Some people have been solar-charging an electric vehicle for years, if not decades. And SolarChargedDriving.Com has been publishing stories about people who solar-charge for more than a year now. However, EV+PV is still not on the radar screen for most of the solar industry.
That’s changing, though – in part because solar companies are beginning to recognize that:
a) electric vehicles, which will suck down around 3,000 kWh of electricity annually, represent a tremendous growth opportunity for solar;
b) more and more current and prospective solar customers are thinking EV+PV and are aiming to size their systems so that they can power not only a home but fuel a car as well.
Colorado-based Simple Solar is one of those solar companies that’s realizing solar-charged driving is something it needs to start paying attention to.
In fact, inspired in part by an inquiry from SolarChargedDriving.Com about how many customers it had who are either current solar-charged drivers or who are considering plugging into EV+PV, Simple Solar recently researched – for the first time – how many EV-PVers it had among its customer ranks.
EV+PV growing in Colorado
The Boulder company found four current solar-charged drivers, including three who have either already expanded their original system size or who are seeking to increase their system size in order to boost their electric production to fuel an electric vehicle.
“Our clients drive us,” notes Steve Bauhs, Simple Solar’s director of sales and marketing. “The more of them that are getting electric vehicles, the more it’s going to drive us to be more aware of the connection. I find it pretty interesting that we found four of them.”
Bauhs says the solar industry has some general awareness about electric cars, but it has a long way to go before EVs, and EV+PV, become central to its business model.
“There’s definitely an opinion in the (solar) industry that electric vehicles are great – as long as it’s clean energy charging them,” says Bauhs. “But conversation about EVs is mostly ancillary.”
EV+PV won’t be a side conversation much longer at Simple Solar. The company is now looking into ways it can tap EV+PV to grow its solar customer base in Colorado, where it has installed about 500 systems since being founded in 1998.
The electric car movement
“We definitely want to be part of the movement to electric cars,” says Bauhs.
In fact, Simple Solar Chief Technology Officer and Founder Joe Callahan says Simple Solar is beginning to think about specific ways it could more actively tap into the EV+PV synergy. The company is considering everything from contacting local Nissan and Chevy dealers about the possibility of installing solar panels on their buildings and lots to purchasing a plug-in and using it as a Simple Solar vehicle, says Callahan.
“We’re willing to create a program that would give a discount to people who have EVs,” Callahan notes. “For example, we could discount the installation of the excess solar capacity of a system that’s designated for an electric car.”
Both Bauhs and Callahan indicate they’re optimistic that auto dealers will become interested in synergistic relationships with solar companies. However, Bauhs says he thinks it’ll be the solar industry, rather than the auto industry, that, at least initially, invests more time, money and effort into promoting solar-charged driving.
“I think the PV industry is more driven to see the connection, because [EV+PV] links more to our industry than to the auto industry, which is mostly interested in selling cars,” he says.
Millions could solar-charge a car
Not all homeowners will be able to install a residential system that produces enough electricity to power 100 percent of their home electricity use plus some, or all, of their annual miles in an electric car, acknowledge Bauhs and Callahan.
Shading issues, rooftop orientations, and, last but not least, draconian utility rebate regulations that in many cases preclude owners from putting up a solar system which produces more than 100 percent of their annual home electric use could make it difficult for some to plug into solar-charged driving.
However, putting the latter hurdle aside – one which can be partially overcome by adding to a current home solar system after one purchases an electric car and which may become a non-issue in two or three years when affordable EVs are widely available – Bauhs and Callahan estimate that approximately one-third of residential households along Colorado’s heavily populated Front Range have sufficient un-shaded, mostly south-facing rooftop space to house a solar system that would cover 100 percent of their annual home electric use plus many miles in an electric car.
“In a best-case scenario, about one-third of people could do it affordably,” suggests Bauhs. He estimates that another one-third of Front Range homeowners could support EV+PV off of their rooftop at a higher per watt cost than the lucky one-third who have a near perfect home rooftop for solar-powering a home – and an EV.
Don’t despair, though, if you’re among those people with no realistic possibility of installing a rooftop solar system. There are other options.
In Colorado, so-called Solar Gardens represent an alternative for people who can’t put up the residential solar system needed to plug into solar-charged driving individually.
The Solar Gardens approach allows people to come together and invest in a larger, often ground-based solar system to produce electricity -- for their home, apartment, for their car, etc. -- via solar energy.
“Solar Gardens could be great for those folks that can’t do it on their own,” says Callahan.
In states and places without Solar Gardens and which also might not be as good for solar geographically as Colorado, buying green energy from your utility to offset as much as your electricity use as possible is another way to ensure that your EV – and your home – are partially powered by renewable energy.
Solar-charged driving poised to take off
While Simple Solar is now definitely charged up about the renewable energy + EV combo and, more specifically, about solar-charged driving, Bauhs and Callahan say they think it will take awhile for the idea to take off.
Bauhs says the most important factor is raising public awareness about EV+PV is consumer access to electric vehicles.
“The availability of more electric cars will help a lot,” he says. “Then, I think you’ll see public awareness grow. People will see the full picture in terms of using clean energy to charge electric cars. Once they do, it’s going to become ubiquitous.”
Simple Solar won’t be missing out on the future ubiquity of solar-charged driving. It plans to invest itself in helping to grow public awareness of the solar + EV combination, say Bauhs and Callahan.
Says Callahan, “You’ll see something soon on our web site that promotes EV+PV.”
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