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Founded in 1979, Solar Oregon is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit membership organization providing public education and community outreach to encourage Oregonians to choose solar energy.
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EVs + Solar: A Perfect Match

By Zach Henkin, Solar Oregon Board Member

Electric vehicles in the form of battery plug-ins and plug-in hybrids are being adopted and deployed at an undeniable quickening pace. The Department of Energy tweeted this image in July of last year that graphs the cumulative sales of EVs versus hybrids. Considering that hybrid vehicles are already a mainstay of automobiles driven today, this comparison is telling. With automakers ambitiously releasing more cars with plugs aimed at all levels of consumers, zero emission deployment goals set by governments, and infrastructure build out on the rise, it is a foregone conclusion that more electric vehicles are on the way.

Driving on electricity creates many opportunities for lowering emissions and saving on transportation costs. Charging in even some of the most worst grid conditions in the United States, where coal is a heavy part of the generation mix, generates less carbon emissions for the same amount of travel than would be required by fossil fuels. A great article by Green Car Reports dispelled much of the “dirty EV” myth, citing several reliable scientific studies. Less carbon in the air is good. Marrying both solar photovoltaics (PV) and EVs is even better. Driving on solar empowers drivers to commute generating zero emissions while eliminating their cars’ reliance on fossil fuels, coal, and natural gas. 

A recent survey on the ownership of EVs and solar panels on the popular site Cleantechnica concluded that solar can often be a gateway to EV ownership. While this can certainly be true, the reversal also has merit. Ford, Honda, Nissan, and Tesla each have partnership relationships with solar installer networks to facilitate new PV installations for the home. EV drivers have good reason to consider solar energy and automakers realizing this want to capitalize on the opportunity to increase the value proposition of their offering.

Both solar and EVs face many of the same challenges when being introduced to new consumers. While distributed solar has been around for decades, new ways to afford these systems have brought these well-packaged arrays, and the companies that provide them, into the mainstream. EVs similarly are climbing into acceptance with brand name marque association and a broad consumer appeal pushing internal combustion flagship car models into the background.

This momentum of electric vehicle adoption and increasing attractiveness of solar energy creates an opportunity to conquer the challenge of education and provide an introduction and association to the respective technologies. When a person buys solar for their home, there is an increased likelihood that their next car will have a plug. What can we do to clue them in on their new car options? When a person buys an EV, they quickly start thinking in terms of kilowatt-hours. How can we better let them know how solar can offset their homes’ new energy demand? By closing this gap we can make the best use of both technologies, leveraging both to take full advantage of their zero emission potential.

It may be inevitable that a solar array becomes another one of the choices on an options list when buying a new car. Ford’s My Energi Lifestyle is a peak into where some of the product offerings and car buying strategy may be headed. Taking a whole house perspective, Ford’s program combines solar, a plug-in hybrid car and offers energy saving efficient appliances, further shrinking the carbon footprint and energy demand of the home.

The association of solar and electric vehicles is only to likely increase in the future with battery and smart-grid technology progress. The battery capacity in the cars is an underutilized resource that has big potential for vehicle-to-grid utilization. Projects underway in Japan or as near as California have pilots with Nissan Leafs providing frequency regulation and building battery backup. Smart-grid and connected EVs can one day provide a solution to balance renewables on the grid in addition to providing greater resilience for homeowners during outages. With major electrical grid outages like the one caused by hurricane Sandy still fresh in many memories, grid stability and a solution to provide it is a national priority.

While dealing with any technology, there is often the urge to hesitate, when considering a purchase, with the expectation that a new better derivation will be available before long. There are great solar panels, inverters, electric vehicles, and charging solutions available right now. Choosing either clean technology or pairing solar with an EV can give the satisfaction that you are making a smart contribution to cleaner air and a healthier tomorrow.




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