The EV Ripple Effect



Timothy Rodger in his Tesla Roadster (photo via Matt Perko)

Nearly everyone who works at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital knows that if you’ve got questions about solar panels or electric vehicles, Dr. Timothy Rodgers probably has the answers. During the lunch hour, you can sometimes spot Timothy, a specialist in Internal Medicine, in the hospital’s cafeteria — and a couple times a week, he’s chatting with someone curious about green technologies.

His reputation is well deserved. Nearly three years ago, Timothy bought one of the very first Tesla models, an electric blue sports car style Roadster. The Community Environmental Council ran a blog post detailing his purchase and other energy efficiency measures, including a solar panel array that he and his wife, Pamela, had installed at their house the year before.

Timothy, however, is no longer the only electric vehicle (EV) owner in his extended family. In fact, his wife, son, daughter-in-law, and even his daughter-in-law’s mother all sit behind the wheel of their own EVs. His son, Kit, was with Timothy when he bought his Roadster in 2011, and although Kit loved the car’s eco-friendly concept and sporty look, he squelched the urge to purchase his own because of its limited practicality as a family car. Instead, he put his name on a waitlist for the Model S and received one of the first off the assembly line.


Rodgers Family Of EVs

The women all have versions of the electric FIAT 500e. Kit and his wife, Courtney, live near San Francisco and routinely battle with traffic, so Courtney switched to the FIAT 500e not only to reduce her greenhouse gas footprint, but also to use the carpool lane – which allows single-occupancy EVs during peak traffic hours. When Courtney’s mother drove the car, she was so enamored by it that she purchased one too. An added perk of the FIAT 500e was the company’s offer of 12 free car rental days a year for those rare, longer trips when the limited range of the car can be a hindrance.

“One person spreads the technology to another. It’s how EVs have become a growing part of the automobile industry,” Timothy says. “When I bought my Roadster, people were buying electric vehicles to be green. Now, people are buying them because they make more sense economically. You can save a ton on gas savings alone.”

And with ever higher gas prices, those savings are far from paltry.

“Say you have a Prius,” Timothy explains, “and you get 50 miles per gallon. Driving one hundred miles takes two gallons. At $4.30 for premium fuel, that is $8.60. For me, I go 100 miles on 22 kWh. I charge at night and pay $0.09/kWh or about $2 for that same 100 miles. If you drive 10,000 miles a year, gas expenses for the Prius would be $860. Think how that compares to a car getting half what the Prius does. At 25 miles per gallon, that person would be paying $1,720/year for gas. For me, electrical cost is $200. And because I have solar panels, it’s ‘free’! ”

While electric vehicles are still uncommon, they aren’t rare, Timothy says, “and events like Earth Day and the CEC’s Plug-In Day in the fall are really helpful because they allow each EV owner to talk to several people about the technology, and they then talk to others and so on.”

It’s not just in Santa Barbara that Timothy dispenses his advice and enthusiasm about electric vehicles. Last summer, on a trip to Cambria, he parked his Roadster on the street, and a local motel owner and car enthusiast approached him to chat about it. Timothy recounts that the motel owner was considering putting in EV chargers to differentiate himself from his competitors, so Timothy put him in touch with several EV charger installation contractors he knew.

Three years and 18,000 miles later, there’s not much Timothy would do differently in terms of his energy efficiency makeover. There is one thing, however, he does regret. “I wish I’d bought more stock in Tesla,” he says with a bark of a laugh. When Timothy bought his car in 2011, stock price shares for Tesla were $27. Recently, the price hovered around $200.

Our thanks to Emily DeMarco at the CEC (Community Environmental Council for this piece), as well as a hat tip to Michael Chiacos.

Categories: Fiat, General, Tesla


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9 Comments on "The EV Ripple Effect"

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“For me, electrical cost is $200. And because I have solar panels, it’s ‘free’! ”

It’s not free. You have to add the cost of the panels and the cost of the battery. Stop trying to convince people it’s free. It’s not.

Electric Car Guest Drive

You’re right Rick, it’s not free. But it’s pretty close. Most people who switch to Time of Use actually save additional money on their utility bill. My bill went from $300 to $200, which more than pays for the cost to charge the 3 EVs in the family. That was before I got solar. Now my monthly utility bill is even less – including what I pay for the solar.

The incremental cost of adding a few more solar panels to a residential installation to cover the EV use is negligible, especially compared to what the equivalent gasoline cost would be.

Not free. It works out to about $12 per month for your EV automobile fuel. That is the actual out of pocket cost for transportation fuel per month.

What was the full cost of the solar panel install? (including material, labor, permits, site work and so on). The point being made is there is no free lunch. I find it counter productive to throw around words like free and negligible, even if in quotes. It causes the public to distrust green energy evangelists.

I think much more powerful arguments can be made by showing real case studies. The point about per mile cost of EVs being lower is a perfect way to get people’s attention.

That’s why there’s quotes around “free.” And yes, if the solar panels have “paid themselves off” then you can consider it free. Or, you can amortize the cost of the panels over the benefit they’ve provided over their whole life, and the electricity would then cost less than $200, maybe $100, maybe $50, something minuscule. Either way, it’s even cheaper than something which is already cheap. And it’s “free” depending on how you rationalize it. So yes, it’s “free.”

You sir are an ass

Why on earth would you put premium fuel in a Prius?! Bad math.

Premium fuel is not necessarily better, that is just marketing. Higher octane gasoline burns slower. This is needed on higher compression (used to increase performance) engines. Newer vehicles don’t get the “ping” the older engines used to because the computer can somewhat compensate for this, but at the expense of efficiency. Using higher octane than your engine wants means the fuel does not sufficiently burn in the power stroke which is less efficient. Using lower octane can pre-detonate or simply burn to quickly and not utilize the full power stroke.
For maximum efficiency, the fuel grade should match the engine’s needs. This is documented in the owners manual for new cars, use what is recommended.

Toyota recommends 87 octane, or regular, for the Prius.

I made the decision to put in solar panels 5 years ago and felt the capital cost vs. usage cost and time of amortization was cost effective. Since then I have reduced electrical consumption. I had no plans to have electric cars then for the first two years–and made no changes to the system since I purchased the electric cars. My total electrical bill for the last 5 years is –zero! (Aside from the fixed small monthly fee to have the connection with SoCal Edison.) So the fuel cost actually is ‘free’ in my case–that is there is no extra charge for the cars compared to before I purchased them!’