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BMW gives ActiveE drivers incentive to fuel up with the sun

BMW has partnered with Real Goods Solar to offer residential solar panel systems to ActiveE lessees at a 35 percent discount.

BMW Concept ActiveE Smartphone Application (12/2009)

By driving electric cars, BMW ActiveE drivers have already kicked the gasoline habit. But now the auto manufacturer is giving them a little help in the effort to quit fossil fuels for good. BMW has partnered with Real Goods Solar to offer EV customers discounted residential solar panel systems so they can charge up using only the sun.

Real Goods Solar will install solar panels at homes of ActiveE drivers at a 35 percent discount. The Colorado-based company operates offices in California and Connecticut, and offers several purchase plans, including the typical upfront system purchase, a zero-down 20-year lease of the system, and a pre-pay lease.

In all instances, the company will take care of the permitting and installation of the residential system, and connect the solar system to the grid. If the zero-down lease of the solar panels sounds attractive, keep in mind that you'll still be paying for electricity. Real Goods Solar says it will act as a utility company and charge you a rate for the electricity that's discounted from what a utility company would charge. Real Goods Solar uses that money to pay for the installation and upkeep of your residential solar system.

The 20-year leases are transferable, but if you sell your house and the next owner doesn't want the remainder of the lease and would rather pay for more expensive electricity from the grid, you'll need to buy the system at the depreciated market price to get out of the contract.

Still, a 35 percent discount on solar panels is a pretty good deal, especially if you can plug in during the daylight hours. Unfortunately, most electric car drivers will be plugging in at night. This means they'll mostly likely be fueling up from the grid, which may or may not be powered by renewable energy. Installing large battery packs at home would be one way drivers could ensure they're using solar power to recharge ActiveEs at night, and it would also be a good use for retired BMW battery packs.