Now that the dust has settled on the Tesla vs. New York Times battlefield, weren’t we just saying that electric vehicles are selling quite well? That’s partly because car manufacturers are pulling out all the stops to get a foothold in the EV market before the competition really heats up. In the latest maneuver, Honda has teamed with solar energy leader SolarCity to offer cheap solar power to eligible customers. They promise a utility bill for solar power that is less than the rate for grid-supplied energy, and that applies to Acura customers, too.
If this sounds too good to be true, it gets better. The deal includes a rooftop solar panel installation, covering all costs in addition to the panels themselves. That’s important because the “soft costs” of solar power account for at least half the cost of a typical solar installation.
There is nothing particularly unusual about the new Honda/SolarCity arrangement, by the way. It’s basically a power purchase agreement (PPA), which is becoming a common way to finance solar installations.
PPA’s are designed to overcome one huge obstacle, and that is the up-front cost of installing solar panels. In a typical PPA, the property owner pays little or nothing up front for the solar installation. They pay only for the electricity it generates, at an agreed-upon rate for a set period of time. Typically, the solar installer continues to own, operate and maintain the system for that period.
To be clear, the hardware and soft costs are absorbed by the installer, but paying for the power generated by the installation is still the property owner’s responsibility (in other words, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but there are such things as more sustainable lunches).
As with typical PPA’s, the Honda/SolarCity offer includes insurance as well as maintenance, repair and monitoring during the agreed-upon period.
Wait, Solar Power that’s Cheaper than Grid-Supplied Energy?
As an incentive to draw property owners into the PPA market, solar installers typically offer an electricity rate that is lower than the rate they would pay for grid-supplied energy.
Honda is offering its (and Acura’s) customers two variations on that theme. Customers who qualify for the deal can either pre-pay for the solar electricity, or they can pay at a monthly rate that is lower than their utility bill.
Honda and SolarCity partnered up to form a $65 million investment fund to finance the arrangement, which covers dealerships as well as customers located within SolarCity’s 14-state service area. The investment fund also covers weatherization and other energy efficiency upgrades for customers and dealerships (more details at hondasolarcity.com).
On Beyond Free Solar Panels
If all this is starting to ring a bell, that’s because other EV manufacturers are starting to look at the solar power market as one big, juicy incentive to lure in new customers.
The idea is that electricity gives car owners the power to manipulate their car’s energy consumption in ways that liquid-fuel car owners can only dream about.
Using rooftop solar panels to offset your EV’s electricity consumption with sustainable energy is just part of the deal. EV owners also have the potential to reverse the energy equation and use their car battery to power their property.
For starters, EV owners can take advantage of the off-peak rates to charge up their cars when electricity is cheaper, and then use that same stored, cheap electricity to power their property during peak demand periods when rates are higher.
When connected with smart meters and smart grid technologies, that also enables fleets of EV owners to help smooth out local energy spikes, which in turn helps reduce the need to build big, expensive new power plants to cover peak demand.
In that regard, Ford’s MyEnergi Lifestyle EV package beats Honda to the punch, at least for now. Launched last year, the package treats EVs as yet another major home appliance that integrates seamlessly with other home appliances and renewable energy systems, helped along by mobile communications and wireless connectivity.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.