Ford Solar Paneled Hybrid Idea A Smart One

Ever wondered why we can’t just stick solar panels on top of cars to fuel them even more cleanly and easily than today’s plug-in electric cars? Engineers have actually been working on this challenge for a number of years. The main speed bump has been that the solar panels sized for the top of a car would not be sufficiently powerful, efficient, or large enough to actually power the vehicle. Also, cost has been prohibitive for commercial viability.

However, Ford has just come a lot closer to making this pie in the sky a reality.

At this week’s annual International CES technology convention in Las Vegas, Ford will unveil a concept car that is actually powered by solar panels on the roof of its C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (EV). In 2013, Ford sold about 7,000 units of the non-solar plug-in C-Max Energi, which I enjoyed test-driving last summer.

image via Ford

image via Ford

Mike Tinskey, Ford’s global director of vehicle electrification, told me last week that Ford pursued this solar car roof idea because today’s solar cells are many times more efficient than they were just a few years ago. Ford and SunPower, said Tinskey, jointly created a solar concentrator array for this concept vehicle that multiplies the solar energy eight times.

While EVs are already cleaner to drive than conventional vehicles — even taking into account the pollution from the electricity used to power them — EVs fueled by solar power are even cleaner. This makes sense to environmentalists. A 2012 survey found that more than a third of plug-in drivers in California have solar panels on the roofs of their houses. My March 2011 blog post, where I interviewed the creator of SolarChargedDriving.com, showed how EV+PV works and why it’s so appealing.

In fact, later this month Ford and SunPower will announce a newer, less expensive version of theirGreen for Life solar EV charging system that works for today’s EVs and house roofs.

Some vehicles, such as a high-end version of the Nissan Leaf, have used solar panels on top of the car to power certain functions, such as the computer system. But if Ford can find a way to commercialize this solar C-Max Energi, it would be the first EV to actually move from its own internal solar power system.

There are complications to overcome. Most notably, Ford’s concept model needs to move autonomously several feet throughout the day while charging in order to best capture the sun’s rays.

But Tinskey says he’s optimistic that Ford will work out the engineering challenges and prove there is a viable business case for this type of vehicle in the near future. Let the heated debate on that begin!

sierra-clubEditor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of Sierra Club. Author credit goes to Gina Coplon-Newfield.

The Sierra Club is America's largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization. We are working to protect our communities and the planet.

    • Bruce Parmenter

      This is not a solar car. It is a Ford PR item the media has had a field day with. Ford took a plug-in-hybrid (phev/pih, runs a short distance on electricity from its small pack, or it can run off its chemical fuel engine) and put a small amount of solar cells on its roof.

      The amount of solar electricty generated by those cells is so small it is not even level-1 charging. If Ford really wanted to do the solar car PR stunt right they should have put solar cells on the hood as well. But even with that, all they might is a level-1 charge. With only 5 hours of usable sun light in a day even when the weather is good in the sun shine states, 5 hours of level-1 is not enough to fully recharge their pih pack.

      Folks, its just a PR stunt, and if they sell these, drivers are going to be disappointed that they can not fully recharge just off the sun each day. It is too heavy and inefficient a vehicle for so few PV cells. It’s the law of physics.

      {brucedp.150m.com}

    • hljmesa

      Progress is made in small, incremental steps. This has happened in every industry along with the fact that negative commentators are in great supply. If Henry Ford had lost this lawsuit, ( http://www.fee.org/the_freeman/detail/how-henry-ford-zapped-a-licensing-monopoly/#axzz2prmQj1oO ) well, shoot, we might not even be discussing this. And I own a 2013 C-Max Energi.