Ford just launched a concept car called the C-MAX Solar Energi that is designed to recharge its batteries within 8 hours through the solar cells installed in the car’s roof. The car’s batteries, solar cells and Fresnel lens system are sized to allow the typical commuter to drive to and from work on free solar energy. If Ford is successful in commercializing this technology then the pump price pain of car ownership will be broken. It will also be a global technology breakthrough for reducing urban smog and greenhouse gas emissions tied to climate change.
The second design element is a carport-like structure holding a Fresnel lens - a series of lenses that concentrate the sun's rays - sending that solar energy onto the car’s solar cells when the vehicle is parked under the canopy. The third design step integrates the operation of the Fresnel lens canopy with the car through smart software that maintains solar energy focused upon the car’s solar cells as the sun travels through the sky. Working together these integrated design elements will, on-average, recharge the car’s batteries during an eight-hour day.
The key design challenge in the C-Max Solar Energi was to continuously focus the Fresnel lens upon the car’s rooftop solar panels during charging. The current design achieves this through software that autonomously moves the car in synch with the sun’s arc across the sky. McCreadie estimated that the vehicle would have to shift its location by close to six feet during an eight-hour day. This raises obvious safety issues. It raises obvious questions regarding how much space is required to house a moving car under a Fresnel lens canopy. But it is also a remarkable testament to Ford’s smart technologies to even test such an idea with a concept car. Like most technology concepts the field-testing seeks to surface more practical solutions than autonomously moving a car six feet during the day to track the sun.
Cost will also be a design challenge. At this concept-stage Ford is not even addressing the “how much” question. But the commercialization of roof rooftop solar systems might provide pricing insights. Today's rooftop solar systems can be leased for zero down with guaranteed savings for the homeowner compared to electric bills. A similar enabling lease package for the C-Max Solar Energi and its Fresnel lens infrastructure could make this technology commercially viable.
In addition, California has launched a “Charging Ahead” goal that envisions a million electric cars on California’s road. Ford estimates that the C-Max Solar Energi can reduce the annual greenhouse gas emissions for a typical owner by four metric tons. A million Californians using electric cars that recharge their batteries from solar energy would be a huge advancement toward the State’s goals for reducing emissions and fuel costs. It would also address electric grid reliability questions tied to the potential of a million electric car commuters connecting to the grid to recharge at the same time and/or during critical peak time periods.
The C-Max Solar Energi could also be a meaningful solution for countries like China and India that are struggling with the environmental consequences tied to their record setting growth in car sales. Today China annually suffers a million premature deaths due to excessive air pollution. Mass application of solar powered cars would be a huge solution to issues of air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and balance of trade impacts created from importing oil. The C-Max Solar Energi also offers a transportation and productivity solution for locations that have limited fossil fuel or grid infrastructure.
Bill Roth is an economist and the Founder of Earth 2017. He coaches business owners and leaders on proven best practices in pricing, marketing and operations that make money and create a positive difference. His book, The Secret Green Sauce, profiles business case studies of pioneering best practices that are proven to win customers and grow product revenues. Follow him on Twitter: @earth2017
Bill Roth is a cleantech business pioneer having led teams that developed the first hydrogen fueled Prius and a utility scale, non-thermal solar power plant. Using his CEO and senior officer experiences, Roth has coached hundreds of CEOs and business owners on how to develop and implement projects that win customers and cut costs while reducing environmental impacts. As a professional economist, Roth has written numerous books including his best selling The Secret Green Sauce (available on Amazon) that profiles proven sustainable best practices in pricing, marketing and operations. His most recent book, The Boomer Generation Diet (available on Amazon) profiles his humorous personal story on how he used sustainable best practices to lose 40 pounds and still enjoy Happy Hour!