Test drive of an electric car

This is post 1 in a series of delving into the world of electric cars.

In researching the cost of owning an electric car, I found that it’s not just about economics but a very complex ball of tangled twine. One truth leads to the next bit of sleuthing and so on.

Being naturally curious, I have been reading and calculating, and did my first field test of the Nissan Leaf.

I enjoyed the roominess (I am 5’7″ -6’1″ with heels), smoothness, and lack of lurch from the stoplight. It was zippy like my Altima sportscar and quickly got up and onto Houston fwy speeds at 70mph.
I did see that the total range dropped immediately from 73(full charge) to 68 miles when I punched it on an entrance ramp for 3 seconds or so. It never recovered from that. Cost of getting up and onto fwy-5 miles.
(Remember this when I post on “range anxiety”).

I am a Nissan owner, so it bothers me that Nissan purports this car to be so “leafy” and clean. It is perhaps misleading that buyers would think their electricity comes solely from air, water, wind or fairy dust when it clearly does not in most of the US.

People are inherently good and want to do good, including me. That’s why i’m investigating, so that people know EXACTLY what they’re doing with natural resources and money.

As a scientist and math nerd, I will share what I have found and keep it as factual as I can, so that no matter your beliefs about energy, you have the knowledge. I will be very opinionated about money though, so you’re not off the hook entirely in the next posts.

What really powers the “leaf”?

Let’s start with how an “electric” car might be powered where you live-there’s a very good chance it’s coal.

Image from US Dept. of energy.

In Texas, it’s coal or natural gas-both considered “fossil fuels” created by the earth. Coal comes from old swamps that used to have what? Woody plant material (including leaves) buried by stagnant water.

Natural gas would predominately come from old marine algae (parts of plankton). In Southern California, natural gas comes from Rocky Mountain coal.

You see that “one size does not fit all” in the US. Keep in mind that these are the “predominant” electricity sources. There is a provider in Texas, Green Mountain, that takes advantage of wind input to the “grid”.

What is “the grid”?
A great explanation here: idk about you, but when I was in 5th grade visiting the electric plant, I was watching the boys, and not taking notes…

http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/energy/power.htm

Basically, a plant burns coal or natural gas to create steam to turn a turbine that spins to make electricity. Hydroelectric uses falling water to do it but, therein, you need topography and water. The West has that, the rest of the country? Not so much.

A little “field trip” with my husband (still interested here in a ” boy” where power plants are involved..)

Natural gas it looks like (no rail cars or piles of coal).

Yep-our tiny place in the country uses natural gas for electricity.
Our tiny place in the city probably comes from a mixture.
http://www.texas-flyer.com/Fly-In-EngineOut/powerplant.htm

In Texas, 3-9% may come from wind.
(3% during peak demand). Green Mountain discloses the fact that customers buying wind or solar plans are buying into an envisioned future where wind and solar would make up more than 3-9% of a user’s electricity. In Texas today, your “Leaf” is at least a 93% fossil fuel car. Perhaps you are quite passionate about that future and you don’t mind. These “green” companies just need to be more upfront about the truth.

As a condo owner in Houston, the cost of electricity from Tara Energy is $.096/kwh with coal electricity vs. $.137 kwh (Green Mountain) because we only use about 500 kwh/month. You pay $.111 @ Green Mountain only if you use 2000 kwh or more. This seems backwards, doesn’t it? Rewarding electricity hogs. At Green Mountain, if you sign up for the eVgo Complete Charging plan-it costs $89/month for all your electricity-that’s actually pretty good when the summer months hit. I am not eligible living in a condo, which also seems backward-the infrastructure is set up in CITES. People in cities live in Condos…

So, let’s recap learning from Post 1:
*my Leaf in Texas would actually be coal which came from trees and leaves that fell into a bog.

*a Nissan “Bogger” would not sell well in Texas…

*Electric car infrastructure is being built in cities, yet city dwellers in condos do not have access where they park their cars at night.

*people in suburbs have access to home charging and special rates but may live too far from the city to get the next charge.

*Green Mountain energy is selling me “future infrastructure”, not 100% wind electricity.

Stay tuned for “range anxiety” and the real cost of driving a Nissan Leaf.

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