Drury Economics Professor Inspired by Solar Decathlon

Solar panels plus EVs equal dollars and sense.

Mentors often inspire with guidance and wisdom, but sometimes they can be inspired by those whom they mentor. For Dr. Steve Mullins, Crowder-Drury 2015 Solar Decathlon mentor and professor of economics, this statement could not be more accurate.

Since joining the decathlon team as a mentor, student discussions and research on the competition requirements have inspired Dr. Mullins to make two significant investments in clean, renewable, and affordable energy. Eight 435 watt photovoltaic solar panels have been installed on the roof of his garage and a Chevy Spark elective vehicle (EV) sits inside charging.

Thanks to the solar panels and “Sparky,” Dr. Mullins’ gets monthly checks from his electric utility and his daily commute is now green and free.

Solar installations for residential use pay obvious environmental benefits and the dollar savings are substantial as well. Average payback periods and the return on investment are about ten years and 10 percent annually, depending on location.

Dr. Mullins quickly discovered that the returns are much better when a solar installation is also used to charge the batteries in an EV. His daily commute to Drury University used to cost him $2 in gasoline, but Sparky makes the trip for free. Every kilowatt hour (kWh) produced for his residential use knocks ten cents off his utility bill, but a kWh takes Sparky 5 miles. At $3 per gallon of gasoline, his previous 30 mpg Mazda would burn $.50 worth of fuel covering the same distance.


Given the benefits of electric vehicles, it’s no surprise the Department of Energy has asked decathlon teams to design and build a solar-powered home that can charge an EV for eight 25-mile trips during the contest week in October 2015. The DOE designed the competition to promote the viability of solar power to help fuel a growing demand for residential solar power installations and electric vehicles.

Dr. Mullins is thrilled to be part of the Solar Decathlon competition because it so clearly demonstrates the potential for solar power to move the U.S. beyond its dangerous dependence on dirty, finite fossil fuels.

“Combining a solar home with an EV is the economic equivalent of having an oil well on the roof of your house.” he says. “But the solar panels look much better!”