Monday, December 10, 2012

Filler Up Please!!

Watching the new Nissan LEAF commercial, I was pleased that Nissan is finally using a message that might resonate with the public much better than "Polar Bear"  hugs.  After all, with the amount of misinformation fed to us by Big Oil, the climate debate has become a chore to keep track. The fact that many of the people in the debate have switched sides ("Sold to the highest bidder??")  does not help.

At the very end, they showed the LEAF powering up a person's home with the disclaimer "Only in Japan"...officially that is.  Nissan does provide an inverter for the Japanese market that will take the power from the LEAF and allow it to provide power from the pack. It is not available in the US, but where there is a need; someone will figure it out and has.  A fellow LEAFer in Northern VA, although not a victim of the power outages Old Dominion Power suffered from a thunderstorm a few months back, did have relatives "in the dark."

Having the technical chops, he immediately charged up his LEAF, went over and set up a LEAF powered station that provided enough to keep the fridge and freezer (it was still warm so heat not an issue) going for the two days it took for the lights to come back on.  Generators!! you say.  Sure but not always the best option to run a noisy (and smoking) machine all night in your garage!

This reminded me of my dilemma experienced almost a year ago.  We were "blessed" by a record snow fall that literally shutdown my town of Lacey for the better part of a week.  I measured 25" of snow in my yard and that was more than enough to leave the Prius stranded.  I did not have snow tires and traction control insured that the Prius would be there until the snow melted (plows NEVER showed up) so the LEAF was our only source of transportation.

Its ability to disable traction control allowed me to rock the LEAF enough to make it to the main street (150 feet away) and it only took about 20 minutes! Here is a video taken during another (much smaller) snowstorm)

So the transportation issue was solved...for a day. Then the snow started to melt and slide on the overburdened trees and SNAP, their went the branches and the power.  So now we had a LEAF that was near dead, a Prius buried in snow and we had no power... more on our storm later.

The devastating destruction of Hurricane Sandy was scary but what concerned me most was the aftermath in restoring services. Subways were flooded,  power out,  refineries off line, nothing was moving.

Eventually gas was trucked in from hundreds of miles away but then the logistics of feeding millions of hungry cars from a few dozen operating gas stations made me realize that gasoline's time was already over and we were too afraid to admit that change was inevitable.  The effective flow of fossil fuels were disrupted for entire regions for the better part of two weeks and more and there was no effective back up plan.

Granted there were people who had no power for weeks but there was also power restored the next day. Every day, hundreds of thousands of people had their power restored.  This meant someone looking to "fillup" their EV had a million choices verses someone looking for gas who might have had 100.  I like my LEAF's odds.

But disruptions in the flow of gasoline to the gas stations have become too frequent as of late.  The gap between our capacity to produce and the demand has narrowed. Refineries are not being maintained or kept open. A single breakdown (or just a hiccup) causes the price of gas to jump as much as 25%.  Now, not going to accuse anyone of restricting the flow of oil for profiteering, especially since someone already has.

Another thing to consider; electricity can be made a dozen different ways. gasoline? essentially only one. When our power went out, first thing I did was took LEAF to public charging station where power was still on. I juiced up enough to be able to get my errands done (my Son and I built snowmen in Sears abandoned parking lot while the LEAF juiced up!) I also spent time calling around to find out who did have power. We ended up spending two days at the in-laws plugged into their garage enough for me to go to work (since we had 60% absenteeism, my employer offered free food, Starbucks gift certificates and anything else they could think of to get us in!)

Now a lot of people are hesitant over new technology. But charging an EV is so simple even a child can do it as my then 4 YO Son Ryland demonstrates

Best part of this is that you have to detour to stop for gas. So it is time out of your day. Be it 5 minutes (unlikely but I have done it) or 28 minutes (yes, I timed it but average about 14 minutes) it is still a hassle to get gas. Charging from your own home? just a "bit" more convenient.

As solar and wind energy take on greater and greater roles supporting the grid, the question of money still comes up. Any new technology is expensive until we figure out how to make it cheaper and market demand ramps up.  But one thing to keep in mind; there will come a day when no amount of money will increase the flow of oil.  Whine all you want about the cost of green power, but at least that can be bought and that will NEVER change.


  1. "Sure but not always the best option to run a noisy (and smoking) machine all night in your garage!"

    Just a FYI it should NEVER be an option run a generator in your garage. That is how you kill yourself.

  2. Anon; I agree with you 100% but unfortunately every year when the power is out more than a few days someone dies from Carbon monoxide poisoning. Be it a generator or a campfire stove used for heat inside the house

  3. Dave,
    You forgot about the smell. I don't mean the stink of the gas pump or the smell on your hands or shoes but rather the stink in your own garage. We spent some time with my folks over the weekend and had to help my grandmother into Mom's VW Passat. Boy did their garage reek. It was the smell of the gas fumes and oil fumes emanating from her Passat that she used 3 hours ago to pickup Grandma. I didn't realize until that time how my garage smelled or rather didn't smell. The only vehicle in our garage is my Leaf. At least until we get a new garage door for the wife's side of the garage.

  4. Tom; that and the additional heat a hot engine brings into the garage during Summer. Its so nice to have a car that does nothing but just sit there. does not smell up the place. does not heat up the place. does not leak all over the place... its just nice!