Solar panels on cars are nothing new. The Toyota Prius has has offered solar panels on its roof for a number of years. But they only power a fan to ventilate the vehicle. Solar-powered cars zoom across the Australian countryside every other year as part of the World Solar Challenge. But these are one-off vehicles made by universities designed purely for the competition. Ford’s doing something different with solar this year the Consumer Electric Show in Las Vegas next week—it’s charging the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept car with the sun using concentrating photovoltaics.
Let’s face it, cars are still pretty heavy, they require a lot of energy to get moving and stay moving. That’s why the solar cells on aPrius’ roof can only power the ventilation system. Ford’s new concept however would combine SunPower PV cells with a fresnel lens canopy that will concentrate sunlight on the cells to get more electricity from them when the vehicle is not in use. Moreover the vehicle would also move throughout the day to maintain the maximum level of concentration on the PV array.
In doing so Ford is finding a way to make solar a feasible power source for traveling in relatively conventional vehicles. The company said its internal data suggests that solar power could provide enough energy for up to 75 percent of trips made, “By an average driver in a solar hybrid vehicle.” Furthermore the company said where access to the electric grid is limited this could make it easier to travel.
The array will take up about 1.5 square meters of the vehicle’s roof space, Mike Tinskey, Ford global director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure, explained in a video introducing the concept. “Alone that solar will only generate about 300 watts of power, which is not enough fully charge the battery in one day,” he said. Comparatively many home solar array in the U.S. are close to 20 times larger at more than 5.5 kilowatts.
“But if you take this vehicle and couple it with…a solar concentrator…that can magnify the solar energy and what you end up with is a combination of a vehicle plus infrastructure that can essentially recharge that C-MAX Solar Energi battery 100 percent from solar energy.”
The C-MAX concept is based on Ford’s C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid vehicle, which can travel up to 21 miles on electric only. Overall the hybrid has a range of up to 620 miles and has EPA-estimated combined 100 miles per gallon (MPG). The concept would likely have the same range. “By using renewable power, Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is estimated to reduce the annual greenhouse gas emissions a typical owner would produce by four metric tons.”
Ford is introducing the concept as interest in its EV and plug-in hybrid vehicle lines are exploding. The company anticipates that it’s on track to have solar 85,000 or more electrified vehicles in 2013—the first full year it offered electrified vehicles it said. The new concept could further the company’s hybrid offerings if it makes it out of the concept stage. After the CES show Ford and Georgia Tech, which helped design the system, will begin testing the vehicle in numerous real-world scenarios to help determine whether or not the concept is viable as a production car. One thing it has going for it is that it’s been designed as an add-on to an existing vehicle, and not a new car from the ground up.