Thrill of solar-charged driving has faded

Life circumstances are forcing me to sell our home, give up solar-charged driving, and, potentially, unplug from electric driving.
Life circumstances are forcing me to sell our home, give up solar-charged driving, and, potentially, unplug from electric driving altogether.

editors-blog-entry3When I launched SolarChargedDriving.Com in September of 2009 exactly six years ago, I was 100 percent stoked about solar-charged driving, or the fact that you could fuel an electric car with solar panels installed on the roof of your home.

I still strongly believe that electric cars fueled by electricity produced by renewable energy are crucial to cleaning up our air and scaling back human caused environmental damage, but a lot of the luster of solar-charged driving has faded for me.

Extreme personal life challenges over the past two years stand as the biggest reason solar-charged driving has lost much of its appeal.

Divorce & family break-up
The excitement of driving one’s car on sunshine — and the relative importance of doing so — pale in the face of a divorce and a family break-up that has torn apart my family of four, and was a huge contributing factor in a year-long spiral into depression and generalized anxiety disorder that derailed — mid-way through — my dream of spending a full year in Germany with my family back in December 2013.

There is also the raw disappointment that my now ex-wife clearly never shared my excitement for renewable energy or solar-charged driving (nor did she share my excitement with multilingualism and raising our kids as German-English bilinguals). After 17 years of marriage, and two kids, now 10 and 9 years old, my divorce became official on a surreal mid-July 2015 day at the very same courthouse in which the James Holmes/Aurora Theater Shooter trial was taking place.

In fact, back in 2009, my wife was squarely against putting a 5.6 kW solar system on our Aurora, Colo. rooftop, arguing it would be too expensive, and that we couldn’t afford it.

No matter that, in the long run, home solar systems — especially those placed on a south facing roof like ours in sunny, high-altitude Colorado, always save money. It was — as it is with 99 percent of people — the idea of paying one’s electricity bill forward that scared my wife.

Solar saves money
If you count the gas cost savings of the Nissan LEAF I leased in February 2014 and which I have now driven almost 20,000 miles, we have already broken even on the 5.6 kW system we installed at an unheard of $1.47 per watt out-of-pocket cost for us, or $8,000 for the system. That’s a price you could not get ANYWHERE in the United States today, 5 1/2 years later, because the solar incentives that were in place in Xcel Energy territory back in late 2009 are gone, gone, gone.

There is also the realization on my part — driven home by the loneliness of living in a single family house that, 50 percent of the time, has only yours truly occupying it — that the satisfaction of home solar fueling independence isn’t enough to carry one very far in life when big life pieces, in this case one’s own family, fall apart.

And there’s the reality of a divorce settlement that requires me to: a) buy my wife’s share of the house; b) OR sell our house, complete with it’s 5.6 kW home solar system, and split any profits with her.

In fact, I have recently come to the realization, that, psychologically, it is not good for me to stay in our house. So, sell, it appears it will be.

There’s also the reality of having a Nissan LEAF as my ONLY car (my wife took our gas car when she moved out in August 2014).

Our family, in front of a LEAF, during happier times.
Our family, in front of a LEAF, during happier times.

LEAF doesn’t do long distances
The LEAF’s a great little car that gets me everywhere I need to go in everyday commuting/take-the-kids-to-soccer, etc. life. But it simply doesn’t have adequate range to get me to the Rocky Mountains and back home. And long-distance road trips are completely out — although I did borrow my brother’s Tesla P85 for a trip to Santa Fe recently.

There’s also the reality of having run out of charge in my LEAF, not once, but twice (both in the winter, by the way, and both when I was still trickle charging my LEAF).

I’ve got some “loud” bumper stickers on my LEAF, for example, “Zero Money to Big Oil” and “Zero Air Pollution”.

However, pretty soon I will almost certainly be landing for at least a year, if not longer, in an apartment somewhere in South Denver or Englewood, Colo.

There, I will be unable to continue practicing what I preach. There will be no solar, and no option for me to put solar up. Quite likely, I will be forced into trickle charging my LEAF, and will again be putting myself at risk of running out of charge.

Leaving solar-charged driving behind
Having to give up my solar-charged driving life — which has been a big part of my identity for the past six years — is a sobering, really, a depressing reality. One that’s taken significant sheen off of solar-charged driving for me — though I continue to hate Big Oil with a passion and am loathe to give it one penny of my money.

In sum, when I sell this house in which I have now lived for 10 years, or longer than in any other dwelling I have lived in my 48 years on earth, I will have to cope with the reality of having to plug my LEAF into coal, having to give up my fueling independence, and, perhaps most painfully, strip the bumper stickers off my LEAF, and, in February 2016, return the LEAF forever.

Having to give up my solar-charged driving life — which has been a big part of my identity for the past six years — is a sobering, really, a depressing reality.

I might end up in a Volt — although my two girls HATED the first generation Volt due to its very claustrophobic back seat area, complete with tiny windows that they said made them feel car sick. Worse, I might be forced into a gas stinker again. I know some people are “sick and tired” of hearing how Tesla’s are “too expensive” — but they are too expensive, at least for a single dad journalism professor who barely makes more than $60,000 per year. And the Model S is the ONLY all-electric car that will give me enough range to use as an ONLY car.

And, if I do buy a house again — housing prices near the University of Denver are quite high (for my sanity, I need to reduce my driving in the infamous Denver Tech Center I-25/I-225 intersection, I will be house poor, and it’s questionable whether I would be able to put solar, which is now MORE expensive, out of pocket, than when we bought in 2009, on a new house.

So, there you have it, solar-charged driving isn’t so exciting as it used to be for me. This is because I now realize that as much as I do not want to give up living the solar-charged dream, life circumstances are forcing me to do so.

I will soon have to strip several of the bumper stickers off my Nissan LEAF because, once I sell my home — which I must due to a recent divorce — I will be driving around in a car with misleading advertising. I will also have to give up my vanity plate, which will no longer be accurate.