Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why Solstice Is Special To Me

Winter solstice has always been special to me given it's the shortest day of the year. Even with the short hours, our 3 kW PV system will generate many clean kilowatt hours today, and every day from now till June's summer solstice, we'll generate more as the sun reaches higher in the sky and more photons slam into the panels at 300,000 kilometers per second knocking electrons free from the silicon so they can travel through the copper wires and do the work we need done.

But in addition to the extreme astronomical position, winter solstice just happened to be the day that Zan and I took possession of our EV. Our planet has traveled around the sun 7 times since 2002 and we've driven our EV more than 77,000 miles on the solar-generated kilowatt hours made on our roof. There's a bit of a back story here that many of you on my list might find interesting. I asked Zan to help write this post, given her part in making it all happen.

She said: Seven years ago today Paul and I took delivery of our Toyota RAV4 EV and everything changed. Paul was still somewhat bald from the chemo he’d recently completed to wash away any possible return of the bladder cancer he’d been diagnosed with several months before—and which was the impetus for our going electric. We’d installed solar on our roof shortly after the oncologist had told Paul that there would be nothing to do, no treatment options if the cancer returned. Hearing that, Paul decided not to postpone his life-dreams any longer. A lifelong enviro, his bucket list had photovoltaics at the top. We learned about EVs and the people who love them while searching online for a solar installer.

He said: We bought the system in the fall and the installation just happened to be on my 50th birthday. What a wonderful present! Since it was a small system, the job was completed in a single day. We awoke the next morning to see our electric meter's disk gradually slowing down as the sun crept higher. We watched with glee when the disk stopped spinning and then slowly began spinning backwards. We were, for the first time, generating more energy than we were using and our utility was buying our clean energy to sell to our neighbors. And this was on the shortest day of the year!

As good as that was, we were about to experience better.

She said: Paul connected with a couple of people in our neighborhood who had purchased RAV4 EVs and took one for a test drive. He was immediately sold but now had to sell the wife….He didn’t have much convincing to do and I’ll never forget my first moments in an EV. For starters, I’d never realized how reliant we are on the sound of an engine firing up to know when to step on the gas. But the moment I pulled from the curb—without hearing a sound—I was overwhelmed with joy at the notion that I was finally, finally making a real contribution to the planet. Nothing I’d ever done before had felt sufficient—no recycling, no reusing, no reducing. But driving a car, one of the most environmentally destructive instruments in existence, that didn’t even have a tailpipe? Driving a gas-free, zero-emission mini-SUV fueled with sunshine? That felt like enough and then some. Knowing that if I could buy one now, they’d be available in all makes and models one day - that felt fantastic. That felt hopeful.

He said: Alas, the future we both envisioned for our country, and for the planet, was delayed. The carmakers and oil companies had other plans that didn't involve switching from filthy, dirty oil to clean, renewable electricity. Their considerable financial heft thrown at state and federal government regulators resulted in the near death of the electric car, accurately depicted in Chris Paine's "Who Killed the Electric Car?" But the unrelenting efforts of Plug In America (then known as Don' and its supporters kept the flame alive, and the pressure we continue to apply to the car companies and regulators, combined with a worldwide increase in oil prices, has resulted in an EV resurgence. Every car company in the world is now racing to get their respective plug-in cars to market.

She said: This is truly something to cheer, but the ability to manufacture enough clean cars fast enough to head off the worst of the coming environmental deluge is not looking good. For me, it was never about the car anyway. When the new EVs and plug-in hybrid electric cars come out, I won’t care if they look like rockets or rhinoceroses. What matters to me is whether they can be fueled with renewable electricity generated by sunshine or wind. What matters to me is that scientists are saying that climate change is happening faster than anyone had predicted. What matters to me is that polar bears are drowning because they have to swim longer distances to reach the ice they can rest on.

However, today is not the day to despair, but to celebrate what we can. For starters, Paul’s also been cancer free for well over seven years and the docs say he’s out of the woods. Meanwhile, the work that Plug In America has done, in concert with so many others, has resulted in massive change in a very short time.

He said: So, as the light dims on our seventh solstice, we celebrate what we've achieved and steel ourselves for the fight that continues. Knowing we gain supporters with every day keeps the light shining bright inside our hearts.


  1. Congratulations! And thanks for a beautiful post. It makes the winter solstice even richer for me now.


  2. So inspiring on so many levels. I love the Solstice...and the Equinoxes. The Earth provides us with all we need to celebrate the seasons. Congratulations on surviving cancer, living your dreams, and keeping the planet alive.

  3. Very touching and significant in the 'big picture'of things to come. Congratulations to all.

  4. Congratulations, Paul. Not only are you two a great example in the solar and EV world, but I know you both inspired many more to go solar and EV. Wishing you both many, many more years of inspiration.

  5. Excellent post Paul! The personal backstory added a certain weight that simply posting about the 7 year anniversary of getting an EV never could. As we approach the second coming of mass market EVs, we can only hope that this time it's for real and that we can make the globally needed changes before our time runs out. To be honest, in my mind at this point our chances are slim given how divided and factless our world has become, but we can only keep on trying. Here's to the hope that we'll be able to celebrate many more beautiful solstices!

  6. thanks, Paul and Zan.
    I've been reminding people that today is
    International Tilt-Your-Head-While-Looking-in-the-Mirror Day.
    i will have you in my thoughts when i happen upon a mirror, inevitably
    before the day is over, and know that i have some wonderful
    friends actively evolving.

  7. regardless of "future of technology" yak yak

    passion, too often, lacks intelligence:
    that you two are,
    and, that you found eachother,
    makes planet and people better...
    right then and there


  8. You two are so cool. Happy holidays and may this be a better year for all of us in the world. Much love, Amy Isler Gibson, Eugene

  9. Wow Paul very special indeed Guru Parkash Singh

  10. Ahh.. Paul, that's an amazing story and thank you for sharing. I had no idea that you gone through that, but glad to hear that it inspired you in some way. You both are doing great things, and someday I'll have my electric trolley. :-) Barb

  11. The only thing we need to do faster than making EVs is to make more people like you!

    Thanks for a wonderful story. And for being the ones who gave me the keys to my RAV4 EV, also charged from your solar system.


  12. Congrats to both of you! It too, was a happy day when the sun helped my carbon footprint shrink. Even on cloudy days now my meager output drives my car, lights our tree lights, and life is grand! Especially with friends like you two! Thanks!

  13. Thank you both for this great post. You are both an inspiration and a joy to know personally... though I have have yet to meet you in person, Zan. Best wishes for the holidays and coming year. May you and your renewable ventures go much further and inspire many others... they certainly have inspired me !

  14. Zan and Paul,
    The planet is so lucky to have you and I am so blessed to have found you! I love seeing our meter running backwards as our solar panels do their magic and look forward to having a EV in our driveway :)

  15. Very inspiring. I know you probably have the info here on your blog, but how much did the panels cost, and did you use any type of tax incentives? Wish I had an EV... maybe next year.

  16. I remember the first time I met the pair of you; you drove up to Peet's on Montana in aforementioned electric car with the SOLAR license plate and I thought it was just so wonderful I walked up to you both and said that I really liked your car and could I be your friend? And you both said yes. Thank heavens.

    I am so pleased to be a part of PLUG IN AMERICA and so proud of your effective activism!

    Randal and I love Winter Solstice too. A special day. Many happy returns to you!

  17. Thanks Scott for all you do....
    Funny about dates.. and moments as the earth revolves around the Sun. Our special date was December 5th.. For one our birthday, and Walt Disney.. But also the date the EV1 came out as I remember... Wonderful story.
    Steve Lough
    Pres. Seattle EV Association

  18. Aw, you hippies deserve each other. Solstice? Bah! EVs? Humbug!! Humbug! I say. Now bring me some figgy pudding and bring it right here.
    Paul--it is SO good that the our bald days are behind us.
    -- ExChemoBoy

  19. Congrats, Zan and Paul! Great story... rickvan

  20. Touching article.

    What would America be like if 80% of the people shared Paul and Zan's mindset? Maybe they do, but they just don't know it yet.

  21. Dear Paul, what a wonderful story. I wish you and your family well. Dr. Peter van Deventer, The Netherlands

  22. Paul and Zan - what a wonderful story. It is so amazing to find the path that was meant for us. Bobby and I send you much love and hope to see you soon. Bobby's 37th birthday was on the solstice, so it's always a special time for us also. On on to all of us.
    xxxxxMargo and Bobby

  23. Thank you so much for sharing this, Paul and Zan. You two are my favorite EV couple and this post brought me such joy - I love a good survivor story :) I'll have to share mine with you too next time! Merry Christmas!

  24. I agree, Paul and Zan... two special people...Always an inspiration to be around you folks!
    I had a similar kick... when 9/11 happened... the epiphany was to install solar panels as an answer to our fossil fuel addicted society.

  25. An inspiring story Paul! -Satoshi

  26. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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