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Published on September 12th, 2011 | by Andrew


Electric Vehicles, Smart Grid, Residential Solar Power: A Virtuous Circle Emerges

September 12th, 2011 by  

Photo credit: Nissan USA

Isn’t it great when everything just seems to come together to create a virtuous circle? That’s what’s happening in and around San Diego, California with the combination of electric vehicles (EVs), a smart grid, and residential solar power systems.

Electric vehicles are becoming more popular and more affordable in the US as auto manufacturers ramp up production and promotion. The same is true for residential solar power systems where government and manufacturer incentives and falling costs are making them more affordable than they’ve ever been.

Combine this with innovative, forward-looking electric utilities rolling out new customer pricing models along with demand response smart grid systems and a virtuous circle can be created, and it’s happening in and around San Diego today.

San Diegans drive an average 12,000 miles per year, leaving them an annual gasoline or fuel bill of $2,220 alone to operate their petrol-powered vehicles. Driving a Nissan Leaf EV for a year, by contrast, will result in annual fuel costs of just $343 a year, or $6.60 a week, an annual savings of nearly $1900, Solare Energy’s Jose Contreras explains in a Sept. 10 Ramona Herald blog post.

“Combining an electric vehicle and a home solar power system “is the best way to reap maximum savings,” Contreras explains.

San Diego Gas & Electric (SG&E) has equipped area homes with smart grid-based demand response capabilities that enable customers with residential solar power systems to sell electricity to the grid operator according to a rate schedule that pays them more to do so during the day when electric power demand is high than at night, when demand is low.

Electric vehicle owners, on the other hand, pay lower rates to recharge their vehicles overnight during off-peak hours. The particulars wind up meaning that home solar power and EV owners “only need a solar system that creates half the electricity required by their vehicle to offset its total charging cost…. A small, 1.2-kilowatt solar system priced at around $4,000 will cover charging costs for an electric vehicle for up to 40 years,” according to Contreras.


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About the Author

I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.

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  • Anonymous

    (Playing another round of PWtheC…)

    “A small, 1.2-kilowatt solar system priced at around $4,000 will cover charging costs….”

    A 1.2kW solar system in Sunny San Diego won’t produce enough electricity to charge your EV. But (apparently) it will produce enough high value peak hour power to allow you to buy back the off-peak power you need to charge.

    Sell high. Buy low.

    (Assuming an average of 5.5 good solar hours per day in SD you’d need about a 2.1 kW system to generate all you would use driving 12,000 miles a year.)

  • Anonymous

    (Yes, I am playing a round of ‘preventative whack the curmudgeon’. Need some Monday morning exercise.)

    Big C: Yeah, put a bunch of panels on your house, need to move, and there goes your fuel savings Dummy.

    Me: A Lawrence Livermore Lab study of 72,000 California homes found that solar systems are increasing the sales price of homes by 6.4%. On average buyers paid an $17,000 premium for a home with installed solar panels. The increased sales price slightly exceeded the cost of the solar system.


    How about that. Cheap rides and boosts your house value.

    Peaches and Cream.

  • Anonymous

    Plus anticipated improvements in batteries and ultracapacitors leading to 200+ mile ranges by 2020. That’s conservative.

    • Anonymous

      I am so wanting to see some range improvements. Just 10% would be sweet. That’s battery improvement range increases I want to see.

      We’re going to see range increases due to non-battery improvements. A new processing procedure for steel is producing stronger steel (for no more money) and that stronger steel should increase range by roughly 10%. Lighter battery cases are also likely to decrease vehicle weight which will increase range.

      There’s even been a demonstration of turning carbon nanotubes into ‘wire’ to replace copper and further cut weight.

      But, come on, it’s time to see a little better battery hit the market.


      • Isaac Barham

        Hi Bob,

        Great comments!

        Do you mind if I ask what is your background/occupation?


        Isaac Barham
        Barham Motors International Inc.

  • Anonymous

    May I please emphasize this?

    A small, 1.2-kilowatt solar system priced at around $4,000 will cover charging costs for an electric vehicle for up to 40 years.”

    For $4,000 you can buy your ‘gas’ for the next 40 years.

    For the next forty years you will be producing the power for your EV for $8.33 a month. Those are fixed dollars, not dollars that will rise with inflation, the $8.33 per month is locked in.

    The $185 per month that ICEV owners will be paying for gas? In forty years, based on past inflation will cost you $1,027.

    Let’s use historical inflation rates to look forward to forty years from now…

    Price for gas now = $185.
    Price for electricity now = $8.33.

    Price for gas forty years from now $1,027.
    Price for electricity forty years from now $8.33.

    Forty years from now $8.33 will have the buying power of $1.44 in today’s dollars. For less than the price of a latte you charge your EV for a month.

    On an annual basis, $12,324 for gas, $100 for electricity.

    What’s not to love about that?

    (Yes, curmudgeons, there may be some inverter repair necessary along the way, and a tree might need to be trimmed back. Thank you in advance for grousing.)

    • Breath on the Wind

      Taking this the natural next step using your numbers. $185/mo for gas gives us an annual cost now of $185×12 =) $2220 annually. We can take the median increase in cost of gasoline as the average and [(12,324-2220/2)+2220=] 7227 would be an average annual gasoline cost or $289,080 less the initial cost of $4000) and you will see you have enough savings over a lifetime to completely pay for several electric cars, and buy a house (in some locations) to park it in and a place to put the solar panels.

      In reality, it is unlikely that we will have these options. Fuel prices notwithstanding petrol may become unavailable and replacements will be sought but we cannot satisfy all our transportation energy demands with biofuels. We will turn to electric in any event. But we may want to install solar panels to charge it. (or compensate for the power it uses if we are using the grid for “storage” in this way.)

      A great article. Thanks

      • Anonymous

        Putting on my futurist hat, I see a very rapid increase in the price of fuel headed our way. We’ve pumped the easy to get out and we’ve refined the ‘sweet stuff’. We’re now going great distances (including the now badly melted Arctic) to find new deposits and we’re using a lot of energy to crack sludge which we wouldn’t have touched a decade ago. And we’ve got new buyers coming to the market as places like China and India create middle class consumers.

        Sooner or later prices almost certainly have to resume rising and rising faster than average inflation. (Oil prices will pull many/most things up with them. Can’t grow wheat and get it to the grocery store without oil the way we do it now.)

        I’m glad to see models of how to get us off oil being tested. When the poop hits the air disperser we won’t have to invent systems from the ground up, just roll them out.

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