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.

New to EVs? Start here

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