Driving on sunshine – it’s a gas!


norby-in-mini2Sometimes when he’s shooting down a California freeway in his MINI, Peder Norby breaks out into spontaneous laughter.

Check out Peder Norby’s Blog: ‘Electric Mini’

Norby’s straight-from-the-heart laughter and the impossible-to-suppress smiles that accompany it come not only because his MINI is actually a rare MINI E, as in an electric MINI – though that’s part of it. And they come not only because the MINI E is a joy to drive — though this, too, is part of it.

The sweeping smiles and spontaneous laughter Norby has been known to erupt into while behind the wheel of his MINI E also express a certain amount of happy incredulousness.

You see, Norby is running his MINI E on sun power generated by his Carlsbad, Calif. home’s 7.5 kW solar system.

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That’s right, the Encinitas, Calif. Highway 101 coordinator and County of San Diego Planning Commissioner fuels his MINI E with 100-percent air-pollution free solar electricity. And sometimes even he can’t believe it.

“I find it incredible,” Norby told SolarChargedDriving.Com in a recent interview. “The laughter happens a couple times a month. That’s my favorite EV moment — when that happens.”

Solar first, then the EV for Norby
In contrast to many solar-charged drivers, who start with the EV and then add a home solar system, Norby began with solar and then added the EV, in this case, the MINI E he is leasing as part of BMW’s pilot EV road-testing program.

Norby and his wife Julie, an elementary school principal, built a green house four years ago in Carlsbad, Calif. They added a 4.5 kW solar system to the home about three years ago. The solar system was a big reason Norby looked into becoming part of the MINI E leasing program.

People have the sense that they can’t do anything about our dependence on oil. I believe as we start going down this energy independence path, our national psyche is going to improve.
–Peder Norby

Once the MINI E landed in the Norby’s driveway, it provided inspiration to “upsize” the family’s home solar system. Now at 7.5 kW, the Norby’s system powers one-hundred percent of the home’s electric use and one-hundred percent of the miles logged in the past nine months in the MINI E. Overall, Norby’s put 16,000 miles on the MINI E in the last year — and never once run out of juice.

“We have some friends with Teslas and we know other MINI E drivers on the West Coast,” says Norby, who regularly blogs about his solar MINI E experiences on his ‘Electric Mini’ blog. “They’re mostly EV enthusiasts first. In our case, the solar system led us to experimenting with electric transportation.”

norby-mini-gem2According to Norby, many of those EV enthusiasts have gone solar after shifting to electric transportation. In fact, all four of the other MINI E trial drivers in Encinitas have gone solar since signing up for the trial, says Norby.

He estimates that the MINI E trial of 300 EVs has inspired more than 100 home solar system purchases – a trend forward-looking solar installation companies should be paying attention to, he suggests. Chances are, none of the new solar-charged drivers will be going back to their pre-EV+PV days, says Norby – and neither will he and his wife.

The Norbys recently extended their MINI E lease into a second year – and they’re planning on buying a BMW MegaCity EV when it is released in 2012. They also own a 2007 GEM E4, a low-speed “neighborhood” vehicle.

Their gas car? A 2008 Ford Escape – which they eventually plan to replace with a plug-in hybrid.

Long-time environmentalist
Environmentalism has long been important to Norby who has relatives in one of the renewable energy capitals of the world, Denmark.

Nearly two decades ago, Norby cheered as residents of a small Danish island on which a summer home he used to own voted to increase their electricity rates to build a giant wind farm. That wind farm now powers 300,000 homes each year with minimal impact on the environment, says Norby.

“The environmentalism was there,” he says of his decision to plug into solar-charged driving, a decision that not only has allowed him to contribute to improving the air quality in Southern California, but which also will save Norby money in the long run. “There, the abundant resource is wind. Here it’s sunshine.”

Filling up with sunshine isn’t all about the environment for Norby. It’s tremendously satisfying, he says, to skip the gas station – completely – and to skip handing over money to oil companies and foreign oil barons.

“You become independent,” he explains, “and you don’t even think about gas stations.”

norby-sungas-plateNorby’s personally high on solar, electric cars, and solar-charged driving. But, he says, it’s not just about him. He believes a mass movement toward electric cars increasingly powered by more and more renewable energy-generated electricity is just what an America mired in the bad feelings inspired by the BP oil spill needs right now.

“There’s a certain drudgery to it all,” he says. “People have the sense that they can’t do anything about our dependence on oil. I believe as we start going down this energy independence path, our national psyche is going to improve.”

Fueling independence will be big attraction
A deep desire for independence, fueling and otherwise, drives America and Americans, according to Norby. This – coupled with many Americans’ desire for a cleaner environment and, especially, in Southern California, cleaner air – has the potential to fire a solar-charged driving revolution, the EV+PV enthusiast says.

“It’s going to come fast,” he predicts. “A core value in America is self-reliance. If you give people a way to do this that is beneficial to them economically, they’re going to do it. It’s part of the core culture. It doesn’t matter if you’re libertarian, liberal, conservative or green — this cuts across all political spectrums.”

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Of course, the future of solar-charged driving depends on more than just an American desire for independence and a growing recognition that EV+PV allows for fueling independence. According to Norby, other crucial factors include the price of gasoline – it needs to go up, and the price of solar – it needs to go down.

Norby, who, along with City of Encinitas colleagues, is looking into possibly doubling the city’s current solar capacity with a solar system capable of powering 50 electric vehicles, is confident both of the above — gas prices going up, and solar prices going down — will happen.

“There’s going to be an exponential curve,” he predicts. “But of course it’s always hard to predict fuel prices.”

In the end, more and more people will become attuned to the basic quality of life improvements that will come with a transportation fleet made up of electric vehicles which will increasingly plug into a renewable energy powered grid. Among the most crucial of these quality of life improvements will be dramatic leaps toward better air quality.

“We can eliminate the majority of emissions from our auto fleet and the totality of emissions from homes [with EV+PV],” says Norby. “And we have the ability to do it right now.”


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