Tesla Motors has announced today that they’re beefing up their already very solid warranty and services offerings for the Model S electric car (which apparently has been selling very well). Elon Musk, the company’s CEO, has written a very good blog post explaining all the changes, so rather than paraphrase him, here’s choice excerpts:
A fleet of top-of-the line loaners that you can even buy
The best way to experience service is, of course, not to experience service. If your car does need service, then it should be swapped with a car that is ideally better in some or many ways. To this end, Tesla is building a fleet of top of the line Model S loaners. These will not be our basic model – they will be state of the art with all the best features and options.
Nor will this eventually become an aging fleet of overused cars. The loaners will be available for immediate purchase at a price that is lower by 1% per month of age and $1 per mile. If you like the service loaner more than your other car, you can just keep it. This ensures that the service fleet is constantly refreshed and gives customers the best optionality.
For an added bit of fun, customers in most markets will have the choice of taking home one of our Tesla Roadster sports cars when their car is in for service. Few experiences are more sublime than driving a beautiful electric sports car on a road along the ocean or through a forest with the top down on a summer day and hearing only the sounds of nature.
They even offer – at no extra cost – a valet servie that will go pick up your car and replace it with the loaner, and then swap it back when service is completed. Now that’s thinking of the customer!
This is a very different approach from many other car-makers who will loan you one of their least expensive base models. If it can attract more people to electric cars and make life easier for people, why not.
Making the annual service optional
Gas and diesel vehicles have accustomed people to annual services, but EVs are different and Tesla wants to highlight that and increase flexibility for its customers:
Unlike gasoline cars, an electric car doesn’t need oil changes, fuel filters, spark plugs, smog checks, etc., which are only needed if the mode of locomotion involves burning oil derived products. For an electric car, you don’t even need to replace the brake pads, because most of the braking energy is regeneratively captured by the motor and returned to the battery.
As such, we are comfortable making the annual checkup entirely optional. There is still value to having Tesla look at the car once a year for things like tire alignment, to address a few things here & there and perform any hardware upgrades – our goal is not just to fix things, but to make the car better than it was. However, even if you never bring in the car, your warranty is still valid.
Bullet proof unconditional battery warranty
Last but not least is the beefed up battery warranty:
The battery pack in your car is obviously very important and expensive to replace. In developing the Model S, we took great care to ensure that the battery would protect itself, always retaining a few percent of energy. If something goes wrong, it is therefore our fault, not yours.
Except in the cases of a collision, opening of the battery pack by non-Tesla personnel or intentional abuse (lighting the pack on fire with a blowtorch is not covered!), all damage is covered by warranty, including improper maintenance or unintentionally leaving the pack at a low state of charge for years on end. The battery will be replaced at no cost by a factory reconditioned unit with an energy capacity equal to or better than the original pack before the failure occurred.
The intent is to provide complete peace of mind about owning your Model S even if you never read or followed the instructions in the manual.
That’s it. Isn’t it refreshing to have company do things like this? It’s pretty rare.
How’s it working out so far for Tesla Motors?
The Tesla Roadster was quite a niche model; only seats for 2, a six-figure price, and limited numbers made (around 2,500 total). But it fit well within Tesla’s long-term strategy of starting at the top of the market and progressively going down. This works because a small startup working on new technologies won’t be able to make things cheaply anyway (no economies of scale, it can take years to refine processes, etc), so you might as well make something that people will want to pay a lot of money for. An all-electric Lotus-like supercar fits the bill better than a Corolla-like EV or whatever.
Now the Model S is the next step in the strategy. A cheaper (not cheap by any means, but cheaper) EV that will be produced in larger numbers, progressively ramping up Tesla’s capabilities and finances so that they can, hopefully, within a few years be able to produce an affordable mass-market EV.
So how’s the Model S doing so far?
Production is ramping up nicely and the electric sedans seem to be selling well. In fact, so well that despite being more expensive, the Model S should have — according to Tesla’s guidance — outsold both the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan LEAF during the first quarter of 2013.
Indeed, Tesla’s latest guidance says that the company expects to be able to report at least 4,750 deliveries of Model S electric sedans in the U.S. and Canada during the first three months of 2013, while the Chevy Volt has hit 4,421 units sold in North-American and the Nissan LEAF 3,695 units (according to numbers released by both GM and Nissan).
Tesla Motors is also expected to announce its first-ever profit during the first quarter of 2013.
The big question is whether Tesla can sustain and grow those sales. They had a lot of pent up demand waiting for production to begin. Once that backlog has been cleared, the next challenge begins. But so far, reception for the Model S has been excellent, so things are looking good.
Wikimedia/CC BY 3.0
Currently, the U.S. imports more than 80% of the lithium it uses
Despite the fact that Bolivia alone has enough lithium reserves for 4.8 billion electric cars and that lithium can be recycled from old batteries (it doesn’t disappear after use like oil), some people are concerned about our civilization’s increased dependence on the soft silver-white metal. It’s true that the [Li] element is finding its way into everything, from phones to cars. But most signs seem to point toward lithium’s availability going up and its price going down over time, not the reverse. This would be great for the electrification of transportation via plug-in hybrids and fully electric cars.
The latest development that supports that thesis comes from researchers at the University of Wyoming. They’ve found lithium – a lot of it – in Rock Springs Uplift, a geological feature in southwest Wyoming. Data so far suggests that brines from a 25-square-mile area could contain 228,000 tons of lithium. That’s enough to meet annual U.S. demand, and almost twice as much as the reserves from the biggest domestic lithium producer (located at Silver Peak, in Nevada).
Many factors make the location ideal for lithium production:
First, production of lithium from brines requires soda ash (sodium carbonate), and importation of soda ash to lithium production facilities often represents a large expense. However, the Rock Springs Uplift CO2 storage site is located within 20 to 30 miles of the world’s largest industrial soda ash supplies, so the costs of soda ash delivery (by rail, truck or pipeline) would be minimal.
Second, magnesium must be removed from brines before they can be used for lithium recovery, which makes the entire lithium recovery process more expensive. Fortunately, the brines from the Rock Springs Uplift reservoirs contain much less magnesium than brines at existing, currently profitable lithium mining operations.
Third, brines must be heated and pressurized before lithium can be extracted from them. However, because the Rock Springs Uplift brines lie so far underground, they are already at a higher pressure and temperature than brines at existing lithium operations. This would allow operators to essentially eliminate this step in the process, resulting in significant cost savings. (source)
Another potentially interesting source of lithium: Geothermal power plants.
Above is a photo of Bolivia’s salt flats where lithium is found in huge quantities.
IBM solar collector magnifies sun by 2,000x (without cooking itself), costs 3x less than similar systems
Cleverly combining solar PV with solar thermal to reach 80% conversion efficiency
Concentrating the sun’s ray onto solar photovoltaic (PV) modules requires walking the fine line between optimizing power output and not literally melting your very expensive super-high-efficiency solar cells. A team led by IBM Research seems to have found a way to push back the line. They have created a High Concentration PhotoVoltaic Thermal (HCPVT) system that is capable of concentrating the power of 2,000 suns onto hundreds of triple junction photovoltaic chips measuring a single square centimeter each (they even claim to be able to keep temperatures safe up to 5,000x). The trick is that each solar PV cell is cooled using technology developed for supercomputers; microchannels only a few tens of micrometers in width pipe liquid coolant in and extract heat “10 times more effective than with passive air cooling.”
The beauty is that this heat is not just thrown away. This system gets useful work out of it. So while the PV modules are 30%+ efficient at converting the sun’s light into electricity, another 50% of the sun’s energy is captured as heat and can then be used to do things like thermal water desalination and adsorption cooling. This means that the system is capable of converting around 80% of the collected solar energy into useable energy (though the electricity is of course more useful than the thermal energy).
A single collector can produce about 25 kilowatts of electricity. Below is a closeup of some PV cells where the light is being concentrated. Notice the piping to bring the liquid coolant.
In the video below, IBM research scientist Bruno Michel gives an overview of the project:
Keeping costs low
It’s great to see that efforts have been made to kind costs low. Some parts are very high-tech, but others are decidedly not:
“The design of the system is elegantly simple,” said Andrea Pedretti , chief technology officer at Airlight Energy. “We replace expensive steel and glass with low cost concrete and simple pressurized metalized foils. The small high-tech components, in particular the microchannel coolers and the molds, can be manufactured in Switzerland with the remaining construction and assembly done in the region of the installation. This leads to a win-win situation where the system is cost competitive and jobs are created in both regions.”
They are targeting a cost below $250 per square meter, which would be three-times lower than comparable systems and bring “levelized cost of energy” to less than 10 cents per kilowatt hour (KWh). At this price, it would be a good fit for Southern Europe, Africa, the Arabic peninsula, the southwestern United States, South America, and Australia.
Coral bleaching is a huge problem made worse by global warming. It threatens extremely productive ecosystems that are home to countless marine species. Yet some corals do better than others wen exposed to the same hostile environment. Why is that? Scientists at Northwestern University and the Field Museum of Natural History asked themselves that very question, and they think they found the answer using optical technology designed for early cancer detection.
© Luisa A. Marcelino, Mark W. Westneat, & al.
the researchers discovered that reef-building corals scatter light in different ways to the symbiotic algae that feed the corals. Corals that are less efficient at light scattering retain algae better under stressful conditions and are more likely to survive. Corals whose skeletons scatter light most efficiently have an advantage under normal conditions, but they suffer the most damage when stressed.
The findings could help predict the response of coral reefs to the stress of increasing seawater temperatures and acidity, helping conservation scientists preserve coral reef health and high biodiversity. (source)
So the corals that were the “fittest” (in the natural selection meaning of the word) in the past are turning out to be disadvantaged compared to their less efficient cousins under today’s environment. This is the first research to show that light-scattering properties are a risk factor for corals. Hopefully this will help us devise ways to better protect coral reefs, as they are the most fertile biodiversity hotspots in our planet’s oceans.
The whole study was published under an open access license, so you can read it here.
Still a nascent industry, but growing fast
The Solar Foundation, which has been releasing reports for a few years on the state of the solar industry in the U.S., has just launched a very cool interactive map that breaks the stats down state by state. This allows us to see that there are only 80 solar jobs in Alaska (not too surprising), and over 43,000 in California. Add all 50 states together, and solar employs 119,000 people in the country, a growth of 13.2% in 2012.
Another interesting way to gain perspective is to compare these solar jobs to the number of jobs created by other sectors. Looked at it this way, the Solar Foundation (using stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics) found that there were more solar energy workers in Texas than ranchers, that solar workers outnumber actors in California, and that across the whole 50 states, there are more solar workers than coal miners.
Solar foundation/Screen capture
The top 3 states for solar jobs are California, followed by Arizona, and New Jersey.
© Solar foundation
© Solar Foundation
The interactive map allows you to drill into each state by clicking “more”. One interesting stat is the number of solar companies HQ’ed in each state. For example, California has over 1,700! They also give all kinds of useful into on solar practices in the state, such as net metering and renewable energy portfolio targets (if any).
Another interesting stat on Arizona:
Arizona saw a huge spike in solar employment (from 4,786 in 2011 to 9,800 this year), mostly due to the completion of a number of large utility-scale solar projects. Though California installed more solar than Arizona overall last year, Arizona had far more utility installations, which often rely on industrial and residential construction workers. Without the installation of such a large amount of utility-scale solar, these workers might otherwise be struggling to find employment in a depressed construction market.
Most jobs in solar energy in the U.S. are in installation. It doesn’t pay like being a hedge fund manager, but at around $38k/year (around $18/hour), it’s above the median national wage of $34,750, and as the industry grows further (it’s just getting started), there’s the real possibility that shortages of qualified workers will make salaries go up, as they did historically in other fast-growing industries.
And now for your daily dose of cuteness, here’s a baby White Southern Rhino learning to wallow in the mud by imitating her mother. The calf is named Anna and was born on April 6, after 16 months of gestation, at LionCountry in Florida, weighting 155 lbs.
She was named Anna in honor of rhino conservationist Anna Merz, who died on April 4th. “Merz was one of the founders of The Lewa Conservancy which was started to help save and conserve the Rhinos of Kenya and has grown to help conserve many species of birds and mammals in Africa.”
LionCountry writes: “Lion Country Safari is home to 14 White Rhinos – 11 females and 3 males. Since 1979, Lion Country Safari has had 33 rhino offspring. We are pleased with our success as a participant in the White Rhinoceros Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA).”
White rhinos are considered “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List. According to Wikipedia:
As of 31 December 2007, there were an estimated 17,480 southern white rhino in the wild (IUCN 2008), making them the most abundant subspecies of rhino in the world. South Africa is the stronghold for this subspecies (93.0%), conserving 16,255 individuals in the wild in 2007 (IUCN 2008). There are smaller reintroduced populations within the historical range of the species in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Swaziland, while a small population survives in Mozambique. Populations have also been introduced outside of the former range of the species to Kenya, Uganda and Zambia.
New York City Michael Bloomberg and Nissan have picked Earth Day to launch a new pilot program that will put 6 Nissan LEAF electric cars into service as taxis. The goal of this pilot program is to figure out how to integrate more vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions into the city’s large taxi fleet (around 13,000 cabs). You have to start somewhere…
Public domain/Public Domain
Happy birthday anthropogenic climate change hypothesis
75 years ago this April, Guy Stewart Callendar, a steam engineer, inventor, and talented amateur meteorologist, made scientific history when he published an important scientific paper in the in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society linking the burning of fossil fuels to the warming of the Earth’s climate.
Here’s Callendar’s hand-drawn graph showing his data on the “CO2 effect”:
Public domain/Public Domain
NASA Earth Observatory/Public Domain
Callendar’s work built on the work of others, and others took his hypothesis and refined them, but it was still a very important milestone in our understanding of the dangers of running a gigantic chemical experiment with our planet’s atmosphere by pumping billions of tons of carbon into it. Of course at the time, Callendar couldn’t foresee just how much fossil fuels we would be burning over the next 75 years and what kind of negative effects this could have (these realisations would come later), so he believed that the anthropogenic warming from the greenhouse effect would be beneficial, concluding in his paper:
It may be said that the combustion of fossil fuel, whether it be peat from the surface or oil from 10,000 feet below, is likely to prove beneficial to mankind in several ways, besides the provision of heat and power. For instance, the above mentioned small increases of mean temperature would be important at the northern margin of cultivation, and the growth of favourably situated plants is directly proportional to the carbon dioxide pressure. In any case, the return of the deadly glaciers should be delayed indefinitely.
Geothermal is a stable & plentiful source of clean energy available all around the world, including in the United States (especially in the West). But that industry is still in its infancy and very little of that resource’s potential is being tapped (a bit over 10 gigawatts worldwide, with about 3 of those in the U.S. and 2 in the Philippines). Hopefully this will change over time, as we phase out dirty power sources and as the cost of getting heat deep underground falls.
To give you an idea of the potential of geothermal power and of how far along we are, I’d like to share with you some great maps from the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). The first one (above) shows the resource potential for the country, with the redder areas being more favorable for deep enhanced geothermal systems (EGS), and dots identifying known hydrothermal sites. Note that there are many hydrothermal sites in Alaska even if there’s no data yet on EGS potential. You can see a large version of the map here.