Sunday, March 11, 2012

What gas prices?

I’ve hear lots of media coverage about rising gas prices.  Just today, I heard a report that the average gas price in the US was $3.81.  I, however, have not purchased gas since October.  In November, I got my Nissan Leaf.   

The car in most ways is a normal car, but has a place to plug in an electrical cord rather than a gas nozzle.  I liked the design of my Prius a little better, but the Leaf is close.  It seats five (four comfortably) and has enough room with the back seats folded down to put in my bicycle without having to take off the bike’s front wheel.  The Leaf accelerates well at low speeds because of the electric motor’s good low-end torque.  The low center of gravity that the batteries provide makes it handle fairly well.  I think that I am likely to get my first speeding ticket in this car because there is no real sound from the engine nor is there any feeling of the engine straining.  I have glanced down at the speedometer on the highway a few times only to see that I was going over 80.  

I have three main reasons for buying an electric car:
  1. Lowering my impact on the environment – I feel strongly that God entrusted us with the stewardship of the earth.  We have not done a great job with that.  Using an electric car is at least a step in the right direction.
  2. Decreasing our dependency on foreign oil – I am under no illusion that an electric car is truly “zero emission,” regardless of what it says on the side of my Leaf.  That said, however, electricity is something we have a lot of ways of producing, unlike gasoline.  Options are important in whittling away at our oil addiction.  Maybe if enough of us drove electric cars we could stop having to placate (or invade) countries with oppressive governments because we need their oil. 
  3. Needing the latest gadget – I did not say all my reasons were good ones!  I have real trouble resisting the latest gadget.  One time in a Sunday School class, the teacher asked how we can tell the difference between wants and needs.  I responded that it was easy, if it has a power cord I need it.  The Leaf is a car with a power cord.  I need it!
I have been very happy with my Leaf these last four months.  However, it requires some very different thinking.  It is one thing if you forget to plug in your cell phone overnight, but another when it is your car.  My wife, Susie, is rather uncomfortable and really feels the “range-anxiety” that is often discussed in articles about electric cars.  I find keeping track of the range and trying to push the limits to be fun.  

I had one such experience a few weeks after I got the car.  I needed to go to a restaurant after work and knew getting there and back home would be right on the edge of the car’s range.  According to Google Maps, I needed to drive about 42 miles, but the Leaf said I could go only 35.  I decided to give it a try.  I stayed largely on back roads as the Leaf gets much better mileage at speeds below highway speeds.  It was cold, but I did not want to waste energy on heat and used the defroster only when absolutely necessary.   At one point after dinner, I had 17 miles to get home and the car said I could only go 11.  I stuck to the back roads and headed toward a McDonalds with a charging station that is 5 miles from my house.  I got to the McDonalds with the car claiming it had 4 miles left.    

It turned out the charging station cost money.  No problem, except that there was no slot for money or any way to use a credit card.  I went inside, ordered some coffee, and asked the woman how to use the charging station.  Her English was poor, but it was pretty obvious that the problem was that she had no idea either what a charging station was or that there was one outside her place of employment.  She then asked (in Spanish) the only other person working there if she knew anything about using la machina.  No luck.  I settled for azucar y leche for my coffee.  I went outside and could figure out no way in the dark to get access to the electricity that was only inches from my car.  So, I threw out the foul coffee (at 62 cents, it was overpriced) and decided to see how close to home I could get.  It was only small roads from there, so I figured I could pull into neighborhood when the electricity ran out and walk home.  When I turned the car on, it would no longer acknowledge that it was able to go any more miles.  I successfully drove home using every bit of hypermiling experience I had learned from my years of driving a Prius.  I found the whole experience great fun, but I can see why many folks are not quite ready for the full electric vehicle experience!

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