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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

October 18, 1992|CHRIS GOODRICH

SOLO: Life With an Electric Car by Noel Perrin (W.W. Norton: $18.95; 191 pp.). Noel Perrin, Dartmouth College professor and author of the "First Person Rural" series of books, was discussing energy conservation in January, 1990, when a student pointed out that a teacher of environmental studies shouldn't be commuting to campus in a gas-powered, earth-unfriendly vehicle. Perrin, chastened, vowed to get to class pollution-free by the end of the term, and before long--after a self-granted extension, of course--decidedto purchase an electric car. Perrin's pledge proved difficult to implement, given the primitive state of electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing in this country, but it makes for entertaining reading as the author flies out to Northern California to buy his converted Ford Escort wagon, brings it back to Vermont, and puts the car to work. It's disappointing that Perrin doesn't drive the EV cross-country, as planned--the car, dubbed Solo, can barely deal with the Sierra, and its 60-mile range won't do much good in the Nevada desert--but the journey is enjoyable anyway because of the many electric-car admirers Perrin encounters. Solo draws people like a magnet, even while being towed: the sympathetic, the curious, the occasional skeptic and, most important, the helpful, who give EV novice Perrin all kinds of sound advice. There isn't an enormous amount of information in "Solo," virtually none from the technical viewpoint, but Perrin makes the most of what he's got, and that's enough. Oddly, though, the most interesting chapter involves not Solo but Perrin's installation of a solar-energy system with which to generate electricity for the car--a system that developed sufficient power for Perrin to sell the excess, a few dollars' worth each month, to his local utility.

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