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.
Dan and his partner Henri Bristol had a 3.5 kW solar panel system installed on their house last year, in part because they were expecting delivery of one of the first all-electric vehicles to be sold by a major car manufacturer, the Nissan Leaf. “I signed up for the Leaf the day they opened the waiting list – even before the cars had been manufactured,” he says.
As CEO of a solar energy startup company, Dan wanted to get as close as possible to driving without fossil fuels. “I didn’t want to just get a hybrid; I wanted to be completely off petroleum. I wanted my only trips to the gas station to be to be for a pit stop,” he says.
“I like the security of knowing that if something were to happen – an earthquake, disruption to the supply of gasoline, or other crisis – I can still get around,” he says. “I love how quiet the car is, and also how clean – no tailpipe, no emissions. My bedroom is above the garage, so I like the peace of mind of not having fumes or combustibles just a few feet under my pillow.”
He also points out the financial benefits. By day, if his solar panels are generating more electricity than he’s using, that electricity is fed into the Southern California Edison grid, where he avoids paying the highest peak period rates of 55 cents per kWh. At midnight, when he charges the car under special “time of use” rates for electric vehicle owners, he pays 10 cents per kWh.
For the most part – like most electric vehicle owners – Dan charges his car battery at home. When he was on the waiting list for his Nissan Leaf, the company sent out a licensed electrician, who recommended that he install a 220-volt charging unit in his garage. “The car does come with a charging kit for a 110-volt outlet, but they call that a ‘trickle charge.’ It is very slow – you wouldn’t even get a full charge overnight.” He opted for the 220-volt charging unit, the cost of which was partially offset by a federal tax credit.
With the solar panels on his roof and the new charging station in his garage, Dan was almost ready to leave Santa Barbara in his sunshine-powered car. He just had one problem – something electric vehicle drivers call ‘range anxiety’ or the fear of running out of juice. He recalls, “I didn’t just have range anxiety, I had range panic. I made it to L.A. on the original charge, but it was really dicey – I was in heavy traffic, and I had two miles left on the battery when I got to my destination. When they said that the car had 100 to 120 mile range, I knew that was variable, but my trip was 87 miles door-to-door and I thought I would have more leeway.” Since then, he’s gotten more accustomed to driving electric and is a pro at finding public charging stations on longer trips.
“It’s amazing where technology is – everything is intuitive and transparent. To anyone who is thinking about doing something similar, I would say do it. You will see your gasoline bills and electricity bills go away. It’s a lifestyle choice that I think is only going to get easier as the technology improves.”
Article modified from original submission to Seasons Magazine.