Solar Charging On a Budget with Ford C-MAX Solar Energi

By · January 06, 2014

Ford C-MAX Solar Energi

Ford C-MAX Solar Energi

Using solar energy to charge an electric car is not a new idea. A lot of plug-in vehicle drivers have been doing it for several years. It's a smart energy strategy, but the initial investment was substantial, so that leaves plenty of room for a better solution.

Ford's idea is to do without a large rack of solar panels which people fit on their roof or in their garden. The only solar panels used here are on the car's roof, and they're installed by Ford itself. That sounds good because car companies are good when it comes to bringing costs down, and making new expensive technologies affordable.

Ford is using its C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid as a conceptual starting point. The only problem is that there's only 1.5 square meter of solar cells on the car's roof. That's definitely not enough to power a car. Other car manufacturers have already considered at the subject—most notably, Toyota for its Prius, and all German carmakers for their most expensive sedans. They offer the option of a solar panel built into the roof, but it's only for cooling the car when parked under the sun.

Ford C-MAX Solar Energi

Ford C-MAX Solar Energi

One-and-a-half square meters of solar cells is a nice benefit that every EV would enjoy. (Ford should offer the option right now). But leaving the car parked a whole day in a sunny place would probably only bring enough energy to drive an extra four or five miles. Still good, but more is needed. So Ford developed a 5.3 by 4.3 meter canopy fitted with a Fresnel lens on its top, to direct sunlight to the solar cells of the car parked below. It's basically a giant magnifying glass.

The good part is that this can be cheap. Fresnel lenses are not expensive, and the only question is how effective they can be. Concentrating solar power works great on thermal systems (check Planta Solar 10 in Spain), but concentrated photovoltaics is still fairly new, and much less documented. Ford said its system will boost the impact of the sunlight by a factor of eight. That's impressive and critically it's enough to fully charge the C-MAX Energi in a day. The 7.6 kWh battery is good for 21 miles of zero emission driving, all courtesy of the sun.

Ford C-MAX Solar Energi

Ford C-MAX Solar Energi

Increased wear on the cells may be an issue, and so is heat. We should note that Ford could have fitted the solar cells into the roof, but it didn't. They're raised slightly above the roof. This is still a concept, it remains to be fully field-tested. That's coming.

This C-MAX Solar Energi Concept will be on display at the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, before it's sent back to Georgia Institute of Technology, which collaborated with Ford to develop this concept. Photovoltaic cells are from SunPower, and many months of testing are needed to find out how effective the system is as a daily charging appliance, but the idea is clearly exciting. It may also have potential in developing countries where people can't afford large photovoltaic systems, and the need to shift to cleaner cars is urgent.

Comments

· · 34 weeks ago

"but concentrated photovoltaics is still fairly new, and much less documented. "

I don't know about documentation, but concentraters were used in the first major US solar plant in the early '80s. ARCO cells on Carizzo Plains, I still have 6 of them, those cells quickly turned brown under the intensity of the mirrors. The issue often discussed at the time was whether mirrors overcame the diminished return of the brown cells. If Ford can get 7x from their concentrator then it seems they have overcome, a question might be what does the car roof look like in 3 years?

· · 34 weeks ago

It's a little early for a Google-style April Fool's joke but I guess Ford wanted to get a few months jump on the competition.

1) You want to put your car under a giant magnifying glass.
Because your car is not already hot enough on sunny days.
When your car is not there, you want to make sure nobody else can use that space.
Kids and animals will learn real quick that that is your parking space, dammit.
You always wanted a redheaded kid anyway.
2) It would be much better than shading your car with solar cells on the carport, right?
3) The fact that the carport has to be 15' high shouldn't be too much of a problem.
4) Also not a problem at all that your car has to roll back or forward about 8 feet over the course of the day to track the sun.
You don't mind letting your car roll about when you're not there. Tricycles and sleeping kittens deserve the consequences of being left in the wrong place.

The funniest part of this "concept" is how many bloggers ran it with a straight face.

· · 34 weeks ago

So tell me again, what are the complaints against the current batch of electric cars? (in order of importance to consumers)

1. Too expensive.
2. Can't drive very far.
3. Ugly. (although personally, I don't get that one, except when it comes to the iMiEV or the Smart car.)
4.It only offsets your emissions to your power plant. Depending on your power plant, that may or may not change anything.

Now tell me again, how this "advancement" will ensure that this car does better in the market than its competition? It does nothing for the biggest 3 complaints, and actually makes them worse. For this or any car to make an improvement in the world, first it needs to get wide acceptance.

Screw solar panels. We *need* cheaper batteries.

· · 34 weeks ago

Dumbest. Concept. Ever.
While in theory, this is an OK idea, the practical considerations should have killed it before it made it off the back of the university's napkin.
If you want to make a solar tracker with a 10:1 ratio of fresnel lenses to solar cells, fine. Go for it. It will probably work AND save money. Putting fresnel lenses on a carport is stupid. Full Stop.

· · 34 weeks ago

The way the panels are mounted on the roof cannot be good for the Cd. This will reduce the efficiency, and will (at least partially) negate any gains of having the added charging. And I think the concentrating lens will also heat up the car and/or bake the area around the panel.

Here's a much better idea: put a regular solar PV system on the roof of your home, or on the roof of a flat roof building, or over your parking spot, or on your town/city's capped landfill, or the roofs of public buildings, or over the shopping mall's parking lot. And Ford provides a matching payment to double the capacity of the system.

Then that solar array generates electricity all day, instead of when the vehicle is parked under the special canopy.

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