Cool Ride for a Hot Planet

Charging My Chevy Volt

Lately, I’ve been talking an awful lot about my car. My pride in my ride is the kind most men have with their fine set of wheels. At grocery store parking lots, heads turn, and perfect strangers grin curiously. I park and eagerly invite them to take a peek inside. When I spark up the engine, they smile with awe and wonder at the technology as it boots up around them. When it comes to my car, you’d think I was a teenaged boy with his first hot-rod. But the truth is I’m a middle-aged mom who’s an “eco-preneur.” It’s probably not the picture you envisioned, is it?

Being a renewable energy advocate is never a smooth ride. I found this out when my son Nikos directed his global warming PSA “Save It” four years ago and suddenly everyone was asking me for my expertise regarding clean technology. Either that or they accused me of – god forbid – being a “hippie environmentalist” or “brainwashing” my kid. But I had been neither. I was just a divorced, stay-at-home mom just trying to honor the concerns of my children and the effects our polluted air and water is having on them.

My children worried about their future. And when your child is having nightmares to the point that he creates a PSA to let the world know of the terror he feels, you try to soothe those fears. The least I could do was buy a Prius. Big step for me, but a good way to begin to address his concerns about the world he and his brother will inherit. It was a great move then, but alas, cool is what matters when a teenaged boy is ready to drive. According to my son, our Prius was “just plain embarrassing” and he “didn’t want to be seen” driving it. So a year ago last week, when it was time to trade it in, I knew I had better consider the “cool” factor.

53 weeks of driving and I’ve used less than 103 gallons of gasoline

I called my local Chevy dealer and I asked if they had any Volts left. I was dubious, because General Motors had just cut down on production due to slow sales. They had only one, so I got there immediately. By the time I test drove this awesome vehicle, which reminded me of the thrill I had driving my 2002 Saab 9-5, I was sold – or rather leased. I brought my sexy, red machine home and my teens loved it. It was agile, powerful, and when we switched into “mountain” mode, the engine went from an almost silent whirring to a macho sounding muscle car. My boys thought it was even better than the Chevy Camaro because it hardly uses any gas.

Cool it was. When I pulled up to the world famous Polo Lounge an entire platoon of valets swarmed my car, and I was inundated with questions: “How do you like it?” “Do you mind if I take it for a spin around the block?” When I would walk back out to retrieve my Volt, it wasn’t in the garage out of sight –oh no – it was parked in the No. 1 spot, usurping the Rolls Royce, which moved to spot #2, and the Bentley to #3. This happened whenever I valet-parked in Beverly Hills and the greatest part was that the public parking structures had installed EV charging units in the most preferential spots, too. Driving a Chevy Volt in Beverly Hills made me feel like an actual VIP.

At home, I forsook the tax incentives and never installed a level 2 charger, since I’m currently renting. Instead I just used the provided 125V charger and would plug my car in overnight like I do my cell phone. At first I wasn’t sure if this was a good idea. Would my electric bill skyrocket? Surprisingly, it hasn’t. My energy bill has actually stayed within the same range over the year. Because of the Volt, I was finally able to convince my environmentally conscious kids, who somehow couldn’t seem to remember to turn off the lights when they left a room, that this was important for keeping our car off of fossil fuels. So now, they’ve gotten in the habit of doing what I nagged them about for years. Mission accomplished.

After 6 months, my gas consumption was 188 mpg – yes that’s right – ONE HUNDRED eighty-eight! Then I took it on the road twice from Los Angeles to San Francisco. In my late-model Volt with lower charge capacity, I could only go 35 miles on the lithium-ion battery, so I used gas for the rest of the trip. At the truck stops along Interstate-5, guys in muscle cars and trucks would say it’s a fine looking car and maybe they should get one because they’re sick of spending a fortune on gas. There’s definitely a pattern here.

It’s now been just over a year and I’ve driven 11,024 miles, used only 103 gallons of gas and I’m averaging 107 mpg. Even my Prius couldn’t come anywhere close to that! I love that it’s environmentally conscious, but can behave like a macho car when you need it to. It looks super sleek, saves a lot of money on gas and you get movie star treatment just for owning it.  So, next time my Volt pulls into a parking lot don’t be surprised if it’s my image-conscious son who’s driving it. Hmm, I wonder where he gets that from?


Energize Your Patriotism

2011 Year End Blog
By Nicole Hansen

Here it is the end of 2011, a year and a half since Congress’ disheartening abandonment of climate change legislation, and it’s been quite a ride on the clean energy roller coaster. Last December, many renewable energy advocates such as myself had almost lost heart — which was evident at the 2010 “Cleantech Roadshow Seminar” sponsored by Clean Tech Los Angeles. The message there was that fewer large clean tech deals were contributing to a quarterly drop in investment dollars. Many of us were concerned that maybe renewables were going to go the way of GM’s EV1.

Lately though, it’s evident that slow and steady progress is being made. At GGE, more clients are starting to call again, our partners are busy, and the word “green” is back – and it’s the color of money. That message was clear at this December’s events, also co-sponsored by CTLA, “Fostering Clean Tech in Los Angeles” and “Accelerating Innovation in the Clean Energy Economy.” Exactly one year later and the conversation has focused on money flowing into renewable energy, rather than out.

The first event was held in LACI’s La Kretz Innovation Campus, where GGE client 350Green has an office. The panel discussion included Fred Waiti, Executive Director of LACI, and Ron Nichols, General Manager of LADWP. Although it was held in a cocktail party atmosphere, the stunning take-away was that Los Angeles is becoming the country’s clean tech capital. Ron Nichols also matter-of-factly stated that there’s more than enough money to fund clean tech projects and innovation. It can be done through grants for testing and pilot projects followed by venture capital investment and/or bank loans to scale up.

The second event was held at UCLA and co-sponsored by PEW Charitable Trust. Colonel Mike Naylor of the US Marine Corps presented “DoD Driving Energy Innovation,” in which he emphasized that the greatest loss of life for US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq occurs when escorting fuel convoys, which provide fuel to power generators. In battle, radios, phones, computers and equipment must be powered – just like here at home. Col. Naylor showed a portable solar blanket, closely resembling our client FTL Solar’s Power Fold, which provides a safe alternative to generators. He stressed that renewable power installations are also needed stateside, because the US military bases are vulnerable to failures of our domestic energy infrastructure such as the San Diego blackout earlier this year affecting Camp Pendleton.

Brandon Hurlbut, Chief of Staff of the US Department of Energy, also made points that brought out my patriotic spirit. He asked: Do we in the US want to be buyers or sellers of this clean tech market? Do we want to develop, sell and use our own technologies? Are we willing to lose the market to other countries that are competing for our business? The US lags behind in clean energy investments except from venture capital. The DoE’s grant program and loan guarantees are expiring at the end of 2011. Tens of millions of dollars are about to become unavailable for start-up pilot projects. Where does that leave us?

As I remarked to the panel, this information needs to get out to the public at large. In addition to investments in the technologies, money must be allocated for publicizing them as well. We at Green Galaxy Enterprises are among many like AREDAY’s ACELI cooperating to get the word out. Some here in Hollywood, like producer Marshall Herskovitz, are working to employ effective marketing strategies as well. Nick Allen of Spring Ventures agreed that public awareness is absolutely important. All panelists emphasized that we must find ways to communicate the accurate price of all available energy without politicizing it. The public needs to be aware that clean technologies can change our lives, provide good jobs, and secure our status in the US as leaders and innovators. Isn’t that the place we American’s most want to be in the future?