Managing a Tesla charging line

Only one spot left -- grab it quick!

Apropos of my Thanksgiving article on EV charging shortages on peak travel days there have indeed been reports of very long waits of an hour or more at some chargers in California, though they may be partly attributed to road closures on I-5 in Southern California (or "The 5" as it is known down there) bunching up the cars. At one station with a very long wait (San Luis Obispo) Tesla brought in a portable supercharging station on a trailer, which had 8 chargers and a megapack battery. But it was gone by the time of the long wait](, possibly to get recharged itself.

So, whatever the cause of the long wait, here are some thoughts on ways it might be made a bunch shorter, some of which would be controversial.

They would all start with Tesla managing the line, rather than having drivers queue up. This is to say that when you approached the station, Tesla would put in you a digital line, manage your place in the line, show you your place in line and fairly accurate estimated wait, and alert you which charging station to go charge at when the time came. You could only charge at that station, and nobody else could, and signs would clearly say that. Tesla knows where all cars are, and what their state of charge is, and even in most cases where they are going next. Cars are already told to signal their approach to the charger via navigation, so the car can heat up the battery to the desired temperature for charging, which speeds up the session.

There many many big advantages to Tesla managing the line. It avoids the need for a physical line, and when the line is long, drivers could go do other things, like go to a restaurant to start their meal, as long as they can pause that task to plug in when needed. Right now they must sit and wait. In addition, even without a line, Tesla can tell you which charging port to go to for maximum charge speed. It knows the SoC for all the cars in the chargers. Most Tesla chargers come in pairs which share power, and you want to either have no partner (which doesn't happen when there is a crowd) or pick the open station whose partner is almost full if you can. Tesla could do that for you. You could also indicate if you needed a handi-accessible station.

It should be noted that while some of these approaches might be complex, this complexity need not be visible to drivers. They just watch their time estimate on their car screen or app. If Tesla doesn't jockey the line positions too much, that estimate will be quite accurate -- Tesla knows who is in line, who is coming to the charger, what type of car they have and how long it will take them to get charged at the charger they are assigned. (It even knows what load the charging partner will be taking.)

The advantages grow when there is a real line, though. Tesla could manage it to get the maximum throughput in the station, which means less waiting for everybody, even those who change their behaviour a bit because of the strategy. While Tesla could just put people in a first-come first-served line, it could do more than that. To start, it could put you in the line when you are some distance away, allowing for much smarter planning. This would come at a cost to those who don't signal their desire to charge until they get to the charger, but it would mean they could redirect more distant customers to other chargers with shorter waits, or even give them overtly reduced waits in exchange for deviating their route a bit.

Likewise, it could redirect people who have enough charge to more distant chargers along their route. It could let them charge very briefly (at max charge rate) for a few minutes, and without a line, then send them to the more distant charger to wait (for a shorter total wait) there. It could even offer them a much reduced wait at the more distant charger.

But there is even more:

  • Priority could be given to people out of town passing through, over locals who simply are seeking free supercharging or were lazy about charging at home.
  • Priority could be given to those willing and able to only charge to 50%. Superchargers work at their fastest rate only up to 50%, then they slow down. You get the most charging delivered if everybody moves on after 50%, as long as they can make it to their next charger. Tesla can offer a shorter line at the next charger in exchange.
  • Beyond that, charging beyond 70% can be forbidden unless absolutely needed.
  • Idle fees can be greatly increased while there is a serious line -- with lots of advanced warning in the app, of course.
  • Tesla could loan out Chademo adapters and direct some drivers to local non-Tesla fast charge stations, possibly buying exclusive use of them and managing them for Tesla owners who have or borrow that adapter.
  • If there are Level 2 charging facilities available, drivers could be sent to those during their "wait" -- they may only gain 30 miles of range but it still reduces their time at the supercharger. This can be done at any such charger along the way to the supercharger, as the driver is advancing in the queue even while far away.

Money could also be involved, which would surely be controversial.

  • People paying for supercharging can get some priority over those with unlimited free supercharging. Of course, if the latter wish to pay, they would not lose any priority. Tesla promised them free supercharging, but not free priority in any lines. What to do with the money? See below...
  • Controversially, people could pay to jump ahead in the line, with the caveat that any such fees are put in an escrow pool allocated strictly to the building of additional supercharger facilities, or to pay for more portable superchargers to reduce lines in future.
  • The more people plan their supercharging well in advance, the more readily Tesla can predict long lines and dispatch their portable superchargers. (These are trailers with 8 chargers and a diesel or battery power source that temporarily increase capacity.)
  • People could also pay in to fund this extra charging capacity in advance. They would pay a lower price than the "real time" price, and be assured priority. This builds the extra capacity in advance, so while they jump the line, they are also making the line move faster for all the people who didn't pay.
  • Slots could just be sold at auction. Those with more money than time would pay. Of course, some people think this is terribly unfair, and others think it is the best working system. Which are you?
  • Reverse financial incentives can be given to those willing to wait longer, such as free supercharging (paid from the above fees) or discount meals. In addition, free charging at different, less busy superchargers can also push the incentive to go to them.
  • People could literally buy their way through the queue by making offers. "Who will let me ahead of you (ie. 2 minutes extra delay at a big station) for $2?" If 6 people refuse and 40 people accept, the driver in a hurry pays $80 and goes to spot #7 in line. Drivers could also pre-publish the price they will accept for being bumped. (To accept money, drivers must really need charge and must complete their charge and drive a long distance, to prevent people from getting in line just to sell position in it.)
  • People accepting charging at another station might be charged immediately for their session, to make sure they follow through on their reservation.

Some people say, "They should just build enough capacity" but the reality is that building capacity for extremely rare peak events is a very uneconomical thing to do. Temporary portable capacity is a better choice for localized peaks (such as one from a road closure or event.) It doesn't work as well for wide-area peaks like Thanksgiving, but it still helps -- some stations are always underutilized, even today, while some are more likely to need that extra help in a peak.

At the same time, with a proprietary network, there can be reason. The original Tesla supercharger network was way overbuilt, and sat mostly empty much of the time, but it was a key factor in getting people to buy Teslas. So it may be worth the money to overbuild it again, in advance of demand, to make customers feel secure in their purchase. In some cases, stations can't easily be expanded but more stations can go online.

Once you establish your desire to enter the queue, you will keep your place. This allows drivers on their way to a supercharger to pause and pull over to perform any user interface needed to do any of the above, such as confirm willingness to switch chargers. You don't want that happening while driving.

This approach would provide immediate benefit today. As I write this, I can see that Tesla's 18 bay Harris Ranch supercharger is full and probably has a line, while the larger Kettleman station just down the road has several empty stations. Many of those charging at Harris could have either continued past it, or taken a very short charge there and gone to a reserved bay at Kettleman to finish the charge. Earlier this weekend, Kettleman had a one hour wait due to people moving up from the snowy pass to Los Angeles.

Minor points

In spite of the highly accurate estimates, some people won't be there when their space becomes available. No worries -- Tesla knows they aren't there waiting for their spot and immediately can put somebody else in the spot. They can give the other car the next slot when it gets to the stalls, or punish it with a longer wait even when it gets there. Generally, when it gets to be a few minutes before your spot frees up, you should be camping on the spot, like you do in a busy parking lot when you see people putting in groceries and about to leave. If you don't do this, you take some risk.

The question of whether passers-through should get priority over locals is a controversial one. When Tesla first created the supercharging network, it was meant entirely for people on intercity road trips -- in fact, there were few superchargers actually in the cities at all. Locals were and are expected to charge regularly at home or work. Over time, more people have purchased cars but don't have home charging, and they often use superchargers, especially when they have free supercharging. Nobody would say those drivers don't have a right to exist this way, but it is also likely that they are the causes of the full superchargers and lines which are found at certain urban chargers. If you support the "superchargers are for road trips" philosophy, it makes sense to not make people on long road trips wait in line behind locals getting their daily charging. If you are such a local, naturally you will be opposed to that. My own view is that Tesla, when it gives out free supercharging, should not allow it on the chargers within 50 miles of your home. (Paid supercharging could still be allowed there.)


The idea that Tesla would have this much control over charging your car sounds pretty horrifying.

Two thoughts come to mind:
1) As you already acknowledged, portable charging stations could be moved into position on heavy use periods. Not only does this overcome the capex problem you highlighted, it is easy to predict where high use will occur because, again you highlight this, they know where every car is and what the history of the network looks like. Tesla battery packs on Tesla semis.

2) If Tesla would switch over to a non-proprietary connector, this would not be an issue. At a minimum it would be less of an issue.

Tesla has full control of your charging already. When you plug in it does a billing protocol. It can decide whether to charge you or not. If the charger is full, it changes your charging limit to reduce your time at the charger. I think most customers would find this to be a valuable service, not extra control.

I don't understand why Tesla switching to a non-proprietary connector would fix this at all. Seems it would make it worse.

Not that they are gong to switch. Tesla's connector is markedly superior to the other connectors -- it is half the size (or less.) It already does up to 250kw in the same connector that does Level 2 as well. It is the most common EV out there, more EVs have the Tesla connector than all the others combined. It trivially adapts to J1772 and can also talk Chademo (with more cost.) They could argue that theirs is the standard connector, regardless of what the two warring industry groups say is a standard. If anything, the other vendors would be wise to switch to Tesla's connector, for which I think the protocol is available. (It also does billing through the connector which is a nice touch.)

But all that aside, even though it would be nuts for them to switch in the USA, why would that make lines at charging stations not an issue? The Chademo/CCS chargers out there are far fewer in number than Tesla charges, and tend to come 2 per station, not 8 to 40 per station. And they tend to be only 50kw, when Tesla chargers are either 75kw, 150kw (most common) or 250kw (rare, but new stations are of this type.)

all good points. I wonder if in the long term the charging networks are the actual razor blades in strategy for all of these carmakers, with Tesla getting credit for making it a valuable component. The billions that VAG is spending on charging networks probably rivals what they are spending on car R&D for BEVs. I would also bet that commercial spaces become a battleground and I could easily see large REITs doing exclusive deals with charging networks as a tenant perk and additional revenue source. Charging at home and work will be far more prevalent than at roadside charging stations.

I think it's the reverse of that. The razor blade metaphor usually refers to giving the razor away cheap and making money on the blades. Tesla operates their charging network at break-even they say (on the cars that pay for charging) but they started operating it for free, solely for the goal of getting people to buy cars. The reverse of the blade strategy.

It would not work, I suspect, to make a car you sell below cost and make money on the electricity. You would have to control the charger in their house and only let them charge at your expensive proprietary chargers. People would find a way around that.

I believe most of the investment in charging right now (except Tesla's) is misguided, and I don't think people are making money selling electricity at charging stations.

Charging stations belong 99% in homes, hotels and long distance highways (plus possibly offices.) All those stations in shopping centers and parking lots (except for commuter parking lots) were mostly wasted, and only done due to subsidies.

Is the bulk of expense generally the actual charging stations, the land, or the power? If most of the expense is the power, the best solution might be to overbuild in terms of number of charging stations, and just run them at less than full power when they're all in use at the same time.

Eventually I can see land being the bulk of the expense, if EVs become ubiquitous. But for right now I bet it's power in most non-urban locations.

Tesla is now charging about 30 cents/kwh which they say is the break even price. I strongly suspect they don't pay for the land, or pay very little for it. As to what they pay for the power, as a major purchaser they might do their own contracts with generation companies (they also try to use renewable ones) where rates are typically around 3 cents/kwh or less off-peak, more on peak. My own power company charges a retail price of 6 cents off peak and 9 to 15 cents on peak (winter and summer) for generation. You have to pay for transmission on top of that, however -- one reason Tesla puts solar panels at some stations, aside from the fact they own a solar company.

Anyway, the wholesale prices are fairly low so I think it is the cost of the stalls -- and more to the point the service to them. Wholesale buyers often buy based on peak loads. The more stalls, the larger service you need into the place, and the higher the peak, especially with their new generation 250kw stations. Buttonwillow with 40 stalls now has some 250kw, but if it went all 250kw it could draw 10 megawatts when full some day, as much as a moderately sized town.

Most EV charging stations tend to charge 25 to 50 cents/kwh, and don't get heavy usage. The others are free. Some use flat rate prices or have a $2 startup fee. That suggests for them the physical plant is a big part of the cost. However, many charging stations were put in with subsidies so that alters that equation (and explains the free stations.)

That's what I mean by the cost of power.

Anyway, thinking about it some more, I guess the main problem for Tesla is that the supercharger concept isn't turning out to be a scalable. The vast majority of charging probably needs to be done at destination chargers, whether ones at home or ones outside the home, at least until charging can be as quick as filling up with a tank of gasoline. Maybe the solution, if not for the fact that Tesla needs to not let consumers realize the problem, would be to greatly increase the charge of supercharging. Charging per minute might also make sense, which they already do in some places, but only where they have to.

Or maybe they could put a gasoline engine in each car, and let the car use the gasoline engine both to turn the driveshaft and to charge up the batteries when needed for long trips. Hmm. I should patent that idea. I'll call it the PHEV, for Plaid Horsepower Energy Vehicle.

Yes, the vast majority of charging should be overnight and will be overnight. Maybe that would change with 10 minute supercharging, but I suspect that people how have charging in their night parking spot will still charge that way because it's so nice -- you don't go a foot out of your way. Gas stations are a pain and I like not having to go to them. Superchargers are also a pain, and right now I've traded 60 visits to gas stations for 20 visits to superchargers (ie. only 1-2 per day on road trips if there his charging at my hotel.) It's not so bad a trade, especially if the superchargers take 10 minutes or less.

The PHEV seems like it makes a lot of sense, and it did when batteries were very expensive, but what it turns out to be is a car with the cost and maintenance of two power trains instead of one. Today, it still has the advantage of being able to go into remote locations without worry. When that faces, the PHEV will fade too. Though the BMW i3 approach of a very small motorcycle engine and small tank seems to make the most sense and could continue to have appeal.

I'm not sure if you literally mean overnight or are just using that to mean at times and in places when you would have been parked there anyway.

I think the latter would be better. Everyone charging overnight would not be a good idea.

While I do refer to any convenient time to charge when there is charging in the place you were going to park, that does indeed mostly mean overnight. Certainly in hotels and the homes of commuters. Of course, the exception is offices, which as a bonus often give employees free charging. People who charge at work still have an issue when doing road-trip heavy weekends, of course.

And yes, it is, sometime in the 2020s, an issue for the power grid if everybody charges mostly overnight, and pricing will adapt to that to push more charging (in particular on cars not used for commuting) to the morning. Of course, nobody should charge from 3pm to 9pm, and they won't unless desperate or getting subsidized power.

The night will always have an appeal because charging while you sleep takes zero time from your day. People love to talk about superfast chargers that can charge a battery in 10 to 15 minutes. To my mind, night charging takes zero minutes, and you can't ever beat that. (I am even softening my view on inductive charging just for the psychological benefit of effectively never even lifting a finger.)

Of course, one thing beats it which is robocar charging. However, that still is preferred at night, not just for cheap power, but because it is unlikely master will want the car all of a sudden. Sometime later in the 2020s, robocar charging will be pretty common, but also at night, because it's easier to make a car that can travel at 25mph on empty roads to charging then one that could do it at 10am.

Home garages, home driveways, home street parking locations, hotels, offices, restaurants, airports, theme parks, shopping centers, parking garages, parks, stadiums, theaters, city streets, pretty much every type of place where people (and eventually, robocars) park for long periods of time.

If the world is going to move toward forms of energy generation that are highly variable, people are going to want to top off their batteries whenever power happens to be cheap, and those times are going to be highly unpredictable. Probably not every parking spot will have power; the cost of equipment would have to come down a lot for that to be viable, but a good portion of them will. During the work week, when everyone is on a normal schedule, they might be mainly used by taxis, people with very long drives, and people with smaller batteries. During weekends and holidays it'll be mostly the same thing, but there will be a lot more of it.

Charging while you sleep works wonderfully for you. It's probably not going to work well for everyone. Maybe you'll say that people who can't afford their own private garage and their own private charging station shouldn't own a car. I think we should be more flexible about it, though.

I presume you don't own a BEV yet? Because most people, before they get one, think they will want to "top it off" at any place they park. Some people start out that way, but with a 200 mile BEV, you soon realize you don't want to do that. It turns out to be much more of a hassle than it should be, and not worth it to get an hour's worth of electricity. Definitely not worth it to get electricity at 2x the price at home.

That's because right now, to use it you have to find the EV charging spots, hope they are not taken -- if so you wasted your time -- then back in (if you have a Tesla but that's Tesla's fault) and open your charge port, pull out your charging app or card, authenticate, pull out the charging cord, get out your adapter (if a Tesla) and plug it in, then do the reverse when you leave.

Just not worth it to gain 15 to 30 miles of extra range. Not even worth it when the power is free, though that's the only time it comes close.

If you are a bit low, and parking for more than a few hours, it can be worth it, but barely. Again, the price ix 2x to 3x your home price, so you only do it if you have fear of getting home, which you don't in a Tesla or Bolt or similar. Even if the price were only the same as at home it's barely worth it. (And it won't be because you park in the day, but home is night rates.)

Now, it could be a lot better. Your car could tell you as you approach the lot if the spot is free, and then reserve it for you. You could thus also avoid the authentication step -- just drive in, plug in and go. With Tesla superchargers, it is very nice that you can just plug in and go, all billing is done via the cable.

So no, charging ends up being done at home by people who have home charging. Only those without home charging need to take the hassle of external charging locations. The only decent substitute for home charging is work charging, but sadly that's not usually that good any more, because there are a lot of EVs now, so you have to do things like trade off with other employees, and not park where you wanted. On the other hand, work charging is usually paid for by your employer, which is of course very attractive.

My comment about topping off the batteries was prefaced with "If the world is going to move toward forms of energy generation that are highly variable."

Right now it's cheap to charge at home, at night. You can even pretend you're using "100% clean energy" while doing so, even though you almost certainly aren't (unless you've got solar panels and a Powerwalls or something). It won't necessarily always be that way.

As we've discussed, the grid's flow of electrons and money are very complex. I know you don't accept it, but 80% of my electricity bill is paid to wind farms, so within the realm of that, night is not special. Other sources of clean night energy include nuclear and hydro (though it's less clear how green that is.) And some storage. And more will come online.

Night charging will persist longer than you suspect because there are 2 resources here --- generation capacity and delivery capacity. Delivery capacity is spare at night. Solar generation is not present at night. Even with the excess of solar in the day that causes gas plants to shut down, there is not necessarily transmission capacity. That is one of the things that rooftop solar does have in its favour, no need for transmission.

So I expect a lot of charging to still take place at night until cars charge themselves, which is not that far off. Probably sooner than the massive grid changes. After the cars can charge themselves, they will charge whenever they know their master does not need them and the power is cheap. Today, that's at night. In the future, it will be a mix of night and 9am to 3pm.

I bet 100% of your electric bill is paid to your electric company. Your electric company then does some accounting trick so that it's legally allowed to give you credit for having paid it to certain energy companies. It's an easy accounting trick for them to pull off, because most people don't care about it, and the company already is mandated by government to get most of its energy from those sources anyway.

Your description of the types of capacity available at night today has little bearing on a world where everyone is charging their cars at night and all the generation is "clean" (by whatever definition).

In your last paragraph you seem to then agree with me that cars will not be charged solely at night. They'll be topped off whenever power happens to be cheap. So I'm not sure where we disagree. Maybe you envision that they'll be driving themselves to special charging locations a la gas stations? I think they'll just be charging themselves where they happen to be parked. "Home garages, home driveways, home street parking locations, hotels, offices, restaurants, airports, theme parks, shopping centers, parking garages, parks, stadiums, theaters, city streets, pretty much every type of place where people (and eventually, robocars) park for long periods of time."

I hope you're right that it's not that far off. I'm not sure what "it" is, though. Small-time deployments of self-driving cars capable of driving in very restricted areas are arguably here today. A world where most car owners have cars that can drive themselves anywhere is, I think, very far away.

The grid will change gradually. One of the biggest advantages of people charging at lots of different locations and lots of different times is that it allows the grid to change gradually and minimally. Everyone charging at home at night would be a disaster. Which I think PG&E is getting a glimpse of.

If things were set up better, instead of paying Arizona to take its extra solar-generated energy, or curtailing generation altogether, the excess power could be sent to cars parked at their homes and offices and restaurants at 1PM.

One great thing about electric cars with excessively big batteries is that they can help smooth out the grid. V2G is probably not worth it, but allowing cars to suck up excess generation is a use that should be fairly easy to capitalize on, at least if governments don't get too much in the way (for example by banning the necessary spot pricing).

It is not an accounting trick. The grid is a big cloud of potential. Generators feed it in, loads take it out. The power company contracts with generation suppliers which feed into the grid. It makes contracts up (at various times in advance, from a year to 15 minutes) to buy power from those suppliers for each 15 minute interval. It tries to predict demand as far as advance as it can, because if it under-predicts it has to buy some in real time at prices that can't really be negotiated, they must just be accepted.

Electrons are electrons. They are not green or dirty. They are all the same. What's green or dirty is generation, and generation happens because you pay money for it. The money flow is all that matters.

Where we disagree is that until the cars drive themselves to charging, they do not "top up" where they happen to be. Once you get a car you realize that's just not how it works, though there are a few people who do it that way.

As to how far away, well, while I don't think Tesla will produce a "full self driving" car this year or next, I do think they could, in reasonable time, make a car that's able, after midnight, to drive slowly down low-speed streets on its own to a charging station. 1/2 mile from my house there is a corporate parking lot with 60 charging stations, and even a simple car could get there on its own. It would need to have an attendant to plug and unplug the cars -- today those chargers sit idle all night, and charge employees in the day.

This is not a super common situation today, but in a couple of years, many people will live within a couple miles of such a facility. One mile away is another station with 10 Tesla superchargers and 10 more Level 2 chargers which could handle even more.

Once Tesla does this it will be a nice competitive advantage for them and other EV vendors will want to do it to.

Grid charging at night will eventually switch to being balanced, ie. the cars or EVSEs (all connected to the internet) getting signals from the power company, "now is a good time to charge.)

Once the night capacity gets filled up (which is still some time away) the prices at night will rise and the morning prices will drop. In particular, the prices for cars that respond to internet signals will drop, because power companies love loads which they can turn on and off on instant command. Love, love, love them.

I think the current plan is for Tesla's full self driving car to be feature complete by the end of the year. I have little doubt it'll be feature complete by the end of next year.

It's simply not true that "80% of my electricity bill is paid to wind farms." Nothing you've said in response backs up that claim. Your electricity bill is paid to your electric company. Your electric company pays money to wind farms (along with employees, coal power stations, spouses of the victims it has killed, lawyers, lobbyists, and all the various other people and companies). And just like there are no clean electrons and dirty electrons, there are no Brad dollars and non-Brad dollars. Just dollars.

I have no idea why you'd want to have a Tesla drive itself to a supercharger station at night. is this for people who park in places where there is no electricity? Supercharger stations are good for when you're traveling and need to get back on the road as soon as possible. Otherwise, it almost always makes more sense to bring the electricity to the car rather than the car to the electricity. (Within reason, anyway. You don't have to put a charger at every parking spot in a parking lot. A tiny bit of moving around is fine. Driving a mile to charge? Only if you are parked in the sticks.)

Yes, my vision for the future does not reflect what people who own EVs today do.

But I believe that for most power generation companies, staff are not a large fraction of total costs. But I will admit to not having looked that up.

BTW, the bulk of my power bill goes to transmission where I live. I only refer to the generation part of my bill (it gets broken down) as going mostly to the wind farms. The core point being that they do provide power at night. As do the hydro stations, which are included in the larger power package. (I find it odd that they exclude hydro from their main power package, though it does emit a fair bit of methane from reservoirs and of course is environmentally destructive, but I don't think that's the reason.)

Why a supercharger? Mainly volume to keep an attendant busy and productive. At a 10 bay supercharger, the attendant is swapping plugs constantly. At a 50 bay level 2 charger it is 4 times less frequent. And needs more land, though that is not the big issue. Of course it is not as good for batteries, so once you have robotic plug in/out, slower charging will be the order of the day.

The average car needs about 10kwh per night, so will spend 90 minutes and you get 5-6 cars per night per stall, more if you can widen the definition of night. Company charging lots are of course ideal for night charging, and can be used from about 9pm to 7am which is 6-7 cars per stall, and 5-6 employee cars per spot during the day (though you may want to avoid all charging 3pm onwards.)

By employees I was referring to the employees of the utility company, not the power generation company. They're probably mostly lumped under "transmission." They might even all be lumped under "transmission."

(They probably exclude hydro because the hydro plants available aren't considered "small" under California's Renewable Portfolio Standards. The Renewable Portfolio Standards, unlike the voluntary markets, do highly influence power generation. Incidentally, do you know if the power you tell your utility company to buy from wind and solar farms also counts towards the utility meeting the Renewable Portfolio Standards? If so, then you're having absolutely no influence whatsoever on the mix of power the utility purchases.)

My question of why a supercharger station was as opposed to just charging wherever you happen to be parked. If you just plug in your car when you park for the night (or for any long period of time), it takes up zero land, zero employee time, you can charge very slowly, and you can charge only when the power company tells you to do so (or, if the government allows spot pricing, when the power company offers you a particularly low rate). Maybe that's not something that's done now (I'd imagine it is done when parking in one's garage). It's not done now because we don't have the infrastructure to do it. There are no charging stations at my work, despite there being at least one Tesla owner who parks there every day. I think that'll change over time, as the one Tesla in a parking lot that holds about 250 cars (I just looked at the satellite view and counted spaces) grows to dozens and then to well over 100 EVs.

Hopefully by then there will be ways to "plug the car in" that don't involve humans, and the cars will at least have the ability to shift around between parking spots while unattended. If we have the latter and not the former, maybe there can be a service that goes from parking lot to parking lot plugging and unplugging cars. Or you could just have Uber drivers, who happen to be nearby anyway, do it (they could receive credit for "free" charging in exchange for it). Or maybe the on-site maintenance person that we already have there can do it in his spare time. Or a flag could pop up at the station that says "please unplug me" when the car is fully charged and "please plug me in" when a new car arrives. A lot of people leave for lunch during the day, so you could park at a charging station for the first half of the day and a regular parking spot for the second half, or vice-versa.

A little bit of unattended moving makes sense, but I don't see the benefit of driving a mile or more to get electricity (unless, again, you live in the sticks).

Charging at night at the hotel is 100% the best way to charge. Fast charging is only for those who, wanting to travel more than 200 miles in a day, need to make 1-2 mid-day charging stops during breaks for fast charging. Of course 10 minute charging would be nice there, as long as it doesn't hurt the battery, but 30-40 minute charging works better than you would expect.

As for the power utility, I don't control their mix. I have 3 choices -- All solar/wind (0.7 cents/kwh extra) solar/wind/hydro/biomass (base price) or PG&E mix (includes natural gas, and a few other sources) which is in between the two. I don't control those mixes, but I select among them. They currently publish that they use 80% wind for the first option, but are free to change that, like most utilities, but they can't buy any fossil (or foolishly, nuclear) for it.

I get that regulations have driven the building of a lot of the renewables in California, and I can't alter that. But that doesn't mean that if utilities go out to buy power contracts, and they are not allowed to buy fossil contracts, it doesn't reduce demand for fossil contracts and increase demand for solar/wind contracts.

And I have been to the local utility's small offices and know they don't have a ton of employees, in spite of brokering the power for most of silicon valley. So I don't think a lot of what I pay them goes to staff. What they pay PG&E for transmission (which is the bulk of my costs) may include more staff.

Okay, let's say before you buy energy, your power utility buys the following power:

Mix 1: 2000 units solar, 8000 units wind Mix 2: 20,000 units solar; 80,000 units wind; 50,000 units hydro; 10,000 units biomass Mix 3: 1,000 units natural gas; 1,000 units other

You buy 10 units of power. You buy from Mix 1. The amount of solar and wind power that can be produced is fixed, so the 10 units of solar/wind power you buy reduces the amount of solar/wind power available to others. Let's say hydro is the easiest source to control (it might be natural gas, but you can figure out how to run the numbers then). So the new usage is:

Mix 1: 2002 units solar, 8008 units wind Mix 2: 19,998 units solar; 79,992 units wind; 50,010 units hydro; 10,000 units biomass Mix 3: 1,000 units natural gas; 1,000 units other

How have you reduced demand for fossil contracts? How have you increased demand for solar/wind contracts?

As I have written, the change is definitely not day by day. The change is in causing more solar and wind to be built. If you put up a wind farm, you don't control how much wind blows each day, but you do control how many windmills you build. You try to sell all your wind in advance, but not oversell it. The more demand for wind, the easier it is to sell it. If the wind blows harder than expected, and you have extra power you didn't sell, you dump it in the spot market for whatever price you can get (in some places that can even be negative for some generators.) The more who demand it over the gas plant or hydro plant, the higher price you can get.

So people build more when they know there will be higher demand, higher prices and more stable prices.

How are you causing any more demand for wind/solar? For every unit of wind/solar you demand, the demand for wind/solar from the people who chose mix 2 goes down one unit.

It's true that you're causing higher demand, but your demand is for energy that can be ramped up on little notice. Maybe hydro. More likely natural gas. It depends on the time of day and specific factors, though. If you're using power at 1 PM your demand might match up with a period where excess solar generation would otherwise be thrown away.

Excess solar generation doesn't happen at night, though, and it is rare that there is excess wind power at night. This is especially true if your demand comes at the nighttime peak, when rates go down and everyone starts charging their cars all at the same time.

I don't believe there are enough cars for a night peak. I definitely don't see one at

Some day there will be one. When it gets bad, the cars will be given an incentive to spread out their load during the night (and day) and they will do so.

But again, the instantaneous demand and supply are not in dispute. You suddenly draw an extra megawatt for cars that wasn't expected and it's probably a gas plant that fires up (or in the west, a hydro plant that turns on.)

Yes, when I buy a kwh of solar, somebody else doesn't buy it. But because I am insisting, I am making solar just a little more profitable, and that is one of the reasons more gets built -- combined with the subsidies.

Imagine another commodity. Say there is a set total demand for wine. But say that some people buy only red wine. Others, who will take either red or white, take the white because they can't have the red. The red gets a tiny bit more costly, and they now take the white. But over time, it causes producers to make more red and less white to match the demand and the prices. It may take a long time but it happens.

I don't see how you're making solar more profitable. If you are, it's only by a very tiny amount, as you're not paying that much more. But from what you've described, I don't see how you're making solar more profitable at all.

Say there is a service that sells two different wine packages. One package gives you only red wine. The other package, which is a little bit cheaper, gives you red wine or white wine, whichever one the service feels like giving you. Say that the supply of red wine is fixed in the short term. 100 bottles of red wine a day are produced. In the long term it can be increased, but for the short term, that's the limit. Say that white wine can be produced on demand. Say that the demand for package one is 40 bottles a day, and the demand for package two is 160 bottles a day. So the service sells 40 bottles of red wine to the people who order package one, and they sell 60 bottles of red wine and 100 bottles of white wine to the people who order package two. Say the prices of wine are highly regulated by government and aren't set purely by market supply and demand.

Then Brad comes along and orders 2 bottles a day of red wine (package one). Now the service sells 42 bottles of red wine to the people who order package one, and they sell 58 bottles of red wine and 102 bottles of white wine to the people who order package two.

The production of red wine does not become more profitable. In fact it doesn't change at all. Instead, demand for white wine goes up, and the production of white wine becomes more profitable.

The point is, it's not fixed in the long term. Of course, when I buy a mwh of solar power, that doesn't cause a robot to build more solar panels. But as more people compete to get the red wine, and the demand exceeds the supply, then there is competition for it and they grow more red wine next year.

Does the demand for renewables exceed the supply? Well, if they were exactly the same price, I think it easily would. Who would not, if asked "for the same price, would you like all green power, or do you want dirty power too?" take the green power. The demand would quickly totally overwhelm the supply. You need some barrier to people saying yes.

No one is competing to get the "red wine," though. Some accounting entry is simply being made so that people who pay extra can brag to their friends, or on their blog, or whatever, that they're green. There's no effect whatsoever on the actual generation and distribution of power.

The demand for "renewables only" doesn't exceed the supply. No one is being asked if they want green power or dirty power. I don't even think it's fair to characterize it as green power and dirty power. All forms of power generation have their own forms of negative consequences. There's a big focus right now on carbon dioxide emissions, but that's far from the only negative consequence of power generation. Furthermore, both the least and most expensive packages you listed have no net carbon dioxide emissions. At least that's true if you only measure direct emissions (and in the case of biomass, net out the CO2 consumed by generating the fuel with the CO2 generated by consuming the fuel). I'm not sure if there are studies on how much carbon dioxide emissions there are from building a hydroelectric power plant vs. building a biomass farm vs. building a solar farm vs. building a wind farm. Such a study would likely be highly dependent on the particular plant/farm. You'd also have to consider sunk costs vs. marginal costs. Most hydro plants cause a lot of CO2 emissions getting built (think, cement), but once they're built they don't generate much (if any) additional CO2 when running compared to when not running.

People are being asked which power mix they want to buy. Here in silicon valley, everybody was switched by default to solar/wind/hydro/biomass. Those who wished to take an effort could elect to go for solar/wind only, or the full general mix, both at higher prices. I presume almost nobody asks for the full mix, and some like me go for the solar/wind -- I could ask if they publish the ratio. Many companies want to advertise that they are using renewable energy only, and many people want to feel it.

The demand may not exceed the supply at present, due to subsidies and regulations. That doesn't mean increasing demand doesn't eventually lead to demand surpassing supply.

CO2 is not all of it (in fact small particulates are far worse) but solar and wind are certainly better than coal, and widely viewed as better than NG.

Hydro is now being discovered to not not as good as thought because of algae in reservoirs. Yes, the concrete is already there. People do study that, as they do the energy to build solar farms. Yes, subsidies bend the market and also what people bother to study.

However, whether solar/wind are better or not is independent over whether customers buying power only from solar/wind increases the share of the grid which is solar/wind.

I was responding to two issues. In your previous message, you suggested that no one would choose solar/wind/hydro/biomass over solar/wind, if they were the same price, because one was "green" and the other was "dirty." It's a strange hypothetical, but I was just pointing out that referring to one as "green" and the other as "dirty" is an oversimplification. There are issues with all technologies. Furthermore, relying solely on wind/solar would require massive amounts of storage and/or massive curtailing, each of which cause their own problems. So I think your statement that obviously the package you're buying is of higher quality is an oversimplification at best.

The other issue you seem to be close to conceding on, as you admit that "The demand may not exceed the supply at present, due to subsidies and regulations." You say, "That doesn't mean increasing demand doesn't eventually lead to demand surpassing supply." Sure, it doesn't. Maybe one day it'll matter. There's absolutely no evidence that the voluntary market is ever going to have a significant effect on demand. But maybe one day it will.

If governments ever end subsidies, regulations, and excise taxes, then eventually the current infrastructure already in place might start to deteriorate, and eventually voluntary subsidies might be necessary. At that point you could start voluntarily subsidizing wind/solar, and you'd probably have an effect. It's theoretically possible.

In the meantime, the most effective way to reduce pollution caused by grid power generation is to reduce usage of the grid. One of the least painful yet cost effective ways to do that is to produce energy yourself rather than getting it from the grid.

You can also produce more solar power than you need, and feed that into the grid. This does lower grid pollution, though it might be less than you expect, because the grid (or, in some cases, the company you lease the panels from) will probably claim the renewable energy credits you've produced, and sell them to someone so that they're legally allowed to pollute more, or so they can brag on their website that they use 100% clean energy even though they don't (I believe Google has started doing this).

If you want to actually use 100% solar generated energy, then you'd need to never take energy from the grid (today's grid). That'll probably involve using a lot of batteries.

If you want to actually use 100% clean power, there's no such thing.

You seem to agree with me when you say that if lots of people picked the solar/wind only we could not handle it without the storage, and that's exactly the point. You need to price it a little higher just so that everybody doesn't pick it. But the more people who want to pick it, the more that drives demand to build both new renewable and new storage. The price adjust until supply and demand match, at least until more is built.

Does the voluntary market have an effect? Well, the people who put solar on their rooftops are also in the voluntary market. And while solar farms are the bulk of solar, the rooftop solar is big enough to have an effect already.

And yes, putting that solar on your roof is a good way to reduce grid load. It does not alter that your driving increases grid load, but you start at a negative point, so it's good.

100% clean is not possible today, or at least not easy. 100% is not required to improve things. (I would wager that if you built a wind or water mill out of existing components that you recycled it would be pretty close to 100%)

I'm not sure what I've said that is contradictory. If everyone picked the solar/wind option, you'd have shortages. But everyone wouldn't pick that option. There's nothing contradictory about that.

If everyone picked an option of burning coal, you'd have shortages. Does that prove anything?

If everyone picked an option of producing energy by having 12 year olds charge batteries by riding their bicycles, you'd have shortages. Does that prove anything?

"The price adjust until supply and demand match, at least until more is built" assumes a free market. The energy market is not anywhere remotely close to a free market.

Yes, "your driving increases grid load" if you're connected to the grid. If you're connected to the grid, the more you drive, the more "dirty" energy (using your term) is produced. But if your only relationship with the grid is providing energy to it, that just means that the more you drive, the less you reduce the production of "dirty" energy. If your only relationship with the grid is providing energy to it, you are consuming 100% solar generated energy (assuming your production is solar). Unlike grid electrons, which are always of a mixed color, your electrons are 100% "green."

Not sure why you are so bothered by calling coal/NG dirty energy. I guess if you don't think GHG are an issue you might not view NG as having troublesome emissions, but it's just using the opposite word from clean.

So, while it is not done this way today, you imagine that if every customer was sent a form saying, "You can have your money go only to solar and wind farms, or to the general mix of mostly non-renewable sources, and the price is the same" that there would not be an overwhelming selection of the former, far more than there is solar and wind capacity to meet it? Or do you think that a large fraction of people would say, "no, I want my money to go to coal and NG plants?"

Today, most people just go with the default, of course. But, whether it is the right choice or not in your view, today people are saying they want the renewable package even at a slight increase in cost.

What if people didn't say this? Well, demand would never grow above what government regulations trigger. Supply might change as the cost of the solar/wind goes below the cost of the fossil. Right now for brand new plants that has actually happened in some places, though it is not cheaper than the fuel cost of CCNG and nuclear plants, though it is starting to touch coal. Of course, if externalities were priced in (which is a much better approach than subsidies and regulations) it would be way ahead.

But if the desire of consumers to voluntarily reduce their emissions footprint can be exploited, why not?

Using the opposite word from "clean" is the problem. All forms of energy generation have problems. Some are more in the fuel consumption, some are more in the equipment manufacture, some are in the storage, some are in the fuel extraction process, etc. The problem with calling some forms dirty is that it implies that others are not.

Greenhouse gases are an issue; however, the issue is purely one of quantity. There's nothing inherently wrong with emitting greenhouse gases, so I think it's wrong to call it dirty. We don't call breathing a dirty process. At least, I don't. Maybe today's youngest generations do.

I don't know what people would select given the choice you outline. A lot of people, maybe even an overwhelming majority of people, are very short sighted. They might not realize that the world can't run on solar and wind farms alone. Or they may not care. What is the point, though?

"today some people are saying they want the solar/wind package even at a slight increase in cost" Fixed that for you. Yes. Some people like spending their money on pointless virtue signalling. Especially people who live in California, which ironically is the place where their preference has the least benefit and quite possibly has a long-term detriment, because the state government has already caused an overproduction of wind/solar.

I'm not sure what you mean when you say that pricing in "is a much better approach than subsidies and regulations." Aren't subsidies and regulations parts of pricing in externalities? What do you think about the Coase theorem?

"If the desire of consumers to voluntarily reduce their emissions footprint can be exploited, why not?" Utility companies are exploiting the desire of consumers to believe they are reducing their emissions footprint, even though they're not. I thought you conceded that you're not reducing your emissions footprint, and that you're merely creating artificial demand that you believe will be taken into consideration when companies choose what to build in the future (even though your demand is not part of a long-term commitment). Why utility companies shouldn't be able to do that is twofold. First, because it's bordering on fraud to mislead consumers like that. But even if it doesn't rise to the level of fraud, the issue is that these tariff schemes have to be approved by governments, and governments shouldn't be encouraging people to lie to themselves and each other like this. Furthermore, these schemes lower the incentive for people to do actually useful things with their money, like putting solar panels on their own roofs.

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