Thursday, June 20, 2013

Running on Empty: Cars that Never Need Gas

Darrell Dickey regularly commutes to work 24 miles, one way, by bike. But when it's too cold or wet for the bike, or when he and his family travel long distances from their home in Davis, California, he drives a battery-powered electric vehicle that he charges with photovoltaic (PV) panels mounted on his garage roof.

"Five years ago, I spent about $45,000 and got a brand new car (the RAv4EV) and the solar system," he says. "We're still driving the car every day, and the solar system will continue to make fuel for whatever EV we drive in the future. For $45,000 we bought a new car and fuel for the rest or our lives."
In 1996, Dickey was invited to test-drive the GM "Impact", which he then leased for two years. (The Impact later became the EV1, the first modern electric vehicle.) "We loved that car and hated to give it back," he says. But the Toyota Rav4EV had just become available for purchase, so he bought the electric vehicle he is driving today.

Dickey says the inspiration to drive electric comes from having a child. "It would embarrass me to have to explain to my daughter why we continued to import and burn oil when we knew the consequences," he says. "Having no tune-ups and no trips to the gas station ever is just icing."

By installing a solar system atop his garage, Dickey took the next step in driving a totally clean car. "Now," he says, "I can deflect the comments that my 'electric' car is just a 'coal-burning' car. EVs are the ultimate flex-fuel vehicle. You can make electricity out of just about anything: sun, wind, natural gas, coal—even gasoline! Your fuel can be totally domestic, or in my case, totally local."

Asked how long it will take for the PV system to pay for itself, Dickey replies: "If we think of everything in terms of what it costs us in the short-term, we're screwed. It's the same argument people use against the Prius: When will it pay back in gas savings? But that only accounts for the money paid at the pump. What of the billions of dollars that leave our economy for oil, or the billions of our tax dollars that go toward tax incentives for oil companies? What of the cost of the military and the lives lost to protect our oil?"
But the short answer for the solar pay-back, he says, was "the instant I turned my system on." Dickey had been paying $75 a month for electricity. He took a loan out to buy the PV system, and pays $70 a month toward that loan. "My electricity and gasoline bills are now zero, and next year when my loan is paid off, this investment will be paying me probably for the rest of my life. My PV system covers the power for my home and my car. It displaces $90 worth of electricity and over $100 worth of gasoline every month. So my estimate of how long until the system pays for itself is no time at all!"

Dickey says the Rav4EV is the best car he's ever owned. "My wife commutes in it 40 miles a day, five days a week. We drive it for our weekend outings and it does errands that are too far or too bulky for the bicycle. It has never been tuned up, and I've spent about $50 total on it for maintenance. My wife has not been to a gasoline station in seven years and 70,000 commute miles—not once!"

1 comment:

  1. Making that one payment of $45,000 might seem big at the time, but like you said, over the years it averages out to nothing. Electricity is the wave of the future with driving, and you are way ahead of the curve already when it comes to preserving the planet for future generations. Thank you for sharing this.

    Jeremiah @ Viva Auto Outlet