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Is the Chevy Volt way too expensive – a car for well-meaning but well-heeled greenies to make themselves feel good? King is a writer and photographer living in Maui who figures his driving will soon be effectively “free” due to low-cost solar panels he had installed to keep his car charged. If you’ve not heard, the cost of solar has come way down in recent years, but we know where gas is going, don’t we? What’s more, King says his Volt is the best automotive value he’s yet had despite not having recouped any federal or state subsidies when he bought it. His cost for installing nine extra solar panels to his pre-existing solar array was $5,000, plus he paid $500 for an optional fast charger.
If you have no solar now, you would also need a DC-to-AC inverter and related hardware, so it could be up to double or more compared to what King paid, but this is an investment that would last for many years that would effectively wipe out your gasoline bill, and you may even be able to sell unused electricity back to your local utility. As for King, he says buying a Volt and solar charging is a good deal even though he paid extra to get it, then forfeited eligibility for a $4,500 Hawaiian subsidy now available, and $7,500 federal subsidy.
To others, he says even though they’ll have out-of pocket expenses, it might very well make good financial sense for them also, as they more likely will qualify for federal and state subsidies – for the car, and possible for the solar installation.
King’s estimation that charging costs will soon be no charge takes into consideration what he formerly spent monthly on gas for a Honda CR-V. Not having a particular affinity for the undesirable effects petroleum has had on the environment and society, King has set up his house to live autonomously yet with high quality of life.
The deal was especially sweet because Maui electric rates can hover around 30 cents per kilowatt-hour or more.
King acknowledges everyone’s situation is different, and living entirely off the grid as he does, his environmental commitment is deep, but having researched solar, he does not understand why more people are not doing it – particularly when a less-involved approach of grid tie-in is more financially feasible than ever. Jay Friedland, legislative director for Plug In America says a growing number of people are discovering what it is like to cut or eliminate the electric bill – and even be able to sell energy back to their local utility for a very gratifying turning of the table.
State-by-state subsidies are available, as is a 30-percent federal tax credit, and so are loans if needed.
Friedland cited others who installed solar for general household needs who later realized having effectively free kilowatts on hand, they would benefit from buying or leasing an electric vehicle.
King’s off-the-grid living is made possible through readily available technology such as the Outback inverters. But consumers who are not as ideologically driven want to know they are not paying extra just to support a cause.
That ultimately depends on a host of variables for your local circumstances including how low your present electric and gasoline expenses are, but the good news, says Friedland – and King – is that solar recharging can pay back out-of-pocket costs to switch. King says his solar power system includes 24 deep-cycle batteries for storage, and a diesel generator backup – which he rarely if ever uses, and he looks forward to when the Volt can be used in a smart grid application as his backup. In any event, his solar panels recharge 100 percent even on a cloudy day, and about the only time he may not generate power is in a torrential downpour.
As for justifying whether it would be worth it for solar electric car recharging, one major factor to consider is how much you spend on gasoline and electricity per year, and factoring the Volt’s electric range and money saved can make a compelling case. In King’s moderate climate, his Volt’s all-electric range is much better than the EPA-stated 35 miles, and he averages 45-48 miles on a charge. His reasoning extends also to other electric vehicles with longer ranges, such as the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubushi i, and other available or soon-to-be models like the Ford Focus Electric or Tesla Model S, and others.
Also going beyond creating enough electricity for their car, Norma and Alan Williamson power their California home with photovoltaic panels.
If the vehicle to be charged has a larger battery as pure EVs do, you’d need enough solar energy daily, and a 240-volt level 2 charger, but the math can still work out – while giving a hedge against inflationary electricity and gasoline prices. For his part, King says the Volt makes the most sense because its range meets his daily driving needs – and statistically, those of most Americans – and has gasoline backup when needed.

To determine what state-by-state incentives are available, the Energy Department has an interactive map. For more information on solar power in general, you can contact a non-profit like the American Solar Energy Society, and the Energy Department has further info worth perusing as well. Besides these resources, there are many others, but they ought to get you started in the right direction. Calculating cost for solar would also mean factoring in amortization, as the solar array will not last forever, but they are known to last many years even decades. But if you ask Jason King, he says he has the formula dialed and even if your daily mileage goes a bit over the Volt’s electric range, it still is an elegant solution with no downside. Secondly, By the time the battery needs to be replaced, (hopefully) they will be a lot cheaper.
Kiplinger personal finance has a cost of ownership calculator that basically agrees with you Jason.
Based on $3.80 per gallon gas, after five years of 15,000 miles per year, assuming full federal tax credit is taken, the cost difference between a $40,280 Volt, and $21,975 Cruze LTZ (2011 model years) is said to be $3,623. That said, as always, this is a qualified calculation and other variables can come into play, no doubt.
Generally, what normally happens is li-ion batteries do reduce their ability to hold a full charge after a point, but I do not know of a consensus on when that would be for this new vehicle. Battery prices are coming down, but if this durability question is a concern, it’s also one more reason why leasing the Volt could make better sense.
Where’s King going to come up with a free battery to replace the old when down the road? Some of you people sound like the Volt and the all electric Leaf has reached their peak and there will be no more improvements on either the vehicle, engine or battery. As the variables of decreasing Solar PV cost compare to just grid power alone, it has been stated that Solar PV generated electrity will be less expensive than the generally increasing Grid power cost, by about mid 2013 – 2013, meaning this approach will soon be more obviously the winner – using Solar PV to charge you PHEV or EV! I wish him well on his choice, congratulate his efforts for our behalf, and hope he will continue to teach us what he has learned, but to say that we should (or can) do all the building and retrofitting that he has, is wishful thinking.
I’m more sceptical about PV compared to regular solar modules like here for a simple reason. America is really doing something great, it is really amazing how mankind started from tents to clay houses to wood houses to stone to stucco, now wood with solar power energetic amazing super house to the third degree. These kinds of posts are always inspiring and I prefer to read quality content so I am happy to find out many good points here in the post. We’ve heard from critics – who in cases have never even driven a Volt – and who’ve tried to paint negative views, and more recently we heard from Jason King, who says his Volt fits the latter scenario, and is paying him back fast.
In short, what he paid to install solar recharging is around what he used to pay for a couple year’s worth of gasoline, and soon, he reckons, it will all be gravy. Being eager to get one early, he bought his Volt in California just two months after GM began production, and shipped it for about $1,000 to Hawaii.
In nine more months, his Volt will have paid off its lifetime cost to solar recharge, then every electric mile he drives thereafter is effectively free.
People’s rationales can include preferring their energy to be domestically sourced, and it’s satisfying knowing the money stays at home, instead of paying domestic or foreign oil suppliers. There are those who want to able to simply justify the outlay, and see a return on investment. They just need a clear exposure to the sun, and Friedland notes the second largest solar energy usage outside of California is in New Jersey. All this to him will soon be effectively free, as he is not even paying a utility for the kilowatt-hours or a gas station.

We’re including this photo to show an example of a more ordinary residence with solar system potentially tied to the grid.
Thus far, he estimates he’s only used about four gallons, and has effectively driven the Volt at 2,000 miles per gallon – with his electricity soon to be paid off as well. You can think also about leasing solar from a company like Sungevity, or others, and as you know the cost of a Volt can also be offset by a presently reasonable lease rates – and this might make sense especially if you do not fully qualify for incentives.
People considering a buying decision should assess available info, then consider their own situation to make an actual determination for their purposes. Consider this, in ten years or 100,000 miles when you may need to replace your battery, we may not even be using the current battery, but one that cost about a $1,000.00 and can take you 500 to a 1,000 miles on each charge. With that in mind, some things to consider – being heavier, it has different suspention components, response rates, stiffness characteristics, and other variations.
In germany for example you’ll even get a significant sum directly from the government if you decide to use pv module to produce your own energy.
This November, please vote these busy-body, micro-managing, freedom-stealing perverts out of office! From the tons of comments on your articles,I guess I am not only one having all the enjoyment right here!
Others point to what it costs in wars and military expense and lives to keep the oil flowing here.
King observes also that Germany, a country not known for being particularly sunny, leads the world in solar proliferation.
Unfortunately I’m not sure how well my pv cells will return their investment here in Manchester. We save $300 per month on our electric bill as well, and still get a a check from the power company. And also consider this, in ten years, you may not even own a Volt or Leaf, but a much better model with a greater range and lower priced tag. Blogger has described everything in very effective manner so that you could get information what you want.
Our deep cycle batteries utilize the heaviest and thickest plates available from the battery industry – and more than 10% thicker than those used by the competition.
I love the Volt for its technology and ability to use domestic energy but it is a financial loser compared to the Cruise. So if today I buy a volt, after 8-9 years (In 2020-2021) the battery cost will be so much lower. Get you the cheapest electric you can find with the best range and when you need to replace the battery, it may not make you scream no more than buying a new battery for your current ICE and the money you save on gas and electric, you may have enough saved for a down payment on a boat or camper. Others point to being self-reliant and not having to pay for ever-increasing gasoline and electricity expenses. It really is a good car and makes sense versus buying a 35K luxury car but these kind of articles make their authors look silly.
Throw in the cost of the photovoltaic system and batteries and you’ll be $30K in the hole.

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