SCD.Com: Reflecting on 3 years of EV+PV change

Electric vehicles parked under a solar canopy during a July 4th 2012 event celebrating EVs and plug-in fueling independence. [Credit: Flickr.Com Creative Commons Photo By Arnold de Leon]
SolarChargedDriving.Com celebrated its 3rd Anniversary this past weekend. In the three years we’ve been online, we’ve produced more than 1,000 stories and blog entries. And we’ve seen a lot change in the world of EV + PV.

Change that’s occurred – and change that still needs to occur – is what we focus on here. We write about three developments that show solar-charged driving has come a long way in the past three years and three developments that still need to occur before solar-charged driving breaks into the mainstream, at least here in the United States.


focus-electric-frontEVs now widely available
We’re approaching two years since the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt first went on sale in select U.S. markets. We’re at more than a year since the two plug-ins have been available in essentially the whole U.S., and, of course, in many places in Europe and Asia. And the LEAF and Volt now have plenty of EV company. Just to name a few: the Mitsubishi iMiEV, the Ford Focus Electric, the Toyota Plug-in Prius, the CODA Sedan EV, and the Tesla Model S. True, only the Volt (14,000), Prius Plug-in (6,000), and LEAF (4,228) have sold in significant numbers in the U.S. But 25,000 electric cars is still dramatically more production EVs on American roads than three years ago when there were perhaps a few thousand.

solar-sun-my-shadowSolar’s far more accessible
Solar panel prices have fallen significantly in the U.S. during the past three years. They’re down to around $4.50 per watt installed now, and this per watt price is prior to any incentives (Federal Tax Credit, state credits and/or utility credits, RECs, etc.). Of course, solar installation costs are still a lot higher in the U.S. than they are in world solar leading Germany, where the per watt installed cost is about half of that in the U.S. Another reason solar has become much more accessible, both psychologically (don’t underestimate this factor in the solar equation!) and economically is due to the growth in solar leasing, which was only beginning to come on the U.S. solar scene when SolarChargedDriving.Com launched in September 2009.

Volt-solar-charged-maineMore people doing EV + PV
It’s difficult to know how many people in the U.S., and around the world, are solar-charging an EV via home solar, though one study of EV owners in California indicated that about 40 percent of respondents had home solar. However the total number is surely in the many thousands in the U.S., perhaps even tens of thousands. That’s way more than when we founded SolarChargedDriving.Com three years ago. There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence of significant growth in EV + PV during the past three years, with most of that growth coming in the last 1 ½ years: More and more stories about solar-charged driving in the American mainstream media, significantly more web traffic on SolarChargedDriving.Com (more than 3,000 unique visitors per month compared to a couple hundred per month when we started!), tons of solar EV charging stations and canopies going up in the U.S., and, finally, more and more e-mail that we’re getting from people telling us that they are solar-charging an EV. In fact, getting those e-mails – many of which we end up publishing short accounts about on SolarChargedDriving.Com – is one of the most rewarding parts of continuing to plug away for solar-charged driving three years after we started doing so.


LEAF-dealer-discountsEV & PV prices must fall
Yes, EVs save in the long run, or at least it appears they probably will – the recent Nissan LEAF battery capacity loss issue raises a troubling question mark about how long some EV batteries will actually last. Home solar saves in the long run too. But the upfront costs of EVs and home solar PV are substantial. As I’ve noted repeatedly on SolarChargedDriving.Com, only a small minority of Americans are willing to think about home electricity or driving (or pretty much anything else) in terms of a bigger-up-front cost = long-term savings equation. One need not look further than the deep American denial of the massive long-term costs of climate change to see strong American resistance to a pay-more-up-front-to-save-later approach.

LEAF-speedometerEV range has to increase
You can talk forever about how nearly all Americans drive less than 40 miles per day on average and the fact that a LEAF or iMiEV will therefore meet their needs, but you might as well be talking to a stone wall. Most people aren’t going to listen. They want cars that can take them as far as today’s gasoline cars. In other words, they don’t want to give up what they already have. And, frankly, it’s hard to blame them. Objectively – and, as a long-time EV advocate, I’ll admit to not being objective on EVs 😉 — I’ll admit that EVs are an odd “step forward”, technologically speaking. That’s because in some ways they seem to be a step backward, especially in terms of the whole driving range issue. Think about it this way: Do you want a new laptop that costs more upfront than the “old” laptops and gives you one hour of plug-free “driving” rather than three hours? I didn’t think so. Pure EVs have to offer at least 150 to 200 miles of good solid range regardless of how cold, windy, or hot it is, and regardless of whether you’re driving those miles at 70 mph or 35 mph no later than five years from now, or they are in serious trouble. (It’s obviously a different story for plug-in hybrid EVs, which is the big reason the Volt is doing so much better than the LEAF in the U.S. right now.) Even at 200-250 miles of range (Tesla’s Model S offers this) EVs still won’t meet the range of today’s gasoline cars. Range is essentially a non-issue for gas cars thanks to the infrastructure of gasoline stations in the U.S. and around the world. Indeed, this is why the average consumer doesn’t grasp why the LEAF doesn’t get 100 miles every time out: They don’t see that their gas car’s range in fact varies significantly for every single tank of gas due to weather, driving style, etc. – because they don’t NEED to grasp this to get from point A to point B.

summers2-evsEV + PV needs to become less complicated
On the surface, solar-charged driving is simple. Get an EV, get a home solar system. Plug in your EV. Done. But, of course, it’s actually more complicated than that, especially when you look at how EV + PV requires significant changes in behavioral and psychological outlook. As I’ve noted repeatedly on SolarChargedDriving.Com, Americans are not accustomed to paying their electricity 20 years forward, which is essentially what the “old”, non-leasing model of home solar asks you to do. And projecting driving savings forward in a delayed gratification move isn’t something Americans are used to either. It requires plunking down extra money on the front end for savings on the back end, and, of course, an ability, really, a willingness, to do the math and figure out how much an EV is going to save across 5, 10, 15 years. It’s exactly the same with home solar.
When all new homes in the U.S. that are able support solar – and a hell of lot of homes could do so – are built with solar and when all new homes are also built with an EV charger, when, essentially, everything is already taken care of for the prospective solar-charged driver, that’s when things will finally have become simple enough so that EV + PV will go mainstream in the U.S. How far off in the future is this? Realistically, we’re another decade away from this time. This means that all of us solar-charged driving advocates and practitioners will have to continue to be patient, and that we’ll continue to have to explain, and show, how EV + PV works, how “it’s not as complicated” as it seems, for a long time to come before solar-charged driving finally becomes as simple and easy as it should be.