NRG eVgo Freedom Stations in the SJV

Electric Vehicles (EVs) and EV charging sites are gaining some real traction and prominence in the San Joaquin Valley. Hooray! This means, now that charging infrastructure development has taken off, it is making more and more sense to own an EV in this part of California.

Photo Source: www.insideevs.com
We owe a big thanks to NRG eVgo for three of the SJV’s stations and this number will grow exponentially this year. These stations are at the Fresh and Easy in Hayward, the Applegate Plaza in Atwater and Fashion Fair Mall in Fresno. The Fashion Fair station is the newest and there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the coming weeks.

NRG eVgo is dedicated to minimizing any possible downsides to driving and owning an electric car; the company has set out to make the experience as simple as driving a gas-powered vehicle. Range is one of the things electric car owners and prospective owners worry about most and NRG eVgo wants to eliminate any range anxiety with its ever-growing network of “Freedom Stations”.

NRG eVgo has begun development of its charging station network in the states of California and Texas as well as the Cities of Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago, and Washington D.C. For Earth Day, NRG eVgo helped host an EV caravan in Atlanta to promote the Freedom Stations around the city. Included in this event were demonstrations on how to charge a variety of electric vehicles.

Photo Source: www.businesswire.com
If you’d like to charge at home, NRG eVgo has a home car charging dock as well. You can get information on the best charger for your home and vehicle or even suggest a multi-family home or workplace that should be approached and considered for an EV Charging Station install.

The NRG eVgo network of Freedom Stations is quickly growing! This infrastructure development and the incentives offered from the federal government, the CA Air Pollution Control District, etc. should be reason enough to consider purchasing an EV!

NRG eVgo isn't the only company expanding the SJV's EV Charging Station Network. Residences and businesses all over the Valley are seeing the importance and advantage of installing EV chargers. If you own an EV or are considering purchasing one, but are deterred by potential range anxiety, look at the Plug Share app. The map features residential chargers, high powered chargers (i.e. Tesla Superchargers), and public business or municipal stations. The app will even warn you when a particular charger is in use. Range Anxiety no more!

Gas Pump Warning Labels

Big Oil hasn’t had a lot of competition in the past and even with great advancements and improved technologies in alternative and renewable fuels and vehicles, people still love their gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs and the lower price tags of regular vehicles.
Source: http://grist.org/

A retired transportation engineer from Oakland, Jack Fleck, decided that he could do something about the immunity of oil companies by placing warning labels on gas pumps. He likened this to the labels on cigarette packages. Tobacco companies can still sell their product, but need to warn people of the harmful effects on both themselves and others. So, Fleck thought, oil companies must also be upfront about the harmful effects on the environment when using their product. These labels don’t need to be aggressive; a purely informational label could work just as well to spread the message.

Source: http:grist.org
While these labels might not affect even a small percentage of people and the way they buy cars, it’s a step in the right direction and it will encourage people to contemplate their duty and responsibility to help mitigate climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Big Oil won't stop producing, but we can stop using. Whether we buy an alternative fuel vehicle or simply bike, carpool and use public transportation more, we can make all the difference moving forward. If just 10% of us did this, we could save over 25 million tons of CO2 emissions each year!

There has been a lot of negative backlash on this idea, including Fox News contributor and political blogger Michelle Malkin going so far as to ask “‘Why don’t they just ban gas stations?’” Unfortunately, there are lots of people who think this is an appropriate response – they don’t see or feel the urgency of this issue. Additionally, the oil companies sponsor political candidates to spread a much less grim picture of them, thus affecting the thoughts of many Americans on this subject.

Despite this, plans and mock-ups of such labels are being developed in San Francisco and Vancouver as well as other cities and Fleck is sure that we will start to see them at gas stations soon. Hopefully they'll get more attention than these parking signs that have been popping up in L.A.

Tesla Motors Comes to the San Joaquin Valley

A Tesla – either model, I’m not picky – is my dream car. I could go 200+ miles on a full charge, and make it across the country using the Supercharge stations that have been strategically placed along a Northern route, with more concentrated near big cities.

Unfortunately, I don’t now, and probably never will, have the means to support or validate a purchase with such a hefty price tag. In the San Joaquin Valley the roads boast a fairly good number of Chevy Volts and Nissan Leafs, but only a handful of Teslas. Teslas are far too expensive for most of those in the Valley and Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, has not shown much interest in the more underserved areas of America. The San Joaquin Valley, for example, is massive. Yet there is only one Tesla Supercharge Station at Tejon Ranch in Lebec and one at Harris Ranch near Coalinga; most stations in California are along the coast. Just check out the map below that displays the Supercharge Station Network; it skips over the much of the country I would have expected:

Photo Source: http://www.teslamotors.com/supercharger

Additionally, this charging technology is not very adaptable to other Electric Vehicle (EV) models and there doesn’t seem to be a movement to alter this any time soon. The technical issues that prohibit this should be easily fixable. Connectors for electric vehicle charging should be the same across all electric vehicles just as they are for gas cars. It would be absurd if we had one gas station specifically for Toyotas, one for Hondas, one for BMWs, etc. So why is this any different for electric cars? Yes, Tesla batteries are far bigger than those in other electric vehicles, which is necessary for the 200 mile range. Gas stations have various options for customers, and so Supercharge Stations should, too.

It's so pretty! I'll take one in every color.
Photo Source: http://www.teslamotors.com/modelx
There is a little light at the end of this tunnel, though. Not only will Tesla Motors be expanding the Supercharge Station Network and has agreed to consider letting other brands of electric cars use their network, but Tesla is also opening a manufacturing facility in the San Joaquin Valley! This new facility in Lathrop will initially require approximately 125 employees, which will surely bring necessary economic and workforce development into the Valley. Tesla Motors may just be the next Alternative Vehicle employer our Regional Industry Clusters of Opportunity (RICO) grant Action Team needs to involve in our EV Partnership!

In addition, supercharge stations will be open and able to charge vehicles other than Teslas. Good news all around!

As Tesla Motors moves to the Valley, the company plans to expand its production and sell 35,000 vehicles this year alone. Hopefully this growth promotes and increases manufacturing jobs in the US. And who knows? Maybe it will even lower that initial price tag a bit. There are rumors about it; so I know I’m not the only one selfishly hoping to see this new EV soon!

Driving Bans in a Car-Dependent World

Last October, photos and reports from Beijing surfaced, showing dense smog covering much of the City. People couldn't see across the street, let alone down a city block. While the photos and reports were disturbing, they were not shocking to many of us. Maybe if the reports came from a city like Paris, we would be more appalled, right? Well, raise your eyebrows and say “Whaaat??” because, that’s right, Paris had a spike in Air Quality Index (AQI) levels and, in late March, was 20 points higher than Beijing’s! To give you an idea about what this means: a good AQI is under 50 and Paris’s AQI reached 185. Yeah. 185. 

Yikes! Paris isn't so pretty this way.
Photo Source: The New York Times
In an attempt to mitigate this, a partial driving ban was imposed for the first time in two decades. What is a partial driving ban, you ask? Well some vehicles, like those carrying three or more people and electric and hybrid cars were not fined or stopped. Hundreds of police officers were authorized to stop and fine vehicles that did not fit those criteria.

The day this article was published, the police were only fining those with even-numbered license plates, but this must have changed day-to-day to persuade people to not drive. Other incentives to not drive around Paris were the reduction of the speed limit to only 20kph (or 12mph) and free public transportation. The city lost over $5.5 Million in transportation revenue each day there is no fee for public transit, but there would have been far bigger costs down the line if the City did not take this action.

Photo Source: The New York Times
The ban ended at midnight Monday, March 17, 2014, as did the free public transportation. It is important to note, however, that the free public transportation probably saved those who need to commute farther than one can walk or bike in a decent amount of time. A partial driving ban in Paris was possible because the public transportation system could handle that – financially, not for an extended time period, but in capacity and density of stations around the City, yes. Free public transportation is an extra incentive, but access to public transportation is always available in this City.

So think about the San Joaquin Valley for a moment. We generally don’t have AQI levels above 100, but they can get close. What if we had a spike like Paris, or we constantly had AQIs above 150 like Beijing? How would we handle a (partial) driving ban??

The good news is that the SJVCEO and other community partners are developing and expanding the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle (ARFV) Technology industry here in the Valley with the Workforce Investment Board Regional Industry Clusters of Opportunity (WIB RICO II) grant from the Energy Commission. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District also has some funding for carpooling services, but how many people will actually take advantage? I hope the answer is all that are eligible. We have such great opportunity here in the Valley. Why not take advantage of it?

Expanding Community Fuels

Community Fuels is a Stockton-based biofuel producer committed to providing easy access to cleaner fuels and consequently expanding the clean energy industry to strengthen regional economies here in California.

As some of our readers may be aware, the SJVCEO is participating in the Workforce Investment Board Regional Industry Cluster of Opportunities (WIB RICO II) grant to support the Alternative and Renewable Fuel Vehicle (ARFV) Technology program.  The California Energy Commission (CEC), under this ARFV Technology Program, awarded Community Fuels a $4.9 million grant for expansion of their production facilities. Community Fuels will be expected to build commercial-scale facilities that “can sustainably produce at least 15 MMgy of low carbon transportation fuels” (according to this article in Biodiesel Magazine).

I was curious about the consumption of gasoline in both our wonderful state of California and the country as a whole and so I put my math skills to good use to figure out how much of an impact this one, small company in the Central Valley could make. Here’s what I found:

Photo Source: LA Times

California is responsible for consuming nearly 11% (14.5 billion gallons) of what the US consumes as a whole (about 133 billion gallons per year, as of 2012). This means that Californians use about 39.7 million gallons of gasoline each day.

So, what can we conclude?

Well, once Community Fuels expands, they will produce enough clean transportation fuels to replace at least 40% of what all Californians use in one day (or 0.1% of what Californians use in a year). Sure, that doesn’t really sound like a whole lot, ESPECIALLY when we compare it to the entire country’s gasoline consumption, but the more traction Community Fuels and the ARFV Technology Program receive, and the more California adapts to the influx of alternative vehicles (i.e. building more alternative fueling stations), Community Fuels and other similar production facilities will expand even further to replace many more gallons of gasoline.

Unfortunately, all of this will take lots of time, money and resources. But there’s good news, too: the SJVCEO and our partners on this WIB RICO grant are making moves to expedite the transition to a San Joaquin Valley with cleaner, more efficient transportation.

BioCNG™ For Your Car

Biogas used to be considered a non-reusable waste product, but over the last decade or so, a number of benefits of the gas have come to light and biogas is now recognized as a renewable energy source for fuel, electricity and thermal energy.

The folks at Unison Solutions in Dubuque, IA have created BioCNG™, a system that converts biogas into a gaseous fuel for vehicles, much like your typical clean natural gas (CNG). Jan Scott, President of Unison Solutions, gave a webinar – “Converting Biogas into Vehicle Fuel” – for Sustainable City Network about his company’s work, the process of turning biogas into usable vehicle fuel and some interesting facts about this renewable energy source.

The customary process for turning biogas into a renewable energy source seems simple enough. A lot needs to be removed from biogas after it has been extracted from landfills and digesters and before it can be used for energy. First, the biogas goes through hydrogen sulfide removal and then it is compressed. The gas needs to be completely dry, and so the moisture removal process is crucial. Once this is complete, the gas enters a Siloxane, Volatile Organice Compounds (VOC) and Carbon Dioxide removal process and then the fuel is ready for use in boilers, turbines and internal combustion (IC) engines. Unison Solutions notes that BioCNG™ is ready for use in CNG vehicle fueling stations and CNG vehicles at this point as well.
Source: BioCNG™

Jan Scott presented a bunch of inspiring tidbits about CNG in his webinar. The one that shocked me the most is that the US ranks 17th in the world for number of CNG vehicles on the roads (120,000 compared to more than 15.2 million worldwide). There are several existing reports about how much further along Europe is than we are in the states with these vehicles, but you’ll be interested to know that no European country is in the top five either. Nearly 19% of all CNG vehicles in the world are in Iran! Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, and India complete the top five. Most of these countries are developing nations, yet they’ve managed to bring far more clean vehicles and the infrastructure that supports them to their roads than we have.

In 2011 alone, CNG vehicles offset the use of over 350 MILLION gallons of gas. AND 40% of all waste haulers purchased in the same year were CNG. Imagine what we could do if we took alternative fuel and vehicles a little more seriously in this country. To top this all off, CNG costs at least $1.50-$2.00 less per GGE (Gasoline Gallon Equivalent: 120,000 BTU/Gallon) than gasoline does. That’s huge! (Source: Jan Scott's webinar)

Source: Unison Solutions

So, not to sound like a broken record, but we have a lot of concepts and technology out there to get cleaner vehicles on our country's roads. This stuff is far from untapped, but it can certainly seem that way when I look at how much other countries have accomplished in this area. America… let’s do better. Seriously.

Advanced Transportation RICO Grant Overview

The California Workforce Investment Board and the California Energy Commission are working with the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency to fund the AB 118 Regional Industry Clusters of Opportunity (RICO) grant program. If you’re unaware of Assembly Bill 118, it created an ARFV (Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle) technologies program that funds innovative fuel and vehicle technology projects so that California’s climate goals can be met.

I know that was all a mouthful, but consider this: the RICO grant program will develop and implement ways to strengthen local economies and build the alternative fuel and vehicle workforce in California.

What does that mean and who cares, you ask? Well, transportation fuels account for 38% of greenhouse gas emissions in California. So if we build the ARFV industry, we’ll find cleaner, more efficient ways to transport goods and people. To design and manufacture these new methods of transportation, we’ll need skilled engineers, chemists, machinists, salespersons, etc. Hello new, expanded workforce! And hello stronger economies!

Photo Source: http://www.energy.ca.gov/
The San Joaquin Valley has been taking charge when it comes to developing new alternative fuels and new fuel production methods. For example, an old beet sugar plant in Mendota is making a comeback with a new output. Instead of converting sugar beets into various forms of sugar, a team of farmers are using a state grant to turn beets into ethanol. The demo plant is set to start production early next year and, if it’s successful, a commercial plant will follow in 2016-2017. Production at both would use local beets and run all year long.

The SJVCEO’s role is to promote and generate focus on this grant program through education and outreach. Now that we are nearly a year into this grant process, we have found several industry employers all over the Valley interested in our efforts. We launched a CNG Partnership, a Biofuels Partnership and an EV Partnership. While the EV Partnership has had the most success, we are still dedicated to expanding the efforts of all ARFV industry employers throughout the Valley. Our air is so polluted and we contribute to it daily with how much we all individually drive, it has only become necessary to bring alternative and renewable fuels and vehicles to this region.

Keep an eye out for press releases about Partnership meetings and join us! We hope to see you and hear from you about our efforts and how we can expand this industry in the Valley.

SJVCEO Monthly Update - What Have We Been Up To?

Over the past month our new SJVCEO team has been on the move and pushing forward! Our team members have been learning the new technologies our utility partners are rolling out, gearing up for community events as well as moving forward with some of our grant extensions.

Our team has completed the Energy Insight training with one of our utility partners; PG&E. Energy Insight will allow our team members to have a clear picture of where our energy efficiency projects stand with our outside contractors and PG&E. This database allows our members to follow projects from cradle to grave to make sure our customers are fully satisfied.

With October being energy awareness month we are gearing up for our community outreach events. These community outreach events allow the SJVCEO team to get out into the community and show how easy and affordable it is to make energy efficiency updates. We hope you will stay tuned to the SJVCEO website as well as social media sites, twitter and facebook, for upcoming events.

SJVCEO along with the other SJV Action Team Members – Fresno State Office of Community and Economic Development (OCED), San Joaquin Valley Clean Cities Coalition (SJVCCC), San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD), and the Kern Community College District (KCCD) – for the Workforce Investment Board Regional Industry Clusters of Opportunity (WIB RICO) grant have received an extension of funding to continue supporting and expanding the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology (ARFVT) industry in the Valley. We have created two new Valley-based Partnerships to support this effort; the CNG Partnership and EV Partnership have gained interest from dealerships, fueling and charging station manufacturers and deployment, automotive repair establishments, school districts, etc. Our goal is to clean up the Valley’s air, cut down on GHG emissions from transportation, build a more extensive and sustainable network of alternative fueling stations, and educate the Valley’s residents about the importance and benefits of owning and/or using a cleaner vehicle.

SJVCEO is conducting preliminary research on developing a Cool Roof Policy in the Valley. The Valley suffers from Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect, which contributes to poorer air quality, quality of life, life expectancy, and a higher demand for cooling capabilities. Introducing a Cool Roof Ordinance could decrease cooling costs in the summer, improve air quality and decrease number of health issues related to excessive heat. In addition, a Cool Roof Ordinance could include measures such as cool playgrounds and parking lots, which would extend people’s abilities to stay outside and enjoy outdoor activities thus improving their quality of life in the Valley.
Lastly, SJVCEO is continuously developing a project tracking database. This database will provide a centralized location of data from multiple sources including Energy Star Portfolio Manager and the Utilities Program Management. Current plans of the database will be ready to share at the Local Government Commission for Central California in Paso Robles on October 10th.

Stay tuned for next month’s update on what the SJVCEO team has been up to!

Getting Behind Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicles

When I was in middle school, a report was published suggesting that our oil supply as we know it would run out by 2050. At the time, I thought 2050 sounded close enough to motivate us to at least start THINKING about how to deal with this dramatic change, but far enough away to completely ignore it, too, which most of us did. Immediately.

Unfortunately, 2050 is no longer far enough away to allow Hummers and F-150s and 250s to stay on the road. Even more unfortunately, Americans (politicians and constituents alike) don't seem to care. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers declares that, in a mere 25 years, oil production will be 20% of our current consumption. Again, 25 years doesn’t sound super near, meaning it’s enough time to greatly increase populations world-wide and oil-driven industries. But don’t forget, in the scope of Earth’s lifetime, 25 years is nothing.

Europeans understood the severity of this long before we did. They also realized that to replace gas guzzlers with zero- and low-emission vehicles, they needed infrastructure to support it. Hydrogen-powered vehicles began to roll out this past spring and hydrogen fueling stations were already in place all over the continent.

Toyota FCV-R hydrogen fuel-cell concept car, 2012 Detroit Auto Show
Photo Source: Green Car Reports.
Toyota FCV-R hydrogen fuel-cell concept car.
Roll out in 2015.
The US is far behind, according to this article from the LA Times. Not only is the ratio of gas stations to ALL alternative fuel stations 16:1, but there are fewer than 25 hydrogen fueling stations in the entire country. Californians are lucky because about a third of them are in the state, but nearly all of those are concentrated in LA and Orange counties. This leaves few alternatives for those in the San Joaquin Valley.

American automakers and distributors would like to start selling hydrogen cars, like the Toyota FCV-R hydrogen fuel-cell car shown at the right, in 2015. However, 2015 is now! It's here! and without the necessary infrastructure to support these vehicles, no one will purchase them.

Sure, the automobile wasn’t invented in the United States, but the Oldsmobile factory in Lansing, Michigan did start the movement of mass producing affordable cars. We’re in the land of opportunity and, as Wikipedia declares, we Americans are “characterized by a strong work ethic, competitiveness, and individualism”. So why are we so behind in mass producing cars with the latest environmentally-friendly vehicles? We have the ingenuity to take the lead on this movement; so let's take advantage of it.

REBATES! for Your New Alternative or Renewable Vehicle

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD) offer a number of rebates, incentives and vouchers to promote the introduction of cleaner vehicles on California roads. So, if you’re looking to get a new (or used) car in the near future, seriously consider an alternative or renewable vehicle. It will save you your money and your lungs over the long term.

First thing’s first. What counts as an alternative or renewable vehicle? There are several technologies available and in development. Here are a few of our favorites:
Now for the incentive and rebates… the best part and probably the reason you’re reading this! 
Photo Source: Zero Motorcycles

CARB is sponsoring a CCSE- administered rebate program for zero-emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Whether you want to buy or lease one of these light-duty vehicles, you can get up to $2,500 through the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project. The website has an extensive list of eligible vehicles, links to apply for the rebates easily online, project statistics, and informative FAQs.

The Drive Clean! Rebate Program, administered by the SJVAPCD, offers up to $3,000 for new vehicles purchases and leases. Check the eligible vehicle list and apply for your well-deserved rebate using this fillable W9 form. If you need more information about all these vehicles, check out this DriveClean Buying Guide. You can access a quick vehicle compare and a Plug-In EV Resource Center or even calculate your savings by rebates and incentives.

The SJVAPCD also has a Vanpool Voucher program to promote carpools for SJV residents. So many people commute 20 miles or more for work by themselves in inefficient vehicles, and this rideshare program would alleviate congestion on the roads and vehicle emissions. The incentive is worth up to $360 a year and you can apply using this fillable form. The SJVAPCD has a number of other grants and incentive programs that target improving our air quality. Check them out here!

I want. If only! The new Tesla Model X.
If you manage a fleet that only operates in California, you could be eligible for this Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP). Vouchers are somewhat limited, but they are worth anywhere from $6,000 to $45,000 for each qualified new hybrid or electric truck or bus you buy. Eligible vehicles can be found here and the website has information for all dealers, fleets and vehicle makers. As long as your fleet operates only in California, it is eligible for this project, no matter the size or whether it is private or public.

There is a lot to take advantage of and I suggest you look into these if you’re considering a new vehicle! The technologies are only getting better and our air seems to only be getting worse, especially with this recent drought. So, do your part!