Welcome to Zero Emission driving. My husband started the new year with a brand new electric car. Follow along as we try to survive “range anxiety.” Learn from our tips for finding charging stations, getting cash for going electric and plugging in at home. And, share your stories about going electric. Here’s the story of how it all began which I wrote about in the San Jose Mercury News.
My husband and I had an important appointment and dinner planned for last Monday evening. Then, why did he arrive so late? And, why afterwards, did we get stuck eating our dessert in a deserted parking garage at 10:30 that night?
Welcome to life with an electric car, week one. Already, it has the makings of a reality show.
I could tell that the idea to buy a battery-charged vehicle was ruminating in my husband’s head for months. Every now and then, he would mention it, and then, the topic arose more and more often, especially after we watched “Chasing Ice” a movie about the disappearing polar ice. I would listen, nod, and ask a question now and then.
How much would our electricity bill go up? How many miles can you get out of a charge? Where do we find charging stations?
Undeterred, he backed up his argument with research, including a slew of financial rebates and incentives offered by the state of California to pioneers – or Guinea pigs, depending on your perspective- willing to enter the yet unrefined realm of driving gasoline-free.
When we moved to California in 2006, we shed one of our cars before leaving the East Coast and proudly navigated life with a single automobile for four years. We took public transportation, and rode bicycles only to be defeated by the inconveniences and lack of independence. In 2010, we signed a three-year lease for a second car. My husband got stuck with the old car, a stubbornly efficient Toyota . With 253,000 miles, the car could likely run for a 100K more, but it needs oil at almost every gasoline stop, and feels a little less sturdy these days.
Perhaps a Zero Emission car could give us reliable transportation, and assuage our guilt of having a one car per person ratio in our family?
I was not convinced, but I was intrigued as my husband test drove the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt.
The Volt receives excellent reviews, mostly because it solves the problem that is No. 1 on the minds of Leaf drivers: range anxiety.
I drive 80 miles round trip to and from work, and it would be an unusual day if the Leaf could take me both ways on a single charge. And, there is no charging station in my employer’s parking lot. As for the Volt? Once the battery charge lowers to a certain level, its internal combustion engine fuels an electric generator, extending its range. Nice!
Still, it is more expensive than the Leaf, and the incentives being offered by the state and the dealership are not as sweet for the Volt as with the Leaf.
So, there we were on New Year’s Eve at the Sunnyvale Nissan showroom signing the papers to commit to three years of battery-fueled driving. After the signing, the salesman shot a photograph of the happy couple posing in front of the car. He also told a funny story of a doctor who bought a Leaf, and in the first week had to cancel all his appointments unexpectedly because… well, you guessed it.
I was thinking of that story as I ate my pomegranate frozen yogurt that Monday night, standing in the electric vehicle section of the Palo Alto parking garage waiting for the Leaf to charge.
My husband had driven the Leaf from our San Mateo coastside home to the San Bruno BART station to take BART into San Francisco. There are no charging stations at this BART stop –although I could have sworn that during our negotiations my husband had argued that “ hey, I can charge it at Bart.” On a typical day, none of this matters because a single charge can take him roundtrip to work and back home. On this day, however, he was making a detour to Palo Alto. The dashboard of the Leaf showed that there were 19 miles remaining in the charge. Home was 22 miles away. He left work early to give himself enough time to park the car at a charging station, and then, walk to meet me for our appointment. Palo Alto, according to his smart phone app from ChargePoint http://www.chargepoint.com/chargepointnet/mobile-apps.php has one of the highest concentrations of charging stations. But apparently the city also has one of the highest number of electric cars and hybrids. He arrived at a parking garage and then, another to find that he had been elbowed out by a collection of Teslas and Volts . California’s goal is to construct enough charging stations to accommodate 1 million zero emission vehicles by 2020, but apparently it has a long way to go.
He gave up and jogged to meet me. Afterward, I drove him to the garage where he had left the Leaf, and still, the vehicles were consuming the coveted voltage. Couldn’t we just unplug them and steal 5 or 10 miles? With these chargers, it would take less than an hour to add enough charge to get us home. We restrained ourselves, and moved on to the next garage. Alas, there was a vacant charger. My husband pulled the line from the charger and plugged it into the front snout of the car, and settled in to wait. I kissed him goodbye and headed home. Then, I took mercy on him, stopped Fraiche yogurt, returned with the treat and waited it out with him. Our marriage had survived our first charging crisis.
Then, that Sunday as we were heading out to explore the coastline, my husband said “Hey, let’s take the electric car.” Now, that’s another story for another day.