Why solar and electric cars should be friends

REC solar carport Arizona

Solar power and electric cars are an ideal match. Both are tied to the grid and disruptive technologies, which are in an early market stage and which are trying to reduce costs. It just makes sense to partner up, and that’s exactly what some solar panel companies and EV developers and chargers are starting to do.

For example, on Tuesday, solar installer REC Solar announced it will start selling General Electric’s WattStation, a level-2 charger that should fill up a car in under eight hours. REC will bundle the charger with its solar projects, and also sell the charger separately.

“The concepts of EV and PV have been around for a long time. [But] for Americans to buy an EV car and get a PV system with a nice functioning WattStation – that collection hasn’t been readily available,” said Lee Johnson, CEO of REC Solar.

The idea of marrying solar with electric car charging has grown in popularity as more automakers have been rolling out plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars. The Nissan LEAF recently passed 10,000 units sold globally. However, the numbers are still tiny for EVs, so joining with larger solar firms is a real asset.

At the same time, the plummeting price of solar panels probably has helped to encourage solar companies to look to diversify and to add on other lines of business.

In addition, the two groups’ customers probably aren’t all that different: early-adopter home owners who are well-off and lean environmental. Customers who have already committed to spending tens of thousands of dollars on rooftop solar projects are likely more willing to spend a few more thousand dollars on a home EV charger, if they also have an EV.

There’s also a good PR strategy to the partnership. The combination of solar and car charging helps to quell criticism that running electric cars on power from dirty fossil fuels undercuts the notion of driving a low- or free-emission vehicles.

Solar chargers

REC Solar has also been working on putting solar panels on carports for a while, including a 2.9 MW project at the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System. Solar carports can provide shade for parked cars and juice for EVs.

SolarCity has installed more than 100 solar home charging stations for Tesla owners, and has also installed solar charging stations at branches of Rabobank between San Francisco and Los Angeles for Tesla owners. (SolarCity’s Chairman and investor is Elon Musk, who also founded and leads Tesla). SolarCity also recently inked a deal to install chargers from ClipperCreek.

Electric vehicle makers in particular have gotten on board with solar carports. General Motors announced  a $7.5 million investment in solar project developer, Sunlogics, in June this year and hired Sunlogics to build solar carports at Chevy Volt dealerships (check out our photoslide of a Sunlogics solar carport featuring MiaSole panels). Nissan Motor began building a solar charging port at the site of its future LEAF factory in Tennessee, as well as solar charging stations at its headquarters in Japan earlier this year. Toyota, meanwhile, has been working on a solar charging kit for electric cars.

GE itself has invested in both electric car and solar technologies. In addition to its WattStation electric car charger, last month, the company announced a plan to build a 400 MW factory in Colorado to make cadmium-telluride solar panels.

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