Business

Electric-car drivers trading gas for solar power

DETROIT — Owners of electric vehicles have already gone gas-free. Now, a growing number are powering their cars with sunlight.

Solar panels installed on the roof of a home or garage can easily generate enough electricity to power an electric or gas-electric hybrid vehicle. The panels aren’t cheap, and neither are the cars. A Ford Fusion Energi plug-in sedan, for example, is $7,200 more than a gas-powered Fusion even after a $4,007 federal tax credit.

But advocates say the investment pays off over time, and is worth it for the thrill of fossil-fuel-free driving.

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‘‘We think it was one of the best things in the world to do,’’ says Kevin Tofel, who bought a Chevrolet Volt in 2012 to soak up excess power from his home solar-energy system. ‘‘We will never go back to an all-gas car.’’

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No one knows exactly how many electric cars are being powered by solar energy, but the number of electric and plug-in hybrid cars in the United States is growing. Last year, 97,563 were sold, according to Ward’s AutoInfoBank, up 83 percent from the year before. Meanwhile, solar-power installations grew 21 percent in the second quarter of this year, and more than 500,000 homes and businesses now have them, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Bill Webster, 39, a graphic designer at a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., paid $36,740 for his solar array in Frederick, Md., three years ago, or around $3.60 per watt. Tax credits reduced his net cost to around $20,000. That fuels his home and his all-electric Nissan Leaf .

Before the installation, his family was paying $1,500 per year for electricity. Now, he pays $5.36 per month, the administrative fee for connecting to the grid. Webster thinks he’ll break even on his investment in six years.