Go Go Ghosn! Energy Anarchist!
Jan 7th, 2010 by steve

This guy is experiencing a lot of Naysaying, but I say, he’s got the right idea. Stop capitulating. Stop compromising. Do the the big thing. NOW. Hats off to him for trying despite all the whiny naysayers.  And why do we care what a 77 year old dinosaur from General Motors of all places has to say about it?  Like GM has any credibility at all?

Bloomberg News, sent from my iPhone.

Ghosn Overruling Electric Engineers Makes Lutz See Losing Bet

Jan. 7 (Bloomberg) — The crowd of 600 falls silent as an employee asks Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn if he’s staking too much of Nissan Motor Co.’s future on electric cars and not enough on green alternatives like Toyota Motor Corp.’s Prius gas-electric hybrid.

Ghosn steps to the edge of the stage at Nissan’s Yokohama headquarters and smiles, lightening the mood on a rainy October afternoon.

Hybrids, diesels and gas engines aren’t enough, Ghosn responds. In a world where oil prices may triple and political upheaval and climate change are intensifying, governments are promoting all-electric cars. Consumers will embrace them as soon as the price is right, he says.

“This is about preserving the planet,” Ghosn says, Bloomberg Markets magazine reported in its February issue. “If we start being skeptical, nothing is going to happen.”

A few minutes later, sitting sideways with his arm across the back of a chair in a conference room, Ghosn shifts from evangelist to micromanager. A Nissan ad that touts zero-emission motoring for future generations is vague, he tells a dozen executives.

“We should say specifically ‘young people, first-new-car buyer,’” he says.

Ghosn, 55, who turned Nissan into the most profitable of the world’s seven biggest automakers in 2005 and made Ghosn-san a Japanese household name, is placing the auto industry’s biggest bet yet on electric vehicles, or EVs.

Roadblocks Ahead

Ghosn is facing an abundance of challenges. It may take until 2030 for automotive batteries to be cheap enough for widespread commercial use, the National Research Council said in December. Before then, governments may tire of propping up the EV industry with tax breaks and buyer incentives.

Ghosn’s first electric car, the Leaf, can travel only 100 miles (160 kilometers) without recharging — putting him in competition with hybrid vehicles that have no such limits.

The biggest stumbling block may be out of Ghosn’s control: the price of gasoline. His success — or that of anyone who builds EVs — hinges on whether car buyers get fed up paying increasingly higher prices at the pump, says Jerome York, the former Chrysler Corp. chief financial officer who has advised billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian. On Jan. 6, gasoline averaged $2.68 a gallon in the U.S.

“If gas is $2 a gallon, this whole regulatory effort to promote EVs is going to be an ugly train wreck,” York says.

‘Being Innovative’

Ghosn has won supporters.

“We look very positively on the fact that they’re being innovative and have a plan for EVs that it looks like they’ll be able to achieve,” says Gilles Michel, assistant director of the New Jersey Division of Investment, which began buying its 6.6 million Nissan shares in March 2009. Since then, the stock price has more than doubled.

The division, which manages investments for the state’s $68.5 billion pension fund, also owns 500,000 Renault SA shares.

Renault started buying what’s now a 44 percent stake in Nissan in 1999, when Ghosn was the French company’s executive vice president. Renault shares rose 59 percent in six months to 39.25 euros on Jan. 6. Ghosn has been CEO of both Nissan and Renault since 2005.

Michel also likes that Nissan and Renault shares were beaten down, because he expects a recovery in U.S. auto sales. From its 18-year high in January 2007, Nissan stock tumbled 82 percent in two years. In February 2009, Ghosn cut 20,000 jobs, or one in 12. In December, U.S. sales rose 15 percent from the year-ago period. On Jan. 6, Nissan shares traded at 799 yen, up 38 percent in six months.

Rebel Without a Cause

Ghosn needs a bold move to restore his brands’ luster. Nissan’s net income peaked in 2005 at $4.8 billion. Since that year, U.S. dealers have reported a sales drop of more than 75 percent for the Titan pickup. The truck was a centerpiece of the effort by Ghosn, a Brazilian of Lebanese descent who speaks four languages, to revive Nissan and challenge Detroit.

Ghosn expects Nissan to lose $445 million in the fiscal year ending in March 2010, adding to a $2.3 billion loss the previous year. Renault lost $3.6 billion during the first half of 2009.

As profit sank, analysts began questioning whether Nissan had an enduring identity, especially among young people, says Andy Palmer, Nissan senior vice president for product planning.

“You need to be a rebel with a cause, and we didn’t have a cause,” Palmer says.

Zero-Emission Mobility

Ghosn has found his calling. He’s going all out to populate the planet with electric vehicles, starting in December 2010 with the Leaf.

“We aim to be the global leader in zero-emission mobility,” Ghosn told employees in October.

The five-person car, which he’ll roll out first in the U.S. and Japan, will cost as much to buy and operate as comparable gasoline models, Ghosn says. These include Honda Motor Co.’s $24,000 Civic Si. Drivers will have to recharge the Leaf’s 475- pound (215-kilogram) lithium-ion battery pack after 100 miles.

Ghosn is upending a century of automotive tradition by selling the Leaf without a battery. Instead, owners will rent the battery pack and pay for the miles used, like a cellular phone plan.

Drivers will recharge at home or at public plug-in stations, hitching to 3-foot-high (0.9-meter-high) metal posts. Or they may swap the batteries, like exchanging an empty propane tank for a full one. The price: about $120 a month in the U.S. for battery rental and electricity.

‘Community of Buyers’

“I’ll be very surprised if there isn’t a large community of buyers,” says Daniel Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, who helped the state design its low-carbon-fuel standards.

Ghosn is so sure the vision will work that he’s building factories to assemble 500,000 EVs a year — 10 times more units than General Motors Co. is planning to make of its Volt hybrid. The Volt, which GM says will go on sale in November, has a small gasoline engine that runs a generator to recharge the battery as needed.

For Nissan, Ghosn is planning a delivery van, sports model and two-seat urban commuter after the Leaf; for Renault, he’s looking at four EVs, including a one-seater similar to a motorcycle.

Ghosn predicts that EVs will grab 10 percent of worldwide industry sales by 2020. He has pledged to spend $6 billion on EV technology from 2007 to 2011 — an amount equal to the combined annual research and development budgets at Nissan and Renault.

Not Much Fun

As for his companies’ recent losses, “has it been fun for anybody, you think, for the last two years?” Ghosn asks, referring to the financial crisis during a November interview at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Worldwide auto sales were forecast to be 55.2 million in 2009, 23 percent below a mid-2008 forecast from research firm R. L. Polk & Co.

Investor Harris Kempner isn’t waiting to see whether Ghosn’s EV push derails. The CEO of Kempner Capital Management Inc. in Galveston, Texas, sold his 404,296 Nissan American depositary receipts in the quarter ended on Sept. 30.

“There’s plenty of room for improvement in gas engines that don’t require new infrastructure,” Kempner says.

For Rod Lache, a Deutsche Bank AG analyst in New York, the cost of electric vehicles’ battery packs is a major constraint. A pack as big as the Leaf’s costs $15,600, Lache says. That compares with about $30 for a gas tank in conventional cars that travel four times farther.

‘Massive Losses’

Eric Noble, president of research firm The CarLab in Orange, California, says the metals used in batteries are getting more expensive. In 2009, lithium carbonate cost $6,500 a metric ton, almost triple 2006 prices, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

“The result will be massive losses,” Noble says of Ghosn’s EV effort.

Bill Reinert, Toyota’s U.S. manager for advanced technology who helped design the Prius, says range is a major detraction for electric vehicles.

“One hundred miles covers most daily trips but not all,” he says. “How many people can afford a specialized car that can’t be used on vacation?”

Toyota’s planned all-electric car, set to make its debut in 2012, is a four-seater designed for commuting. It will go at least 50 miles without recharging.

Ghosn’s Alliances

Ghosn says the Leaf’s range will satisfy most drivers. He’s signed agreements with 41 governments and utilities — from Portugal to Portland, Oregon, to the prefecture of Kanagawa near Tokyo — to build recharging stations as part of their plans to curb greenhouse gases and cut dependence on petroleum.

Even so, EVs may not provide the same environmental benefits in all countries. U.S. reliance on coal, a polluting fossil fuel, for half of its electricity needs taints EVs’ green credentials, says Jan Kreider, an engineering professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

An EV with a 40-mile range will emit 110,000 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents during its lifetime because it relies partly on coal as the original energy source, Kreider says. Toyota’s Prius will emit 97,000 pounds, and Nissan’s gas-powered Sentra compact will put out 140,000 pounds.

Ghosn says that once EVs arrive in showrooms, companies will invest in nuclear, wind and solar energy to create cleaner electricity.

Building Batteries

For now, his success turns on batteries. Ghosn plans to build them through Automotive Energy Supply Corp., which Nissan owns jointly with NEC Corp., Japan’s biggest personal computer maker.

NEC has a 1 percent market share for lithium-ion batteries, says Menahem Anderman, president of technology consulting firm Advanced Automotive Batteries in Oregon House, California. NEC trails Samsung Electronics Co., Sanyo Electric Co. and Sony Corp., each with 10 percent market share or more, he says.

Batteries are harder to build for cars than computers, Anderman says. That’s because they require high voltage and a long life and are more sensitive to variations in manufacturing.

“AESC has produced less than 1,000 EV batteries, and its testing of durability for a 10-year automotive life cycle is at an early stage,” he says. “Talking about producing 500,000 batteries a year is quite premature.”

‘Rolling the Dice’

Lache predicts that high-volume manufacturing will cut battery costs — now $650 per kilowatt-hour — in half by 2020. Ghosn says costs will fall faster. He’s working on batteries with twice the range of Leaf’s and has teamed up with Sumitomo Corp. to sell used batteries that can no longer withstand automotive requirements but can store power for utilities.

GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz says their limited range puts all-electric vehicles years from widespread adoption.

“He’s rolling the dice,” Lutz, 77, says of Ghosn’s battery-only tack. “I don’t see it happening.”

Until the early 1900s, when Texas gushed with cheap oil, electric cars were about as popular as gas models. A century later, as governments and consumers struggle to cut fossil fuel use, EVs may be coming back.

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates has pledged to use them for 20 percent of government transportation needs, build 1,350 public recharging stations by 2011 and give buyers tax credits and subsidies of more than 8,000 euros ($11,518).

‘Three Oil Shocks’

“I’ve seen three oil shocks,” says Socrates, 52, whose country of 10.6 million has no commercial coal or oil production. “It’s not possible to live through these situations and do nothing.”

In recent decades, Nissan has made its name with the Z and Skyline GT-R sports cars. Yet the company has had a team investigating lithium-ion technology for almost two decades as it has braced for rising oil prices.

Even as Nissan shuttered factories in 1999, it continued battery work. In 2006, Ghosn overruled Nissan’s researchers and approved high-volume EV manufacturing.

“The engineers will always tell you, ‘Wait a little more,’ and if you keep playing this game, you never launch any product,” he says.

By the time Ghosn attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2007, he was a full-blown EV booster.

He met Shimon Peres, the Israeli vice prime minister who’d become an EV advocate because of his country’s limited oil. Peres brought Shai Agassi, the Israeli-born founder of Better Place, a Palo Alto, California, company that builds and operates networks of recharging stations, to a meeting at Peres’s hotel.

‘I’ve Got Your Car’

As the two pitched EVs, Ghosn said he didn’t need to hear it.

“I’ve got your car,” Ghosn said, Agassi recalls. “Let’s do it.” Peres, who is now Israel’s president, declined to comment for this story.

Ghosn agreed to build 100,000 electric vehicles to be recharged by Better Place in Israel and Denmark. Peres slashed import taxes on EVs to 10 percent compared with 83 percent for gas models. Agassi is building 500,000 recharging stations where drivers use credit cards or mobile phones to pay.

In August, Ghosn drove a sky-blue Leaf onto the stage at Nissan headquarters with former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi riding shotgun.

“It was so unexpectedly smooth and quiet,” Koizumi said. “I am sure this car is going to be popular.”

‘Superb Executive’

Toyota’s Reinert isn’t convinced. He says EVs could experience a five-year bubble, like solar panels during President Jimmy Carter’s term in the late 1970s. If budget cuts force governments to end subsidies, only a handful of EVs could be left standing in the market, he says.

Ghosn says competitors are trailing Nissan in EVs, so naturally they’re going to play down the technology’s prospects.

“They cannot say, ‘we’re forecasting a 10 percent market share for EVs and, by the way, we have nothing,’” he says.

Ghosn is spreading his electric gospel. “He’s a superb executive and works beyond belief,” York says.

Ghosn says he’s waiting for the right time to talk with U.S. carmakers about alliances that would support investments in zero-emission vehicles, aiming to get everybody behind his quest to use EVs to tackle climate change.

Businessmen must advocate policies that alter societies, Ghosn says, noting that oil prices could suddenly shoot up to $250 a barrel from $82.36 on Jan. 6 and nobody would be prepared.

“It’s about having a road map to avoid this continuous discussion about the disaster looming on us in the next five or 10 years,” he says.

It’s also about whether history remembers Carlos Ghosn as a Henry Ford, whose vision shaped the modern auto industry — or as an automotive rebel who found a cause the world wasn’t ready to embrace.

To contact the reporters on this story: John Lippert at jlippert@bloomberg.net Kae Inoue in Tokyo at kinoue@bloomberg.net Laurence Frost at lfrost4@bloomberg.net

Find out more about Bloomberg for iPhone: http://m.bloomberg.com/iphone

Hurray for Washington!
Jan 2nd, 2010 by steve

Well, at least something positive has happened in D.C. A new law went into effect yesterday requiring a 5 cent charge for shopping bags. This is a small but bold action that will force people to shift their thinking away from mindless consumption and disposal. They’ve also increased parking rates. Sadly the Washington Post emphasizes in their headline the negative impact this will have on consumers by “pinching” them. Why can’t the mainstream media change their tune and focus on the positive cultural change this could bring about?


Food Inc. and Energy Anarchy
Jun 22nd, 2009 by steve

Last night Jocelyn and I saw this new documentary called Food Inc. http://www.foodincmovie.com/ which explores subject matter revolving around two books, The Omnivore’s Dillemma (by Michael Pollan http://www.michaelpollan.com ) and Fast Food Nation (by Eric Schlosser http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Schlosser and also made into a film directed by Richard Linkletter).  It’s one of those films that you feel like everybody should watch, and if they did, then the world would instantly become a better place.  I knew that there were implications to buying locally made food that involved saving the energy of transport.  But what this film really emphasizes are the less obvious energy inputs that factory farming consumes and which are subsidized by government legislation that is unjustly and exceedingly influenced by the large food processing corporations.  (Of course there’s a huge “health” issue that is really at the heart of the film and which is important, but being an Energy Anarchist I viewed it through the energy lens.)  Why can a fast food hamburger be sold for 99 cents when a pound of brocolli can cost almost 2 dollars?  The answer is the government subsidization of Corn and Soybean crops which prevent the true cost of the energy inputs to be factored in throughout the “fast food chain”.  What does this mean for Americans, particularly those with low incomes who are better able to afford a trip to BK than one to the local supermarket?  Obesity and an extremely high incidence of diabetes.

Overall this film made us feel particularly good about the choice we’ve made to support our new farming friend Christopher Totman, but it’s horrifying to see what our food chain has devolved into.  Energy Anarchists!  We have to eat differently!  It’s another way we can vote with individual actions and effect large and influential outcomes.  Go see this movie and find out why!

Another Great Micro-Energy Source!
Jun 18th, 2009 by steve

I really think the key to developing a healthy and empowered “personal” relationship to power lies in the development of technologies which capture what I like to call “micro energy” sources and which this article refers to as “ambient energy” sources.  In this case the kinetic energy of cars in the parking lot in front of this UK grocery store are captured by “speed bumps” and used to power the cash registers!



Urban Farming, a Bit Closer to the Sun
Jun 17th, 2009 by terrawatt

“City dwellers have long cultivated pots of tomatoes on top of their buildings. But farming in the sky is a fairly recent development in the green roof movement, in which owners have been encouraged to replace blacktop with plants, often just carpets of succulents, to cut down on storm runoff, insulate buildings and moderate urban heat.

“A survey by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, which represents companies that create green roofs, found the number of projects its members had worked on in the United States grew by more than 35 percent last year. In total, the green roofs installed last year cover 6 million to 10 million square feet, the group said.

“Tax incentives have accelerated the plantings of green roofs, particularly in Chicago, which has encouraged green roofs for almost a decade. … New York State has subsidies both for roofs with succulents spread out over a thin layer of soil and for edible plants covering a smaller area. A proposed amendment to New York City’s tax abatement for some roof projects would include green roofs.”

Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/17/dining/17roof.html

Gadget Charger Harvests Wireless Power
Jun 9th, 2009 by terrawatt

Emerging technology: “Ambient electromagnetic radiation–emitted from Wi-Fi transmitters, cell-phone antennas, TV masts, and other sources–can be converted into enough electrical current to keep a battery topped up, says Markku Rouvala, a researcher from the Nokia Research Centre, in Cambridge, U.K.

“Rouvala says that Nokia’s prototype can harvest up to 50 milliwatts of power–enough to slowly recharge a phone, or keep it running in standby mode. “You can basically have it on standby indefinitely,” he says.

“Historically, energy-harvesting technologies have only been found in niche markets, powering wireless sensors and RFID tags in particular. If Nokia’s claims stand up, then it could push energy harvesting into mainstream consumer devices.

“Nokia is being cagey with the details of the project, but Rouvala is confident about its future: “I would say it is possible to put this into a product within three to four years.” ”

Full article: http://beta.technologyreview.com/communications/22764/

Energy Audits Vex Austin’s Home Sellers
Jun 8th, 2009 by terrawatt

“The city of Austin, Texas, has begun requiring homeowners to conduct energy-efficiency audits before they can sell their house, a move it says provides a model for cities and states seeking ways to push energy conservation.”

“The Austin ordinance requires residents selling single-family homes more than 10 years old to obtain an audit and provide the information to potential buyers. While San Francisco and Berkeley, where audits became mandatory in the 1980s, require owners to make recommended upgrades, Austin doesn’t.”

“Sellers who refuse the audit are subject to being charged with a misdemeanor….”    

Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124441959646192659.html

Stimulus Funds Spent to Keep Sun Belt Cool
Jun 8th, 2009 by terrawatt

“Many environmentalists say cutting electricity use for cooling is just as worthwhile as reducing the use of oil or gas for heating. But there are substantial questions about whether it is the most efficient way to save energy.

“Repeated questions have been raised about the effectiveness of weatherization in hot-climate states. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, which evaluates the program for the Energy Department, released a study last year questioning the program’s results in Texas, which will get $327 million in weatherization money from the stimulus law. The laboratory found that insulating homes did not save a significant amount of money on cooling, a finding it said was consistent with previous studies.”

Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/08/science/earth/08weatherize.html  

Micro Energy Savings from your Plasma TV
Jun 7th, 2009 by steve

Hey!  We all know that properly inflating your tires get you better gas mileage.  But did you know that properly calibrating your plasma TV can improve your set’s energy performance?  I didn’t!  But while I was searching for some technical information about how to connect the aforementioned antenna to my Panasonic TH42pz700U I stumbled across a review on CNET that illustrated the following performance enhancements from “calibrating” the set.  I had no idea that this was possible (nor do I know exactly how to do it do any of you?)  But that’s a significant savings of about 1/3 of the juice!


Panasonic TH-42PZ700U Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 464.07 318 N/A
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.62 0.42 N/A
Standby (watts) 0.58 0.58 N/A
Cost per year $141.28 $96.92 N/A
Score (considering size) Poor
Score (overall) Poor 



Did I Say No Sports?
Jun 6th, 2009 by steve

OK.  So it’s not that I’m such a sports head, but I do like the drama of some of the larger events.  And today I was lamenting not being able to watch Roger Federer in the French Open Final tomorrow morning at 9am.  (A little early to hit up a bar don’tcha think?)

Anyway, I rode my bike over to JandR and I bought a 34 dollar “HDTV antenna” made by Terk.  I hooked it up to the TV and now I get all the major networks!  IN HD!  And it looks even better than it used to over cable because apparently it’s not compressed whereas the cable company has to squish down the signal to pump all those channels and signals through that skinny little coax wire.

It’s like WiFi for your TV!  What a concept.  And to think, this is how they did it in the old days.

A really helpful website that I found is called “Antenna Web”  http://www.antennaweb.org .  They have a nifty locator that lets you type in your address and it’ll tell you where all the TV signals are beaming from and will show them on a map.  That way if your antenna isn’t picking up the signal so well, you can point it in the right direction.  (If your antenna’s directional that is, some are omni directional.)  The site also explains a lot about what kind of antenna you need and what labels to look for on an antenna when you’re buying one.  (There’s a colorful pie chart symbol used by the CEA to indicate suitability for different applications.)

Check it out!

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