So gas/solar/electric hybrids might make sense

Last week I saw an article about aftermarket solar panels for a Toyota Prius.

I’m glad on two counts. It’ll reduce fuel usage, and while maybe it doesn’t prove my idea was a good one, it does prove that someone else had it.The system costs between $2,000 and $3,000. The manufacturer says it makes more sense with gas at $4 a gallon, in which case it will pay for itself in two years.

I’m not sure I understand the math. Basically when you have one of these you can drive about 20 miles a day for free. That’s about $2 worth of gas, at $4 a gallon. Drive those 20 miles every day for two years, and you’ve saved 730 x 2, which is $1,460.

At that price, one of these outfits has to be about more than just saving money because you won’t save any money unless maybe you live in California, where gas prices are much higher. If you just want to save money, you’re better off buying a conventional car that gets really good gas mileage to begin with, such as a Honda Civic, then start making some modifications like ripping out the seats and replacing them with high-performance racing seats (which can weigh 10 pounds or less). Or better yet, replace the driver’s seat and leave the rest of the seats out. Every hundred pounds of weight in your car decreases gas mileage by 2 percent.

No, I haven’t started messing around with the seats in my Civic yet. But don’t put it past me if gas prices keep going up.

But back to the original idea. A Prius is a $22,000 car. It gets about 55 miles to the gallon. A 2007 Honda Civic retails for about $16,000 and gets about 30 miles to the gallon, although I should note that I get closer to 35 miles per gallon out of my 2002 Civic, and if I really behave myself, I can approach 40 miles to the gallon.

Let’s run the numbers. For an extra $6,000, you get 25 more miles per gallon with a Prius.

If you drive 20,000 miles a year, you’ll burn 363 gallons of gas with the Prius, versus 667 with the Civic. At $3 a gallon, that’s $900 a year. So it would take 6-7 years for the Prius to pay for itself.

Let’s factor solar panels into the equation. The maker of the panels says they improve a Prius’ fuel economy by 29 percent. That bumps it up to roughly 70 miles per gallon. So, driving 20,000 miles a year, you’d burn about 285 gallons, saving about $250 a year at $3/gallon. At $4/gallon, your savings are more like $375 a year.

Hmm. Now I’m starting to see why these aren’t standard equipment.

I think hybrid cars and solar panels are great things for people who can afford them. I do have to say I was shocked and relieved to see the new Saturn commercials that include the words “Rethink status,” trying to sell hybrids as a status symbol. GM is one of the companies most guilty of marketing oversize pickup trucks as status symbols. So this is a nice change.

Solar panels are very conspicuous, so I can see those becoming a status symbol potentially. And that wouldn’t be a bad thing. If every U.S. driver did something to save 80 gallons of fuel per year, the world would be a better place.

Considering the amount of violence that surrounds oil anymore, maybe it would even be a kinder and gentler place.

2 thoughts on “So gas/solar/electric hybrids might make sense

  • June 14, 2007 at 7:58 am
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    What Toyota really needs to do is offer the Prius with a way to plug it in to a regular 120V outlet in the garage at night to top off the battery pack. There was a report on NPR recently about an (expensive) add-on from a third party company to do this. To completely recharge the battery pack like that cost something like 50 or 60 cents worth of electricity.

    In normal driving, plus plugging it in at night, that Prius was getting well over 100 mpg…(since the engine ran very infrequently).

    • June 20, 2007 at 8:36 pm
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      I saw a story today (I think) that said Google, of all people, is trying to help make that happen. Almost anything is better than the status quo.

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