Friday, December 28, 2007

Why Solar?

In February 2007, I bought an electric truck. This is not a hybrid, it is exclusively powered by batteries. Many electric cars are not much more than golf carts. This truck will do 70 MPH and can haul a half ton. Its range is about 50 miles on a charge. And it starts out each day fully charged, with enough juice to commute and run errands. An electric vehicle (EV) is referred to as a Zero Emission Vehicle. While it is true that no emissions come from the vehicle, the electricity that powers them has to come from somewhere. This is known as the "Long Tailpipe".

Even with the long tail pipe, it is important to note the pollution of an EV can be significantly less than a gas powered car even if 100% of the power comes from fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. The pollution is generally removed from population centers. Additionally, electrically fueled vehicles reduce the need for foreign oil. This has several obvious political and security advantages.

With a normal gasoline powered car, its pollution, within a range, is defined when it is made. An EV, on the other hand, can improve its pollution profile over time. As the electrical grid greens, so does an EV. A coal plant installs new scrubbers, a new wind turbines comes on-line, etc. and an EV improves its pollution per mile. And when charged from renewable sources, it truly is Zero emission.

Now that I was using electricity as my commuting "fuel", I wanted to install solar panels to solve my long tailpipe problem. I could have just signed up for PGE's wind program or bought carbon offsets. This would have been easier and cheaper, but seems like a shell game to me. It feels like Enron accounting or greenwashing. I wanted to know that I really had renewable power. So, I had solar panels installed.

The truck was the reason for getting the panels, but they are not hooked up to the truck directly, they are connected to the house. Anything that is plugged in to the house uses the power that they produce. Most days, the solar panels are producing power during the day while the truck and I are at work. I then charge-up in my garage when I come home in the evenings. This means that very little of the solar power goes into the truck. However, this is a net plus for the grid because we provide power during mid-day peak need time and then use power at off peak times. The grid must be sized for peak needs, our time-shift of sourcing and using, helps to level out this demand.

Here is a funny little video: If CO2 where elephants.

EV + PV = No CO2

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