How A Solar Powered Car Could Drive Your Homestead
How Much Does a Solar Electric Car Cost?
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By John G. Moore – In 2014 when my wife and I decided to power our five East Texas acres with solar, a solar powered car was not part of the plan. But a couple of thoughts we had, changed our minds. They were: 1) If we made our own electricity, our homestead would have an endless supply of renewable energy for our home and workshop, and 2) If we made our own electricity and owned an electric vehicle, we’d have a never-ending supply of fuel for our car. I believe if more homesteaders entertained those same two thoughts, both solar power, and an electric car would be part of their daily life. In 2014 when my wife and I decided to power our five East Texas acres with solar, an electric vehicle was not part of the plan. But a couple of thoughts we had, changed our minds. They were: 1) If we made our own electricity, our homestead would have an endless supply of renewable energy for our home and workshop, and 2) If we made our own electricity and owned an electric vehicle, we’d have a never-ending supply of fuel for our car. I believe if more homesteaders entertained those same two thoughts, both solar power and an electric car would be part of their daily lives.
When I worked for the government, it was pointed out to me by a coworker that the American electrical grid is old, in dire need of upgrades and repairs, and could be hacked and turned off by people who know how to do that. Imagine waking up one day and the electricity is off — everywhere. It’s scary, but it’s quite possible.
It takes electricity to pump fuel from the tanks at the gas stations and to operate the manufacturing facilities that make gasoline, diesel, and other fuels. But we knew almost nothing about electric cars. Were they reliable? What might be the downsides of owning one? We didn’t know, so while we proceeded working toward adding solar power to our homestead, we took our time and researched the electric car idea.
First, we had to make sure we made the correct decision of contracting with the right company for installing the solar-powered system. Our requirements included that the owners of the company were experts. We wanted someone who’d been installing these systems for a long time, was certified, would show us some of their work, and would let us talk to their customers.
Even though solar-powered systems have a very long lifespan, we wanted to make sure that the company was going to stay around and be there for us if we had any issues down the road.
We went with a company called Wright-Way Solar, based in Tyler, Texas. My wife and I wanted solar panels, a solar electric backup system, and a propane-powered generator all tied together so that we could operate without the grid for a long time if that became necessary. Wright-Way has installed systems for many years and their clients raved about them.
After installing the solar, a trip through Oklahoma pushed ahead our plan to add an electric car to our homestead. We passed a car dealership featuring a sign that said, “Nissan Leaf — Electric Vehicles Now Available.” My wife and I seemed to have had the same thought at the same time as we looked at the sign and then back at each other.
But, I was the one who pushed the idea. We discussed how an electric car made a lot of sense, but she wanted to know more — a lot more — before spending additional money on something else solar.
Honestly, after spending the money to fit our existing home with solar, buying an electric car needed to make sense. As we kept driving, I suggested she look on the web to find out as much as we could, including whether electric vehicles could be purchased with tax incentives.
We drove along Oklahoma’s highways for what seemed like a short time due to our excitement, but it was actually a couple of hours as she and I talked and she continued to research the advantages of owning an electric car.
She looked up all the manufacturers at that time and their track records. We researched reliability (the Leaf had been in production for four years at this point), cost of maintenance, repair, and operation.
When we learned that the reliability was excellent; that there was essentially zero repair or maintenance costs; and for about $20 a month, we could charge and operate the car, I was sold.
After we visited the local dealership, talked to the sales department, and test-drove a new Leaf, we decided to buy a new 2015 model.
We had our solar installer add a 220-volt plug in the garage (the car comes with a standard wall outlet plug-in charger, but the 220 charges much faster and more efficiently), and we began driving it. Everywhere. For just about everything.
You don’t need gasoline or diesel; there are no oil changes, filters, or much else.
After five years, the only money we’ve spent on the solar powered car is a set of tires, and replacing the $137 12-volt battery under the hood. Even an electric car relies on a standard automotive 12-volt battery for basic functions. The main batteries on a Leaf that operate the drive train are located under the floor.
We love this car. Our mileage is approximately 119 mpg using the conversion if it were a gasoline vehicle. Our range is about 100 miles per charge, but the newest models’ range is much better.
I drive it to the feed store to buy fish food for the pond, and to the hardware store for gardening supplies, plants, and just about everything else we need on the homestead. The Leaf has a hatchback, so loading and unloading are easy.
We got a few looks at the feed and hardware stores when we asked them to load the fish food or the bags of peat moss, “… into the back of the electric car out front.”
At the time we were installing solar and buying an electric car, there were a number of tax incentives. In many states, there still are. You’ll need to check with local authorities to see what’s available where you live.
The good news is that since we installed the first phase of our solar electrical system in 2014, the prices of many of the components have become more competitive.
In our system, the batteries are American made. Canadian solar panels were the best value when we began our project, and the inverters were made in Germany. It seems that the world was and is still collaborating to make renewable energy work.
So, no gas or oil, no filters, and virtually no maintenance? An electric car can really seem too good to be true. In some ways it is. The amount of money we’ve saved is in the thousands, and we never have to stop for fuel.
Consider a solar powered car for your homestead. I think you’ll get as much of a charge out of owning one as we have.
Is a solar powered car in your future? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Originally published in Countryside March/April 2021 and regularly vetted for accuracy.