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Hennigan

A tech geek’s journey into electric vehicles

I never intended to be green. I confess to having owned and thoroughly enjoyed driving a Plymouth Barracuda equipped with a big-block V8 and twin four-barrel carburetors in my younger days. I'm a technology geek, so interesting and elegantly engineered technology has always appealed to me, cars included.

The Prius Era

Think back to the 2004 Prius. Yes, it got great gas mileage, but that car was thinking out of the box. It was visually different from any car on the market, a little geeky but kind of cool in a VW Bug sort of way. Plus, the tech was awesome for 2004. It had voice recognition, electronic entry, cool sound system, navigation, bluetooth, all of the bells and whistles. Technology geeks like myself were buzzing about it, so I got on the waiting lists at a couple of dealerships. As I was waiting and reading, other techies started talking delivery and my anticipation began building.

Boom - out of nowhere, I saw an online posting about a dealer in Barstow that had a red Prius, fully loaded. I was on the phone in a flash, closed the deal, and hopped on a Greyhound to Barstow the next day. It was a very cool car, a technology wonder, and a whale of a lot of fun.

The cool tech has changed me. I find myself becoming greener and greener. Watching my MPG readout has become a video game. Could I beat my old high score? Could I get 600 miles on one tank (11 gallons)? Plus, using the old line, "Come here often?" to that Hummer driver at the gas station who gave me weird looks, well *that* was sheer joy.

Fast-forward 7 years. The Prius has over 110,000 miles on it. It's never had a brake job and isn't going to need one for a long time to come. The engine, likewise, doesn't have the wear and tear that you would expect after that kind of mileage.

Into the World of EVs

The buzz shifted in 2009. Spotting another Prius on the road isn't a rare event anymore. They're everywhere. The new buzz was about going to the next level. People started talking about adding battery capacity to the Prius to increase the storage capacity and hence the mileage. I heard a lot about the electric Tesla, which was way out of my price range, but would blow the doors off of my old Barracuda. Then I started hearing rumors of an electric Chevy.

A co-worker had a chance to drive an EV-1 back in the day and still raved about it. Pretty soon the talk about the Volt really spiked. I was interested. The Prius was still going strong but I was ready to explore. I went to the GM websites, followed the buzz, and visited the local Chevrolet dealer. They had lots of slick color brochures on Chevy trucks, Corvette, Camaro, etc. but nothing solid on the Volt. I left the dealership with a black-and-white photocopy of the PDF from the GM website stapled to the guy's business card. “Not ready to take an order but I'll take your card. Don't call us, we'll call you.”

I wanted this car.

July 2010 rolls around and California is one of the first markets. They're available for pre-order and the Santa Barbara dealer is on the Volt list. Back I go. Different salesman. This time I left with a grainier photocopy copied from the first, stapled to another business card. At least he wrote my name down and said he'd call.

I returned to the fan sites and blogs. After a few weeks, people are posting confirmed order numbers and target build dates. The GM sites were exploding with new information.

Back to Graham I go. I make an appointment with the guy who previously sold me a car there. I walk into the dealership with my checkbook literally in my hand. The sharks are circling as soon as I step onto the lot. A Volt? “Well, I'll put your name on *my* list, which is better than that other guy's list, and we'll call you and you can come back in a few days and put down a $5,000 deposit. We don't know how many we're getting or when. Don't call us, we'll call you.”

Oh-kaay....

What's going on? It's now coming up on Labor Day 2010. I pick up the phone and call the Chevy dealer in Lompoc. "We have 4 Volts allocated to us out of the first build cycle and one is sold. Come on up and give us a $500 refundable deposit. We sell at sticker, no markup."

Well, Lompoc is 40 miles away but it’s worth the drive. 20 minutes after walking in the door I have my very own GM order number. 40 miles just happens to be the electric range on the Volt. Welcome to my next video game. When I pick it up fully charged, could I make it home without using any gas?

There's a $7,500 federal tax credit and my car rolls off the assembly line just before GM shuts down for Christmas. I picked up the car on December 30, 2010. I made it with 2 days to spare. I lost the video game, though. The gas engine came on at Winchester Canyon. I guess I'll have to practice my technique.

Nine months and 7,000 miles later my best all-electric range is 46 miles. I've filled the 9-gallon tank 6 times, typically on trips to Los Angeles. It's a very rare day that I use any gasoline at all tooling around town. The dashboard indicator says my oil life is down to 80% so I guess I'll need to get it changed in another year or so.

I guess I'm green now, but the cool tech made me do it.

I love this car.

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Dan E. drives on sunshine instead of oil

Tucked away on a peaceful cul-de-sac that backs up to Elings Park, Dan Emmett's home wouldn't be thought of as an environmental statement at first glance. The solar paneled roof – barely visible except from the upper lawn in the back yard – might even go unnoticed. But Dan and others like him are starting a quiet revolution, built around the idea that solar electricity can power their homes, hot tubs, and even cars.

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The Rodgers completed their energy makeover

Dr. Timothy Rodgers and his wife Pamela live in a 1948 home near Hendry's Beach. Over the years, they've been on a mission to retrofit their home to make more energy efficient. They've replaced single paned windows with double paned, added insulation to the attic, and replaced halogen lights with LEDs. Making a home more efficient is highly recommended before adding solar panels because "you don't want to have to pay for a system that's any larger than you need," Timothy says.

After talking with 6-8 solar contractors and getting several bids, he contracted with REC Solar to install an 8.4 kW solar system on a hillside on his property in 2009. "We went with an 18-year lease – they do all the maintenance, manage any equipment that might break, and will replace the inverter when it dies, which is expected to be after 10 years."

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My road to energy sustainability

Envision a future when your electrical production comes from the "solar garden" on your roof, when you can get around town in a plug-in car powered by clean energy (which the roof system will now support), and when your food production comes from the garden in your back yard. You are guaranteed a reduction in your monthly electrical bills, gasoline bills and food bills.

It's this vision of the future that motivates me on my lifelong journey toward energy sustainability. I have been tapping away at this challenge for more than 40 years and I am on the right path. I visualize my journey in 4 phases:

  • Electricity production – Complete.
    Solar panels and a 10 kW wind generator are all up and running. The electrical portion was quite possibly the most complicated and expensive step. My original estimation was that the monthly savings that I would enjoy, once the system was up and running, would allow me to pay off the initial cost of the system in a little over ten years. With AB 920 becoming available, this time period will be reduced. Check out my bill from April...

  • Transportation – In progress.
    My six year old Prius is a transitional car that has religiously produced a 40 mpg average. I am looking forward to see what the transition to the next generation of electric cars will produce.

  • Food sustainability – In progress.
    My extensive experience with organic gardening and Santa Barbara Heirloom Nursery will greatly assist me in accomplishing this goal.

  • Conservation, awareness, consciousness, education – In progress.
    I remain aware of my energy choices on a daily basis and take action to conserve everywhere I can. We have dual glazed windows and a sod roof in our home; architectural design that maximizes the site location; solar pumps for water well and koi pond. We're also raising children with this energy consciousness as a template.

As food, electricity and gasoline prices continue to go up, I know that my long range plans will be productive and would be productive for anyone. It's really pretty simple and altogether achievable.

Hopefully one day my grandson will look back on all of this and be able to see my vision of the future. He'll know that his family played a small but significant part in promoting sustainability and will do his part to promote it in his own life.

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