Wednesday, June 11, 2008


The rapid increase in oil prices is having a major impact on Hawaii. In Eastern Hawaii, a lot of people’s life styles have suddenly become less sustainable as the cost of gasoline approaches $5 a gallon. Folks that have lived 30 to 40 miles outside of Hilo for decades and depend upon driving into town to sell their produce or to get to a job or do their shopping are reaching a point where the cost of gas to get to town is diminishing the value of the trip. Their job income or produce sales have not gone up enough to cover the sudden surge in the cost of gasoline. We rely on the outlying families and farms to provide produce, products and work to the town of Hilo.

The rapid rise in peoples pain due to gas prices have made me very interested in what solutions currently exist that would reduce the cost of driving. I started by comparing the driving cost for high mileage gasoline cars, hybrid cars, and electric cars to determine which of these would be the most affordable long term solution. I assumed that an electric car would use solar electricity to recharge, to decouple it from the cost of gasoline. I used a 20 year period for the calculation to encompass the life of the solar panels.

My key assumptions were:

  • Vehicles are driven 15,000 miles a year and approximately the same mileage per day.
  • Gas prices are $5/gallon.
  • The car prices are approximately the same and all cars are 2008s. The premium that hybrids are currently getting (about $2000) was not considered significant over the 20 year time period. I was able to find electric cars and trucks in all price ranges and similarly priced to gas cars.
  • The cost of maintenance of all 3 types of cars is similar and therefore was not considered.
  • In the case of the electric car, a $10,000 capital charge was used to cover the cost of ten 180 Watt Kyocera solar panels and other solar system components. I assumed that the solar panels are installed on the car, or available to the car during day time to recharge, or electricity is available free via net metering using a home or business solar system connected to the electric company.
Over a period of 20 years the fuel cost of a Phoenix electric car was $10,000 versus $99,000 for the Ford 150 truck, $51,000 for the best mileage gas car and $33,000 for a hybrid Prirus. The electric car fuel cost is not affected by gasoline cost increases or lack of availability. The cost of using solar panels to charge an electric car or truck is so attractive that it is something we need to consider sooner than later as the current gas prices continue upward.

Although an electric car requires an up front capital investment for solar panels, the investment will be recovered within two to six years depending upon what other type of car you compare it to. Electric cars have a range limitation (100 miles in the case of the Phoenix car) before requiring that the battery is recharged. The key to making an electric car work when you have to drive long distances is to have solar panels on the roof of the car to recharge during the day or have solar panels near the car during the day. If you’re a small business owner it may make sense to have solar panels on the roof of your business to recharge you vehicles during the day.

As painful as the high cost of gas is now, the price is probably going to go higher and may eventually be unavailable at any price. Five years from now people maybe saying, "I remember when you could get a good solar panel for just $800 not the $10,000 they sell for now!"


SBVOR said...

If you care to, click the link and spread the word.

solarsolutions said...

Does anyone know of someone that can install, (thin film), solar panels on the roof of a Priusus in Maui.

I intend to tie it into a roof-top solar pv system and have "free gas" for life.

HiloLiving said...

To solarsolutions: We talked to a dealer in Hilo, Hawaii Solar Roofing, that sells flexible solar panels from Uni-solar called Laminate PVL. They said they sell versions with adhesive that can be stuck to most surfaces. They have never installed one on a car, so you would have to work out the wiring. Let us know how your project goes.

Anonymous said...

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John Curtis said...

I also agree that running our car on the solar energy is a great way to save the cost of fuel. I will install it as a semi source of energy and use it when I ran out of fuel.
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