Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ October 2012

PV + EV = $

Solar Panels, Electric Car Save Money

By Jacquie Bokow

A Belton Road resident has not only installed solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on her roof but gone the extra renewable mile and purchased a Chevy Volt electric vehicle (EV) for her commute.  Rene Hernandez, a research scientist for the U.S. Navy who has lived in the neighborhood since 2004, had been thinking about installing solar panels for several years.

The owner of this home on Belton Road purchased both solar photovoltaic panels and a plug-in electric vehicle, a Chevy Volt.

“I have used wind-powered electricity for about four to five years and wanted to do more,” she said.  “About five or six years ago, I visited some friends in New Mexico and saw in person the results of coal mining in a beautiful mountain area.  The barren, gray, toxic-looking mountainside was so sad.  I think that perhaps, subliminally, that view of that mountainside in the back of my mind helped me make the choice.”

Hernandez chose Leo Sunergy, a local company she first made contact with at the Montgomery County Fair, for her solar electric system.  “On a whim I talked to them and got a free estimate.  I really liked working with them.  It’s a small company and I felt comfortable with them.  I researched them and talked to some previous customers who were very happy with them, and decided to go for it.”

Her decision may have been made fairly quickly, but getting the panels installed was a long process.

“Leo Sunergy did a roof inspection, because they included a guarantee that, if the roof needed replacing within 10 years of installation, they would remove the panels then reinstall them for free.  Happily,” said Hernandez, “my roof was good.  It took a few weeks for installation, although most of the time they didn’t need to get into the house and I didn’t need to be home.  Probably the longest delay was Pepco.  They needed to do the final connections and setup.  I needed a new smart meter [which hopefully, everyone in the neighborhood now has], and that took about a month or two to get installed.  Then they needed to program something so that when my solar panels produce more electricity than I use, it goes back to the grid and I get credit for it.”

Hernandez compares the plug for the charging station, top, with the three-prong plug which will fit in any home electrical outlet.  Using a charging station halves the time to recharge the vehicle.

Her house is very well situated for solar.  “My house faces south,” she said, “the pitch of the roof is perfect, and there are no trees that directly affect the solar production.”

Hernandez owns — not leases — the 18 panels.  The entire cost of the panels, installation, and warranty was $22,838 — less $3,000 (a promotional coupon from the county fair), less $7,000 (federal tax credit), and less $1,500 (Maryland state rebate).  So her total cost was $11,338.

How much power do her panels generate? “It’s now 11:30 a.m.,” she wrote on 15 September, “and so far today they have generated 4.27 kilowatt-hours.  In the past seven days they generated 105 kWh, this month 169 kWh, and total, since I’ve had them installed, they have produced 6.93 MWh.”  She received a four-year subscription to a software program, “Enlighten Enphase Energy,” which tracks her energy production every minute.  [For comparison, my last monthly electric bill totaled 520 kWh, which cost $68.54.]

Does she think it was worth it?  “Absolutely,” she said.

Dealing with a Plug-In Car

Hernandez purchased a Chevrolet Volt, which is plugged in to recharge.  The Volt is currently the only plug-in electric vehicle on the market that has a back-up gasoline electric generator.  The Volt’s onboard gas generator only produces electricity; it doesn’t power the vehicle directly.

Hernandez leans on her Chevy Volt, which is plugged into the EV charging station she had installed in her home’s garage.

“I can drive about 45 miles on one charge,” said Hernandez, “which costs about $1.00 to $1.25.  Once the electric charge is used up, the gasoline generator automatically kicks in, and from there I can drive as far as I want, using gasoline. When driving on gas, it gets about 38 to 40 mpg.”

She bought her Volt at Sport Chevrolet in Silver Spring.  “It was expensive, at around $39,000,” Hernandez said.  “I never expected to ever pay that much for a car. But I love it.”

Although the car can be plugged into any three-prong plug to recharge (and Hernandez did so for about three months), she decided to have a charging station installed.  “Right now the state of Maryland pays for all the physical equipment,” she said, “and also pays up to $1,200 toward the installation costs. Because the installation in my house was very complicated, it cost more than the $1,200 limit, but it cost me less than $500.”

The display panel inside Hernandez’s car shows that she’s driven 356.5 miles without using gasoline at all.  The odometer (lower right) shows the vehicle’s traveled a total of 3,669 miles.

Hernandez loves the new charging station, which takes only about four hours to charge.  In a normal, three-pronged outlet, it would take about eight hours to charge.  According to Chevrolet, the Volt’s 9.3 gallon fuel tank capacity gives it a total range of 379 miles; EPA estimates the vehicle gets the equivalent miles per gallon of 95/city and 93/highway.

“I totally love the Volt,” she added.  “I drive it every day to work.  I’ve had it since May, have driven it over 3,600 miles, and have used only 21.1 gallons of gasoline.”   ■

   © 2012 NFCCA  [Source:]