Solar powered cars – what will they think of next?

While the rest of the city was chasing #hiddencash I was doing something a lot more entertaining yesterday. I learned about solar powered cars.  Then again, I nerd out on technology and cars so this was a double win for me.

I spent a nice chunk of yesterday listening to Mike Tinskey at Fords Los Angeles Regional office talk about the future of electric cars.  Mike is the Global Director of Vehicle Electrification and Infrastructure so he knows a few things on the topic.  Up until now Ford, and their CMax (C as in the speed of light symbol in EMC2) Solar Energi concept vehicle none have been solar powered.  (Before the trolls attack, I’m aware of the solar car races, but those are research vehicles, not real cars yet).  Yes, this car has the potential, at least here in Los Angeles where we are blessed with ample sunshine daily, to completely recharge its batteries for a potential driving of up to 20 miles while you are parked at work for 8 hours.  May not seem like a lot of dstance, but the majority of us have commutes less than that.  That means its possible to never by gas, or only use on the rare cloudy rainy day which yields a completely green commute the rest of the time.

This technology is in its infancy.  The current set up works for us, but the rest of the country not so much as they have the elements like snow to deal with on top of reduced sunshine.  The drawback such that it is is even with the strides in increasing solar panel efficiency and flexibility, they are still only about 21% efficient.  To maximize this efficiency the concept needs to be parked under a carport type stucture where the roof is a fresnel lens that concentrates the suns light on the solar panel embedded into the roof of this concept car.  The car moves under that lens during the day to track the suns movement and keep the light on the cells at a maximum.  Great idea, at lot more work to get us to the point the car can just be left in a parking a lot and charge.

Illustration of the parnters in making sustainable transportation work. click to embiggen

Development of this car isn’t just Ford, but a partnership with a lot of other entities, both governmental and private that are working together to bring vehicle electrification to us.  It includes business, utilities and universities.  In fact the CMax Solar Energi concept is the collaboration with Ford, Georgia Institute of Technology and SunPower.

I’ve driven the CMax a few times already, in its Hybrid and Plug-inHybrid form and do like it quite a bit.  Its more engaging to drive than some of the hybrids out there, certainly more of a drivers car than its competition.  The important part of these cars though isn’t its fun to drive factor, but the green factor…reduced pollutants and greenhouse gasses, especially when they are in electric mode.

It was interesting learning about the impact the electric/partial electric cars have had in the market place.  The last few years they’ve held between 3 and 4 % of the total sales here in the U.S.  The amazing bit was that fully half of those sales are right here in California.

A few factoids to consider on the advantages of a solar powered car like this concept car:

· C-MAX Solar Energi Concept eliminates the need to plug in and charge a hybrid vehicle altogether. It harnesses the power of the sun by using a special concentrator that acts like a magnifying glass, directing intense rays to the panels on the vehicle’s roof
· C-MAX Solar Energi Concept represents an exciting possibility for the future of mobility. This prototype is part of Ford’s vision for imagining what sustainable transportation will look like in 2024 and beyond and the near-, mid- and long-term steps we must take to get there
· Internal Ford data suggest the sun could power up to 75 percent of all trips made in a solar hybrid vehicle. That means a typical owner can avoid sending more than four metric tons of greenhouse gas emission into the atmosphere ever year.
· According to our climate scientists, if all light duty vehicles (cars and trucks) in the US adopted this approach, we’d reduce greenhouse gas emission (GHG) by more than 1 billion metrics tons per year.

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