Electric Car Plus Solar Panels Is Winning Combination

By · May 06, 2011

Canning Garage

One man's EV and PV infrastructure, neatly arranged in the garage.

A couple of years before photographer James Canning decided to buy a Chevy Volt, he was receiving quotes for solar panels for his home/studio in Sacramento, Calif. Then, the 2010 Gulf Oil spill hit. “That was a wake-up call,” James told me. “My wife and I both felt partly responsible as consumers. We’re part of the problem if we’re creating demand for oil. That motivated us to make some decisions around getting a vehicle that consumes less.”

The Cannings bought their 2011 Chevy Volt in early January, and since then have purchased about 15 gallons of gas. At this pace, James’s annual gasoline buying will be about four tanks per year. That’s a significant reduction of oil consumption compared to the vehicle the Volt replaces: an Acura MDX, a SUV that gets about 15 mpg.

“I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy the Volt, in terms of it being fun to drive, comfortable, sporty and good-looking,” James said. “But it’s delightful.” He uses the Volt for photo shoots, including hauling all his gear, and has yet to wish he still had the MDX.

James especially appreciates that it takes about a dollar-and-a-half worth of electricity to charge his Volt—providing about the same travel miles as a $4 gallon of gas. He’s averaging about 35 miles of all-EV driving on a charge, although has managed up to 44 miles. The total lifetime fuel economy is currently reading 152 MPG.

Canning Volt display

Read it and weep: 152 lifetime mpg.

With the Volt in place, James is launching the next phase of his energy consumption project. His brand-new 8.5 kW photovoltaic system comes online any day, as soon as the county finishes inspections. Solar City came in with a price of $23,000, beating out the other quotes he's been collecting, and he jumped at it. James believes about 75 percent of his total electric usage will come from solar.

“During the day when the sun is shining, the solar panels will be enough to power the house and charge the vehicle,” he said. As a result, he’s not concerned about charging the car during the day—even though he signed up for the special EV program through Pacific, Gas & Electric, which features more expensive electric rates during the day and cheaper ones at night.

Canning Volt plugged in

James's first, but not last, plug-in car.

James plans to keep the Volt for 10 years—the same number of years he drove the MDX—and calculates the EV-PV combo will mean recouping the Volt’s premium by a wide margin during that period. At the same time, the solar will entirely pay for itself within about five years.

Now, he’s already looking ahead to the next step of his plan. When his wife’s Acura RSX—used for local daily commuting—reaches its 10-year lifespan in a couple of years, they will replace it with a pure electric car.

“We have the solar panels. With an extended range EV as one vehicle, and a pure EV for our commuter car, that’s perfect,” James said.


· Andres (not verified) · 7 years ago

Check out Fronius control system for the solar panels (power electronics). What a great Austrian company. I am glad they are in the US selling their solar technology.

· · 7 years ago

I think PV will be very popular among EV owners. Make your own fuel at home. Now we just need to get V2G in place!

· · 7 years ago

I think that's a lot of savings on his part. I guess sticking to an electric car is the best deal nowadays.

· 54mpg (not verified) · 7 years ago

"With an extended range EV as one vehicle, and a pure EV for our commuter car, that’s perfect,"

I think this will be the future. Some 25-50% of cars sold will be pure electric, the rest will be plug-in hybrid.

· Turbofroggy (not verified) · 7 years ago

8.5KW for $23,000? Something doesn't add up there, that is $2.70 a watt. It should have cost double that. I paid $4.23/watt installed for thin film and the panels cost $0.98/watt by the pallet for a 1.96KW system. My 5KW polycrystaline Sharp panel system was $6.25/watt installed with the panels costing around $3.80/watt at the time.

· Brian in WPB, FL (not verified) · 7 years ago

I have 11.73kWh PV system here in FLA. Powers the whole house and makes 20kWh extra per day even with overnight usage. As of right now Florida Power & Light pays me, and I do not have a energy bill. I have a LEAF on reservation with hopes to order in September (Nissan's second wave of initial orders).. I believe that if I have calculated everything correctly my total oil energy impact after receiving our LEAF will be zero with FPL still paying us. This is a great article, because the premise is that us as individuals need to take own responsibility to reduce our impact on the environment and the usage of oil. I hope all BEV and PHEV owners start to think in this way, its our way off oil dependence and back to economic prominence again.

· Heather (@ecotwin1) (not verified) · 7 years ago

I am anxiously waiting for the opportunity to purchase a Chevy Volt and plan to also charge it during the day using electricity generated via my 5.5 kw PV array. I was thinking of looking into adding on to my array and connecting it to a battery system to allow for charging in the evening when necessary. But my lifestyle (stay at home mom) will make charging during the day possible. Great to see other people using solar in this way. I can't wait to see solar charging stations pop up all over the country! Forward thinking employers should install them in their company parking lots...what a great way to charge EV vehicles for those commuting to work!

· · 7 years ago

@ Turbofroggy: You are correct, the cost of this guy's solar system is either incorrect or a very strange aberration. I'm responsible for a brand new 1 MW solar system being installed as we speak at my facility and, even including over $2.5 Million in rebates, we are still around $4.00/W.

Don't get me wrong - I love solar PV but something is very strange with this article.

· Brian in WPB, FL (not verified) · 7 years ago

@turbofroggy and @ Doug K --- If this person has the Yingli Green Energy 230W PV Module, Poly -- these are about $478 per panel (the least expensive panel on the market from China. If he has 37 (230w) panels at $478 = $17686, and 2 sunnyboy 5000w inverters at $2500 per ($5000) overkill on energy inversion, he is at $22686. So lets say the total with install is $45000 ($17,500 fo installation). If he recieved the 30% federal rebates and the california rebates, this person could possibly be close to that $23000 number. I know solar is getting cheaper, however I would be wary of really low project estimates. Remember you get what you pay for. For my 11.73 kWh system I recieved estimates at $63K & $74K, but the quality of the equipment and the installers know how made me think twice. This is not a project that should work for 10 years. It should work for 20 to 30 years and even longer with certain PV panels. Do your reseach before you purchase, its something you might regret if its done incorrectly, or in 5 years it does not meet your energy needs anymore.

· · 7 years ago

If an 8.5 kW system provides 75% of household usage, that's an enormous electricity consumption for a household. If one assumes 4 hours per day times rated output, such an array would produce about 34 kWh per day on average. That's a huge amount of electricity, by my standards anyway.

Simple conservation should be more cost-effective than a gigantic solar array.

If anyone would like to see how his/her household energy usage stacks up against others of similar climate and household size, check out the Energystar Home Energy Yardstick:

· GPMP (not verified) · 7 years ago

If you are on PG&E E-9, I hope you realize that you can 'buy back' the electricity you sold for 30 cents/kWh that afternoon for 6 cents/kWh if you charge your car at night. That's like buying gasoline for 80 cents a gallon if you agree to do it between midnight and 7am. Who wouldn't take that bargain?

Even though my panels don't generate enough kWh to match what I use. I end up with 4 months worth of $$$ at my true-up (on E-7). Time for electric wheels.

· Pawan (not verified) · 7 years ago

Must feel nice to have so much dough to spend....and why not? Those that have money can surely spend it to be green, those who can not must conserve, to each its own.
It is people like the protagonist of this article, who are going to bring down the prices for the rest of us :)
Way to go sir, i salute you.

· · 7 years ago

Lots of interest in this - that's great! Did any of you see the video clip of James Woolsey, the former CIA director, putting a bumper sticker "Bin Laden hates this car" on his Volt? A bit dated... As far as the cost of my PV system, you'll have to talk to SolarCity, the outfit who installed it, to understand how the finance works, but my total cost was $23K. The 75% cost savings is the average over a given year, since the PV system won't provide a surfeit of electricity during the winter months.

· · 7 years ago

FYI - Here's our interview with Volt-driving James Woolsey from March:


· George Parrott (not verified) · 7 years ago

Check out this article on the Consumer Reports website:


Also in Sacramento with both Volt and Leaf....

· · 7 years ago

EVs and solar PV are a great combination. I got both in 2007. When gas went to $4 per gallon in 2008 (like is has again now), I knew I made the right move. Solar is now cheaper than is was in 2007 and EVs (although still hard to get) are more available.

· · 7 years ago

A few months after getting my EV I realized that I'd be driving electric cars from then on. I had always thought about looking into solar, but getting the electric car really pushed me over the edge so I started calling around and getting estimates. About eight months later I had a SunPower 8.775kW system on my roof and I'm loving it.

It cost me about 40K out of pocket, and is producing about 10, 700kWh per year. We have a strong Solar Renewable Energy Coupon program here in NJ (Green Tags) so every 1mWh of electricity I produce I sell at market rate which has been around $665 each for a while now. So it's saves me $2,000/ yr in electricity and earns me about $7,000 in SREC sales. It will be paid off in less than four years when you figure in the Federal tax credits I'm getting.

It is really a fantastic combination. There is even a website called Solar Charged Driving that is dedicated to the EV+PV combo and the editor is a frequent commenter here: http://solarchargeddriving.com/

· Priusmaniac (not verified) · 7 years ago

Actually, I have planned 10 KW of panels on a new house along with a roof apex wind generator. These are likely to replace the chimneys during this century.

There are some good examples here:





I have been trying to conceive an roof apex wind generator based on a blade-less MHD generator with a vertical permanent magnetic field along the apex and vertical metallic plates separated at fixed intervals as negative and positive electrodes, but it came out I needed to put more ionization energy in the incoming wind air then what I could generate as electricity in the electrode plates. Not really a good yield. I had fun trying anyway. Of course, if the gas is already ionized then it has some interest but that would mean your roof is on fire which would render the system all but durable. Any suggestion to ionize for free is welcome.

· · 7 years ago

Glad to hear there are sites dedicated to the combo. I wanted to say something about the upfront cost - yes it's expensive to do this the way I did, but the payback makes it a better investment than the stock market, or real estate. There are financing options for the PV systems that lower the payback, but are still a positive ROI. Next up is a tankless water heater, and LED lighting.

· Michael Chiacos (not verified) · 7 years ago

Driving on Sunshine! More and more EV owners are going solar. My organization is heading up EV readiness efforts in the Santa Barbara area as well as offering a solar group purchasing program to make solar cheaper and easier to do. Check it out at www.PluginSB.org and www.SolarizeSB.org

· Rene (not verified) · 7 years ago

That's a good idea that many people have (two cars/solar panels at home). The one about the parkinglot would be awsome. This may already be out there, but why doesn't Chevy add solar panels to the car? Maybe the roof, hood, or trunk? Maybe they could get a good deal since they would buy it in mass amounts...I don't know just commenting.

· · 7 years ago

While solar panels on the car seems like it would make sense at first glance, when you run the numbers, you'll find that:
- You'd only be able to go about 1 - 2 miles per day on the energy that solar panels can collect from the surface area of a car.
- The weight and additional drag from the solar panels would likely reduce your miles by nearly as much as you'd benefit
- The added cost would be fairly significant for little if any benefit
- Putting the solar panels on the roof of your house gives you a lot more surface area to collect sunlight from and the panels can be placed facing the south (northern hemisphere) where they will be most effective.
- A small solar panel on the car to run a cooling fan can reduce the necessary size of the air conditioner on a car by keeping the inside car temperature nearly the same as outside. By not having to get the temperature down so far, so fast, the air conditioner can be more efficient. I'd definitely like to see this option explored more. The Nissan Leaf has a solar panel option but I don't think it runs the vent fan. It is mainly there for show but it does keep the 12 volt accessory battery charged.

· Tony W (not verified) · 7 years ago

A question for James Canning. I have a 9.6Kw rack mounted array also with a Fronius inverter in my garage. I have a Tesla model S on reserve and would like to charge the Tesla from as close to the inverter as possible. At least in MA, for net-metering, I believe the AC output cable from the Inverter is supposed to go back to the homes's electric service panel without diversions to any power consuming device (such as car charging). That means another long cable back to the garage. How did you get around this?

· crystal609 (not verified) · 7 years ago

Thanks for article; my thesis topic was about Solar panel. I want to share some information. Solar panels are such an intriguing technology. They are by no means perfect yet, but each year they are becoming steadily more efficient and less costly to produce. Whether you use them in a grid tie system or an off-grid one they will provide clean, efficient energy for years to come. Perhaps most impressively however, the typical solar installation includes no moving parts. That means there is nothing to break down or wear out through repeated motion.

· · 7 years ago

I agree that PV/EV is wonderful, but I am not so quick to advocate it as a national energy policy. How many people would go this route without the 40% tax credit ?

· · 7 years ago

I'm also surprised at the size of arrays people are putting up. It suggests that neither conservation or solar thermal are in the mix, or people are oversizing as an investment due to regulation mandated production credits.

· Jay Hennigan (not verified) · 7 years ago

I've been using the Chevy Volt and solar combination for about five months. Four KW of solar powers the house and the car. With time-of-use metering I'll get more than enough of a rebate from Edison to pay for the rare gasoline purchase. So far I have bought 28 gallons in five months primarily for long trips.

Here's the setup: http://www.west.net/~jay/images/voltsolar.jpg

And here's the power it produces: http://enlighten.enphaseenergy.com/public/systems/zyRu12037

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