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Noah tests the efficiency of his family’s electric vehicle

Although he’s been known to play a video game or two, Noah Z. is not your ordinary teenager. Recently, Noah decided he wanted to express his concerns about the world his generation is inheriting by shedding light on a simple way that American drivers can reduce their carbon footprint. His experiment won him a medal at the Santa Barbara County Science Fair and has him thinking about the future. The idea started when he and his family checked out the Green Car Show at CEC’s 2012 Earth Day Festival.
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Stevehahn

Steve H. Prefers to Bypass the Pump

Steve Hahn has been interested in sustainable transportation and electric vehicles for as long as he can remember.  Growing up in Detroit, he was steeped in the car culture, as well as the big city’s trains and subways. Later in life he moved to Santa Barbara and began working for the Metropolitan Transit District (MTD). Residing close to work, Steve drives a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) every day. It seemed like an efficient and sustainable decision, and “bypassing the pump has also been nice.” He has enjoyed it so much so that he even converted his neighbors, creating Santa Barbara’s very own EV Neighborhood.

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Leaflease

Mikki J. is driving an electric car for $116/month

I consider myself an energy-conscious and open-minded person, but I have been admittedly stubborn about cars. As a faithful Volvo owner for over 20 years, I hadn't really considered driving an electric car.

A few months ago, my son Michael said to me, "Mom! You really should consider getting an electric vehicle. Since most of your driving is your commute to work and you bike and walk so much, it'd fit into your lifestyle well. Besides, you rarely go out of town." My response was, "No thank you, I'm waiting for Volvo to introduce a plug-in hybrid or all electric car."

However, Michael (also CEC's Transportation Manager) invited me to test drive a few hybrids and the Nissan LEAF pure electric car. WOW! I could not believe how much I enjoyed driving the LEAF. Much to my surprise, it handled easily, was very responsive and was quite swift, smooth and snappy. At the time, the $35,000+ purchase price or $350 lease option was over my budget. I set a goal to eventually own a LEAF in 5 to 7 years. I planned to sell my trusty Volvo, buy an affordable Prius C in the interim, and hoped LEAF prices would drop enough for me to own one.

Less than 2 weeks ago, my plans changed. I took advantage of an offer from Santa Barbara Nissan to lease a pure electric LEAF for $199/month with $1,999 down (Editor's note: We're not sure how long this particular offer will last. Contact the local dealer for current promotions and check online). This low price is likely due to the fact that LEAF sales have been slow this year, and Nissan is looking to clear out its inventory to make room for the 2013 LEAFs.

In addition, I qualify for a $2,500 California rebate. This rebate (minus the down payment) means that I will be driving for free for the first 3.5 months. After that, my lease will cost $216 (after taxes) per month. I also calculated that I would be saving around $100 per month in gasoline. (I previously spent around $150 per month on gas, but expect my electric bill to increase by about $50 per month). For a total of $116 per month, leasing the LEAF was a no-brainer. Now, I am so proud and thrilled to be driving electric!

Since I rarely drive more than 25 miles in a day, I'm using a regular 120 volt outlet in my garage for charging (as many LEAF owners do). Later, if I find I need to charge up faster, I could always add a 240 volt charger. My garage already has a 240 volt outlet from an old electric dryer, and I could purchase a charging station for $900 at Home Depot.

I take very few road trips, and when I do they are either to LA or the Bay Area. Nissan is now offering the LEAF lease with 10 free rental days with a gasoline car, for those occasional trips. I also could join friends in their car on a road trip, or switch cars with my son when I want to go out of town.

I'm simply thrilled to be off oil! It certainly happened much sooner than the 5 to 7 years I had originally projected. I will not miss driving all around town, fretfully checking and comparing gas prices. Imagine what a totally gratifying experience it is now, as I drive by gas stations with a huge smile!

I'm considering solar panels next, so look for me soon, as I will be driving on sunshine.

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Cher_tunes

Rock out to electric tunes in your electric car

My dad was a Mercedes man. My favorite of his cars? A buttermilk 300E with matching leather seats. I loved to slip into that luscious interior and escape to the hardware store for father-daughter bonding. While different models came and went, the Mercedes always got the prime garage spot - with other cars relegated to the driveway.

You can imagine my surprise when I arrived at his house two months ago and encountered the Mercedes parked in the driveway.

Something had changed.

A squeaky clean Chevy Volt was now plugged into the prime garage spot. Dad had purchased the Volt and installed a rooftop solar system through a zero money down lease program. The Department of Energy and the State of CA helped fund his 240 volt charger (no pun intended), which is set to charge only during off-peak periods. With this setup, his electricity bills are about the same, though sourced from renewables instead of fossil fuels, and hedged against inflating energy costs. However, he's saving about $100 a month in gasoline.

To celebrate Dad's shift in priorities, I made him an electric car playlist to bump to while silently whirring down the highway.

I put a lot of thought into the order of these songs and thought there might be other plug-in / hybrid electric vehicle owners who would enjoy a playlist selected specifically for their automobile. I would love to hear what I might have missed and welcome your suggestions.

I hope you'll enjoy this playlist in your electric vehicle!

  • "Electric" by Lisa Scott-Lee
  • "Danger! High Voltage (Soulchild Radio Mix)" by Electric Six
  • "Electric Avenue" by Eddy Grant
  • "Electric Youth" by Debbie Gibson
  • "Electric Lady" by Con Funk Shun
  • "Electric Feel" by MGMT
  • "Plug In Baby" by Muse
  • "She's Electric" by Oasis
  • "Don't Bring Me Down" by Electric Light Orchestra
  • "Running On Empty" by Jackson Browne
  • "Charge Me Up" by Jennifer Lopez
  • "Electric Barbarella" by Duran Duran
  • "Electric Man (Radio Edit)" by Mansun
  • "Charge" by The Renegades
  • "Electricity" by Spiritualized
  • "Together In Electric Dreams" by The Human League
  • "It's Electric" by Metallica

Listen to the full playlist through CEC's YouTube page →

 

About the author:

Cherlyn Seruto is currently commuting 80 miles a day via gasoline, and is considering selling her soul for an electric Porsche Speedster a la Reverend Gadget.

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Wexler

David W. maximizes the range of his electric vehicle

I purchased my Nissan Leaf in March 2011. I couldn’t resist the appeal of zero emissions, cool styling, fun driving, green status, well-engineered and built car, and a 100 mile range. I must say it has delivered on all of these promises, with the exception of the range.  For me, range has been a bit problematic because I live in Santa Barbara, and I have an office in Hollywood. My commute is 92 miles door-to-door. I thought, I’d have 100 miles of range, so hey, no problem.

Real life experience

Well, here’s my real life experience over the last year or so. Fortunately, I don’t make that commute every day, only once a week. I have a loft in L.A. so I stay for a few days, mid-week, and drive back to S.B. for 4-day weekends. Bottom line -- I have made the 92 mile commute on a number of occasions, but on many of the trips I’ve had to avail myself of one of the four Nissan dealers along my route for a free, level 2 charge, stopping anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes at a time. Adding an hour, to an hour-and-half commute is not a lot of fun. (With a one hour charge, I can pick up about 12 miles of additional range).

Factors

I’ve learned about range anxiety first hand. It sits right under one’s sternum, something that pilots and race car drivers know all too well. I’ve also learned there are a number of factors that affect the range I am able to get on each trip such as:

  • Driving mode – eco mode or regular
  • Driving style – lead foot, or with an egg between your foot and the accelerator
  • Terrain – along my route I climb the 800ft Conejo Grade
  • Temperature – the Leaf cools it’s works, but no heating
  • Load – weight of passengers and cargo
  • Accessories – heat, AC and lights
  • Solar charger on the rear wing
  • Altitude – thinner air in certain locations
  • State of charge
  • Speed

Tactics to extend range

I’ve come to learn that the largest factor is aerodynamics. Even though the Leaf is nicely shaped to cut through the wind, and even deflect it around the side view mirrors with its bubble-lensed headlights, pushing all that air out of our way takes lots of energy. So the faster we go, the harder we have to push against all that air. (Race car drivers know that at top speeds it takes an enormous increase in horsepower to gain just a few more MPH.)

I’ve come to learn this in two ways. I can make my 92 mile commute without having to stop for a charge if I draft a big rig truck down the coast.  I let the trucker push the air out of my way with his fossil fuel. I don’t recommend this practice as it’s just as nerve racking as the range anxiety I’m trying to overcome. It’s also dangerous and you’re likely to pick up your share of rock chips.

The second way, is on the days I’ve hit stop-and-go traffic along the 101, I can make the 92 miles, by poking along well under the speed limit. However, if the traffic is moving along at a clip, it’s also a bit dangerous to try to go 50 mph with traffic zipping by you at 70.

Since I am trying to make my commute without stopping, I’ve also over inflated my tires by four or five pounds, tinted the windows so I can leave the AC off and added some GasPods along the rear roofline. I don’t know if they help, buy hey, any bit helps and I only need just a few more miles.

DC Quick Charging Stations

With just one DC quick charger along my route I’d be set.  In the same time it takes one to pump a tank of gas, use the restroom and grab a beverage for the road, I can pick up enough range to make my commute comfortably. All I need is 10 minutes on a DC quick charger, and I’m home free. I hear there are charging station companies evaluating DC quick charging stations along my route. I can’t wait!

Hidden Dangers

On a side note…. there is a hidden danger of using the level 2 chargers.  I stopped at the Nissan dealer in Camarillo for an hour to gain some additional range.  I was feeling good about picking up 50 cents worth of free electricity courtesy of Nissan, until I realized I was walking back to my car from Frys Electronics having just spent $200!  A month or so later the same thing happened when I used the free charger in front of the Malibu Public Library and walked over to the Cross Creek Shopping Center and spent $150 on clothes.  This is something that is not mentioned in the owner’s manual. So beware. (However, I’m up to speed with my tech toys and I’m better dressed thanks to my Leaf’s need for more juice.)

See you on the 101!

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Jaysolar

Jay H. soaks up the sun with solar panels

I have quite a bit of experience with solar systems in terms of remote telecommunications facilities where utility power isn't practical. These involve large battery banks and over-engineering to ensure reliable power for radio, microwave, and telephone relay stations that need to be up 24/7.

So, the idea of a solar system in a suburban area with plentiful utility power didn't make sense to me at first. Electricity is readily available at reasonable rates. It would be satisfying but not practical to pull the plug on Edison.

Then, I stumbled across a mention of solar "co-generation" on Southern California Edison’s website. Co-generation is when a customer connects a source of power such as solar or wind into the electric grid. With solar, California supplies a rebate to pay part of the cost, and the federal government provides an additional tax credit.

On further research I found the idea of co-generation kind of exciting. I can use the entire utility grid as my energy storage. I don't need a battery and I don’t need to design the system any bigger than my load.

I was also considering my electric vehicle (Chevy Volt). I decided the convenience of the 240-volt charger was worth it. Rebates cover half the cost of the charger and installation. If I came home from a day trip with a depleted battery I could plug in for a couple of hours and then go out to dinner on electricity. However, the Volt would be away from home when my solar panels would be generating power from the sun.

With co-generation, I just produce more power than I need when the sun shines, feed it to Edison, and then pull power from Edison at night to run my home and charge the car. I also switched to a rate plan that gives me much lower electric rates at night and credits me at higher rates in the daytime when the sun is shining and I'm producing electricity. Some friends were predicting that the Volt would cause my electric bill to skyrocket –ha!

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jayspanels

As luck would have it, I have a great roof for solar. It is south-facing and doesn't have any vents or obstructions. I had enough area to install panels that could generate about 4kW peak power. I'm good with my hands and have a lot of experience with wiring and electrical things. My initial plan was to install the solar as well as the level 2 car charger myself.

I quickly changed my mind about installing the solar because I'm not comfortable with the permit process and roof penetrations kind of scare me. I shopped around and chose Coastal Constructors to provide the hardware, do the mechanical work and take care of the permit paperwork. They did the wiring at the same time as they wired the charger, and everything passed inspection. Modern panels are a lot better looking than the earlier ones. I'm very happy with the appearance as well as the performance.

Another modification I considered was the inverter systems. Most grid-tied systems connect a number of panels in a series string to produce high-voltage DC, and then put in a large wall-mounted inverter to convert this to conventional AC power. I was not excited about this design. A fault in one panel can bring down a whole string. Due to the high DC voltages, the wiring is complicated.

I discovered a company in the Bay Area, Enphase, that does things differently. They manufacture micro-inverters. Each micro-inverter handles the output from one solar panel. One mounts underneath each panel and they connect in parallel. If one panel or inverter goes bad, the rest of the array keeps going. The DC wiring is low-voltage and needs no conduit.

In addition, my solar system has its own website that not only shows real-time and historical data for every panel, but can also alert me if there's ever a problem. If there's debris such as bird droppings on or an electrical problem affecting one panel, the other panels are not affected, and I get an email describing the issue and showing me which panel is in trouble.

It's now been in service for almost 10 months. I've ”banked” a bit over 6 megawatt-hours of electricity with Edison. Carbon offset a bit over 4 tons. Every month since installation I've produced more electricity than I've consumed. Not only am I driving on daylight, I'm powering my house with it and even providing solar energy to my neighbors via the grid-tie.

Kermit was wrong. It's easy being green. Take a look at my solar production >

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Film screening inspired Michel S. to buy a Leaf

Michel Saint-Sulpice is a gentle soul who takes his responsibility for the planet seriously, and always has. Growing up in France, his family was careful with resources, and he has carried forth that strong environmental ethic into his adult life as a Santa Barbara architect.

Michel aspires to be fossil fuel free by the end of 2012, and he’s well on his way. Solar panels provide his home with electricity, and he’s been driving a Toyota Prius since the second generation first hit the market. He completely removed his lawn to make room for a beautiful drought tolerant landscape. Greywater and collected rain water (with back-up well water) will soon irrigate a “food forest.” On the drawing board is a geothermal system that will heat the entire house (with cooling option), all his domestic water and his swimming pool year round. Since Michel produces all his electricity, his carbon footprint will be zero, and he will not be paying electric and gas bills any longer. He has taken these measures to express his deep appreciation for nature and beauty.

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