Can An Electric Car Cut Solar Panel Payback Time? Yes, But...

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Robert Llewellyn Nissan Leaf Solar Panels

Robert Llewellyn Nissan Leaf Solar Panels

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If you’re a homeowner with a suitable home and enough money to invest in a set of photovoltaic solar panels for your roof, you can easily power your home cheaply and cleanly. 

But while some states offer Feed In Tariff (FIT) schemes to let you sell back any excess power your solar panels generate to the local utility company, payback times on solar panels remain pretty high. FIT schemes are also known in some areas as "reverse metering" after older installations where the electricity meter spins backwards when power is fed from solar panels back to the utility grid. 

Now a U.K. utility company has released data detailing how owning an electric car could reduce the payback time on solar panels to under 5 years.

To illustrate the point British Gas installed a 2.52 kWp solar panel installation at the home of British actor and electric vehicle advocate Robert Llewellyn, who hosts the FullyCharged web TV series and is a regular on the TransportEvolved podcast.

Llewellyn, who currently has a 2011 Nissan Leaf on loan, was able to use the solar panels on his house to provide 85% of the total electricity required to power his car 2,680 miles.  

According to British Gas’ math, that means that Llewellyn was able to drive 1,000 miles in his Leaf for just over $8 of electricity -- instead of the estimated $54 cost to charge the car using a standard electricity tariff or over $200 in gasoline.

Solar Panels by Flickr user Chandra Marsono

Solar Panels by Flickr user Chandra Marsono

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Based on an average mileage of 12,000 miles per year, British Gas said it would be possible for an electric car owner to see a complete payback on a 2.5 kWp solar installation in as little as 4.5 years thanks to an estimated FIT income of $1,626 per year and over $2,600 in saved gasoline bills. 

Admittedly, buying a solar panel array for your home as well as an electric car is a big spend, but with domestic electricity prices on the rise and traditional forms of investment looking less enticing than they once did, the combination of electric car and solar panels seem like an excellent marriage. 

But before you rush out to combine the two, remember the financial commitment involved is a big one -- and not every state has FIT legislation to enable you to sell your excess energy back to the utility company. In addition, savings may be less in some parts of the U.S. than they are in Europe, where traditionally higher energy prices and huch pricier gasoline combine together to mean the savings from going solar are larger than they may be in the U.S. 


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Comments (6)
  1. If you're interested in the costs of solar panel arrays, I would advise you not to start quoting British data. Over here, most states offer "net metering" and the rules vary, but peak versus non-peak power is not totally compatible(you won't get credit for all excess power). As for panel payback, in this country, right now, the Feds cough up $1000 per KW installed capacity, up to 6KW. You can't say anything about payback unless you specify installation costs. Hardware (panels,inverters,mounting brackets) for 6KW can be had for around $13K, minus $6K Fed subsidy = $7K.
    Install the panels yourself:a child can do it. Assuming 5 suns per day (net 26 kWhrs), grid price of 12 cents,payback time = 6 years. Panel power cost over 25 yr - 3 cents/kWh

  2. I'm confused... or maybe the data is.

    The article talks about how owning an electric car may help cut the investment cost of solar panels.
    "Based on an average mileage of 12,000 miles per year, British Gas said it would be possible for an electric car owner to see a complete payback on a 2.5 kWp solar installation in as little as 4.5 years thanks to an estimated FIT income of $1,626 per year and over $2,600 in saved gasoline bills."

    The odd statement here is "over $2,600 in saved gasoline bills". Why are we comparing value of gasoline saved? The solar panels do not save money on gasoline. The solar panel saves money spent on electricity, and the electric car is what saves money versus gasoline usage.

  3. Alternatively the investment cost of the solar panels would have to include the investment cost of the vehicle if you're comparing the payback period of cost of gasoline saved.

    The way the study should work, is show the increased power demand of an electric vehicle at some avg daily mileage, and show how having the solar panels offset this cost further adding to the value of the panels.

    BUT, (please correct me on this if I'm wrong). Wouldn't this be the same as selling the energy back to the power company?

    It almost sounds like the panel company is saying "buy our solar panels and an electric car" well, but then the numbers ignore the cost of the vehicle.

  4. Here in California, we drove 10,000 cumulative "electric miles" this past 9 months between our 2011 Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf. Our home has a 5.5 kw solar panel system and that generated enough power to FULLY cover all of the costs that were earlier averaging $250/month for electricity supply AND covered ALL the cost of charging both of those cars for the 9 months we have now had them for daily use. Yes, we have "time of use" rates and generate a major credit during "peak times" of the day while we charge the cars at the special "EV rate" from midnight to 7 am and on weekends. Our PV system saved us about $3000 in electricity costs and another $1500 or so in fuel costs. Yes, for us the "payoff" will be in about 5 years !

  5. I might add, that we were going to get EVs just for environmental concerns, and we were "past time" to get new family vehicles, so the actual "acquisition cost" of the EVs would have been faced for whatever other type of new cars we might have otherwise considered. Sacramento, where we live, is one of the U.S. worst air pollution settings during summer months, and as outdoor enthusiasts, we were dedicated to doing whatever we could to lessen this problem.

  6. @George, as always, thank you for the comments and insight. Did you use a local place for the installation or do it yourself?
    I've been looking into solar (and geothermal, which I might get first, we'll see...) and am not particularly mechanical.
    Good, interesting article. Time to do a little more research.

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