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Why aren't there more solar-charged drivers?

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norbys-activee-with-solarpeder-norby-guestWhen my wife Julie and I built our home in 2006, we made the smartest decision of our lives, to include a solar PV system to power the home.

In 2007, we purchased an electric Gem e4, three years ago we got into the BMW Mini-E program, and a few months ago we transitioned into the BMW ActiveE. Collectively we have 48,000 miles of solar-charged EV driving. We've nick named our 7.5 kilowatt PV energy plant “Sunco Station"  

After five years, “Sunco Station” is now completely paid for by offsetting our home utility cost and our gasoline cost. Essentially the system, and a LED lighting retrofit, cost a little over $34,000 and we have been saving a little over $7,000 a year in home utility and gasoline cost.  

 In summary, it's about $3 a month in energy costs for our family plus a  young couple who is related to us to live in our guest home and for us to drive an electric car 18,000 miles a year. That's the new school. The old school was $430 a month of electricity, $275 a month for gasoline.

From here on out, for the rest of our lives we live and drive on sunshine essentially for free. If you would like to see our actual annual bill from SDG&E you can click HERE.

So the dream of a net zero energy home and zero emission driving has been accomplished at a price that is far cheaper than our prior “old school” way of living.

So why isn’t this happening on a broad scale? What’s holding most people back from this more efficient future? Here are my thoughts on that question.

1.  Collectively, we resist change.  
There is safety in the status quo and great risk in leaving the status quo and advocating for change. Inertia, the gyroscopic force of the status quo is resistant to a change in any direction and that force, put bluntly and simply, is our biggest hurdle to overcome. Humans are skeptical and we are fear based when lacking a coherent understanding of a topic.

The way out of fear is to replace fear with knowledge. Throughout history with any technology this has been a multi-stage process from theoretical, experimental, working prototype, small test sample, entry into the market, the bleeding edge, to the leading edge, to the early adopters, to mass consumers.

We as humans don’t voluntarily change en masse. With EV+PV we are now in the stage of transitioning from the leading edge to the early adopters. We are erasing the fear of the unknown and replacing that with real world experience.

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The Norbys solar-charged ActiveE on a sunny, California day. [Photo Courtesy of Peder Norby]

2.  Price. 
For EVs, as we descend down the adoption curve,  production ramps up and prices decrease. This will be dramatic in the next ten years.

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. So the wealthy purchase the new technology ($10,000 42” Plasma TVs no HDTV) and eventually it makes its way to the broad consumer base and improves along the way ($1,000 50” HDTV LED TVs)

With Solar PV there is another big problem that we are trying to solve. The irony is that our younger generations are the most supportive of Solar PV, and the older generations the most resistant.

The conundrum is that our older generations are our stable homeowners and the younger generation are moving around constantly, on the average, every four years. Basically people move, buildings don’t.  

Utility prices vary greatly from region to region. 
If we as a nation are really going to tackle the issue of replacing our fossil fuel based energy sources, we have to treat our renewable energy sources in the same way. Nobody expects a homeowner or renter to pay cash in advance for 25 years of energy, or take out a personal loan to pay for their coal or natural gas based electricity.

Solar needs to be financed on the buildings (PACE Program) or via a grid (Virtual net metering) that never moves, rather than the individual, who often ends up moving. That simple change will launch the industry and make solar PV a wealth generator for individual families. That is the battle line today between entrenched utilities and consumer advocates.

3.  Steps for all incomes that you can take to go EV + PV.
Think long term, not instant satisfaction. Every so often we make large scale purchases. Be they vacations, homes, cars, boats, RVs, pools, room additions, kitchen remodels, desert toys,  and others. 

When that time comes consider solar PV, it’s one-third the cost of a pool and will save you $200 a month instead of adding $200 a month to your expenses. If you love pools by all means build a pool, the idea is to consider solar PV as a viable option during these large purchase times.

Search out and move into a solar-powered apartment or condo. More and more developers are building solar-powered projects. By choosing to live in those projects you will increase the number of new projects built with solar and thus help to create greater future options for all. 

Don’t just consider the monthly car payment when comparing cars. Be honest and assess how much maintenance and gas cost are involved in owning or leasing a car. For example, our BMW ActiveE at $499 a month is similar in price or slightly higher than other comparable cars. But when we save $300 a month on gasoline it then has a similar cost to a $199 a month car and that is a great bargain for this car.

Rent an EV don’t buy one. Many attractive lease opportunities are available on cars like the LEAF, Volt, ActiveE. Additionally, if you live in an urban Hub like San Diego, Car2Go has electric smart cars that you can share. San Francisco has electric scooters that you can share.

If there are no options in your area, move (just kidding). A better option would be to consider the used car market for EVs which is beginning to grow.

Start with an electric bike. Electric bikes greatly extend the radius of travel compare to traditional bikes. If you’re inclined, an electric motorcycle extends it even farther.

Build your own. Small scale solar is now available through Lowes and Costco. If you’re handy, or you are good friends with an electrician, a small scale solar installation is possible for the do-it-yourself types. Same for electric bikes. Many manufactures make kits to transform your existing bike to an electric bike.

Get involved and support EV and PV efforts. Every area has fun and important groups where you can be part of the solution and have a good time meeting like minded folks. It costs nothing to do. So, get involved!

Lastly, go for it. If you can, and it works for your life situation, going EV + PV will be the smartest decision you will ever make. 

Peder Norby is a long-time solar-charged driver from Carlsbad, Calif. SolarChargedDriving.Com would like to thank him for allowing us to re-publish this column, which originally ran on Peder and Julie Norby's Electric BMW, ActiveE Blog.

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