Story Of One Man Saving $245/Month By Combining EV And Solar For His Commute


It Just Feels Good To Be Green

It Just Feels Good To Be Green (photo via Matt Perko)

Jeff and Mandy Phillips are always looking for ways to ease their impact on the environment. When Jeff heard there was a special on the Nissan LEAF that would make it possible for him to drive a brand new zero-emissions vehicle and save substantially on his car payment, he signed a lease the next day.

Almost immediately after this, he crunched the numbers and found that, with an electric vehicle to charge, putting solar panels on his home finally made economic sense. He is now “driving on sunshine.”

The Extended Phillips Family

The Extended Phillips Family (photo via Matt Perko)

Jeff drives from his home in Santa Barbara to his job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Ventura five days a week — a 70-mile round trip commute that he used to do in a Ford Escape hybrid.

While the environmental benefits of the Nissan LEAF were an important reason for his switch from hybrid to electric, it also proved to pay off – with estimated savings of about $245/ month. Here’s how he does it:

Expenses before driving on sunshine:

  • Auto loan: $475/month
  • Gasoline: $300/month
  • Utility bills: $30/month
  • Total: $805/month

One-time expenses:

  • Down payment on Nissan LEAF lease: $1,999 (but he received a rebate check for $2,500 from the State shortly thereafter)
  • Down payment on the solar panel loan: $1,000
  • Total: $500 (after rebate)

Current expenses:

  • Auto lease: $260/month (he upgraded to 18,000 miles/year)
  • Home solar system loan: $300/month
  • Utility bills: vary depending on the time of year, however their annual average is near zero.
  • Total: $560/month

Going solar was something Jeff and Mandy always wanted but, with a small home and a low utility bill, it didn’t make financial sense. Now for what they used to pay in monthly gasoline expenses, he is charging his car, paying their utility bills, and paying off the solar loan they financed the panels with.

After five years, the loan will be paid off and the Phillips family will enjoy at least 20 years of free electricity to power their home and car.

“It’s exciting to make such a huge change and also have it make total economic sense,” he says.

Phillips Family "Specs"

Phillips Family “Specs”

Jeff likes leasing the electric vehicle because it is relatively new technology and leasing allows him to try it out for three years before committing to a new purchase. Does he anticipate keeping an electric car after his lease is up? “Definitely. I love it”. He says the car is fun to drive and performs better than a gas-powered car and corners nicely.

Match the fast acceleration with the lack of accompanying motor noise and it’s “like being in a rocket ship.” Jeff says the quiet ride means phone conversations are easier and music sounds better, which is a bonus during his long commute.

Jeff Chose To Lease His LEAF To Try It Out

Jeff Initially Chose To Lease His LEAF To “Try It Out”, But Now Intends To Buy It Out

While Jeff says that he hasn’t found any serious drawbacks to driving an electric vehicle, it is smaller than his Ford Escape. It helps that Mandy has a Toyota Prius hybrid which they’ve made “as close to an SUV as possible” to accommodate their recreation-intensive lifestyles. He’s added a trailer hitch to attach a bike rack, a roof rack for surfboards, and a storage box for camping gear.

Jeff encourages those who are on the fence about making the switch to a plug-in car and solar power to take a second look at the numbers.

“A lot of us have the desire to be environmentally-conscious or reduce our carbon footprint, but we don’t have a ton of money to pay for it and have been waiting until it all adds up economically. But that day is here. People may not realize it, but take a close look at the cost and you’ll see. The time is now.”

To learn how you can start “driving on sunshine” or add solar power to your home, contact CEC at 805.963.0583 x 105 or  CEC can answer your questions about technologies, paybacks, and incentives.

Editor’s note: In cooperation with the Community Environmental Council (CEC) we present this environmental (and financial) success story combining renewable energy with plug-in transportation.  Our thanks to Michael for reaching out to us, as well as Brina Carey for putting the piece together.

Categories: General, Nissan


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35 Comments on "Story Of One Man Saving $245/Month By Combining EV And Solar For His Commute"

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Glad it worked out for them!

I still don’t know if I can even have an EV. I have to find out from the HOA if I can put an RV-style 240V outlet between the curb and the sidewalk in front of my house. It would require running conduit underground from the house straight out to the curb, under the sidewalk.

I knew it would be an issue when I bought the place in 2012, but townhouses with garages were beyond my price range.

I am definitely looking into solar panels, regardless.

How much money is it likely to cost to run the power to the curb?
There has been a lot of speculation, including from me, about the cost of wiring up the ‘other 50%’ of cars, but no real figures, so any info you could pass on would be welcome.

If there are any streetlights around your section of street it might be easier to call the power company or the city in that it would be in a public right of way and people might feel temped to plug in.

Oddly I was thinking about this salutation in the City of Richmond in that we have tons of street side parking spaces but no plugs. But we tons and tons of above ground power poles and power lines that run though all the streets in the city. It might make sense for the power company to build chargers into the bases of their power poles.

Ask ubitriciy they are setting chargers in (power/light) poles at Berlin (Germany). Maybe they can install a charger for you?

look at:

They also work in austria, I’m sure they want to expand to US if possible.

HOA’s can be hard. Do you drive less than 50 miles a day? If so many EV drivers just use Level 1, which might save you a lot of money and hassle with the HOA. Is there any chance there are some parking spots in the complex with regular 120 volt outlets? Perhaps you could just charge up there, getting 40-50 miles of range each night. If the HOA complains about the power get a Kill-A-Watt that measure how much you use and reimburse them

This is the easiest way to go EV in a condo and has worked for local EV owning condo owners.

I met a secretary a year ago with a Leaf. She charges for free at the bus transit station in Maryland. And she doesn’t have a way to charge at home in her apartment complex. So, you can live with an EV even if you can’t charge at home. It is nice to be able to charge at home on occasion but free fuel and low Lease cost on a Leaf made her life a little better.

I would kill for his before-driving-on-sunshine utility bill of $30.

By all means, do.

Kill lights, kill the AC, kill power to that set-top-box when not needed, that old 2nd freezer, computers (if one is a server you must let run, at least use the power-saving modes it’s got), etc…

Kill-A-Watt, too — that’s the name of a small plug-in wattmeter, revealing how much appliances actually use; there are many other brands btw. Or go bold with a whole-house meter e.g. TED5000. Knowledge is power.

Get killer appliances when times come to replace them. E.g. front-load washer, induction cooktop: yes they cost a little more, but not only they pay for themselves, they work soooo much better.

Most power-saving tricks or upgrades cost less than compensating with solar.

My electrical bill for a family of 4 was at 40~50$/month.
Adding the Leaf and its ~16kmiles/year doubled that.

Many solar leasing companies weren’t interested. I bought, which is a better deal anyway (plus I get to choose to support local jobs by buying domestic panels).
I have a 6 kW system with optimizers, which easily covers 100% of my usage, EV included.

Zero electrical bill, zero gas — saves me about 250$/month.

Zipping around silently on nothing but sunshine — priceless.

I’m happy it works for him.

Sorry to rain on the parade … but I think the $300/mo prior gasoline bill is overstated. An Escape Hybrid should get more than 30mpg, but if I use 30mpg, he uses 600 gallons of fuel to drive 18000 miles, or 50 gallons/month. Assuming $4/gallon In California, his fuel cost would be $200/month.

Even if his savings is “only” $145 per month, it is still a good deal.

I’m guessing his experience of Southern California traffic is not as rosy as you’d like it to be…

On they have Escape hybrids reporting empirical MPGs as low as the mid-20’s. Those probably come from higher-traffic regions, higher-AC-need regions like SoCal.

Also… you’re lowballing the annual mileage.

70 miles commute times some 240 workdays = 17k miles.

Then there’s also weekend and after-hours driving. The Escape’s annual mileage must have been >20k.

See? No rain on the parade – an accurate description of SoCal reality in the past year-plus, so I hear 🙁

Assaf …

(1) He is replacing the Escape with a Leaf, and the Leaf lease is 18k miles per year. That is where the 18k miles number comes from. Or is your story “he is saving $245 per month because he drives less than he used to”

(2) On, the average reported value for a 2012 Escape hybid is 37.2 mpg. On what basis do you think it is accurate to use a mid-20’s number? If he got such bad mileage in an Escape hybrid then did not need a new car, just so driving style improvements would have creates savings!!

(3) You write “higher-AC-need regions like SoCal”. If you do some research you’ll find that Santa Barbara and Ventura are in the coastal zone, not part of the high AC inland SoCal. In the high AC areas, I doubt a LEAF can do a 70mile round trip commute in summer. Especially as the car gets older. Ask Steve Marsh for details.

Who was this clever sales man who leased you 3.3kw of solar for ~$2k? For that much money you could have bought the 3.3kw right out with no lease, and that is with the micro inverters; since the price of the solar watt is about $0.5 now.

Tell me where someone has installed solar for 50 cents per watt! Did you do this at your house? Even just the panels are more than that, and when you add inverters, wiring, racking systems, labor, etc the price goes up.

I live in Egypt and the best price for the watt from China is $0.35 / watt. As for the micro inverter is $0.3 / watt
It is very simple to set up. Plug and play!

Haha, I wanted to say you must be from the Middle East. Welcome, neighbor.

In Israel-Palestine, too, whenever someone describes their latest purchase or financial arrangements, everyone jumps all over them with:

“Who was this clever sales man who leased/sold you….????”

There’s even a term for this in colloquial Hebrew: Freier.

Of course, no one in the Middle East is a Freier, and everyone is always very happy to tell each other they are a Freier.

To non-Middle-Easterners: there you have it, an explanation of the region’s last 50 years history, in a single talkback-comment 🙂


a ‘Freier’ in German is a buyer of the services of a prostitute 😉

“I live in Egypt and the best price for the watt from China is $0.35 / watt. As for the micro inverter is $0.3 / watt … ”

The Phillip’s probably were after some turn-key solution with guarantees/warranties from a local shop and not for the cheapest they could get from alibaba..
Also in western markets to get the grid-connect approval/incentives/etc. the gear that is being installed needs approval from local authorities, otherwise you will face serious trouble and probably costs stamp duty as well (they call that red tape).

All that adds up.

Alaa, I’m sure this is great to experiment, but properly installing a system which will last at least decades while remaining in good, safe working condition, and complying with all US local codes, regulations and requirements (city, utilities, fire department, FCC, NEC, etc…), costs a heck of a lot more.

But it’s IMHO well worth it. You don’t want that stuff to start falling apart after only a few years (it’s a pain to troubleshoot, plus good luck finding the same parts again), or worse, ever endanger anyone: modules falling or flying off the roof, inverter shorting/overheating, failing to detect a ground fault or islanding, loose connectors arcing, etc etc…

[Safety is the reason I personally won’t ever buy again directly overseas any Chinese-made electrical equipment, no matter how cheap, except maybe strictly battery-powered items.]

From my own but limited experience, in California, ballpark amounts are (incl taxes, shipping etc when relevant):

Oddball number of solar modules from a reputable company, 25-year warranty: 1$/W
Racking (with proper grounding, roof flashing, wind resistance, fire dpt approval etc): 0.3~0.8$/W.
Inverter(s), extended 25-year warranty: 0.5$/W
Installation (licensed and insured workers; at cost): 1$/W
Engineering, permits, approvals: 0 to 0.4$/W
Installer’s profit: 1$/W
Federal tax credit: -30%

Ding, 3 to 4$/W DC.

Please watch this. Tell your friends to tell thier friends.
Just how much is a widow’s face worth to you when she learns that she lost her man in action in the Gulf?

Definitely, go solar everyone…
…Just please keep in mind, high voltage can kill too, so if you don’t want to risk making a widow of your own, have someone qualified handle this, or at the very least, help you.

This is my dream to own a set of solar panels and a EV it would be a good doomsday prep in that you keep running and driving while gas prices go though the roof.

you think you can keep driving in your little EV during doomsday conditions?

To be precise, the car is running on PG&E power used to charge it at night. This is theoretically offset by the power sold to the utility during the day. Its “theoretical”, because the equality of power generated to power recovered at night (when the sun tends not to shine) is mandated by California law. PG&E does not agree that it is, in fact, equal, and wants to change that to buying power from solar providers at a discount. In fact, as solar power use (with this asymmetrical model) grows, if PG&E is right, they will be increasingly pushed (back) to bankruptcy, at which time the discount will have to kick in.

I’m also in California, although not with PG&E, and indeed, every kW*h I feed the grid during the day, I can (and do) use for free at night.

If utilities were selling night-time power for more than during the day, especially summer afternoons, I’d understand they’d feel cheated.
If “dirty” power could be sold at a premium over renewable, I’d understand too.

The current situation is exactly opposite though…

Do you have some articles that back that up?

No, I’m not on PG&Es (or pick your utility) side, far from it. From what I read, their rationale is that they build and maintain the grid, so they have more overhead. Also, they ballance the power production to the load, and solar producers just dump the power into the grid, regardless of if it is used or not.

You almost got the issue understood. Let me try to help you out.

The problem with solar is that it does not significantly reduce fossil fuel CAPACITY requirements. You can have cloud systems covering huge areas across a grid, and peak demand on hot days is during the evening as opposed to the middle of the day when solar output is strongest. So we still need the same peak fossil fuel generation capacity no matter how much solar we build.

What happens, then, is residential solar reduces the kWh that PG&E or SCE sells to customers, but the only cost they save is fuel (natural gas or coal), which is about 3c/kWh. O&M, capital costs, grid costs, etc don’t change as long as peak capacity needs remain the same.

Therefore as solar generation goes up, so does cost per kWh of backup power from the utilities. It’s all due to the flawed pricing system.

Regarding EVs, it’ll take decades, if not perpetuity, for them to need more power at night than than the economy idles at that time anyway, so that’s not an issue. But you’re right that it’s a fallacy for anyone to say their EV is powered by solar.

@scott: Electricity pricing in part of California; check TOU (time-of-use)
Summer afternoons are the most expensive.

Premium for clean electricity:

Residential solar pushes very little into the grid; I would “destabilize” it more by just turning on my dryer…

It is funny how everyone always compare a SUV gas saving with a LEAF.

If they did NOT need the Escape hybrid in the first place, then why did he bother to have it? He could have saved the money by leasing another Corolla or Prius today for about $169/month that would BE WAY CHEAPER than his current Escape payment. Also, the difference in saving between gas and the e-bill would be way lower.

Sure LEAF would be cheaper by a little bit, but sometimes it is silly for someone to make fuzzy math work to exggerate their savings…

Here is some “REAL” math.

A new Prius lease is being advertised for about $169/month in CA. But I am sure upgrading it to 18K miles/year would cost more. Let us say it is $269/month.

Prius gets 50mpg, he is 70 miles commute would cost about 1.4 gallons. Let us round up to 1.5 gallons just to be sure. 1.5x5x52 is 390 gallons. Let us say it is 400 gallon per year. Then monthly cost would be about $1,400/12 = $117 (@ $3.50/gallon). That is the Costco gas price and there is a Costco in Goleta, CA which is right next door to Santa Barbara….

By switching to a Prius, he would have saved even more money…. Even if we use the 18K miles per year, the yearly gas cost would be 360 gallon at $3.50/gallon which is way cheaper than his solar monthly cost…

Sure, driving on sunshine is great and I do it right now with my solar and my plugin car. But I am tired of “stupid math” out there…

I think you overlooked that the solar loan payment lasts only a few years, whereas the system will produce power for decades.

If you wanted to spread the cost over, say, the 25 years the modules and inverters are usually warranted for, you’d need to divide the loan payment above by 5:
60$/month to power both house and EV, vs 117$/mo just to fuel the hybrid (and that’s assuming gas never goes up).

See, no stupid math here, EV + solar wins hands down.

But that is why “few years” matter here since he is LEASING his LEAF. So, unless the lease deals are offered for the next 25 years with the state incentives, then he can’t count on that saving for the rest of the solar lease. Also, he was comparing his old “purchase” loan payment with his new subsidized loan payment. That is where majority of the differences come from. Now, as far as warranty on the modules and inverters go. Sure, some of them offer warranty if you buy them. But how do you know if those manufacturers are still going to be around when they breaks in 10 years? Solar Leasing or PPA would ensure that some of that but they would cost slightly more per month. Also, $117/month is the gas bill but the leasing of the car is actually cheaper by at least $30. So, the difference between the two is ONLY $20, NOT $245 as he says. Also, he is at mercy of solar production. In Santa Barbara, it can get very foggy sometimes. Yearly production will drop about 0.5% but sunny days can affect that much more. For example, my December was 20% higher in production… Read more »
This guy already stated that he wants to keep the car when the lease is up, no problem there. Solar modules from renowned manufacturers do last. I’d worry more about something going wrong with an ICE. Sure, solar production will fluctuate (I did notice the same as you, btw), but over long periods, it’s pretty predictable, so no issue if the system was sized properly. Even if it falls short just a bit, the extra kW*h needed would be cheap, tier 1 pricing. Regarding the numbers quoted in the article, yes I agree, 245$/mo indeed seems very optimistic. I get roughly the same with a system almost twice the size, and that was not accounting for interests on the solar installation (which I don’t directly pay, it’s effectively a droplet on my home mortgage, but would be around 50$). Btw, my utility doesn’t allow combining time-of-use with net metering, so I’m effectively already in your “worst-case” working from home scenario. That’s one of the reasons for the larger PV array, no big deal. We can argue over exactly how much money this guy and us each save every month. But I think we all agree that even a Prius would… Read more »

Solar + ev is the way to go.
We have 9kW solar panels at home and 9kW solar panels at work. We only need about 6kW to cover the cars a Tesla S and Prius (converted), but we are also happy to cut down on standby costs and the total electric bill.

Next step is to ad more solar panels and a batteripack in the garage to cover a part of the electricity that we use when there is no sun, or if the grid goes down.
Backup is always good.

I have a FFE and a solar system. My cost before solar and electric car were Gas $200 and electric $280. Now my cost is electric average of $75. a savings of $400 a month. That doesnt factor in the no money down $240 a month lease on the FFE. By the way I paid $9000 on the 3.5kw solar. So at $400 a month the payback is about 2 years. Then after that I save $400 a month for the rest of my life.

Apples to apples, SUV’s to SUV’s – back to “real” arithmetic: i have a 2006 Escape Hybrid, with over 170k miles. It’s been a great car – nothing but regularly scheduled maintenance has ever been done. With its age, the mpg has decreased, from 31 mpg when new, down to less than 27 mpg now. (i keep a spreadsheet of all of my mileage, gas quantity and costs, so know exactly how many much mpg i’ve gotten, as well as what my gas costs have been.) For years i’ve been itching for a BEV or PHEV SUV, and rather than wait for the Outlander PHEV or the Model X, last summer i decided to lease a RAV4 EV. My RAV4 lease runs for 3 years, at a total cost of around $435/mo, with unlimited miles, with $1000 at signing. This comes out to a total of $16,660, after 3 yrs. Driving an avg of 1500 mi/mo (or 54,000 mi over 3 yrs), this comes out to ($16,660 / 54,000 mi) = $.3085/mi. Let’s assume that the RAV4 can be driven around 2.63 mi per kWh, based upon an EPA-estimated range of 92 miles on a 35kWh charge. (This is less… Read more »