricity to the grid when grid frequency suddenly drops. Grid frequency—a measure of current that must be held constant for the grid to work properly—is vitally important to the functioning of any grid system.

In Europe, for example, a recent power dispute between Serbia and Kosovo led average frequency on the Continental Europe Power System to drop to 49.996Hz instead of the required 50Hz, which resulted in oven and microwave clocks everywhere across Europe being six minutes slow after just a month of these conditions.

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In February, no fossil fuels-based generation was added to US grid

By | May 13, 2018

The Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant (credit: Russ Nelson)

In the US, two types of electricity generation are on the rise: natural gas and renewables. If one of those is set to make a bigger mark than the other this year, it’s natural gas: in 2018, natural gas-burning capacity is expected to outpace renewable capacity for the first time in five years, according to data from the Energy Information Agency.

All that additional natural gas capacity—approximately 21 GW expected this year—could spell trouble for the already-troubled coal and nuclear industries. Once a new gas facility is built, it makes it easier to close down older, inefficient coal plants, even if the price of natural gas rises a little. Coal plant closures have been happening for years already, and the Trump Administration has made a point of promising to bring coal back. But officials are having trouble finding a legal and politically acceptable way of boosting coal at the expense of natural gas, which is also a big US-based industry.

For nuclear, the problem is similar. The EIA wrote this week that the US nuclear energy industry is fighting not just against the falling cost of natural gas and renewable energy, also against the “limited growth in electric power demand.”

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Plan to make fuel from weapons-grade plutonium oxides dead on arrival

By | May 13, 2018

Enlarge / The US has already spent $7.6 billion on the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility, which is partially constructed. (credit: MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility)

The Department of Energy (DOE) sent a document to Congress last week formally executing a waiver to kill a project that would have used weapons-grade plutonium and uranium oxides as fuel for electricity generation in Georgia.

The Mixed Oxides (MOX) project, which required the construction of a special facility near the Savannah River nuclear site in South Carolina, has already cost the DOE north of $7.6 billion and would likely cost the federal government tens of billions more to complete, according to the document which was seen by Reuters. Instead of reusing the weapons-grade waste, the DOE proposes to mix the waste with an inert substance and dispose of the mixture at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).

Simply disposing of the waste was also proposed by the Obama Administration. A disposal plan would cost $19.9 billion, Reuters reported.

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California approves measure to require solar on new homes after 2020

By | May 9, 2018

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

On Wednesday, the California Energy Commission approved a set of standards that will require most new homes built in the state after 2020 to include solar panels on their roofs.

The standards (PDF) apply only to single-family homes and certain low-rise condos, townhomes, and apartments. Exceptions are made for homes with roofs that would receive excessive shade during the daytime or homes with roofs too small to benefit from a few solar panels.

The standards also include some smaller efficiency requirements for non-residential buildings. The state expects that, on the whole, the new requirements will help state residents save money. Overall, California expects the new residential and non-residential standards to cost the state economy $2.17 billion, while generating an energy bill savings of $3.87 billion, for a net savings of $1.7 billion.

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Anheuser-Busch just bought 800 fuel cell Nikola trucks

By | May 4, 2018

Enlarge / A mockup of a Nikola truck with the Anheuser-Busch logo. (credit: Anheuser-Busch)

On a quarterly financial call Wednesday afternoon, Tesla CEO Elon Musk briefly spoke about a new lawsuit filed by Nikola Motor Company, a Salt Lake City-based hydrogen fuel cell truck startup. Musk said it was a “laughable lawsuit from some company called ‘Nikola.’”

Whatever the merits of the lawsuit itself, large shipping companies like US Xpress and Ryder think Nikola Motor Company is more than just “some company.” Now, it seems, Anheuser-Busch, one of the largest beer producers in the US and a subsidiary of multinational conglomerate AB InBev, is getting on the Nikola truck train, too. On Thursday, Anheuser-Busch announced that it would buy a sizable 800 hydrogen fuel cell trucks from Nikola Motor company to be delivered between 2020 and 2025.

Like Tesla, Nikola has yet to deliver a zero-tailpipe-emissions truck to a customer. Unlike Tesla, the company has not yet delivered any kind of mass-produced vehicle to a customer at all.

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Former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn charged in diesel emissions scandal

By | May 3, 2018

Enlarge / Martin Winterkorn looks on during the FC Bayern Muenchen Annual General Assembly at Audi-Dome on November 24, 2017 in Munich. (credit: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

On Thursday, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) unsealed a secret March indictment charging Martin Winterkorn, former Volkswagen CEO, with conspiracy to defraud the US government and customers, wire fraud, and conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act.

The charges stem from the VW Group diesel emissions scandal that broke in 2015. The company already pleaded guilty to various related charges in US federal court, and it has paid out billions of dollars in fines and buybacks to former customers.

The emissions scandal arose when Audi, VW, and Porsche diesel models were discovered to contain illegal software that suppressed the emissions control system when the driver was on the road. If the car was being tested in a lab, however, sensors would tell the car to keep the emissions control system engaged. The result was that VW Group’s so-called “clean diesel” vehicles were actually emitting nitrogen oxide (NOx) far in excess of the legal limit.

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In financial call, Tesla CEO Elon Musk details lessons from “FluffBot”

By | May 2, 2018

Enlarge / Aarhus, Denmark – September 14, 2016: Tesla car dealer entrance (credit: Getty Images)

Since Tesla’s Model 3 production began in July 2017, the company’s quarterly financial results have been very alike. Has Tesla produced the number of cars it said it would last quarter? (No.) Is Tesla burning through a whole lotta cash? (Yes.) Is Tesla still making progress on pushing out cars? (Yes.) Will Tesla be in the black again ever? (CEO Elon Musk offers a date one or two quarters into the future.)

Such is the case today. From a previous press release we knew that in the first quarter of 2018, Tesla did not reach its stated goal of 2,500 Model 3s off the line per week. But it got close enough that investors weren’t scared off, delivering 9,766 Model 3s and hitting just north of 2,000 such vehicles in the last week of the quarter. In today’s financial statement (PDF), the company said it held that weekly number for two more weeks before stopping production in mid-April to “further increase production.”

On the accompanying call, Musk detailed some of the changes that had been made at the factory to speed along Model 3 turnover. “We did go too far on the automation front and automated some very silly things,” he said. One example the CEO offered: Originally the Model 3 included “fiber glass mats” of fluff on the top of the battery pack and the company had a “FluffBot” that would pick up fluff and place it on the battery pack. “Machines are not good at picking up fluff, human hands are very well suited for that,” Musk said, “FluffBot would frequently just fail to pick up the fluff.” Tesla ended up testing whether the fluff made any difference in cabin noise, found that it did not, and dispensed with the FluffBot.

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Nikola Motors sues Tesla for $2 billion over alleged design-patent infringement

By | May 2, 2018

Enlarge / The Nikola One in December 2016. (credit: NMC)

On Tuesday, zero-emissions truck startup Nikola Motor Company sued Tesla for allegedly infringing on its design patents. Nikola says that Tesla’s Semi, which was revealed in November 2017, too closely resembles its Nikola One, a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle that was revealed in December 2016. (Somewhere, the ghost of Nikola Tesla is feeling very conflicted.)

Nikola is currently based in Salt Lake City, Utah, but it’s planning to move its headquarters to Phoenix, Arizona, in July. The patent lawsuit (PDF) was filed in US District Court for the Federal District of Arizona. Nikola is asking for $2 billion in damages.

The hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle startup filed design patents on its Class 8 truck in December 2015 and showed off a real-world prototype in December 2016 (you can read Ars’ coverage of that announcement here). Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced in July 2016 that his company was just beginning to build a semi truck.

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Russia’s floating nuclear power plant is not the first of its kind

By | April 30, 2018

US National Archives and Records Administration

Try as I might, I’m not perfect. My goal is to get every detail in every story right, but sometimes a post gets through with a factual error. Such was the case last night, in a story about Russia’s new floating nuclear power plant. Some background research led me to believe that it was the first of its kind.

A couple of Ars readers, thankfully, disabused me of that notion quickly (one cool thing about writing for Ars is you always know that you’re writing for a bunch of people who are dramatically smarter than yourself). Though such a power system is quite rare, there has been another floating nuclear plant that we can point to as an example: a US Army barge called the Sturgis, which was installed in Panama during the Vietnam War.

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Russia launched a floating nuclear power plant this weekend

By | April 29, 2018

Getty Images

On Saturday the world’s first floating power plant left St. Petersburg, Russia, towed by two boats. The two-reactor, 70MW floating power plant is headed through the Baltic Sea and north around Norway, to a Russian town called Murmansk, where the boat will receive its fuel.

After a period of time in Murmansk, the power plant will be towed to a small Arctic town called Pevek, according to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. The floating nuclear power plant, called the Akademik Lomonsov, doesn’t have any of its own propulsion hardware, so being slowly towed to its destination is a necessity. The company that built the plant, state-owned Rosatom Corporation, said in a press release that the second stage of the journey, from Murmansk to Pevek, will commence in 2019, with fuel and crew aboard the boat/power plant.

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Electric buses are avoiding hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day

By | April 27, 2018

Enlarge / Electric buses are avoiding the need for a lot of barrels of oil. (credit: Getty Images)

The global fleet of electric buses is already helping cities avoiding the purchase of 279,000 barrels of oil per day, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). Diesel buses consume an extraordinary amount of fuel compared to a passenger vehicle. Bloomberg noted that “For every 1,000 battery-powered buses on the road, about 500 barrels a day of diesel fuel will be displaced from the market.”

Still, global oil consumption is going up, though maybe not as fast as it might have without electric buses. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), total global oil consumption increased from 96.87 million barrels per day in 2016 to 98.52 million barrels per day in 2017. The EIA projects that the world will consume 100.31 million barrels per day in 2018.

There’s still reason for optimism though, especially given the aggressive push for electric vehicles in some Chinese cities like Shenzhen. The country accounts for 99 percent of the electric buses in the world (though in the country itself, only 17 percent of that fleet is electric). In addition, Bloomberg reports that “every five weeks, Chinese cities add 9,500 of the zero-emissions transporters—the equivalent of London’s entire working fleet.” Those statistics seem to confirm an earlier report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which noted that in 2016, China had an extraordinary 200 million electric two-wheelers, 3 million to 4 million low-speed electric vehicles, and more than 300,000 electric buses.

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The value of offshore wind energy: What the US is missing out on

By | April 26, 2018

Enlarge / BLOCK ISLAND, RI – AUGUST 11: Offshore turbines are constructed three miles off Block Island, RI. The nation’s first off-shore wind farm is nearing completion, a milestone that clean energy advocates hope will usher in a new era of wind power. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

The US is a latecomer to the world of offshore wind. The first commercial offshore wind farm in the US, a small, five-turbine, 30MW installation off the coast of Rhode Island, only just switched on in December 2016. Since then there have been no new offshore farms, although a few preliminary plans for new farms have been announced for coastal waters off New York and Massachusetts.

Compare that to Europe. The continent now has 15,780MW of offshore wind, according to Wind Europe, 526 times the capacity that the US has. European projects added 560 new offshore wind turbines across 17 different offshore wind farms in 2017 alone.

A group of researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) is now asking: what is the value of the offshore wind that the US didn’t build over the last decade? Although many analyses have studied the falling cost of installing offshore wind, assigning a value to offshore wind is ground that is less well-tread. Though it’s much more expensive to construct turbines in the ocean, offshore wind can also generate more value because sea breezes tend to be stronger and more reliable, and wind turbines can be built bigger.

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The latest Hyperloop feasibility study aims to connect Cleveland and Chicago

By | April 23, 2018

Enlarge (credit: Hyperloop Transportation Technologies)

The drive between Chicago and Cleveland can take about five hours. Taking the train is a little longer—six to seven hours, depending on how many stops the train makes. It’s easy to see why people would be interested in bringing a faster type of transportation to the corridor.

Enter Hyperloop, of course. The brainchild of Elon Musk, a Hyperloop is a system of transportation envisioned to carry cargo or passengers at speeds above 700 mph through low-pressure tubes. The train pods would hover above the track, using either magnetic levitation or air-bearings. Stretch a tube across the 344 miles between Chicago and Cleveland and simple math suggests you could cover the distance in half an hour, give or take.

At least, theoretically. No Hyperloop system has (publicly) broken a rail-speed barrier yet, and Hyperloop startups have generally focused on announcing new investments or miles-per-hour achievements rather than describing how safety would work in such a system if a pod were to break down and passengers needed to escape a vacuum-sealed tube.

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