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Safety As The #1 Priority For Semi-Autonomous Vehicles Requires A Reform Of European Regulations




December 5th, 2020 by Alex Voigt 

Safety is rightfully defined as the number one priority for all regulators who make decisions about vehicle systems like driving assist or autonomous driving on European roads and it’s fair to assume all people involved try their best to accomplish it. But to try one’s best is not always good enough to achieve the best result.

Opposing legal principles between the USA and Europe have a strong influence on regulators, and result in lower safety than is possible on European roads. It is easy to blame regulators like the UNECE for rules that cause danger, but we need to be fair, honest, and realistic about the underlying structural issues that cause them to make sub-optimal, less safe decisions.

If we analyze the available accident data for automated driving vehicles in the USA and compare Europe and the USA, everybody will agree that there is a huge gap between the two, a gap that proves more people in Europe are involved in unnecessary accidents and fatalities than needed. That is a fact, and a scandal.

This article will discuss why this is happening today and what should be done to improve it.

The published accident data from Tesla, to pick one example, show that American regulations of autonomous driving systems compared to European ones are leading to fewer accidents, and if we had similar data from Audi, BMW, Daimler, or other automakers, they would show us the same. It is totally fair to comment that the data can’t be precisely applied to Europe — because the streets, vehicles, and conditions are different in the USA — but that does not eliminate the overall argument.

In the USA, manufacturers are self-regulating their driving assist and autonomous driving systems — be they from Waymo, GM, or Tesla. If an accident happens from an autonomously driving vehicle system, the manufacturer is responsible and risks paying many millions of dollars besides being forced into other painful measures. The burden to test, validate, and approve of a system as safe is primarily the responsibility of the experts of that system, and the best experts are the ones from the manufacturers. Regulators, of course, have to make approvals, but it can’t be expected that they will fully understand all of the details of a self-improving algorithm and its consequences — not nearly as well as the manufacturers can.

That structure in the USA leads to a situation in which innovative solutions are enabled earlier on roads, while in Europe, the Ministries of Transportation and the EU UNECE (a regulator) are required to validate and approve all systems themselves and in depth before they release them for public use. They work with external companies to help them do that, but they are not experts either. In Europe, it is supposed that this is a safer approach, but data proves the opposite is true if we talk about new innovations with automatic driving vehicle systems.

Safety regulations became important in the last century mainly to make sure the vehicle itself is safe — in accidents, with regard to emissions and equipment, and to other traffic participants. However, the vehicle was mainly a piece of hardware until recently. If we talk about driving assist or autonomous driving systems, though, we talk only about software (with a few exceptions, such as sensors, chips, and computers). Until recent years, the software in a vehicle was mainly the entertainment system and solutions that regulated some technical functionality of the engine. Regulator processes that have been defined, improved, and detailed over the decades to control hardware are now applied to software in a completely different and highly complex new technology world. The processes applied are not fit for purpose.

What we ask regulators in Europe to do is similar to asking a toolmaker to program a software solution. We should not be surprised if the result is not sufficient. Europe uses a regulatory method for a purpose it was never designed for. Therefore, we should not wonder that the outcome is not compliant with the rule that safety is the number one priority.

Regulators and Ministries in Europe are responsible and liable for potential accidents, and that’s another reason why they naturally tend to rather deny an innovation — avoiding being called irresponsible — even if data prove on average that new systems would reduce accidents, harm, and fatalities by a large margin. The European approach to legislate and regulate these systems in detail from a central authority is a fundamental issue, because denying an approval keeps the regulator on the safe side even if that causes more accidents and deaths compared to approving it. Therefore, the approval rate is artificially limited, low, and slow, and that is bad.

Many believe that automakers who are lagging behind in driving assist or autonomous driving systems, like German automakers BMW, Audi, Daimler, and Volkswagen, are lobbying against systems like Tesla Autopilot in Europe and do influence regulators, but I have solid reasons to confirm this is not true.

In particular, some of the German automakers have a high interest in getting approvals for systems they invented and want to monetize. BMW, Audi, and Daimler have made public statements around this, but like with Tesla Autopilot, they can’t activate them because the UNECE regulation does not allow them to do so. The fundamental issue is not that other European automakers are trying to hinder these systems from entering our European roads because they can’t compete; the issue is to be found in the legal structure of responsibilities and liabilities.

Close your eyes for a second and assume you are personally responsible for the regulation of driving assists and autonomous driving systems in Europe. Would you approve an innovation that may reduce accidents, as data show, but if you approve it and an accident happens, you would personally be made responsible? Likely not.

Can we expect the regulators to not care about political and legal pressure on them personally if their reputations, careers, and futures are at risk because an accident happened? Likely not.

Do we expect these regulators to put safety first despite all personal consequences and odds and approve something — based on science, data, and facts — regardless of what this means for them? Yes, we do.

The current structure in place for the regulations leads automatically to suboptimal results, and that’s not the fault of the regulators (whether they be the UNECE or the Ministries of Transportation). It’s the result of how the process is designed and how responsibilities and liabilities are defined.

The UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) has the objective of regulating safety requirements for driving assists system and autonomous and automated driving. It represents about 53 countries, mostly European Union member states.

The UNECE has installed several working groups that include different organizations and members who partly come from outside of the UNECE to provide expertise. The working party for automated, autonomous, and connected vehicles is called GRVA.

The working group does not use available accident data from Tesla that show the Autopilot system reduces accident rates on average (perhaps by nearly 10 times compared to other cars in the USA). Their argumentation for not using the data is that, in their understanding, the data from the USA does not apply to Europe. The data from Tesla was therefore not used and excluded when making safety regulation decisions.

Tesla Q3 Safety Report

“In the 3rd quarter, we registered one accident for every 4.59 million miles driven in which drivers had Autopilot engaged. (…) By comparison, NHTSA’s most recent data shows that in the United States there is an automobile crash every 479,000 miles.”

Professor Dr. Ferdinant Dudenhöfer, former Chair of Automotive at the University Duisburg from 2008–2020 and now Director at the CAR-Center Automotive Research, has a very clear opinion of the interpretation of the Autopilot data from Tesla for Germany.

The CAR Institute in Duisburg has calculated what it would mean if all vehicles in Germany had been equipped with Tesla Autopilot in 2019. According to their calculation, instead of 281,849 road traffic accidents, only 29,413 accidents would have occurred. In other words, there would only have been around 10% of the accidents that happened, 90% of road accidents could have been avoided.

“This shows the long-term potential of a safety technology such as this (Tesla) Autopilot,” Dudenhöfer said.

Although it’s not realistic that, as calculated by Prof. Dr. Dudenhöfer, all vehicles will have a system like the one from Tesla, every single vehicle that has one can help to reduce accidents. Even if only a fraction of the Tesla vehicle fleet in Europe today could use the system as its regulated in the USA, accidents would be prevented and injuries and lives would have been saved. Every life and accident counts, and I believe this is not taken into account today.

The Tesla Autopilot version that I had the pleasure of driving in California in September 2020 is not restricted by local authorities as we experience it in Europe. The UNECE claims the regulations put in place for Europe have been decided for safety reasons but the data prove that the limitations forced on the system cause the opposite — less safety. Critical components of the system are reduced in Europe, which does not add safety but adds risks instead.

For everybody who never drove a Tesla on Autopilot in Europe, it can be said the system is regulated in such a way that it drives like an old, uncertain man or woman with extremely slow reaction time, bad eyesight, and reduced oversight. We have all sooner or later experienced such drivers on the road and know they cause danger and need to be treated with extra caution.

That is true in particular on the German Autobahn, where people can drive fast. If someone approaches you in the left lane going 200 km/h (124 mph) from behind, you don’t want to be a driver with bad eyesight and slow reaction time, and you don’t want a semi-autonomous system that could react fast and agile but isn’t allowed to do so because regulators didn’t approve it due to liability and personal reasons. I do not believe we can and should expect these regulators to decide on systems in the way we do today, because it is simply not fair.

Tesla Autopilot in the USA performs lane changes like an experienced driver with above-average eyesight, incredibly fast and safe reaction ability, and perfect timing. The UNECE regulators instead mandated slow reactions, slow driving decisions, and strange maneuvers, including bad eyesight, for Europe — and that is irresponsible.

Imagine you as a driver would switch back from an in-process effort to overtake a car on the Autobahn because the time you defined for it is over regardless of the situation you are in. As a result, the vehicle drives back in the previous lane despite having completed the lane change move almost completely, causing a lot of confusion to everybody around you. That’s what the UNECE regulator mandates Tesla Autopilot do. Confusion often leads to accidents. No one would teach a student to drive like this. Therefore, we must in the name of safety ask why the regulation mandates an unsafe process today.

If it is claimed to be safer, then I would like to see an analysis and data that prove it. A fact-based discussion rooted in science uses data for good reason.

Another argument is that to compare the data from Tesla against all other vehicles makes no sense because “all other” includes many old, not-that-safe vehicles. That’s without a doubt true, but would only explain a portion of additional accidents happening.

It has never been a good idea to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

If we assume for the sake of argument that the claim from the UNECE is justified, that the USA data can’t be applied in Europe, what would hinder the regulators from using European accident data instead? Tesla can enable, for instance, 1,000 Autopilot test drivers in Europe to test the US version on European streets and collect the same data, and UNECE can use the data as a basis for a fact-based decision on what is safe or not safe for Europe. I volunteer to collect data as a Tesla driver herewith.

Every other automaker can do the same to prove the safety of their systems. This is not about Tesla and the EU regulators, but about how decisions are made for all our safety. Why are we all put at risk because the UNECE declines to work with worldwide scientifically agreed methods?

In addition to the above, the democratic processes within the regulatory bodies are unclear for European citizens, and not at all transparent. It’s not known how they are supervised or controlled. The current 6-month meeting frequency is badly suited for rapid development, as we are experiencing in driving assist and autonomous driving systems today.

The meetings are not open to the public to attend and it is unclear how decisions are made. Supervising bodies, regulations, and processes are unknown, and it would be helpful for everybody to establish transparent and frequent communication that allows everybody who wants to understand how decisions are made to follow along.

Many people in Europe are speculating about the UNECE’s decisions, and that is not helpful for anybody. While I am certain they have the best intentions, transparency, control, and democratic processes are fundamental pillars in Europe and it is essential to involve citizens to understand who today feels excluded and kept in the dark. I urge the decision-makers to start open communication and explanation with European citizens to avoid wild speculation, frustration, and sometimes even anger. That’s helpful for them, us, and the acceptance of decisions. I am certain there is nothing to hide here, but openness creates trust and credibility, and that is urgently needed.

Because the media and the public have no access to meetings, it is impossible to influence how decisions have been made today and on what basis and if they reflect the interest of the represented countries, citizens, and safety requirements. Every court case — well, with very few exceptions — is for good reason open for the public to attend, because every citizen has the right to understand under what conditions legal decisions are made.

The German parliament in Berlin has for good reason a transparent visitor balcony where every citizen can join any debate and receive assurance that transparency is a key element of a working democracy in my home country. What applies to laws applies to regulations, and that begs the question of why the UNECE meetings are not open for the public to attend.

Software changes all the time and should not be confused with the days when vehicles changed their hardware only slowly. The UNECE meeting only 2 times a year itself is inadequate. The rapid improvements that are happening with autonomous driving systems (e.g., Tesla FSD Beta) show us that at least a quarterly meeting would be required to decide, for safety reasons, what should be implemented rapidly in Europe or can be delayed.

Would we want the innovation of a safety belt not to be not looked at by regulators for another 6 months because that’s their meeting schedule and they don’t have time? Harm can be avoided if the meeting frequency of the UNECE is synchronized with the pace of innovation of software.

Every life and accident counts but to wait many months and keep a potentially outdated regulation in place because the next meeting is in half a year is itself a safety risk. A timely decision process is critical to comply with safety on our streets. To be fair, for many years, the systems have not developed very fast. Therefore, the infrequent meeting schedule could be justified for the past. My request to the regulators, though, is to acknowledge that things change much more quickly now and UNECE should adjust accordingly.

UNECE oddly poor transparency appears like an attempt to control information, which does not bold well for a democratic organization from the United Nations. That is certainly not intended and therefore should be corrected as soon as possible. I urge the regulators to change in order to prevent people who are interested well informed from spreading wild conspiracy theories. We already have enough baseless claims circulating about the Covid-19 pandemic, democratic processes, and politics in general. We do not need more of that. I would appreciate it if UNECE, the Transport Ministries, and the EU Commission would help us all to avoid a grassroots initiative born out of poor information, uncertainty, frustration, and anger, which could undermine their credibility of autonomous driving vehicle regulation further, and could even harm the EU and UN more broadly.

As a European citizen, I suggest that a regulatory structure be put in place that helps UNECE, the Ministries of Transport of all involved countries, and the EU Commission make decisions that put data, science, and the safety of all citizens as their first priority. Good decisions in the interest of all our safety will only happen if the regulating authorities can put liabilities at least partly in the responsibility of automakers.

While many in Europe believe the following is risky, it is time to realize that the complexity of self-learning algorithms within autonomous driving systems does not allow someone who is not an expert to conclude what is more or less safe. It is unrealistic to assume a central regulator like UNECE will be able to decide on detailed safety regulations regarding software systems they are not experts on for all automakers. The innovation of these systems is accelerating very fast, which does not even allow the regulators to start building the required expertise. They will always be behind. And constantly delayed approvals will mean more and more accidents and fatalities.

The accelerating pace of innovation, with increasingly less involvement of humans in charge of programming, requires a new regulatory approach. It is time to put the burden of liability and responsibility at least partly on the automakers.

It would be best for all parties, but in particular for our safety, to install an approach that is somewhere between the US approach (that puts all responsibility on automakers) and the EU approach (that puts all responsibility on regulators like UNECE or Ministries of Transport of different countries).

Such an approach is not new, but already in place today, where, for instance, automakers self-regulate many aspects of a vehicle and its safety — be it with crash tests or other measures. Regulators can always interfere and call back models if they conclude them to not be safe enough. It is the best approach for all parties to install a similar approach in a world where software improves very fast and central regulator bodies are, for clear reasons, not the experts on every little but potentially important detail of the software.

A path that combines both approaches is feasible and should be installed as fast as possible. It will allow us to improve the speed of implementation and simultaneously our safety.

While the next UNECE meeting is planned for mid-December 2020, I don’t expect much improvement with the current regulations in 2021 for all 53 countries that are part of UNECE. That lack of speed will lead to a situation in which the USA and China will soon be far ahead with the implementation of driving-assistance systems and autonomous driving.

That matters a lot, because not only will innovation and industries  be lost for Europe, but it also causes additional accidents and lives. Every life lost is one too many, and not acting and changing how regulation is done is causing more harm, not less.

Safety should be the number one priority, but with today’s implemented structures, responsibilities, and liabilities for autonomous systems, in Europe that is not the case.

This article is intended to summarize for the decision-makers within UNECE, the Transport of Ministries, and their authorities why we need change and why we need it now.

Without change, the USA and China will not only be a safer place than Europe; they will also be the home of a newly forming and attractive innovative industry that, according to ARK Invest, will directly account for a market capitalization of $8 billion.

Well paying future jobs and a large business ecosystem will be lost for Europe for a long time and may never come back. Besides safety and jobs, our social system is at risk, which guarantees a social stability we all benefit from today.

We need change and we need it now.

Suggested measures:

  1. Allow the best experts to validate driving assist systems — experts from manufacturers.
  2. Allow the manufacturer to take more responsibility and liability without trading safety.
  3. Use data to prove or disapprove conclusions and start to collect relevant data for Europe.
  4. Transparent communication and citizen participation in regulator meetings are essential.
  5. Adjust regulator meeting frequency to be at least quarterly, or monthly.
  6. Adjust the balance of responsibilities & liabilities between regulators and manufacturers.



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Tags: audi, BMW, daimler, Europe, German auto industry, German automakers, Germany, GM, safety, self-driving vehicles, Tesla, Tesla autopilot, Tesla Full Self-Driving, Tesla safety, UNECE, US, volkswagen, Waymo

About the Author

Alex Voigt Alex Voigt has been a supporter of the mission to transform the world to sustainable carbon free energy for 40 years. As an engineer, he is fascinated with the ability of humankind to develop a better future via the use of technology. With 30 years of experience in the stock market, he is invested in Tesla [TSLA], as well as some other tech companies, for the long term.



The UK’s Cheapest Electric Vehicles & Fastest On Road Trips





Published on January 21st, 2021 | by Johnna Crider

January 21st, 2021 by Johnna Crider 

Leasing Options, a leasing service that has been serving the UK for over 30 years, has shared its findings on the fastest and cheapest electric vehicles (EVs) in the UK. In an EV range race from John O’Groats to Land’s End, Tesla was the speediest brand. Some key findings from the race are as follows:

  • The Tesla Model S and Model X tied at 1st place finishing with a total time of 16 hours and 18 minutes.
  • The Tesla Model 3 finished at 3rd place and was over 40 minutes faster than the Audi e-tron that came in 4th.
  • The Renault Zoe is the cheapest, and the driver paid only £53.61 to make the 837-mile trip.
  • The Tesla Model 3 was the 2nd cheapest at £58.40 for the trip, 30p cheaper than its bigger brothers.
  • Volkswagen’s e-Golf is the most expensive, costing £35 more than the winning Renault Zoe, with a total of £89.01.

EV Performance


Tesla reigns king in terms of speed. The brand dominated the time trial and took all three podium positions. The Model S and Model X finished in first place (tied), with a total time of 16 hours and 18 minutes. The Model 3 finished a bit slower but 40 minutes faster than the Audi e-tron, which came in at 4th place.

Compared with the Jaguar I-PACE, Audi demonstrated the importance of a fast-charing battery. The vehicle took frequent stops but was able to get back on the road in under 30 minutes. In comparison, the I-PACE took 45 minutes for its recharge times.

The BMW i3 took 6th place with a time of 18 hours and 48 minutes. It beat the Renault Zoe by around 30 minutes. The EV that finished last was the VW e-Golf. Its time was 20 hours and 36 minutes.


If the race didn’t factor in the speed and only focused on cost, the Renault Zoe would be the clear winner. It cost the driver only £53.61 to make the 837-mile trip. Following directly behind the Renault are the three Teslas, led by the Model 3.

Slowest & Most Expensive

The EV that was both slowest and most expensive was the VW e-Golf. The trip cost the driver £89.01 and the e-Golf was the last vehicle to finish, 43 minutes slower than the second slowest model, the Nissan LEAF. The Audi e-tron was the next most expensive. The driver had to pay around £86.08 for the trip.


Leasing Options had to take many factors into account to plan this epic race, starting with the route, which was planned out using the AA’s route planner. Following that, the organizers worked out the initial cost of charging the car’s batteries prior to the race. These numbers were calculated using guidance from an Auto Express report that detailed the cost per kWh.

The next part was determining how far each vehicle could go before needing to recharge. They used real-life range from the Electric Vehicle Database. Once they had the numbers, they took the fast charge times and miles from the Electric Vehicle Database and plotted those onto the map to pinpoint where each car would need to recharge again. That was repeated until that car crossed the finish line.

Finally, they crunched the numbers to figure out how much each recharge would have cost with the aid of Zap Map’s cost calculator and Auto Express. After this, they totaled up all of the times and costs to give the final figures above. One thing Leasing Options noted in its blog was that these figures could differ slightly from actual times and costs even though they have been calculated as accurately as possible.

The Real Winners Are Those Switching To EVs From Fossil Fuel Vehicles

Although this was a fun race in the UK to determine which EVs were faster and cheaper for such a race, I want to point out that not everyone races vehicles. Many simply use vehicles to go from points A to B and maybe C, D, and sometimes E, and so on.

The real winners are those making the switch to electric vehicles from fossil fuel vehicles. Electric vehicles are more fun, cleaner, and guilt free.

16 hours is notably different from 20 hours for a road trip, but any of these vehicles could be a fun, pleasant option for an electric road trip.

All photos provided by Leasing Options and used with permission.  


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Tags: audi e-tron, BMW i3, EV prices, EV Range, Jaguar I-Pace, Leasing Options, MG ZS, MG ZS EV, Nissan Leaf, race, renault zoe, Tesla, Tesla Model 3, Tesla Model S, Tesla Model X, UK, volkswagen, Volkswagen e-Golf

About the Author

Johnna Crider is a Baton Rouge artist, gem and mineral collector, member of the International Gem Society, and a Tesla shareholder who believes in Elon Musk and Tesla. Elon Musk advised her in 2018 to “Believe in Good.” Tesla is one of many good things to believe in. You can find Johnna on Twitter at all hours of the day & night.


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After 4 Decades of Solar Photovoltaic Research, NREL Is Just Getting Started




Clean Power

Published on January 20th, 2021 | by U.S. Department of Energy

January 20th, 2021 by U.S. Department of Energy 

When the Solar Energy Research Institute was first envisioned, the United States was only months out of the oil embargo crisis of 1973–74. The new research institute was a response to this crisis and part of a national effort to find new, more reliable sources of energy.

In the 43 years since, the Solar Energy Research Institute — now known as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) — has been a driving force in the development of solar photovoltaic (PV) energy.

From $76 per watt in 1977, the cost of silicon solar cells has fallen to $0.20 per watt in 2020. Electricity from solar energy is cost-competitive with most other sources, and about 35% of new electricity generation each year comes from new PV systems. But NREL researchers are not stopping here. They envision a future where PV is everywhere. See why in this new video from NREL.

Since the 1970s, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has helped develop solar photovoltaics (PV) from a niche technology to our fastest-growing source of energy. But there’s still more work to be done. See how we’re creating a future that includes PV everywhere. Learn more at Photovoltaic (PV) Research.

Courtesy of NREL. 


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Tags: Department Of Energy (DOE), National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), oil embargo crisis, Solar Energy Research Institute, US Department of Energy (DOE)

About the Author

U.S. Department of Energy The mission of the U.S. Energy Department is to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions. Learn more.


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Exclusive Interview: Mayor of America’s 10th Largest City on Benefits & Challenges of Electrification





Published on January 20th, 2021 | by Joe Wachunas

January 20th, 2021 by Joe Wachunas 

I’ve been following San Jose’s Mayor, Sam Liccardo, for some time. In 2019, I heard from environmentalists in California about how he was instrumental in getting all-electric building legislation through the city council of the nation’s 10th largest city. I’ve also been tracking San Jose’s nation-leading efforts in clean electricity and electric vehicles (with over 20% of new cars being EVs). I’ve wanted to know the secret to this city’s sauce and look for strategies and takeaways that the rest of our country might follow.

I was thus tickled pink when I had the opportunity to sit down with Mayor Liccardo and ask him about the ways in which his city was leading the nation, specifically on transportation and building electrification. And without spoiling the interview you’re about to read, I have to say our talk was quite interesting. Rather than unabashedly embracing the electrify everything movement his city is spearheading, he was more measured and objective in talking about both the opportunities but also the challenges of moving away from fossil fuels at the city level. Perhaps I got a taste of why he is so popular and won reelection in 2018 with 75% of the vote. His city is cutting edge and leading the nation in electrification but he’s measured, clear eyed, and realistic about the challenges of getting off fossils.

Mayor Sam Liccardo, courtesy of the city of San Jose

Mayor Liccardo, thanks for taking the time. You’re the mayor of the 10th largest city in the US and leading the charge on electrification both in buildings and transportation. Tell us, how do cities play a unique role in transportation and building electrification that other levels of government can’t or don’t?

Electrification is a great opportunity for us, certainly with buildings but also with transportation infrastructure since that’s the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions in most of our cities. Moving our automobiles to the grid is crucial and San Jose is the leading city in the country on electric vehicles. We need to do it all and the push is on in all sectors, whether it’s in new building codes or electrifying train systems. In our case, we are currently electrifying a train which was built during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

At the same time we need to make sure we are greening our grid. Here in San Jose that really happened dramatically through the Community Choice Energy Program a couple of years ago, we were the largest city in the country to do that. Starting in January, 92% of our power will be drawn from non GHG emitting sources so it’s either hydro or renewables and we’ll be pushing it towards 100%.

It’s all downhill from here. How do I top an interview with one of the coolest mayors in the country?

Let’s talk about buildings a little bit. San Jose is the biggest city to electrify first residential buildings and now multifamily and commercial. What advice would you give to other cities looking into electrification?

I know there are a lot of different situations in different cities, some cities have investor owned utilities, some have municipal owned utilities, some have cooperatives. Whatever the relationship might be, it’s important that there is a really clear commitment to green the grid first because pushing folks to electricity if it’s coal fired doesn’t do any good.

The second issue is to really grapple with the perils of electrification and to be very clear and honest about the limitations. The limitations are much more severe down here in San Jose than they are in your neck of the woods (Portland, Oregon) because of all the problems we have with our infrastructure. PG&E and its lack of investment in maintenance and capital replacement, as well as all the impacts of climate change and wildfire and so forth that are causing everything from power safety shutoffs to having our independent system operator, which operates the grid for the entire state, literally browning out during high usage periods in the summertime, which is happening occasionally. Then we’re also seeing blackouts resulting from failing infrastructure so we’ve got a real problem with the grid and we need to be honest about that. Residents are understandably leery about us pushing them towards a solution that is not reliable and is not terribly resilient.

So the message is to be careful about the problems of the grid. But San Jose is still pushing for an all-electric future, so how do you balance that?

Yeah, we are, and it’s a really hard balance. It helps if you’re starting with new construction, because obviously that’s a small percentage of the built environment that you’re dealing with, so it helps to start there. We had to take some baby steps at first. We actually started this about a year ago with residential and some commercial, but we were hesitant about going to high rise because of some limitations around technology and what we were hearing from builders. So we engaged in a lot of outreach to see how it could be done and be feasible and be at least the same cost or lower. Because we’re blessed to have a very proactive private sector around us, we think we found good solutions that everyone can live with.

Then the other thing we had to do bluntly is we had to hedge our bets to some extent. For example, we made exceptions for hospitals, for data centers. If they’re using distributed energy which meets a certain standard around having zero emissions for NOx and SOx and particulates, then we’ll allow it (them to use natural gas). Not all environmentalists embraced this strategy because it still relies on some natural gas, but if you’re running a data center or you’ve got some industry that is super reliant on a grid that is always going to be up and running, you’ve got to give them options, and just having dirty diesel backups isn’t a very good solution. 

Let’s turn to transportation. San Jose has the highest per capita percentage of EVs in the country — what’s the secret to its success?

Well, have Tesla located next door (laughs). We’ve got a lot of Tesla employees in our city. In truth, there are a lot of different electric cars. I drive a Chevy Volt, my wife drives a Bolt. Like Portland, we’re a city with a relatively well educated population, with a progressive mindset. And people understand it and get it about climate change. It also helps to be in a place where you already have a significant amount of solar deployment because there seems to be a high correlation between those who have solar and those who drive electric vehicles, because we all feel better when we’re drawing the power off our roof. 

How about policies on the city side to promote transportation electrification?

We have been working really hard on the transit piece. We have the largest deployment of electric buses at our airport of any city* (there may be cities that have passed us now since we did that last year). It helps having some local producers here, like Proterra, who’s in the Bay Area. So, we’re working hard on the deployment of electric buses. There is a real constraint there on battery life and charging but we think with supercharging coming onboard that may get around that. For transit agencies, it’s just a problem with longer routes and having buses that just rely on the batteries.

It helps to have some state mandates in place. That’s really important. It forces the investor-owned utilities to make investments — for example, in car charging infrastructure — so you need to have partners at the state level that are willing to push with you.

[*Editor’s note: This is in regards to US cities only, not globally.]

I work with a nonprofit organization called Forth that does transportation electrification. How do NGOs play a role helping cities meet their climate goals?

Yeah, super important. One is to push us cause we’re often not even aware of what’s out there. City Hall can get siloed at times, and it’s really important to have the NGOs who are interfacing more proactively with the innovators. It’s also really important around moving the community. Because what we know about climate change is the most impactful things we can do really involve behavior and behavioral change. And all the great technology in the world is going to help, but it won’t really move the needle like we need.

For example, we’re partnering with some NGOs looking at the parts of the city where there’s not a good enough transit service because of budgetary constraints and asking if we can engage low-income residents in a cooperative model on an electric carsharing pilot. That’s where NGOs are really instrumental, bringing people along who may not speak English, helping them with a technology they may not be familiar with, and hopefully making mobility less expensive for them in the process. 

That brings me to another question: how do electrification and equity go together from where you’re sitting?

I think given the extraordinary capital costs we have ahead to upgrade our grid and deal with the legacy problems we’ve had. You look at gas infrastructure here, for example — we actually had a horrible explosion about ten years ago, a lot of people’s lives were lost in San Bruno. What we know is that consumers are going to be paying more and more and more for infrastructure, even as renewable energy gets cheaper. It’s going to be critically important that we can make these changes in ways that don’t further impact those who are already struggling mightily to pay their utility bills. 

One place to really start is to focus on multifamily housing and seeing how we can dramatically reduce the bills and make multifamily housing more fuel efficient and cost efficient. 

Do you think electrification inherently does that? And is that why San Jose is mandating electrification in multi-family buildings?

It’s certainly cheaper from a construction standpoint. There are competing theories about whether gas or electric prices are going to be rising faster in the long run, and I know it’s going to vary a lot by market given the particular infrastructure in that region. I’m not going to weigh into that debate other than to say — I’m firmly convinced that our future is electric (emphasis mine), so we better be investing dollars and making sure we’ve got a resilient grid. I think this is the greatest challenge for us as we think about all of our sustainability measures — we’ve got to ensure that there is a green dividend for the great majority of residents who can’t afford a Tesla, and I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job of that yet. We’re spending a lot of time thinking about how to do it better, but we haven’t gotten there. 

Is there a particular program you feel like is on the right track?

All of them cost money, the ones that I can think of, so there is no great solution. At a time when we’re literally spending general fund money to feed people who can’t afford food, a lot of these programs are a lot harder to come by. Maybe this is a conversation that is easier to have when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic. I think there is great value in a lot of the utility-sponsored programs that have been focused on education with a small subsidy that helps somebody replace their gas water heater. I think there is great value in that. But it’s hard work and requires an army of trusted community partners. 

What are the next steps for San Jose in the electrification of transportation and buildings?

Certainly retrofits are where lots of folks are focusing now, and we’ve had some experience in that, but costs are challenging. Certainly that is one frontier that is an important one. Let me say there is one other one that we have to pay attention to and it goes back to the grid. We need at the national level a concerted microgrid strategy to enable more distributed generation of power and a more resilient supply. Or else a lot of our efforts will be undermined with the next hurricane, the next earthquake, or the next power safety shutoff if you’re down in California. We know that battery technology is a ways off — it’s still too expensive if you’re looking for storage that is going to last three to four days. There may be some interesting solutions using hydrogen and fuel cells that could be zero emission that are very exciting. But we’ve got to get to that holy grail of distributed generation that is resilient. I know it’s true not just in California but around the country. Read the book called The Grid and it will scare the hell out of you just how bad of shape our grid really is in. We know we got to get to electrification, but we need infrastructure that will be there for us.

I don’t mean to be Debbie downer, this is important work, but we don’t want to save people from one cliff while we’re pushing them off another one. 

Watch the full interview with Mayor Sam Liccardo here



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Tags: electric buses, electrify everything, Proterra, Sam Liccardo, San Jose, San Jose clean energy, Tesla

About the Author

Joe Wachunas lives in Portland, Oregon, and works for the nonprofit Forth, which promotes electric transportation. He is also involved with Electrify Now because he believes that electrifying everything, from transportation to homes, is the quickest path to an equitable, clean energy future. And of course, Joe and his family live in an all-electric home and drive an EV.


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Elon Musk, Workaholic Money Maker: “People Tend To Overrate Risk”





Published on January 20th, 2021 | by Matt Pressman

January 20th, 2021 by Matt Pressman 

Originally published on EV Annex.

Recently, the über-rich Amazon founder Jeff Bezos got bumped from his #1 spot. As Akshay Sawai writes in Money Control, “The man who wants to put people on Mars has become the richest man on Earth.” Elon Musk’s reaction to becoming the world’s wealthiest man, with a net worth of $195 billion, was typical of him. “How strange,” he tweeted. This was followed by “Well, back to work.”

He’s come a long way from humble beginnings. Musk once confessed, “When my brother and I started our first company, we didn’t rent an apartment. We rented a small office and slept on the couch. We showered at the YMCA. We were so hard up we had only one computer. The website was up during the day, and I was coding at night, seven days a week.”

This trend would continue. Tesla’s CEO is still a notorious workaholic. In 2018, during Model 3 production hell, he often worked 120-hour weeks while sleeping at the Tesla factory. “There were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days — days when I didn’t go outside,” the father of five said. “This has really come at the expense of seeing my kids.”

However, Musk’s advice for a younger generation is more than simply working hard. He’s a believer in taking risks. After all, Elon betting big on an electric car company was pretty bold back in 2004. “People tend to overrate risk,” he said of entrepreneurship. “It’s one thing if you have mortgage to pay and kids to support. … But if you are young and just coming out of college, what do you risk?”

A look at the path Elon Musk travelled to overtake Jeff Bezos for the top spot. (YouTube: Forbes)

Perhaps it’s a good thing to have the world’s richest person championing a global transition to clean energy? According to Ashutosh Pandey at Deutsche Welle, Elon Musk is “essentially being rewarded for trailblazing a path toward a sustainable future — a journey that traditional automakers have also embarked upon, albeit reluctantly, after having postponed the inevitable for years.”

Sure, it’s easy to take cheap shots at the billionaires of the world. But, as Tesla (and Elon’s) fortune grows, there’s at least “one reason [that] must offer a lot of hope to climate activists. It’s that investors are increasingly realizing that a company selling cars that don’t run on polluting fossil fuels is a key piece of the puzzle in combating climate change.” 


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Tags: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, SpaceX, Tesla

About the Author

Matt Pressman is all about Tesla. He’s a TSLA investor, pre-ordered the Model 3, and loves driving the family’s Model S and Model X company cars. As co-founder of EVANNEX, a family business specializing in aftermarket Tesla accessories, he’s served as a contributor/editor of Electric Vehicle University (EVU) and the Owning Model S and Getting Ready for Model 3 books. He writes daily about Tesla and you can follow his work on the EVANNEX blog.


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