Solar for Gas

Here’s an unusual article coming from a main-line media source, AP and ABC news.  It details what we’ve already found and are living with on a day-to-day basis.

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Electric-Car Drivers

Trading Gas for Solar Power


DETROIT — Oct 28, 2014, 5:30 PM ET



Owners of electric vehicles have already gone gas-free. Now, a growing number are powering their cars with sunlight.

Solar panels installed on the roof of a home or garage can easily generate enough electricity to power an electric or plug-in gas-electric hybrid vehicle. The panels aren’t cheap, and neither are the cars. A Ford Fusion Energi plug-in sedan, for example, is $7,200 more than an equivalent gas-powered Fusion even after a $4,007 federal tax credit.

But advocates say the investment pays off over time and is worth it for the thrill of fossil fuel-free driving.


“We think it was one of the

best things in the world to do,”


… says Kevin Tofel, who bought a Chevrolet Volt in 2012 to soak up the excess power from his home solar-energy system.


“We will never go back to an all-gas car.”


No one knows exactly how many electric cars are being powered by solar energy, but the number of electric and plug-in hybrid cars in the U.S. is growing. Last year, 97,563 were sold in the U.S., according to Ward’s AutoInfoBank, up 83 percent from the year before. Meanwhile, solar installations grew 21 percent in the second quarter of this year, and more than 500,000 homes and businesses now have them, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Tofel, 45, a senior writer for the technology website Gigaom, installed 41 solar panels on the roof of his Telford, Pennsylvania, home in 2011. The solar array — the term for a group of panels — cost $51,865, but after state and federal tax credits, the total cost was $29,205.

In the first year, Tofel found that the panels provided 13.8 megawatt hours of electricity, but his family was using only 7.59 megawatt hours. So in 2012, Tofel traded in an Acura RDX for a Volt plug-in hybrid that could be charged using some of that excess solar energy. In a typical year, with 15,243 miles of driving, the Volt used 5.074 megawatt hours.

Tofel used to spend $250 per month on gas for the Acura; now, he spends just $50, for the times when the Volt isn’t near a charging station and he has to fill its backup gas engine. Charging the Volt overnight costs him $1.50, but the family makes that money back during the day when it sends solar power to the electric grid. He estimates that adding the car will cut his break-even point on the solar investment from 11.7 years to six years.

Powering a car with solar energy isn’t for everyone. Among things to consider:



A south- or southeast-facing roof is a necessity, and there can’t be shady trees around the house. Sam Avery, who installs solar panels in Kentucky through his company, Avery and Sun, says dormers, chimneys and other design features can hamper an installation. He says,


“If people do have a good site,

it’s usually by chance.  I

have to retrofit a lot.”



The cost of installing solar panels has come down, from $8 to $10 per watt eight years ago to $3 a watt or less now. But it’s still a huge investment.

Bill Webster, 39, a graphic designer at a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., paid $36,740 for his solar array in Frederick, Maryland, three years ago, or around $3.60 per watt. Tax credits reduced his net cost to around $20,000.

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Some of the article cited numbers of panels.  That’s misleading.  We began our Garden Atrium development by using 72 panels to get 3 kW of power.  The next four homes have 24 panels to get 3 kW.  The last two have only 14 panels to get 3 kW.  Look at power numbers, not numbers of panels.

In 2013, we added 2 kW for just under $9,000, so let’s assume PV power is under $4,500 per kW.  Normally, 3 kW will provide all you need for your home, and 2 kW will provide all you need for local driving.  Inverters, which change DC current into AC current cost the same for 3 kW and 5 kW, so let’s assume $22,500 (or thereabouts) for a 5 kW system.

30% is returned to you as a tax credit, so your cost is now $15,750.

If you finance this purchase at about 4%, your monthly cost to power your home and car is about $75.  Not bad?

We also get SRECs – solar renewable energy credits – which average around $140 a month, so we actually make a profit on our power!  (SREC payments vary according to how much a carbon trader can sell the power for to a utility in need of such credits.)

As to what car to drive, the article cites both hybrids (which, by definition, must be plug in) or all-electric cars.  SMART – an amazingly fun car to drive – runs around $25,000 with a 70 mile range.  Tesla – at the high end of the scale – runs around $75,000 with a 175 mile range.

Tax credits for electric cars max at $7,500.  Actual costs vary, of course, with the dealer and the options you want.  But, looking at the monthly cost to live and drive with solar power … it’s a lot less than with fossil fuels … and getting less expensive almost daily.

Other than needing a place on your site – a rooftop or even a fence – that sits in full sun, it’s a sensible switch whose time has come.

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