While electric vehicles don’t necessarily always rely on solar power, Chicago contractor Windfree (No. 339 on the 2015 Top Solar Contractors list) often makes the two work hand-in-hand. Working with its partner Green Wheels (an Illinois auto dealership that sells and leases electric vehicles), Windfree installs electric vehicle charging stations and usually customer conversations turn to solar.
“More often than not if someone is putting in a charging station, they’re thinking about solar,” said Bryan Tillman, director of operations at Green Wheels. “They’re thinking, ‘How can I make my energy even cleaner?’”
Tillman and his team have built relationships with Chicago municipalities that have decided to make their city vehicle fleets all electric. Green Wheels has even partnered with Uber to lease all-electric cars to local drivers. While municipalities usually pay for electric charge stations, Green Wheels provides the charge stations for Uber drivers. They are reimbursed for the electricity drivers use through car lease payments.
Green Wheels and Windfree have installed charge stations areas all over Chicago, many at existing solar sites. Tillman said the public’s response has been more than what his team hoped for, and he sees it as a catalyst for both electric vehicles and the solar market.
“There is expected to be thousands of people in our fleet of electric cars each year, so that’s thousands of impressions,” Tillman explained. “Curious passengers are having conversations with drivers about how they’re riding in an all-electric vehicle, often powered with electricity from solar. The drivers tell us how amazed people are that these electric vehicles are running thousands of miles every year, just like their traditional cars, and how quiet they are. They see the availability of the charging stations around town and start to view electric vehicles as a possibility for them. Because of this, the Uber drivers who are going electric have had a good experience, and we anticipate their passengers will give them ratings as good as, if not better ratings than, the rest of the Uber drivers!”
Tillman attributes increasing interest in electric vehicles and solar to a growing knowledge base of the importance of zero emission options, especially in city centers.
“Municipalities and other organizations are starting to understand climate change and health impacts of poor air quality and realizing they need to show leadership in doing what’s best for society,” he said.