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CEC is committed to creating a more resilient and just region in the face of climate change. Through our work with the Central Coast Climate Justice Network and elsewhere, our vision includes an end to racial injustices and their resulting environmental inequities.

“Driving on Sunshine” is a series about people who are using grid-tied solar panels on their homes to power their electric vehicles.  More plug-in vehicles are entering the market at competitive prices, including low monthly leases starting at $199/month. In addition, more people are able to afford home solar systems thanks to solar leasing programs and group-purchasing options, such as CEC’s Solarize program. 

Jeff and Mandy Phillips
Santa Barbara, CA

Type of Electric Vehicle Nissan Leaf
Leased or Purchased Leased
Size of Solar Array 14 SunPower 240 W panels and Enphase microinverters
Solar Installer California Solar Electric
Leased or Purchased Purchased
CEC Solarize Participant No

Jeff and Mandy Phillips are always looking for ways to ease their impact on the environment. When Jeff heard there was a special on the Nissan LEAF that would make it possible for him to drive a brand new zero-emissions vehicle and save substantially on his car payment, he signed a lease the next day.  Almost immediately after this, he crunched the numbers and found that, with an electric vehicle to charge, putting solar panels on his home finally made economic sense. He is now “driving on sunshine.”

Jeff drives from his home in Santa Barbara to his job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Ventura five days a week — a 70-mile round trip commute that he used to do in a Ford Escape hybrid. While the environmental benefits of the Nissan LEAF were an important reason for his switch from hybrid to electric, it also proved to pay off – with estimated savings of about $245/ month.  Here’s how he does it:

Expenses before driving on sunshine:

  • Auto loan: $475/month
  • Gasoline: $300/month
  • Utility bills: $30/month
  • Total: $805/month

One-time expenses:

  • Down payment on Nissan LEAF lease: $1,999 (but he received a rebate check for $2,500 from the State shortly thereafter)
  • Down payment on the solar panel loan: $1,000
  • Total: $500  (after rebate)

Current expenses:

  • Auto lease: $260/month (he upgraded to 18,000 miles/year)
  • Home solar system loan: $300/month
  • Utility bills: vary depending on the time of year, however their annual average is near zero.
  • Total: $560/month

Going solar was something Jeff and Mandy always wanted but, with a small home and a low utility bill, it didn’t make financial sense.  Now for what they used to pay in monthly gasoline expenses, he is charging his car, paying their utility bills, and paying off the solar loan they financed the panels with.  After five years, the loan will be paid off and the Phillips family will enjoy at least 20 years of free electricity to power their home and car. “It’s exciting to make such a huge change and also have it make total economic sense,” he says.

Jeff likes leasing the electric vehicle because it is relatively new technology and leasing allows him to try it out for three years before committing to a new purchase.  Does he anticipate keeping an electric car after his lease is up? “Definitely.  I love it”.  He says the car is fun to drive and performs better than a gas-powered car, cornering nicely and accelerating from 0 to 60 miles per hour in less than 7 seconds.  Match the fast acceleration with the lack of accompanying motor noise and it’s “like being in a rocket ship.”  Jeff says the quiet ride means phone conversations are easier and music sounds better, which is a bonus during his long commute.

While Jeff says that he hasn’t found any serious drawbacks to driving an electric vehicle, it is smaller than his Ford Escape. It helps that Mandy has a Toyota Prius hybrid which they’ve made “as close to an SUV as possible” to accommodate their recreation-intensive lifestyles.  He’s added a trailer hitch to attach a bike rack, a roof rack for surfboards, and a storage box for camping gear.

Jeff encourages those who are on the fence about making the switch to a plug-in car and solar power to take a second look at the numbers.  “A lot of us have the desire to be environmentally-conscious or reduce our carbon footprint, but we don’t have a ton of money to pay for it and have been waiting until it all adds up economically.  But that day is here.  People may not realize it, but take a close look at the cost and you’ll see.  The time is now.”

To learn how you can start “driving on sunshine” or add solar power to your home, contact CEC at 805.963.0583 x 105 or CEC can answer your questions about technologies, paybacks, and incentives.  Also check out our Get Started Guides.


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