I Installed Solar Panels On My 89-Year-Old Garage To Make My Electric Car Truly Zero Emissions

Illustration for article titled I Installed Solar Panels On My 89-Year-Old Garage To Make My Electric Car Truly Zero Emissions
Photo: Bradley Brownell

The blending of new technology and old makes me extremely excited these days. Whether it’s the idea of shoving an electric motor into an old VW van, or powering my near nonagenarian home with modern photovoltaics, it gets me so amped. Of course the pun is intended, whatchou think? We downsized and moved into a lovely little Paul R. Williams-designed Lea Steel home in downtown Reno last June, and late last year we decided that it was time to convert as much of our energy use as possible to renewable. And after I bought my Nissan Leaf, I knew it would probably be a good idea to install a level 2 charger. Time to kill two birds with one stone.

Advertisement

I contracted with a local company called Great Basin Solar, which has lots of experience in the industry (basically since there has been a solar industry) and came well reviewed. I couldn’t be happier with the result, honestly. They were backed up almost two months, but once they got on the job, it was done super quickly. Two workers installed the solar and inverter on Monday and one of them came back on Thursday morning to button up the L2 charger.

They went out of their way to make sure the panels installed without puncturing the original steel roof of my garage, ran hundreds of extra feet of wire to get the EV charger on the opposite side of the garage from the inverter, and were super communicative and professional throughout the experience. I’m stoked on it. The end result looks great.

undefined
Photo: Bradley Brownell

After the initial site inspection to determine where everything would fit, we decided on a 9-panel system using Hanwha Q Cells Q.PEAK DUO-G7 330 panels, and a SolarEdge inverter with an integrated charger. I’m extra excited about the charger/inverter setup, because it can deliver the DC power directly from the solar panels into my car’s battery without converting it to AC first, meaning the usual conversion losses don’t exist. And of course the whole setup is controlled through an app so I can spend the next year obsessing over my PV system’s electricity generation rates and efficiency.

undefined
Photo: Bradley Brownell

The level 2 is a pretty standard setup with a traditional SAE J1772 plug and 20 feet of high voltage cabling. This charger will deliver as much as 9.6 kW of energy, which is pretty high for a home level 2. My Nissan Leaf can only accept 6.6 kW at a time anyway, so anything more than that is overkill until I upgrade to an off-lease CPO base Taycan in a couple years.

Advertisement
undefined
Photo: Bradley Brownell

Obviously with a relatively small 9-panel system, I can only produce a maximum flow of about 3 kW, so the charger will be supplemented with power from the grid by way of my contract with NV Energy. I already pay NV Energy extra to offset my electron use with renewable energy, and I’ll be paying back any extra energy I produce from the solar array back into the grid. There is apparently an agreement with the state that NV Energy won’t allow battery storage for PV systems, and once a house is hooked up to NV Energy service, it can’t ever legally go ‘off-grid’ again, so I’ll be paying a monthly hookup fee to the company every month until I die, regardless of how much power I generate with this system. Aren’t enforced and legally entrenched monopolies great?

Advertisement
undefined
Photo: Bradley Brownell

This solar setup isn’t going to generate 100 percent of the energy my household uses per month. When we aren’t running heat or air conditioning, it’ll probably cover a decent bit, but the middle of summer and the dead of winter are going to be huge electricity deficits, even in sunny Nevada. Because our house is around 700 square feet, and has a weirdly shaped roof, with minimal optimal sun-facing surfaces, it wasn’t really possible to fit more.

Advertisement

So why solar? Well, in addition to ensuring at least this much of my daily electricity usage is created in sustainable and eco-friendly manner, I wanted to minimize our home’s pull from the grid power grid. Obviously as electric car adoption increases, the grid will have to work harder to power them all. Whatever I can do to help ensure that happens smoothly, I’m in. Add in the extra value this adds to my home, the cool future tech I get to play with now, the solar reflection from the roof of my garage meaning it’ll be cooler in the summer, and the warm fuzzy feelings it adds to my cold lefty heart, and it’s worth every dollar.

Speaking of dollars... How much is this going to cost me? Well, the final bill hasn’t come yet, but the quote ran $10,500 for the whole kit and caboodle, plus a much longer-than-average 10-year warranty. Of course there are federal tax incentives for adding solar power to your home, so I’ll have to talk to my CPA about exactly how much this will reduce my tax bill, but it’s supposed to be around 30 percent of total install, which would put me around $7,350 out of pocket. Based on that, the system should cumulatively pay for itself in around 15 years.

Advertisement

It’s a big commitment, and it’s expensive, and it’s going to take a decade and a half to pay itself back, but I’ve spent way more money on stuff that is never going to pay itself back. This adds value to my life, cuts my tax bill, and allows me to exert my influence over the sun. I’m practically a god now. The sun bends to my will. Can you say that?

Once it’s been up and running for a few months I’ll be sure to bring this back to give you an update on how much power it’s generating. Hopefully more than I expect. Realistically, here in Nevada we have a lot of bright sunny days, so it should be pretty efficient at power generation.

Jalopnik contributor with a love for everything sketchy and eclectic.

DISCUSSION

thehairynug
TheHairyNug

Solar still doesn't make financial sense, and it sucks. Also, the agreements between utilities and the state suck. You can never go truly off grid. That being said, Colorado and Excel have a 1:1 credit system for kWh, which is way better than selling it back to the grid. I hope you look and see if NV has a similar system. There's no way you're getting anything but pennies by selling your electricity