If you think no one is going to buy electric cars, much less power them with solar, you might want to re-think your thinking. As the pages of SolarChargedDriving.Com show, there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary.
But don’t take our word for it. Go and see for yourself.
You might want to start with a trip to the Greater Sacramento, Calif. area and George Parrott’s house. Parrott and his wife, Christine Iwahashi, are among the very first people in the United States with both a Chevy Volt and a Nissan LEAF – and they’ve got solar on their home’s rooftop, enough to cover nearly all of the annual electric miles they’ll be driving in their plug-in hybrid and pure electric vehicles plus all of the electricity they use for their home.
“My best impression is that we’re the second household that has both cars,” explains Parrott. “The first was Felix Kramer’s in the (San Francisco) Bay Area. His house is also heavily solar equipped.”
[Kramer is the founder of the California Cars Initiative (CalCars.org), a non-profit he organized in 2002 to build awareness and encourage mass production of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.]
Volt + LEAF + solar = cleaner air The primary reason Parrott and Iwahashi have gone to considerable trouble so that they can be among the very first people in the world to plug both a Volt and LEAF into the sun: Air pollution.
Unhealthy air is a major problem in the Sacramento area and both Parrott and Iwahashi have especially good reason to want cleaner air: Between them, they’ve run more than 200 full length marathons.
That means literally thousands of miles of running, many of them in unhealthy conditions. In fact, until relatively recently, Parrott regularly walked, biked, or ran from home to his job as a professor of psychology at California State University, Sacramento.
“When I was in my 30s and 40s, I was regularly running more 100 miles a week, 52 weeks a year,” notes Parrott, who’s now in his late 60s. “So air quality is hugely important to me — and my wife has run more than 160 marathons. So we’re incredibly committed to protecting air quality here.”
Parrott and Iwahashi have had PV on their home for awhile, having added the first of a two-part solar installation that now totals 5.5 kW in August of 2008.
Volt and LEAF replace Camry hybrid & Prius They went EV a few months ago, ditching a Toyota Camry hybrid and a Toyota Prius for their unique Volt + LEAF combo.
The Volt — which Parrott had to work hard to get – arrived first in the couple’s driveway, rolling in on Jan. 13 of this year. The LEAF came about a month later, taking up a spot next to the Volt on Feb. 17.
“I’m a car fanatic,” says Parrott of his decision to get in line for both a Volt and a LEAF, both of which he’s leasing.
Parrott’s decision to sign up for a Volt and a LEAF flies in the face of “conventional” thinking, which holds that the two cars are in competition with each other, rather than potentially complementary.
Parrott, naturally, doesn’t look at things the same way some auto analysts have.
“The LEAF has got about 65 to 70 miles of range,” he says of Nissan’s all-electric vehicle, which has been advertised as getting 100 miles. “It’s a totally functional vehicle for a standard work commute. But we also needed a car for the weekend, which is where the Volt comes in – it kicks in gas and extends your range.”
Two thumbs up on Volt If Parrott has any complaints about the Volt – which he gives two thumbs way up, by the way — a bit ironically, it’s with the Volt’s gasoline engine. He’d like to see Chevy’s plug-in go even farther on battery power than the 25 to 40 miles it typically achieves in all-electric mode.
“I’d like the Volt to have another 10 miles,” says Parrott, who’s managed to push the Volt as far as 42 miles in pure electric mode.
Meanwhile, he says he’s somewhat disappointed with the LEAF’s range, or, really, with the fact that its dashboard display tends to over-state the car’s range.
“We’ve very impressed with the Volt,” says Parrott. “What we’re also seeing is a plus with the Volt is that it’s more accurate in assessing EV range. The LEAF is wildly optimistic when you head out of the garage.”
“I don’t think people know about [EV + PV]. I don’t think most people know it’s possible.” –George Parrott, California solar-charged driver with both a Nissan LEAF and a Chevy Volt
Highway driving quickly depletes LEAF battery According to Parrott, depending on the type of driving – with highway driving the biggest drain – the LEAF can see as much as a 10-mile drop in range in the first mile of driving. He estimates that when driving at 65 m.p.h., a 10-mile stretch will actually “cost you” 15 miles in the LEAF.
Still, Parrott says the LEAF is perfectly fine as a short to mid-range commuter vehicle – and he’s definitely high on the Volt + LEAF combination, or, really, the plug-in hybrid electric plus pure electric combination.
“It’s an ideal format for almost any two-income commuter family,” he says.
And, of course, the Parrott-Iwahashi household clearly falls into this category.
Since the Volt and LEAF have arrived, the Sacramento couple, have put on about 2,400 miles on the Volt and 700 on the LEAF. Many of the Volt miles have been solar miles and nearly 100 percent of the LEAF miles have been covered by home solar electricity offset production.
For one-car household, Volt is best While a Volt + LEAF combination might be ideal for many two-car households, Parrott says the Volt is definitely the car to go with in virtually all one-car households.
“Each car has its own place,” he says. “But rarely would anyone be fully satisfied or fully served with just a LEAF. If you have a one-car family, you should definitely get the Volt.”
It’s still intimidating to the majority of my neighbors to ante up eight to 10,000 dollars just to get in. For ourselves, though, we’re grinning from ear to ear about the decision we’ve made. –George Parrott, California solar-charged driver with both a Nissan LEAF and a Chevy Volt
While Parrott’s clearly a car aficionado, it’s not just about the EVs for him. It’s also very definitely about the solar and the solar + electric car synergy.
For instance, Parrott has already done the projections on what would, at least for average consumer, seem like a pretty complicated solar + Time of Use (TOU) metering + a special EV charging rate + household electric use + two electric car fueling equation.
He predicts that, on a cost basis, the couple won’t pay any money, out of pocket, to cover their home electric use and plug-in electric fueling in their first full year with EV + PV.
“It’s looking good,” he says of the PV + EV savings equation in his household.
EVs powered by solar offset For some, Parrott’s complicated time of use + special EV charging rate approach, which sees his home’s PV plant pump solar electricity into the local grid during the day while the couple’s two plug-in cars are not there and which sees them plug in their EVs at night instead, leading to a solar offset situation, is a problem.
Parrott readily concedes that since they’re plugging in the two EVs at night, technically they’re not running their cars directly on sunshine generated electricity. But Parrott’s got a pretty good come-back for the critics:
“They make a really good point,” says the solar and EV buff. “And if this were a debate, we’d have to concede that point. But do they want me to unplug our solar panels when air conditioning systems are pulling peak loads in our area and we’re contributing electricity to the grid?”
Selling people on solar a challenge The Cal-State University professor is ultimately enthusiastic about electric car + solar synergy, but he’s also a somewhat skeptical about how quickly the home solar + electric car combo will take off.
“As sad as it is, the problem I see is selling people on going solar,” explains Parrott. “It’s very rational to equip one’s home with solar and, over the course of five or six years, to amortize the full cost of that installation. But it’s still intimidating to the majority of my neighbors to ante up eight to 10,000 dollars just to get in. For ourselves, though, we’re grinning from ear to ear about the decision we’ve made.”
Parrott says the still shaky economic situation in the U.S. is putting the biggest damper on solar-charged driving, and, more generally, on home solar.
“Most of our neighbors are being furloughed right now,” he notes.
Still, solar-charged driving is potentially attractive to many consumers.
“I think it appeals to a lot of people,” he says. “The challenge is actually acquiring and getting into the electric vehicles and the solar.”
Growing solar-charged driving More media visibility is needed to grow solar-charged driving, says Parrott.
“I don’t think people know about [EV + PV],” he says. “I don’t think most people know it’s possible.”
Parrott is doing his part in getting word out about solar-charged driving. He recently told his story to a major Sacramento television news station. He’s also had a story published on him on GreenCarReports.Com. According to Parrott, that story amassed more than 13,000 hits in just a few days.
While Parrott is definitely excited about electric cars and the EV + PV synergy, he’s not sure that solar-charged driving, at least in the form he’s practicing it, is necessarily the wave of the future.
He’s leasing both the Volt and the LEAF in anticipation of automotive technology leapfrogging over its current state. And he thinks there’s a good possibility that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will eventually overtake pure electric vehicles.
Battery technology could hold back EVs “I see EVs as the next evolution of the car,” says Parrott. “But we live only about two miles from the California fuel cell research center. I mention this because in five to 10 years it will probably be fuel cell vehicles, not battery EVs. I’m not sure we’ll ever have a big enough battery pack at a reasonable price with 300 miles of range. Fuel cell technology could be the next shift.”
Whether an affordable, 300-mile range EV arrives in the next decade, or pure EVs are overtaken by hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, a fueling paradigm shift is certain, according to Parrott.
“Basically, there is finite supply of oil,” he observes. “We need to find ways of substituting transportation fueling. Many people think the 1980s will continue forever, that tomorrow will be just like yesterday. But that’s one of great delusions of our time.”
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