| Dee-Ann Durbin |
DETROIT (AP) – Owners of electric vehicles have already gone gas-free. Now, a growing number of drivers in the US are powering their cars with sunlight.
Solar panels installed on the roof of a home or garage can easily generate enough electricity to power an electric or plug-in gas-electric hybrid vehicle.
The panels aren’t cheap, and neither are the cars. A Ford Fusion Energi plug-in sedan, for example, is $7,200 more than an equivalent gas-powered Fusion even after a $4,007 federal tax credit.
But advocates say the investment pays off over time and is worth it for the thrill of fossil fuel-free driving.
“We think it was one of the best things in the world to do,” says Kevin Tofel, who bought a Chevrolet Volt in 2012 to soak up the excess power from his home solar-energy system. “We will never go back to an all-gas car.”
No one knows exactly how many electric cars are being powered by solar energy but the number of electric and plug-in hybrid cars in the US is growing.
Last year, 97,563 were sold in the US, according to Ward’s AutoInfoBank, up 83 per cent from the year before.
Meanwhile, solar installations grew 21 per cent in the second quarter of this year, and more than 500,000 homes and businesses now have them, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Tofel, 45, a senior writer for the technology website Gigaom, installed 41 solar panels on the roof of his home in 2011. The solar array – the term for a group of panels – cost $51,865, but after state and federal tax credits, the total cost was $29,205.
In the first year, Tofel found that the panels provided 13.8 megawatt hours of electricity but his family was using only 7.59 megawatt hours.
So in 2012, Tofel traded in an Acura RDX for a Volt plug-in hybrid that could be charged using some of that excess solar energy. In a typical year, with 15,243 miles (24,530 kilometres) of driving, the Volt used 5.074 megawatt hours.
Tofel used to spend $250 per month on gas for the Acura; now, he spends just $50 for the times when the Volt isn’t near a charging station and he has to fill its backup gas engine.
Charging the Volt overnight costs him $1.50 but the family makes that money back during the day when it sends solar power to the electric grid.
He estimates that adding the car will cut his break-even point on the solar investment from 11.7 years to six years.