Giving EV + PV a charge in the Sunshine State

shira-solar-prius-backMultiple studies have shown that solar is contagious. Once one homeowner goes solar, neighbors take note and often go solar themselves.

However solar is more contagious in some places than others. That’s certainly the case in a small corner of Central Florida, where, in the span of just a few years, one neighborhood has gone from zero local solar production to more than 100 kW, and from zero solar rooftops to a dozen.

It’s not by chance that solar happens to be more contagious in this particular area of Central Florida. You, see, not every neighborhood has a David Shira. A solar advocate with lots of energy and an easy going, friendly demeanor, Shira, who’s an everyday home solar owner not a professional solar sales guy, is the perfect sales person for sun energy.

In fact, if every neighborhood in the Sunshine State, or in the U.S., had a David Shira, Florida, and the U.S., would surely have more solar. Shira’s enthusiasm for solar is truly infectious, as this writer can attest after having conducted a lively one-hour phone interview with the long-time Florida resident last week.

Getting U.S. off of foreign oil
Shira’s passion for solar is rooted in a strong desire to reduce America’s dependence on oil.

“I want us off of foreign oil,” explains Shira of his interest in solar and in solar-charged driving. “It’s crazy to be sending billions of our dollars to foreign countries. We’re giving money to people who don’t like us. Even if they are friendly, like in Canada, we’re still sending U.S. dollars out of this country. And even if we had enough oil, we shouldn’t be blowing it. That’s not good stewardship of the resources we’ve been given.”

The considerable strain America’s dependence on foreign oil places on the U.S. and its national interests has an especially personal angle for Shira and his wife, as two of the couple’s sons have served in the U.S. military.

“I told my kids, ‘You’re not going to have to fight because dad needs more foreign oil’,” says Shira.

shira-head-shot“It’s crazy to be sending billions of our dollars to foreign countries. We’re giving money to people who don’t like us.”
— David Shira, Florida Solar-Charged Driver

The Shiras began driving hybrids in 2004. In 2006, David discovered CalCars.Org, a California plug-in vehicle advocacy group. That discovery got him thinking about plug-in conversions, and, the solar + EV synergy.

In fact, when the Shiras moved from Port Luce, Fla., to Ocala, Fla. in 2006 Shira already knew they were going to go solar and he was already laying the plans for solar-charged driving as well.

Planning for solar-charged driving
“When we moved here [to Ocala], I drove the sales lady crazy,” says Shira with a laugh. “She was sweet, but she had no clue what I was talking about when I told her we needed a golf cart charger on each side of the garage, that we needed this and that type of wiring for my work, or that we needed to have the house facing this direction [for solar].”

Shira and his wife bought a Toyota Prius in 2009. In June 2010, they had it converted to a plug-in capable of up to 25 miles of local, non-highway driving in all-electric mode.

They plugged their Prius into a home solar system. That system started with a neighborhood trend-setting 3.9 kW system. They later had it enlarged to 7.3 kW.

The couple’s PV system produces enough electricity to cover 100 percent of their annual electric use, which, with the plug-in Prius, a solar-charged golf cart, a Jacuzzi, and a fairly intensive electronics set-up that allows Shira and Paula to work as telecommuters, is considerable.

“We use lots of electricity,” says Shira, though he notes that much of the couple’s electric draw occurs in the hot, steamy summer months when they need to run the air conditioning and that their electricity use drops considerably in the cooler winter months.

No more electric bill
The most remarkable part of the Shiras’ story isn’t that, thanks to home solar, they haven’t paid an electric bill in almost four years, though that’s certainly worth noting. It’s the way in which David Shira has managed to turn the relatively tradition-oriented neighborhood in which they live – the Shiras live in a gated community made up of people 55 and older – on to solar.

In fact, after facing some initial trepidation from the community regarding his first solar installation — it took three months for the Shiras’ application to be approved and the installation had to go on the back side of the couple’s house — Shira’s managed to get the community so interested in solar that one of the area’s model homes now sports a PV system. And, the addition to the Shiras’ solar system in 2008 that boosted it from 3.9 kW to 7.3 kW went on the front side of the Shira residence.

“The number one concern was they didn’t want a homeowner getting ripped off [by a solar company],” says Shira, of the initial concern his gated community had toward solar.

Shira found an experienced solar firm, ECS Solar, to install the couple’s initial 3.9 kW system.

I’m hoping that putting ‘solar-powered’ on the car will force people to say, ‘What do you mean solar-powered? I don’t see any panels.’
— David Shira, Florida Solar-Charged Driver

ECS has since installed seven of the 10 new residential systems to go up in the Shira’s Ocala community. The firm has also installed a 56 kW system on top of a maintenance building at one of the community’s golf courses.

First in neighborhood to go solar
Anxiety over the unknown was also a factor in the initial apprehension the Shiras faced as the very first homeowners in their community to lobby to put solar on their home.

“They were afraid of aesthetics,” Shira notes. “No one had solar.”

shira-nrel-mapWhen the Shiras’ initial solar installation didn’t draw any negative comments from other community members, board members and developers quickly became fans of solar, says Shira.

“By the time we were ready for the second system, it was like cookie cutter: They said, ‘No problem’,” explains the long-time financial manager.

Positive local media coverage of the Shiras’ decision to plug into solar also gave PV in the neighborhood a big boost.

Of course, the Shiras’ solar story in an HOA community doesn’t always have the same happy ending theirs does (see SolarChargedDriving.Com’s page devoted to HOAs and solar for more on this). In fact, Shira concedes that his own positive experience with an HOA and solar doesn’t always play out the same way in other places.

He attributes his success to a non-combative approach, to which he credits his wife, Paula, plus the fact that Florida State Law protects individual homeowner’s solar rights – Florida is one of two-dozen states with solar rights laws.

“My wife writes good letters,” Shira notes with a laugh.

Spreading the word about EV + PV
After all the success he’s had in promoting solar locally in the On Top of the World Communities development in which the couple live, it’s good news for the EV + PV world that Shira’s now investing as much effort into promoting the plug-in vehicle + home solar synergy as he has into advocating for solar. In fact, he just had the couple’s Toyota Plug-in Prius ad-wrapped to advertise its solar-charged status.

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“I did the signage on the car just recently,” says Shira, who invested about $400 in the partial ad-wrap of the couple’s plug-in Prius, which now boasts a bright yellow electrical cord plugging into a solar panel on both sides of the car, as well as the words “solar-powered”.

“I’m just starting the push now,” says Shira in light-hearted fashion. “One house and one car at a time, it’s time to get us the hell off of foreign oil!”

A big reason Shira’s diversifying to add EV + PV to his PV advocacy: More and more plug-in cars are starting to arrive in the Central Florida area where the Shiras live. Shira’s seen one Nissan LEAF and at least two different Chevy Volts in the past few months.

PHEVs vs. EVs
Shira says America’s move toward plug-ins, and, more specifically, toward solar-charged driving will be a gradual one. The long-time Florida resident is not a big fan of pure electric vehicles right now because he thinks most people will be turned off by what he views as their severe range limitations. He sees most of the initial plug-ins purchased being PHEVs such as the Volt and the Plug-in Prius, now being officially produced by Toyota itself.

No matter how slowly the EV revolution might unfold, Shira is eager to do what he can to push solar-charged driving forward.

“I’m hoping that putting ‘solar-powered’ on the car will force people to say, ‘What do you mean solar-powered? I don’t see any panels,” says Shira of the ad-wrap he had placed on the couple’s Toyota Plug-in Prius. “I’m ready with an answer: ‘I’ve got home solar, that’s how it’s solar-powered!’ ”

We can imagine the rest of the conversation going well and the energetic and likeable Shira persuading more than a few of his future questioners to take a closer look at solar-charged driving. Indeed, if Shira’s success rate in promoting solar is any indication, soon, there are going to be a lot more people in Central Florida plugging electric vehicles into the power of the sun.


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