The future is a world of electric vehicles, from cars without drivers to scrambles for charging stations – but the transition is not without friction. Buckle up for a ride with Tesla’s Autopilot. Plus, on offshore wind, New Jersey tangles things up once again. The news this week is a mix of futuristic technology and old-fashioned bureaucracy as advanced energy breaks through.
In 2013 we began reporting on driverless vehicles, which, back then, seemed tantamount to flying cars. Of course, flying cars are, by their very nature, inefficient and dangerous. As videos released this week by Tesla Motors and various test drivers for the new Tesla Autopilot, driverless cars appear to be efficient and safe, if a little, well, freaky.
The Tesla Autopilot system isn’t available for sale to the public… yet. It’s also not quite a “driverless” vehicle, as the auto blog Jalopnik points out: “it won’t make navigational turns without your input, and it doesn’t know what the traffic light or the sign in front of you says.” It’s less driverless and more “like the ultimate execution of cruise control.”
A Jalopnik tester, Michael Ballaban, tried out Autopilot in New York City traffic, which was, as he says, a bold move on the part of Tesla. Ballaban describes what drivers (or, “vehicle operators,” as the case may be) see on the dashboard:
In the dash in front of you, the car actually gives you a display of what its onboard computer is seeing. You see displays of ultrasonic sensors firing off to the left and right of you, you see a generic illustration of the car in front of you halfway out of its own lane, and the car essentially reassures you – “it’s alright, I’ve got it, I see the chaotic trash soup surrounding us, and you’re not going to hit anything.”
While some work is still required to bring about a driverless future (The Detroit News reported on an Autonomous Vehicles Task Force that’s working to facilitate a future transition), some Californians are experiencing a somewhat more dystopian future of cutthroat competition over charging stations. In a highly entertaining story from the New York Times this week, EV drivers in California fight over public charging infrastructure, proving that if you build it, they will come, and then keep on coming.
The problem now isn’t range anxiety; it could be called recharge rage.
According to the New York Times, citing AEE member ChargePoint, the ratio of public chargers to EVs on the road is about one to 10, and metro-area Californians, with their high adoption of EVs, are beginning to feel the charging crunch – and things are starting to get ugly. As reporter Matt Ritchel writes, “Electric-vehicle owners are unplugging one another’s cars, trading insults, and creating black markets and side deals to trade spots in corporate parking lots.”
One EV owner says it’s “high time” to address the EV etiquette problem. (Or maybe skip the elaborate protocols – the equivalent of every-other-day gas rationing during the 1970s OPEC embargo – and just install more vehicle chargers.)
While EVs are taking off, offshore wind is still stuck in the water in New Jersey. This week, the New Jersey Supreme Court allowed a ruling to stand that “effectively blocks” construction of a pilot facility, despite incentives long in place but never approved by regulators. The state Board of Public Utilities has denied the proposal “multiple times,” citing risks associated with the project’s financing and the possible cost to ratepayers. Fishermen’s Energy, the company behind the pilot project, now says it will revise plans for the facility to better address the BPU’s concerns, including subbing in turbines from AEE member Siemens. Could third time be the charm for wind off the Jersey Shore? Stay tuned.
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