Sunday, July 25, 2010

Four Months of Driving on Sunshine

MINI-E roof graphics and my house & solar system in the background

It's been almost four months now since I installed a 8.8kw solar photovoltaic electric system on my roof. The system has generated nearly 5 megawatt hours of electricity and roughly half of that clean, renewable energy has gone into my MINI-E's battery pack to allow me to drive about 10,000 miles.

The great feeling of driving an electric car and not using oil has had even greater meaning to me recently with the disastrous oil leak currently in the Gulf of Mexico. Charging the car with electricity I produce myself takes it up even another notch. One of the arguments against electric cars is that a majority of the electric generated in the US is made from coal fired powerplants and that EV's just displace the pollution from the tailpipe to the smokestack. There is some truth to that but it still doesn't mean the electric cars aren't better for the environment. Every comprehensive study that I have read that compares the amount of pollution from electricity generation to the pollution from burning gasoline shows how much worse it is to burn gasoline. Then if you consider the cradle to grave supply chain of oil it becomes even more obvious. From wars over oil to oil supply chain disasters like what we are witnessing off the coast of Louisiana, there really is no comparison. Then consider the fact that you can make your own clean renewable electricity, as I do and the argument isn't even worth continuing, it's game over.

Hopefully with electric cars like the Nissan LEAF, the Chevrolet Volt and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV coming to dealerships in the very near future, I won't be such an aberration. I'm pretty sure as more and more people buy electric cars they will see the environmental and economic benefits of installing a home based Solar PV system to generate their own fuel. I'm not the only one that thinks that either, there even is a website that is dedicated to combination of electric cars and solar electric systems. It's called Solar Charged Driving and you can check it out here:

Another thing I've heard is that our current infrastructure can't support the charging of hundreds of thousands and eventually millions of electric cars. This point has been countered also by people that point out that the majority of EV charging will take place at night when there is a great surplus of electricity. I can't really say one way or the other since I don't have the data that would support either argument. I can say it's true that most EV's will charge at night and you can program your EV to charge whenever you want so you can take advantage of off peak rates and charge when there is a surplus. Now if people follow my example and decide to install a solar PV array, they will be helping the grid instead of hurting it. By supplying electricity to the grid during daylight hours when demand is highest, and charging at night when demand is low and there is a surplus, I am actually helping the grid, not creating a problem with my EV. Now imagine if there were hundreds of solar arrays in every town, supplying electricity locally and reducing the strain on the local power grids. I think EV owners will be much more inclined to install solar systems, as I did. I had always thought about it, but it wasn't until I got the MINI-E and realized that I wanted to be driving electric cars from now on that I actually decided to install the system.

Soon we will see if the public embraces the electric cars that are coming to market. If they are received as well as I think they will be, than you can bet you'll start seeing more and more shiny black panels popping up on rooftops across America.


  1. Tom,
    You're a great role model and great spokesperson for EV+PV, and for EVs in general. Keep up the great work (and thank you for the plug :-)


  2. Good looking solar system! Did you see that bmw will make the world premier of the mega city car at the 2012 Olympics?

  3. Tom

    You have your energy and power units reversed.

    Your solar array rating is in kilowatts, not kilowatt hours.

    That total over time so far must be 5 mega watt hours, not mega watts.

    I could not get the units straight until my fourth year in engineering school, so do not worry.

    Jim McL