Millions of Americans could one day run their cars on sun. And if Jim Jenal has anything to do with it, many of the future Sun Milers™ living in the Los Angeles and Pasadena, Calif. area will generate their one-hundred percent air pollution free solar fuel via a Run On Sun home solar system.
The CEO of Run On Sun, a Pasadena, Calif. based solar company, Jenal is ahead of 99.9 percent of the solar industry on solar-charged driving.
A couple of months ago, Jenal added a set of pages to Run On Sun’s web site devoted specifically to promoting solar-charged driving, including a well-placed teaser graphic on the site’s home page, which draws prospective solar customers in with the following pitch: “Thinking of an electric car? See why solar power is your best fuel!”
The inspiration to begin actively promoting EV+PV at Run On Sun came at a Los Angeles Renewable Energy Society meeting Jenal attended several months ago. There, a representative from Plug In America, a national non-profit advocacy group for electric vehicles talked about electric cars – and about the potential of renewable energy forms as a source of fuel for EVs.
“We hope that we’re a little ahead of that curve on this,” explained Jenal in a recent phone interview with SolarChargedDriving.Com. “We’re hoping that as people go out and look at things like solar and electric cars on the web that what we’re doing sticks with them.”
Run on Sun CEO will soon run own car on sun
Technically, Run On Sun hasn’t yet installed a home solar system for a customer interested in using clean, sun-produced electricity to fuel a future electric car.
The whole point of it as a synergy is that people who have been thinking of one or the other will begin to marry them together. I think they are self-reinforcing. The person who buys solar, will think, ‘I should make my next car electric’. And the person who buys the EV will say, ‘Wow, I really want to be powering this off of my home’s roof’.
–Jim Jenal, Founder & CEO, Run On Sun
However, if you count Jenal himself as a customer, the picture changes. Run On Sun installed a 4.8 kW system on the Jenal family’s Pasadena roof three years ago. And sometime within the next year there’s a decent chance that one of the cars parked in the Jenals’ driveway will be an EV, most likely a Nissan LEAF (Jenal is one of the more than 16,000 American consumers who’ve put down a $99 reservation deposit on a LEAF).
Jenal’s LEAF won’t look like every other LEAF. Jenal plans to ad-wrap his and use it as what promises to be a powerful marketing tool for Run On Sun. In smog-choked but sunny Southern California, this marketing approach seems bound to have significant appeal. Add in the attraction of independent, comparatively low-cost fueling and the potential appeal of solar-charged driving in California is extremely high, says Jenal, who, rather like us at SolarChargedDriving.Com, has clearly caught the EV+PV bug.
While solar-charged driving is mostly the province of the elite right now – Jenal says he’s talked to people at Tesla Motors who estimate that up to half of the 1,000 Roadster owners in the U.S. have solar on their homes – the Run On Sun founder predicts that’s going to change with more affordable, mass-produced plug-in cars like the LEAF and the Chevy Volt on their way. Both are set to begin rolling of assembly lines in late 2010.
“I think it’s just a natural synergy,” Jenal says of solar + electric cars.
The infamous L.A. traffic jams – in which Jenal himself often sat for 13 years as he commuted from his Pasadena home to the law office he worked at in L.A. — helped inspire him to start thinking seriously about EVs.
EV burns nothing when stuck in traffic
“You’re just sitting there, idling, burning gas – and you’re not going anywhere!” explains Jenal. “The notion that you’re not burning anything while you’re sitting there in an EV is very appealing.”
In fact, Jenal put himself on the list for an Aptera electric car during his Pasadena-to-L.A. commuting days. He’s since taken himself off the list. This, he says, is mostly because it’s taken Aptera too long to deliver a car to him, but also in part because “it’s clear that the Nissan LEAF is really coming”.
As Jenal shifted professional gears and left the field of law to pursue a dream of building a career in the solar industry his interest in electric cars has remained.
“I’m a big believer in EVs for Southern California,” says Jenal. “They make a tremendous amount of sense here. They haven’t been in a form that has worked for people. But I think this new generation of cars coming online has the potential to change that.”
On a basic level, the new generation of EVs will drive the possibility of EV driving onto the public stage. Right now, only a few thousand production, highway capable EVs exist in the U.S., with the Toyota RAV4-EV and the Tesla Roadster comprising perhaps the most well-known models.
If I pull up to a prospective customer’s house in my solar EV, a substantial part of the conversation is going to be, ‘How do you like that (EV)? How do you fuel it?’ And I’m going to be able to say I fuel it with my own solar system.
–Jim Jenal, Founder & CEO, Run On Sun
However, when hundreds of thousands of EVs begin zooming around American roadways more people will see EVs. And when you see something, you begin to think about it, says Jenal.
As electric cars’ visibility increases and public awareness of EVs rises, so too will awareness of, and interest in, solar-charged driving, predicts the Run On Sun CEO.
EV + solar connection will gain traction
“I think the connection between EVs and solar is not established because people don’t get the reminder,” says Jenal. “When they pull up next to a LEAF, they’ll be able to say, ‘What was that? That was that LEAF’.
“Once someone gets an EV,” he adds, “they’ll see an uptick in their electric usage – and people will put two and two together.”
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By “put two and two together,” Jenal means many people will realize the natural synergy between solar and electric cars.
“The whole point of it as a synergy is that people who have been thinking of one or the other will begin to marry them together,” explains Jenal. “I think they are self-reinforcing. The person who buys solar, will think, ‘I should make my next car electric’. And the person who buys the EV will say, “Wow, I really want to be powering this off of my home’s roof
Several factors will affect how quickly solar-charged driving spreads once EVs start arriving in people’s driveways. First, says Jenal, the cars must live up to their expectations. In other words, they – and their batteries — must be well made and they must last. Second, solar will need to continue to come down in price.
Early solar-charged drivers will “buzz it up”
If both those things happen – and Jenal is optimistic they will – then the initially small number of people who try out solar-charged driving for themselves will grow quickly, predicts Jenal.
“It requires only a few people to buzz it up and experience it,” says Jenal, “and then it takes off.”
Right now, Run On Sun’s emphasis on the solar + electric car synergy is exceptional. Few other solar companies are actively promoting the EV + PV mix, though SolarCity, which has a close partnership with Tesla Motors, is a notable exception.
“There isn’t a whole lot of talk about (EV+PV) in the industry right now,” notes Jenal.
However, the Run On Sun CEO predicts this will change radically as EVs reach market in large numbers and people begin to search for ways to offset a higher electric bill.
A typical EV will add somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 kWh of electric use per household, and will have homeowners with EVs taking a close look at what they can do to reduce their electric bill. Solar, says Jenal, stands as a natural place to look for many people, particularly in California, with some of the highest electric rates as well as some of the best sun in the country.
Run on Sun ahead of the competition
“I haven’t seen any competitors touting this (EV+PV) yet,” says Jenal, who keeps close tabs on other solar companies vying for business in Southern California, one of the biggest hotbeds for solar in the U.S. – and the world. “But I’d say that within 18 months anyone running a solar company will have stuff on their web page on how to marry these things together.”
If Jenal’s correct, he won’t have that big a jump on his competitors in terms of tapping the solar+EV synergy. But he’ll still be ahead of 99 percent of them, at least for another year or two.
I’d say that within 18 months anyone running a solar company will have stuff on their web page on how to marry these things together.
–Jim Jenal, Founder & CEO, Run On Sun
While most solar companies will still be scrambling to put up extra pages on their web sites to help customers learn about the solar+EV synergy and how they can use solar as a clean, air-pollution free affordable auto-fuel of the future two years after Jenal has already done this, the future-looking Run On Sun CEO will be pulling up to prospective customers’ houses in a brand new, custom-painted Nissan LEAF that literally Runs on Sun.
It’s hard to think of a more effective marketing tool than a company car that directly illustrates the revolutionary synergy between solar and electric cars.
“If I pull up to a prospective customer’s house in my solar EV, a substantial part of the conversation is going to be, ‘How do you like that (EV)? How do you fuel it?’ “, says Jenal. “And I’m going to be able to say I fuel it with my own solar system.”
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