“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.
Kevin and Donna Moon
Arroyo Grande, CA
|Type of Electric Vehicle||2013 Toyota Rav4 EV|
|Leased or Purchased||Purchased|
|Size of Solar Array||3.0 kW DC (12 panels)|
|Leased or Purchased||Purchased|
|CEC Solarize Participant||Yes|
Kevin Moon wanted to install solar panels on the roof of his Arroyo Grande home, but to do so, he made a deal with his wife, Donna. “I told her if we could have the solar panels, she could remodel the bathroom. We did the two projects almost simultaneously, so I got my prize at the same time that she got hers,” he says with a laugh.
But getting his wife to sign on to the project wasn’t the only hurdle Kevin had to overcome.
While he had been looking into solar panels for years, Kevin could never get them to pencil out economically. He and Donna had always been modest users of electricity, and since their kids had moved out, their total energy consumption had dropped even further. Between their limited energy usage and the high cost of the panels, “it just didn’t make a whole lot of economic sense at first,” says Kevin, a marketing manager for a community bank in San Luis Obispo.
Then, late last year, two things occurred that changed their energy equation.
First, in early August, Kevin received an email from the Economic Vitality Corporation of San Luis Obispo County (EVC) announcing the Solarize San Luis Obispo County program in partnership with the Community Environmental Council (CEC), offering San Luis Obispo County residents a limited-time, discounted price on solar installations. In addition to the discounts, the program also streamlined what can be for homeowners an overwhelming process of transitioning to solar energy. The next day, Kevin contacted the EVC and the CEC and set the process for purchasing and installing the panels in motion.
Second, the Moons decided it was time to trade in Kevin’s Prius for a plug-in electric vehicle. “We needed one more thing to push us a little bit, and the Solarize program was the thing,” says Kevin. “It presented enough of a savings for the panels to make more sense economically, and at the same time, it gave me the confidence to add the electric vehicle. The Solarize program for us was the last piece of the puzzle.”
Because they wanted to use a local, homegrown firm, the Moons chose Solarponics as their installer, and by early October, their 12 panels were in place. Even though Kevin had expected the actual installation to take several days, the Solarponics team came one morning with an efficient crew and by early afternoon had finished the job. At his request, they also installed an electric vehicle charger in the garage, an added bonus that “has been working perfectly,” he says.
Now, Kevin says, “Donna thinks I’m even more frugal than I was before. I’ve always been that way, but now she’ll leave the room, and I’ll turn the lights off, and she’ll come back in and protest that she wasn’t done. Having the panels has definitely made me more aware of our energy consumption. Plus, almost every day I’m logging on in the afternoon to see what kind of output we’re producing that day. The system is designed to cover what we have used in the past plus a good estimate for what our energy demand will be with the electric vehicle. My goal is to be at net zero.”
Charging their electric vehicle is helping him achieve that goal. Kevin and Donna both work in San Luis Obispo, about 14 miles away, and the two carpool together in the Toyota RAV4 EV they purchased. Kevin chose the car because of the longer range it offered, up to 120 miles on a single charge, as opposed to the 70 to 80 mile range common for the Nissan Leaf. Even getting used to the charging routine has been easier than Kevin anticipated. “I thought it was going to be much more of a mental exercise of ‘Gee, did I remember to plug the car in last night?’ But that hasn’t been an issue at all. It’s been surprisingly easy to make it part of our lifestyle.”
His RAV4 EV doesn’t look that different from the non-electric version, and Kevin is used to people not even noticing that it’s an electric vehicle. It’s certainly not as obvious as a Leaf or Volt, not to mention a Tesla. So, when a pedestrian in Pismo Beach a few months ago did a double take after reading electric on the side of the car and stopped in the middle of the crosswalk to ask Kevin questions about the car, Kevin was floored, and not a little sheepish. “I answered his questions, but I told him I wasn’t sure we should be having a conversation right in the middle of the street,” he remembers.
He’s been fielding inquiries from his neighbors about his solar panels, too. Within the first few days of having them, one neighbor had already dropped by to chat about them, and in the months since, three others have been interested to know how the experience has been working out.
A bit of a renewable energy geek, Kevin is more than happy to share his knowledge and experience of solar panels and EVs. In his spare time, he likes to peruse articles discussing the trends of renewable energy in California and around the world. “I always learn something about some new battery development or a renewable project occurring in India or China that, to me, is just fascinating,” he says. “Plus, it’s heartening to read all the articles that are coming out in obscure and sometimes not so obscure publications about electric vehicles. It really gives you a feeling that they’re following the same course as the Prius, where they start out slow but then reach some tipping point where they aren’t such an oddity anymore.”
Kevin points to his camping experiences with his dad as a child as a possible explanation for where his interest in preserving the earth’s resources comes from. “My dad would always say, ‘Leave the world better than you found it’ and things like that. I’ve always been attuned to that idea of giving back where you can. I’ve never wanted to just be a net user.”
Those are not hollow words for Kevin. He had a few extra panels installed on his roof because he wanted to not only cover his own energy needs but also to feel like he was doing his part to contribute more clean energy to the grid.
Still, the rewards of “driving on sunshine” aren’t completely altruistic for the Moons. As Kevin notes, “I smile every time I pass a gas station knowing I’ll only visit when I need to fill my tires with air!”