Where we build is often as significant as how we build or what we build. A super efficient small green built home in town often has the lowest energy costs in terms of carbon fuels. As we move out of towns or cities to suburban and exurban locations our transportation costs, cash and carbon, tend to go up. But there are a lot of considerations beyond this summarized conclusion.
I have been thinking of the location factor more lately as we are about to buy a new car. Our 2005 Prius is getting on in miles. It has been a great car and on our last road trip to New York City we averaged around 50 mpg and at one point hit our record 55.8 mpg. I have no idea why.
We live out of town , about an 11 mile commute and usually build houses in the city of Asheville on infill lots as believers in smart growth. I know this sounds contradictory but we live out because we like being surrounded by nature and have some room to grow a significant portion of our food. We have developed a schedule of building a house in the fall and winter and growing food in the spring and summer. It works great for us. We have whittled away our debt and by growing a significant portion of our food we reduce our expenses and it keeps us busy in the enjoyable sense of the word. Some of our vehicle miles of our commute are balanced by growing food that doesn’t have any.
Which car to get has become as complex as which brew pub to go to on a night out in Asheville. We want the best car with the least carbon consequence that we can afford. In our area we have the Blue Ridge Biofuels folks that make local diesel out of waste oil from kitchens, hybrids that are assisted by battery power, plug-in hybrids that go farther on electric power and all electric( EV) cars. On top of those choices is the consideration of the generation source of the power to charge the electric vehicles. In general the grid is getting greener but right now it is pretty carbon intensive. We have added some more solar generation and now have about 3Kw more than we need for our house to operate. So we are leaning heavily toward either the plug in hybrid (Prius or Volt) or an EV. Most of our trips are to town and back for less than 30 miles. An EV would work for those but we also take monthly trips to Knoxville at about 260 miles round trip as well as less frequent trips to New York and vacations that make the electric car pretty tricky at this point. The plug in hybrids seems like they provide the best combination for our situation. The Volt goes the farthest on all electric mode (35miles) and can go 300 miles or more with its built in gas powered recharger. The plug in Prius gets better gas mileage on the longer trips but only goes about 11 miles in the electric only mode. So the Volt would do the most driving on solar compensated electricity while the Prius would do less of that around town but do better on the longer trips in terms miles per gallon. Then there is the cost, the dollars and nonsense. It looks like the Prius is the most practical and the Volt is the most efficient and fun to drive. For a thorough review of the two side by side -
Ideally we would have a plug in hybrid biodiesel that got 75 miles on a charge and could go over 300 miles on a tank of the recycled kitchen grease. We are not there yet but there are much better options than a few years ago that makes an 11 mile commute less of a carbon penalty.
PS if you have any feedback I would love to hear it.