It may seem like the most intuitive, efficient option for plug-in electric vehicles to simply have solar panels built onto the car, providing a nearly perpetual amount of solar energy to power the vehicle. For the longest time, Tesla deemed this option too inefficient to incorporate, but the Tesla Model 3 has recently begun incorporating solar modules.
Solar energy can be used to power your Tesla vehicle, regardless of whether or not solar modules are installed on your vehicle. Tesla vehicles typically require around 3,000 kWh annually to run entirely on solar energy, which necessitates an additional 9-10 solar panels to garner such power.
Although this may deter many prospective solar users, there are still plenty of benefits to using solar energy to power your Tesla car. Let’s take a look at both the disadvantages and advantages of using solar energy to power your Tesla vehicle to ultimately come to a conclusion as to whether or not the source is worth it.
Using Solar Energy on your Tesla
The most intuitive method for using solar energy to power your electric vehicle is installing a solar roof to harness solar energy directly into your car. This method was not made available on Tesla vehicles until Tesla integrated Lightyear solar panels onto their Model 3 vehicle in 2020.
Still, there were, and still are, other methods for using solar energy to power electric vehicles. Some Tesla owners used their home solar panels as the energy source to charge their plug-in electric vehicles. This is a popular method largely because it allows users to become independent of their region’s power grid, but it does come at a cost.
The Tesla Model S uses about 31 kWh (kilowatt-hours) per 100 miles of driving. An American Driving Survey from AAA found that Americans drive roughly 29.2 miles per day, on average. So, factoring in this number and the number of kilowatt-hours used by the Tesla Model S per 100 miles, the Tesla Model S will consume about 3,300 kWh per year on average.
For reference, a Tesla solar panel system containing 12 solar panels will produce between 10 to 15 kWh per day, which comes out to roughly 3,650 to 5,475 kWh per year. Therefore, if you decide to use your home solar panels to charge your Tesla vehicle, you will be using up nearly all of your solar panel system’s solar power to do so.
This is generally what deters Tesla owners from using their home solar panels to charge their Tesla cars. Still, there are also some advantages to using solar energy to charge your Tesla vehicle.
Advantages of Using Solar Energy for your Tesla
Tesla and the solar energy sector are largely seen as complementary forces due to their shared goal in reducing carbon emissions and Tesla’s entry into the solar module industry, teaming up with Panasonic to produce their own solar panels. Thus, combining solar energy with Tesla’s plug-in electric vehicles seems like a perfect match.
Here are a few reasons why this match does make sense for the average Tesla owner.
- Long Term Savings: As is the case with installing and using any form of renewable energy, the short term costs will be substantially larger than the long term costs associated with maintaining your system. Once you get over the expensive installation costs for solar panels, you will start to see them work in your wallet’s favor.
On average, solar panel owners will break even on their investment after roughly eight years. Solar panels tend to save an average of $2,500 per year on energy bills, so after the break-even point, you will be saving thousands of dollars annually by choosing to install solar panels all those years ago.
- Off the Grid: Many solar energy users choose this route as a way to become completely grid-independent. This completely frees you from any of the negatives associated with being dependent on your region’s energy grid, such as power outages and hefty utility bills.
While this may seem like a resounding positive, there are some disadvantages associated with going off the grid. These disadvantages will be detailed in the next section.
- Reliable Charging: This is a particular advantage of vehicles with built-in solar panels. The inbuilt roof panels on the Tesla Model 3 grant drivers the freedom to drive without worrying about finding a charging station away from home.
This is less true of Tesla owners who use their home solar panels to charge their vehicles. Although your Tesla can survive off of one charge for anywhere between 250 and 402 miles, it is much more difficult to find charging stations than gas stations, particularly in rural areas. So, it can be riskier to charge at home.
- Government Incentives: Wherever you live, there are likely government incentives or tax rebates in place for owners of solar panels. In the United States, solar panel owners are offered a federal tax credit that can be claimed for a percentage of your solar panel system’s total cost.
- Additional Tools: There are additional tools you can add to your solar panel system to have it function more effectively. These tools can include an inverter or a microinverter, which can both help when you add more solar panels to your existing system.
Disadvantages of Using Solar Energy for your Tesla
While solar energy systems can be integrated effectively with Tesla vehicles, there are also plenty of drawbacks to this relationship and to solar energy systems in general. Let’s take a closer look at some of the disadvantages of using solar energy to power your Tesla.
- Weather Dependence: One of the biggest flaws in implementing a solar panel system has always been the amount of solar energy supplied in any given region. While regions like the West Coast of the United States are perfectly suited for obtaining solar energy, others are not quite as naturally suited.
Additionally, solar panels are incapable of garnering solar energy at night, which makes typically high energy usage hours like daybreak and nightfall a challenge to maintain without becoming grid reliant.
- High Initial Costs: Many people are also deterred by the high initial costs of installing solar panel systems. Although other companies are working quickly to reduce the costs of electric vehicles and solar energy systems, Tesla has built its brand off of marketing to a wealthier clientele.
Thus, it is unlikely that Tesla vehicles or solar energy systems will become markedly more affordable anytime soon.
- Grid Dependence: Although grid independence sounds great, it can be dangerous to go completely grid-independent. You will have no backup energy source if you run out of solar energy and will only be dependent on another unchangeable force, the weather.
- Lack of Roof Space: Many homeowners also run into a problem with roof space when looking into solar panel installation. Even the smallest solar panel systems require at least ten solar panels. One solar panel, on average, is roughly 5.5 feet by 3.25 feet, which requires at least 180 square feet of optimal roof space.
- Ineffectiveness of Roof Panels: You may think that cars with solar panels installed into their roofs are a work around to any disadvantages related to home solar panel systems. However, these roof panels are not quite as effective as one might expect them to be.
There is such minimal space on the roof of cars that only a small amount of solar energy can be harnessed through a car roof panel. Solar panels produce roughly 200 watt-hours per square meter, so a roof panel that is 3 to 5 square meters would hardly produce just 1 kWh.
Ultimately, most of the disadvantages of using solar energy with your Tesla are either unnavigable or short-term. So, if you are in an area that is well suited for solar energy production and can work through expensive short-term costs, it is worth exploring solar energy as a viable energy source for your Tesla vehicle.