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Don’t be Scared to Solar Power Your Car


solar-cells-59792_1280You may not be Frankenstein nor Dracula, but things new like electric vehicles and solar power can be a bit scary, especially since they are usually pricey. But while electric or plug-in hybrid cars aren’t cheap, and neither are solar panels, more and more solar roof owners are turning to the sun to propel their vehicles.

Take Kevin Tofel, for example.  The 45 year old writer for technology website Gigoam had his home in Telford, Pennsylvania fitted with 41 solar panels back in 2011. He found that he got 13.8 megawatt-hours from his solar array in the first year of its operation.  Their home consumption, on the other hand, was just half that at 7.59 megawatt-hours.  So the following year, he traded in their Acura RDX for a Chevy Volt that could suck up the excess power.  The Volt used 5.074 megawatt-hours to drive 15,243 miles.

Tofel spends a fifth of his former gas bill, from $250 a month to just $50 a month now.  An overnight charge costs him $1.50, which he earns back during the day when the home exports excess solar power back to the grid.  By going plug-in, he will be able to recover his solar array cost within 6 years, from 11.7 years without the Volt.

Unfortunately, plugging-in a car into a home solar system isn’t for everyone.  What one should consider are:

1) Site – The roof of your house should be south or southeast facing to optimize solar power generation.  Furthermore, there shouldn’t be any shady trees around the house that could block the sun.  Sam Avery of Avery and Sun, a company that installs solar panels in Kentucky, says that a lot of house features like a chimney or dormers make it harder to install a solar array on the roof.  In fact, Avery says that they usually have to retrofit the homes that go solar.

2) Cost – While the cost of installing solar panels have dropped dramatically from $8-10 per watt eight years ago to $3 per watt today, that is still a very big investment.  Bill Webster from Frederick, Maryland shelled out $36,740 for his solar array three years ago.  He got tax credits worth around $16,740, though.  The added benefits were power savings, which used to hover at around $1,500 a year to just $5.36 per month now.  Also, he has an all-electric Nissan Leaf that uses a third of the power generated by his solar cells.  He expects to recover his investment in six years.

Some companies offer leasing programs where customers pay a fixed monthly fee for the use of the solar panels that can make the transition to solar easier.

3) Car – Tofel who lives in rural Kentucky had to go for the Volt because there weren’t a lot of charging stations along his commute.  Because of this he had to have a back-up gas engine, just in case. Webster, on the other hand, commutes less than 50 miles to his workplace in Washington, D.C. and his area has a lot of electric charging stations which makes a Nissan Leaf a sensible choice.

To help drivers choose, the US Department of Energy set-up the  Fuel Economy website to help.

So this means a lot of number crunching if you make the decision to go solar electric, or then again, maybe it doesn’t.

Avery says, “The reason to go solar is not to save money. The real reason to go solar is that we have to do it.”  So which is scarier for you, the numbers or climate change?

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