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An Old Idea Who’s Time Has Come - Electric Vehicles
December 5, 2005

A Yale Poll taken this past June shows that a vast majority of Americans are worried about our dependence on foreign oil, with 93% of Americans wanting government to develop new energy technologies and require the auto industry to make cars and trucks that get better gas mileage.

The cost of our dependence on oil includes a warped foreign policy, illogical foreign aid, oil spills, refinery emissions, air pollution, toxic dumps and, many would argue, a large portion of our nation’s defense budget. The impacts to our nation’s physical, emotional and economic health are incalculable, unbearable and unsustainable. There will be a day of reckoning that perhaps we hope to put off as long as possible - making the situation worse.

Is there an alternative to our oil-based, gasoline powered lifestyles?

A small number of families have shown that there is an alternative and it doesn’t require us to sacrifice one bit of our modern mobile lifestyle. These families have discovered that electric vehicles (EVs) combined with rooftop photovoltaic systems can free them from the need to purchase gasoline, diesel or any form of petroleum to run their cars. How did these families get advanced electric powered vehicles?

Many years ago, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) implemented the "Zero Emission Vehicle" mandate. Under pressure from the Federal Clean Air Act to reduce mobile source pollution by "10%" by 2003, ten percent of the cars sold in California would need to be Zero Emission Vehicles by 2003. Under intense lobbying, lawsuits, political agitation by Western States Petroleum et al., the mandate was periodically weakened as happens sometimes with the election of pro-petroleum politicians. The Clean Air Act was no longer a national priority, and CARB caved with one final lawsuit that was brought against them by General Motors and the Justice Department.

What the original mandate shows us is that industry will innovate once prodded into action through effective legislation. General Motors produced the EV1. Toyota's contribution, the RAV4-EV, was the best and most popular of these innovative vehicles. Electric vehicles usually charge up “off-peak”, when electric from the grid is plentiful, cheap and available. Many of these original electric vehicle owners also installed rooftop solar electric (photovoltaic) power systems and have found that even a modest system is capable of supplying more on-peak electric credits than they use to charge their cars off-peak. In other words, once their photovoltaic system is installed, they can run their electric vehicles for virtually nothing.

Our nation needs a high priority “crash” program of photovoltaic (PV) and electric vehicle (EV) development and deployment that would transfer all, or a major part, of our miles driven using gasoline to miles driven on electric power. This is not a pipe dream. Hundreds of Americans have been able to do this with little or no help from the government and in spite of the automobile industry’s attempts to kill their initiative.

Consider the facts. An electric car travels 3 to 6 miles on each kilo-Watt-hour (kWh) of electricity. This incredible efficiency means that the EV can go up to 200 miles on the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline. But it uses no gas, just electrons! The average US car gets 20 miles per gallon, and US gasoline consumption is about 400 million gallons per day. Our total number of miles driven using gasoline is about 8 billion ("B") miles per day. If those miles were driven entirely in plug-in electric cars like the Toyota RAV4 EV, electricity could effectively replace gasoline. The RAV4 EV gets over 3 miles for each kWh of electric power it consumes and it’s a small SUV.

To entirely replace gasoline with plug-in electric vehicles using solar PV would take about 2.3 billion kWh per day. To provide all this energy via solar power would require about 4.6 billion square meters of PV panels. This is a lot of space, approximately 1500 square miles, or 30 miles by 50 miles full of solar panels. But like automobiles, the PV panels would be dispersed among the 100 million households in the US.

By comparison, we need to consider that if all 200 million cars were crammed into one giant parking lot, it would take a lot of space, too, about 4000 million square meters or 1200 square miles of solidly packed cars. And then, there are the refineries and gas stations, too, which would take many more hundreds of square miles. Based upon this, we must assume that the space for the solar PV panels would and could be found. If the solar panels were dispersed onto the rooftops of, say, 100 million buildings, it would only take 46 square meters per building, on average, about 500 square feet of roof space. That's less than a quarter of the roof of the average home.

By moving toward plug-in electric cars and roof-top solar energy, we can cut gasoline and oil consumption, cut pollution, lessen our need for refineries and their detritus, secure our energy supplies, strengthen the economy, increase our national security and with optional battery backup for each home, improve disaster preparedness and emergency response.

Limited range on one charge seems to be an issue with plug-in Electric cars. When buying a car, you are really buying the idea of freedom, that you could take off to "California or bust". But pragmatically, most of our driving is short-range, 30 miles per day on the average, and only occasionally more than 100 miles.

The best EVs have a range of 300 miles on a charge and can be recharged quickly. But the greater range comes at an increased cost, and mostly would be unused. This problem can be solved by keeping two cars, an EV for everyday gas-free driving and a dino-car for weekend long-distance drives.

The plug-in hybrid combines both in one vehicle, running on electric for the first 100 miles and on gas for the occasional longer drives.

The plug-in hybrid EV has an optional gas/generator on board (40 to 50 hp is enough) that can either charge the batteries or directly run the EV. This has already been done with an existing hybrid Toyota Prius by a group called the California Cars Initiative. One prototype gets up to 180 mpg. While the gasoline engine would be unused most of the time, it would give the feeling of freedom to the driver and eliminate any issues about limited range.

Why don't we do this? At least why not let patriotic volunteers do so with their own money?

Of all the cars built by automakers, not one is a plug-in EV or plug-in hybrid. Toyota can build and sell a plug-in hybrid, perhaps a version of the Prius, which has the promise of being extremely efficient. This is the car America needs, especially if it's marketed in combination with a home solar PV electric system.

Until hybrids can plug-in, they are still only gasoline cars. They get all of their energy, ultimately, from the gasoline pump, and won't allow you to either drive gas-free or plug-in to your own solar power.

Doug Korthof
Seal Beach, CA
doug korthof []

B.A., M.A. Owned a recycling business and worked as a computer programmer. Currently assists environmental campaigns to save local wetlands, improve sewage treatment, promote Electric cars and solar power, and protect Native American sacred sites. Our home solar system charged 3 full-sized plug-in Electric cars for free last year and still donated $99 in electric to the grid.

Read/Post Comments (12)

Comments (12)

Rob Fruth from TX
12/5/2005 6:51:26 PM

OPEC has U.S. over a barrel, how about a Prius with a *big* traction battery ?

Norma and Alan Williamson from CA
12/5/2005 7:21:46 PM

"Right on" to everything Doug says! We are one of the few (appx. 100) Toyota RAV4 EV owners in the US, plus we have a 6 kilowatt photovoltaic system with a solar water system, on the rooftop of our home in Southern California. We live a "zero energy" lifestyle: no gasoline, no natural gas, no electricity. We even have a battery back up system when there is a black-out. There is a way to break free from oil dependence: PV with EV!!!

alexandre avila from RS
12/7/2005 4:29:33 AM

gostaria de saber se foi destruido todos ev1 ? e possivel isso , ninguem ficou com veiculo eletrico da gm ?um abraço
i love car electric

Steve Romer from NJ
12/7/2005 9:04:35 PM

I was wonder what if a solar panel was built into the Roof of a car; How will that affect the driving distance of plug in hybrid or just a plain hybrid?

doug from CA
12/8/2005 4:28:59 PM

1. Opec does have the US over a barrel, literally. A prius with a big battery will get at least 100 mpg, especially if it can be charged by plugging in. Check out
2. Norma and Alan live their beliefs, setting an example for those who visit their house and for those who Norma educates and those who Alan installs solar systems for.
3. I don't know why gm destroyed the EV1. No one does.
4. Solar panels in the roof of a car sound like a good idea, but the space available only yields maybe 2 kWh per day at most. It's much more practical to mount the panels on the roof, where hey HELP the grid meet daytime peak demand; at night, charge the car from plentiful off-peak electric.

Thanks for the comments!

Anne from CO
12/10/2005 7:05:30 PM

How much does an EV cost? What is the cost to install the PV?

ChrisW from CA
12/11/2005 11:39:24 AM

Hi Anne, I'll let Doug answer the EV question and I'll answer the PV system one since we just put one in. You might want to look at an earlier editorial on this site which covers this in more detail for CA. It all depends on the size of system and the rebates from the state. Our 5.5 kWh system in Big Bear, CA was $42K but we will get rebates and tax breaks worth nearly 50%. So, the final cost will be around $20k. The system we installed is bigger than needed. The system has a 30 year life expectancy too. A respected solar energy consultant would give you a fair estimate and size the system appropriately.

Frank Johnson from WWW.NONE.COM
12/18/2005 5:59:26 PM

Brian Innis from CO
12/22/2005 4:58:46 PM

I have to say "thank God there are other people out there thinking this way." I have not agreed with all the monthly topics discussed on this web site but I can really get behind this months subject. Let's all communicate with our representatives and senators in washington on these important subjects. I read an interesting article the other day on the subject of political action on globabl warming and other related green issues. It really made sense that our efforts at living lighter on the earth are not very useful unless we back them up with communications to our political representatives in D.C.. Sometimes we even need to educate them a little on these subjects because most of the power brokers in DC are trying to keep our reps. ignorant on EFFECTIVE actions they can enact to help us all impact the environment a little less and break our addiction to imported oil.

stephanie solt from VT
1/2/2006 9:57:38 AM

Our city utility has had electric cars for some time now. One of the biggest hurdles is how to heat the car (we can get to 20 below zero during the winter). They've tried propane heat. Also our city has a wood fired generation plant that produces electricity for the city....but this is one of a very few in the world. It's all well and good to drive a electric car but aren't the electric plants sometimes fueled with oil? Coal and wood make us independent but not oil!!

Bob Rice from CT
1/7/2006 10:27:44 AM

Doug is right on. Wish he could run for Prez!Somebody like him we need. Regime change in USA as we have the Best Govt. Oil Money can buy. So howthehell are we gunna get anything done. Well we are working on it, a few of us are private investors in a purpose built EV. The unvailing in FLA will be next week. But how come it has to come from private common man citizens, NOT the Govt??Out tax money has been blown away by Big Car Co.s spending money to kill the EV's that were built using Federal money.GM EV-1 comes to mind and all the money the Govt spent for Better Batteries. EV's should be legislated into existance, as was Daylight Saving time, Air Brakes on trains, safer automatic couplers, RR's being an industry that I am very familiar with.Many safety standards on trains were made LAW, not of the generosity of the RR operating Co's.We need that action, today.

Peter Behn from UT
3/30/2006 12:03:36 AM

I've been looking for a Plug-in Hybrid or a Hybrid EV. Where can I buy a RAV4 EV?

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