Sunday, April 29, 2012

TWiB is back (hopefully with actual content next time)

Over the last year numerous (!!) folks have asked me why I have not written a blog post.  Even at the best of times, the title “this week in batteries” was a wee bit optimistic.  A better title would have been “this month in batteries”, but TMiB is not a pronounceable acronym.  But the last year has been particularly slow going at TWiB. 

Turns out that I have been extremely busy this last year.  We had decided to remove cable television and move to using a Roku box with Netflix.  You will be amazed at how long it takes to get through all the seasons of Lost, CSI, 24, Community, and the rest Netflix’s content (answer: a year!). 

Anyway, all good times come to an end and I’m pretty close to being stuck with watching things real time. 

While I’ve been glued to the box, many things have changed in the battery world.  President Obama decided he wanted EVs Everywhere, my home state of CA decided that they wanted 15% EV and PHEVs by 2025, and Governor Brown has decided he wants charging stations everywhere.

Meanwhile, battery energy densities, after evolving at 5% a year, doubled this year. 

Simultaneous, one battery company declared (Chapter 11) bankruptcy, another company is having financial difficulties, cars are catching fire, and batteries are catching fire. 

To top it all funding to cleantech seems to be getting harder. 

Is there a mismatch between what the government wants to see and what batteries can deliver?

And are we about to hear a “pop” (of a bubble bursting)? 

It seems like someone needs to be discussing these issues.  And I can't think of any other forum but TWiB to do it.    

Unfortunately, I beginning to realize that at this stage, I’m more qualified to talk about why season 2 of Community seemed worse than Season 1, than I’m about the status of battery technology.  So, over the next few weeks, I’m going to brush up on my knowledge and hope to be back to writing regularly. 

So stay tuned folks… I’ll be back. 



  1. Hopefully that's an LED TV you're spending all your time in front of and not a plasma space heater.

  2. Great...your posts were literally unfindable at that other site.

  3. it is good to have you back ;-)

  4. Hey Venkat, most people working in the field of EV and batteries are very satisfied that the government is investing so much in the technology and they are also very optimistic (as they should). You don't. I am curious why.

    You only seem to look at the negative points (companies going bankrupt, batteries catching fire - what is completely irrelevant, since all the electric cars on the market are MUCH safer than gas cars). Just look for the crash tests on youtube.

    On top of all that you don't talk about the real exciting things and the potential of EVs. I heard you criticising the Nissan Leaf for it's lack of range but you don't mention the Tesla Model S: up to 300 miles on one charge! I know, I know not yet on the market and costs $80k. But the base model after tax rebates is $49k and goes 160 miles. Doesn't this proves that WE DO HAVE the technology (contrary to what you say) and that it is only a matter of reducing the price?

    Do you work for an oil company?

  5. Thanks for the comments folks. Good to be back.

    Regarding the last comment: I have no problems with the government investing money in batteries. I'm skeptical of the way they invested it (i.e., in building factories to make batteries for a nonexistent market). I think recent reports are confirming the oversupply in batteries.

    The blog post was a teaser. I think the Volt safety is a nonissue. As we have come to see, it was a largely irrelevant test. I'm a bit concerned about the DIY EV conversion though.

    The Nissan Leaf is a niche car. Period. And the subsidies will end and then it will be expensive and have limited range. The Tesla has no range issue, but as you say "WE DO HAVE the technology (contrary to what you say) and that it is only a matter of reducing the price". Except I would delete one word (and this is the critical word): Just. The cost is the MAJOR challenge. What is the use of a technology if we can't afford to buy it? And these costs will not come down if you just wait a few more years.

    So you have to (i) tax gas cars for the true cost of ownership (i.e., tax carbon) or (ii) make the battery cheaper. This is the technology challenge that I refer to and hence my conclusion that we do not have the technology.


  6. Hello Venkat,

    first of all congrats on the great work! I really appreciate you taking time to discuss with your readers.

    I am interested to know why do you consider the cost such a difficult challenge. I often hear people comparing the high price of Electric cars to the high price of cell phones when they first came out...

    I am writing from Germany. Here gas prices are really high (lots of taxes) and electric cars are really cheap to maintain. But without all the government incentives the initial price still scares me (38.000 EUR for a new Leaf!)

    I crunched some numbers: it should take about 300 EUR/year to go 25.000km on the Leaf and about 3.000 EUR on a BMW 1 Series. Even with that it would take about 5 years to compensate the initial cost! (the BMW is about 25.000 EUR) Venkat, how long do you think it would take for the batteries on the Leaf to die? And they are not very cheap to replace, right?

    If you wanna take a look on the excel sheet with the comparison here is the link:

    Keep up the great work! :)

  7. Venkat,

    Glad to see your posting again. I just wanted to get your thoughts on your last comment about Technology is not useful unless its accessible and affordable to a mass market. Before the model T most cars costed the equivent of $50k-70k. The model T took the cost down to around $20k when it first came out. This to me seems like the Tesla's model S might not be the model T but its showing there is a market. They have over 10k reservations already. When do you think the cost of the batteries will go down enough for a company to create the model T of electric vehicles? And what do you think the stats of the electric model T need to be. (Range, charge time, aesthetics)

  8. Hi Venkat-
    I learned a great deal about batteries from your previous posts. Looking forward to more insightful info!

  9. I'm curious as to the prospects for another niche for battery powered devices.

    You had a blog post where you discussed a battery powered lawn mower, and elected to buy a corded one.

    There are a load of little two cycle motors out there powering everything from lawn mowers, to leaf blowers, to chainsaws, a vast array of device.

    The motors are uniformly lousy as far as energy efficiency goes. Power and cost are what seem to be the design goals.

    You are starting to see more and more of these devices powered by batteries.

    How good are the prospects for them? Will they eventually go as far as chainsaws? In ten years is it a good bet that it will be rare to see a two cycle motor?

    Also, has there ever been a move to require standardized battery packs? Such that you can use them interchangeably? I have often thought that the government could start such a thing, by requiring battery powered equipment have standard interchangeable packs.

    It just seems to me that if they were on the market, no one would ever buy a device without a standard swappable pack.