Diridon: Fight Russia and drive free with an EV
Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Russia funds their modernized military with income from petroleum. To allow its attack on Ukraine, Russia attempted to blackmail Europe and the world by cutting off petroleum. Already high fuel prices will spike even higher.

Though that dynamic is sad, I’ve been driving free since my first of six electric vehicles (EV) arrived in 1996 and will continue to do so. As the price of petroleum increases along with the climate change damage it causes, you can fight Russia and climate change and also drive free.

I left public office after 24 years in 1995 convinced the climate change battle was the existential challenge of our time. My little red Porsche had traveled over 300,000 hard campaign miles and needed a third rebuild. An inventor friend did, at my cost, an all-electric conversion.

Using the technology of the time, “Red Sparky” was outfitted with 22 golf cart batteries for a 50 mile-per-charge local commuter car range. Then came two leased EVs from GM in 1999 for three years—great cars taken back by GM and buried in a landfill—a hybrid Prius for 10 years followed by a Nissan LEAF. Finally, I leased a Tesla Model S for three years followed by a much loved Model 3 I’ve had since 2018.

Near the beginning of that EV transition, with the aid of federal and California tax incentives, we installed 45 rooftop solar panels, making us net-positive to the grid. The energy company pays us annually for the surplus of electricity that we share back to the grid.

At installation in 2004, the solar panels were about 9% efficient—converting about 9% of the solar energy to electricity. Modern panels are about 22% efficient, cost less and take less space. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District installed a charger in our garage (we paid for the installation). Those incentive programs and more are available to every citizen.

The result is, since about 1999 we’ve paid nothing for maintenance or fuel, and have reduced registration and insurance fees while accessing the HOV lane. Not once in that time have I stopped at a gas station, except to inflate the tires. We plug in, at night, about once a week to cover the daily commute trips. And we charge to the full 315-mile capacity for longer trips. Superchargers await along the highways to top off a full charge in about 40 minutes while we grab lunch.

It’s why all of the major auto manufacturers are transitioning to electric vehicles. And why Hertz, Amazon and others are purchasing hundreds of thousands of EVs. That shift improves their bottom line and fights climate change.

Yes… I drive free. The U.S. Energy Information Administration and AAA research declares—as of 2020, much more now—that the average U.S. car owner pays about $9,666 per year, or over $115,000 over a vehicle’s 12-year lifecycle. Our Tesla was purchased for about $46,000 after tax credits and has no fuel—electricity cost savings paid for the solar panels long ago— minimal maintenance and reduced insurance and fees. That’s well less than $70,000 for the expected 12-year battery life… instead of $115,000 or more for the gas guzzler based on average replacement and maintenance schedules.

By the way, we could have purchased a good EV for less than half that price which would have increased the remarkable cost savings. We don’t intend to sell the car, so we keep it in good repair. Except, in over two decades of driving electric vehicles, we’ve never needed a repair. There are no pistons, spark plugs, carburetors, radiators or oil… just a permanently lubricated, small but powerful electric motor.

Why worry about it? We grandparents hear U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres warn we may have only to about 2030 to reverse climate change to avoid permanent, catastrophic damage to the earth’s ecosystem. My four grandchildren are part of that ecosystem, so I’ll do all I can with the time left to assure them of a sustainable future. Will you help, please?

Rod Diridon, Sr. chairs the SV Ethics Roundtable and is past chair of the National Research Council’s Transit Cooperative Research Board, and national Council of University Transportation Centers, and retired executive director emeritus of the Mineta Transportation Institute. 

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