solar serendipity

Last week, I got a message on my answering machine from someone who is interested in purchasing solar panels in a community solar array with Renovus. Because we already own panels in a prior community solar installation with them and had agreed to be contacted, Renovus had given my name and number to a prospective solar customer.

I returned the call and had a lovely conversation. Of course, we started talking nuts and bolts about community solar, but then went on to talk about our all-electric Chevy Bolt, environmental issues, and living in the Southern Tier/Finger Lakes region.

We discovered that we both have connections to the Berkshires of Massachusetts and that we are both writers, although she has had a long career in writing and teaching and I am only recently (and lightly) published.

Now, we are friends on Facebook and perhaps, one day, will meet in person – brought together by the sun.

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Bolt update

Because we have recently completed National Drive Electric Week, I thought I would update you on our experiences with our 2017 Chevy Bolt.

We still love it!

I wish I could have shown it off at our local Drive Electric event, but it did not fit into our schedule.

Over these last six months, we have learned a lot about electric driving. Air temperature has a big effect on range. When the weather was warm this summer, our projected range with a full charge was 280-300 miles (450-482 km) rather than the listed 238 (383 km). During the winter, though, our range may only be in the 160s.

The type of driving also has a big impact on the range. Unlike gasoline-powered vehicles, electric vehicles are more efficient in stop-and-go driving because the energy from slowing, braking, and travelling downslope is used to send charge back to the battery. Yesterday, I drove almost fifteen miles while only having my projected range decrease by two miles because I was driving around town.

The Bolt has a screen that shows how various factors affect mileage in real time. It is a bit of a game to see how much different routes, speeds, etc. affect our kilowatt per mile ratio. In a mixed highway/city session, we get about 4.8 m/kwh, while on an exclusively in-town run, we average about 6 m/kwh. This is much cheaper than running a car on gasoline, especially because maintenance costs on EVs are also much lower. It is even cheaper for us because most of our electricity comes from our solar panels, rather than being purchased from a utility.

My favorite driving mode is L mode, which allows most driving to happen with just the accelerator pedal. It reminds me of using the swell pedal on the organ! L mode makes greater use of regenerative braking without needing to touch the brake pedal, which brings in the use of the disc brakes.

The only real problem we have had is that one of our forward cameras stopped functioning, which meant that we were without pedestrian detection and other safety features for a while as our dealer had to order the parts needed. This wasn’t too great a hardship, given that we had never had these kinds of features on prior cars so we were used to driving without them. Still, it was nice to have them back after the repair.

While we had planned to install a home charging station, we haven’t gotten around to it yet. Given that we usually keep the Bolt within the county and that we have an upgraded home electrical service, it hasn’t been a problem charging slowly with our regular household current, but we will eventually get a home charging station so that we can do a full battery charge overnight. We plan to get a station that plugs into a 220 outlet rather than one that is hardwired.

We are also slowly getting more public charging stations. In August, shortly before L had to return to London, we took ABC to Recreation Park in Binghamton to ride the carousel. We were surprised to see two charging stations in the parking lot. I pulled into a slot and got a few kilowatt-hours in while we rode the carousel. It turned out that the chargers had just been installed. It was fun to see the media coverage, knowing that I had already availed myself of the service.

It has also been fun telling people about our EV and giving people rides. One of B’s co-workers, who has an approximately 120-mile (193 km) daily commute, decided to buy a Bolt from our dealership after talking to B about our experience. We had been the first Bolt sold there and he was the third. We are hoping that the sales of the Bolt and other EVs will expand so that the public charging network will grow, especially rapid chargers that will make it easier to take electric cars on long trips.

This will also make it easier to sell more EVs, which will be better for air quality and climate protection for everyone. As battery prices continue to come down, EVs will soon be priced similarly to gas vehicles without subsidies while being cheaper to run and maintain. Several European countries already have plans to phase out gasoline/diesel only vehicles; perhaps, one day, the United States will follow suit.

Bolt!

As part of my Earth Day observance, let me introduce the newest addition to our eco-conscious family, our new bright blue all-electric Chevy Bolt!
Bolt

Bolt side view

While Bolts became available in some parts of the country late last year, they only arrived in upstate New York in March. Only one dealer in our area is authorized to sell them and I had been inquiring for months, so, when their first Bolt came in, we were among the first to find out. We arranged a test drive and, after waiting a few days for the long-anticipated New York State rebate program to get up and running, we took the Bolt home on March 30th.

We love it!

There is a lot to learn, though, and a lot of bells and whistles that other people take for granted, like backup cameras and collision avoidance systems, that have been available but weren’t a feature of any other car we have had.

It is nice to have a simple push button start and not to have to worry about keys at all. With no engine, it is very quiet. The seats, front and back, are comfortable for both B and me, despite ten inches of height difference, and the seats are heated, which is nice in the damp chill of early spring. I even tried out the heated steering wheel one particularly chilly morning! There is lots of glass so the visibility is good and we have external sensors that warn about vehicles and pedestrians that are alongside.

It is so much fun to drive! It’s like a game to learn about the regenerative braking and how to get the most miles per kilowatt-hour. It accelerates super fast, which is a help when I have to merge onto the highway near our home, where the speed limit is 65 mph (105 kmh) and the merge lane is short. The link near the beginning of the post tells about the torque, for those of you who know about such things. Our salesperson told us it has a much torque as a 6-cylinder Camaro, but, never having driven a sporty performance-type car, I have no basis for comparison. I just know that it is fun!

We intend to use the Bolt mostly around the county and for short trips until more rapid-charge stations come to our region. The listed range is 238 miles (383 km) on a full charge, although factors such as temperature and terrain affect this. We don’t put on a lot of miles every day and usually charge it once it get down sixty miles or so.

We have taken it further afield once so far. When E went to London, she had to fly out of Syracuse rather than Binghamton, so we took her in the Bolt. The roundtrip was about 180 miles and we had plenty of charge to get there and back, despite the temperature being colder than optimal for best battery range.

At the moment, we are recharging with just 110v household current, but we plan to install a charge station later this spring. That will allow us to do a full charge overnight, instead of two days using household current.

On Earth Day, we are proud to have shrunk our carbon footprint considerably. No burning of gasoline! No need for motor oil! And most of the electricity we use will be produced by our solar panels!

Our Bolt makes every day seems like Earth Day!

Fourteen years

In July 2002, we bought a 2003 silver Toyota Corolla.

It’s been a good car and we drove it. A lot. Over 134,000 miles.

Last week, we had it at the dealership and found out that the gas tank is corroding. It’s not leaking yet, but will soon. The cost of the repair is expensive enough that we have decided to retire the car.

We have decided to donate the car to charity. We have begun to make the arrangements and will probably be able to turn over the car by the end of the week.

Daughter T has graciously given us permission to use the car she inherited from Grandma as a second car for now, so we are holding off on getting a replacement.

My dream is to replace it with a fully electric, plug-in vehicle. I am very interested in the Chevy Bolt, which will appear late this year or early next. ¬†We’ll have to see if we like it when it becomes available to test-drive and what it would take for us to install a charging station at our home.

Meanwhile, we say good-bye to our car of fourteen years, longer than we have ever owned a car. Thanks for your service and for getting us safely and economically from there to there. Many, many, many times over.