Can a Solar Generator Charge an Electric Car?

We all love electric cars. And why wouldn’t we? Electric cars don’t need gas, are incredibly convenient, don’t produce emissions, and are about 25% cheaper to maintain. Moreover, electric cars are safer to drive and more cost-effective than traditional cars.

solar generator charging a car
solar generator charging a car

Unsurprisingly, though, electric car owners are also constantly seeking ways to reduce operating costs further. As a result, many people have tried charging their electric cars at home, with generators, and lately with solar generators.

But is it practical? Can you charge an electric car with a generator? More specifically, can you charge an electric car with a solar generator? Let’s find out.

Benefits; Why Charge Your Electric Car with Solar?

Let’s begin by understanding why it makes sense to charge your electric car with a solar generator. Electric charging stations work just fine. So, why try solar charging?

1. The cost advantage

The main reason is cost. Solar charging (assuming it’s possible) is way cheaper. According to the US Department of Transportation, the average American drives about 13,500 miles per year, equivalent to 40 miles daily.

The most fuel-efficient car, such as the Hyundai Kona, needs about 450 gallons of gas over that period, working out to about $1,260 at current rates.  

However, if you opt for the electric-powered Kona EV instead, you’ll need about 28kWh/100 miles, translating to about 3,780 kWh a year. At current rates, i.e., $0.1042/kWh, it comes to $393.88/year. That’s ($1,260 – $393.88 =) $866.12 in savings if you charge at the EV power station.

However, you can save even more when you charge with solar. According to the US Department of Energy, it costs as little as $0.06 to generate 1kWh of electricity with solar panels. This translates to 3,780 kWh x $0.06 = $226.8/year. It means you can save a further $167 per year by switching from EV power stations to solar charging.

2. Solar power is clean power

Another critical benefit of charging with solar rather than grid power is carbon emissions. Although hydroelectric power is way cleaner than gasoline, producing grid power utilizes a significant amount of carbon fuels.

According to the US Energy Administration, 450 gallons of gas (what you need per year on average) produce a staggering 8,820 lbs. of CO2 emissions. This is what electric cars seek to fix. Unfortunately, EVs indirectly generate 1,531 lbs. of CO2 when they draw 3,780 kWh of electricity from the grid.

Solar power generators also produce greenhouse emissions. However, the figure is much smaller than electric charging. Statistics show that producing 3,780 kWh of power using solar panels produces 368 lbs. of CO2 emissions.

So, Can You Charge Your EV with Solar Power?

Yes, you can. Although you’ll hear many “experts” warn that solar charging is slow and the upfront costs high, we believe that the investment is worth it. In any case, charging with the EV from your home’s supply isn’t any faster.

And, if you’re worried about the high upfront costs, you’ll be excited to hear that solar power projects pay for themselves within 8-10 years.

The next part looks at how many solar panels you need and what else you require to start charging your EV with solar.

How Much Power Does an Electric Car Use?

The amount of electric power an electric vehicle uses depends on several variables, but most importantly, the type of EV, how much you drive, and the type of solar system installed.

Solar panels mounted on the car
Solar panels mounted on the car

For instance, the 2020 BMW i3 consumes about 30kWh to cover 100 miles. Meanwhile, the Tesla Model 3 Long Range only needs 26kWh to cover the same distance. Other EVs typically fall in this range.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) converts this value into a miles-per-gallon equivalent (MPGe) to help consumers compare and make informed decisions when shopping for electric vehicles. Feel free to check the EPA’s Fuel Economy website to find out more about the electricity consumption rate of your EV.

How Many Solar Panels Do I Need to Charge my EV at Home?

The number of solar panels you need to charge your electric vehicle at home depends on several factors.

First, it depends on how much you drive. How long do you drive in a day, week, month, and year? The longer you drive, the more power you need, meaning you need a bigger charging station. This often means that car owners living in the countryside who drive up to 100 miles to and from work Monday to Friday need a lot more solar panels than urban dwellers who often drive under 20 miles to and from work daily.

Secondly, it depends on how much energy your car consumes per mile. For instance, as we’ve already seen, the 2020 BMW i3 consumes about 30kWh to cover 100 miles, translating to o.3kWh/mile. Meanwhile, the Tesla Model 3 Long Range only needs 26kWh to cover the same distance, translating to about 0.26kWh/mile. Thus, the BMW i3 needs more charging, meaning more solar panels, than the Tesla Model 3.

It’s easy to determine exactly how many panels you need once you know how much power you need per day.

Let’s use the Tesla Model3 as an example. If the Model3 consumes 26 kWh/100 miles and you drive for only 20 miles a day, you need (26 kWh x 20 miles/day)/100 = 5.2kWh/day. So, the goal is to make sure you have enough solar panels to provide 5.2kWh in a day.

Most states in the US get direct sunlight for 5 hours/day. Thus, a premium 290 watts/hour solar panel can generate 1.5kWh/day. It means you need 5.2/1.5 = 3.47 solar panels or approximately four solar panels. Actually, four panels would give you 5,800 watt-hours per day or 5.8kWh/day, o.6kWh more than the daily target.

As you can tell, the required number of panels increases if you drive longer per day. For instance, you need five times as many, i.e., 4×5=20 panels, if you drive the same Tesla for 100 miles every day.

The number also goes up if your EV consumes more power per hour. For instance, the BMWi3 needs (30 x 20)/100 = 6kWh/day, approximately 800 watts more than the Tesla Model3. So, four 290-watt solar panels producing 5,800 watt-hours per day aren’t enough. Instead, you need at least six such panels.

Prefab Solar-EV Charging Station Sprouts in Silicon Valley
Prefab Solar-EV Charging Station Sprouts in Silicon Valley

Equipment You Need to Start Charging your EV with Solar at Home

You need the solar power system, a storage battery, and a charging station to start charging your EV with solar at home.

1. The solar power system

Buying a solar system shouldn’t be too difficult. First, however, you must know the main parts and make sure to get quality parts from trusted merchants.

Generally, a solar energy system comprises three components, i.e., the panels, an inverter, and a racking/mounting system.

2. The solar panel

Solar panels are the most crucial component. Today’s panels are either monocrystalline or polycrystalline. Monocrystalline solar power panels comprise singular large crystals and are darker (typically black) in color. You’ll also note that they lack corner cells. Meanwhile, polycrystalline panels comprise multiple smaller crystals, thus are light or dark blue.

You’re probably eager to find out which is better between the two technologies. Unfortunately, they’re pretty much the same. Instead, you need to focus on the quality of the product, the reliability of the manufacturer, and product longevity.

3. The inverter 

Inverters are also critical to solar energy production as they help convert DC that the solar panels produce into a more stable alternating current (AC). Most solar panel inverters ultimately give about 240V AC, equivalent to what you use in your home.

You can choose from two inverter technologies, string inverters and microinverters. String inverters are standalone devices installed on the wall from where they draw and convert the DC power from multiple solar panels. Meanwhile, microinverters are built into the solar panel, typically at the back of each panel. This allows you to draw AC energy independently from each panel.

4. The storage battery 

You likely have the battery installed if you already have a solar system in place. Alternatively, you may get one as part of the solar power package. Nevertheless, it helps to understand how the solar battery works and select the best one for EV charging.

The storage battery converts AC power into chemical energy, allowing you to store power for later use. This is important as you may not need the power immediately. For instance, the solar panels will charge the batteries during the day, and then the batteries can charge your car at night.

Solar battery technologies have evolved significantly over the years. However, the leading technology today is lithium-ion. Lithium-ion batteries can store more charge and are cheaper than nickel-zinc batteries. They are also lighter than nickel-cadmium batteries.

However, you can do one better and just get a specialized EV batter from your car maker. For instance, the Tesla Powerwall2 battery, designed for Tesla (and other) cars, stores up to 13.5kWh of energy, making it better than most batteries. You only need one such battery to meet your daily mileage needs.

5. Charging station

Finally, you need a charging station. It’s best to get the charging station from your car manufacturer. However, you can also buy one online.

Just remember that level-2 charging stations are the best. A level-2 charging station is firmly mounted on the wall and facilitates convenient EV charging. They operate at around 240V and 40 amps, meaning you don’t need a lot of modifications to connect them to your solar power system.

When choosing the charging system, an important consideration is the charging speed or how long you can drive for an hour of charging. Most level2 charging stations provide 35 to 40 miles for an hour of charging. The shorter the time, the better. Modern charges are Wi-Fi compatible, so you can easily track the charging process from your smartphone.

Summary 

Solar power charging for electric cars is cost-effective, convenient, and above all, an environmentally cleaner alternative to grid power charging. It’s also more efficient. It’s the way to go if you’re already aboard the EV hype train.

Can a Solar Generator Charge an Electric Car?

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