Solar Update: 2010, hybrids and electric cars

    Graph of 2010 solar energy production
    Graph of 2010 solar energy production

    In 2010, our Sunpower solar energy panels generated3, 328 kilowatt hours of energy. This is down from 2009, when we generated 3,634 kilowatt hours from our 10 panel roof system.

    This matches what we’ve experienced this year in the Bay Area which was a cooler summer. Tomatoes in my garden and in the local farms, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, were delayed several weeks before they were ready to start harvesting this year.

    Overall, I’ve been very happy with our system. We were limited by the amount of roof space we had to install solar panels that faced south-west. Because of the cost of solar panels, even factoring in the tax credits, it still only makes sense to install them on roof areas that face the direction which maximizes exposure to the sun’s rays. I would consider installing additional panels if the price ever came down more and, more importantly, the technology became more effective at capturing the sun’s rays and turning it into energy.

    December solar energy production summary report.

    Another “green” initiative we are exploring is getting a hybrid. We clock a lot of miles covering Bay Area events up and down the west coast for Stark Insider and finally decided for 2011, we should look at purchasing a hybrid. You can read about the start of this adventure here (Hybrid Experience: Toyota Prius vs. Honda Insight).

    When we started researching hybrids, what I was most surprised about was how long they have been in the market and how little share they have of the overall US automobile market. Seems even with the rising gas prices and environmental concerns, there is not enough incentive to overcome the extra costs of a hybrid versus a conventional gas-only powered car.

    I have considered taking the leap into a completely electric car. However, based on our travel requirements, I would be concerned that I would be stuck somewhere with a dead battery and:

    • a) no where to charge it
    • b) a place to charge it, but I would have to wait 12 hours for the battery to be fully charge

    The infrastructure of numerous gas stations still support the traditional gas car or a hybrid. This I could see changing over time. The latter concern is more challenging. I can fill up a gas tank in a few minutes, I have yet to encounter a battery that could charge in a few minutes. In fact, the same limits that battery life imposes on mobile devices these days will be the same problem, on a larger scale, facing cars that solely run on electricity.

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    • The Nissan Leaf is the electric car of choice these days, but it’s not really meant to go on road trips. It’s meant for short trips around town and/or daily commuting.

      Tesla had a deal where you could drive the $120k Roadster to a hotel (the nice Hyatt?) in Sacramento, have lunch for three hours while charging up, and then continue on to Tahoe. But I don’t think anyone actually did that in real life.

      These days, an electric vehicle is generally a household’s second or third car…

      • Good point on having this be your second or third car. This does open another discussion around the number of cars one needs.

        This depends on family-size, but what is more environmentally friendly?

        Having 1 car which is a fuel efficient gas-only car or having 2 cars – one for road trips and one for short city commutes? This may depend on where you live and how long your commutes are to work etc.

        There is a great article in this weeks Bloomberg Businessweek that also points to the notion of “range anxiety”. That it is not only how one really uses the car, but perceived trust and reliability. It shows that in a poll, 90% thought their gas-only cars were reliable and only 30% would think hybrids are.

        I guess when the hybrid/electric market is like the stock market…very much dependent on consumer confidence.

      • Paul Scott

        Actually, the EV is your primary car. The gas burner is your second car since you only use it when you need to go long distance. Our family has a Toyota RAV4 EV and a Honda Insight. The Honda gets about 55-60 mpg, but it sits unused most of the time since we only use the EV for our daily driving. We have a 3 kW PV system that allows us to “drive on sunshine” everywhere we go. It’s a great feeling.

        When both of us have to drive, the one with the longer drive uses the EV to maximize cost savings and minimize pollution.

    • Christof

      For us, a two-car family, an all-electric vehicle will work fine, with the all-electric for commuting and shorter trips, the gas-car for the rare longer trips we make.

      For us, solar is a big incentive to eventually replace one of our two gas cars with an EV, like a LEAF. We put up a 5.59 kW system on our Colorado rooftop in June 2010. Since then, we’ve generated 2,700 extra kWh (enough for about 10,000 miles of driving) and banked them with our utility for our future EV. It’s very satisfying to know we can power our own EV, run a car essentially air pollution free (with solar offset), and say goodbye to Big Oil (we’ll be getting plug-in hybrid to replace our other gas car).

      –Christof Demont-Heinrich
      Editor & Founder, SolarChargedDriving.Com

    • Christof

      For us, a two-car family, an all-electric vehicle will work fine, with the all-electric for commuting and shorter trips, the gas-car for the rare longer trips we make.

      For us, solar is a big incentive to eventually replace one of our two gas cars with an EV, like a LEAF. We put up a 5.59 kW system on our Colorado rooftop in June 2010. Since then, we’ve generated 2,700 extra kWh (enough for about 10,000 miles of driving) and banked them with our utility for our future EV. It’s very satisfying to know we can power our own EV, run a car essentially air pollution free (with solar offset), and say goodbye to Big Oil (we’ll be getting plug-in hybrid to replace our other gas car).

      –Christof Demont-Heinrich
      Editor & Founder, SolarChargedDriving.Com

    • I am so jealous you were able to fit a much larger system and we were on our roof. Thanks for sharing what has worked in your family. Some things to think about for us as well.

      Clint classifies cars into “utilitarian” and “fun” cars. We have two cars, but one car, Clint would like to reserve as a “fun” car.

      • Paul Scott

        Loni, I encourage you to test drive the Nissan LEAF. It’s a very fun car to drive. The torque of an EV enables it to have a quick take off superior in every way to a gas-burner. Driving a gas-burner hard results in a lot of pollution and noise. Why would your husband want to pollute others’ air and bother them with all that noise when he could drive just as aggressively in an EV with none of those negative consequences?