This whole Greeny Flat thing started with the idea that we have to learn how to live without fossil fuels. By designing, building, living in and monitoring the Greeny Flat we’ve been able to prove that it is relatively easy to inexpensive to create a house that makes more energy than it uses. In fact, over the year-and-a-half that Cintia and I have been testing it, we have exported over three times more power to the grid than we have imported from it. So what’s the next step? How can we use that excess solar power to further reduce our carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels?
Well… may I present our New Car!
The Greeny Flat Gets New Wheels
Regular readers of these Newsletters will know that I have been looking into Electric Vehicles (EV’s) in great depth over the last year or so. In fact, as I wrote in our Newsletter just two weeks ago, we recently went to Canberra to march for climate change and to test drive some EV’s. It was at the Climate March that I saw my first Outlander PHEV and yesterday we drove home in our own.
PHEV stands for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle and the Outlander claims to be ‘the world’s first plug-in hybrid SUV’. (SUV stands for Sports Utility Vehicle and basically means a four wheel drive although, these days, they’re a far cry from the early Jeeps, Landrovers, and Toyota Landcruisers which were rough and rugged). The SUV we drove home yesterday is a highly sophisticated, luxurious, technological marvel but if I had to drive into the outback I’d take an old Landcruiser any day. There is way too much that could go wrong with the PHEV. But we’re not looking to explore the bush in it… we just want to help save the planet with it.
After looking carefully at all of the available options for plug-in EV’s in Australia we decided that this is the one that makes the most sense for us. As I wrote two weeks ago, A Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) offers something like the best of both worlds. It has an electric motor and enough battery capacity to give it a range of about 50km after which the petrol motor kicks in and it becomes a hybrid vehicle, much like a Toyota Prius. The difference is that the Outlander is a 4WD SUV so is quite a bit heavier and only gets about 6L/100km. But the fact is that most people only drive a short distance on a daily basis and only take occasional longer trips. A PHEV has the advantage that you can do your short trips in all-electric mode and you don’t have to worry about the range for longer trips. The disadvantages are that you have two complete sets of drive system which makes the vehicle more complex and heavy.
There is clearly a big discrepancy between the 6L/100km I wrote about above and the sticker on the back of the car which claims 1.9L/100km. The latter figure is the official fuel-efficiency number for the Outlander PHEV and the sticker was put there by the nice people at Lander Mitsubishi in Blacktown to grab people’s attention. I plan to leave it there for the same reason. In fact I’m leaving all the stickers on the car for two reasons. One, because I want people to ask me questions about the car, and two, because Lander Mitsubishi gave me a very good deal because I offered to advertise for them. And I’m happy to do it because I believe that this car is an excellent step in the right direction towards a fossil-fuel-free future.
The car we bought was a demo model with about 7oook’s on the clock and we paid $30,000 for it. The retail price is about $49,000 and there are similar models on carsales.com.au for anything from $30k up to $55k. I’ve never spent anywhere near this much money on a car before and part of me thinks I’m crazy. But I’ve done my homework and this is the best-value car that will do what I need it to do (I do quite a lot of building work and I have the occasional guilty pleasure of a trip down the coast for a surf so I need a bit more size, range and versatility than the other EV options offer) while also doing what we all need to do… i.e. reduce our carbon emissions.
As for the fuel economy… time will tell. After driving it home from Blacktown yesterday with the air-conditioning running it was showing that we had used 5.4L/100km which is pretty impressive for something this big and heavy. In fact it’s about what Cintia gets from her beloved little Honda Jazz. We have yet to become familiar with the car but we’re already learning that the way we drive will make a huge difference to our fuel economy.
The photo above shows the dashboard display of the Outlander. There is another, larger, touch screen in the centre console that controls the ‘Communications Centre’ but, in terms of getting the most out of every litre of petrol, this is where the action is. The dial on the left shows, at all times, how economical the driver is being. We’ve already learned that we want to keep this as close to the blue ‘Charge’ area as possible. The car has 6 levels of regenerative breaking which adjusts how much you use the electric motors (the Outlander has two) to slow down while generating electricity and saving it to the batteries.
There are many different settings for the power management display in the centre. The one in the photo is showing that we have 9km of range left for driving in electric only and a total of 476km of range using petrol and electric. The blue gauge on the left shows how much charge is left in the battery and the one on the right shows how much petrol is left in the tank.
As we get more familiar with the car and how to drive it most efficiently we’ll find out what sort of fuel-efficiency we can really get. One of the salesmen at Lander said he drove one up to Queensland and back and averaged 3L/100km with only a charge before he left Sydney and one before he left for the return. That seems hard to believe but I’m realising that, if we charge the battery regularly and only drive short trips in all-electric mode, we could go weeks without using any petrol at all. In fact the Owner’s Manual (Cintia can’t believe that I would actually read it) warns that we should be careful to use at least 20L every six months otherwise the fuel can deteriorate in the tank. Not many car manuals have that sort of warning!
Obviously, charging it and driving it on all electric is only of benefit to the planet if the electricity we use to charge it comes from renewable sources. We have a lot of excess power from our solar system and it’s going to be very interesting to gauge whether that’s enough to power the car for the majority of our close-to-home driving. The dream is to get to where we can run our house and car entirely on renewable energy. We’re not there yet but our new PHEV should help take us a few more steps in that direction. Stay tuned as we learn how to get the most out of it.