Peninsula Views: Ride On

EV Power to the People


In his June column, Richard Gelinas talked about energy production (“No Nukes: Carbon-free Electricity.”) He touched briefly on the benefits of solar power. He also mentioned his desire to get an electric car. I’d like to share my personal experience with both of those subjects.

We had solar panels put on our house in September 2018.

Coincidentally, we also bought an electric car that same month. Each of them had easily accessible data on their energy production and usage. Here are some of the things I’ve learned over the past five years.

The app for our solar panels reports interesting data, including CO2 saved and equivalent trees planted (eye-roll), but the most significant is energy production, which now stands at 48-megawatt hours. Our car has used just under 16MWhs. So, since owning both, our car has burned about one-third of the energy our panels have generated.

We’ve driven that car over 60,000 miles. To make the math easy, if we assume the car averaged 30 MPG, I’d have burned 2,000 gallons of gas. At an average of $3.50/gallon, that’s $7,000. If I extend oil changes to 10,000 miles, that’s roughly 30 quarts of oil (plus the service costs if I didn’t do it myself).

While I’ve been incredibly happy with my decision, electric vehicles may not be for everyone. “Range anxiety” is real. Fortunately, I haven’t been stranded — yet.

A few years ago we left home for a drive to northern Nevada. We started a little later than planned and had hoped to get to my mom’s house before it was too late at night. We stopped in Klamath Falls, Oregon, to charge. We’d read there was a charging station in Susanville, California, where we planned to add a few miles before our final leg to Reno, so we left Oregon without a “full tank.”

The “station” in Susanville wasn’t what we’d been led to believe. After a short struggle trying to find it, we plugged in. The charging rate was incredibly slow. Hoping to make it to Mom’s before her bedtime, we unplugged and left Susanville with a few more miles of range than Google said it was to her house.

Feeling the pressure of running late, I drove relatively fast. Soon we watched the mapped distance approach the car’s remaining range. The car warned me to slow down if I wanted to make our destination. I did.

With 70 miles left to drive, the car said the batteries would provide power for only those 70. With 50 left, I was down to only 47 of range. I’ve driven to Reno many times and knew the last several miles were downhill, which would help.

I was feverishly watching the range available and the miles remaining, cross-checking the math on a minute-by-minute basis, going through scenarios to resolve an EV stuck on the side of the road, powerless. With 40 miles left to drive, we had 35 miles of range. I felt doomed to failure and started to sweat.

With 30 miles left to drive, not far from aptly named Hallelujah Junction, the road pitched down ever-so-slightly. I had remembered correctly. Our remaining miles and range started to close. With sweat still on my forehead, we coasted to a charging cable in a downtown casino parking lot, our range a comfortable 2 miles remaining.

It was then I learned how a “thirsty battery” drinks very fast if the juice is available. We had previously seen charging rates of 450 miles per hour. That night we started charging over 800 miles per hour. Within minutes we had plenty to make it to Mom’s. A few more minutes gave us enough for the rest of the visit.

On a previous visit to Reno, I had gone for a long bike ride. It was a typical hot, cloudless day. As I was finishing my ride I thought about how punishingly hot it would be inside the car. Then it hit me: I could turn on the air conditioning with my phone. Within seconds, the cabin of the car went from triple digits to 70 degrees. I was comfortable without having to run an engine and burn gas just to control the cabin temperature. I thought of all the moving parts and emissions required to heat — or cool — a conventional car. Our EV even has a “dog mode,” so Gus can be comfortable in the car unattended while I run errands.

I’m not sure if there is active resistance to change from legacy carmakers to EVs but I know there’s blind, inexplicable animosity.

Three ways the resentment toward electric vehicles has manifested itself: rolling coal, “ICE-ing,” and vandalism. To “roll coal,” the driver modifies their engine to pump excess diesel into the combustion process. It causes a big, thick, black cloud of exhaust. Frequently it’s directed at bicyclists, hybrid or electric cars. “ICE” stands for Internal Combustion Engine. “ICE-ing” is when multiple misguided drivers use their conventional cars and trucks to block charging stations so the EV drivers can’t refuel.

Sadly, I witnessed anti-EV vandalism first-hand recently. Driving home from visiting our daughter, we stopped in Vancouver, Washington, to charge. Each of the 11 charging cables had been cut and were lying on the ground. It was clear it had nothing to do with wire theft. It was just to lash out at those who drive electric cars. Senseless. It helps nobody.

I’m not sure what their end game is, or if they’ve even thought of the consequences of their actions. I’m unaware of any downside to reduced emissions. If the goal is to discourage EV use, more people will continue to drive internal combustion cars, and that means gas prices will rise for everybody. Not something to be proud of. But if this car and our solar panels represent the future, I’m all in — as long as I respect the current limitations on the range).

Mark Michel is a recently retired commercial airline pilot and Key Pen Parks commissioner. He lives in Lakebay.