What sound should an electric car make?

Safety advocates have long warned that the relative silence of electric cars make them a safety hazard. Pedestrians, particularly kids, won't hear them and this could increase the likelihood of accidents. Silence, however, is also one of the great attributes of electric cars. You glide down the road without having to listen to all that thumping and whining coming from the engine.

Ford Motor, which soon will deliver the all-electric 2012 Ford Focus, is currently testing out four sounds. Here's a link.  Option A is my personal favorite. It has an ominous tone in the beginning with a bell-like undertone. It almost sounds like the sounds behind the old THX ad in action movies. "In a world..." you half expect the car to announce.

Option B sounds like a piece of paper stuck in an air duct. Option C is a bit too jet engine-y. In any event, have a listen yourself.


--A123 Systems, the lithium-ion battery maker that consistently loses money, has signed another deal for grid storage. Dongfang Electric, China's third largest wind turbine manufacturer, will install 500 kilowatts worth of batteries at its facility in Hangzhou City to demonstrate the power of grid storage. Wind turbines and farms in particular need grid storage because of the intermittent nature of wind. Batteries can help stabilize power deliver. And, as competitor Xtreme Power has noted, utilities will also pay wind farm developers for access to their batteries for the own management requirements. Thus, batteries can become profit centers on their own.

The 500 kilowatts represent a large, but not a huge, order for A123. The company is also the battery/technology provider for a 32-megawatt project for Southern California Edison, a 20-megawatt project for AES in upstate N.Y., and a 20-megawatt project in Chile. By the end of the year, it will have 100 megawatts' worth of projects worldwide.

Storage will also help solar and wind counter the cost argument. Wind farms cost around $2,000 per kilowatt and have a 30 percent capacity factor. A123 told us in November that its battery packs cost around $1,000 per kilowatt. Thus, you could build a virtual full-capacity wind farm with some storage for $7,000 a kilowatt (3 x 2,000 plus 1,000.) Nuclear plants cost $7,000 per kilowatt, if you average the wide array of estimates out there, and take far longer to build. Solar is approaching $3,000 per kilowatt and solar farms can provide power in a more consistent manner than wind.

Like in solar panels, A123 has discovered that a huge part of these storage systems -- around 30 percent -- derives from the so-called balance-of-system costs. The company, naturally, wants to decrease this.

--Coulomb Technologies has won the contract to supply EV charging stations to Walgreens. Retailers have been staking a claim to electric car charging for the past few years. Costco already has free charging in many locations. The idea is to give away a little power and win someone's loyalty for life. Walgreens will install chargers at 800 stores, so it's a big deal for Coulomb, one of many companies trying to sell almost virtually identical chargers to store owners. (Call it Chargemaggedon.)

Expect to see more announcements on EV charging from parking companies like Ampco. Every time I attend an EV conference, I run into parking guys.

Walgreens will also try to get around the time problem by installing DC chargers at a few select locations. DC chargers, while expensive, can charge a car in only a few minutes. A regular charger can take hours and not many people spend that much time at Walgreens -- even the locations that still serve tubular ice cream.

--Speaking of electric cars and A123, Ray Lane, the former Oracle oracle now working at Kleiner Perkins, will show off his Fisker Karrma later today in Silicon Valley. The thrice-delayed plug-in luxury hybrid is finally coming to market. It runs on A123 batteries.

--Jerry Cutini will take over for Oliver Janssen as CEO of eIQ, a maker of DC optimizers for solar panels. Solar electronics is a crowded field, but a promising one. No one knows yet which formula -- microinverters, AC modules, DC optimizers -- will win, although anything microinverter-related seems to currently have an edge.

--General Electric has bought Lightech, which makes controllers for LED bulbs. Although GE has been making light bulbs since Thomas Edison showed off the first incandescent in 1879, its LEDs are collaborative efforts. GE relies on acquisitions and outside technologies for its bulbs. The LEDs inside of its bulbs come from Cree. It recently invested in Nuventix, which makes components that cool LED bulbs. There's nothing wrong with this approach: it's just historically amusing.