The Antelope Valley, where I live in Southern California, is a desert—part of the Mojave Desert, to be precise, and home to Edward’s Air Force Base and the Mojave Air and Space Port where SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X-Prize in 2004. I’ve lived here for more than twenty years now and because we are a desert, we have very few cloudy days. In fact, we have more than 350 days a year that are not cloudy. Thus, this area is ideal for making use of solar power.
The Lancaster School District (for whom my wife works as a third grade elementary school teacher), along with the local community college (Antelope Valley College) and several private schools, businesses, hospitals, and other government buildings have converted to solar power. The simple reason for this is not so much because of any concern for the environment as it is a concern for their pocketbooks. By having solar panels installed, the Lancaster School District has saved literally millions of dollars annually on electric costs. And they managed this without spending a dime.
How? By leasing the panels. While ideally one would simply purchase panels, the upfront cost is still prohibitive for most individuals and businesses. But companies such as Solar City, Verango, Vivant and others allow businesses and homeowners to enter into a lease agreement instead. The lease is usually for twenty years, which oddly bothers some people. I simply ask: is there some point in the next twenty years that you’re not going to be wanting to have electricity anymore? You weren’t already locked into paying your electric company a certain amount of money for the rest of your life in order to keep your television and toaster running?
The advantage of the solar power companies is simply that they charge much less than what the regular electric company. And that’s the reason my wife and I went with them: we saved a substantial amount of money, cutting our electric bill by more than half. I don’t know if my experience is typical, of course. You’d want to carefully calculate it all before you switch, obviously.
Saving the planet, cutting the amount of money that might go to foreign nations with social structures and governments that I find reprehensible is simply a nice plus on top of the cash savings.
Gasoline, as I write this, is going for 3.89 per gallon at the Arco station just down the street from me. I’ve been replacing gasoline powered contrivances now for a while. The first to go was my lawn mower, which I replaced with an electric, battery powered mower. I probably don’t save an enormous amount in gasoline by using an electric mower since gas powered mowers don’t go through a huge quantity of the smelly liquid. Nevertheless, the electric mower is cheaper to operate since the cost of electricity is so much less than the cost of gasoline. Convenience is also a factor: I never find myself running out of gas and needing to make a trip to the gas station. I mow my lawn, I plug in my battery for an hour (maybe), and next week, I’m good to go. The additional pluses are obvious: no nasty smell and its much quieter.
My weed whacker is also electric and also battery powered.
Oh, and no repeatedly yanking a rope to start them, either. I just push a button.
And this past weekend I finally got rid of one of my gasoline powered automobiles, replacing it with an electric car. Some will argue that electric cars really make no economic sense, that given the premium one pays for them, it would take a very long time to make back the cost in the gas savings from using electricity.
However, that’s assuming one buys one’s electric car new. I just picked up a used Nissan Leaf, a 2011 model, for less than 11,000 dollars. My car payment is less than I was paying for the gasoline to run my old car, and the cost of charging the electric vehicle for a month will be less than what I paid weekly for gasoline for the old car. On top of that: no smog checks, no oil changes and not as much to go wrong: no transmission and even the brakes last longer thanks to regenerative braking.
Is the range of a Leaf limited compared to a gasoline powered car? Certainly. But given that the overwhelming amount of our driving is local and amounts to less than 40 miles per day, the 80 mile range for the Leaf is plenty. Even better, instead of having to sit in a line at Costco to fill up with expensive gasoline, now we just plug the car in at the end of the day like I do with my cellphone. In the morning, we have a full “tank” with no waiting and at a fraction of the cost. If we do need to go further, we either use our other car (which still uses gasoline) or we plan our route very carefully and allow for charging time.