Since our beginnings here at TDS in 1985, our commitment to the environment has been a driving force. What that commitment has looked like over the years has certainly evolved, as awareness of climate change has grown, and as more resources and technologies are being developed that can help make a positive difference.

One big example? Electric vehicles (or EVs for short), which have grown in popularity in recent years, as improved technology has made them more viable, and their potential to make a big positive impact on our environment has grown clearer. Last year, TDS invested in an EV—the 2019 all-electric Nissan Leaf, which has been a hit with our team.

Why decide to buy an EV?

We have had our eye on  electric vehicles for a while, so when it came time for a new car, we knew it was time to make the leap into electric. The Leaf is an ideal urban vehicle and perfect for driving sales, designers, and other staff around the city in a sustainable and reliable way!

The Challenge: Clean Electric Energy

The great thing about this EV, in particular, is that the Leaf is “all-electric,” so it doesn’t rely on any other fuel at all. That means that the Leaf has at least the potential to produce zero emissions.

Whether or not it actually does produce zero emissions, though? That depends on another factor—the cleanness of the energy source. “The Leaf produces zero emissions when it is charged by the sun,” Sam Breidenbach, TDS founder says. “When plugged into the grid of course the ‘purity of the electrons’ is totally dependent on the source of that energy—whether that’s coal, natural gas, renewables.” The only way to ensure complete “purity of the electrons”—resulting in zero emissions—would be when the car is charged entirely by the sun.

Challenge Accepted: Installing Solar Panels to Power the Leaf

Sam took up this “electron purity” challenge by installing solar panels on the roof of the TDS shop. We installed a 9.3KW PV system with a SolarEdge inverter specifically for charging the Leaf. This was in addition to a 3.2KW system on our office building that we installed back in 2009.

The new system produces approximately 90% of our average electrical use in the shop. On top of that, when the sun is shining and the car is being charged, the time it takes to achieve a full charge is 2.5 times faster than without the SolarEdge inverter. So the sun’s energy is directly converted into electrons that recharge the car’s battery. The 3.2KW system produces approximately 40% of our office electrical needs. No hiccups here! The installation process was super easy, too.

The solar installation project qualified for several grants and tax credits, which made it all the more financially appealing. We received a 30% Federal Tax credit, 12% Focus on Energy credit and a small grant from the city of Madison through MadiSun. Generally speaking, before incentives, the system we installed in 2019 cost a third less per watt than the system we installed in 2009. Factoring in the incentives, the savings were even greater than that.

The Leaf at TDS

The new Leaf has been very well received among the staff. There’s a learning curve to driving an electric vehicle, but everyone’s been excited to take it for a spin. It also reflects the company’s commitment to the environment, which is very important to our employees.

Being able to track energy production from the new solar panels has also been a fun side project. “I am an aspiring techno-geek,” says Sam. “With the phone app, I can monitor production in real-time and historically.” Having the Leaf around has brought a lot of joy to our lives. It’s given us a chance to nerd out about the technology, put our sustainable building skills to work, and enjoy the satisfaction of using cleaner energy—getting to see the results every time we use the car.

Very recently, we hit our first minor “speed bump” with the new Leaf: while on the job, a nail punctured one of its tires. It’s an occupational hazard—nails are a big part of our business—so in a way, the nail in a tire was a rite of passage. Being able to watch it get charged with solar panels we installed ourselves is part of that feeling, too.

Getting the Word Out

When it comes to making sustainability-oriented changes, getting the word out to others is important to us. The economics of owning an EV are becoming more and more realistic every day. Sometimes, it entails a bit of a paradigm shift in how a person plans and goes about their day (“range anxiety” can be a factor, of course), but even those changes in habits can make us think more critically about the impact our transportation and energy choices have on local air quality and environment, as well as climate change in the big picture.

And if you see one of us driving the Leaf around town, give us a friendly honk to say “hi”!

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