During the past few weeks, many of the largest automotive companies involved in vehicle electrification have made announcements about using solar power to charge vehicles. While skeptics say that these are merely feel-good gimmicks to promote their vehicles, they are actually the start of something much bigger.
Nissan, Mitsubishi, and General Motors have all said that they will be installing solar photovoltaic (PV) at the dealerships to enable customers to charge their vehicles with clean power. Putting solar panels on the lot is smart marketing, as it is highly visible and emphasizes how electricity is replacing gasoline. In reality, the solar power in many cases isn’t going directly into the vehicles (variations in power output make that a challenge, and then of course there are those pesky nighttime hours). However, the electron swapping is a small matter that takes a backseat to the financial benefits that can occur from putting solar at the same location as a charging station.
Ford has announced a deal with SunPower that will enable folks who purchase plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) to put solar on their roofs simultaneously. Under the program, solar panels sufficient to offset the electricity consumed by the vehicles can be purchased through SunPower. The favorable financing rates currently available for both vehicles and solar power, as well as the launch of time-of-use pricing, can make the solar/EV combination pay for itself. Excess solar power produced during the day can more than pay for the cost of charging vehicles overnight, and in locations with tiered pricing based on energy consumption, solar can prevent being bumped into a higher bracket because of plugging in your vehicle.
The common traits of people who buy solar and EVs are well documented, so offering them in tandem is no great leap. An estimated 60% of EV owners also have PV on their roofs. Wanting to avoid the fluctuation of gas prices, coupled with the desire to be semi grid independent by producing your own power is a similar line of thinking.
In the coming years, consumer and commercial customers will complete the circle of low emissions/high efficiency by selling power back to the grid and using batteries to store energy. By purchasing a small battery pack and an electric power inverter that tie the building and the vehicle to the grid, customers can buy low (at night) and sell high (at peak).
Today, the technologies are available at a high cost, but that will change as battery prices drop and electricity gets more expensive. Automakers have been averse to using vehicle batteries in the vehicle-to-grid (V2G) and vehicle-to-building (V2B) applications, but look for attitudes to change when batteries have proven their durability and the profit motive takes over. The dawn of solar EV charging has a bright future.
Article by John Gartner, appearing courtesy the Matter Network.