EVs@thePavilion Rides Again
It was a sunny Sunday on the first day of October, when Davis residents, local nonprofits, and businesses in the electric vehicle sector gathered for the annual EVs@thePavilion, an electric vehicle (EV) showcase in Davis’s Central Park in celebration of National Drive Electric Week or “NDEW” for short. From 11am to 2pm, locals chatted with residents and organization representatives alike to learn about the pros and cons of owning an electric vehicle, getting excited by some new technologies in the field, and learning some hot (or should we say cool?) tips.
Of the 36 electric vehicles present, there were quite a few SUVs and trucks, several small compliance cars, an electric Porsche, a Formula racecar from UC Davis, and a converted vintage car running on an electric battery. There were also representatives from Tesla and the local HMP electric bike/moped shop, both of whom offered test drives to interested passersby.
As the lucky Cool Davis intern covering this event, I had the opportunity to speak to some of the people and organization representatives who showed up. In many of these conversations, I found myself shocked by what the people of Yolo County are not only capable of but are actually doing. I left the event energized, awed, and inspired not only by organizations I’d never heard of, but by the local residents who showed up on a Sunday afternoon to share their time, their cars, and their experiences.
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Richard Hart, a local Davis resident, has been to two of these annual events. When asked why he chose to start buying electric vehicles, he told me, “We wanted to do better for the earth, and we also wanted to save money because gasoline was expensive, so it was kind of a combination of the two.”
Richard takes his Mitsubishi i-MiEV on road trips, plotting his path with PlugShare, an app that allows you to map a route based on the availability of EV charging stations. “I can just go in there and see all the stations I’ll need along the way, see their ratings, see what kind of station it is, see what the charging speed is,” he said. “I haven’t really had any issues with it over the years, which is great.”
Bing Gu, another Davis resident and DEVA member, finds the ability to charge at home very convenient in comparison to going to a gas station. “[Electric vehicles are] very cost effective, very low cost compared to gasoline,” he added. “I think this is good for almost everybody.”
To add to the list of incentives, Katrina Sutton, a technical project manager at CALSTART, tells me that when she bought her IONIQ 5, Hyundai provided her with free charging for 2 to 3 years. “They do that with all their new cars,” she said. “It’s very nice.”
CALSTART and the California Mobility Center
CALSTART, Katrina’s employer, is a Sacramento-based nonprofit that works to accelerate the adoption of zero emission vehicles. “I primarily work with zero emission transit buses,” Katrina told me. “And I mostly work in California, but we’re national.”
Katrina is a UC Davis alumnus, both for her undergraduate and her master’s degrees. Now, at CALSTART, she uses her education daily. “I’m able to help transit agencies and fleets understand what it’s going to take, from a vehicle, from a cost, and from an infrastructure perspective, to adopt zero emission vehicles,” she said.
As if it wasn’t enough to have one technical consultant on hand on Sunday, I also spoke with Ash Dalal, of Ohm Electric Cars, who has been in the electric vehicle business for over 25 years. In the past, he has worked with Tesla on developing many of their technologies, but in more recent years he has shifted to consulting fleets interested in going electric.
“These trucks don’t drive every single day from A to B,” Ash told me. “They drive from A to B, but when they’re at B, they’re there for 8 hours just running a gasoline engine or a diesel engine, just to keep a strobe light on, or just to keep a bucket up in the air.”
It ends up being cheaper in the long run for fleet owners to go electric, but it is a scary initial investment. However, when they do, Ash emphasizes the delight many drivers experience. “If I shut that engine off, use battery power to run the lights,” he said, “I’m quieter, I don’t have emissions, I don’t have exhaust pouring down my face when I’m up in the bucket. So, a lot of companies are like, ‘This is great.’”
Recently, Ash has paired up with the California Mobility Center to train individuals in EV-related maintenance. “Every time a person plugs in [their car], a third won’t have an effective charge, and there’s no one there to fix it,” he told me. The California Mobility Center is stepping up to fill some of this gap.
“There was actually a lot of activity with state funded grants that are supporting us, so we are offering these classes for a very discounted rate, or for free, and more often than not they’re actually paid,” he said. The center mainly targets underserved communities as they are the ones who could benefit the most from having trade skills that are in high demand.
“We have been really successful,” he said. “Just recently we finished up a program called ZEVSEED. In that example, we were able to show off a curriculum that showed charging technology, vehicle technology, how to really get your hands dirty with installations and understanding a lot of the physics and a lot of the intricacies of this market but from a real top level.”
He went on to tell me that of the 100 students in the program, one cohort was comprised entirely of Afghani and Ukranian refugees. “They have talent, they have work, they have experience, but now they have nothing,” he said. “There’s a language barrier. So, we were tailoring this program for them to understand. So that was really effective.”
UC Davis Students
Back in the day, Ash was an engineering student at UC Davis, where he, a professor, and a team of students converted a gasoline truck into an electric vehicle. I found it fitting then that just a few feet away from Ash’s table was a group of UC Davis engineering students gathered around an electric Formula racecar… that they built.
“We compete in an international, annual competition, Formula SAE,” said Tristan Pham, one of the members of the club. “This whole competition is just straight electric vehicles.”
Tristan joined the club over the COVID-19 pandemic because he wanted something to do and, apparently, sourdough bread baking wasn’t it. “Everything was through Zoom, so I didn’t really build much, but after sticking it down for a year, I really saw the impact I could make on the school, and what I could learn through the club, so I stuck with them since 2020.”
While the team has won the competition in the past, this year they couldn’t quite get the car to run. However, they participated in the design part of the competition, and their accumulator (energy storage device) passed the test. “That was a big accomplishment because we switched up to high voltage, so we changed the battery up,” Tristan told me. “The car has to pass a bunch of technical inspections if we’re clear to race, so out of the maybe 75 teams, only 20 actually will have a running car.”
After a few years of being on the team, Tristan said he had gained immense respect for electric car makers. “I mean the number of hours you put into weekly for this with the team, it’s crazy.”
Valley Clean Energy, and Looking Back
If you’ve reached this part of the article, you’re probably wondering how many more interesting individuals and organizations could have possibly shown up in Central Park. I was too when I ran into Mitch Sears, Davis’s former Sustainability Manager for the City of Davis, now the General Manager of Valley Clean Energy.
Valley Clean Energy is a California Choice Aggregator (or CCA), a local organization that buys and supplies power for the county. It is one of the 23 CCAs ranging from San Mateo to San Diego. While PG&E owns many of the infrastructure lines across the state, 50 percent of the electricity flowing through those lines is generated through CCAs such as VCE. Considering the first CCA was formed only 12 years ago, that is a huge accomplishment.
Those of you, reading this article, likely receive energy from VCE. Ninety percent of Yolo County residents excluding West Sacramento, some 60,000 households, purcahse energy from VCE. Through VCE, residents can “opt up” to receive 100% renewable energy. This costs an extra 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour, about $7 to $10 extra per month by their estimation. Everyone else receives an ever-increasing proportion of renewable energy as VCE secures more and more renewable contracts.
“We’re not just buying renewable projects that have already been built,” Mitch said. “We’re also causing renewable projects to be built in California, and that is a result of our rate payers, our customers who pay their bills. We’re taking those funds and we’re investing them in contracts for long-term renewable, reliable power for Yolo County and for the state.”
Thanks to these rate payers, VCE is projected to provide all 60,000 homes with 80% renewable electricity by 2030, without straying from their standard pricing model, which is competitive with PG&E.
But Mitch had further good news. On Friday, September 29, VCE received exciting news. They won a grant which will allow them to fund their upcoming project: electrifying farm tractors that can respond to “dynamic hourly price signals” and utilize bi-directional charge.
According to Mitch, Valley Clean Energy is the only entity in the state that runs a dynamic pricing platform. “We helped create it,” he said.
Typically, people use more electricity in the afternoon and early evening, during what’s called peak hours, which creates more demand when solar energy generation is ramping down. Dynamic pricing is designed to reduce this mis-match by incentivizing charging at lower-usage hours, so there will be more renewable energy available on the grid at any point in time. With bi-directional charging, tractors will be able to sell electricity back to the grid at peak hours. “We’re hopeful that,” Mitch said, “certainly this time next year, we will have tractors deployed in Yolo County that are operating under this system and helping the grid become more reliable and more renewable at the same time.”
As the event wrapped up, I was curious to hear what Mitch thought about the day’s proceedings. “It’s so encouraging to see this,” he told me. “The original Cool Davis festival had everything from cooking to energy efficiency to electric vehicles. There weren’t a whole lot of options [for EVs] at that point, and a lot of it was people who converted their otherwise internal combustion engine cars into things that they wanted to see and envisioned in the future. And now, to look at this, it’s just, it’s really encouraging to see the amount of progress we’ve made in a couple years. To see all the dealers out here; we did not have one dealer at our original event.”