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When we were considering moving from our 2014 Subaru Forester to an electric vehicle (EV) we ruled out a total EV because of our location in the remote White Mountains of NH. Both my wife and I were concerned about the lack of charging stations in NH, so we figured a plug-in hybrid EV (PHEV) would allow us to at least go partial-electric to take advantage of our 2015-installed photovoltaic (PV) system.
We had been waiting for Subaru to make the new PHEV Crosstrek available in New Hampshire as we have a dealer a couple of miles from our house. But because NH does not concern itself with the California Emission Standards as every other New England state does; Subaru cannot sell them here. And because the PHEV Crosstrek was difficult to locate even from dealers across the state line in Maine, we ended up purchasing an available 2021 Kia Niro plug-in hybrid, though it was from a dealer also about an hour and a half away in Maine. The vehicle is a compact, front wheel drive, four door hatchback with a 26-mile EV-only range before the 1.6-liter engine comes to life.
It has not been much of a loss going from all-wheel-drive to front wheel drive only because our roads are well plowed here in NH, and we can take our Toyota Tacoma during snowstorms, if necessary. An advantage of the Niro over the Crosstrek is an additional ten miles of EV-only range. The Niro also features a 10-year 100,000-mile warranty.
Having had the car for almost a year and a half with no problems, we are happy to report that our fuel mileage averaged out by the car’s electronics is almost 115 mpg. We have few trips that take us beyond the car’s 26-mile EV-only range. In fact, the only long trips for us were to pick up Green Energy Times near Concord, NH, about an hour and a half from our home near Conway. Now that G.E.T. is being delivered directly to our door for local distribution, the only long trips from now on will be to see family and friends and appointments out of the area.
The only downside that I’ve found is that in cold weather the engine has to run to make heat for the occupants. Our solution is to not bother with heat if our trip is local, as we are bundled up to get to the car anyway. If we are going beyond our 26-mile EV-only range, however, I’ll turn the heat up as soon as we start driving so that we can enjoy a warm car for the whole trip because we will eventually be using up our 26 EV miles anyway. My wife’s complaint is that she likes to sit higher as in our old Forester.
The big advantage to my wife and me is that the power to charge our Niro comes from the solar array on the roof of our barn. Indeed, we have a large enough system that, even with the addition of the car, we have been banking kW’s and are paying only the base “meter rate” to Eversource every month. We are charging the car overnight at a 10-amp rate through a #14 wire intended originally only to power a yard light over the carport. And then there was the advantage of the $4,500 tax credit available to PHEV buyers and not hybrid buyers because their cars do not run at all on renewable energy.
Looking under the hood of my Niro, I shudder at the thought of having to do anything beyond replenishing the windshield washer fluid. Not only are there all the components of the engine and six speed automatic transmission, but there’s also an electric motor, and the three things together just about fill up the entire compartment. If this were an electric-only vehicle, there’d simply be an electric motor and the gearing to get its power to the wheels along with a very large storage battery either in the rear of the vehicle or built into its frame. Looking into a friend’s new RIVIAN pickup truck, I was amazed to see the storage space available between the “frunk” and the pickup body in back.
So, a modern auto technician working on a PHEV needs to know modern automobile electrical principles in addition to most of the internal combustion engine workings. Fortunately, the hybrid qualities of EV’s and hybrids have reduced much of the other maintenance required in non-hybrid vehicles in great part because of regenerative braking.
Russ Lanoie is a long-time solar proponent in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and operated his Alternative Systems business in the 1970s—80s selling solar hot water systems, composting toilets and Window Quilts®. He lives in a passive solar home which has had Daystar solar hot water for forty years, and 11kW of PVs on his barn since 2015. www.RuralHomeTech.com.
The engine compartment is very busy with a complete, albeit small, internal combustion engine, transmission, and electric motor. I have been able to find the windshield washer fluid filler- bottom left! (Courtey photo)