13,476 miles. That’s how much the average American drives each year, according to the US Department of Transportation. To put that in perspective, you can drive from Anchorage, AK to Miami, FL and back in 9,916 miles.
At a national average of 24.7 mpg, our vehicles will each suck up about 546 gallons of gas this year – which costs around $1,650. We’ll also each contribute 4.6 metric tons of CO2 to Earth’s atmosphere.
Whether it’s to cut expenses, do your part for the environment, or a little of both, more and more Americans are making the switch to hybrid or electric cars. But these next-generation vehicles still need fuel, and electricity isn’t free – unless you have solar power.
Find out what options you have for electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, how much they’ll cost you, and how many panels you’ll need to power your car.
There are three types of EV chargers, and which type you decide to install will dictate the cost. Currently, Paradise Energy offers options for private chargers, integrated private chargers, and public chargers.
A private EV charging station will allow you to plug in your electric vehicle and charge up your car’s battery. These can be hooked up to a solar panel system or it can be grid-tied, so if you have an electric car but no solar panels, it’s a great home charging station option.
Costs for a charging station like this will be in the neighborhood of $2,000 – $3,000, if installed in conjunction with a solar array. The cost will depend on several factors, including how far it is installed from your main distribution panel, and whether or not trenching will be required.
An integrated private charger is similar, but can only be installed with a solar system that has a solar inverter that’s the right brand and size. At Paradise Energy, we offer a SolarEdge EV charging station that integrates with some SolarEdge inverters.
For this option, a 25-foot charging cable is connected directly to your inverter. While this is the least expensive option, your SolarEdge inverter must be in a location where you can pull up your car and park it for a few hours. Granted you are installing the proper inverter, this solar-power EV car charger and its installation will cost around $1,100 if it is installed at the same time as the solar array.
The third option is a public charger. These are intended for commercial use and allow their owners to charge a fee to those who use them. They’re also the most expensive option and require ongoing software updates.
These updates are integrated with an app that lets people see where EV charging stations are located and which charging stations are already occupied. They can also reserve their spot in a virtual line, so they don’t have to wait around for their turn to charge.
A public charger that is integrated with a solar system will likely cost you in the ballpark of $15,000. A public charger that is not integrated with a solar system can run around $20,000 or more. You’ll also have to pay for continued software maintenance for the app.
If charging speed is important to you, DC fast chargers may be an option. A standard 7.6 kW charger can charge a 16 kWh battery in about two hours and a 90 kWh battery in ten to 12 hours. However, a 50 kW DC fast charger can charge a 16 kWh battery in just 20 minutes and a 90 kWh battery in under two hours.
While those charging speeds sound attractive, they come at a high price. A DC fast charger can costs upwards of $60,000.
Electricity is expensive, just like gas. While you can hook your EV charger to the grid and pay your utility to charge your car, you could also cut your carbon emissions by using renewable energy instead. If you have a solar system or you’re considering installing one to power your EV charger, it may take fewer solar panels than you think.
As a general estimate, it could take in the neighborhood of eight and 14 solar panels to charge your electric car. This depends on how much you drive, the efficiency of your vehicle, the sunshine in your area, and the type of panels you have installed.
To get a clearer picture, you’ll have to determine how much electricity your car uses. We’ll take a look at how many kilowatt-hours (kWh) it takes for your car to travel 100 miles. To find this out, you can look up your vehicle on fueleconomy.gov. The number you need will be at the bottom of the green EPA Fuel Economy box:
Once you have that information, find out how much extra electricity you’ll need to power your car each month with the following formula:
(kWh per 100 mi for your electric vehicle * monthly miles driven) / 100 = kWh needed per month
Or, use our calculator below:
Here’s an example. Sticking with our averages, we’ll say we drive 1,100 miles each month with a car that uses 30 kWh of electricity to travel 100 miles. Crunching the numbers, we’ll need 330 kWh to travel that distance each month.
How many solar panels is that? It’s hard to give an exact answer, because how much electricity one solar panel produces is based on the type of panel, where it’s installed, and the weather in your area. A general estimate is that one panel can produce around 30 kWh each month. Divide the 330 kWh you need to power your electric car by 30 kWh, and you get 11 panels.
One option for these solar panels is installing them as a carport, so you’ll have a place to park your car while it’s charging. You can also add this to an existing system or integrate it into a new, larger system that powers the rest of your home or business.
What if you could cut out the middle man (the EV charging station) and continually charge your car with solar panels? If you’re wondering if we will ever drive self-charging solar-powered cars, the answer is probably – but not that soon.
Dutch start-up Lightyear has developed a prototype of the Lightyear One, an electric car with a 450-mile range and solar panels covering the roof and hood. In one hour of charging, the panels charge the car enough to travel about 7.5 miles. Even if you shell out $135,000 to preorder one of the first 500 Lightyear Ones (due out in 2021), you’ll still need a traditional EV charger if you plan to use the car regularly.
Sono Motors has the less-sporty but more affordable Sion, which is also powered by solar panels covering the car’s shell. They claim this car can go 18.6 miles, and with the battery pack, it will cost around $29,000.
Familiar vehicle manufacturers are also experimenting with solar panels on their hybrids. Some of the Toyota Prius PHV models sold in the US are equipped with a small solar pack, which expands the car’s range by 5 miles. Toyota has also begun trials on another version of the solar-powered Prius which can add over 31 miles to the hybrid’s range.
In August 2019, Hyundai joined the solar car game with its new Sonota Hybrid. The car’s solar-panel roof can charge 30% to 60% of the hybrid car’s battery in six hours – and Hyundai reports that it will extend the car’s range by 800 miles each year.
30% – 60% does sound like a lot, but keep in mind a hybrid car’s battery is much smaller than an all-electric car’s battery. The solar Sonata Hybrid will be sold in Korea and North America, but no price has been released yet.
While car manufacturers are experimenting with direct solar car charging, it’s not yet clear how effective solar panels can be. The panels add weight to the car, reducing MPGe. At this point, the power supplied by solar panels continues to be too small to be a practical replacement of an EV charging station.