Near the end of January we started using more energy than we had produced since October 1st (when we started tracking). Thanks to a bright sunny start to February, we are back in the green!
Visually, not much happened this week. Lots of 'behind the scenes' work to prepare for this week.
So, I figured this was a good week to talk about cars!
Let me ask you to consider a car that...
Has more room in it for the same exterior size.
Magically fills itself so you have a full tank every morning.
Has lower maintenance.
Has a higher quality ride (quiet, smoothness) as other cars at the same price point.
Has more performance (acceleration, stability, instant throttle response, to "gear lag" when shifting).
Is safer to drive.
Can be preheated in a closed garage with ZERO fear of CO poisoning.
Oh, and fuel costs between half and a quarter of what you pay now.
"Now wait", you may be thinking, "what is the catch"?
The drawbacks are that you have to spend about 10 seconds to start the overnight fill-up and the 'gas tank' is sized to give you a daily range of 100-200 miles. If you drive further than that, refilling in the middle of the day can take 20-60 minutes.
Yes, many of you may have guessed, that describes both my wife's and my car.
They are electric cars and they are available now.
At this early stage (about 1% of the cars sold this year in the U.S. are electric) it is very convenient if you have a reliable place to plug in at home or at work.
Many families I know have one electric car and a gas guzzler for trips, although I know of a number of families where both cars are electric.
In our case, we also drive electric because it allows us to decide how "clean" the cars are. The CO2 footprint of fueling the cars is as low as we want it (and we want it to be very low).
In addition, the fuel is all regional. Most generated in Minnesota, some in bordering states. This puts our money to use in our local economy rather than elsewhere in the country or world.
And for every kWh of electricity we use from the grid to charge our cars, we will be sending a kWh of electricity generated by our solar panels back into the grid.
As the mayor of Indianapolis, Greg Ballard, said at a Fresh Energy event in Minneapolis a few months ago, "Do you want to support our troops? Drive an electric car." (more information about his city's electric car plans here).
Tying this back into our house, we never would have had the opportunity to produce as much energy as both our house and both vehicles use, if the cars used gasoline.
The reason for that is gasoline cars are very inefficient.
A friend of my refers to cars with internal combustion engines (ICE) are great heaters, that also give you a little bit of propulsion.
Gasoline is a very energy dense way to store energy. One gallon of gas has the same amount of energy as 33.7kWh of electricity.
The problem is an ICE is between 20%-35% efficient.
You can think of it this way, for every $20 of gas you put in your car, $13-$15 of that is going into making heat.
In Minnesota, in the winter, that is wonderful as you will make use of a few dollars of that heat (and throw away the rest).
So, in order to produce as much power (converted from gallons of gas into kWh) with our solar panels, we would need about a 45kW solar array. That is about 150 panels.
Our planned system is 18kWh (~9kW for the cars and 9kW for the house). We don't have room for more than a couple more panels, certainly not the extra 80-90 we would need.
So, in closing, let me just say that due to electric cars (not to mention mower);
we haven't needed to buy gasoline in over two and a half years,
are within reach of our dream of owning a house that provides all the energy both our cars and house use on an annual basis,
and have had the best driving experience I have ever had.
This week we have lots of activity going on at the house, and I am looking forward to showing you all the changes.
There is a saying in real estate that the three keys to a house is "location, location and location".
While this may originally been focused on the issue of home value it is also very important when it comes to energy use.
In our case we expect to drive many thousands of miles less each year simply because we are moving closer to where we work, events that we frequent, family and other trips that we make.
Since we want to provide as much energy as we use each year for both the house and our transportation, this makes it much easier.
Kate will be driving approximately 5,500 miles less each year just considering work. She is cutting 14.5 miles of her route to work, each way. Or about 29 miles a day, 116 miles per week, which comes out to about 5,580 miles per year.
Trips to visit family, friends, meetings and other events should save us, as a couple, another 2,500 miles annually (this is considering a few of our trips will now be longer). \
So as a couple, we will be driving about 8,000 fewer miles by moving 15 miles closer to the bulk of our daily travel destinations. If we were driving gasoline cars that would be about 375 gallons of gas or a bit over $1000/year in gasoline savings alone (plus wear and tear on the vehicles).
Since we are driving electric, it translates to about 2700 fewer kWh of power used, which means we don't need as many solar panels to become Net-Zero. In our case we are being conservative and planning on 2000 fewer kWh to make sure we reach Net-Zero.
Here is the really fun part...
How much would you like more time in your day?
As a very wise friend of mine recently noted, this saves time as well!
If you drive an average speed of 40mph over that 8,000 miles, that means you are saving yourself 200 hours of time.
That is 4 weeks of full time 40 hours/week work!
Split up, that gives you almost 4 more hours each week to spend with your friends or family, read a book, pursue a hobby or just relax.
In conclusion, we have found many benefits to moving closer to to metropolitan center. When we started this project, this was not one of my bigger considerations. Little did I know how much easier it would be to reach Net-Zero transportation as we move closer to work and play. The benefit of time was also much more than I had originally figured on, which was a very happy surprise!
I like to say our home produces power from the safest fusion generator possible -- which is about 93 million miles away and at the center of our solar system!
The drawing above, of our house as designed, is from Marc Sloot, our architect at SALA.
We produce that power using solar panels and they're great in so many ways: They have no moving parts. The fuel to generate power is free. There are no toxic fuel spills.
But let's be honest - there are drawbacks. Since the sun doesn't always shine, power generation isn't 100% steady. This means, if you're not ok with power fluctuations, you'll need to have a backup plan which stores energy to use when the sun isn't shining. One way is a battery backup.
A more typical backup plan (which we use) is connect to the electrical grid. Here's how it works: When the sun's shining we generate electricity. When the sun's not shining, we draw from the grid. And, another bonus: if we generate more than we use, we "send it back" (i.e. send it into the grid) to help power our neighbor's homes.
While we are designing the house to send as much energy to the grid as we draw over the year, we want to support a cleaner electrical grid so we will be subscribing to Xcel Energy's Windsource program.
Our system is 18.6kW in power generation, comprised of 61 LG 305-watt panels.
Our southern exposure for the panels is wonderful. Almost completely shade free.
Mark really doesn't like to talk about himself, the house is much more interesting.