Solar energy buff uses home to power Tesla

Solar energy buff uses home to power Tesla

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Russell Work relaxes outside his new Tesla Model 3 electric car that he charges using solar panels on the roof of his home. (Lyonel Doherty photo)

By Lyonel Doherty

Oliver Chronicle

One Oliver man is literally driving into the future, and he may not want to come back.

Sitting behind the wheel of his new Tesla Model 3, Russell Work is a happy guy, but he’s not quite ready to take a nap while auto-pilot is engaged. That may take some time . . . and a little nerve.

Work proudly shows off his new electric vehicle (EV), powered by 29 solar panels recently installed on the roof of his home. (He uses an EV charger to fill ‘er up.)

“I told him it’s like pouring sunshine straight into his car,” says installer Dave Malmberg, manager of Argon Electrical & Solar Services.

Malmberg calls Work a trendsetter.

“We’re going to see an increase in the very near future for these types of installations to power our cars. We’re just at the beginning (tip of the iceberg) of the EV and solar markets here in B.C. and Canada.”

The candy apple red Tesla shines in the driveway, as silent as a purring kitten when started. Oh, almost forgot, it doesn’t have an engine or moving parts, just two electric motors (batteries).

On a full charge it has a range of 500 kilometres.

“I call it futuristic because basically all of the controls are done through the 15-inch (touch) computer screen.”

He explains that Tesla provides automatic software updates, from level 2 (autonomous driving in beta mode, where it is now) to level 4 (understanding roads and signage).

“To that extent, it will grow with us and there will be no need to take it back for servicing.”

Works says the only servicing it requires is a change in windshield wiper blades and tires.

He believes Tesla co-founder Elon Musk is a visionary, who hired the best engineers to develop the car.

“What was interesting is he did not hire automotive engineers; he basically gave them a blank piece of paper and said, ‘Design me the best electric car that you can.’”

• Read more: Solar energy users share stories of going green

Work says there are seven cameras and 12 sensors on the car, recording information and transmitting it back to Tesla.

Currently, he can put the car into autonomous drive, take his hands off the wheel and watch the Tesla operate itself. For example, he tested it out on the curves at Vaseux Lake and it handled them with “dead accuracy.”

As soon as you turn the steering wheel, autonomous drive is disengaged and you have full control again.

“It’s not particularly advantageous around Oliver because at this level of autonomy it’s not recognizing the stop signs.”

What impresses Work the most is how quiet the vehicle is and its phenomenal acceleration – zero to 60 kilometres per hour in 3.5 seconds.

The cost to drive the car home from Vancouver was $6. The gas equivalent is 1.8 litres per 100 kilometres, so the expected energy cost to run the vehicle for the year is $420 (assuming 20,000 kilometres and 13 cents a kilowatt hour). Work says the base charge from Fortis is currently 10 cents per kilowatt hour.

“When you factor in the mechanical savings of no oil changes, no timing belt, etc., and you put that over a five-year period, the savings on the car start to accrue quite significantly.”

Most of the features in Russell Work’s Tesla Model 3 electric car are accessed via a computer screen, including auto-pilot and auto lane change. (Lyonel Doherty photo)

But cost savings is not what prompted Work to spend $67,000 on the vehicle. His concern about global warming and greenhouse gas emissions compelled him to do something to help the environment.

“We’ve made every effort possible in this house to reduce our energy footprint.”

Work has 29, 340-watt solar panels ($23,000) on the roof with optimizers that produce direct current (DC). This fully integrated system supplies energy to the house and charges the car.

If it’s dark and he’s charging the car at night, he’s drawing from Fortis, but the draw is coming from his surplus energy.

Work says they went “live” with the solar roof in February, and since then he hasn’t had a bill from Fortis.

“So far we have saved the equivalent of 4,000 kilograms of CO2, and that is equivalent to 14 trees having been planted.”

Work is looking to recoup his solar investment in about 12 years, at which point his energy will be 100 per cent free, Malmberg says.

• Read more: Community support helps food bank go solar

Back to the lovely EV, unlocking and starting the Tesla requires a special card (or a computer app). No keys here.

The all-glass (filtered) roof is definitely cool, too.

While Work has experimented with many features of the car, he hasn’t tried the auto-lane change yet, admitting that he’s apprehensive about that.

Work cited two incidents when the vehicle actually took charge before his brain could react. At Road 22 a car cut in front of him. Even before he recognized the hazard, the vehicle instantly braked. The same thing happened on Airport Road in Oliver.

The technology never ceases to amaze him.

“When we’re in our 80s, hopefully, I will simply be able to summon the car (personally named Nicola) and then tell it to take me down to the grocery store or take me up to Penticton.”

Work predicts he will one day be able to talk to Nicola and give it instructions via a level 4 autonomy upgrade. “And I probably won’t need a driver’s licence at that stage,” he laughs.

1 COMMENT

  1. Funny thing, just saw this car (yes, it was this car) plugged into the free EVC station on station street. Plugged into a subsidy provided by ironically, by fossil fuel! I guess if I can get my power for free I’ll buy one too!

    EV’s have there place but they are not new and have been in use for over a hundred years! If you really want to talk about the environment, talk Total Carbon foot print and do your homework! Many things described as being positive for the environment actually contribute to a much larger carbon foot print than the item they are intended to replace!

    On an related note, after a solar farm was set up on farmland in Utah, the labouring farmers attempted to purchase the scarce water rights for their farms. They were astonished to learn that the water was not for sale as it, and more is needed to wash the solar panels! So much for “good for the environment”

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