Charging Ahead: Using Your Home to Fuel Your Car

A solar-powered electric vehicle equals true Zero Emission driving.It feels like I’ve reached a milestone in my life. I’ve long been concerned about environmental issues and years ago I realized that change starts with each of us; in other words it was up to me to embrace it. The process, shared with my wife and best friend Marsala, has involved a many-layered strategy of simple living, debt reduction, self-education and goal setting. It has taken some patience too.

We planned and saved and waited for the right timing. We took advantage of favorable market conditions and incentives. Over the last decade or so we’ve reduced our carbon footprint by well over 80% from our once quite lofty average for a typical American couple. It did not happen all at once, but I know from real experience that our lives are richer now than ever before and rather than a hardship, it has been a privilege. Our approach has involved everything from dietary choices to family planning, but the most impactful and enjoyable changes were those we made in our home.

We began by downsizing to something that fit our needs rather than our egos. We embraced efficiency at every turn. Solar electric and water heating systems were added when it made sense and we could afford them. Along the way, we learned the real value of energy and how to use it more efficiently. It takes eight minutes for energy from the Sun to travel 93 million miles to our PV panels. A few micro-seconds later and they are in the Leaf, ready to take us where we need to go.For example, we now own the photovoltaic (PV) panels on our roof that produce all of our electricity. This has increased our awareness and appreciation for the clean energy we produce and the beneficial effect on our climate. We continue to find ways to reduce our energy needs, so our PV system actually produces more energy than our home requires over the course of a year.

That extra electrical energy is the reason for the milestone. It has now been over a month and more than a thousand miles of driving since I’ve stopped at a gas station or even ridden in any vehicle that burns fossil fuel. We purchased an all-electric car; the first Nissan Leaf sold in our community. The car uses no gasoline. Rather, we plug it in after pulling into the garage. Our home has taken on a new function, one that will undoubtedly become as common as a dishwasher: It is a clean-energy fueling station. By the way, even when using basic grid power, electric cars are still much cleaner, more efficient and less costly to operate than traditional vehicles.

It is an unfortunate fact that we’ve built our communities around the automobile and the availability of cheap fossil fuel. Energy visionary Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute and author of “Reinventing Fire” recently wrote that “Nearly 90 percent of the world’s economy is fueled every year by digging up and burning about four cubic miles of the rotted remains of primeval swamp goo.” He is right of course and it has become a burden on our planet, our consciousness and our wallets. Now I know for sure that, based on personal experience, there is a better way.

Every investment I have ever made in efficiency or clean energy has been a good one and the Leaf is no exception. It is now our primary vehicle and works flawlessly. We’ve all but eliminated our need to purchase gasoline (we still have a secondary car for longer trips). It has nearly doubled the yearly value of our PV system’s energy production since it now replaces increasingly expensive gasoline.

Driving a zero-emissions car powered by nothing but clean, fresh sunshine is an amazing experience. No more smog checks or oil changes either. With PV prices at all-time lows, this is going to catch on like wild-fire. Our homes will play a key role in breaking our addiction to that dirty, rotten goo, a milestone that is welcome and long overdue.

Editor’s note: Check out this map of Electric Vehicle Charging Stations in Nevada. The number might surprise you.

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Comments

  1. Bob Foss says:

    I enjoyed Steve’s article, but I do have news for him. He said since using the Leaf, he hasn’t been in a car that uses fossil fuel. Well, the Leaf DOES use fossil fuel—and at a greater human cost—than gasoline. If he charges his car in the Nevada, he’s using coal or natural gas since that’s what powers our electric grid. More coalminers die each year than refinery workers. I have to admit this is not my idea…the Las Vegas Review Journal called the Volt and other non-gas cars “coal-powered” and the car magazine blogs frequently mention the fact that people who use electric vehicles use a lot of fossil fuel. One advantage: it’s not imported like oil.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Bob. I apologize if I was not clear about the source of energy used to charge our Leaf. It is 100% solar energy from the PV panels on our roof.

      The research I’ve found (not the RJ) seems pretty clear that even if an electric car is charged from a traditional coal-powered grid, it is still cleaner than burning gasoline in an internal combustion engine (ICE). Electric motors are much more efficient so the “well-to-wheels” energy ratio favors electric power all around. That’s why the operating cost is significantly lower with electric.

      One thing I know for sure is that I really like driving on sunshine!

  2. Well said, Steve! Congratulations on the new car, too. Personally, I’m looking forward to trying out one of these soon:

    http://www.brammo.com/home/

    http://www.zeromotorcycles.com/

    Note that the newest bikes from Zero will go over 100 miles, at a cost of about $14k. Not cheap, but still a big milestone; 3 years ago, they only went about 50 miles.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    • Thanks Eric. Those ebikes look very interesting!

      I’m hoping we can transition quickly to these much cleaner vehicles since it will take longer to transform our communities to be more human-centric places that people can enjoy without any machinery for transport.

  3. With the advent of the new lower cost PV units it seems that more of us should be able to afford the installation of a PV system. Currently my motor fuel cost is around $100.00 per month.

    I have considered a PV system but I can’t quite figure out how to configure it on my particular roof style. When you’re in the neighborhood swing by and see if you may have any ideas.

    Just over the hill, age and location.

  4. I am so jealous. I cannot wait for the day to get off fuel. It has been a long time dream of mine to run my whole house on solar and charge a car on solar. Sadly, the day I can afford it is still a long way off. If anyone knows of a rich person that would give me 0% loans for such a good cause, please send them my way (my credit is perfect)! :-)

    Good for you for making decisions that are better for the world. Would you mind sharing how much it cost to get enough solar panels to run your house only on solar?

    • Thanks for your kind comments Kris. The cost of solar energy systems has plummeted in recent years but each home and situation is different. Our system is rated at 5kW AC and it produces about 11,500 kWh yearly. A recent article in Solar Today magazine listed the average price in Nevada for a system of that size at around $14,500 after incentives (which often fluctuate). That powers our entire home and now our primary vehicle also. The savings in electricity and gasoline add up to nearly $3,000 a year. That is a very good return on investment.

      Many of my past columns outline the details, but in a nutshell, home efficiency is the first thing to address. Then get a qualified contractor to provide a solar quote. I spent time studying incentives while saving for our system. In my experience, living simply and saving aggressively make a good recipe for green living.

      Awareness and desire are the primary ingredients for success and thankfully, you have them both. You will get there!

  5. steve — as is your wont, a stellar piece providing details, logic, and information.

    it is heartening to read how persistence and commitment to living simply and saving aggressively are key components is reaping immense dividends by creating a better life for you as well as the rest of mankind.

    many thanks for the opportunity to learn.

  6. Richard Sevigny says:

    I’ve just completed over two hundred major housing rehabilitation projects specnding an average 65-75K on each of the foreclosed homes we purchased per the NSP program.
    What do you need to know about major house rehabilitation in Clark County? We set the standards for each of the houses to meet the “Specifications for houses in warm climates” with an after rehab HERS rating of 65 and achieved it with before and after testing of the home performance for the existing home.

    • That is a great accomplishment Richard! I’m hopeful that the home performance rehab industry will continue to expand to meet the needs of a much greater segment of our population. Everyone should have an opportunity to live in an efficient home that does not cost an arm and a leg to operate.

  7. William says:

    Since your Leaf does not use gasoline you are not paying any taxes that are used to maintain the roads here in Las Vegas. New ways to tax you are being thought of as I write this comment. Maybe a GPS transmitter to track your movement and tax you by miles driven.

    • Hmmm, sounds logical but let’s not stop there William. Using your same logic, surely you would agree that those who burn fossil fuels are not paying their fair share to maintain a viable, healthy atmosphere (based purely on results – the universe does not lie).

      I’ll be happy to pay reasonable and fair road maintenance fees, if you will agree that users of fossil fuels should pay their fair share too. In fact, due to the overwhelming number of gas and diesel vehicles (compared to the minute number of EVs), it seems that a carbon tax should be a much higher priority.