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Buy your car's fuel up front with Autowatts

Autowatts' iPad mockup.

Autowatts finances a solar system with an EV buy.

Autowatts, a startup with roots in Denver, will soon start offering electric vehicle (EV) buyers a chance to purchase all the energy their vehicle will ever need when they buy their vehicle by financing a solar rooftop for EV owners.

"The premise of what Autowatts is doing is paring the purchase of a fuel supply with an electric vehicle," says Founder Alex Tiller, also CEO of solar installer Sunetric, which was recently purchased by RGS Energy. "This has never been possible in history, really."

Tiller explains that previously the size of the EV market, the vehicle's battery technology and the cost of photovoltaics were all factors that made creating this type of product offering difficult, it not economically feasible, but that's changed. "We're at a point in time now where essentially a buyer can prepay all the transportation fuel in one fell swoop and they can actually finance it," Tiller says.

"If you use a renewable energy system to offset your transportation miles, you are competing with oil," Tiller explains. "We know that in markets where oil creates the electrons, oil gets its butt kicked by solar." In Hawaii, where Sunetric is headquartered, just such a situation has played out, because most of the island state's electricity currently comes from oil or diesel-fired generators, which is more expensive than solar power. "You can get as little as a four-year payback on a residential solar system in the Hawaii market," Tiller explains.

To put it another way; "Imagine if you're going to buy a new car. If the car salesman offered at that time, 'Hey, for an extra $10,000, would you like to pay for all the gasoline you're ever going to need for this car, and for your next five cars, and I can finance it and that monthly payment is less than you would be spending on gasoline.' Most would say, 'yes,'" Tiller contends.

The solar array may not directly feed the vehicle but with an EV it helps simplify owners' energy costs. "The electrons get commingled in the house. It's not like the power system goes straight into your car. Your home is a small load system and we put the solar on the house." When most homeowners with EVs are at work, the system will produce power they can net meter, or sell energy back to the grid. Then when the homeowner comes home, they can charge their vehicle at home.

Another option, which will likely occur in the future as battery costs continue to come down, is actually storing the solar energy in batteries at the home until the homeowner comes home to charge their EV up. As of 2014, however, battery technology is generally still too expensive to justify the expense, though Tiller sees that changing.

Autowatts completed its first beta in Hawaii where Sunetric is headquartered. "We're still a very early technology. We are in a beta mode right now," Tiller explains. While he was tight-lipped on the launch strategy, he says the company will roll out the new version in some markets before the end of 2014.

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.

Read more articles by Chris Meehan.

Chris is a Denver-based freelance writer, editor and communications specialist. He covers sustainability, social issues and other topics.
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