Interview: LiFe Powered by the Sun

Carolyn and Kyle Cave, both university professors in Hadley, Massachusetts, built this super-insulated home to minimize energy consumption.  Then they dropped a 20kW solar PV array on the roof and now use energy from the sun to generate a surplus that also powers this tiny little Wheego LiFe electric vehicle.  I was able to ask Carolyn Cave a few questions about their solar-powered situation, and this is a portion of that response:

Q: What’s it like living in a high-performance home with solar power and an EV?

Carolyn: I guess the primary ways that life has changed are somewhat intangible.  We are enjoying a new, highly efficient home that has dramatically reduced our carbon footprint.  It feels good to know that our contribution to greenhouse gases is now very much less than it was before.  We are sending excess power onto the grid that is generated by our solar panels.  So our neighbors can also use power that is being generated without the use of fossil fuels.

The Wheego is very much a part of the whole package.  We planned the size of our solar array to allow for sufficient energy generation to power both our house and our car (net), so we were very interested to obtain an electric car as soon as possible.  The vast majority of our driving is now in the electric car, so most of our energy use is happening without burning fossils fuels.  That is very satisfying.

The level of interest in our home and car from both our friends and others has been fun and encouraging.  It has been fun to share the bits of knowledge that we have accumulated with others.  Driving an electric car has generated a lot of interest.  People stop to ask us about the car and to give us positive feedback.  I got the thumbs up from a Prius driver the other day!

Q: Would you encourage someone else to do the same?

Carolyn: We would absolutely encourage others to do the same.  One of the reasons we started the project in the first place was as a sort of demonstration project to show that it is possible to fuel a nice lifestyle with minimal use of fossil fuels.  Investments of time (to learn) and money are generally needed, but knowledgeable people who are interested in addressing climate change are generally generous with their time and expertise to help and there are ways to build and/or retrofit without huge monetary investments.  There are also beginning to be agencies that can help with these investments.

Q: Can you tell me anything about the investment you’ve made or the payback?

Carolyn: We do think that this is a good investment.  Our primary motivation was to invest our resources in doing the right thing for the planet.  Still, we think it is a good investment in other ways as well.  There are significant federal tax credits for both our purchase of solar panels and our electric car, which will reduce our costs over time.

We are also fortunate to live in a state, Massachusetts, that has also set up good incentives for individuals to invest in renewable energy.  Our utility is required to give us credit that is nearly equal to the cost we would pay for electricity.  All of the electricity we generate is also producing solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) that are sold to utilities in a market.  These SRECs also help to offset our initial investment. //

Wheego, a manufacturer of all-electric vehicles, first started delivering LiFe EVs to purchasers on Earth Day this year.  The car retails for about $33,000, but the purchase is a little more palatable with a $7,500 tax credit.  Most recently, in August, the company unveiled a fuel savings calculator to compare the cost of Wheego LiFe versus a regular gasoline-powered car.

Credits: Wheego Electric Cars.


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