As we witness events unfolding in Egypt and elsewhere throughout the Middle East we are struck by the desire of people everywhere to be free and to live lives of hope and self-determination. But here at home we are reminded that instability in the Middle East means higher energy prices - both directly at the pump, and indirectly in the form of military and other costs associated with preserving the continual flow of oil coming to these shores. It is not a sustainable future, and as Americans we need to rethink how we fuel our lives.
Everyday nearly 3 million barrels of oil flow through the Egyptian-controlled Suez Canal, an amount equal to Canada’s entire daily oil production. Much of that oil is destined for the United States, which imports nearly 6 million barrels of OPEC oil each and every day. As the widget to the right shows, oil prices are on the rise again, above $90/bbl as this is written. If the situation in Egypt deteriorates to the point of disrupting the flow of oil through the Suez Canal, oil prices will likely spike to all-time highs.
It simply doesn’t have to be this way.
The new generation of EVs - like the Nissan Leaf - and plug-in hybrids - like the Chevy Volt - have the potential to lead the way to a new future of energy independence. Combine them with a solar power system of your own, and your energy savings really mount up.
Let’s look at an example. Take a Leaf with its 24 kWh battery pack. It is advertised to get roughly 100 miles per charge, but let’s be conservative here and assume that it only gets 80. Moreover, we will assume that our charging system is only 90% efficient so to fully charge that 24 kWh battery pack will actually require 26 kWh of energy. At SCE’s top-tiered rate of $0.325/kWh, our Leaf costs 10.8¢/mile to power. Compare that to the average gasoline-powered car on the highway today. That vehicle, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, averages 22.6 miles/gallon. For gasoline priced at $3.50/gallon, that average car on the road today costs 15.5¢/mile to fuel. Let oil prices spike, and gasoline prices climb to $4.00/gallon (certainly well within the realm of possibility) and that cost per mile goes to 17.7¢. That means if you drive 10,000 miles per year, your fuel cost alone in that typical American car will be $1,770/year and the Leaf - even using the most expensive electricity in SCE territory, will save you $690/year.
Now what if you powered that Leaf not from SCE’s Tier-5 electricity, but with solar power from a Run on Sun solar system? Assume that you installed a 5 kW system that cost $6.00/Watt to install (a reasonable cost). That system would cost $30,000 to install. After rebates (from the utility) and a 30% federal tax credit, and the out-of-pocket cost is roughly 1/2 of that initial cost - say $15,000. That means that the savings from driving 10,000 miles/year will pay for your solar power system in eight and a half years. But during those years you will contribute zero pollution to the environment and never have to stop at a gas station again.
This is the way forward. This is the way to insulate ourselves from political instability while at the same time clearing our air and drastically reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
For years detractors could say this wasn’t realistic - that the vehicles didn’t exist or that the economics didn’t pencil out. Those days are over. The future requires a new way of thinking that will turn us away from the failed practices of the past.