Driving on sunshine


Driving on sunshine

Winter solstice has swept in, and me and my electric vehicle (EV) are taking another trip around the sun—on sunshine!

My ex and I got solar at home on his birthday in 2002, then our first EV, the RAV4, a couple months later, on the winter solstice. Won’t ever forget the feeling, from my head to my toes, of driving without a tailpipe. Finally, I was doing something that could really make a dent in climate change. And with the solar panels, I was driving on sunshine.

Driving on sunshine! Goodbye guilt. Hello hope. No pollution, well-to-wheels. No asthma, no cancer, no NOx, no SOx.

Well, almost none. I charge at night, when rates are lowest, so there’s a speck of non-renewable energy in my battery. But it’s an idea I’m a bit obsessed with—cuz let’s face it, it’s wonderful and it’s the future as well as the now—and I recently rounded up other early adopters who have been cruising nearly carbon-free for a long, long time. And, of course, bypassing the gas station in the process. I think mainstream America would be stunned to know that there are many among them doing the same thing.

“Well, I confess, I still go to a gas station regularly—to clean my damn windows,” says my friend and fellow Plug In America co-founder Ron Freund. Ron, who is also a PIA board member, has been Driving on Sunshine (DOS) for 17 years.

As you might know, Ed Begley, Jr. is the granddaddy of them all. Thirty years, DOS. “I’ve had solar hot water since 1985 and solar electric since 1990,” he says. Ed, we bow and curtsey to your greatness.

One of my other favorite scenarios comes from Darell Dickey, also a Cali resident, 20 years on the DOS.

“I haven’t paid for electricity for my house or my EV since 2001,” he says. “I’ve had to pay the electric meter charge, but not a penny for the actual energy.”

Darell calculates that conservatively, he’s saved a total of about $54,000 over the past two decades on home and vehicle energy–about $2,700 a year–minus the $15,000 he invested in his solar array. But even better, to me: Darell’s daughter, Kyra Lee, 20, has never known a world without EVs and certainly doesn’t consider them “alternative” transportation.

“I literally forced her to fill a car with gas just to have the knowledge, skill and horrible experience,” Darell says. “She’s put gasoline into a car twice in her life now.”

  girl charging a electric vehicle

The photos of Kyra, the tot, and Kyra today, blow me away.

As does Raymond Cardona, a retired Air Force captain who drives on sunshine outside of Cincinnati in Loveland, OH. Though he’d previously been too busy to focus on environmental concerns, he went solar in 2013 after seeing Al Gore’s global warming red-alert, “An Inconvenient Truth,” then bought a used Nissan Leaf two years later. He’s still driving that car. “I was absolutely floored by Gore’s presentation and said, ‘I’ve got to try thinking of what to do.’ ”

I admit it: I like to think that *certain* Ohioans are fuming over the fact that Gore flipped a vet who’s flown 75 combat missions. And, while Cardona had to travel to Indianapolis to find a used EV, he’s proof that we’re not all long-haired Pelosi-worshiping wing nuts from Granola Central.

So here’s the serious part. The past decade was the warmest on record. The World Health Organization estimates that some seven million people die every year from polluted air. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently urged world leaders to dramatically reduce fossil fuel production. “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal,” he said. “Every country, city, financial institution and company should adopt plans for transitioning to net zero [greenhouse gas] emissions by 2050.”

Those criteria pollutants matter a hell of a lot, too, as the WHO notes. Those are the things that cause asthma and other diseases and premature death and hit disadvantaged communities disproportionately hard. Besides the obvious and critical ethical concerns, this is a fact that’s essential to widespread EV adoption: We’ll never get there without low- and moderate-income community participation, because 60% of car buyers are moderate and low income, and 80% of the cars they buy are used, says J.R. DeShazo, an environmental economist and director of UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation.

While we have a long way to go and a lot more work to do, there is some good news: There are now moderately priced EVs that go 250 miles on a single charge. Adding to that: there are also several models with a lower range—though still decent—and much lower cost. And even cheaper used EVs have begun to flood the market.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with driving less altogether. We need to keep talking about that and advocating for improved mass transit. But there’s also this: “…. governments around the world are planning to eventually ban sales of new internal combustion cars.”

Meanwhile, solar power has never been cheaper. And, for those in Granola country, hundreds of thousands of us are now receiving our electricity through community choice aggregation, which provides clean energy utility wide. Furthermore, utilities are beginning to change their Time of Use “times” to the hours that sunlight is most abundant, according to UCLA’s DeShazo.

So, if you haven’t gone DOS, there’s never been a better time to consider it. Even electric airplanes are starting to do it, flying on sunshine into the great beyond. And come on, if the Wall Street Journal proclaims the future is electric, and internal combustion engines are over, you know something’s afoot.

“The cost of ownership is already clearly in favor of EVs,” says Dan Neil, the Journal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning auto columnist. Dan explains that over the next five years, in the transition to EVs, gas-burners, with their extremely complex turbo engines and transmissions, will become increasingly expensive to maintain. “It will become uneconomic to fix them, so I predict the annual fleet replacement rate—typically 5%—will be much higher. ICE cars are about to become the flip phones of transportation.”

If you need any more convincing, take it from my friend Linda Nicholes, another DOS lover who’s been at it for two decades. You know Linda best as another PIA co-founder and past president. When there’s an oil spill, she says, lots of bad things happen. But if we produce more solar electricity than we need in any given 24 hours?

It’s just a really sunny day.

Perfect for a nice road trip, free of guilt and full of hope.

Photo: Raymond Cardona with his EV in front of his solar panels

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