Ford Announces Plan to Sell Rooftop Solar Panels with Electric Vehicles

Auto companies with electric vehicle offerings are increasingly taking the opportunity to build links between their vehicles and renewable energy. Perhaps in response to those who say (incorrectly) that EVs do nothing to help mitigate carbon emissions – due to a prevalence of coal-fired electricity generation – manufacturers are forging strategic partnerships with solar companies to shore up the environmental case for the electric car.

Last month, GM announced a substantial investment in Sunlogics PLC, and in combination with this partnership, will deploy solar canopies at Chevrolet dealers in North America. The canopies will power-up Chevrolet Volts on dealer lots, with any residual power produced going towards offsetting the dealers’ energy needs.

This week, Ford has announced they will team up with SunPower Corp, under their “Drive Green For Life” program, though they will take a different approach than GM as to how they will promote solar. Ford will be introducing an all electric Focus this year, as well as the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid in 2012, and their approach will be to offer customers the option to purchase a rooftop solar system for their home at the point of vehicle purchase. As this Fast Company article humorously reports, when buying your car you may be asked, “Would you like some solar with that?

Unlike most residential solar offerings – whereby consumers determine the energy use of their home and secure a solar array to either offset a portion, or fully meet their electricity use – Ford’s system is designed specifically to offset the electricity use of the car itself. As a result, the solar installation will be smaller than would be typical for an average home. The 2.5 kilowatt set-up will produce 3,000 kWh of electricity per year, which is sized to allow Ford’s EV customers to drive about 1,000 miles per month and fully offset the energy used. Ford states the SunPower panels are high efficiency items capable of producing up to 50% more electricity than conventional panels, while occupying a smaller footprint.

The price of the system is $10,000 – though depending on federal, state and local tax credits, the price could work out somewhat cheaper than that. Included in the price, customers will also get monitoring tools allowing them to track the system via an iphone app or on-line. The system is backed by a 25-year warranty, which should comfortably out-live the vehicle itself.

Though Ford’s press release quotes Mike Tinskey, Director of Global Vehicle Electrification and Infrastructure, as saying Ford’s EV owners can reduce their total cost of ownership by generating enough energy to offset their vehicles’ energy use – for savings to occur, customers will need to take a long-term view.

The average residential retail price of electricity in the USA in February 2011 was running at 11.2 cents per kWh. So, given that SunPower’s system generates 3,000 kWh/year, customers plugging into the grid would pay around $336 per year to get that same amount of energy. At that rate, it would take 29 years to recoup the $10,000 investment. But, some parts of the country charge more for electricity, have varying rates for time of use, while energy prices will conceivably rise. However, the economics will no doubt give some customers second thoughts.

Still, if you are an environmentally conscious driver – as many early EV adopters are – there is value in the knowledge that your personal mobility leaves minimal carbon footprint. And bear in mind, you still have the ability to generate 3,000 kWh per year via solar, whether you keep the vehicle long term or not. And, if you drive fewer than 1,000 miles per month, some of that solar energy will offset your household needs instead.

Overall, this is a great opportunity to bind together EV motoring with renewable energy generation. If,  in the process of buying your car, you are able to interface with a company that can install a solar system all at the same time – that’s an innovative approach in getting more distributed solar energy out there, and it will reduce the carbon footprint of electric vehicles still further.

Image from Ford’s media site


Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.

2 responses

  1. An interesting twist on the use of renewable energy sources. Considering the price of gas is increasingly rising to the $4 mark around here, it may be worth the switch over.

    The car itself looks pretty good as well, so a double bonus.

  2. Instead of considering payback, consider investment earnings %tage; is it higher than CDs or the stock market?

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