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Electric Cars Offer Energy Independence

With fuel prices still high, the electric car is becoming a more attractive form of transportation. Electric cars were first introduced in the 1970s, but the technology has dramatically improved in the last 10 years. By 2010 automakers like Mercedes and General Motors plan to bring their models to showrooms. Jeff Swicord introduces us to one man who uses electric cars built several years ago as his primary mode of transportation.

Like many people in the Washington D.C. area, Brian Murtha commutes five days a week, to downtown and back. But, he does it in an electric car.

Brian owns two factory-made electric vehicles: a Toyota Rav 4 EV and a Ford Ranger pick-up truck EV. These were produced in small numbers a few years ago. He charges them from electricity produced by solar panels on the roof of his house.

"After I retired from the Air Force, I set a goal not to use energy from anyone else off my property," Brian explained. "To make all my energy myself and be energy independent."

Major automakers are betting there will be more and more consumers like Brian in the future. Toyota, General Motors, and Mercedes plan to have an electric vehicle in showrooms within two years. The American made Chevy Volt prototype has received widespread attention at auto shows.

For now, fans of electric vehicles like Brian buy their electric cars on eBay. He paid $40,000 for the Toyota.

"It gives you 900 pounds on the lowest point of the car, which makes the center of gravity better than the gasoline version," Brian said. "Which makes roll-over less likely and gives you better handling."

The inside, with a few exceptions, looks like a gasoline-powered car.

"The electric motor is actually air cooled and produces so little heat it is not really of use in the winter time for heating the passenger cabin. So, Toyota put a heat pump in there," Brian explained.

He charges his cars in the garage by plugging into receptors. The electricity runs along wires that are connected to the solar panels on his roof.

"It charges about 25 percent an hour," he said. "So if you ran it down a quarter on the fuel gauge, if you were three quarters and you wanted to fill it all the way up, it would take you an hour."

Brian says driving to work with a gasoline powered vehicle would cost him about $8 a day in fuel.

"With the electric car it's about 20 to 25 kilowatt hours to go in and back," he said. "And say about .10 a kilowatt hour, that's about $3.00. And there really is not any maintenance."

His quest for energy independence includes his house. He has replaced appliances that run on natural gas with electric ones, including the furnace. But his solar array is not big enough to power the entire house and two cars.

"Well If I didn't have the electric vehicles to refuel, the 2200 watt array on the roof of my house, right now, almost completely powers the house," Brian said.

Brian plans to add another 7,000 watt array on top of his garage. It will give him more than 9,000, and that will be more power than he needs.