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Electric cars plug in to a solar-charged EV charging station in Portland, Oregon.


A good friend of mine and I were about halfway into a three-hour brainstorming session for SCD.Com in July of 2009 when he turned to me and asked: “I must be dense or something, but I’m still not quite sure what solar-charged driving is. Can you run it by me again?”

Actually, I hadn’t spent much time explaining to Rich what I mean by solar-charged driving.

So, I reigned myself in from my somewhat unfocused brainstorming mode, took a breath, and explained solar-charged driving to Rich.

Solar-charged vs. solar-powered driving
“Basically,” I said. “You put solar panels on your home or on your garage. The solar panels generate electricity. You plug your electric vehicle into a wall outlet. The electricity produced by the solar panels on your home roof flows out of the outlet and charges the batteries in your EV.”

“OK, now I get it,” said Rich, with a big emphasis on the word now. “Now it makes sense.”

I think this is the vision many, maybe even most, people have when they think about cars and solar energy: You know, the futuristic, sleek, cool — but also impractical “solar cars” like the one developed by the MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team.

Rich is an extremely bright guy, but he had been visualizing a solar-powered car, or a car with solar panels on top of it powered directly by these panels.

I think this is the vision many, maybe even most, people have when they think about cars and solar energy: You know, the futuristic, sleek, cool — but also impractical “solar cars” like the one developed by the MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team.

house, solar panels & PHEV = solar-charged drivingWhile these solar-powered cars are cool, that’s not what I was talking about with Rich — or what we will be focusing primarily on here on the pages of SolarChargedDriving.Com (however, while it won’t be our focus, we will cover solar-powered driving).

What I was talking about — and what we will be focusing on at SolarChargedDriving.Com — are electric vehicles (EVs) whose batteries are charged by electricity generated by solar panels, or solar-charged electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs).

How solar-charged driving differs from solar-powered driving
Solar-charged driving is very different from solar-powered driving in a number of ways.

The most significant difference is that solar-charged driving is practical, easy, and will soon be within reach for millions of Americans and people around the world. Solar-powered driving, on the other hand, is not practical, not easy — you need a team of engineers to build your car — and will not be within easy reach for millions any time soon. Don’t get me wrong, we at SolarChargedDriving.Com are big solar-powered driving enthusiasts.

Solar driving — or solar-charged driving — is about putting solar panels on a rooftop — a home rooftop, a garage rooftop, a warehouse rooftop, a shopping mall rooftop, or a solar carport rooftop (a solar carport is a carport with solar panels that produce electricity that an EV or PHEV can then use to charge its batteries), plugging in your EV or PHEV, charging the batteries, and driving away at normal speeds, in everyday traffic, with everyone else!

But we also want to the world to know that “solar driving” does not mean putting along at 30 miles per hour, or less, and rolling to a lazy stop when it starts raining.

Solar driving — or solar-charged driving — is about putting solar panels on a rooftop — a home rooftop, a garage rooftop, a warehouse rooftop, a shopping mall rooftop, or a solar carport rooftop (a solar carport is a carport with solar panels that produce electricity that an EV or PHEV can then use to charge its batteries), plugging in your EV or PHEV, charging the batteries, and driving away at normal speeds, in everyday traffic, with everyone else!

It really is that easy — and that practical.

Actually, we should qualify. Very soon — when major automakers such as Ford, Nissan, GM, Toyota, and others start rolling EVs and PHEVs off their assembly lines sometime within the next year or so — it really will be that easy, that practical, and, we think, just so incredibly cool to be a solar-charged driver! No one will know your car is running on sun. Unless, of course, you advertise this on your car — which we strongly encourage you to do!

Running your car on sun a three-step process

So, how do you run your car on the sun? Here’s the three-step process

  1. Install a solar system on your home.
  2. Buy an EV or PHEV.
  3. Plug it in.

OK, we’re oversimplifying a bit. Solar systems cost money, significant money — though over time they are an investment that nearly always more than pays for itself.

Like any new technologies, EVs and PHEVs will also be expensive when they arrive en masse — in fact EVs have been around a long time more than one-hundred years — with sticker prices for the mainstream EVs and PHEVs built by GM, Ford, Nissan and others likely to exceed $30,000.

Of course, one needs to take into account that an EV will use no gasoline at all, and that electricity, whether generated by solar or coal, is a far cheaper way to fuel a car than with gasoline — right now, about three-times cheaper. This EV fuel cost advantage is with gas prices (in the U.S.) comparatively low. And there’s little doubt that gasoline prices will rise over time, probably astronomically.

What counts as running your car on sun?
In terms of plugging your car in, one might ask, what if you plug your EV or PHEV in at night, when the sun isn’t shining, is your car really running off sun? Technically, no.

If over the course of a year — a year is the easiest way to conceive of this question — the solar panels on your house produce enough kilowatt hours (kWh) to power both your total home electric use and the miles you put on your EV and/or PHEV, then it is fair to say that you are, annually speaking, running your car on sun!

However, if you plug your car in during a long June summer day, the technical answer could be yes (depending on how much electricity your home is drawing and how much the panels are generating at that time) — your EVs batteries are being directly charged by solar-generated energy, possibly by solar energy alone!

Basically, some of the time, the batteries of your EV or PHEV will be juiced directly by sun energy, other times they will not.

However, if over the course of a year — a year is the easiest way to conceive of this question — the solar panels on your house produce enough kilowatt hours (kWh) to power both your total home electric use and the miles you put on your EV and/or PHEV, then it is fair to say that you are, annually speaking, running your car on sun!

Don’t despair if you can’t put a solar system on your home which produces enough electricity to fully offset your home and driving electric use. Every little bit helps.

Help the grid go solar!
That’s because as more and more homeowners, and companies and institutions go solar, and as more utilities invest more in solar energy, more and more of the electric grid will be powered by solar, and, ideally, other renewables.

The more people who put solar panels on their home, the more those of us who move to EVs and PHEVs can say all of us are running our cars on the sun.

This means when you plug in your EV and/or PHEV, more of the electricity you use to charge its batteries will have been produced by solar energy. In other words, the more people who put solar panels on their home, the more those of us who move to EVs and PHEVs can say all of us are running our cars on the sun.

While we at SolarChargedDriving.Com don’t want to oversimplify solar-charged driving, we do want to show the world that it is possible, that it is do-able, that it is practical, and that it can be — and we believe, should be — done by as many Americans, and people, around the world as possible.

So, how do you “do” solar-charged driving? It’s as easy as 1-2-3.

  1. Put solar panels on your home’s roof.
  2. Purchase an EV/PHEV.
  3. Plug it in to the power of the sun!

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