Driving on Sunshine” is a series about people who are using grid-tied solar panels on their homes to power their electric vehicles. More plug-in vehicles are entering the market at competitive prices, including low monthly leases starting at $199/month. In addition, more people are able to afford home solar systems thanks to solar leasing programs and group-purchasing options, such as CEC’s Solarize program.
Aaron and Marianne Carlberg
Santa Maria, CA
|Type of Electric Vehicle||2013 Ford Fusion Energi|
|Leased or Purchased||Purchased|
|Size of Solar Array||6.9 kW DC|
|Solar Installer||REC Solar|
|Leased or Purchased||Leased|
|CEC Solarize Participant||No|
Aaron Carlberg is not your typical “go green” kind of guy. He’s a conservative. He thinks that the country’s solar industry has been too heavily subsidized. And don’t get him started on climate change. None of that, however, stopped Aaron from installing solar panels on his home in Santa Maria, and, not long afterwards, purchasing a plug-in hybrid vehicle.
Aaron owns a computer business and serves as lead pastor of Element Christian Church. He and his wife, Marianne, bought their home in 2010 at the bottom of the foreclosure market. Although the house required extensive repairs, it came with a backyard pool, which thrilled the Carlbergs who were already envisioning hosting church events like baptisms and youth pool parties.
But when their monthly electricity bill arrived, the Carlbergs were shocked to realize it was about $350, at least in part due to their energy-intensive pool. Marianne works at Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, and when one of the doctors mentioned installing solar panels and subsequent energy savings, the Carlbergs were inspired.
They reached out to REC Solar, a solar electric system design and installation company, and mounted a 6.9 kW system on top of their garage. They decided to lease their solar panels through Sunrun — a partner of REC Solar — which owns, insures, monitors, and maintains a homeowner’s solar panels for the 20-year duration of the lease. Such a set-up allowed the Carlbergs to begin to reap the fruits of their solar transition immediately without investing a sizeable sum of money upfront for costly panels.
“When I got the solar panels put in, all of my neighbors were like ‘Oh no. Here come the enviro wackos,’” says Aaron teasingly. “But I am saving a ton of money.” Since installation, the Carlberg’s electricity bill has been cut nearly in half.
Aaron and Marianne quickly discovered that their solar panels were producing far more power than they needed, so they sold Marianne’s Saturn Outlook and purchased their plug-in hybrid, a 2013 Ford Fusion Energi, to further increase their energy savings.
The Carlbergs test-drove other plug-in hybrids, including the Chevy Volt, but ruled them out because they were too small and confining for their tastes. When they discovered the midsize sedan Energi, however, they knew they had found their ideal electric car. The car operates on electric power for their short, daily driving needs, while still offering the range of a gasoline engine. The EPA estimates that the Fusion Energi averages 58 mpg between gas and electric, tying it with the Prius Plug-in for the most fuel-efficient midsize.
Aaron and Marianne mostly use their plug-in hybrid for short trips around Santa Maria. As a result, their annual gas consumption associated with the vehicle is low. In the last year, they went to a gas station only three times, and even though they’ve put about 7,600 miles on the car, they’ve barely used more than 30 gallons of gas. Total.
“The electric charge is great,” says Aaron. “The only drawback is that there are limited charging stations in Santa Maria. At the very least, Marian Regional Medical Center, which is supposed to be one of the greenest hospitals in the state, should have a charging station.”
In 2012, the Community Environmental Council helped the County of Santa Maria install four charging stations at the County Administrative Building. A few other stations are clustered in the same area — a few miles southeast of downtown — at Rabobank, Santa Barbara Health Care Center, and three local car dealerships.
“Still, we love it,” continues Aaron. “If you can put panels on top of your house and charge your car and drive around in it, just by producing energy on your own home, it seems like a no brainer. You don’t have to make pollution just to make it.”
Others in Santa Maria are taking note. The Santa Maria Times ran an article on the Carlbergs after the CEC shared this story with them. And at least one of Aaron’s neighbors is following in their footsteps. He stopped by the Carlbergs soon after the panels were in place to check them out, and now solar panels adorn his roof too — further blurring that perceived line between ”environmentalist” and fiscally responsible consumer for the rest of the community.