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August 15, 2011

Wheels That Run from Your Rooftop

Plug in car vertical cropped Cars and energy are two sectors going the way of smartphones that meshed telephones with cameras and computers. Eventually, you won't just be buying a car. You'll be acquiring a cleaner way of living that'll meet your energy and transportation needs, completely free of gasoline and coal power plants.

That's the takeaway from last week's announcement by Ford and SunPower, which will offer a deal on rooftop solar with the purchase of Ford's much-anticipated 2012 plug-in Focus when it hits lots later this year. The system will also be compatible with the 2013 Ford C-Max plug-in hybrid.

Dubbed the "Green Drive for Life" campaign, the deal for a discounted 2.5-kilowatt rooftop system will be offered in California. But the precedent could spread to other parts of the country if it takes off. SunPower's system would provide enough clean, sunny fuel for 1,000 miles a month. Because most EV drivers charge their cars while sleeping, the panels are meant to feed into the grid during the day and offset a nighttime charge.

The deal for the panels is about $10,000 after government rebates, but it provides an overall reduced cost of ownership over the lifetime of the car, taking into account lower fueling and maintenance costs -– not to mention a cleaner and more energy-safe transportation experience than a traditional drive (though, of course, not as clean as not driving at all).

Solar_panels_cropped2This isn't the first partnership between a car-maker and a solar company. A few weeks ago, General Motors partnered with Sunlogics to install solar canopies and arrays at Chevy dealerships and GM facilities. Sunlogics plans to locate a corporate headquarters and manufacturing facility in suburban Detroit, along with a manufacturing facility in Ontario –- all of which will generate more than 300 local jobs.

"Global solar energy use is predicted to more than double by 2016, so we believe that investing in renewable energy is a smart and strategic business decision," Jon Lauckner, president of GM Ventures, said in a statement.

SolarCity also recently announced a partnership with EV charger manufacturer ClipperCreek. They'll roll out solar-powered chargers starting at $1,500, plus the cost of leasing SolarCity's panels. Such costs are offset by the fact that "a home solar system can be 77 percent less expensive than powering a car with gas," according to SolarCity.

"Roughly 40 percent of residential EV owners have solar and we expect these environmental and economic benefits to expand with the coming proliferation of electric cars and increasing use of solar power," said Dave Packard, President of ClipperCreek.

However, the Ford and SunPower coupling sets the precedent for what may be an important convergence of cleaner energy and cars. With the ability to get a new plug-in car and panels in a packaged deal, it's not too much of a stretch to think that future partnerships between energy and car companies will become a normal way of doing business.

For other recent blog articles we've written on the connection between EVs and solar, see the News section of our Go Electric Campaign.

-- Brian Foley

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