The Business Model for Solar-Powered Electric Car Charging

By · July 11, 2013

Tesla's Hawthorne Supercharger station.

Electric cars are often pictured in front of a solar array or wind turbine, when in reality most of our electricity comes non-renewable sources. Yet, there are three new projects that feature a close integration of solar power and electric car charging: the Tesla Supercharger network; the Fastned charging network in the Netherlands; and a collaboration between GM's OnStar and TimberRock.

The Tesla Supercharger network is the innovative company's proprietary fast charging technology, allowing a Model S to be completely recharged in less than an hour. The design combines high-voltage fast-charging, a solar-power carport, and a half-megawatt-hour stationary battery pack. Meanwhile, the Fastned network is planned for the Netherlands, and it will use a solar carport to generate some of the electricity required to charge cars. It will use charging stations manufactured by ABB that support both the CHADEMO and Combined Charging System standards for DC Fast Charging. There will be one fast charging station within 50 kilometers distance of nearly every Dutch citizen.

Clean Fuel for Clean Cars

Because most electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, it leaves electric car owners open to criticism that we're simply outsourcing the pollution to the power plant. It doesn't seem to matter how many studies show that the full emissions from the electric car is still cleaner than equivalent gasoline-powered cars, electric cars are tarnished with the "coal-fired" meme. But generating the electricity from solar panels erases that argument.

Elon Musk used that very argument as part of the rationale behind including solar power carports at Supercharger installations. They're working with Solar City to ensure the solar carports are big enough to generate more electricity over the course of a year than is consumed in charging the cars.

Business Model

Adding solar power to a charging station installation makes the charging stations more expensive. It might be nice for Tesla or the Fastned network in the Netherlands to combine solar power with electric car charging, but does it make financial sense to the business?

According to Musk, during the Supercharger announcement in May 2013, the capital cost per Supercharger station is about $150,000 without solar power. Adding solar power adds another $150,000 to the capital cost. He did not specify the cost of grid storage.

But if Tesla network grows to 250 stations across the U.S. and Canada, that would represent more than $37 million in capital cost just for the charging stations, and another $37 million to add solar power. During the May announcement, Musk said installation of the solar power and grid storage components of the supercharger stations would come after the stations are set up, lagging by more than a year. Nonetheless, the goal is for every supercharger installation to have solar power and grid storage.

How will Tesla make this work for its business? First of all, it helps sell cars, arming Tesla sales and marketing staff with an answer to any consumer questions about lack of range for road trips.

But the second facet of the model is just an important, even thought it's a bit wonky. It relates to the market for smart grid services. Musk said that Tesla is partnering with the utilities on grid energy storage, with Supercharger stations acting as a "grid buffer." Some utility rate structures impose large "demand charge" fees when there are large spikes in power usage. Plugging in a Model S causes about 90-120 kilowatts of electricity demand, which is a large demand spike. Placing a large battery pack, say a half-megawatt-hour next to the Supercharger station means the cars can be charged directly from that pack without the electricity grid seeing the spike.

Tesla may also be able to earn some revenue either from selling electricity to the grid, or from grid services like frequency stabilization. Musk didn't discuss this aspect of the business plan, but there are many companies working in this area.

GM's OnStar and TimberRock are developing solar-powered charging stations that will store energy.

In fact, General Motors announced on Wednesday a partnership with TimberRock for EV Solar Charging with many of the elements Tesla is using in the Supercharger stations. They are explicitly going after smart grid services that will scale electric car charging rate depending on capacity needs of the grid.

The system schematic for Fastned.

Fastned is planning to install about 200 stations in the Netherlands, each with chargers capable of a 50 kilowatt charging rate. Construction of the network begins in September 2013, and is expected to be completed in 2015.
Each station will have a solar canopy, and all the company said its goal is to "reduce peak on the grid and provide energy for charging."

Very few people were thinking about this when electric cars started hitting the market a couple of year ago, but smart grid services—enabled by inter-connected EV charging, solar panels and stationary battery packs—might become the unexpected killer app of the electric car era.


· · 4 years ago

The thing is, EV's in general use very little electricity, even if there were very large numbers of EV's on the road.

I guess I don't understand all the 'monitoring'. Unless of course the solar panels are just the excuse for it. But while Solar Panels have very legitimate uses,

· · 4 years ago

(cont from last post)

I'm not sure I understand the 'mandatory association' with EV's and them.

· · 4 years ago

@ Bill,

Well said, 1 million EVs driving 40 miles per day will only add 0.38% additional load to the existing US grid. I think all that talk about "grid damage" is really another tactic to scare off the EV adoption. Even at 10 million number, we are only talking about 3-4% here. We can easily increase the capacity to accomendate that. Also, I don't see EVs taking over the entire auto market until decades into the future.

Another good thing with the solar is "localized" distribution.

· · 4 years ago

90 kilowatts isn't "very little electricity" ... Yes, I've read studies along the lines of what Marvel said - that the Grid can take a lot of electric cars and be fine.

What I've heard power company representatives describe as their concern are two things:- 1) hot summer afternoons in August when all the air conditioners are cranked to 11 - and the grid is already stretched to capacity; 2) the capacity of the neighborhood-level transformer to handle the localized demand if a group of neighbors all decide they want electric cars

There's been a lot of work spanning over a decade working on smart grid interaction with electric cars.

One of the things they want is to treat the sum total of electric cars as a giant energy storage battery. The power system operators want the ability to suck electricity out of cars sitting in a parking lot connected to a charger, so that the cars can help stabilize the grid. It's still several years before that comes about.

In the meantime - a Supercharger station with 5 or 10 cars all charging at once means a half megawatt or full megawatt of electricity. That's a significant load. Yes in the scale of the whole system, it's a drop in the bucket of electricity consumption for a major city, but at that spot it's a significant load.

One issue charging network operators are facing is demand charges from operating fast charging stations.

· · 4 years ago

@David Herron

Actually on an absolute scale it is... About 10 houses in my neighborhood. But then it depends on the context. If you mean one individual car, then yes it is very inefficient usage of existing infrastructure since 1.4 kw could charge the same car, albeit longer.

Since they are closing down all the non-General Electric coal plants, things that were nonproblems in the past will be critical issues........ So I'm not exactly sure what we are playing at here, although I am fully cognizant of the UN's agenda 21.

· · 4 years ago

$150,000 for Solar PV?

If we go with a $4/watt cost that is a 37.5KW PV array. That is a nice big system that should handle a lot of cars.

· · 4 years ago

@David Herron

Alot of this stuff is just pipe dreams of consultants. I used to work for the phone company, and years ago AT&T was pushing ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network), or as I called it, It Still Does Nothing. Its claim to fame was you could talk on the phone, have your utility meter read, and run a charge card all at the same time. Whoopty do.

Utility metering schemes ended up using the customer's plain old phone line, or sometimes a cell phone. and made an outgoing call once a month for 10 seconds at 3 am..

Credit cards are used with regular phone lines or else now adays IP.

The only reason ISDN exists at all today is because of a medical app that sends x-rays over the phone. Its the sole major use of the service.

How does that relate to this?

1). Sucking power out of my personal battery, and the concurrent wear and tear on it, will not happen unless the car manufacturer guarantees me free replacements (something which is conceivably not out of the question for Tesla, although they are not down to 'free' yet as they are with the chargers). The other thing is that If I am pressed for time I'm sure not going to stop on a freeway to have my car FURTHER DISCHARGED.

2). The demand issue I used to be the only one concerned, or at least vocallizing the problem. For the past 70 years it was handled with time of day pricing, or, lately, load shedding arrangements. Some utilities give $25 / kw discount on certain days, but since they don't want to pay the money, its only to get them out of a jam, which means like only 4 days per year. Now suddenly everyone is worried about this. Guess they finally got the monthly demand charge bill. Green 'alt fuel' natural gas powered generators take care of this problem, and become a profit center if the fast charger facility is colocated/combined with some place that simultaneously needs hot water, such as a Car Wash.

· · 4 years ago

David, I agree with Bill first comments here -- slapping solar right on top of charging stations is mostly for marketing reasons. It's good to preempt the already-a-zillion-time-busted long tailpipe argument, but other benefits aren't quite as dramatic.
Of course, providing shade is good, but the same would be true over any other parking spot. Generating clean power is great too, but maybe the roof of the adjacent building would prove to be a much better location for those PV modules, so why not there instead (or in addition)?

I think your article also misstates a few things.

"Most electricity comes from burning fossil fuels": NOPE, absolutely not, not where and when it matters.

First, a full 1/3 of all EVs sold in the US are in California alone.
Not only does this state already generates most of its electricity from carbon-neutral sources and is getting cleaner every year, 4 out of 10 plug-in drivers installed solar on their home, and I reckon that many of the others take advantage of green power options utilities offer.
(and before Bill's blood pressure rises, thinking how expensive that must be: my utility charges 9.5c/kW*h for 100% carbon-neutral, or 11c/kW*h for wind+solar only, all day long)

Furthermore, even with occasional QCs during the day, the overwhelming majority of charging occurs off-peak, when ample capacity (especially wind) is available and dirtier peaker power plants are offline.

David states "Very few people were thinking about [smart grid services] when electric cars started hitting the market a couple of year ago" (sic), then comment "There's been a lot of work spanning over a decade working on smart grid interaction with electric cars."
Well... :-)

Concerns about EVs quick-charging on a hot afternoon when air conditioners are running full-tilt are not only IMHO overblown (just compare grid total vs number of quick-chargers at max output), they've have already been addressed: QCs can, and most do, support demand response / load shedding. Heck, even my year-old home EVSE does. More importantly (unbelievably, there are more ACs then quick-chargers), some utilities offer rebates or other perks to companies or individuals who do the same for their AC.

Btw, having charging stations -- not the vehicles -- be somewhat grid-aware is obviously the way to go, as they can best determine the condition of their power source. Compare that to GM/OnStar approach, making guesses on whether vehicles should charge based on... what, GPS (good luck if parked indoor) or home address?.. Yeah, that's going to be reliable...

[PS, Bill, none has ever suggested sucking electrons out of an EV battery unless its owner agrees to it, and especially not at a freeway quick-charging station.]

· · 4 years ago

@Mr. O.

If you are talking about 9.5 cents or 11 cents/kwh in California, are you talking about a separate meter / electric car charging rate? Is it that price at 3pm on Aug 1st? I thought most Californians paid 33 cents per kwh on your 'tier 4', which is why everyone out there is rushing to put in Solar Panels and Windmills to avoid the extortion. If you get that rate at 3pm in the afternoon, then its silly of the utility to supply it since the Non-EV customers are subsidizing you.

My BP is ok, but the only time my car is usually plugged in is overnight, which if I had a time of day scheme it will be the ONLY time its plugged in..Of course. then, there is the totally opposite problem of TOO LITTLE SYSTEM DEMAND, which EV's charging after midnight cure this problem, not cause it, which is why this V2G thing is silly.

Reitterating, the only time V2G is feasible for 95% of the people is for those who charge after midnight, but at that time the Utility needs higher demand, not more generation.

The only conceivable victims of V2G would be 3rd shift, and employee parking lots, and if you need to suck juice out of cars to keep the lights on at that time then our 'Grid' (I hate that term since its as informative as "power surge") has delapidated back down to 3rd world conditions.

As far as doing things without permission, On-Star**(Reg TM - US) has been caught selling user data after the expiration date, which means they are still monitoring you and making money after you've thought you'd retired it, and shut it off. The only way to fully shut it off is to cut the wire.

· · 4 years ago

A few million EVs are only good for the grid, as they utilize undercapacity at night. As EVs ramp up, they cause problems, but they also create solutions, because of the scaling of battery manufacture. We're going to look around in 15 years and wonder what anyone was worrying about.

· · 4 years ago


Of course you're totally right. People don't realize that the simple act of charging an EV at night, and driving it during the day is already performing this otherwise dopey V2G function. And not one person besides me has taken the inefficiencies into account should people want to do this. Emergencies are quite another matter, or 'Wilderness Power" such as offered by Via Motors, since these are performing business functions.

Electrical Kilowatt hours are being consumed by customers just driving their cars during the daytime, draining down their batteries but not putting any load on the "GRID" at all. The vast majority of recharging happens at night when UTILITIES want more Demand.

All these articles turn what is already a solution into a supposed problem.

· · 4 years ago

Yes, IMHO V2G is silly. I don't want to cycle my battery any more than needed for my own driving. The only thing that makes sense to me as a private EV owner is a grid interactive EVSE. Basically, the idea is that the EVSE would look at the power characteristics (voltage, frequency) or have a Zigbee radio or such to get signals from the utility, and reduce the charging current when warranted. This is easy to do with the Pilot signal between the EVSE and the car's onboard charger - provided the onboard charger is designed to expect a changing, not constant, pilot signal. I only charge between midnight and 7am because I am incentivized to do that by my utility rates. During months that my solar keeps my net usage down in the first tier, I'm only paying 3.9 or 4.8 cents/kWh to charge. Tier 1 summer peak is 31 cents/kWh.

· · 4 years ago

@Mike I

Yeah but as mentioned, since you only charge between 12-7 there would be no time ever that the utility would want u to decrease demand.... They'd want you to buy another car and charge that one at this time period too.

· · 4 years ago

It doesn't seem to matter how many studies show that the full emissions from the electric car is still cleaner than equivalent gasoline-powered cars ...

Nor, apparently, the quite obvious fact that a really long "tailpipe" has the ability to keep the pollution away from other people's faces, vs bumper-to-bumper traffic that shoves the tailpipe of the guy in front of me right under my own nose, and mine under the next person's. Nor the equally obvious fact that cleaning up the emissions from one centralized plant is a lot easier than cleaning up the emissions from thousands of cars. So, it's a big win in at least three different obvious ways, and yet none of them count.

· · 4 years ago

@Bill (and sorry everyone else, I tried to avoid this very discussion), this 9.5c/kW*h rate is for carbon-neutral single-meter residential non-TOU (time-of-use) baseline, so yes, including Aug 1 at 3pm.
There is no special metering or rate option for EV owners, nobody charges at the expense of other ratepayers. One house, one meter, and the utility doesn't care if those electrons are used to turn wheels, heat water, dry stuff, grow stuff... Fair and straightforward, I like that.

Should one be stupid enough to opt for TOU, yet burn through 300% baseline (something I never came close even with a family of 4 and 16k electric miles/year) during peak hours, the last and most expensive kW*h possible would be 23.2c during 4 summer months, 17.8c the rest of the year.
Non-TOU top tier is 17.4c/kW*h.
In both cases, this means one also consumed hundreds of cheaper kW*h, so the overall bill will always be less than those worst-case rates imply.

Back on topic:
V2G isn't for us regular drivers anyway. It may be interesting in commercial setups, where a number of vehicles and/or quick-charger buffer batteries are standing by at certain times, and their usage patterns are relatively predictable.
I'm not very familiar with grid frequency stabilization, but my understanding is that it requires measurable amount of power to be injected (or consumed) but for short periods. The energy transferred overall should easily remain limited to a small fraction of the batteries capacity; if so the vehicle/charger availability wouldn't even be impacted.

· · 4 years ago

@Mr. O

Well you didn't mention the utility but I imagine it is PG&E. You may not realize this but They do have a lower rate if you install a separate meter, and I've heard enough blogs by now to know that some californian EV drivers are having the dedicated metering put in. Its mentioned in the rate tarif, which I've read (at least the residential side, and some of the light commercial. Since it doesn't concern me I skipped the industrial, and wheeling side of things).

Frequency Stabilization has been blown totally out of proportion.. Its more an interconnection/ power transfer issue between 'grids'. Power factor correction is the bigger deal, but of course people rarely talk about that since they would have to know what it is.

· · 4 years ago

1/ I'm a bit puzzled by everyone's fear of their battery being sucked dry by V2G. It is such an obviously useful facility - to utility and customer alike - in making the grid much more robust, it is inevitable. It's not going to happen tomorrow though as new 'smart' meters will be needed in every EV-using home and, of course, we'd need a lot more EVs out there. I imagine the amount of energy any one V2G connected EV would lose would be less than 1% for any particular 'episode'. And you will be able to opt out... and you'd get paid for it. So, stop fretting.

2/ Adding PV to SuperChargers is equally obviously sensible. Firstly it means cars can sit under the array and stay cool and secondly, it generates lots of power and does it *locally*! Why people imagine it doesn't make financial sense is completely mystifying to me. It's how SolarCity (and many others) make their money! And they are doing very well thank you! On site storage is entirely another matter. In populated areas it makes very little sense unless you are really worried about the mains failing, in the middle of no-where it might stack up, particularly (obviously) if there is no mains available.

· · 4 years ago

@Bill Howland: no, Mr O's link goes to which is a municipal utility, not PG&E.

Back when I lived in that area, people in most of the MUDs paid about half what those of us with private-company utilities paid. The big exception was the Sacramento MUD, which was only a little cheaper instead of a lot. :-)

· · 4 years ago


Well, it has not happened yet, and ultimate profitability has not been demonstrated to my satisfaction. Additionally, I believe additional revenue source for Solar City is home solar installations 'incentivized' by California's Tier plan and also EVSE installations for people who do not make other arrangements.

We taxpayers have the same situation in NY State. Municipal Utilities get a bonanza that the rest of us not lucky enough to be located there have to subsidize. The municipal utilities by me charge roughly 1/2 to 1/3 what I pay, therefore everyone there has electric heat and no natural gas.

If people really paid what it costs to maintain the service, the rest of us would benefit from what would be otherwise cheap hydropower from Niagara Falls.

· · 4 years ago


"..... I imagine the amount of energy any one V2G connected EV would lose would be less than 1% for any particular 'episode'. ....."

Ok lets take the most popular EV, the Nissan Leaf with , when brand new, a 24,000 wh battery.. Less than 1% would be less than 240 watt hours, (and actually less than 200 wh when taking into account losses).

Basic Question: Under what scenario "per episode" will the utility desperately need only 200 wh of electricity (about 2 1/2 pennies worth here considering all costs, or if youre considering the value of this electricity minus delivery charges, then it is around 1.2 cents, to which you have to subtract the delivery expense from this penny) when the utility's need coincides with the cars' being available?. And what is the cost to provide this facility per car?

There are much much cheaper ways for a utility to obtain 1.2 cents worth of electricity.

· · 4 years ago

Yes, power factor correction would be the correct use for this. Also, local voltage support like when the lights dim when he A/C turns on, and whole house battery back-up for when the power goes out. I think those would be the main uses and wouldn't use that much battery. I wouldn't want my battery to drain at unpredictable times during the day or night.

· · 4 years ago

@Jesse Gurr

No way is a car battery needed for power factor correction, nor can it help if it wanted to. EVSE's and the related charger in the car are almost unity power factor devices..If this is what the "EV Pundits" here believe, then I am sorry, this is a laughable situation and therefore proves my whole point. Power factor is the inverse of dissipation factor, and is only tangentially related to 'voltage support'.

Light dimming aleviation is handled through properly adjusted voltage regulators, in combination with starting current step change limitations. This is much less of a problem these days anyway since more and more LED's and CFL's are used which are much less sensive to pressure changes. Along with almost totally regulated power supplies in electronic equipment. Chronic light dimming with large AC condensors are solved with relay and capacitor hard start kits, which will make the compressor accelerate around ten times faster due to restoring the starting torque. 3 phase equipment is more and more running off of Pulse Width Modulated drives, which have no starting current at all, (or more to the point, less than the running current, which the voltage regulator will take care of).

· · 4 years ago

I fear I may have lost some of the uninitiated here.

A few definitions:

Power Factor (pf) is equal to the inverse of Dissipation factor. Q= 1/pf, where pf can range from 0 to 1. Before self styled math wizzes say this can't happen, infinite Q and non-existent powerfactors are idealizations, where in real life the power factor can only go down to very low (a Hiqh - Q, if you will ) (.0001) or high (near 1).

pf is the extent that a circuit behaves like a well behaved toaster (heating elements have pf's of .9999), , or incandescent light bulb, the easiest to supply electric loads.

A low pf circuit has a high degree of circulating currents caused by unwanted inductance (lagging pf) or capacitance (leading pf).

The "toasterness' of a given circuit as indicated by its pf is unrelated to the issue of large transient loads such as washers , refrigerators, airconditioners, or jet pumps starting with large starting currents that are relieved after the load accelerates. These large temporary loads may have high pf, low pf, on anything in between.

Power factor correction refers to the act of making a circuit more like a light bulb to the powerplant, not supplying huge transient loads without the slightest light flicker.

Ok, now having cleared that up, apparently most here think it would be a neato use for an EV to suddenly dump alot of juice into the line so that the air conditioner starting up next door doesnt dim your lights THE SLIGHTEST LITTLE BIT.

A typical value for the LRA (Locked Rotor Amperes) of a decent sized home central air conditioning condenser is 168 amps . This is 40 kva. So we need over 10 Nissan Leafs to provide adequate current.


1). How do we prevent the leaf's from 'motorboating' (in other words, trying to regulate the line so tightly that they over correct then under correct, etc) and making the lights get brigher and dimmer, and turn a home's lights into an amusement house of mirrors.

2). This one is even more basic. Since the utility does not claim to provide a 'totally flicker free environment', (they only guarantee tolerable light flicker), and since they don't pay you for zero light flicker, why is it in the utility's advantage to cure what has been deemed for the past 120 years, a Non-Problem? Therefore, where is all this money supposed to come from that the utilty is going to pay you to correct any imagined light flicker?

· · 4 years ago

@ Bill - My point generally is that as there will ultimately be 100's of 1000's of EVs connected to the grid 'smartly', collectively the drain will be potentially very large but an individual EVs pack will see a tiny share of the demand. In any event, if you don't want to lose *any* power from your pack, I feel sure there will be a way to prevent it.

· · 4 years ago


Let me ask a very basic question. Why, specifically, are we doing any of this? What are we trying to accomplish? If it is to get free CA$H then who is paying it out and why?

· · 4 years ago

@ Bill - I get it - you don't agree with the idea of V2G. I do, for the reasons stated above and probably many more and I don't want to bore readers repeating it all here. As for 'CA$H', I would assume owners of V2G connected EVs would be compensated for the use of their EVs battery. Perhaps this is why Tesla is talking abut including storage at its stations!

· · 4 years ago

I think what David is suggesting is that from a business perspective, the notion of having fast charge stations outfitted with storage has possible financial applications beyond reducing the costs associated with demand charges. Utilities are very interested in grid level storage and have been piloting new technology across North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific. Some ancillary services are expensive for utilities and ISOs to because of the fast response required.

To use PJM as an example, they send out current regulation signals every 4 seconds. An ancillary service market has been established and fair compensation is now mandated by regulation. If you have multiple MW of storage (associated with fast charge stations) over a service area like that supported by PJM, the compensation might be quite lucrative and influence the business model of fast charge station deployment.

V2G has been under investigation by various ISOs and energy research entities for at least a decade. The original ideas was that if EV owners (like traditional ICE vehicle owners) kept their EVs parked and plugged in for a good part of the peak load period of each day that there was a combined resource of some significance. Additionally, if each owner could be compensated for minimal use of their battery capacity during parked charge cycles that it would help the owners defray some of the high upfront cost of EV purchase. Not a bad idea but I always thought that the notion of trying to aggregate and manage a “moving” target like EV storage made less sense then using stationary storage. As David suggested, associating this storage with charging stations rather than individual vehicles means a less complex solution for regional coverage of ancillary services.

· · 4 years ago

@ JimF - I don't know if your comment was aimed at my last one but we are saying the same thing. Utilities will pay for your (or Tesla's, or anyone else's) battery load levelling facility. Potentially it would mean building fewer new power stations and spending less on upgrading the grid. What's not to like? As you implied, everyone's a winner.

Using EVs aren't really a moving target. Either the 'smart grid' infrastructure is in place or it isn't - and it probably will be in due course, anyway (definitely so here in the UK as all the electric providers are signed up to it already), and if it is, the whole thing would be automatic. Once basic patterns of usage are established the utility would be able to rely on V2G, 90% or so of the time.

What's more, unlike centralised (more so than houses and car parks, at least), large dollops of storage aren't as efficient as V2G would be, where the power is literally on your door step.

· · 4 years ago

@martinwinlow, Jimf

Well I can't comment if you are afraid to bore other readers. But I think they'd be interested in knowing the rationale for this in the first place.

Its very arrogant of you guys to not answer simple questions. And you guys are generalizing to the point where I simply don't know what you talking about. If any other readers do, please chime in, because to me, it doesn't add up.

· · 4 years ago

I finally found a good explanation of this...

Apparently GM has come to the wonderful conclusion that:

A). The sun shines during the daytime.

B). Cars mostly charge after midnight.

I wonder how many teams of experts were necessary to come to those conclusions?

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