Twenty miles per hour. That’s how fast Paul Pimentel has to drive in order for his 2012 Nissan Leaf to make a sound.
This car is quiet. Oddly quiet.
The Nissan Leaf is a battery-operated electric vehicle. There is no noisy internal combustion engine. Instead, it runs on a 24 kilowatt-hour pack of lithium-ion batteries located below the seats of the car. There is also a 12-volt, lead-acid battery to power the accessories — lights, heated seats and power steering wheel, radio, navigation system — and this gets more support from a photovoltaic solar panel on the roof.
“Other than that, the car pretty much looks like any other car,” Mr. Pimentel said.
Mr. Pimentel bought his plug-in car in July of last year. Since then he has put 5,400 miles on it. It just passed its first inspection on the Island. The Nissan Leaf currently retails for about $22,000, after federal tax credits.
“Think about this, no oil, no combustion engine, what could go wrong? It’s really pretty basic.”
Quietness and low mileage were perks to purchasing an all-electric vehicle.
“It’s energy efficient and environmentally friendly,” he said.
Mr. Pimentel is no stranger to industrial energy projects. He is the senior vice president of engineering at the energy systems engineering firm NORESCO and the board chair for Vineyard Power, an Island nonprofit and energy co-operative whose mission is “to produce electricity from local, renewable resources while advocating for and keeping the benefits within our Island community.”
“Electric cars are a step in that direction,” Mr. Pimentel said.
Martha’s Vineyard doesn’t have an official club for electric vehicle owners, yet.
“My friend Ted Bayne drives the exact same car,” Mr. Pimentel said.
Ted Bayne, a director and the board secretary at Vineyard Power, purchased his 2012 Nissan Leaf in 2011.
“I bought it at the end of the year and paid for it so I could get the tax credit for the 2011 year,” said Mr. Bayne. A federal tax credit is offered as an incentive for purchasing plug-in electric vehicles, and is worth up to $7,500.
Mr. Bayne chose the Nissan Leaf because it was the only all-electric plug-in on the market at the time. The Tesla Model S was another all-electric plug-in vehicle in the works, yet it had a release date of June 2012.
So he went with the Nissan Leaf. “I investigated it and what I determined was that it was a complete total global design. They use some components from their other products but the Leaf was a very thoughtful design. The reviews for the earlier model were in and I was getting the second model year, so they had a chance to react from customers and their responses.”
But now there are more all-electric cars to chose from.
“I don’t think there will be just one car that solves the problem,” said Mr. Bayne. “It’s good to have a spectrum — Tesla, Leaf, Prius, the Chevy Volt — it’s better for the market to offer choices.”
Both Mr. Pimentel and Mr. Bayne bought their all-electric vehicles because they wanted a car that would get them a step closer to making the Island run on renewable energy. The Leaf emits no tailpipe pollutants and reduces energy dependence.
Yet all-electric vehicles face battery-related challenges.
“There’s a term called range anxiety,” Mr. Pimentel said, referring to the fear of running out of battery power while driving the vehicle. Fortunately, range anxiety is not very common on Martha’s Vineyard as a driver is never far from home.
Automobiles that run on gasoline can go over 300 miles before refueling, but the Nissan Leaf cannot. The electronic vehicle can go about 100 miles, give or take, before needing a recharge. This number has variables including the number of people in a car, cargo inside the car, the temperature of the battery and weather. Recharging the vehicle takes four to eight hours, depending on the voltage of the charger.
A home charging station is recommended, yet not mandatory to own. They cost around $2,000 and have to be installed by a professional.
“I charge it at night because that’s when the power company isn’t loaded up. I plug it in and leave it in the garage,” Mr. Pimentel said.
Another difference electric vehicles have is that the car can run out of power and there is no way to jump-start the car. The car comes equipped with a 110 volt charging cable but an outlet would need to be nearby, and it charges very slowly.
“But if it dies I would just get it towed, and I guess on the Vineyard if that happened I would just walk home,” said Mr. Pimentel. “But that situation would be highly unlikely on the Vineyard. The Vineyard really is the perfect place to live and have an electric vehicle.”
This is partially because the Island now has a charging station in Vineyard Haven.
“The canopy at Cronig’s attracts people who have electric cars,” Mr. Pimentel said of the 128 kilowatt solar canopy in the parking lot of Cronig’s Market.
The canopy is equipped with six electric car-charging stations. The idea is to give the cars a quick charge while at Cronig’s buying groceries.
“It has evolved beautifully,” said Cronig’s Market owner Steve Bernier. “We started out with, ‘How do we mount solar panels?’ We started with renewable energy solar panels but the roof mounting didn’t work,” said Mr. Bernier.
“Then through all these conversations we thought, my gosh, what about charging stations, let’s do it,” Mr. Bernier said. “I wanted to go ahead and do all this because that’s leading us towards tomorrow and renewable energy with solar is important. And as far as the importance of tomorrow, the electric cars are holding up the front of the pack.”
Mr. Bernier estimates about 40 people on Martha’s Vineyard are driving electric cars. “I’m not exactly sure how many, but it’s somewhere around that.” He agrees Martha’s Vineyard is the perfect place to have an electric car. “We live on an Island and we don’t drive that far.”
This year, on the Sunday before Labor Day at about 5 p.m., Mr. Bernier noticed two couples shopping in the store while their electric vehicles were getting charged in the parking lot. They both had out of state license plates.
“It’s beautiful to see them coming here to the Island with an electric car. Now how does that happen? That’s telling you we are leaning toward electric cars. So it’s a win-win all the way around and it’s been very healthy and very smart and very neat to do,” said Mr. Bernier.
“You look around in our economy and you can’t say that about too much. It’s really nice what we’ve pulled off here in our little community in what we’ve made happen.”
Mr. Bernier plans to build more solar canopies around the Island. “I just can’t wait to have a dozen more of these around the Island,” he said.
Mr. Bernier isn’t alone.
Mr. Pimentel and Mr. Bayne appreciate how the solar canopy has paved the road for the future for electric vehicles on the Island. They also understand that educating the community about electric vehicles is key. On Sept. 28 the town of Tisbury celebrated Electric Vehicle Plug In Day. Vineyard Power hosted an event at the down-Island Cronig’s Market under the solar canopy, giving people opportunities to test-drive electric vehicles as well as ask questions from a variety of drivers and advocates, including the co-coordinator of the Massachusetts Clean Cities Coalition Stephen Russell.
Mr. Pimentel believes that the Island community could really benefit from learning more about electric vehicles. “Driving these cars is a huge gain for the environment,” he said.
“My first car ever was a 1947 DeSoto made by Chrysler,” he added. “It was the slowest car I could imagine. It was a tank. It was a teenager’s car that you couldn’t get in trouble for driving because it was so loud and so big. And it is the exact opposite of this car.”
For more photos of Tisbury's electric car events, see the gallery National Plug-In Day Celebrated at Cronig's.