Tag Archives: electric vehicle

November 2019 Solar PV and Nissan Leaf EV Performance

November was an ugly month for solar photovoltaic production:

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Why?  My system was disconnected and shut down due to a planned upgrade.  The guys from Moxie Solar installed an additional 8 panels and the attendant “balance of system” components like a new grid tie inverter.  The 8 additional panels represent an approximate 62% increase in nameplate capacity for my system.  Given the orientation and installation location are virtually the same as the previous 16 panels I expect to see an approximate 62% increase in solar production once the array is powered up.

This has to be one of the most frustrating parts of a solar installation.  The rooftop install and other system components were done in a little more than a working day.  The city inspection was done in about fifteen minutes and done a few days after installation.  The permission to operate and the simple act of flipping the switch?  I am still waiting.

See most of those zero production days in the last week of November?  That is the cost of waiting for someone to come over from the electric utility and watch a person from the solar installer flip a switch.   It is like a bad anecdote about union rules from the 1980s.  Soon…the switch will be flipped soon.

This might also be the last month for a while where I seen an average of over 5 miles per kilowatt hour in my Nissan Leaf.  For the month I drove a total of 619 miles that used 123.8 kWh of electricity at an average efficiency of 5.0 miles per kWh.  At an average carbon intensity, I avoided emitting ~702 pounds of CO2.

What November really taught me is that cold weather kind of sucks for an EV.  My particular Nissan Leaf is not equipped with the heat pump, so it relies on a resistive heater to provide any level of defrost in cold weather.  Most of the time my trips are short enough that I just deal with a cold cabin while the heated seat and steering wheel keep me cozy.  Put three passengers in the car and the windows start to fog up pretty quick with hot breath.  There is nothing so dispiriting as watching the guess-o-meter drop by 30% or more when you turn on the heat.

It is not enough to dissuade me from recommending an EV in general or an older Nissan Leaf in particular.  There is something to be said for taking advantage of a market dynamic like extreme depreciation.  You can have your Tesla Model 3.  I will take my solar panels, Nissan Leaf, and decarbonized home to the bank every day.

The Financial Math Behind Decarbonization

What if I told you that for the price of a base model Tesla Model 3—good luck actually finding one—you could decarbonize your household?

What if I told you that this is not a thought exercise but an examination of steps already taken?

Are you ready?

The price for base Tesla Model 3 is ~$35,000.  That is the price assuming that you can actually purchase the so-called “standard range” model and before any applicable tax credits.  For the purposes of this discussion I am going to leave tax credits aside for the time being.  So, we are working with a starting price of $35,000.

For that price you get an electric vehicle that has to draw power from the grid, which depending upon your locale and power company may support coal fired electricity.  It may also support fracking for natural gas or the nuclear power energy, assuming any of that industry remains in your region.

What else could you do with that $35,000?

Over the course of the past two and half years I have installed solar photovoltaic panels on my roof in two phases.  Why two phases?  Initially, my power company would only allow my roof mounted solar photovoltaic array to exceed my annual consumption—based on average expected production—by ~10% or so.  Considering how little electricity my household used in comparison to the average this worked out to a system of 4.64 kWh.  This initial phase cost me ~$11,000 before tax credits at the state and federal level.

In the past month I added ~62% more capacity to my existing solar photovoltaic array at a cost of ~$7,500.  In the past year I added an electric vehicle to the mix, which has upped my household consumption, in addition to a few winter months in 2019 where my prior panels were covered under deep snow curtailing production.  We also forgot to turn off a garage heater, which ran up the electric bill in February.  All told these changes goosed our consumption just enough to allow me to install an additional eight panels on my roof.

As it stands right now the photovoltaic array on my roof has a nameplate capacity of 7.52 kWh.  This was complete at a total cost of ~$18,500 before any tax credits.  Remember, we are leaving tax credits aside for the moment.  Assuming my household usage patterns hold—including one electric vehicle—this system will produce more than 100% of my household’s electricity requirements for the year.  The estimated excess production should allow me to replace my natural gas water heater with an electric air source heat pump model further reducing my household requirements for fossil fuels.  With the water heater replaced in the next year my household will only use natural gas for the forced air furnace in the colder months.  Trust me, I am looking at options to replace that as well.

What about the electric vehicle?  This is where the power of the market and a realistic assessment of one’s needs come into play.

A Tesla Model 3 is a fine automobile.  Dollar for dollar, it may be the best vehicle on the market right now when one considers its relative performance and environmental bona fides.  However, it still costs $35,000.

In January of this year I purchased a used Nissan Leaf for ~$11,500.  The Leaf had ~33K miles on the odometer, but the battery was in great condition being that the 2015 and later model years utilized an updated architecture that corrected some of the prior model years’ most glaring problems.  A purchase price of more than eleven thousand dollars might sound like a lot, but this was a car that retailed for more than $30,000 when new.  Losing two thirds of car’s value without high mileage is crazy town.  Or, good for the person who can take advantage.

If one can live with a lesser range, one can take advantage of the market punishing these older EVs for not being up to Tesla’s newer standards.  If one drives in town, for the most part, there is no disadvantage.  In almost a year of daily driving I have had just one instance of the range “guess-o-meter” dropping below ten miles remaining and I have never experienced the indignity of “turtle mode.”

How does this all add up?  Total cost for me to purchase an EV to replace all of my daily driver miles and enough solar photovoltaic capacity to power me entire household, including EV electricity requirements, was less than $30,000 before any tax incentives.  Compared to a $35K Tesla Model 3 I would say that I ended up in a better place.  Five thousand or so dollars better, mind you.

This is not to diminish the decision of someone purchasing a Tesla or any other EV.  Rather, it is to illustrate that there is an alternative path to decarbonization that is neither as expensive as portrayed by many and without any appreciable downsides.

The future is now.

This is What the Future Looks Like

Last week the installers from Moxie Solar completed the installation of eight additional solar photovoltaic panels on my west facing roof and the attendant upgrades to the electrical system (e.g. larger inverter).

Here is what 62% additional solar capacity looks like from the road:

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See anything?  That is right, you do not see anything out of the ordinary save for a standard suburban house.

Here is what that same additional solar capacity looks like from the west side of the house:

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This is what the future looks like.  Twenty four panels—sixteen 290W panels and eight 360W panels—producing green electricity every time the sun sends its rays our way.  These panels do their thing every day without nary a thought or action from me.  Silent and motionless these panels produce clean electricity.  This solar array will produce more than 100% of my household’s electricity needs including an electric vehicle.

If this is not the future than I have no idea of what will come to pass.

Third Quarter New Year’s Resolutions Progress

It is now October and that means it is fall.  It also means that I am nine months of the way through the year which is probably a good time to check in on where I am at with my resolutions or goals for 2019.  Here goes:

  • Decarbonize transportation—My 2015 Nissan Leaf has been in the garage for almost nine months. Through the end of September 2019 I have driven ~5,893 miles.  By trading a Ford F150 for a Nissan Leaf I have saved ~6,733 pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted.
  • No more Amazon—While I failed in the first quarter and succeeded in the second quarter, the third quarter was a little better. I spent some money that I was “awarded” from work via a gift card.  It was money spent at Amazon, but it was not my cash and I felt that the effort to transfer the funds was not worth the return.  Trying to reduce my spending at both Amazon and Walmart has made me think about our consumer habits in general.  More to come.
  • No more Walmart—Spent about a $100 on school supplies for a work organized effort to help out area kids during the back to school time. Walmart was running sales where I was able to pick up whole classrooms’ worth of some supplies for a few dollars.  It was craziness and well worth failing in my goal to make it happen.
  • Read twenty five books—38 books read in the first nine months.  Mission accomplished.
  • Drink local—Doing pretty good so far.
  • Declutter my house—This is probably the singular failure so far this year. Sure, some stuff has gone to Goodwill but I feel that on the whole nothing is less cluttered than it was nine months ago.  Maybe I can sprint to the finish.
  • Replace existing toilets with low volume flush models—I have picked out the model of toilet to replace my existing commodes. I have even purchased the wax rings to install the new toilers.  Now I just need to get a free day on a weekend to spend a few hours doing some plumbing.  Can you tell that this is my favorite way to spend a few hours on a Saturday?
  • Plant at least five trees—Two Norway spruce trees are in the ground. Three Colorado blue spruce trees in the ground.  Mission accomplished.
  • Reduce lawn coverage— No real progress, but I have plans. I promise!
  • Ride 2,500 miles on gravel roads—I am sitting at ~2,718 miles for the season as the month of September came to a close. Surprisingly, September was a real dog of a month for riding as the weather really conspired to keep me inside.   Mission accomplished.

So far, so good I think.

September 2019 Solar PV and EV Numbers

The past month was surprisingly similar to the same month the year prior:

Sept 2019 solar

Almost 416 kWh of clean, green electricity from the funky yellow sun.  All in, including 100% of my EV charging needs, I ended up down ~122 kWh for the month.  The weather was schizophrenic this month bouncing from cool fall weather to hot and humid.  The third week of the month felt like the dog days of August with 90 degree temperature readings and similar humidity levels.  Needless to say, the air conditioning got turned on to cut that down a little bit.  Until that point I was running ahead in terms of production versus consumption.

For the month I drove my Nissan Leaf EV 755.1 miles with an average efficiency of 5.9 miles per kWh.  For the month I required ~128 kWh of electricity for my mobility.  Compared with the F150 that the Leaf replaced, I avoided emitting ~879 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere assuming that I drew electricity from the grid at an average carbon intensity for my region.

For the first nine months or so of the year—my Leaf arrived the second week of January—I have driven a total of 5,893 electric miles at an average efficiency of 5.2 miles per kWh.  The total C02 emissions that have been avoided versus the F150 that the Leaf replaced are 6,733 pounds thus far.  Again, this assumes 100% of charging occurs from the grid with an average carbon intensity for the region.

Interestingly, the total amount to charge my Nissan Leaf for the month–~128 kWh—was about how much I was “down” for the month in terms of solar production.  This aligns with my original estimates where my initial sixteen panel PV array would provide ~100% of my electricity needs.

As the weather turns cool and the pumpkin spice flows freely I am waiting on an install date for the solar array expansion.  The plan is to add 8 360 watt panels to my existing 16 290 watt panel array.  This represents a ~59% increase in solar capacity and given the new panels will be on the same azimuth it should represent the same amount of increase in terms of actual production.

The increase in solar array capacity should account for more than 100% of my Leaf’s charging needs and provide a cushion of excess production for additional electrification.  The future is electric.

This is What the Future Looks Like

People frequently ask me what I think the future looks like.  Rarely do I provide a coherent answer because what I think will happen is constantly changing based on the conditions of the day.  There do exist some constants, however, and solar power is one of those constants.

Why?  For one, it is easy.  Once the panels are installed your array will just sit on your roof producing electricity regardless of what you do.  When you go to work the panels produce electricity.  When you go on vacation the panels produce electricity.  It is the ultimate in “set it and forget it” environmentally beneficial behaviors.

Second, you can see the impact at a household level.  If my utility purchased electricity produced by wind turbines I have no real concept of what that means to me.  Was 15% of my electricity produced by the wind?  More?  Less?  However, with solar panels installed you get a very local idea of how much energy you have produced versus how much you have consumed.  Witness this portion of my latest utility bill:

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Notice the lack of green bars from April through August?  That signifies my solar array produced all or more of the electricity that I consumed during that period.  Sometimes my math and the utility company’s math will not align because billing periods do not align with calendar months but the general outlines agree.

Now, imagine approximately 60% more solar photovoltaic capacity being added to this chart.  The contract has been signed, the check has been sent, the plans have been approved, and the panels are waiting in a local warehouse for my system expansion.  I am just waiting to hear when the installers are scheduled to make it happen.

This is what the future looks like.

Knocking it Out of the Park with EV Efficiency…Solar Not So Much

There are times when driving my second hand Nissan Leaf feels like I am working on cracking a code.  Change one behavior (e.g. turning on the heat) and relative efficiency takes a nose dive.  Adjust a few things (e.g. make sure to drive with the car set in “B” mode) and it seems like you can do no wrong.  Ambient air temperature, type of driving, route choice…on and on it goes.

I am certain that it is the same for a traditional ICE vehicle or even a Tesla, but when you are limited to a little more than 100 miles on a full charge there is a hyper heightened awareness to how quickly the “guess o’ meter” depletes.  However, it was a lot less of a concern this month as I averaged 6.1 miles per kWh for just a tenth of a mile over 900 miles.  That works out to a little less than 148 kWh of electricity consumed and ~1,053 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions avoided versus driving my truck.

Since January I have driven 4,607 EV miles at an average efficiency of 5.1 miles per kWh.  This correlates to ~5,234 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions avoided versus driving my truck.  As I have said before this assumes that I draw all of my power from the grid as opposed to generating it on site with my solar panels.  Based on gasoline prices I have saved about $650 just in fuel since January.

Speaking of solar photovoltaic production, July was a fairly good month:

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720 kWh for the month is good.  It is a little bit less than the same month during the prior year, but I would say that it is within the margin of error.  It is not like this is January and February where snow covered my panels up to a foot deep some times.

All in my household consumption ended up about 26 kWh more than my production.  Included in my household consumption numbers are almost all of my EV charging, so without the Nissan Leaf in the garage we would have ended up over 100 kWh.  Granted, that would mean I was spewing carbon dioxide from the tailpipe of my truck.  I will take the trade.

Unlike some summer months we were home for every weekend and took no trips.  Furthermore, for the entire month of July we went out to eat once.  I feel fairly good about making all but one meal at home, charging my electric car, running the air conditioning when it got really hot, and still managing to almost be even in terms of household electricity consumption versus solar electricity production.  It is my hope that in the next month I will adding about 60% more solar photovoltaic capacity to my roof.