Photovoltaics Are Half the Cost of Gasoline!

Everyone is impacted by the current high price of gasoline. President Obama gets criticized because the public thinks he can actually control the price, Big oil gets called before Congress because it gets substantial subsidies from taxpayers. And we, the citizens, pay the highest gas prices we have ever paid in the face of one of the country’s most severe economic downturns.

But there is hope for the Sunshine State, as every cloud has a silver lining.

For the past half dozen years or so, the automotive industry has become pretty serious about producing electric cars that work. The new Chevy Volt (Motor Trend’s Car of the Year) and the all-electric Nissan Leaf are good examples – and they are real game changers.

But what does this have to do with the cost of photovoltaics and gasoline?

Well, it turns out that these electric cars run so efficiently on electricity that they are significantly less expensive to operate than an equivalent sized gasoline car. In fact, their electric efficiency is so good that even if the electricity is provided by solar photovoltaic cells, the cost will be much less than the cost of gasoline.

At $3.90 per gallon (the average price of gasoline in Florida for the week of May 9, 2011; the average U.S. price was $4.02) the annual cost to drive the typical new small car that gets 32.6 mpg for the 12,000 miles that the average car drives each year is $1,436. The new electric cars get 3 miles per kilowatt-hour (kWh). At today’s cost, electricity from a residential solar photovoltaic system costs 16.8 cents per kWh, so the 4,000 kWh it would take to drive the same 12,000 miles would cost you only $672 each year.

Table 1. Cash savings from driving a 2011 PV-powered car = $764/year

Gasoline Car: Electric Car:
Driving Miles miles/year 12,000 miles/year 12,000
Fuel Efficiency mpg 32.6 miles/kWh 3
Annual Fuel Use gal/year 368 kWh/year 4,000
Fuel Price, May 2011 $/gal $3.90 $/kWh $0.168
Annual Fuel Cost $/year $1,436 $/year $672
Cost Savings $/year $0 $/year $764

Okay, so I got the title of this article a little wrong, photovoltaics today are less than half the cost of gasoline, actually only 47 percent of the cost.

Compared to the gasoline-powered car, the PV-powered car saves $764 each year!  In the future, consumers will save even more since the cost of gasoline is rising. On the other hand, the cost of PV systems continues to decline.

The past four years Florida has not had a renewable energy policy, primarily because PV electricity was thought to be too expensive.

WE WERE WRONG! It’s gasoline, not PV power that’s too expensive.

Florida sunshine can power our cars, saving us literally millions of barrels of oil and keeping substantial amounts of our hard-earned capital in Florida rather than shipping it out of the state and the country to pay for gasoline.

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12 thoughts on “Photovoltaics Are Half the Cost of Gasoline!

  • July 18, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Thanks for the update!
    I am amazed how fast the tables can turn for the alternative energy business and how artificial our economy is. I hope my next car is hybrid or electric.

  • August 29, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    The American public needs to educated on these facts! Too much misinformation is being propagated through the media, directed and sponsored behind the scenes by vested interests from the fossil fuel industry! Oil and gas companies are receiving federal tax subsidies worth tens of billions of dollars. But strangely enough, there is never enough money to “subsidize” the green energy revolution. When will people wake up? Does gas have to hit $10 per gallon before people start to get serious? Hats off to all the researchers, enterpreneurs and pioneers in the green energy revolution! They deserve our gratitude and respect. They will save the day for America!

  • January 9, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    Excellent article. I would be interested to know the source for your PV kWh cost? Or maybe spell out the assumptions you used (install cost, subsidies, financing rates, etc… or maybe you used costs from a “solar lease”-type deal, with no upfront payment – eg solar city and co?).

  • February 11, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    I’m all for PV and electric cars, but your calculations are to simplistic because you don’t factor in the substancially higher purchase prize for these electric cars. You also don’ look at the maintenance costs – which are higher for the ICE. And a battery certainly won’t last 20 years. If we want to discuss this topic seriously I would expect better researched posts from the Florida Solar Energy Center.

  • February 16, 2012 at 12:06 am

    I expected better research posts from the Florida Solar Energy Center.

  • April 28, 2012 at 7:04 am

    Please go for more solar energy. Here in Europe we have to pay now 8.60$ per gallon, and it will become more expensive. Let Florida become the Power and the Sunshine State. Tom from Cologne, Germany

  • July 13, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    Good insight into gas and prices. However, I’m still not convinced that we still have to rely on the same combustion engine we’ve been using for the last 100 years. We can send a probe to Mars on battery power, but still rely on combustion engine Henry Ford used. Amazing.

  • September 30, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    I leased a 2012 Leaf and am very satisfied with its performance. Now I want to build a solar powered car charging station in Lake Wales, I need funding any suggestions?

  • November 29, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    I have to say… since I am the owner of an ELECTRIC CAR CONVERSION COMPANY… that batteries charged BY solar IS the answer… it costs as much to REFINE one GAL of Gas as it does to DRIVE an electric car.. THEY ARE NOT EXPENSIVE ! You can DIY for the price of the parts…which I SELL.. we have been converting and DRIVING NOTHING BU EV’s for OVER 20 years… 5 years or our LAWN BUSINESS was 100% ELECTRIC…ELECTRIC TRUCK and Dixie chopper !! NO GAS.. CHARGED by SOLAR PANELS… Batteries LIKE WOMEN… last as LONG was you pay attention to them and treat them fairly.! PAY attention to your batteries and they will out perform their ratings.. FOR example.. the Deka 6V golf cart batteries are RATED for 3 years..> WE GET OVER 8 years.. WHY because we PAY ATTENTION and treat them properly..!! we keep a BMS on them. water them timely… watch EACH battery and most importantly CHARGE the properly… GO to our web site.. GO TO THE PROJECT tab……. yes that is ME…… an OLD OLD LADY converting my new COMPANY CAR… a 1967 AUSTIN from gas to 100% electric… IF I can do it.. YOU can to !! and cheaper than buying a VOLT or LEAF or TESLA !!!! Ohhhh and BTW…… MY car took the 3rd place TROPHY at the DRAG track in Bradenton !!! YES SIR>> she will MOVE out !!! QUARTER MILE TRACK !!! I am very proud of her…

  • April 25, 2013 at 9:00 am

    I’ve been driving my 2013 electric car, a Nissan Leaf, and getting 4.9 miles per kwH, a substantial increase over the 3 miles per khW you used in your assumption. But I do almost no freeway driving. Conversely I do like to floor it when taking off from red lights 🙂 Takes off nice’n’quick!

  • June 24, 2013 at 8:45 am

    It would be a dream, consume less and reduce pollution! but doubt the oil companies will agree… will not give up easily to their earnings, don’t you think?

  • August 24, 2013 at 8:25 am

    I am completely agree that the cost of PV car is much more cheaper than Gasoline…!!!!Government should create policy in favor of the PV car!


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