Sungevity brings back deal to save $1,000 on Solar through month end!

I’m excited to let you know that through the end of this month and for the first time in the better part of a year, Sungevity is offering $1,000 off on the price of a solar PV system for your home. If you aren’t sure if it makes financial sense, I’d suggest that if your electric bill is $100 or greater, or if you plan to buy an electric car in the few years, then it will save you money while also being good for the environment.

I’ve posted a lot about our experience going solar on my blog at http://www.evchronicles.com in case you want to read more.

As you can see in the graph I’ve attached, utility prices have increased over the years and we can only expect them to continue to do so in the long term. Even the recent decrease in the price of petroleum has not lowered electricity prices and with our grid aging and needing much improvement increases are inevitable.

Click on this link for a free hassle free quote that is based on a Google Earth picture of your rooftop (don’t worry, they will actually visit to confirm details before installing). Feel free to ask me if you have any questions about our experience with Sungevity and our installation, and let me know how yours goes! If you hit any snags, let me know. I have a number of friends I went to grad school with who work at Sungevity and I can always give someone a nudge if they drop the ball.

Please leave me your thoughts and comments on my blog too if you are so inclined. I would appreciate it and I read all of them!

Finally, thanks for reading this far and considering solar. Each one of us who invests in renewable energy is helping create a better climate for our children and generations to come!

Solar PV — Why to do it this month!

My biggest concern when decided to purchase solar for my home was the seemingly impossible to quantity risk of selling my home with the solar panels installed. This is our first home and there was no way we could be certain it would be our last or even that we would stay here for very long. So what would installing solar do to the value of our home? Would we lose much money? Would it actually increase the value of our home and by how much? I tried to find research to answer these questions but not much seemed to be available.

Now, two years later, an article published by “Renewable Energy World” cites research done by Laurence Berkeley Labs that showed a positive return on investment for solar. In the study it was determined that a home in which a 5,000 watt solar system was purchased for $14,000, the value of the home went up to $20,000.

Why aren’t more people adopting solar?

Good question. My experience has told me that the first big dividing line is between people who spend $100 or more on their electricity bill vs those who spend less. Folks who spend less will have a harder time making the numbers work but simple changes such as switching to an electric heat pump water heater (something that we did) or adopting an electric car (fuel with cheap electricity and spend no money on gasoline! — we did this too) will tip the scale.

The second dividing line and the one I want to draw most attention to is the idea that “solar is still too expensive” and it will get cheaper in the future. If I offered you an investment opportunity that offered a better than 40% return on investment, you would be interested, wouldn’t you? I sure would be! That sure beats the barely more than 0% I can get on my savings account or the 1% for a short term CD. What if I told you that not only would you get that return but you would save money every month and would help the environment at the same time? Sounds too good to be true, but it is. Would you still want to wait for the investment to be cheaper?

Making this even more compelling, you can save $1,000 during the remainder of the month by using a referral code that I’m happy to share with you: 159195 or go directly to Sungevity for a free quote. Perhaps even more important the current 30% tax credit is going to be phased out next year so solar may get more expensive before it gets cheaper!

Why am I promoting this? Well, I’m very happy with my Sungevity system, am a firm believer in renewable energy and saving money. I also get a referral fee from Sungevity if you join and that helps pay for my son’s preschool so we all benefit! Please check out Sungevity and work the numbers. And I’m happy to earn my referral fee so if you have any problems with Sungevity in the process feel free to reach out to me here and I’ll call one of the good folks I know who work there (I know a lot of them, many from my grad school program) and I’ll make sure the issue gets addressed. ok? What do you have to lose — give them a try!

Have you already installed Solar Panels on your roof? If not, you might NOT want to wait.

For years I’ve heard friends tell me that they are waiting for solar to get cheaper before they lease or purchase them. Even as prices have dropped to a small fraction of their prior cost, there is an assumption that they will get only cheaper over time. The reality is that the panels are now only a small fraction of the total cost of having them installed. For example, panels can be as cheap as $ .50/watt (wholesale) and (as of 2014) cost an average of $4.72 installed. The price of solar panels may continue to fall but the cost of labor likely won’t. Even more important is the fact that the current 30% federal tax credit expires next year. What does that mean? Well, for starters it means that the cost of Solar is actually going to increase significantly!
For those who have an electric bill of around $100/month (annualized average) you will save money by installing solar. If your usage is lower than that and you think you are likely to purchase an electric car in the next few years or to switch some appliances to electric that now run on gas (e.g. we switched from a gas water heater to a heat pump one) then the solar will definitely make economic sense. Most likely the price will be a lot higher at the end of next year than it is now and paying 30% more for solar (assuming you qualified for the tax credit) is no small amount.
The good news is that our solar provider, @Sungevity is offering $1,000 off using a referral code and you can use ours with this link: http://www.sungevity.com/get-your-iquote…. They offer this discount a couple of times or so a year and it’s the biggest discount they offer! We do benefit from the referral — so if you do get a quote from Sungevity we would very much appreciate your using it. The most important thing is getting solar so if you prefer another vendor by all means get a quote from them too! If you have any questions about monthly leases vs pre-paid leases vs purchasing I’d be happy to address them, I’m very knowledgable about them after doing our research!

Extended Review of Fiat 500e

I’ve now had my Fiat 500e for half a year and I thought it would be a good time to write up more about my experience with it.

Surprisingly, even as a hugh electric vehicle proponent, I underestimated how good it was going to feel to be driving without producing any environmental impact. In our case, this is especially true as we have installed sufficient Solar PV (Photovoltaic) to supply our house and car with all of their energy requirements. My wife, who is not nearly as excited about technology as myself, has been even more surprised about how good it would feel to be driving electric.

Range and Miles per Gallon Equivalent

Our Fiat 500e has performed quite well, generally getting well above the stated mpge often reporting a miles per gallon equivalent of over 134! I’ve been able to make it as far as Sacramento (from Berkeley, CA) and have also been able to drive to San Jose and back without charging. The later pushed my range to the absolute limit. As with any electric or fossil fuel powered vehicle, the faster one drives the worse the efficiency and therefore the range. I expect that if I drove slowly enough (45 – 55pm) I could exceed 100 miles of range without difficulty with nearly ideal conditions. That speed is, however, impractical on California freeways.

Critical Review of the 2013 Fiat 500e (and differences that come in the 2014 and 2015 versions)

Performance from 0-40 is exceptional, leaving virtually all other cars behind when the light turns green. Passing on the highway is just adequate, roughly comparable to driving a Toyota Prius. The car is zippy and go-kart like making it ideal for urban driving. It’s comfortable for longer distance driving on highways but the shorter wheelbase contributes to a bouncier than ideal feeling as the road rises and dips. This is likely less significant than in the gas powered 500 thanks to it’s increased weight, but is unavoidable with any car with a short wheelbase.

The seating position is comfortable with good control over seating height and position. Headroom is just barely adequate for me at 5′ 10″ but would be greater without the optional sunroof that we included. Speaking of the sunroof, it has a major flaw: rather than having a solid material to block the sun’s rays, Fiat elected to use a mesh fabric. This lets in a lot of heat and sun and heats up the car quickly. This isn’t bad in the winter but as summer approaches it becomes quite uncomfortable. I found a screen that can be inserted above the mesh to reflect the sun from a third party. This helps quite a bit in keeping the cabin cool, but comes both at additional cost as well as limiting the usefulness of the sunroof. I personally do not recommend the sunroof for the 500e given this hassle — it’s just not worth giving up comfort for the price.

The back seat is minimal but functional. It provides adequate space for my three year old and his car seat for even longer trips and friends have sat in the back without complaint, even for more extended drives. The rear seat would not be acceptable to anyone of above average height nor are they pleasant for longer drives. The audio system is more than adequate if a bit outdated especially in terms of the controls. Satellite radio is included and sounds good, and ipod integration is adequate as are the handsfree features. The included GPS is worth better than nothing but the mounting location is far less than ideal as it blocks vision of the road. The device itself is quite slow and has a smaller screen. I find myself leaving it in the glovebox while I used my iPhone to provide navigation instead.

Service and Maintenance

One item I haven’t seen mentioned in reviews is just how little maintenance is required for the 500e. It’s unlikely that any real maintenance will be required within the three years of our lease with the exception of tire rotations, fluid checks and the tightening of a bolt or two.

I’ve had to bring it in the shop once when the “Service SRS” light came on. Turns out the problem was do to an object damaging some wires under the passenger seat. The problem was fixed under warranty and while ti’s not a recall issue (and likely our fault) it seems like these important wires are a bit too vulnerable.

Summary

We love our Fiat 500e, it’s a great little car, and the bright orange color turns heads all the time. Fiat’s got a big winner here if they can just figure out how to make a profit by selling them!

Choosing the right EVSE – Electric Vehicle Service Equipment aka EV Charger

With my Fiat 500e set to arrive imminently I spent time over the past few weeks evaluating the current EVSEs. These are common referred to as chargers, but the charger is actually located in the car (for Level 1 and Level 2) and the device installed on an interior or exterior wall or mounted on a pedestal is actually a fancy safety device that makes sure power is shut off automatically if the connection is broken, preventing the risk of voltage arcing as one pulls the connector out of the socket. This is really important as 240volts is able to jump rather far and the arc could be dangerous and even lethal.

Current EVSE’s range from 16 amps to 40 amps in the amount of power they can deliver. Most current level 2 devices are rated for a maximum charging current of 30 amps. Cars also have a maximum rate at which they can charge with most newer ones charging at a maximum of 32 amps (a little over six percent faster than 30). A few cars such as the Tesla Model S and the Toyota Rav 4 EV can accept current at 40 amps. I focused my choices on the EVSEs that were 30 amps and above with a preference for 32 and 40 amp units.

The factors I ultimately considered included: Power output, price, warranty, aesthetics and availability. Most companies limit the warranty to just one year if you have someone other than one of their certified professionals install it. This seems silly to me as these “professionals” tend to charge a huge surcharge over what the cost for an electrician would charge for the amount of work. For example, purchasing a basic Aeroenvironment charger that sells for $899 online, from the Fiat dealer with installation included would add $1,100 to the price!

Ultimately after considering all of the major brands, I settled on Leviton, a name with a good and long reputation, who unlike Aeroenvironment isn’t in the military business. Leviton also offers 32 amp and 40 amp devices and offers a three year warranty when you self-install (or have your electrician install it). I preferred both the aesthetics and “future-proofing” offered by their 40 amp system and purchased it online from Amazon. It was delivered in two days with free shipping on a rather heavy unit! My electrician charged me less than $400 for the installation and the City of Berkeley charged me around $120 for the legally required permit. The total cost was thus around $1,700 for a much better device. If I had gone with a cheaper 30 amp from Bosch which sells for just $593 and would not have required the expensive six gauge copper the 50 amp circuit supplying the Leviton does. The actual cost would have been closer to $1,100 saving $900 over the Fiat recommended solution.

Here’s a photo of the installed device:

Here's my new level 2 charger, made by Leviton and delivering 40 amps at 240 volts!

Here’s my new level 2 charger, made by Leviton and delivering 40 amps at 240 volts!

 

Fiat offers a new color combo for the 500e!

I just found out today that Fiat has responded to customer demand and is going to be offering the color combo some of us wanted all along! They will now offer the black interior option, complete with orange striping along with the electric orange exterior color. For those who weren’t excited about having to try to keep a white interior clean, this is great news!

This information is courtesy of McKevitt Fiat in Berkeley, CA who called me today to ask me my final color choice for my Fiat 500e which should arrive in 4-6 weeks! the timing is hard to predict as they are still arriving on a rather haphazard schedule as Fiat struggles to meet the far great than expected demand for there first electric vehicle.

The only remaining mystery is whether or not the front fascia will be colored orange or white. It usually is colored to match the cars interior color but based on one sample my dealer has seen, it is likely to be white rather than black. This maybe due to the fact that orange cars were all planned with white interiors in mind. Hopefully this will have changed by the time I receive my car as the black and orange contrast is striking!

 

Is Gasoline Cheap or Expensive in the United States? And Why.

Gasoline Price in the United States

The historical pricing of gasoline in the United States, up over time.

One of the presenters here at Plug-in 2013 mentioned that gas was just under a dollar in 2000. That shocked me so I checked the historical price of gasoline in the U.S. and confirmed that her facts were indeed correct. In 13 years our gasoline has increased by 400% but compared to some parts of the world it seems quite cheap. In Europe gas ranges from around $8/gallon to close to $10/gallon in Norway and Turkey. It’s true however, that in some countries it’s less than in the United States.

Cheap gas is prevalent in Venezuela where it’s just pennies a gallon as well as in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to name a few.

But why is it cheaper in the United States than in Europe? How can the price range so much from well less than a dollar to $10? Turns out the big difference between Europe and the U.S. is the amount of tax added to the cost of the gasoline. Taxes are much higher in Europe, whereas in the U.S. the gas tax does not cover the actual cost of the gasoline (that cost includes our efforts to protect our supply) and certainly doesn’t cover the cost of maintaining our freeways as it used to do.

Our cost of gasoline is heavily subsidized by our federal government. But there is no “free lunch.” That money comes from income taxes which means that everyone pays for our petroleum whether they drive or not, as long as they pay income tax. That means that people who don’t own cars, or who drive electric cars, pay for gasoline. Why aren’t we in an uproar about this? Instead, we resist even the idea of taxes increasing, denying the fact that we are paying them all the while. We worry that an increase in gas taxes would disadvantage people who drive for a living and those with lower incomes — while at the same time those very people are paying a large portion of the cost of maintaining roads and wars using their income tax.

Recently, Washington state has begun charging a tax on electric vehicle owners so that they can pay their “fair share” of the cost of road maintenance — this of course ignores the fact that those people, or at least the majority of which who pay income tax, are already paying for a large part of the cost of our gasoline and roads!

Let’s put the tax where it belongs — on gasoline and not use our income tax for this purpose. What do you think? I look forward to your comments!