ZENN gears up for jump to highway speed cars

This is basically an FYI. Low-speed electric car maker ZENN Motor Co. released its first-quarter results last week and provided an update on plans to introduce a highway-speed vehicle based on EEStor’s energy storage system. Here’s what the company said:

In anticipation of the EEStor technology being successfully commercialized, the Company is readying its plans to incorporate the technology in its ZENN product offerings. In addition, the Company has begun investigation of options for developing its future generation of longer-range, highway-capable vehicles. Two of the more promising opportunities being examined are retrofit kits and a small to mid-size automobile (curb weight less than 1400 Kg/3087 lbs) with highway capable speeds and range. The retrofit kits would be designed for mass conversion of specific existing automobiles from internal combustion to an electric drive train. On the new car front, while the final specifications have yet to be confirmed, the Company is exploring the development of small and mid-size cars that have a top speed of 65 to 75 MPH (105 to 120 KPH) and a single-charge range of 200 to 400 miles (325 to 650 Km). Subject to satisfying local homologation requirements, these new vehicles would be distributed to major markets globally. The Company estimates that global annual sales units for this size of new car to be in excess of 30 million. Third party discussions have been initiated to assess possible manufacturing and distribution scenarios.

So, seems ZENN is quite confident it’ll get delivery of the EEStor units, though it doesn’t say when. I’m curious to know where it plans to set up manufacturing. Given the difficulties it has had trying to get its low-speed vehicles approved for use in Canada, it would be sweet revenge of it decided to locate manufacturing of its higher-speed EV outside of Canada.

Grid neglect will undermine other efforts

I wrote a Clean Break column this week on the need for more attention — serious attention — to matters involving the electric grid. My concern is that we put so much focus on new power generation, arguably a more sexy topic when we talk about wind and solar, and seem to forget that maximizing renewable output means improving the way the grid operates and expanding its reach. In other words, we need to be moving more aggressively toward a “smart grid” that’s self-healing and automated to the point where the energy from a wide variety of resources — wind, solar, ocean, biomass, biogas, geothermal — can be tapped, directed, managed and carried to where it needs to go.

Vinod Khosla has raised this concern and need. So has the U.S. Electric Power Research Institute, which considers grid modernization a top priority. Unfortunately, the utilities themselves and politicians don’t seem to get it — at least not yet. This could become a major bottleneck within a few years, so we need to start addressing it today. If we envision a world of electric cars, plug-in hybrids, smart appliances and more and more renewables, then the grid is what ties it all together and makes it work. The grid we have today, built with technologies from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, just won’t cut it.

What this will take is a vision from government — at all levels, but particularly federal government — and a clear policy direction with benchmarks we need to meet.