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USA: ENERGY: Electric car owners prone to going solar

Electric car buyers said they’re purchasing solar panels to support their new, electricity-intensive driving habits.

The first in the most recent wave of plug-in electric cars rolled out last year in San Diego County, an all-electric vehicle from Nissan, followed a month later by Chevy’s mostly electric Volt.

While there’s no hard data for Volt owners, 40 percent of Leaf owners have solar panels, according to the California Center for Sustainable Energy, a San Diego nonprofit. Owners reached by the North County Times said they decided on solar panels at the same time they decided on electric cars, both to reduce their contributions to global warming and to offset the extra electricity they’d have to buy for their new vehicles.

“We wanted to go electric because it’s green and all that,” said Rosa Enriquez, a teacher with the Vista Unified School District. “But we went solar also because our electric bills were so high —- hundreds and hundreds of dollars.”

For customers like Enriquez, the “going green” element comes from the reduction in greenhouse-gas production that comes with emissions-free solar power, which then is used to run an electric car, itself an improvement on gasoline-burners in terms of greenhouse impact.

“When a person goes solar and buys an electric car, they essentially have their own gas station on their roof,” said Daniel Sullivan, founder of Sullivan Solar Power in San Diego.

Many owners also said they’d come out ahead financially, thanks to the way California utilities bill for power.

The price of electricity in California escalates as customers’ consumption passes usage plateaus. Owning an electric car not only adds to total usage, but it also puts more customers into the most expensive tiers of electricity.

Using solar panels to generate electricity and pump it back into the grid allows customers to reduce their usage, and to pay a lower rate for the power they use, lowering their bills.

San Diego Gas & Electric Co. would prefer car owners use an alternate billing system in which the owners pay for power priced on when it’s used. Electricity used in the middle of the day, when it’s most needed in offices and factories, costs the most, while power at night is the cheapest, said SDG&E spokesman Art Larson.

Customers have the option of putting their whole house, including the solarpower generation, into a time-of-use billing system. Their solar panels would produce power in the mid-afternoon, when the sun is brightest and electricity the most expensive, and they would, SDG&E hopes, charge their cars at night, when electricity is cheapest, Larson said.

SDG&E is working with another company called Ecotality Inc. to test three different pricing schemes that make the daytime-nighttime contrast more or less extreme.

Electric car owners can also choose a hybrid scheme in which they install a second meter specifically for time-of-use billing for their electric vehicles, while the house would remain on the traditional tier system.

Installing a meter and charger can be expensive, as much as $3,500 total, plus another $1,000 for a charger, according to Mark Ferry, transportation program manager for the Center for Sustainable Energy. In San Diego, a thousand customers are participating in a federally funded program that pays all of those expenses.


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