Imagine a car that ran completely on sunlight. You could park it outdoors on a sunny day, and while you shopped or worked or visited friends, it would be quietly refilling its tank, at no cost to you.
Well, you donâ€™t have to imagine any further, this car will be revealed to the public for the first time at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), in Las Vegas next week.
The car is the Ford C-Max Solar Energi Concept. Its announcement represents a significant leap into a clean energy future, revealing possibilities that many of us may not have even considered before.
The C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is the first of its kind, a sun-powered car that can charge up and run completely untethered, away from any gas station, away from the electric grid, away from civilization altogether.
The vehicle has a solar panel roof that utilizes a special concentrator lens that increases the amount of energy that can be collected from the roof area. The C-MAX Solar Energi Concept has been given an EPA estimated rating of 108 MPGe city and 92 MPGe highway. An average vehicle owner could be expected to save as much as four metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, by avoiding grid charging. Thatâ€™s about one-third as much as a typical American home produces in a year.
The C-MAX Solar Energi Concept, which is the result of a partnership between Ford andÂ SunPower, operating as a hybrid electric, can achieve combined range of 620 miles, including 21 electric only miles, the same as the plug-in hybrid C-MAX. SunPower will be providing the high-efficiency solar panels for the roof. Â The patented off-vehicle solar concentrator, which was developed by researchers at Georgia Tech, works a bit like a magnifying glass, and can amplify the incoming sunlight by a factor of eight. That allows the batteries to collect up to 8 kW in a full day of sun, which is equivalent to being plugged into the grid for four hours. The car comes equipped with a charging port, allowing it to be used like any other plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV). Itâ€™s worth noting that the off-vehicle concentrator is not portable and must remain in a stationary location, such as the ownerâ€™s driveway.
After the vehicle is shown as CES, the team will begin extensive testing of the vehicle in various real-world scenarios. Ford expects its 2013 electric vehicle lineup to post record-breaking sales in excess of 85,000 units of their six electrified models for the year.
Internal modeling done at Ford shows that the concentrated solar panels could power up to 75 percent of all trips made in a solar hybrid vehicle by an average driver. Â According to theÂ press releaseÂ (video),â€ this could be especially important in places where the electric grid is underdeveloped, unreliable or expensive to use. â€œ
While this first entry into the solar vehicle space is an impressive one, itâ€™s likely that the economics will not work for the average driver, though I am sure the vehicles will sell to those in a position to afford them, who either want to show their support for this technology or who have unique requirements that might be an excellent fit for this capability. However, I think itâ€™s reasonable to assume that as solar technology Â continues to become both more affordable and more efficient, future versions of this vehicle will begin to find their way into more and more driveways (would you park one in the garage?) around the country.
The question will need to be asked, however; does it makes sense to put the solar panels on the roof of the house, where it can be used both in the home and to charge a plug-in hybrid, or battery electric vehicle, where these can, at times, serve as an extra storage device in an integrated two-way arrangement. A similar question needs to be asked about whether an electric vehicle should be on or off the grid. There are some scenarios such as vehicle to grid (V2G), in which a fleet of vehicles can serve as mass storage to help more fully exploit renewable energy resources.
Itâ€™s worth pondering Fordâ€™s claim that if all light duty vehicles in this country used this type of technology, the amount of greenhouse emissions saved would amount to one billion metric tons. That isÂ more than half the carbonÂ given off by coal plants in 2011, or 43% of all petroleum-based emissions produced that same year, which should give you pause.
At the end of the day, from a total system perspective, the best plan is the one that results in the most usage of renewable energy. But individual circumstances will continue to dictate individual buying and a car like this will certainly find its niche among buyers.
Blog Entry by RP Siegel
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