WILL BYERS | Photography | Portland, Maine


Will Byers is a photographer and writer based in Portland, Maine. Here is a growing record of as many far-flung things as he can manage to put accurately and articulately. Music videos. Sweet links.

Posts in Current events
A Short History of Electric Vehicles

From Edison to EV1 to Tesla

There are decades of history behind the electric car. First in motion in the United States over 100 years ago, the EV (electric vehicle) is, at long last, having its day in the sun. With over a dozen all-electric vehicles on the market today, and manufacturers committing billions to research and development, the transition to zero emission vehicles is accelerating. The electric vehicle has returned for good, and will soon dominate older, dirtier, less-efficient internal combustion engines.

Steampunk Era

Electric vehicles were initially a very viable option for many in need of urban transportation in the late 19th century. Steam, electrical, and gasoline power were all present in this experimental period as the world underwent a paradigm shift from horse-powered personal transportation to “horseless carriages,” as early car prototypes were dubbed, but electricity was the clean and quiet option many preferred.

By 1900 many innovators around the world were exploring ways to improve the technology. In the first years of the century, Thomas Edison, who believed that electric vehicles were the logical champion, worked toward increasing their battery capacities. Even Henry Ford was open to their potential, and, in partnership with Edison, considered producing a low-cost electric vehicle.

A Pivotal Chapter

Despite his interest, it was the rollout of Ford Motor Company’s Model T, in 1908, that delivered a substantial blow to any marketable electric vehicle. Inexpensive, mass-produced Model T’s, absent a laborious crank-starter, and the Texas crude oil boom, gave rise to the gasoline-powered motor vehicle. Along with filling stations, motor vehicles spread out from cities into rural America, where electrical infrastructure had not yet arrived.

1922 was the apex of horse ownership in America, and 120,000 people were employed in the harness-making industry. By 1928 the automobile had become dominant, wiping out the harness-makers, but unleashing decades of exponential job growth and economic development associated with the U.S. auto industry.

Gas prices remained low, and the American automobile industry flourished without much of a mention of the electric vehicle, until the 1960s when the Environmental Movement began influencing legislation to help clear the increasingly smoggy, unhealthy air Americans were breathing as a result of motor vehicle emissions.

Oil Shock

It was the oil crises of the 1970s that truly brought the electric vehicle back into consideration, though – Americans were suddenly finding themselves at the mercy of foreign oil interests, and many recognized that revitalizing the development of a swift, long-range EV was the solution.

A couple of automakers created prototypes, and Congress even authorized government support of research and development. But, by this time, much of America was enamored with the rumble of a motor, and with their limited speed and range, and often unusual appearance, these EVs did not reach the necessary broad appeal to advance, and their slight popularity diminished again in the 1980s.

The GM EV1

Then, in 1996, spurred by strict emissions regulations issued in California earlier in the decade, General Motors began leasing the first mass-produced electric vehicle of the modern era from a major automaker: the EV1. Customer reactions were very positive – it could keep up on the highways and travel as much as 100 miles on a charge.

Other major automakers attempted to follow suit in order to continue selling vehicles in California, but sadly this technological momentum was again hindered, this time by relentless pressure from entrenched oil interests, attacks of misinformation, and even interference from former president George W. Bush’s administration. GM declared the EV1 commercially unviable due to high production costs, and by 2003 the EV1 program had been discontinued, and leased models were removed from the road, then, largely, destroyed.

Surging Forward

After another initially hopeful chapter concluded so dismally, it might seem like the notion of an electric vehicle was ill-fated – but you can’t keep a good idea down. Consumer demand continued to grow with increasing environmental awareness, while the photovoltaic technology to harvest a clean energy supply, and the battery technology to store it, began to leap ahead, as well.

A 2017 Chevy Bolt at a level 2 charging station in Portland, Maine.

Companies like Toyota and Honda produced HEVs (hybrid electric vehicles) that were well-received and affordable, but they were not free from the world of oil, emissions, and engine maintenance.

Then, in 2006, along came the Tesla Roadster – the first mass-produced, all-electric vehicle to reach the American market in the decade since the EV1’s arrival. Tesla’s Roadster and their S sedan have been extremely successful, and they have more all-electric models in the works, compelling other major automakers to renew their efforts in the research and development of the modern EV, with more and more of them producing HEVs and PHEVs (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles) to fill the gap.

Now, in 2017, everyone from BMW to Ford has produced an all-electric vehicle – the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt are two of the most affordable and competitive of these EVs on American highways today, each pushing the other ahead.

The electricity we drive on is only as green as its source, however, and efforts to further improve battery technology, and widely distribute clean solar energy are vital to the overall success of the EV.

Moreover, installing charging infrastructure, reducing charging times, and increasing driving ranges are all essential to winning over American drivers and transforming our auto industry. Our clean energy transition is far from complete, but the American psyche has already begun to embrace the next paradigm shift in transportation – driving on sunshine!

Read the rest of the series on ReVision's blog: 

Part 2 - An introduction to EV charging and infrastructure.

Part 3 - What makes EVs even better? Solar power.

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White Lobster, Cocaine and Leucism

Everything Is Connected

On August 24, 2017, a Chebeague Islander (in the Casco Bay of Maine) named Alex Todd found a rarity while checking his lobster pots. The 48-year-old lobsterman, no stranger to having his story told, had pulled aboard an iridescent, white lobster - a female with a notched tail.

Alex snapped a photo, showed the bug to his folks, and set it free back in the ocean. She was V-notched on her tail, and Alex is an upright guy, so he abided the mandatory practice of returning females with such a mark. 

Since 1917, Mainers have notched tails of females found carrying eggs, to keep the population stable. As the lobster grows, it keeps the notch in its exoskeleton, forever sparing it from hungry people, well, everywhere, nowadays. 

Alex did well because lobsters are declining in the Gulf of Maine, and the difficult-to-enforce practice of preserving egg-bearing females has been declining also. For now, annual harvests total several hundreds of millions of dollars.

Modern lobstering has been in a lucrative sweet spot with the increasingly warm water temps diminishing predators, but now the water has warmed to the point where lobsters are swimming to chillier places. To lose lobsters would be a tough blow to Maine, having already lost many industrial jobs, but it's far more sad to think of Maine losing such a big piece of its identity.

But then again, the war would finally be over.

But then again, the war would finally be over.

Meanwhile in Nicaragua...

Over 2,000 miles away, on the Miskito Coast of the South Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua, fishermen are hauling in another kind of bounty from the sea.

Some background: The Creole and indigenous population there is isolated from central America by jungle, and so residents of the Miskito Coast feel more kindred with their Caribbean neighbors across the sea than with the other citizens of Nicaragua. Bluefields is the capital and home of about 90,000 people. Electricity is sporadic, roads are rough, and there isn't much work. Subsistence fishing is one of the more common daily priorities, but they also keep an eye out for their own lucrative harvest.

The Devil's Dandruff


Residents of Bluefields and various coastal villages often wake up early and scan the horizon for la langosta blanca. The elusive white lobster, in Nicaragua, is cocaine.

When smugglers traveling up the "country road" by sea from Colombia are confronted by law enforcement, they dump their drugs and run. Bales of cocaine often drift in the currents to the various lagoons, beaches and cays up and down the Miskito Coast.

Lucky fishers retrieve these bales - sometimes weighing 35 kg, sometimes much, much more - and trade it back to Colombian traffickers who peruse the villages for about $4,000 per kilo. This is well below the going rate, but a lot of cash, nonetheless.

Traffickers are intertwined in the economy in other ways as well, and though it is not a well-loved presence, it is considered to be a presence that provides.

The Miskito Coast is cut-off from the rest of Nicaragua in more than one way. There isn't much infrastructure, nothing that will really attract investors, anyway. As well, the indigenous and Creole population have a complicated past with the central government, and as autonomous coastal regions do not receive much support. Here, as in Maine, lobster is king.

Piebald zebra. Also,  zebras dgaf .

Piebald zebra. Also, zebras dgaf.

Wait, why was the actual lobster white, though?

The white lobster that Alex Todd caught was not albino, it was leucistic. Leucism is a genetic condition, like albinism, but only results in a partial loss of melanin pigmentation. 

The easiest distinction between the two is found in the eyes. Albino eyes are totally devoid of melanin, and appear red due to retinal blood vessels. Leucistic eyes are often blue, from light refraction.

Leucism can also be partial, resulting in what's known as piebald. Piebald animals have an unpredictable pattern of pigmentation that can create an even more striking appearance.

Both albinism and leucism can make it difficult for certain animals to survive in the wild, where camouflage either helps you get your next meal, or keeps you from becoming one. Eyesight is poorer, feathers are weaker, and chances of mating can be lowered.

Both conditions happen to all kinds of critters, even humans.

White gators at Gatorland, Florida or white giraffes in Kenya or "spirit bears" in British Columbia.

It doesn't matter so much to our leucistic crustacean cruising Casco Bay, though. You can tell she's leucistic due to the hints of blue still visible on her shell, and color in her eyes. There's an outside chance a seal might make a snack of her, but, otherwise, her white shell probably won't stop her from eating mollusks until she's too huge to molt anymore.



This brings us to Brevard, North Carolina, my hometown of beer, bikes, barbecue, and banjos. There I grew up thinking it was perfectly normal to spot white squirrels prancing around.

They are neither albino nor leucistic, however. They're simply an Eastern Gray Squirrel with a coat color variant, albeit rare.

There are a few albino and leucistic colonies spread throughout the country, but none as numerous as ours. Brevard’s squirrel population, with almost one in three white, has the highest percent white of any known colony, with approximately a thousand individuals within the city limits. 


They're protected by law, but I guess there's some wiggle room for the ones that insist on being run over. So in this case, they can't be harvested, they aren't valuable on the black market, and they get filthy after a good rain, but the amount of tourism dollars they draw is nuts.

So you see, it really is ALL connected. That's what we learned today, in this nuanced, meaningful discourse. 

What's your evidence it's all connected? 

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Strategic Electrification and Solar Power

An Electrifying Concept that will Save the World

It won’t be long until we power everything in the world with wind, water and sun. This is strategic electrification, and its game-changing disruptions will help us stop carbon pollution and increase energy efficiency. The sooner we adopt this strategy of progress, the sooner we see the benefits.

The Fore Street Garage solar canopy in Portland, ME has 7  SMA Sunny Tripower inverters  flying high. Inverters convert DC from the solar panels to AC for usage in homes and offices.

The Fore Street Garage solar canopy in Portland, ME has 7 SMA Sunny Tripower inverters flying high. Inverters convert DC from the solar panels to AC for usage in homes and offices.

There’s hundreds of years’ worth of coal underground for us to burn, but it’s going to stay there. We no longer need it to make electricity.

Historically, grid operators have created electricity with problematic resources like coal, natural gas, or nuclear energy – but due to the emergence of renewables and electrification, the nature of the grid has begun to change.

Electricity is becoming cleaner at an impressive rate, and the time is right to electrify everything. Whether it comes from residential solar systems or our growing asset of utility-scale renewable energy systems, clean power will flow into an increasingly electrified world of devices.

Green Pastures

The beauty of strategic electrification is that as electricity becomes cleaner, so will everything we do with it. As utilities invest more into renewable energy infrastructure, electricity will steadily use less fossil fuel per kilowatt-hour of energy produced. If we power our grid with 100% renewable energy, we can nearly eliminate greenhouse gas emissions altogether by electrifying everything under the sun.

To bolster the penetration of renewables on our electric grid, and to see the biggest benefit of electrification, we need to electrify space heating, water heating, and, especially, transportation. With today’s heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, and next-generation electric cars, we already have the solutions.

The Flexibility to Give

Not only will these devices be cleaner than their predecessors, they will also be more flexible, smarter. The modern grid will become smarter, too, and increased flexibility in generation, interconnection, storage and demand response around the grid will meet the challenges of a more electrified world.

The  Brunswick Landing microgrid  in Maine will demonstrate the grid of the future, accomplished by embracing new technologies and attracting renewable energy businesses who can use the microgrid to develop their businesses and beta test new technology.

The Brunswick Landing microgrid in Maine will demonstrate the grid of the future, accomplished by embracing new technologies and attracting renewable energy businesses who can use the microgrid to develop their businesses and beta test new technology.

The variability of certain renewable resources like wind, solar or tidal energy presents a challenge to generating power smoothly at all hours, but properly mixing those different resources from around the grid will create the flexibility needed to respond to changes in demand and supply.

Though it is also possible to import electricity across network borders to help stabilize the grid, flexible interconnection with the growing amount of residential solar electricity in our own network is the better way to meet that need. Decentralizing our grid in this way allows for power to be consumed where it is produced, lowering rates for everybody.

Battery storage is often heralded as the best solution to variable power production, and it will indeed play a part, but it is a higher priority to integrate and balance available renewable energy resources. That said, batteries are an obvious way to help, especially as their costs drop and capacities grow.


Load flexibility, or demand response, will have a critical part of balancing a renewable energy grid, as it is the most cost effective method. Demand response programs existed in the past to balance supply and demand by prompting large, industrial customers to lower their usage at certain times of day during periods of high power prices or when the reliability of the grid was threatened.

The  Fore Street Garage  in Portland is the first such solar canopy in Maine, and produces a quarter of a neighboring hotels electricity.

The Fore Street Garage in Portland is the first such solar canopy in Maine, and produces a quarter of a neighboring hotels electricity.

Now, the world of strategic electrification has opened an unlimited number of possibilities for demand response – the internet has rendered it no harder to turn off 1,000 water heaters than it is to turn off a paper mill.  Furthermore, a smart heat pump water heater will run when there is excess solar on the grid, but not when demand is high – basically performing the same function as a battery, but at maybe 2% of the cost, since all we buy is a switch telling it to run or not.

Our devices are increasingly able to communicate across the grid and operate only when most efficient. The “flexi-watts” they run on when there’s a surplus of renewable power will enable us to keep making the grid smarter. The grid is evolving beyond supplying electricity, into a network that makes the most of its distributed energy resources.

Much like the internet changed the way we participate with our media, it’s now changing the way we interact with our budding smart grid.

A Virtuous Cycle

Traditional energy efficiency metrics, that have been improving our electronics for years now, overlook the wide range of emissions efficiencies from electricity generation. Kilowatt-hours from different sources can have vastly different emissions profiles, ranging from as much as 2 lbs. of CO2 to almost nothing.

We need to improve emissions efficiency along with energy efficiency in our shift to an environmentally beneficial grid, by expanding renewable energy.

The worthy effort to reduce usage of dirty electricity through energy efficiency programs has been the focus of our policy and incentives, but when we consider the improved emissions of renewable energy, we see that it’s better to increase the amount of electricity we use when it comes from a clean source.

Pairing strategic electrification with a cleaner, smarter grid creates a beneficial exchange that inspires more electrification and greener electricity in a virtuous cycle.

On the Verge

We stand on the verge of massive opportunities through strategic electrification, but we must recognize that those opportunities won’t be achieved through an indiscriminate focus on reducing kilowatt-hours. It’s more important we clean up our kilowatt-hours, and use them.

If regulators and legislators fail to recognize the strengths of renewables and strategic electrification in a timely manner, there could be long-term negative impacts for us and the environment. Instead they can foster long-term growth, unlocking significant economic and societal benefits by getting to work on incentives and initiatives.

The sooner this is acted upon the sooner we can see all the ways a smarter, more flexible grid can increase reliability, security, sustainability, and open new opportunities for services and business. Coal was just the beginning of our electricity – and the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones.

This home in Maine has solar panels paired with a Pika Islanding Inverter and Harbor smart battery and can  power critical loads during grid outage .

This home in Maine has solar panels paired with a Pika Islanding Inverter and Harbor smart battery and can power critical loads during grid outage.

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