Honda has had a few solar projects—a sun-powered hydrogen station in Japan, a massive 100-kilowatt installation at its Performance Development headquarters in California—but nothing on the scale of what it’s proposing now: with partner SolarCity, a $65 million investment fund to subsidize solar on 10 to 20 Honda dealerships and up to 3,000 Honda-customer homes in 14 states.
Here’s what this means for consumers: If you bought a Honda recently, or are somewhere in the company’s huge database, and you live in one of SolarCity’s 14 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and Washington, D.C.), then you’re eligible for a $400 discount to reduce your monthly electric bill (by approximately half a cent per kilowatt-hour) from the solar on your roof.
If you sign up for this, SolarCity will first look you up on Google Earth, check your home’s orientation and tree cover. If the roof looks good, you’ll get a more thorough inspection from a company rep.
SolarCity leases its panels, which means there’s no upfront installation cost on what is usually a five- or six-kilowatt household system. “Most people don’t know you can get solar for free—and only pay for electricity, at less cost than the utility,” says Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity (and Elon Musk of Tesla’s first cousin).
Dealerships will get systems ranging from 50 to 600 kilowatts, depending on their size, said Ryan Harty of American Honda. SolarCity has already installed panels at two dealers in Long Island, New York, Nardy Honda and Smithtown Acura. “We think the message of solar will resonate very strongly with our customers,” Harty said.
Honda denies that it’s pursuing the solar project in some arcane scheme to grab state clean energy credits or offset zero emission vehicle mandates. According to Steve Center, Honda’s vice president of environmental business development, “This is much bigger than credits, which are very complicated and vary by states and markets—we’re not even looking at that. It’s really about a deeper theme, which is being a good global citizen and creating the kind of company that society would want to exist.”
Says Rive, “We’ve had many investments from institutions whose primary purpose is financial return. Honda is one of the few corporations to invest with a motivation far beyond that. Honda is helping the adoption of clean energy.”
As a company, Center says, Honda seeks to reduce its operational carbon dioxide emissions 50 percent by 2050 (from a 2000 baseline), an effort that he said is “like running down the up escalator—a big task.” And that’s why it needs big gestures like this. Honda dealerships that can reduce their energy use by 10 percent are eligible for an Environmental Leadership Award, and if they can become a net-zero energy business, why, they get “a higher level of the award.”
SolarCity offers panels integrated with electric vehicle charging, and has made 750 such installations, Rive said. The company works with charger supplier Leviton to locate solar 240-volt power in customer’s garages, and that integrates well with Honda’s new product line, which includes both a Honda Fit EV and a plug-in hybrid version of the Accord.
A customer charging from solar panels on his or her roof is in a zero emission loop. “Electric cars are wonderful things, but depending on where the electrons come from they may not be so wonderful,” Center said. “That’s why EV owners have a high propensity to install solar on their homes. It’s about being mindful of the electricity that’s being consumed. We’re also concerned about the grid, and charging electrics from solar takes off some of the load.”
According to Harty, customers who “have a relationship with Honda” are eligible for the offer. He said that if there’s a lot of demand, the program could be expanded.
SolarCity is in expansion mode. Launched in 2006 in California, it has more than 2,000 employees, and has made 45,000 installations so far. For its part, Honda got into solar in a big way with the Performance Development headquarters installation, an 800-cell array on the roof, carport and loading dock canopy. The company claims it offsets 64 metric tons of CO2 annually. Here it is on video: