GreenTown Los Altos

Electric Car Owners Say, “Dump the Pump!”


Jun 2012


On the Road to Gas-free Driving
By Peg Champion
GreenTown Los Altos Correspondent

“I’ve been driving on sunshine for more than 10 years,” says Waidy Lee, a retired engineer who lives in Los Altos Hills.  An ardent environmentalist, she purchased her first all-electric vehicle (EV) in 2000.

Waidy Lee's Leaf

Waidy Lee’s EVs get their power from the sun, thanks to the solar panels she has installed on the roof of her home. “By using alternative energy for your electric vehicle, you create zero emissions.” In 2012, PG&E expects to source 20 percent of its electricity from renewable generation; California’s renewable energy goal is 33 percent by 2020. Photo: Peg Champion

For Lee, buying an electric vehicle was a “no-brainer.”
With an electric car, she knew she would eliminate climate-warming CO2 emissions, and she’d also save money.  Lee currently owns two EVs – a 2011 Nissan Leaf and a 2002 Toyota RAV4 EV.  She saved about $10,000 per vehicle on the purchase cost, thanks to federal and state tax incentives.
“It costs about $2.64 to completely charge my Leaf’s 24 kWh battery, based on my PG&E rate,” Lee explains. “The range of its fully charged battery is about 100 miles, depending on road conditions and speed, so I can go anywhere I need to go without stopping for a charge.”  The cost of maintenance is also minimal, says Lee, since the motor is much more efficient than an internal combustion engine and doesn’t require oil changes, tune-ups or other mechanical system maintenance.

About 60 percent of Bay Area greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions comes from transportation, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Most of the electricity that powers Lee’s vehicles comes from solar panels installed on her home so, based on PG&E net metering, her GHG emissions register as zero. “An EV is better for the environment, and it suits my lifestyle,” says Lee.

Ending “Range Anxiety”
There’s a malady particular to some EV owners: range anxiety.  It’s the fear that your vehicle will run out of “juice” before you reach your destination.  Most EV owners have installed a dedicated charger at home, but longer drives do require a network of charging stations.  Range anxiety is one of the major barriers to the wide adoption of electric vehicles, even though, according to the non-profit Electrification Coalition, 90 percent of US vehicle trips are less than 30 miles.  Leaf-owner Maddy McBirney agrees, “Most of my trips are short range – and perfect for an EV.”

Google map of potential locations for charging stations in downtown Los Altos

Los Altos Hills Mayor Rich Larsen, a member of the GreenTown PEV team, has created a Google map of potential locations for charging stations in downtown Los Altos that could be phased in as the number of EVs increase. To avoid expensive trenching fees, Larsen recommends dropping power lines from existing utility poles or connecting chargers close to a building’s electrical panel. A single dual-headed charger strategically placed could accommodate two EVs from four different parking spaces. As drivers become aware of Los Altos as an EV-friendly town and demand increases, additional charging stations could be added.

There is a cure for range anxiety – more public electric-vehicle charging stations.  McBirney serves on the GreenTown PEV (plug-in electric vehicle) team, which is working to get chargers installed in downtown Los Altos.  As a result of the team’s efforts in coordination with Kathy Kleinbaum, economic development manager for the City of Los Altos, EV charging stations have been included in the city’s parking management plan RFP.  Another member of the PEV team is Los Altos Hills Mayor Rich Larsen.  Larsen’s business, New Power Technologies, focuses on EV energy management.  “Los Altos could become an EV ‘oasis’ near I-280.  Charging stations, combined with shopping and dining affinity programs, will attract EV drivers to the village’s downtown.”
In Silicon Valley, a center for electric vehicle manufacturing and technology, local companies support EV owners.  Adobe, HP and VMware, among others, offer perks such as free charging and dedicated parking spaces to employees who drive the cars.  Google provides a “GFleet” – electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles – for employee use during business hours.

Looking to the Future
Electricity-fueled transportation has numerous advantages.  EV owners like the quiet drive and sports car-like acceleration, the reliability and fuel cost savings.  Another bonus is that, in California, EVs are permitted to use the carpool lane.  Electrification Roadmap, a study from the Electrification Coalition, says that an electrified transportation system will reduce dependence on foreign oil, improve national security, propel economic growth and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
A collaborative project to develop EV-ready communities, Ready, Set, Charge, California!, calculated an operating cost comparison of gas and electric-powered vehicles.  The analysis showed savings of more than $13,000 in fuel and $19,000 in maintenance for 108,000 miles over a six-year period.  Ron Freund, chairman of the Electric Auto Association and director of Plug In America says, “The five-year total cost of ownership pencils out at parity to a conventional car, and it gets better thereafter.”  Like most EV-owners, Freund supports alternative energy sources and likes using “domestic” energy.

Los Altos resident Joel Bartlett and his BMW ActiveE

Los Altos resident Joel Bartlett, a member of the GreenTown PEV team, with his 2011 BMW ActiveE. The car is one of 700 in the U.S. leased as a test model. “As electric generation gets greener, your EV gets greener. EVs are fun to drive – electric motors provide high torque at low speeds and fine-grain speed control.” Photo: Wendy Bartlett

A report from Deloitte’s global manufacturing industry group says that electric vehicles and green cars will represent up to a third of total global sales by 2020.  Last November, the Bay Area EV Strategic Council launched the building of an infrastructure that will ensure the Bay Area “becomes the EV Capital of the U.S.”  The council’s target is 100,000 EVs by 2020.
Laurent Delamare, a software engineer at VMware, has owned his Leaf for a year.  Delemare says, “This is the technology of the future. With EVs, we can change the world.”

Information and Resources
Electric Auto Association, Silicon Valley Chapter
Plug In America
California Plug-In Electric Vehicle Collaborative
Plug-In Bay Area
Plug-in Cars

EV Tax Credits
U.S. Dept. of Energy Federal Tax Credit
CA Clean Vehicle Rebate Program

Peg Champion is a member of GreenTown Los Altos and the principal of Champion Organic Communications. She helps businesses tell their sustainability stories. For more information visit

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