Saturday, February 19, 2011

One Month Off the Pump

We've had our Nissan LEAF for one month now. In that time, we've traveled 945 miles, consumed 225 KWh of electricity, and grown 83 virtual "trees". No issues with the car so far (knock on wood). We have learned to ignore the range estimator, putting our faith in the battery gauge. I also bought a ChargePoint prepaid card to take advantage of public charging stations, although we haven't used it yet.

We emitted 350 fewer lbs of carbon dioxide versus the previous vehicle. That's based on PSE's current load mix (32% coal, 36% hydro, 30% natural gas). Given current prices, it's likely that PSE will be using more natural gas and renewables, and less coal in the future, so things should only get better.

We don't get a separate electric bill for the LEAF, so it's a little hard to determine precisely what the actual costs have been. Using the 225 KWh reported by Carwings and a rate of $0.11 per KWh, figure around $25 for the month. By way of comparison, if we had been driving our Toyota Echo instead, we would have used 30 gallons of gasoline, at $3.30 per gallon, for a total of $100.

Which brings me to my final point. During the month we've had the LEAF, electric rates have gone from $0.11 per KWh to $0.11 per KWh. Electric rates are controlled by the utility commission. Local gasoline prices have gone from $3.20 per gallon to $3.45 per gallon. Gasoline prices fluctuate based on supply and demand, market speculation, unrest in the Middle East, and hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. I don't know about you, but I like knowing what my transportation costs are going to be more than a few days in advance.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Horizontal Fracking Isn't the Answer

"New drilling method opens vast oilfields in US"
Bully for Exxon. Hurrah for Chevron. Three cheers for BP. Renewed cries of "Drill baby, drill!" Horizontal fracking certainly has tangible benefits for large, multinational corporations. What's in it for me?

Freedom from despotic regimes? Don't think so. Last time I looked, I don't buy crude oil -- I buy gasoline (at least, I used to). The gasoline I buy is produced by an independent refiner (Tesoro, in my case). Tesoro buys crude oil from the lowest-cost source at the time they need the next tankerful. Louisiana? North Dakota? Venezuela? Oil is a global commodity. The gasoline in my car may have been refined from foreign oil or domestic. In fact, unless you live in a country where the mineral resources are owned by the state, there is no such thing as domestic oil.

Energy independence? Nope. In the United States, mineral resources are not owned by the government, they are owned by the corporations that extract them. After buying a lease and paying royalties, the multinational owns the oil free and clear. They can sell it here, or they can ship it overseas. Or did you miss the fact that the Macondo well was operated by British Petroleum?

Lower gasoline prices? Sorry, bub. Repeat after me: oil is a global commodity. If we aren't willing to pay top dollar for it, there's someone else who is. To quote from the article referenced above:

US shale oil, on the other hand, will only supply one to two percent of world consumption by 2015, not nearly enough to affect prices.

What are we to do? Are we doomed forever to be at the mercy of tyrannical dictators in foreign lands or corporate boardrooms? I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Conservation.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

What I Like About Electrons

In my last post, I wrote about how the Nissan LEAF was beginning to seem like a normal car. For the most part, it is. But if that's the case, what's the big deal? In a word, torque:

torque (tôrk)
The tendency of a force applied to an object to make it rotate about an axis.
(reference: dictionary.com)

When you step on the accelerator after the light turns green, torque is what gets the car moving. Torque gives a car its get-up-and-go. A gasoline engine typically needs to spin up to 2000-3000 RPM before it hits maximum torque. You push on the pedal and the RPMs start to wind up. The engine roars and the car begins to vibrate. Even with a big V8, you get the sense that the engine is working hard to overcome inertia.

On the other hand, an electric motor achieves maximum torque instantly. If you want to ease away gently, step lightly on the accelerator. If you want to embarrass the BMW driver in the next lane, floor it and hang onto your coffee. In either case, it seems effortless, like the car isn't really working at all. Effortless, silent, immediate forward motion.

One step closer to that anti-gravity drive I've been waiting on.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A Return to Normalcy

It's been two weeks since we took delivery of our Nissan LEAF, and it's starting to feel like a regular car. We've logged 400 miles and used 96 kilowatt-hours of electricity, for an average of 4.1 miles/kWh. Haven't received our electric bill yet, but assuming PSE's higher-use rate and 10% overhead for the charging station, expecting costs to be around $10.50 to $11.00 for the 400 miles. If we were buying gasoline (at the local price of $3.30/gallon), it would be the equivalent of getting 120 MPG.

My wife drives the car to work every day. We do our usual running around after work and on the weekends. We plug it in every night. And aside from last week's near misadventure, driving with electrons is becoming pretty normal.

I'm also getting over my fear of hills. It takes energy to go uphill. A lot of energy. We use 1/12th of the battery's capacity climbing from sea level up to our house. Which was scary at first. But as long as we have at least two blue bars showing on the battery gauge when we start the climb, I know we'll make it home just fine. And the payoff comes when we go down the hill. I'll have more to say about regenerative braking in a future post. But it's pretty cool to put energy back into the battery, instead of throwing it away as heat and brake dust.

As time goes by, I'm finding fewer excuses to drive the car. The novelty is beginning to fade. I still think the LEAF is the coolest car on the road. But in the end, it's just a car. And even the coolest car is no match for a bicycle.