LocalWatt weblog

Driven to Distraction

Good intentions are truly the road to hell – and that’s my excuse for not posting here for months. A complete site redesign is in the works, if that’s any consolation.

Projects for Tyco and VeriSign have also my consumed attention, but tonight the British-American Business Council held an event in Cambridge that charged me up again. Phil Guidice, Commissioner of MA DOER came to encourage regional cleantech entrepreneurs. He offered some intriguing charts comparing the Massachusetts business environment to California’s, but another attendee raised the question: are our local VCs on board? Who will really back Massachusetts’ bid to become a cleantech leader?

This writer posed a question about smart grid investment, but was too timid to ask the real question: will our Senator-elect support legislation that will further DOER objectives?

Cars, Colbert and Chutzpah

Shai Agassi, CEO of Better Place just put in an appearance on The Colbert Report, and I have to applaud him for playing a role to the hilt. Who else is trying to make electric cars hip and sexy? Colbert’s first remark noted Shai’s casual outfit. In jeans & black t-shirt with white wind-turbine graphics, Shai looked the antithesis of an automotive industry exec.

Most of the interview centered on comparing cars to cellphones (swappable, disposable, etc.) but Colbert pointed out that hefty cars have traditionally played a role in courtship. Hmm. Agassi shrugged that off, giving the impression that he believes that cool, new environment products can provide the cachet that cars (traditionally) and phones (currently) offer young consumers.

So my question is: can we wait for them? Or do we need to promote electric cars to drivers of all ages, right now, to get real traction in this market? Given that Colbert’s audience probably skews to youth, I’ll credit Better Place with effective use of their charismatic leader on this show. But I still think we need to persuade a larger market, faster, to switch to electric drive. Can Shai reach those boring, suburban seniors who put on so many miles, or must he simply outlive them?

Back to the Future

Coming back from a recent MCAN meeting, we stumbled upon the legendary car chargers of Alewife MBTA parking (2nd floor, right as you exit). Most of these are wrapped in black plastic, but someone is making an effort to expose them.

Alewife station sign

Signage at Alewife

The charger itself is an ICS-200 (“Intelligent Charging Station”) a 240V,40amp unit. The manufacturer’s website look like it hasn’t been touched since 1999 – and neither have these chargers, I’ll bet. But they meant well, I’m sure.

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I Want My EV

I often get asked if electric cars really exist, and where they can be purchased (CA, mostly). So I was delighted to stumble on a directory at Great name (I want one of those too). And now, up on the Mass. North Shore there’s ZAP New England – looking forward to test-driving some models this summer.

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Fearless Flying

After twice getting tangled up trying to navigate Logan Airport yesterday (practically my home town!)and twice paying tunnel tolls, the electric podcars planned for Abu Dhabi look really enticing – sort of combination ski-lift and theme park ride. This rendering is a concept for Gotgaten, Sweden – but I can see them hanging from Boston’s Zakim Bridge.

Rendering by visulogik

Rendering of Podcars by visulogik

A Stimulated Spring

We’ve had 80+ temperatures in the Northeast for three days now – a strangely comfortable reminder that climate change is real. But the Recovery act has many of us buzzing about cleantech grant proposals, tax incentives and funding opportunities. A warm sensation, on a local (rather than global) scale.

I’m always looking for sites that review electric cars and address objections to green transport. Here’s a new one:

Gridness Goodness

Trust NPR to come up with an interactive map that showing of the whole US grid(s). My computer had some difficulty running a Flash script in it,unfortunately – but otherwise, a very cool site.

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I attended an enlightening workshop on Smart Grid development at yesterday’s MIT Energy Conference. While the political will to re-shape our electric infrastructure seems to be there (at least at the top, White House, DOE, etc.) the obstacles are, well – daunting on several levels. Security and technical standards are getting much attention, but I was glad to hear this panel address the communication and human factors involved. This is essentially a change management challenge, on a continental scale.

At least one speaker seemed to think that consumers will only pay for infrastructure upgrades if they see personal economic benefit, but I don’t agree. Americans pay enormous sums for things that provide social cachet or emotional rewards.  I suppose we just need Smart Grid toys that are as cool as an iPhone.

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So we still haven’t replaced the Subaru, and I’m on a hunt for the answer to a question I hear all the time now: “How and where can I buy an electric car?”

Short locating an out-of-production RAV4 EV, or investing in a Tesla Roadster (not in my league) it turns out that the answer is conversion. Thousands of gas-powered vehicles have been converted by DIY-ers and service specialists. A great catalog of these can be found here. Costs run $3-10K, but that’s beginning to look like a bargain to me.

Jon Stewart’s segments are often short but pointed; tonight he spoke with Daniel Sperling, whose book “Two Billion Cars” digs in to the issues of sustainable transportation. It’s his fourth book on the subject. Why hadn’t I discovered this author earlier? Must keep watching, I suppose.

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