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Green Auto News: Mr. Green Car: Living with a Leaf
By Allen Penticoff
At this year’s Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, held at the Ogle County Fairgrounds Aug. 11-12, there appeared for the first time a factory-made electric vehicle — a blue Nissan Leaf owned by Rick Rud of Hoffman Estates.
In the past, there have been “factory-made” neighborhood electric vehicles, and a number of homebuilt EV conversions, but not an actual big-name automaker EV.
For those not familiar with the Nissan Leaf, it is a four-passenger sedan that runs entirely on electrical energy stored in its lithium-ion batteries. It has no backup power. Thus, the people who are buying this car are very thoughtful about their driving.
The Leaf has heated seats and a heated steering wheel, as well as a cabin heater and air conditioning. Rick reports that the heater uses much more power than the air conditioning. In the summer, he uses the air conditioner freely, as his usual 13-mile drive to work is short enough the power consumed in staying cool is not a factor. Rick does not recharge at work, but makes the 26-mile commute well within the Leaf’s 100-mile maximum range.
Rick was providing demonstration drives at the fair to anyone who asked. His car was on display outside the main display building and was always plugged in to the building’s power supply when it was not out on a demo. Since some of the power at the Ogle County Fairgrounds comes from photovoltaic solar panels, and Rick’s car was, in part, solar powered, it was the best kind of pollution-free driving. Rick has solar panels at home as well, helping to offset the Leaf’s daily energy usage (it would take a LOT of solar power to fully charge a Leaf used daily).
I asked Rick if he bought the Leaf as a spontaneous notion, or if he planned to buy it. He replied that he has long had an interest in renewable energy, so when it became possible to put a deposit on a Leaf, he did so. Yet, it would be a full year before he was able to test drive one during a demonstration that took place on the Chicago lakefront. He took delivery of his Leaf in December 2011.
As I speculated in my Mr. Green Car review of the Leaf in the Dec. 14-20, 2011, issue of The Rock River Times, most buyers would also have another vehicle to drive for longer trips. With the Ruds, that is quite true. The Leaf, although considered a “second vehicle,” is actually their primary vehicle for getting about town, running errands and going out. Rick reports that their gas-powered car is filled infrequently these days. This is similar to the experience of Chevy Volt and plug-in Prius owners who find themselves at the pump much less often than in their all-gas cars.
Near the end of the fair, I tried to encourage a friend to take the Leaf out for a drive — but Rick had to decline that ride as he was charging the Leaf for his 75-mile drive home. He had been demonstrating the Leaf’s powerful acceleration a bit much, and was concerned he may not have enough juice to make it home. Rick said he had similar “range anxiety” a few times already, but had not been stranded yet. We looked at the Leaf’s GPS range map to see if home was within the range circle — it was.
I had my veggie oil-fueled 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit diesel on display at the fair as well. I pay $1 per gallon for my filtered waste vegetable oil and get about 40 miles per gallon while using it. We calculated out which was cheaper to operate — the veggie oil or the electric car. Rick’s Leaf goes about 4.7 miles per kilowatt (the Leaf reports this to you in its info display). Figuring that’s about 5 miles on 15 cents worth of electricity, that comes out to 3 cents per mile. My veggie Rabbit was a bit less expensive at 2.5 cents per mile — but it cannot claim to be pollution free, as the Leaf can.
I had given my Mr. Green Car seminar about the future of transportation (very well attended, too — thank you), and much was made of the coming age of the electric car. I pointed out that most auto manufacturers have or are developing pure electric vehicles, and that wireless charging will eventually be commonplace. There may even come a time when electric cars will charge wirelessly while they drive!
Following my talk, I attended a seminar about converting any car to an electric vehicle. The seminar was presented by fair regular Tom Brunka of Brown Deer, Wis. There was much discussion about batteries. The crux of which is for lithium-ion batteries, whether in a car or in your cell phone — charge often, but don’t over-charge. Avoid deep discharges.
With the coming age of the electric car, you will find wireless charging in more and more places — extending your range as you charge a bit everywhere you go. It won’t necessarily be free — computers will know who is charging and bill an account for the power supplied — but won’t that be great to never go to a gas pump again, to not have to plug in your car? It will seem like your car is the fictional perpetual motion machine!
From the Aug. 22-28, 2012, issue