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Honda goes solar with $65 million investment

Image: Honda sun-powered hydrogen station
Honda has had an ongoing interest in solar power, such as this sun-powered hydrogen station at its LA research center.Honda

The first automaker to offer a hybrid-electric vehicle in the U.S. market, Honda is diving even deeper into renewable energy with a project it says could make solar power affordable for its dealers and customers.

The goal of Honda’s new partnership with SolarCity is to make energy from the sun less costly than utility-supplied power, according to the carmaker – which has set up a $65 million investment fund to back the project.

"We believe Honda and Acura customers are going to be very interested in going solar once they find out that they can install solar at their home with little or no upfront cost, can lower their monthly utility bill, and can make a positive contribution to protecting the environment,” said Steven Center, vice president of the Environmental Business Development Office of American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

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Founded by brothers Lyndon and Peter Rive in 2006, and headquartered in San Mateo, California, SolarCity provides a wide range of sun-powered technologies, including commercial and residential solar energy arrays, as well as solar charging stations for electric vehicles which Honda says it also is “envisioning” for its future EV and plug-in hybrid customers.

The project will target customers and dealers in the 14-state service area where SolarCity now operates – which include a number of markets where battery cars are gaining the most traction, such as California, Texas and the Mid-Atlantic region.

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The partnership will offer Honda and Acura customers and dealers several financing options with little to no up-front costs, including one option that the maker claims “will be lower than the cost of their utility bill, with insurance, repairs and monitoring service included.”

The project will also offer owners of Honda vehicles the opportunity to make energy-efficiency upgrades, including weatherization and improved heating and cooling systems.

"By making it easier and more affordable for its customers to use clean power, Honda is reinforcing the fact that solar is the new normal," said SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive.

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A number of automakers have been exploring the potential of solar power. Several, such as Fisker and Toyota, offer vehicle rooftop panels that can be used to supplement battery power or operate a vehicle ventilation system on hot days.

General Motors, Audi and Volkswagen, meanwhile, have added large solar arrays at a number of their plants. GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant, for example, uses sun power to help charge up the batteries of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrids produced at the facility. And VW recently switched on a solar park at its factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The 33-acre system generates enough energy to power 1,200 homes – or about 12.5% of the assembly plant’s energy needs.