My Electrifying Journey — Or, how solar panels and an electric car is a feeling of empowerment

by Toby Cowan

In 1980 I worked on a proposal for Residential Photovoltaic Applications for the Low-Cost Solar Array Project for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Putting principles outlined in the project to work were at the core of the design of our home completed in 1985. We designed the house to take advantage of seasonal sun paths. That certainly was not an original idea evidenced by the Longhouse Pueblo in Mesa Verde, Colorado constructed over 1,000 years ago.

While the house has no direct shade, during the winter the sun rises and shines directly into the house and does the same as it sets. During the summer the sun rises over the top of the house and sets so no real direct sun enters the house. All the while, the sun’s path traverses a roof bathed in sunshine all day.

Solar panels, as we now know, did not really become a viable product until relatively recently. We explored adding panels, but because the house was so efficient, there was no economic reason to add them.

A little over a year ago, we test drove a Fiat 500e out of curiosity. Being a car enthusiast, I was stunned at how well the car worked. We took out a map and calculated the estimated range of 85-90 miles and where that could take us in Sonoma County. Not surprisingly we could go just about anywhere. We were not ready to make the leap yet, but promised ourselves that at the end of 2016 we would do so. At the time we did not know what was to come.

About 6 months ago, we were visited by a salesperson from a solar vendor. They explained that they would install panels at no cost to us. We would then purchase energy from them for about 1/3 less than what we were paying PG&E. The term is 20 years. After looking into this further we decided to go ahead with the installation. The tech came out and did all sorts of calculations and, just as we had planned, the house was perfect configuration for solar. Based on current bills we are, in fact, saving about 30%. We expect that at the end of one year, we may be generating excess energy. The best part is that their rates have a fixed increase percentage, unlike PG&E.

Range Anxiety: This is a topic for everyone who either has or is considering an all-electric vehicle. Since we leased the car, there has not been a single situation where the range of the Fiat limited our intended use.

As we plug the Fiat into its 110V socket and we look at the solar panels, we know that, in some small way, we are divorced from conventional power sources and the oil companies and know that we are helping to reduce CHGs in a small way. One small step.

Toby Cowan, Principal, Performance Design Group, delivers creative solutions to challenging marketing projects. For years Toby’s creativity has contributed to The Climate Center, from designing logos to distilling complex ideas into clear, compelling messages and materials.

1 reply
  1. Keith
    Keith says:

    You should also have a look at residential battery storage and see if time shifting would suit you. Lots of competing technologies in play in a rapidly evolving space. Tesla has certainly fired things up!


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