Do Solar Panels and Electric Cars Work Together?

solar panels and electric cars work together energy sage

Contrary to popular belief, electric cars and solar panels are complimentary goods, not substitutes. Going green is that much easier when you have both!

Shopping for a new car? If you’re looking for one that makes the most financial sense, you should definitely consider an electric car. With high and volatile gas prices, many car shoppers are exploring alternative fuel vehicles such as hybrid or electric cars.

On first blush, these cars may seem more expensive, but if you conduct a full “cost of ownership” analysis, the gap narrows considerably and electric cars may even come out ahead. What’s really amazing, though, is what happens to the cost of owning and operating an electric car when the electricity you use to fuel it is produced by a solar panel system installed at your home or business.  When you add solar panels to the mix, the electric car becomes incredibly economical. Here’s how it works:

 PV Solar Compared to Electric Cars: Leaf, Prius vs. Civic

To illustrate, we looked at three compact car options, comparing the costs of buying, maintaining and operating a traditional gasoline fueled car (e.g., Honda Civic), an electric car (e.g., Nissan Leaf or BMW i3) and a hybrid car (e.g., Toyota Prius). If you look only at purchase price, the gas-powered cars are the cheapest, while the electric cars are quite a bit more expensive. Once you factor in the $7,500 federal tax credit for electric cars, however, the difference narrows substantially. But purchase price can’t be your only financial consideration. Over the course of your ownership, you will incur other costs such as fuel, maintenance, insurance, and other expenses related to running and maintaining your vehicle. We totaled up the costs for a 10 year period and this is what we found:  the electric car is the cheapest to own and operate at about $48,500, while the gasoline powered car is the most expensive to own and operate at about $63,500. That’s a $15,000 difference in favor of the electric car. Interestingly, hybrids came in at about the same cost as their gasoline powered counterparts. The table below shows how we did the math. While the table outlines the actual costs incurred, it doesn’t capture some of the softer costs related to your time and effort in maintaining the car. On this front, it’s important to note that the electric cars are a lot less hassle to maintain – no oil changes, no filter changes, no replacing timing belts, no need to replace exhaust systems (there is no exhaust!), no tune-ups needed…even the brakes wear out less frequently since the car uses regenerative breaking to recharge the batteries.

Now for the fun part! Let’s add solar panel systems to the mix. There are numerous financial benefits associated with solar power. Even though you need to spend some money to install the solar power system, you’ll save even more because your “fuel” costs will now be zero. And, if you live in a state with a solar renewable energy credit (SREC) program, you actually will generate additional income that will offset your costs even further. When you factor in all of this, the cost to own and operate your electric car’ over ten years is closer to $ 46,670! In addition to the financial benefits, you also gain in your ability to manage your expenses. For the next 20-30 years, you will know exactly what the cost to fuel your car will be: nothing ($0/kWh), whereas your peers with gasoline fueled vehicles will be subject to changing fuel costs on an almost daily basis. They’ll also be subject to increasing gas taxes that, of course, will no longer apply to you.


The cheapest car option: driving on solar power

Looking at the long-term, full cost of ownership numbers, the cheapest option is to power an electric car with solar panels. Surprising? Yes, at first – but combining solar panels with an electric car makes perfect sense. And, not only is it a great financial decision, but it also delivers significant environmental and social benefits as well. The electric car produces less carbon emissions vs. the traditional gas fueled car and the hybrid, whether it’s powered by solar or not. If it is powered by solar, it has the added benefit of also eliminating the carbon emissions associated with your utility’s electricity production. Finally, producing your own fuel will benefit your fellow citizens, too, as it will contribute to our nation’s energy independence.

This analysis was done in the abstract, but if you’d like to see how this plays out in a real-life situation, check out our blog about Neeraj Aggarwal, an EnergySager who is powering his home and fueling his BMW electric car with his own solar panel system.


For those of you interested in understanding the math behind our calculations, here is how the details work out. We used to get the information about prices, and costs for fuel, insurance, and other maintenance costs.

Combining Solar Panels and Electric Cars Makes Perfect Financial Sense

Combining Solar Panels and Electric Cars Makes Perfect Financial Sense

If you want to see how home solar panels and an electric car worked for one EnergySage couple, check out our blog about their experience.

9 thoughts on “Do Solar Panels and Electric Cars Work Together?

  1. Robin Joy

    Nowhere is the disposal of the batteries figured in and if this is your only car then your distance is severely impacted. Electrical autos don’t work yet as your ONLY car. Around town they are great but they will not take off until they can be your only car.

  2. Rajat

    Nice! Data charts would be more accurate if financing costs are added while computing the upfront & running costs over long term. In general, solar/electric systems are 50% more expensive than carbon systems. So, if one is paying interest on loan or losing interest by financing himself, it will make a big difference on the long term.

    1. Rick Hannah

      Where do you have your money invested that you are getting BIG INTEREST? The best I have seen is less than 1% on CDs.

  3. Robert Weekleu

    As a proponent of Electric Vehicles, I read a lot of articles – and their comments too: Some with over 400 comments, so I hear a lot of thoughts on them. While the ‘What to do with the used battery’ is a comment reply often – it seems like the person with this comment, or this thought ,has not read the stories, commitments, and discussion on this – Recycling is one program under great development – just like the highly toxic Lead-Acid Batteries every car out there has in it; and two – Re-use of the batteries once they are removed from the car – for Grid Storage, Peak Shaving, and backup power.
    As to the One Car Does All theory that some believe the Electric Car Must Satisfy before it will succeed – There is no single vehicle on the market that does all the best: A Pickup is not a Sports Car, a Minivan is not a Pickup, a Sports Car is not a Sedan, etc., and while they all may have similar range when powered by Gas (or Diesel), most of these type of vehicles can be rented for the occasional need if an EV (Electric Vehicle) does over 80% of your needed driving (Saving you enough money to more than cover the occasional rental).

    There are Also Half-Breeds you can choose from – The Plug-in Hybrid, that can give you a per-charge range of 10 – 35 or so miles for your daily commute, with gas to take you the rest of the way. So for single vehicle solutions – these can work (If you can’t afford the Tesla Model S or coming Model X, 7-seat SUV, and their Free Supercharging Access and over 200 miles range per charge).

    1. blair

      Actually, in terms of economy, I bet electrics will replace those special-purpose vehicles (delivery, pickup trucks, etc.) because range requirements are low and torque is actually a big plus. It’s already debuted fantastically in the luxury division (Tesla), where buyers pay double for cachet, and the expense and limitations of electrics fade into the egoboo.

      Common consumers need a generalist vehicle. Toyota Camry, not Porsche 911, for instance. They need to commute 5-80 miles a day, 250 days a year, up to triple that to have fun on the weekend, and on occasion drive up to 1000 miles a day to get to Grandma’s house and back over a tight holiday weekend.

      It’s clear that electrics will be relegated to niches until that sort of excess capacity is made available and fungible with daily usage. The ability to refuel within a few minutes can not be underestimated in its importance to the economics of this situation.

    2. Andy Ferguson

      Most families in the burbs already have more than one vehicle. We bought a Leaf and use our other car for longer trips. We love the Leaf so much we use it for about 80 percent of our local trips. We charge it at night for about 9 cents a kWH and sell our solar power to the grid at peak demand times at a higher rate. We also installed a heat pump water heater and a mini split ductless heat pump to heat and cool the house, using the gas furnace as back up. Result? Our electricity, natural gas, and gasoline bills total less than $500 per year for everything. Payback is about 7 years for the solar and heat pumps. We have a 2100 square foot house in N. Cal.

  4. blair

    1. You can’t take the tax credit and claim a fair comparison of cost.
    2. Where are you getting 63.5k? That number is clearly padded by vehicle choice. Compare the cheapest electric solution to the cheapest fossil-fueled solution, and electric will lose, hard.

    It’s not that I don’t want an electric vehicle. I’d love one. But don’t lie to me about the fact that I’m paying for the privilege.

  5. Abdrew Day

    the problem I see is the increase in population so the minerals that have to mined in the polar regions will increase demand so will pollution will increase in that region have you herd of cat in the hat please have a look


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