Angela and Eric’s transition to a solar-powered lifestyle began when they moved from their Rochester home near Eric’s office to a farmstead in Oronoco where Angela could put her environmental studies and agricultural experience to work.
“We were interested in the early generation electric cars back when we started hearing about them, and we felt compelled to get one when we moved out of town given how many extra road miles we’re driving,” Erik said. “It’s twenty miles per day. Some people wouldn’t shake a stick at that–it’s not a big deal by American standards—but I used to take the shuttle to work every day and then walk. We immediately felt the impact of commuting, having not been in a car for 8 years.”
In their case, buying the electric car and installing solar were two separate decisions.
“At the time we got our electric car, I don’t think we were considering having our own solar farm, though we had always been interested in it. We were signed up for the community solar program, but with the incentives and rebates and a friend of ours putting solar on their garage roof in town, we took the plunge. It wasn’t the order we had originally planned for all our house projects, but in the end we put the electric first. The car first, and then the solar array.”
Angela added, “We wanted to do all kinds of other stuff, but we said, ‘No, we have to do the solar panels. That’s the most responsible thing we can do.’”
Having already decided to go solar, Angela was pointed to Solar Connection by two different resources. “The Rochester-area home builders’ association has an energy-efficiency Community Ed tour. I signed up for that and someone from Solar Connection was on it, and I chatted him up. At the same time, Eric’s colleague had put panels on their house and they recommended them.”
Of course, entrusting the project to local specialists saved them time and money while providing a quality product and a positive experience.
“We had originally assumed the panels would go on the roof of the barn. We hadn’t even thought about a ground-mount. Solar Connection suggested it because of the shade, and it has actually worked out better because it let us delay getting a new roof on the barn. It was easy-peasy. The electricians were really nice. They were funny. There weren’t any major obstacles. It was all straightforward.”
Eric added, “We aimed for a 100% offset for both the house and the car, and Solar Connection was almost bang on.”
Angela and Eric’s electric consumption determined how many solar panels they needed, and their consumption was heavily influenced by their choice of electric car.
“When we were considering cars, it got down to three models: the Ford Focus Electric, the Volt & the Prius,” Erik explained. “The Volt was the coolest car to drive. It certainly had the sportiest feeling. It had exactly what I needed for the small commute because the summertime range is about 40 miles. So that allows us to get to town, run errands and get back, and pretty much stay on battery. Another nice feature of that car was, of course, the backup generator. It has a combustion engine that kicks on when the battery juice is gone. It’s an insurance policy that hopefully you don’t have to use very often. The Volt was exactly what we needed.”
“The Prius would have been the next choice because it has a gas engine and a hybrid drive train, so it has a long range. When you live kind of in the country and in a region of the United States where there aren’t charging stations anywhere, you have to have a backup plan. The Focus Electric was basically an 80 mile range and then done—no gas backup. We weren’t ready to go completely electric given winters. We wanted to have a car that we could still take on road trips if needed if our other car died. And the Volt gives us about 220 miles on the gas tank, so even if the batteries are gone, we can still take a road trip in the Volt.”
Purchasing an electric car and a solar installation in a short time frame can be an intimidating financially. Fortunately, because consumer-owned solar power is so much cheaper than the utility’s electricity, let alone gasoline, the combination actually accelerates the payoff.
“I am very cognizant that not everyone can do the upfront cost of solar panels, but if I’m talking to somebody who might spend their money on an SUV or something, I would stress how much money you save in the long run, how relatively quickly it pays itself off,” Angela explained. “It’s an investment, and I don’t think 8 years is a bad return on the investment. And then you’re home free, right? You’re just getting money from the electric company. So if you take the long view of things, then you make an upfront investment now, you save in the long run with all of these added benefits.”
When asked what she plans to do with the tens of thousands of dollars they’ll save over the coming years, Angela said they had a few options.
“I still owe on my student loans. I think about the kids’ college fund. And, of course, we’d like to buy another electric car when our car dies.”