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. 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.