There’s an intimate connection between electric vehicles and renewable energy, and that connection — both literally and symbolically — runs directly through the electrical grid. Intermittent energy sources such as solar and wind need grid-connected storage in order to be viable, and the most flexible and scalable type of storage is a battery, which just happens to be the core technology behind EVs. Thus, advances in battery technology, and expansion of battery manufacturing, have applications for two very different industries.
Tesla understood this early in the game — it launched Tesla Energy, a division that provides stationary storage batteries for residential (Powerwall), commercial (Powerpack) and utility-scale (Megapack) applications, in 2015. Elon Musk has said on several occasions that Tesla Energy could someday become bigger than Tesla’s automobile business.
That hasn’t happened yet, but Tesla’s energy business has been scaling up quickly. On its Q4 2020 earnings call, the company said battery deployments increased by 83% in 2020, driven mainly by sales of the Megapack to utilities. And the potential for more expansion is enormous — Grand View Research estimates that grid-scale battery storage will become a $15 billion market by 2027. On Tesla’s 2021 Q1 earnings call, Musk predicted that the transition to electric cars will cause electricity demand to double, and the transition to electric heating systems for buildings will cause it to triple. “This is a prosperous future both for Tesla and for the utilities,” said he.
A new video from CNBC offers an in-depth look at Tesla Energy. CNBC visited one of Tesla’s Megapack sites, an installation for Pacific Electric & Gas (PG&E) in Moss Landing, California, for a first-hand look at how smart energy storage systems like Tesla’s are enabling the rapid adoption of renewable energy.
A look at PG&E’s Tesla Megapack site in Moss Landing, California and why energy storage systems like this could be the future (YouTube: CNBC)
Unlike electric cars, utility-scale energy storage is not something that has been discussed much in the popular press — except perhaps in Australia, which has suffered several embarrassing energy outages in recent years. A rapid expansion of solar power, enabled by massive battery farms provided by Tesla and others, is bringing the problem under control.
The recent cold snap in Texas, which led to widespread power outages, brought energy storage to America’s nightly news. California has also had to deal with brownouts and other power problems of late, and CNBC explains why stationary storage is becoming necessary to keep the modern electrical grid up and running.
Storage is not just about enabling renewable energy — it’s also an important tool for ensuring the reliability of the grid, smoothing out peaks in demand for power and preventing sudden surges that can overload local distribution systems. David Bissell, the CEO of the local utility on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where Tesla built a massive storage system in 2017, tells CNBC that batteries are “amazing” at helping to balance energy supply and demand, because they can respond instantaneously to imbalances. “We had our best reliability ever last year,” he says.
Tesla isn’t the only player in energy storage — venerable electronics giants such as Toshiba, Siemens, Panasonic, General Electric and ABB, as well as utilities such as NextEra Energy, are also claiming pieces of what’s shaping up as a large and lucrative pie.
Demand for storage is being driven both from below and above — governments around the world are mandating energy storage as part of strategies to modernize electrical grids. China has made storage part of its plan to get 16.5% percent of its energy from solar and wind by 2025. California launched a major energy storage program in 2014. The Biden Administration’s energy plan calls for $100 billion of investment in upgrades to the grid, including storage.
For companies that can move quickly to join the transformation of the world’s electrical grid, it looks like a prosperous future indeed.
Nissan will not build its next-gen LEAF in the US, risks losing EV tax credit
The next-gen Nissan LEAF will not be made in the US. Nissan will build the new model in the UK, but the affordable EV risks losing IRA tax credit eligibility.
Nissan confirmed it will build the next-gen LEAF at its Sunderland, UK plant, alongside two new electric SUVs last week.
The Juke and Qashqai, two of Nissan’s top-selling SUVs in Europe, are also going electric. Nissan announced an up to £3bn ($3.8B) investment to build the three new EVs at the plant.
As one of the first mass-market EVs, Nissan’s LEAF was a pioneer. However, with battery and other tech developments, more advanced EVs have stolen the compact electric cars shine.
The LEAF was the best-selling EV (cumulatively) until Tesla’s Model 3 overtook it in early 2020. Model 3 deliveries began in 2017, and it became the top-selling model in 2018 and 2019.
LEAF sales continue to slide amid new competition. Sales are down significantly this year in every major market through September, including the US (-37%), Europe (28%), and Japan (-15%).
The next-gen LEAF will be the first of the three new EVs built at its Sunderland factory. According to Automotive News Europe, it will launch at the end of next year.
Nissan pulls next-gen LEAF production from the US
With plans to build the new LEAF in the UK, where does that leave North America? Sources told Automotive News that Nissan does not plan to build the new LEAF in the US.
The LEAF kicked off a new era as the first mass-market EV in the US, but production of the current model is expected to end in 2025.
The decision could set the LEAF further back than it already is. Nissan’s LEAF is known as an affordable EV, yet the company plans a drastic makeover.
Nissan will release the next-gen LEAF as a crossover coupe SUV to make it more competitive. It will include a sleeker, lower design to avoid competing with its other electric crossovers.
A source from Nissan said the design is closer to the Ariya, the company’s first electric SUV. Another said it was a “mini Ariya.” Nissan said it has already been previewed in its Chill-Out concept.
The Chill-Out concept is a “mobile haven,” according to Nissan. It features advanced safety tech and a comfortable interior. The concept is based on the CMF-EV platform, which powers the Ariya. It also includes Nissan’s e-4ORCE electric 4WD control system.
Nissan’s new LEAF will look nothing like the current generation with a complete design change. It will also feature 25% more range, Nissan told retailers.
However, how popular will the new Nissan LEAF be in the US without the tax credit? Importing the model from the UK would lose its eligibility for an up to $7,500 credit.
One dealer said the subsidy is critical for a brand like Nissan with a “price-sensitive” customer base. “Without that tax incentive, it will be extremely difficult to compete in the United States,” the dealer said.
They added, “We have one hand tied behind our back when selling these EVs.” The dealer went as far as to say, “Why would we even bring this car to the United States?” without tax credit eligibility.
Nissan, which was once viewed as a leader in the EV industry with the launch of the LEAF in 2010, has fallen behind.
The automaker is vowing to make a comeback with a nearly $18 billion investment to launch 15 new EVs globally by 2030. Nissan is also investing $500 million in its Canton, Miss plant to prepare for EV production.
As per Nissan’s production schedule, the first EVs will be a pair of sedans in 2026. The LEAF replacement is expected to launch in the US in 2025.
Without the tax credit, however, Nissan will face stiff competition. Nissan has sold just over 10,000 LEAF models in the US through September.
A US car dealership group just installed 10,000 rooftop solar panels
One of the US’s largest car dealership groups recently completed the installation of 10,000 solar panels on multiple dealerships.
Rooftop solar on car dealerships
Austin-headquartered Freedom Solar Power, which works directly with automakers such as Toyota, Ford, Volkswagen, Volvo, Audi, and Hyundai/Genesis to install rooftop solar for their franchised dealers, installed the solar panels for Group 1 Automotive.
Freedom Solar Power national automotive manager Ryan Ferrero said, “Dealerships often have ample roof areas to accommodate solar arrays powerful enough to offset a large percentage of their energy costs. The more auto dealers learn about solar power, the more they see it as an effective environmental, social, and business win-win strategy.”
Energy costs are a substantial operating expense for car dealerships due to extended operating hours and energy-intensive showrooms and lots. Car dealerships are increasingly adopting rooftop solar to offset their high energy use and ensure reliable electricity.
Group 1 Automotive didn’t reveal exactly where the 10,000 solar panels were installed, but it said it plans to complete solar installations at 25 dealerships by the end of 2024.
Car dealerships have the same sort of rooftop space that warehouses and box retail do. Why not cover it in solar panels? With lowered emissions, cost reductions, and clean energy to charge EVs, they can’t lose.
Photo: Elite Acura, Maple Shade, NJ/Freedom Solar
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I bought a container full of backyard electric construction equipment from China
Oops, I did it again. I found a cool electric vehicle online while browsing China’s largest shopping platform, and I had to get one. The only problem is I somehow ended up with a container full of them this time. This is the story of how a pile of awesome electric construction equipment ended up in my yard.
Earlier this year I was cruising through Alibaba looking at all the electric construction equipment. My parents have a small ranch in Florida and we were looking for some type of tractor or loader for some general around the property use.
If you know me, you’ll know I’m pretty big into EVs as work vehicles due to the lower operating cost, near-zero maintenance, and a whole host of other reasons. The biggest problem though is that electric tractors and heavy machinery are extremely expensive.
Machines like Monarch’s electric tractor are priced at nearly US $100,000. There are cheaper alternatives like the Solectrac with a front loader for closer to US $35,000, but that’s still more than I was looking to spend for backyard machinery, even if it’s a fairly large 10-acre backyard.
I also decided a wheel loader was a better direction than a pure tractor since we don’t need the crazy torque of a tractor. We aren’t plowing fields, but rather doing more general and diverse heavy-lift jobs. That means the extreme versatility of an articulating wheel loader would be better for us. With a wheel loader, you get something that can function like a tractor for light jobs, but also has a bucket for moving dirt, can work as a forklift, post driller, excavator, etc.
Other diesel-powered loaders of the size I was looking for seem to start at close to US $45,000, with electric models being basically non-existent until you get into the massive machines used by construction companies and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
So that’s how I ended up turning to China, as I have in the past to find cool electric vehicles that I can’t find in the West.
I found a couple of interesting machines, one rated for 880 lb (400 kg) of lifting capacity and another larger version rated for 1440 lb (650 kg) of lifting capacity. They were priced at roughly $5k and $8k respectively, though I knew those prices wouldn’t stick. The “real” price on all of these Alibaba machines is always much higher. My Chinese electric mini-truck was advertised at $2,000, but it cost me around $8,000 in total to land it in my driveway. The 400% markup was almost identical on my electric boat, which started at just over $1,000 but ended up costing me closer to $4,000 with all of the shipping, customs, etc.
Ocean freight has come down a bit since I got those, so I was hoping to get out of this for a bit less than 4x the advertised price. But even if not, it would still be much less than the cost of an equivalent machine in the US.
I was starting to fret about deciding between the smaller and larger loaders, since the smaller would probably be sufficient but that big boy was looking mighty enticing. Ultimately, the factory made the decision for me. Unlike the things I’ve bought in the past, they wouldn’t sell a single unit. They only sold by the container. Gulp.
If I wanted one of the kids, I was going to have to take the whole family.
I’ve never imported a full container of weird things before. I’ve always bought my odd Chinese vehicles by the unit. This was going to be a bigger show than I was expecting when I first got into it.
Finally, I decided I would bite the bullet and get a container of them with the hope of just selling the extras. It took some convincing with the wife, but we’ve been together long enough for her to know that twinkle in my eye when she sees it. It’s worked out well enough in the past (most of the time), so what’s one more gamble?
It was quite a gamble, let me tell you. The process took months. Many. Frustrating. Months.
The fun part was spec’ing my machines, of which I set myself up with three smaller units and one big boy, which tightly filled a 20 ft container. I also figured that if I’m already sending a container, I might as well fill up the empty air space with some more goodies. To do that, I added in some accessories like pallet forks, augers, excavator arms, etc.
In for a penny, in for a pound.
From there, it turned into a longer and more drawn-out process than I had expected. The manufacturing time ballooned. The customs paperwork was confusing and seemingly endless. I had to figure out my own logistics for once the container got to the port in Miami. It’s not like you can just ask a friend with a truck to grab your 20,000 lb container. I had to somehow get that big container several hundred miles inland to the family’s ranch.
I also discovered that there was going to be a major unloading problem due to us not having a loading dock on the ranch. There wouldn’t be a way to get the loaders out unless they would be ok with a nearly 5 foot drop driving out the back of a container chassis truck. (They would not.)
Plus, with the amount it would cost me to get a container chassis truck to deliver the container, wait while I unload the machines, then return the container to the port, I could just about buy the whole freaking container myself. And so that’s what I did.
That actually solved the delivery issue since I didn’t have to figure out how to get the machines out of a container sitting so high up on the back of a truck. Instead, I just had the whole container dropped on the property so I could drive them right out the door onto the ground.
And that’s how I did it, though it did require one more added expense of a crane to lower the container down. You can see all the details in the unboxing and testing video I made.
That was unloading day, which happened many long months after I started this whole thing. How many months, exactly? Well, I wrote the original article where I found the machines back in January, and now it’s November. You do the math.
The good news is that the machines were finally here! Unloading wasn’t a cakewalk but went decently well. The machines could have been secured better but were mostly fine. Upon first cracking open the container door, one machine was slightly askew with a tire six inches up the container wall, but it was sitting there happily, at least.
I’m guessing somewhere along the journey, a bump to the container bounced one machine up and the tire caught on the wall. Fortunately it seemed fine and I just wiggled the steering wheel to drop the tire back down.
I drove the machines out and managed to drag the attachments out as well. Once I got the various attachments to the lip of the container with muscle power, I actually used lifting straps and the pallet fork attachment on one of the loaders to carry them out. Each weighs several hundred pounds so it was a good time to have a loader.
My first tests with the machines were on some fresh mulch, and boy, was it fun!
You know how you played with those Tonka trucks in the sandbox as a kid? It’s literally the exact same fun feeling when you have your own life-sized versions, even if they’re mini-machines themselves.
Wielding a third of a cubic yard of mulch over your head with just the slight flick of your wrist is a fun feeling!
Next, I wanted to try out some of the attachments. I started with the digger attachment since an excavator was the next machine on my list that I wanted.
Mini-excavators cost around $15,000-$25,000 for an imported diesel-powered machine. Electric mini-excavators are rare but can run closer to $75,000-$100,000.
If I could turn my electric loader into an electric excavator for less than $2,000, that’d be a huge score! I knew it wouldn’t match the capabilities of a dedicated excavator, but if I could dig a hole several feet deep, I’d call that a success.
The digger attachment mounts in place of the loader’s bucket, and it’s easy to swap on since I made sure to spec the machine with a hydraulic quick hitch to release and mount attachments directly from the cab. You don’t even have to get out of your chair. Well, at least not for the manual tools like the buckets, pallet forks, etc. In the case of the digger, it has a hydraulic feature for curling the digger bucket, so I had to hop out and manually connect the hydraulic lines.
From there, it was time to dig a hole. And by golly, it works! It only has a dig depth of around 3-4 feet (approximately 1 meter), but that’s enough for a lot of tasks like planting trees, digging trenches, etc. It won’t dig down 6-10 feet (2-3 meters) like a larger dedicated excavator, but I’m not digging a basement here.
For most everyday tasks that you’d use a shovel for, you’re probably not digging more than 4 feet deep. And so this is basically a powered shovel that saves a lot of back-breaking labor. It’s going to make planting trees on the property a lot easier from now on, that’s for sure!
Next, I wanted to try the auger. It’s basically a large drill that can be used for putting in fence posts, mailboxes, trees, or other tasks where you’d want to drill a big, deep hole in the world beneath you.
And again, the dang thing worked perfectly. It mounts just like the digger and is hydraulically powered. In less than a minute I had a clean, deep hole that was perfect for a fence post.
The entire process was super quiet, too. In fact, my dad and I used the machines for a pile of tasks, such as propping back up the little roof over our well that blew over in the last hurricane. It’s a few hundred pounds and nearly 10 feet (3 meters) tall, so the larger loader with the forks was great for hoisting it into place.
Carrying other things like telephone poles, tree branches, water cisterns, and just about everything else was suddenly much more convenient.
We could even pair the loaders with my electric mini-truck for our own mini work site.
Man, this is getting more and more like a backyard childhood sandbox.
The charging process is surprisingly similar to an electric bike. They don’t require an electric vehicle charging station, but rather just have their own charging brick. You plug one end into a 110V AC outlet and the other into the loader.
Charging reportedly takes around 6-7 hours from empty, though I avoided running them totally empty since it’s not great for the SLA batteries.
Oh right, the batteries. So I would have loved to have lithium-ion batteries here for the longer lifespan, but there were a couple of downsides.
For one, the huge 9 kWh and 14.4 kWh SLA packs on the smaller and larger machines actually help serve as ballast in the rear, increasing the load rating that each machine can lift. Second, those big packs would have been even more expensive as lithium-ion batteries.
Another advantage of AGM SLA batteries is you can find them from probably a hundred different suppliers in the US. One day when these packs finally crap out, I won’t have to wonder where to get replacements. I can just get any big 12V bricks and string them together. It’s only slightly more complicated (and heavier) than changing a car battery.
As it stands, these things weren’t cheap. With all in for the four loaders, shipping, customs, transportation, and the attachments, I figure I’ve got nearly $50k worth of equipment in that container. Which is why I’m going to have to sell three of those things, even though it’s fun to have what looks like my own construction company with all of these machines hanging around.
Speaking of that though, this whole process has actually led me to realize that there really should be a company in the US for this kind of stuff. Electric mini-construction vehicles like these are so useful for small businesses, hobby farms, wineries, and other users that don’t need a massive Caterpillar backhoe or John Deere machine. For many individuals and small operators, a 5-ton and $100,000 piece of equipment is simply overkill. Smaller machines like these are more useful and more accessible for many folks.
And so that’s what I’m working on now. I’m getting set up to actually offer these things in the US, and be able to support them so people don’t have to take a risk ordering something from halfway around the world before being left out to dry on a machine with no support or warranty. If you want to learn more about it, check out my new site, Nesher Equipment. I’m actually going to start by selling three of these machines, since I never planned on keeping them… and can’t really afford to hang onto four loaders when we only need one for use on our property.
One day, I believe that most construction equipment will be electric. For now, that day still seems pretty far down the road, at least in the US. But maybe I can help some of us get there just a bit sooner.
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