Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Solar Today Magizine Highlights EV's: Uses Me as an Example

Solar Today, a magazine dedicated to the solar electric industry, highlighted electric vehicles in this months issue. Unknown to me though, they used a picture of me and my EV+PV story in the issue. I wouldn't have even know about it if a friend didn't send me a link to it. Then, a few days later I got a call from the owner of the company that installed my solar pool heater a few years ago and he even sent me a copy of the magazine. I figure my solar electric installer, Geogenix, must have sent the magazine the picture and information because I recognize the picture as one I took to send to Geogenix a few months back.

They asked me for the photo because they wanted to enter me in the New Jersey Garden State Green Awards, and as it turned out I was one of the winners and was recently recognized at an awards luncheon at Kean University.

Here's a link to the story in Solar Today:

Monday, June 20, 2011

60,000 Zero Emission Miles Later...

Today the odometer turned 60k just as I pulled into the parking lot of my restaurant. It's been two years and seven days since I picked up MINI-E #250 now and the car is still running perfectly. Other than a couple of faulty battery modules very early on and the time I hit (well really was engulfed in) a huge pothole and needed front-end repairs, the car has been virtually maintenance free. 

That's not unusual for electric cars. They really are basically maintenance free. When you buy one, the dealer isn't reminding you to bring it in for your regularly scheduled maintenance like oil changes and tune ups. These regular maintenance items add up, but you really don't think about the cost when you buy a car, because you know it's just part of automobile ownership and there's no way around it. 
But there is...

Electric cars are extraordinarily simple compared to their gasoline burning counterparts and don't have hundreds of parts constantly moving and rubbing against each other causing friction and heat, and friction and heat are a cars worst enemy as they cause parts to wear out and need to be replaced. That's why you need to constantly keep fresh lubrication(oil) in your car to reduce the friction on all the moving parts and hopefully make them last longer.

EV's like the MINI-E have a simple brushless electric motor that will in most cases last longer than the car will, and that's really the only moving part of the drivetrain other than some small electric fans. Of course anything can break, especially electrical components, but by removing just about all of the moving parts in a car you are drastically reducing the mount of things that will wear out and need replacement.

So here I am at 60,000 miles and all the car really needed was a couple tire replacements and wiper blades. The range is surprisingly consistent, and just as good as when I first got it. There has been virtually no battery degradation after 60,000 miles and over 1,100 recharges.  Take a look at the picture above, I just drove 76.7 miles and still had 26% state of charge. I could easily drive another 30 to 35 miles(and probably 40) with 26% SOC since I could drive at least 10 miles even after the meter hits zero. Even the brake pads are the original ones. With the regenerative brakes, I bet I could get 100,000 miles on a set of brake pads so even the brakes will cost you less with an EV.

It's cost me about $2,500 in electricity (actually less because I have solar electric, but I like to figure what I would have paid) to drive 60,000 miles. Take a few moments and figure out what you have paid in gasoline to drive the past 60,000 miles. Then add up all the oil changes, tune ups, vacuum hoses, belts, exhaust pipes or whatever else you've done to keep your gas car running along and maybe you'll start to think about giving an EV a try the next time your shopping for a new car. After two years and 60,000 miles of zero emission driving I know I'm sold and I'm never going back.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Two Years of Driving Electric

Yesterday was two years to the day that I picked up MINI-E #250 and began a journey that would alter my life in many ways.

I had no idea I'd grow to enjoy electric drive as much as I did and I really had no idea I would become such an outspoken proponent of battery electric vehicles. The past two years have been a great ride, both figuratively and literally. The electric driving experience I have had with the MINI-E has been so great it has convinced me that I'll be driving electric cars from now on. The great news is that it is now possible, and that wasn't the case in 2008 when I filled out the application to take part in the MINI-E trial lease program. Back then you either had to buy a $100,000+ Tesla Roadster or build your own EV if you wanted a real, highway capable electric car.

Since I didn't have a spare $100k lying around or the time necessary to do a full conversion, I signed up to participate in the MINI-E Field Trial, not knowing at the time this program would take me off gas for good.  The program was initially supposed to be a one year, closed end lease. At the end of the year I would hand back the car and go back to gas, since there would still be no electric cars available for purchase at the time. However BMW offered one year lease extensions and now offered another six month lease extension, effectively making the MINI-E Trial Lease program 30 months for those who wish to remain in the program.  Six months from now, I and the other MINI-E pioneers who stayed in the program, can transition directly from the MINI-E into the BMW ActiveE, the final test car before the 2013 BMW i3 hits the market. The ActiveE is a 24 month lease and when it ends, the i3 will already be in showrooms. The significance of this is that BMW has offered me a clear uninterrupted gas-free path, from the day I took possession of my MINI-E; two years ago to the day they will offer the i3 for sale. No other car major auto manufacturer (that isn't named Tesla) can claim they have done that for any of their customers. I know the MINI-E group was small, but I think BMW deserves credit for this program. Sure we have to pay to lease the cars, and they are getting valuable information form these field studies, but no other major car maker took any of their customers off gas for good in 2009.

Being in the program has made me more aware of my energy usage, both in the car and at home. I installed a solar array, bought Energy Star appliances, changed all my lighting to either compact florescent and LED bulbs, adjusted my programmable thermostats, replaced old drafty windows and are generally more aware of reducing wasted energy. In doing so, I have reduced my home electric usage about as much as I need to charge the car, effectively eliminating my personal fuel expense and the solar array eliminates 90% of my home's electric cost. I even drive more efficiently, using the regenerative braking as much as possible and I definitely find myself driving slower, even when I'm not driving the MINI-E.

I have driven the car 59,500 miles so far. That's about 30,000 miles a year or double what the average American drives and the MINI-E handled it without any problem. So much for electric cars being only good for low mileage drivers who only drive short trips! Oh and another thing, I've never been stranded on the roadside because I ran out of charge. Something that everybody who hasn't driven an EV seems to be worried about. The car has been extremely reliable and has required very little maintenance. Another thing that I'm really impressed with is that I have now charged the car over 1,100 times and it still has virtually the same range it did when it was brand new. I know at some point there will be battery degradation, but I can tell you for certain, it isn't measurable yet and I have the data to prove it.

Somewhere in an underground storage tank at the Lukoil station where I used to go to before I got the MINI-E, there are about 3,300 gallons of gas that wouldn't be there if I never applied for the program. You see, I always went to this one gas station to fill up as it was conveniently located on my route from home to work. If I had continued to drive my Toyota Tacoma for the past two years and 59,500 miles, I would have needed to buy about 3,300 gallons of gas as the Tacoma gets about 18mpg. This would have cost me about $10,000. I would have also needed about a dozen oil changes and would be looking at a major (recommended) tune up for the truck. Electric cars like the MINI-E require virtually no maintenance and after driving 60,000 miles you would probably only have to replace the tires and wiper blades.

So yeah, it's really been a great run so far. I really look froward to the BMW ActiveE, but I'm going to miss the minimalist attitude of the MINI-E. Small, great handling, fun to drive and still the feeling of  "efficient basic transportation" that I like. Electric drive in a MINI Cooper platform works and BMW would be foolish not to bring it back in a series production sometime in the future.

I always believed electric cars might be our future. They reduce our dependence on foreign oil, keep our energy dollars in local economies, improve our country's national security and are much better for the environment. The past two years in the MINI-E program proved to me that I was right.

Friday, June 10, 2011

NY Times Reports: MINI-E Drivers Have Bonded With Their Cars!

Yesterday the NY Times published a story on how the MINI-E trial lease participants love their MINI-E's. The story was based on a yearlong U.C. Davis study that found an overwhelming amount of MINI-E drivers love the cars and have found that they are comfortable living with the cars 80-100 mile range.

If you have been following this blog, you know I feel the same way. When the MINI-E program began, we were all sent emails asking if we wanted to participate in the study, I thought about it and since I didn't know how much of my time it would consume I never replied, so my thoughts although broadcast here on this blog, aren't included in the study. However judging from the results, it seems that I wasn't needed and the other MINI-E participants love their cars as much as I do and the big thing is that they don't feel constrained by the range either, a point that I have been trying to get across to non-EV drivers for a long time now: The limited range isn't a big deal! People that don't drive an EV worry about range anxiety more than the people that actually do drive one.   

Anyway, the results of this study don't surprise me one bit. The general public is going to love electric cars, they just need to get past their belief that they won't and give one a try. Another MINI-E driver, Peder Norby once wrote of the challenges facing the transition to electric cars: "Our greatest roadblock is the inertia of the status quo"   and this study further proves that point if you ask me. The people that HAVE had the chance to spend time with an electric car overwhelmingly like them and say they want to continue to drive electric. That's the case whether the car was an EV-1, a RAV4-EV, a Tesla, a Nissan LEAF or a MINI-E. We just need to convince more of the public to give them a chance, the cars themselves will do the rest.