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How to charge your EV with solar power

At home 

Electric vehicle owners can operate their cars with zero carbon emissions. In other words, the energy they charge their vehicles with can be 100% from renewable energy sources, rather than fossil fuels like diesel or petrol. The beautiful thing about an EV is that you have the ability to make it perform better environmentally, whereas you are locked in to emissions with a liquid fuel car. 

Charging an EV straight from the grid in a ‘dumb’ fashion (without any timers or controls) is still less emissions-intensive than fueling a petrol or diesel vehicle. An average new liquid-fuel car in Australia emits around 185g CO2/km, but an average new EV in Australia is only responsible for around 98g CO2/km. 

The best solution to reduce emissions is installing as much solar as possible where the car is being charged. A large solar installation on site means that transmission losses are minimised, and you have peace of mind that the power going into your vehicle is coming directly from the panels. 

Control and timers 

Electric vehicle chargers come with different levels of smarts. If you can put your charger on a timer to charge at peak solar generation times (usually between 10am-2pm), you can increase the amount of electric ‘fuel’ coming from your localised renewable solar panels.  

Good practice is to set to slower charge (eg. 2.2kW or 3.6kW), because the next level up (~7kW+) is probably more than your solar array can generate. Some smart EV chargers (like the Myenergi Zappi) can be set to automatically charge only with your excess solar (it is a solar diverter in other words), but can also be set to charge from the mains if necessary, for a quick charge. 

Although currently an expensive option, if you have a large solar system generating excess power, it is possible to charge a home battery system with that power, and feed it into your vehicle overnight. This will save you money if you are on a flat electricity tariff, and increase the clean energy percentage of your charge. 

If you are on a time of use tariff, it’s a good idea to charge before 1-2pm to avoid the more expensive peak period (but on weekends it doesn’t matter).  

Guaranteed zero emissions 

If installing a solar system on-site is not possible, an easy way to charge an electric car from clean energy in NSW is to purchase 100% GreenPower® for the account the charging point is connected to. Greenpower is new renewable energy power, meaning that the amount of power used to charge the car comes from solar or wind farms, bioenergy or mini-hydro generators in Australia and is guaranteed by government accounting practices. All you would need to do is call your electricity provider and ask to be switched over to their 100% GreenPower® product. This comes at a premium – usually around 5-8c / kWh.  

Out and about 

Due to the penetration of rooftop solar and grid solar renewables, the grid is greener during the day and getting greener Local Councils such as Ku-Ring Gai, North Sydney and Willoughby have solar power purchasing agreements for up to 35% of their energy and most of this is delivered during the day.  Aligning your charging to between 10am and 3pm will help to source a larger percentage of your power from the sun. 

Organisations are starting to put EV charging stations at locations where they also have solar PV installations. One of the first Australian examples is the Macadamia Castle on NSW’s Far North Coast which in 2014 installed a 45kW solar system on its car park canopy. The solar installation powers both the main building and the EV charging station. 

More public charging operators are committing to 100% renewable energy, so check out the claims of your preferred charging operator and charging location and select the greenest. Major operators include Chargefox (100% renewable energy for fast chargers), ChargePoint and NextCharge, with others coming fast 

Happy charging. 

[July 3rd 2019]

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