Cheaper – not better – batteries will rule the EV market

In 2010, Panasonic announced they had developed a 4.0Ah silicon anode battery that would go into production before the end of March 2013. At the end of 2013 the battery is nowhere to be found.

It’s easy to chalk this up to product development delays. I don’t doubt this is hard work – science is hard. If it were easy we’d have fusion and flying cars by now.

Rather, I think that for large battery manufacturers like Panasonic and LG, they’ve redeployed resources from making better batteries at the same price, to making their existing batteries cost less. Reducing the cost per kWh of battery capacity is now job one. The disruptive threat from some start-up coming out with a novel process to make a 4x energy capacity battery is mitigated by the fact that the large mainstream suppliers will be able to undercut them on both price and manufacturing capacity. Their novel process might work for niche applications in low volumes, but it won’t matter much because the cells will, by comparison, be in short supply and too expensive for a mainstream EV.

The change in priorities wouldn’t be a surprising one, given the principle issue with EVs today – cost. If you don’t bring down the cost of the battery packs in the EVs today, there won’t be broad-based demand for EVs tomorrow no matter what the range of the vehicle is. When EVs take the place of a second or third car in a household, the range issue isn’t nearly the problem it is made out to be. And the market for second and third cars in households that can afford suburban homes to recharge them in is sufficiently large this early in the electric vehicle adoption curve.

Battery costs are not generally published, but we can estimate that as of mid 2013 are around $350 per kWh at the finished pack level. This makes the price around $30,000 for the Tesla 85kWh battery, $5800 for the Volt, and $8500 for the Nissan Leaf pack. By the end of 2015, prices could be around $250 per kWh, and $150 per kWh by the end of 2017. At the second long term price goal of $150, it becomes possible to sell a 60 kWh/220 mile range EV for $35,000 because the pack is only $9,000 (or 30% of the bill of materials), roughly in line with the Nissan Leaf. As Tesla has shown, a purpose-built EV can accommodate the amount of cells necessary for this battery pack size. Existing battery technologies (NMC, LiFePO4) will continue to improve marginally each year, providing more energy capacity per unit volume and per unit weight.

Once the price issue is resolved, battery makers can focus exclusively on incorporating new technologies to make EV range no longer an issue without spiking the price. While emerging technologies like lithium-air technologies may become practical after 2020, when the cost can come down enough to put them in affordable EVs for the driving public is the larger question.

Apple October 22 Predictions

Apple will give a release date for Mavericks (October 25) and price ($20, $50 for server)

Apple announces new MacBook Pros (retina and regular) featuring Haswell CPUs for better battery life – discrete GPUs don’t go away, but they’re only available on the 15″ models due to PCB size constraints (as has been the case for many years now) but integrated Iris Pro replaces GF GT 650-level option

Apple mentions Mac Pro will ship at the end of November, with pricing and pre-orders to come some time next month – brief mention its Made In America, including gratuitous shots of manufaturing/assembly line

Apple announces new 9.7″ iPads in thinner design with same battery life and A7X CPU at the same 499 and above price points

Apple announces retina iPad mini for $379 with an A6X CPU, and regular (current gen) iPad mini for $279

Nothing groundbreaking, nothing crazy – no Apple TV (as in actual TV sets), no iWatch. And since its between the time the quarter closes but before the earnings statement on October 28, not a lot of detailed information will be revealed about sales numbers or material things like that.

Routes for I-11 through and north of Las Vegas

Nevada’s Department of Transportation is working on figuring out where to put I-11 through and north of Las Vegas. The route between Las Vegas and Phoenix is pretty well established – along the current US 93 alignment from Las Vegas, with a bypass south of Boulder City, over the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge, until US 93 hits Wickenburg, AZ, about an hour outside of Phoenix, where it branches southwest through the Hassayampa Valley down to I-10 west of Phoenix. A full listing of all the possibilities are available here (20MB PDF).

The route through Vegas is a difficult one – it would cost at least a billion, likely two billion, to upgrade US 95 to be wide enough to carry the extra traffic – the portion of US 95 east of the I-15 interchange would need a billion-plus makeover to fix the 1970s-style viaducts, and recently widened western half would need to be widened again, with some additional interchanges constructed. Two options are to use the existing 215 three-quarters beltway around the city (one around the city clockwise, which would come within 2 miles of my house, and one counter-clockwise) – however the lack of an eastern leg of the beltway means that a new leg would need to be created, and the alternatives indicate building it behind Sunrise Mountain through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and connecting it to the I-15 north of Nellis AFB. After reviewing all the alternatives, I think the best route is to build the leg near Lake Mead, and connect it to the existing 215 highway (Alternate QQ). Work would need to be done ASAP* to secure additional right-of-way along the highway to allow it to expand up to 5 or 6 lanes in each direction. The clockwise usage of the 215 would require some additional right-of-way in certain areas, but would overall be much cheaper than expanding US 95 in place, as well as allowing for the highway to be up to 5 lanes in each direction, whereas portions of the existing US 95 are already that width, and would need to expand an additional two lanes to 7 lanes.

I’m sad to see the I-11 committee has removed my preferred route north of Las Vegas – Alternate GG through central Nevada. I would have liked to see I-11 run through central Nevada, with a spur line (I-511) connecting it from where it turns north from US-95, on to I-80 near Reno. I think this would have provided the travelling public with a much faster way to get north to places like Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, rather than going all the way over to Reno, then all the way back west to Boise. If the route continues north to I-84 in Oregon, then going through Reno would be a better choice. I expect Alternate SS to win out – following the US 95 corridor northwest to I-80 near Reno, and from there up US 395 to I-84 near the Columbia River.

But to me, its putting the cart before the horse – lets focus on getting I-11 from Las Vegas to Phoenix located, funded, and designed (glaring at Nevada’s past and present Governors and NDOT officials who have spent half a billion dollars for a highway to connect Reno to Carson City, but don’t want to fund the Boulder City Bypass with state dollars, instead suggesting a toll road), and from there we can map out where its going to go next. The Boulder City Bypass is job #1 at this point, with the Kingman Interchange next, along with all the improvements between the two to make it a full fledged interstate highway, at least from Vegas to Kingman.

From there, its on to US 93 between I-40 and Wickenburg, which has had substantial improvements over the last 10 years or so, with only three projects left to complete to make it four lanes between I-40 and the Santa Maria River – I’m guessing AZDOT won’t do any work south of the Santa Maria River until the I-11 corridor is finalized so they know where to expand it to interstate standards and where not to spend the money.

On that front – Arizona DOT has selected a preferred corridor and preliminary design for the Kingman interchange (PDF), with an estimated cost of only $86M. That pales in comparison to the $300-400M estimates for the Boulder City Bypass, but then again the BCB is a lot more work digging through the Eldorado mountains. However, Arizona would also need to spend more money on interchanges along the I-11 highway to remove at-grade crossings (I’m guessing 5 between Hoover Dam and Kingman).

* Sadly, this cant happen, as the PISTOL amendment to the constitution has a five year window for governments to use the property for the stated purpose (in this case, highway expansion) – if it doesn’t the original land owner can reacquire the property by paying the government back. In this case, dumb limitations hamstring government to do its job in a cost-effective manner.

Brief 2c on the Government Shutdown

I believe the root cause of the shutdown isn’t the budget deficit or Obamacare, but rather Gerrymandering – and two specific symptoms of gerrymandering – uncompetitive districts evolving into extremist candidates, as well as illegitimate majorities stemming from packing and splitting.

There have been a few articles, most pointedly this one (from a conservative paper no less), that illustrate how the shutdown is being driving by a minority of the majority party. To paraphrase the article, there 30 GOP members who believe that Obamacare is in fact very harmful and will do anything to stop it. There are another 30 that are willing to compromise, but worry about being primaried from the right. It is my estimation that if those 30 were primaried, their successor would join the 30 true believers.

The emphasis in the above paragraph illustrates the problem – uncompetitive (from a partisan angle) congressional districts drawn so that they are solid for one party or another. Because one party has a lock on the district, its likely that more and more extremist (left or right) individuals will be elected – up to a point at which there are enough defectors from the majority party to elect the other candidate. This almost happened in 2012 with Michele Bachmann – she is in a solid conservative district, but has become extreme enough where there were enough defectors (or non-voters) in both her party and independent voters that she nearly lost the race (she won by 1% of the vote).

If all congressional races were competitive from a partisan angle, I believe the extremist element in each party would be rendered unelectable because independent voters (whom upon most elections ride) will choose the less extreme candidate, and that in order to win political parties would choose the more centrist candidate instead of the extreme.

So how do we stop gerrymandering?

California, after substantial bipartisan pro-incumbent gerrymandering in 2000, chose an non-partisan board to draw the districts. Other states have had similar approaches by using a non-partisan group to draw the lines.

Can we fundamentally change the rules of the system? Do we have all representatives represent the entire state they’re from like Senators do? Do we use topological rules to divide districts in a more algorithmic manner? Use an alternate voting method (Fair Majority Voting for example) to ensure that a state that is split 35:65 has a 1:2 representation ratio? Beyond an appropriate partisan representation ratio, how do you choose representatives from each party that are aligned with the voters wishes (e.g. you not voting for a party, you’re voting for a person).

The voters weren’t represented in the 2012 congressional elections – totaling up all congressional races, Democrats got more votes than Republicans by about 500,000 votes (slightly less than half a percent), however failed to gain majority control of the House because of gerrymandering, in fact they are at a 30 seat deficit (233-202). This was due to the Republican successes in 2010 getting control of state legislatures such that they could control the redistricting process, gaming the system.

The sooner we deal with the issue of Gerrymandering the better. Then maybe we can start removing some of the dysfunction from Congress and move towards a legislative body that can accurately represent the people of America, both in terms of majority/minority parties as well as fewer extremists.