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A Cleaner Way To Power Electric Vehicles

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Michael Hicks
/
Flickr - Creative Commons

Electric vehicle owners could soon have a greener way to power up their cars through a program being offered by a Boulder solar company.

Some environmental advocacy groups say although electric cars do much to reduce carbon emissions, having to tap into the regional electric grid (which may be powered by coal) to charge them limits the benefit.

Now consumers have an all-green alternative via Namaste Solar, a dealer in Boulder who offers panels from SunPower Corporation of California. SunPower offers a $10,000 solar panel system through its “Drive Green for Life” program. Consumers who buy an EV – such as the Nissan Leaf or Ford Focus Electric – can also buy one of these systems to charge it with clean electricity.

Boulder County Business Report publisher Chris Wood says the concept of a solar company teaming with the electric-vehicle industry has a lot of potential.

“We spoke with the owner of a company called Boulder Hybrid Conversions, which converts Toyota Priuses to plug-in hybrids,” Wood says. “The owner told us that about 80 percent of [their] current customers already have solar at home, so he sees great synergy between the two industries, and potential for growth.”

Because the program is so new, SunPower officials don’t have statistics yet for the combined solar/electric vehicle offering. But a recent report from Boulder-based Navigant Consulting suggests growth in sales of solar panels and electric vehicles – spurred partly by state and federal tax credits – could help drive this new industry.

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Interview Highlights

Given the relatively small number of EVs in Colorado currently, how successful can a program like this be?

"Navigant has reported that there will be 1,600 electric cars on the road in the Denver metro area by the end of the year. Sales of solar panels are expected to grow at a 10 percent growth rate annually through the next five years. And a number of tax credits exist for sale of electric vehicles, which should spur that sector’s growth. So two growing industries could create some nice synergies. At least, that’s the idea."

How significant will state and federal tax credits be for the program?

"It’s adding up to significant money. The federal tax credit stands at $7,500, and Governor Hickenlooper signed a state tax credit into law May 15. That credit is $6,000. So we have combined tax credits of $13,500. And various incentive programs exist for the solar sector as well."

The wind industry has experienced recent setbacks, partly because of uncertainty over a federal production tax credit. What's the mood in the solar industry?

"We recently conducted a CEO Roundtable on clean tech, and I have to say that representatives of solar companies are pretty optimistic. Tax programs in that sector have a longer shelf-life — another five years — and the price of solar has fallen dramatically, making it pretty competitive with other systems. So they’re expecting strong growth going forward."

As host of KUNC's Colorado Edition, I work closely with our producers and reporters to bring context and diverse perspectives to the important issues of the day. And because life is best when it's a balance of work and play, I love finding stories that highlight culture, music, the outdoors, and anything that makes Colorado such a great place to live.
Boulder County Business Report publisher Chris Wood helped create the Northern Colorado Business Report in 1995. He previously served as managing editor of the Denver Business Journal. Chris discusses regional business and economic issues in Boulder County every other Thursday at 5:35 and 7:35 during Morning Edition.
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