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All-electric Nissan Leaf appeal grows as gas prices rise

Shannon Monroe became Florida's first official owner of the fully electric Nissan Leaf.

Monroe also serves as a bit of an ambassador since he claimed the title of No. 1 when he arrived in Florida last month with his brand new car and registered it with the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

And he couldn't be more proud since his old car is a Nissan Pathfinder, which can be a bit of a gas hog. He spent $25 to $60 a week in gas for the sport utility vehicle and now spends just 50 cents a day to charge his leaf (about $15 a month).

To fully power a depleted battery in the Leaf will take about 24 kilowatts or $2.88, which will power the car for about 100 miles. For comparison, Tampa Bay's average price for a gallon of regular gas is $3.08.

Seems like a good deal, eh?

The big initial hitch: The car itself costs a pricey $32,780. Consumers can get a $7,500 federal tax credit, bringing the cost to $25,280. Still, the day-to-day energy savings appears to be the great allure with Leaf drivers.

You can charge the Leaf with the standard 110-volt outlet in your home (that takes as long as 20 hours); the 220-volt outlet used for such items as your dryer or stove (up to eight hours); or a high-powered charger that will juice up the battery in 30 minutes.

The car, which reaches speeds of just over 90 mph, gets 100 to 130 miles per charge, so don't plan on the cross country trip just yet.

But since three-quarters of Americans commute less than 100 miles a day, the Leaf meets most of our needs.

"Right now, the Leaf meets the needs of 90 percent of Americans," said Dylan Lane, a Nissan Leaf product specialist who was working at the demonstration site.

Monroe tested the maximum distance of the Leaf, driving his from his Orlando home to Tampa.

"I drove mine, and it registered 100 miles," Monroe said of his trip to a Leaf demonstration at International Plaza. "It still said I had 30 miles available. It was completely fine."

What consumers will have to get used to is the higher electric bills. Now, along with the growing number of electric-powered devices in our homes (the air conditioner, the water heater, the dryer, dishwasher, lights, the televisions, cell phones, video game systems), there will be the car.

How does the Leaf compare with other electricity users in the house?

Based on current numbers, if you need to fully charge the battery every day, it comes after the heating and cooling systems in your home, which cost about $2.50 to $3 a day when they're running.

In total, the Leaf is expected to increase the average consumers' electric bills by about $560 a year.

The battery, the most expensive part of the car, carries a warranty of eight years or up to 100,000 miles. To help with the battery life, experts suggest consumers avoid fully charging and fully discharging all the time.

Progress Energy already is preparing for an uptick in electric car use, though the utility believes the impact on the supply of electricity will be minimal.

"We are investing now to ensure that there are few obstacles to consumers as more plug-in electric vehicles become commercially available," said Suzanne Grant, a spokeswoman for Progress Energy. "Our 'smart grid' strategy includes upgrading the ability to manage the flow of electricity on the electric grid, which will enable the widespread use of plug-in electric vehicles with minimal impact to the system.

"Studies show plug-in cars pose a very small impact on the electric load since most usage would be off-peak," she added, meaning overnight.

So here's the Edge:

• Test the car for free. Nissan will continue to hold demonstrations and test drives of the car at International Plaza through Sunday.

• If you want a Leaf, order early. There are 20,000 available this year and 20,000 for next year, but they are presale only. They can be purchased online at www.drivenissanleaf.com and take four to seven months for delivery.

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Consumers_Edge and find the Consumer's Edge on Facebook.

.By the numbers:

Comparing costs with electric car

• Central air at 78 degrees for a 1,200-square-foot house: $3 a day on a hot day.

• Electric heat pump set at 70 degrees for 1,200-square-foot house: $2.50 on a cold day.

• Nissan Leaf daily charge: 84 cents to as much as $2.80 a day depending on usage.

• Electric resistance water heater: 70 cents a day (household of two people not including water for dishwasher or clothes washing).

• 24 cubic foot auto defrost refrigerator: 25 cents a day.

• Electric clothes dryer: 30 cents a load.

• 60 watt light bulb burning all day: 17 cents a day.

• Cable box (assuming 34 watts): 10 cents a day.

All-electric Nissan Leaf appeal grows as gas prices rise 02/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 11, 2011 11:04pm]
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