By Joe Salimando www.eleblog.com
When I left Raleigh NC and the Plug-In2011 conference & show in mid-July, I had plans for a number of short pieces here on NECA’s Energy Solutions blog. Then something happened in my personal life – a disruptive move, from a townhouse to an apartment (it’s called “downsizing”) . . . in which almost nothing went right.
I apologize for the delay.
Here’s an overview of the show. Short pieces will follow on various sessions and interviews.
First, this was the 4th Plug-In 2011 show. EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute) is a prime driver of the thing. This was the biggest, I was told; I previously attended the 2009 event, in Long Beach CA.
Several speakers offered remarks that amounted to “my, how this event has grown.” That seemed premature to me; the trade show itself really wasn’t all that big. However, the first show apparently had tabletop displays and was thinly attended – so perhaps that justifies all the folderol.
One little-noticed item that marked (to me) the importance of Electric Vehicles: At the opening plenary, Jim Rogers – the CEO of Duke Energy – was one of several speakers. I believe there were nine people seated on the stage.
What was unforgettable to me is that Rogers stayed for the entire session.
In my 37-year career in public and business media, I’ve attended numerous events in which “important” personages (CEOs, politicians, etc.) came at the last minute, spoke briefly, and left right after speaking . . . at plenary sessions like this one.
Rogers didn’t do that. This either says something about him (he’s a gentleman?) or about the importance to him & his company of the topic (EVs) . . . or both.
Lots of real “news” was made at this event. Several EV equipment suppliers timed their new product releases for PlugIn2011 – including GE, Schneider, and Siemens. I attended “press” events at each, and will describe in the coming pieces.
One contrast with 2009 – for me – was dramatic: This time, many of the sessions were organized around talking about the problems with the EV movement. I attended one session in which Don Karner, the president of ECOtality, listed a number of problems that his company has run into. I’ve interviewed him previously, and identified him as a not-typical-executive-type; he lived up to my earlier judgment here, delivering what seemed an honest rendition.
[He (and others) was not talking about “what are we gonna do when the stimulus money runs out?” – but the nitty-gritty implementation stuff.]
To my way of thinking, the discussion of problems was NOT big news. This event was a meeting of people who are involved (as people working for big and small companies, or as activists of some sort) in creating a future in which the EV is a viable choice for U.S. citizens of every stripe. They should discuss problems; and the fact that they are is a good (if not great) thing – not an occasion for hand-wringing, worrying, and writing off the nascent EV industry.
What’s at stake for electrical contractors?
One heck of a lot. There is a potential big future to be built upon whatever the Obama Administration (and the DoE under Secretary Chu) gets off the ground. Perhaps we’ll make it to the President’s goal of 1 million EVs on the road by 2015; maybe we won’t.
That is, I must tell you, not really relevant – to contractors, to those concerned with global warming . . . and even to politicians, as Obama (if he is re-elected in 2012) won’t be standing for a national election in 2016 or thereafter.
What will turn out to be important is whether the country can get to Some Big Number (10 million? 15 million? 25 million?) of EVs on the road by 2020 and 2025.
Will these be battery-only EVs, like the Nissan Leaf? Will they be gasoline-“assisted” EVs, like the Chevy Volt? Will advanced batteries roll out of laboratories and into mass production sometime soon? Will DC Fast Charging (a commercial creature, not something for a homeowner’s garage) make it, or continued to be hamstrung by an incredibly . . . slooooooow . . . start?
Even after listening closely and asking questions at Plug-In2011, I can’t handicap for you the number of EVs in 2025. I can tell you these things, however:
1. There’s a lot more going on here than just government money funding playthings for enviros, greenish types, and corporate spinmeisters. There appears to be real investment; capitalists and corporate types see potential here for profit . . . a new industry. That, unfortunately, does not make the EV future a sure thing.
2. EVs are something new. The “experts” are still learning. New things are being tried; some are working (and some ain’t). No one knows; if you’re not “in” this market just yet, you’ve not, by any means, missed the boat.
All you’ve missed as of August 2011, in fact, is the pretty young lady swinging the bottle of champagne and using it to smack the boat a good one!
3. Electrical contractors are involved. There were not that many booths at the PlugIn2011 show floor, but one of them was occupied by an EC (a non-union company, unfortunately). That EC’s booth was the first stop on a pre-show press tour; I might get to describe that stop in a later blog here.
4. If we’re going to get to 25 million EVs on the road soon – and maybe 100 million some day in my lifetime (and I’m 57 years old) – electrical contractors are going to be integral in making it happen.