First of all, let’s get this out of the way: there are almost always anomalies or exceptions. There certainly are when it comes to solar-powered transportation. Some people genuinely can’t go solar. Some people have to drive hundreds of miles a day and can’t afford a Tesla. If you’re an anomaly in this story, that’s unfortunate. But if you haven’t looked into these matters in depth, please don’t just assume that you’re an anomaly!
If I didn’t follow the solar industry or the electric vehicle industry for a living, I’d probably think what the majority of people think: they’re “the future” but not “the present.” Knowing these technologies and markets like the back of my hand, I’m happy to say that not only could “driving on sunshine” be a cost-competitive option for many of you non-converts, but it could be a much better choice for you in a number of ways.
Cost is probably the first thing to tackle, though. If you’re in the majority (the target audience in this story), money is tight and cost is a critical factor when it comes to a big purchase. For a ton of people, solar power and an electric car simply make better financial sense. You may need to wait a few years for that to kick in, but often not very many… if any at all.
In the case of solar power, while utility-scale solar is just becoming cheaper than fossil fuels on the wholesale electricity market, rooftop solar panels have long competed with much-higher retail electricity prices. If you have a roof with a view of the sun, there’s a good chance solar pays off, and then puts tens of thousands of dollars into your pocket over the following decades. But you simply have to get a quote from a solar installer (or more than one) and compare it to projected electricity prices (and include tax credits or rebates). If you can’t pay in cash or get a good loan for some reason, there’s a chance you can go solar for $0 down and save money from the first month (but possibly less over the coming decades). If you’re American, with the US federal tax credit set to expire at the end of 2016 and solar prices at a super-low level, now is really the time to look into the option.
The other part of the equation is electric cars. I think there’s a lot more variation here when it simply comes to cost. There are a lot of variables to take into account, such as gas prices in your area now and in the future (good luck guessing those), how many miles you drive per year, electricity prices and price options (many locations offer reduced electricity prices for EV owners who charge at night), which car you’d buy if not an electric one and which electric car you’d buy, maintenance costs (they’re typically really low on electric vehicles), and a bit more. Crunching the numbers for the Nissan LEAF and a comparable gasmobile using a large variety of assumptions, I often found that the hypothetical owner would save money within 2-5 years. (People who prefer to lease are even better off.) But, again, you really have to put your own numbers in. (If you’d like any help with this, I’m happy to share my spreadsheet template or even help run your numbers. Just shoot me a note.)
However, the thing about electric cars is they are much better products for consumers in a number of ways. They can be charged at home, making them much more convenient for the average American driver. Imagine never having to go to the gas station again! Most EV owners feel they can never go back to that. They also require much less maintenance (no oil changes, no smog checks, no internal combustion engine and all the problems that come with that, forget the broken tubes and valves or the need for a new muffler, and the brakes last longer too). And you’re not emitting any local air pollution (or inhaling it at gas stations), which surely benefits your health and your family’s health. And then there’s the instant torque…. Driving an electric car is a total blast. I think the great acceleration is its greatest selling point for the masses. You just have to get them into the car to experience it. Yes, it’s best in the record-fast Tesla Model S P85D, but it’s also much better in a Nissan LEAF in those first brief moments where it really matters. I got an “EV smile” even driving the Nissan LEAF, VW e-Up!, and Renault Twizy thanks to that spaceship-like acceleration.
Combine the benefits of solar and electric vehicles, and you can be driving on sunshine, fighting global warming and your country’s oil dependence, and having a better driving experience!
“Wait a second,” you might say, “the electricity from my solar panels goes into the grid, not my car.” Technically, that is probably true. But in many places, you’re not supposed to have solar panels supporting more electricity than you consume, so if you increase your electricity use when you get an EV (not guaranteed to happen, but likely), then you can put more solar panels on your roof and you are essentially driving on sunshine. A friend of mine who I met on Google+ from writing about these topics so much is going through that process right now, following the purchase of a Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive.
Oh, and that’s one more thing: with over a dozen electric cars now on the market, there are good options for many people’s needs, and plenty of affordable ones. It’s not just between the LEAF, Model S, and Chevy Volt anymore.