You might not know his name and you probably have never met him, but chances are that if you’ve ever done a little bit of searching for information on electric vehicles on the Internet you’ve landed on his web site.
Meet Darell Dickey, self-described “EV Nut” and founder of the highly trafficked website EVnut.com.
The site, which began modestly about eight years ago as a repository for information about electric vehicles that was being traded on various e-mail listserv groups, has grown into a site attracting up to 50,000 unique visitors a month.
EVNut.com hosts to a wealth of information about electric vehicles, in particular the Toyota RAV4 EV, which is the EV model Dickey currently parks and solar-charges, at his Davis, Calif. home.
And, if you’re interested in excellent, witty and well-formulated answers to ill-informed barbs advanced by the plethora of EV naysayers, EVNut.Com is the place to go to stock up on these.
An example -->
EV naysayer’s assertion: I'd never park an EV in my garage with all those dangerous batteries that can burst into flames at any moment.
Dickey’s response: I still can’t get over the fact that we happily park 20, 50, 75 gallons of gasoline in our attached garages. The idea that batteries are more dangerous than tanks of gasoline would be comical if it weren’t such a serious issue.
Answering the EV critique
The affable and funny Dickey has plenty more zingers for EV naysayers, along with a plethora of stinging barbs for Big Oil and Dirty Coal. They’re all backed up by hard facts the Davis, Calif. solar consultant has tracked down and assembled for EVNut.Com in an ongoing effort promote EVs and the synergy between green energy and electric cars.
With solar, I could power it and know exactly where the power was coming from. I had the perfect answer for those people who said that as soon as you plug in you’re destroying mountains in West Virginia.
--Darell Dickey, founder, EVNut.Com and solar-charged driver
“I don’t remember exactly when I started the site,” said Dickey in an recent phone interview with SolarChargedDriving.Com. “It just got bigger and bigger and more and more people started coming to me with questions.”
While Dickey receives a lot of inquiries and questions about EVs via e-mail, he takes the time to answer them all. That’s not surprising given his passion for EVs, a passion Dickey’s had for more than a decade now, and one he’s aiming to transmit to others as well.
“I probably spent one-hundred hours a month on EVNut in its hay day,” says Dickey. “It’s tapered off now. I spend about two hours a week to tune it up and fix this and that -- but it still grows.”
That’s because interest in electric vehicles continues to grow, and, while gas prices have been stable for awhile in the U.S., oil is a volatile – and finite – commodity, meaning interest in alternatively-fueled vehicles is sure to continue to increase as time passes.
If gas prices spike for any reason, like they did about two years ago in the U.S., interest in electric vehicles will spike too.
Just ask Dickey.
Spike in gas prices spikes interest in EVNut.Com
“Two summers ago, when gas was about five dollars a gallon in California, it was fascinating,” he recalls. “You could almost plot the price of gas with the number hits I was getting on EVNut.Com. The hits went from about 50,000 a month to 150,000.”
Of course, while Dickey’s happy to see interest in EVs rise and he’s more than happy to help people learn more about them, in contrast to many of those people driven at least in part to EVNut.com by the price of gas, Dickey doesn’t worry much about the price of gas himself.
That’s because he solar-charges his family’s RAV4 EV with a 2.5 kWh solar system on their Davis, Calif. home. (The family’s other car is a 2006 Prius).
Dickey, who spent about $45,000 on the 2002 RAV4 EV and the solar system combined, calls his zero emissions, home-fueling solution “the best investment I ever made.”
In the seven years Dickey has had solar on his rooftop, Dickey’s neighbors without solar systems and without EVs have spent at least as much as Dickey, and, in many cases, more than $45,000, to meet their driving and home electric needs.
First, just like Dickey, his neighbors need a car (around $25,000 for a new 2002 car comparable to Dickey’s fully equipped 2002 Toyota RAV4 EV). Second, the average American spends about $1,500 a year on gasoline (seven years = $10,500). Third, the average American household forks over about $1,500 a year to their electric utility (seven years = $10,500).
It’s all paid off. It’s free for the rest of its life. How can this not seem like a smart thing to do?
--Darell Dickey, founder, EVNut.Com and solar-charged driver
Add it all up and that’s roughly $47,000 for Dickey’s neighbors and counting -- and this figure doesn’t even take into account the fact that EVs require considerably less maintenance than gas-powered cars (for instance, no oil changes).
Solar + EV = money savings
Meanwhile, Dickey continues to fill up on sun and pay his electric utility $0 per year while his neighbors pay out $1,500 or more per year for gas and $1,500 or more per year for home electric.
That means neighbors will pay at least $3,000 per year more than Dickey for auto fueling and home electric use. Over the next 10 years, that’s at least $30,000 in savings Dickey will realize as a result of his “expensive” solar system and EV.
To be fair, Dickey’s RAV4 EV won’t last forever. Then again, neither will neighbors’ gas-powered cars.
“It’s all paid off,” says Dickey of his EV and his solar system. “It’s free for the rest of its life. How can this not seem like a smart thing to do?”
In fact, Dickey says two things prevent many people from doing the ‘smart thing’ and going solar. First, there’s pure ignorance. According to Dickey, very few people know about solar energy and its economic benefits.
If they are among the minority that does know about solar, they’re often blinded by the lump sum of cash they’ve got to lay out for a solar system.
No doubt, they’ll pay far more to their electric utility to power their home’s electricity over the long-term than they would with a home solar system. However, by staying with the status quo and forking over increasing amounts of money for home electric as electricity rates rise, they will avoid having to save up a large amount of cash.
Solar leasing now an option
In fact, the giant load of cash hurdle – arguably the biggest barrier to going solar for most people – is falling in many places in the United States as solar leasing and residential solar power purchase agreements, which allow homeowners to go solar with little to no money down and pay the same amount, or less, than they do monthly to their electric utility for electricity.
“We have all these financing options now that are amazing,” says Dickey, who works as a solar consultant for Acro Energy.
Although going solar and solar-charging an EV make economic sense, and have helped him save money, says Dickey, his primary reason for plugging into the sun was environmental – OK, that, plus a little bit of goading from his neighbors.
“We put up solar in August of 2003 and one of the main reasons I did it was to shut down people who said I was just plugging my car into a lump of coal,” says Dickey. “With solar, I could power it and know exactly where the power was coming from. I had the perfect answer for those people who said that as soon as you plug in you’re destroying mountains in West Virginia.”
Dickey estimates that about half of the 300 other EV owners he knows – he knows a lot of other EV owners thanks to the fact that he administers multiple EV e-mail listservs – partially, or fully, power their EVs off the sun.
“Take any subset of a population in America and you don’t even come close to that percentage of the group having solar,” points out Dickey.
What comes first – the EV or solar?
Dickey says he thinks most people buy the EV first and the solar system second.
“There’s usually a three-year lag time between when someone purchases an electric vehicle and then realizes the next stop is to make my own power,” says Dickey.
For at least some of those EV owners who do go solar, it is for reasons very similar to Dickey: They want to be able to say their EV is in fact a truly green car, and, in those cases in which the total annual miles they drive are covered 100-percent by solar-generated electricity, a truly zero pollution vehicle. Fueling independence is also a big allure.
With gas cars, they only talk about the gas pipe. Why are EVs held to a different standard? It’s because you have to go upstream to find any pollution with EVs. You could swim upstream with gas cars too – and that just makes them look worse than they already do.
--Darell Dickey, founder, EVNut.Com and solar-charged driver
By the way, Dickey has an answer for some of the EV naysayers who snicker that if you buy an EV you’re just transferring pollution from the tailpipe to the smokestack.
The production of gasoline creates a tremendous amount of pollution – via drilling, via transportation of oil, and, especially, via the refining process -- before you, the driver, ever puff something out of your tailpipe, explains Dickey.
Gas cars have their own ‘upstream’
“With gas cars, they only talk about the gas pipe,” he says. “Why are EVs held to a different standard? It’s because you have to go upstream to find any pollution with EVs. You could swim upstream with gas cars too – and that just makes them look worse than they already do.”
With a solar-charged EV, of course, there is no upstream, though, to be accurate, if you plug in at night – like Dickey often does – the electricity which charges your EV’s batteries will have been generated somewhere other than your home’s rooftop solar system.
Still, there is a legitimate sense of satisfaction when, the next day, your solar system makes up for the electricity you drew off the grid at night, says Dickey. There’s also a sense of independence that you don’t get by rolling to the local self-serve gas station and plugging your car into Big Oil.
“Sure, sticking it to the man is a big part of this,” says Dickey. “That’s definitely a sentiment that’s right under the surface.”
It’s the green + ‘sticking it to the man’ appeal that make the solar + EV synergy so attractive to so many, says Dickey. And it’s why he thinks this synergy will play an important role in the growth of both solar and electric vehicles.
Vehicle-to-grid is the future
“I think the synergy part of it is going to be big,” he says. “It’s in its infancy right now. One of the reasons is that we need storage for green energy and battery cars are storage on wheels.”
Here, Dickey is referring to the so-called vehicle-to-grid technology that allows electric utilities to pull energy from large numbers of EV batteries – with individual EV owners determining how much energy the utility can take – during peak load times. These typically occur on hot summer days, when most EV owners will have their cars parked at their workplace.
After short peak-load times in which energy is drawn from EV batteries – energy for which an EV owner would be paid by the utility – electricity would again flow back into your EV’s battery, ensuring that your car has a sufficient charge to get you home from work.
“EVs can be a perfect way to make green energy viable much faster (with vehicle-to-grid),” says Dickey.
In the end, one of the most appealing things about EVNut.Com – and about Dickey – is the ability of the site’s writer/editor to anticipate and, in witty and informed fashion, answer both critics of EVs and of environmentalism.
An avid environmentalist who prefers to ride his bicycle wherever and whenever he can (he bikes between 5,000 and 10,000 miles per year), Dickey says that even the greenest of the green solutions, including the solar + EV synergy are imperfect.
That’s because solar panels and EVs require raw materials, which must be mined, refined, transported and then molded and pieced into final products. All of this involves some degree of environmental destruction.
“Everything you do is relative to something else,” says Dickey. “Take solar panels, I would be using something else to get electric if I wasn’t using solar. The question is: Is what I’m doing better or worse than something else? There’s just no comparing solar with coal, or gasoline cars to EVs. Every study has shown that solar is better than coal and EVs are better than gas cars.”
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