Here’s how going solar saved one Tesla owner a lot of money

Electric cars and solar panels are like peanuts and beer: the one increases your appetite for the other. A survey by CleanTechnica of 2,000 EV drivers in 28 countries found that 28-40% of respondents had installed home solar panels. 


Above: Tesla Model S powered by solar panels at home (Image: Alba Energy)

As is the case with electric vehicles, solar panels are a more attractive purchase in certain regions, where generous local incentives can offset a large chunk of the up-front cost.

Tesla Model S owner Shiva Singh told Green Car Reports about his very lucrative experience with solar panels. Shiva owns no less than five electric cars, including two Model S, and has three 240-volt Level 2 charging stations in his garage. He lives in Fremont, California, home of Tesla’s assembly plant, and the city with the highest concentration of electric-car ownership in California (and almost certainly in the US).

He had been thinking about solar for some time, but what really convinced him to take the plunge was the fact that the city of Fremont now requires all new homes to have solar panels and EV charging stations. He figured that, when it came time to sell, solar would make his house more competitive in the market.


Above: Getting your home's power from the sun (Image: Ecowatch)

Shiva’s local utility, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), offers a time-of-use plan, which means that electric rates are lower during off-peak hours. Deals like this, which are available in a growing number of areas around the country, are tailor-made for EV drivers, who can set their vehicles to charge during the cheapest rate period (for Shiva, that’s 11 pm to 7 am on weekdays, when the rate drops to $0.10 per kilowatt-hour, half the maximum rate).

That’s not the only local incentive in solar-friendly Fremont. Several regions in California offer a program called PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy), which allows homeowners to finance renewable energy projects by attaching the debt to the property, and paying it back through their property tax bills. The interest portion can be taken as an itemized deduction on the homeowner’s federal tax return.

And of course, taxpayers in any state can take advantage of the 30% federal tax credit for solar energy systems. Unlike the EV purchase tax credit, the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit carries over to future years, so you eventually get the full amount of the credit, no matter how high or low your tax bill.


Above: Tesla Model S powered by sunlight (Image: Florida Solar Design Group)

Shiva ended up buying a system with an output of 7.26 kW, consisting of 22 330-Watt LG panels, placed on the west and south sides of his roof. The after-tax cost worked out to $2.45 per Watt. The system covers his family’s monthly usage of about 1,500 kWh, and and even produces a small excess, which PG&E refunds at the end of each year. 

The most critical number for anyone considering solar (or any other money-saving home improvement) is the payback period - how long it takes for the monthly savings to equal the up-front cost. Shiva has calculated his at less than six years.

Shiva’s experience is basically a best-case scenario - not only does he live in what is probably the most solar-friendly locality in the US, but he has a large house (5,000 square feet) and high electric usage. Your author, in sunny but solar-averse Florida, has a much smaller home, and the local utility offers no time-of-use program. Estimates from several solar installers have worked out to a payback period more like ten years. The only way to know if solar is a good deal for you (financially) is to do some research.


Above: With solar, you can charge your Tesla to drive on sunshine (Image: Chase)

However, Shiva does have some good advice for anyone who’s thinking about going solar: get estimates from several companies, including local outfits, not just the national chains. Read the fine print, and be particularly careful about financing. In general, home improvement companies don’t make loans themselves - they partner with finance companies, which are expert at making the deals sound better than they are.

Of course, saving money isn’t the only reason to go solar, any more than it’s the only reason to drive electric. Elon Musk has had several opportunities to sell out and retire a multi-millionaire, but that’s not where his interests lie. The philosophy behind Tesla, SolarCity and SpaceX has never been about making money - it’s about changing the world. If you’ve got the money to invest, why not change your little corner of it for the better?