Many Americans looking to reduce their carbon footprint and save on their monthly gasoline bills have embraced plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) as their primary means of transportation. However, because PEVs rely on the main electric grid for their power, the cars often still - albeit indirectly - require fossil fuels to run. In addition, the electricity needed to charge PEVs can mean raised annual utility bills. To address both of these concerns, an increasing number of electric vehicle owners have begun turning to solar power to charge their primary mode of transportation.
Baker Electric reported that PEV charging stations currently use anywhere between 0.4 percent and 8 percent of the amount of electricity generated on a daily basis. However, as the number of PEVs on the road increase, the amount of energy required for charging stations will also go up. From April 2011 to June of this year, the number of PEV charging stations nationwide has gone up from 750 to about 8,000.
As more electric vehicles hit the roads and more charging stations are built, it will become increasingly important for eco-conscious PEV drivers to power their cars with solar energy. Baker Electric reported that while PEVs charged at a conventional charging station help reduce vehicle related carbon emissions by 35 to 60 percent, a solar-powered station contributes zero pollution.
In addition, it can often be significantly more cost effective to charge a PEV with a photovoltaic power system. Kevin Tofel, a GigaOM contributor who drives a gas-electric hybrid car, wrote in Businessweek that he pays 9 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity thanks to the solar energy system at his Pennsylvania home. In comparison, USA Today reported that the average Keystone State resident paid about 12.7 cents per kWh for electricity in 2010.
"So the 20.1 kWh used for our 73.2 mile drive would cost $1.81 on our electric bill," Tofel wrote. "That works out to $3.41 for this driving session. Our old vehicle averaged 20 miles per gallon and also used premium fuel, so the same 73.2 miles we just covered would have cost $14.64 in gasoline."
Californians Embrace Solar Power for Their PEVs The cost and environmental benefits that can come from charging a PEV with solar electricity are also encouraging an increasing number of Californians to turn to PV power for their electric cars. An August study from the California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE) found that approximately one-third of all EVs in the United States can be found in California. Additionally, about 40 percent of those drivers have a PV installation at their home, which is where 71 percent of the more than 1,400 people surveyed said their car is charged.
"It's still early in the development of a robust PEV marketplace, but California is firmly established as a national and worldwide leader in supporting advanced technology, zero-emission automotive transportation," Mike Ferry, CCSE Transportation Program manager, said in a statement.
To support PEV driver who want to help the environment and their wallets, the San Diego Zoo recently installed solar carports for charging cars and supplying the facility with electricity. Triple Pundit reported that the San Diego solar installation consists of five PEV charging stations and 10 canopies that cover 50 parking spaces. The PV system, which includes a 100-kilowatt battery system, can generate up to 90 kilowatts of electricity, which is enough to power roughly 59 homes.
"[C]onsumers have embarked on a new level of sustainability awareness, in which there is a preference for products that are manufactured with renewable energy," the Triple Pundit article said. "A similar trend may also be possible for retail stores and other businesses that power their operations with renewable energy. For businesses that offer public access to EV charging stations, the direct solar connection enables them to avoid the buzz kill of grid-connected EV charging, making it a more effective promotional tool. As with the Zoo project, that can include numerous contacts with the public at the site of the project, as well as contact through website and social media tools."