Solar power and electric vehicles (EV) each get a lot of attention amongst their own segments of followers, and there's certainly a lot of overlap there. Even the mass media is picking up on the exponential growth trends and falling prices in these two markets. However, I don't think the combination of the two gets the attention it deserves. Solar power + electric vehicles = "driving on sunlight," or "gallons of light" as some have put it. If your aim is to have a positive impact on the climate crisis (and/or water crisis and/or air quality crisis), there's often no better thing you can do.
Of course, there are a lot of companies working to make the world a much, much better place via this combo. I wanted to spend a little time highlighting some of these partnerships for those who don't obsessively follow the solar and EV industries industries.
1. Starting with the most obvious one, SolarCity and Tesla Motors* partner up in a number of ways. With Elon Musk the Chairman of SolarCity and the CEO of Tesla, this can be expected. As one example, SolarCity sells Tesla battery storage systems to complement its own solar power systems. There are also discounts if you cross-shop Tesla and SolarCity. And SolarCity provides some of Tesla's electricity needs.
2. Making a U-turn, I'll this next one is one of the more obscure ones: Powertree Services. Solar power and electric vehicles are no-brainers for a lot of homeowners who have their own garage, but they are almost out of the question for apartment-dwellers. Powertree is installing solar panels on apartment building roofs, installing EV chargers in parking garages, and offering apartment-dwellers a place to charge as well as a way to go solar. I'd be lying if I didn't say that this is now one of my favorite companies.
3. The Nissan LEAF is the best-selling electric car in history. Way back in 2011, Nissan teamed up with a top US solar company, SunPower*, to help promote solar power to many of its happy LEAF customers.
4. Similarly, Ford, which has a few electric vehicles on the market, including two relatively high-selling Energi (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) models, has also teamed up with SunPower. This partnership ropes in the Sierra Club as well. Via this partnership, you can get a $750 rebate by going solar with SunPower while going electric with Ford. Meanwhile, SunPower will donate $500 to the Sierra Club.
5. Envision Solar, founded back in 2006, offers some beautiful “Solar Trees” that can be installed in parking lots to offer EV charging from solar power while shading cars from the sun. That’s an all-around win, and as Envision Solar notes, a Solar Tree “works as a billboard for a company’s green credentials while producing clean energy and improving the aesthetics of any parking lot.”
6. How effective are these partnerships? It's hard to say, but it's worth noting that a 2014 study found that 32% of surveyed California EV owners have solar PV systems on their homes, and 16% plan to install solar PV systems.
*Full Disclosure: I am long Tesla (TSLA) and SunPower (SPWR).