Electric cars like the Nissan Leaf could be a real game changer.  After crunching some numbers, I calculated that the cost per mile driven in a Nissan Leaf could be noticeably cheaper than a comparable gas vehicle.

This is an exciting development for the solar industry since you can produce the electricity for driving your electric car with a solar PV array. This makes electricity a more significant competitor to oil and could help increase solar implementation rates for consumers.

I ran the following calculations on the cost to drive 10000 miles per year in an electric car compared to a 30 mpg gas engine car.  Here are my findings.

Gas powered car

  • at 30 MPG and $3/gallon the cost to drive 10000 miles is $1000

Nissan Leaf electric car (range per battery charge is 50-100 miles)

If range is 100 miles:

  • at 10 cents per kWh cost to drive 10000 miles is $250
  • at 15 cents per kWh cost to drive 10000 miles is $375
  • at 25 cents per kWh cost to drive 10000 miles is $625

If range is 75 miles:

  • at 10 cents per kWh cost to drive 10000 miles is $333
  • at 15 cents per kWh cost to drive 10000 miles is $500
  • at 25 cents per kWh cost to drive 10000 miles is $833

If range is 50 miles:

  • at 10 cents per kWh the cost to drive 10000 miles is $500
  • at 15 cents per kWh the cost to drive 10000 miles is $750
  • at 25 cents per kWh the cost to drive 10000 miles is $1250

PV system size required to fuel Nissan Leaf

  • 3 KW PV system in Phoenix would provide 10000 miles/year at 50 miles/charge
  • 2 KW PV system in Phoenix would provide 10000 miles/year at 75 miles/charge
  • 1.5 KW PV system in Phoenix would provide 10000 miles/year at 100 miles/charge

The realistic range of the Nissan Leaf per battery charge is 50-100 miles depending on driving style, speeds, idling time, AC usage, etc…  It is unlikely that those in hotter climates would get more than 75 miles/charge due to AC needs in the summer.  Here is a good link to Nissan Leaf range estimates

Another good way to compare the cost of electric cars is to view the 5 year ownership price of the Leaf versus the Honda Civic sedan.  Note that while the 5 year cost of ownership is higher, the fuel cost is noticably lower.
Nissan Leaf 5 yr cost of ownership
Honda Civic Sedan 5 yr cost of ownership

Conclusion: The price per mile driven could be significantly cheaper for electric cars used for daily commuting, however, it’s not yet clear if battery replacement (several thousand dollars after 5-10 year life) and maintenance costs will be higher or lower compared to maintaining a gas powered car.