EV & Solar panels at Norby residence

Driving on 100% Sunshine

By Roy L Hales

Peter & Julie NorbyPeder Norby’s interest in renewable energy goes back to his wind powered home in Denmark. Even then, Peder knew that someday he would drive an electric vehicle. In 2005, he and Julie built a 4,600 square house, overlooking the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad. Peder wanted a cheaper form of transportation, powered by sunshine. Julie was more concerned that it be dependable, comfortable and fun to drive. They installed 21 solar panels on the roof and a year later bought their first EV. Like most first time EV owners, they assumed it would be necessary to hang on to their “gas car.” That proved to be true until 2009, when Peder bought a BMW Mini E. As a County of San Diego Planning Commissioner, he drives all over the county, but found the Mini E was taking care of all his needs. His gas car just sat in the garage. So he sold it.

Julie is an elementary school principal, whose usual drive is 25 miles to work and 25 miles back. She occasionally got behind the wheel of the Mini-E, about once a month, but found it a little too low to the ground. So it was a complete shock to Peder when, after they acquired their BMW Active-E in January 2012, Julie said she wanted to be the principal driver. The Mini-E had proven that EVs are reliable and she really liked the ease and smoothness of the car.

Peder suddenly found himself driving a “clunky, noisy, and lethargic gas car” again. Having to buy gas every week, while his solar PV system – which had by this time been increased to 35 panels – produced more electricity than they needed, made him feel miserable. So they sold his last gas car and leased a Honda Fit Ev.

“The Honda has been a great addition to our household,” Peder wrote. “It doesn’t have quite the range of the BMW, but it charges much faster and, overall, is a much more efficient car to drive. We put everything in (or on) the Fit EV, from Christmas trees, to camping gear, to Costco runs. The Fit EV is also our “Charlie Car,” the car that takes my dog Charlie to the Beach and the dog park.”

Going camping in the Honda Fit EV

“The farthest I’ve driven is a 550 mile 4 day round trip to Palm Springs. The hotel had an EVSE, so we day tripped around 100 miles a day. The farthest single trip on a single charge was 106 miles Palomar Mountain including a 5400 foot climb and descent. We go camping a lot and we use the campground electricity to charge our cars while we sleep so that gives us a 200 mile range for a two or three day trip. Once a year we trade cars with my daughter for a long drive up to Napa.”

Peder finds that his EV’s need to be serviced as often as the old gas cars. “Both the BMW Mini-E (2009-2011) and BMW Active-E (2012-ongoing) are field trial cars and are required to be brought in every 5000 miles. That service can take a week or so as they really go through the car and disassemble the components to see how they are wearing. A loaner vehicle is provided. Outside of that we had an air conditioning issue with the Mini-E that required one day and the Active-E has had a spline issue.”

“The Solar PV has been trouble free since its installation in 2007. It is now 100% paid for (June 2012) by the gasoline and utility savings.So from here on out we are saving 9k-10K a year in gasoline and utility cost.  We do not wash our panels as they are roof mounted and the rain we have is sufficient to wash them off.  The panels look like they were installed yesterday. About every 15 years we will need a$2500 inverter.”

The Norbys believe that a combination of rooftop solar and two EVs gives them “100% emissions free driving powered by sunshine.”  Their 35 panels produce an average of 50 kilowatts a day during the summer and 24 during the winter. So they still have to pay San Diego Gas and Electric around %500 a year – to top off their electrical needs for a 4,600 square foot house and two EVs.

Julie“Every day, around 8 Am , the electric meter on my house starts spinning backwards. We start generating more electricity than we need and start feeding , rather than drawing from, the grid. We are feeding the grid when it needs the most energy, during peak hours. If more people did that we wouldn’t need so many power plants and there would be no emissions at the tailpipe.”