Charging Your Electric Cars with Home Solar Panels

October 25, 2021
By John Cole

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Charging an electric vehicle with solar panels is possible, and investing in an electric car and solar power system is an excellent choice for reducing your utility bills and “carbon footprint.” Solar panel systems and electric vehicles, or EV, are more affordable and more efficient than ever, so there is no time like the present to invest in both!

To charge an electric vehicle with solar panels, it’s vital that you invest in enough panels and an inverter with the capacity needed to provide power for your EV. Consumers should also realize how solar panels work so you know how much of your energy needs might be supplied by a solar power system.

Choosing the optimal solar panel array for your property and EV is not as complicated as you might assume, but it is vital that you collect a few details about your vehicle and various solar panel options. This will ensure you invest in a solar panel system that works for both your property and EV, and that offers enough energy for both.

A property or EV owner should also remember that they can discuss the option of powering an electric car with solar panels with their solar installer! He or she will probably be very knowledgeable about various solar panel systems, so they can offer excellent advice when it comes to your solar power needs.

Charging Electric Vehicles With Solar Panels, How Does It Work?

To better understand how solar panels charge electric vehicles, it’s helpful to note how solar panels work to produce usable electricity. This can help you decide the right components needed for your home or commercial property, to provide the power needed for a structure as well as an EV!

How do solar panels work?

Knowing how solar panels work can help you understand why you might need a certain number of panels to power your property and an EV, and why you also need an inverter with those panels! First note that solar panels have what are called photovoltaic cells inside them, connected to wiring that runs to an inverter.

Solar panels work by allowing UV rays from the sun to knock electrons loose from atoms being held by those cells, creating an electrical flow. That electricity flows through the wiring attached to the panels.

That electricity created by those solar panels is what’s called direct current or DC power, meaning that it runs in one direction. Unfortunately, household appliances and the batteries in electric cars work on what is called alternating current, or AC power, which is a current that runs in two directions.

An inverter changes the electricity created by solar panels from DC to AC power. In most cases, this power is sent back to your city’s power grid and you’re credited on your monthly bill with the amount of electricity created by your panels, through a process called net metering.

How do solar panels charge electric vehicles?

Electric vehicle batteries are recharged like any other battery or appliance; you park the vehicle near an outlet or charging station and simply plug it in. The power used to recharge your electric vehicle, as with any other appliance you might plug into the wall, is part of your overall energy usage throughout the month. In other words, you aren’t charging an electric vehicle with solar panels directly, but you are providing power for your property, or to get a credit on your property’s energy bill.

How Much Energy Do You Need to Charge an Electric Car?

solar needed to charge electric cars

When you decide to invest in a solar panel system for your home, your solar installer will typically work with you to design a system that fits your property and energy needs. Higher quality panels will collect more electric power, and the more panels you have installed on your property, the more energy they’ll collect overall!

To determine how many panels you’ll need for powering an electric vehicle, you’ll first need to know your car’s MPGe. Since electric vehicles don’t run on gasoline, their mileage is figured in terms of how many kilowatt-hours, or kWh, of power they need to drive 100 miles, which is then referred to as their MPGe.

You’ll also need to know how many miles you’ll drive your EV, so you know how much power it will need throughout the month. For example, an electric car might have an MPGe of 30kWh/100 miles, meaning it requires 30 kilowatts of power to drive 100 miles. If you drive 20 miles a day, or 600 miles per month, your vehicle will require 180kWh of power each month.

How Much Power Is Produced By Solar Panels?

There is no guarantee of how much power will be produced by your solar panels, as their effectiveness varies according to each manufacturer as well as factors such as shade trees and other obstructions, and average sunlight in your area. Their effectiveness is also affected by whether or not they’re installed at a proper angle to collect maximum sunlight.

Note that most residential solar panels will have an output of 200 to 400 watts of power throughout an average day. One kilowatt-hour (kWh) is equal to 1000 watts.

So, if your home has 10 solar panels and they each produce 300 watts of power every day, that’s 3000 watts, or 3kWh, of energy produced every day. Over the course of a 30-day month, that solar power system will then produce 90kWh.

These numbers are just examples and your chosen panels will vary in power produced. However, this can give you an idea of how many panels might be needed on your property to power your home or business, and an electric vehicle!

solar panel installation

Once you have a better idea of how much power is needed to charge your EV and other needs, you can work with your solar installer to design an array or solar power system for your property. He or she can recommend the right number of panels for your needs or note how much electricity you might still need from the city to keep your EV powered.

What If Your Solar Panels Don’t Produce Enough Power for an Electric Car?

What happens if your solar panels don’t produce all the energy needed for your EV and your property? Don’t panic, as this doesn’t mean you’ll literally be in the dark or without a car that operates!

What is net metering?

When solar panels first came on the market, they were typically attached to batteries that stored power for use as needed. Today, they are usually wired into your home’s power system with what is called net metering.

With net metering, your property is still connected to your city power supply. However, as your solar panels produce power, you are given a credit for that energy produced. In other words, if you use 1000kWh of power in a month and your solar panels produce 90kWh in that time, you are only billed for 910kWh.

Net metering ensures that you always have power for your home or business and for other uses, such as charging an electric vehicle with solar panels. You don’t need to worry about running out of power if the solar panels don’t produce enough for your needs, or during wintertime and cloudy days, as you’re still connected to your city power supply.

Can you upgrade your solar power system down the road?

Property owners might also note that they can always install a second solar panel system as needed! If there isn’t enough room on your structure’s roof for additional panels, consider a ground-mounted system on the lawn. Adding more panels means more energy, which is an excellent solution if your current system doesn’t create sufficient power for your property and an EV combined.

Consider reducing your energy consumption

If your solar panels don’t produce enough electricity to power up your EV and your property, you might also consider reducing your energy consumption. For example, you can upgrade to energy-efficient or smaller appliances that use less electricity to function.

solar installer

Weather stripping and high-quality insulation can mean less need for heating and cooling throughout the year. An insulating blanket for a water heater can keep it from cycling on as often throughout the day, also reducing energy costs.

Many local utility companies also offer free energy audits of homes and businesses, finding where your structure might be leaking heating and cooling and which appliances are also wasting energy. This audit can tell you the best upgrades or improvements for your property, to reduce your electric usage and ensure your solar panels can power your EV.

What Is the Best Inverter to Use With Solar Panels to Charge an EV?

Solar panels need an inverter, as said. That inverter changes the power created by solar panels to usable energy before it can be fed to the city grid or stored in batteries for later use.

String inverters are most common. With this system, each solar panel is connected to wiring that then connects to the inverter, as if they’re all on strings. Microinverters are different; these are connected to each panel individually.

String inverters usually are able to handle the energy produced by a certain number of panels and no more. This makes it difficult to upgrade your system and add more panels over time. While microinverter systems are typically more expensive, they allow you to add or upgrade your system in the future.

To decide which system is best for you, consider if you might upgrade your solar panel system or add more panels in time. If not, a string inverter system is sufficient; however, if you’re looking to invest in just a few solar panels now, perhaps to power your home for a few years and then invest in an EV sometime in the future, you might choose a microinverter system. You can then add more panels as needed or as affordable over the years.

Are There Any Dangers to Charging an Electric Vehicle With Solar Panels?

Solar panels are not directly connected to electric vehicles; instead, they are attached to a house or other structure and then wired into the electrical systems of that property. When plugged in, the battery of an EV will recharge until it’s full and then simply stop charging, just like a smartphone you might plug into the wall.

Since those solar panels are connected to the home’s electrical wiring, internal circuit breakers should trip and stop the flow of electricity in case of an overload, power surge, and the like. In turn, there are few if any dangers to powering your EV with solar panels.

Why Don’t Electric Vehicles Have Solar Panels Attached?

Attaching solar panels to electric vehicles so they can charge the EV battery as it operates might seem like an obvious solution to keeping that EV powered. However, a solar panel small enough to fit on an EV won’t produce anywhere near enough power to charge that EV battery!

As an example, a standard residential solar panel might produce 300 watts or 0.3-kilowatt hours (kWh) of power in a day. A typical electric vehicle might require 30kWh to drive 100 miles, or 3kWh per 10 miles. In turn, that 0.3kWh produced by the solar panel in one day would power the EV for just one mile!

Your electric car would also require special wiring and an inverter, to convert that energy from the sun to the electricity used by their battery. Driving your EV over bumpy roads and having it out in the sun all day puts added wear and tear on those parts, which would then lead to early breakdown. Instead, it’s simply more effective to have these vehicles plug into a charging station or outlet on your property.

Are Solar Panels and Electric Vehicles a Good Investment?

Solar panels and electric vehicles are very good investments! Using solar power means reducing fumes and emissions produced by power plants as well as combustion engines. You are also not affected by fluctuating gas or electric prices over the years! Since solar panels usually last 25 to 30 years before they degrade enough to need replacing, investing in solar now can mean saving on utility costs for several decades to come.

Green Energy Geeks is happy to bring this information about charging an electric vehicle with solar panels to our readers and we hope you found it helpful! If you’re interested in solar power systems, call our trusted solar energy contractors today. We can help you design an array that works for your property and budget, in particular, so you know you’ll be happy with your solar power usage for years to come.

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