Electric cars running on solar power? Great conceptually, but not so great in practice

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reikiman
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Electric cars running on solar power? Great conceptually, but not so great in practice

Over on linked-in someone asked: Cars should really run on solar, it is free to tap and unlimited.

Started an interesting discussion thread. Basically many have this idealistic vision of clean cars being powered by cleanly generated energy and we'll all live in a nirvana of clean technology. You often see wind turbines and solar panels in the background when electric cars are pictured.

Here's some things from the thread:

"The fact that virtually no production electric car comes with a solar panel is outrageous."

"There is no point in lugging a PV panel around. "

"If we look at the three biggest detriments to electric vehicles today its: Range, Battery Cost & Weight. All three are improved substantially with solar. " (written by a guy claiming to have run the first solar car race in the U.S. who said later in the discussion he's an entrepeneur who will shortly be launching Eco Urban Vehicles)

"I am surprised that you don't know that there is no range problem anymore. The quick-charge batteries charge to 100% in 4-6 minutes, so you can almost charge on the fly. "

"Quick change batteries are great but not currently available in 99.9% of the world and won't be for a long time. Unfortunately, the vast majority of power charging those quick change batteries is still going to come from fossil fuels and nuclear."

"there is no doubt that an infrastructure will appear to quickly juice batteries. But this will come from existing utilities, generally speaking major polluters and will cost.
A far cry from energy independence.
"

"So if this amazing clean, cheap technology exists, what keeps the car companies from adopting it?"

"Existing car companies are wedded to the existing system. From extracting oil beneath the ocean floor to catalytic converter exhaust systems, they're committed to transportation as it is."

"Before looking for a conspiracy you all should understand that there are only about 100 Watts per square foot per HOUR in full sunshine. With a footprint of 6'x15' a small car can only collect 9,000-10,000 Watts per hour. That is not enough power to go 60-80 MPH even while the sun shines. We will need good batteries to make solar cars work."

"Electric cars are cheaper to build, run and dispose of than gas by a factor of 2 or better. Solar is cheaper than natural gas or nuclear electric even though they do not pay for their cleanup. Solar is cheaper than any non-renewable energy. Coal kills people 20 per 100,000 per year in the East, 5 per 100,000 per year in the West."

"Thanks in large part to GM, in this country at least, solar vehicles are deemed impractical. Smart, well meaning, educated people will repeat that. But how many people in this country, or engineers or people in this group know that the MPG record is 12000+ MPG? Ask your mechanic, Engineering Professors, Environmentalists and see how many know this. I'll venture to say none.I have never come across anyone outside of a SMALL circle of professionals that come anywhere close. The question is, "Why is that"? Makes a great cocktail party question."

http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Cars-should-really-run-on-53296.S.47552818?qid=de54fde9-b9b4-43a3-a88b-b4785818f882&goback=.gde_53296_member_47552818.gmp_53296

gasdive
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Re: Electric cars running on solar power? Great ...

I wonder how densely packed incorrect statements need to be before they collapse into a black hole.

=:)

Jason
Blogging my Zero DS from day one http://zerods.blogspot.com/

MikeB
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Re: Electric cars running on solar power? Great ...

I think it's pretty obvious that electric vehicles should eventually run on solar power, but it's also pretty obvious that the solar panels shouldn't be installed on the vehicle itself, since there just isn't enough surface area to collect enough power.

Solar panels on the roof of a garage or carport, on the other hand, is a great idea. In fact, anyplace you park your vehicle would be a good candidate for a solar cover. Of course, you'd need to store the captured solar energy whenever the car is elsewhere, which means batteries or grid-tie.

My electric vehicle: CuMoCo C130 scooter.

marcopolo
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Re: Electric cars running on solar power? Great ...

IMHO, it's a question of why you want to buy an EV. If you are a real purist, then a solar installation of sufficient size is essential to ratify your ideological convictions. Mind you, it's got to be a really substantial solar installation to power an EV of any capacity, at call. In addition you will need to reside in a location that has lots of sunshine all year round, and a power utility that will buy surplus power.

Alternatively, erect your own wind farm! Both these, laudable technologies are pretty expensive, and it's my experience that very few EV fans, have the resources to indulge in such extravagance. Most of those who boast of self sufficiency from the evil power company, own a few solar panels on the roof at home, and operate a home conversion EV or a VX1 at the most.

These people invariably over estimate solar generating capacity, and underestimate the cost.

Most EV owners are quite content to purchase power from the power utility. (Some power utilities offer 'green' power).

Solar technology is not yet sufficiently advanced to become a widespread energy supply for EV's. Fast charging, requires, a vast amount of down-loadable power, available immediately, not the sort of trickle feed that solar provides.

Of course, Solar power can be stored by either batteries or capacitors, but this is even more expensive!

As for the idea of solar collectors on cars, just a ridiculous gimmick!

marcopolo

Mik
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Re: Electric cars running on solar power? Great ...

Eventually there may well be solar collector films on cars, planes and other structures. It's just a question of the available technology.

The body material might be made of photovoltaic material one day, something like fibreglass using photovoltaic nano-tubes instead of glass fibres.

Of course a car has not enough surface area to provide meaningful solar charge levels for driving, but it might allow alarm systems, wireless internet connection, air-conditioning, battery heating and/or cooling and (other yet to be invented) standby power consumers to run indefinitely.

This information may be used entirely at your own risk.

There is always a way if there is no other way!

PJD
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Re: Electric cars running on solar power? Great ...

In this discussion, did anyone offer even a rough estimate of the area of cells required to power a car in typical us usage? Most people don't appreciate the amounts of energy used to power a car. Many suburban USAns consume more power in use of their cars than is used in their homes. Assuming the car consumes a 20 kwh (probably a low figure?) every day, and accounting for cloudy days, about 5 hours per day of good sunshine is available (but whole lot less than that where I live), it would require about 40 m^2 (430 sq ft) of good quality solar panels to keep the car charged. This is on top of a comparable area of cells needed to power the home.

Aside from the economics of so many solar panels, I think that we already waste far too much land and infrastructure in our cities accommodating cars - rendering then hostile to walking, bicycling, cultural activities, and even practical public transportation. I know that this is not popular thing to say on an electric vehicle site but a better idea is to move away from cars altogether for urban transportation and commuting.

marcopolo
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Re: Electric cars running on solar power? Great ...

.. a better idea is to move away from cars altogether for urban transportation and commuting.

Well that's a really nice idea, sounds very moral, politically correct, and desirable.But, is it?

In truth, the reason people use, and love automobiles, is because they are far more convenient than bicycles, walking or public transport. Those who prefer public transport, bicycles etc find it very difficult to comprehend that the overwhelming majority of others, don't share their lifestyle.

In truth, not everyone could participate a car free lifestyle, even if they we so inclined. Nevertheless, there's always some eager enthusiast, (from bicyclists to vegetarians), eagerly pushing their choice of lifestyle. These Evangelists always invoke some moral justification to inflict their views on others. These range from 'Health, environment, and 'save the kiddies' as justification to interfere with those whose lifestyles differ from their own.

In most part, these Utopian proposals are invariably impractical, poorly conceived or would have disastrous consequences. Because such proposals are usually made by otherwise darn nice folks, makes it hard to object without seeming churlish!

marcopolo

PJD
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Re: Electric cars running on solar power? Great ...

Actually, here in the USA anyway, and it seems Australia, the use and "love" of automobiles did not arise as some kind of democratic clamor. I agree that there is a lot of appeal to a drive in the country on a pretty day for recreation. But this represents a tiny fraction of car use. The current-day dependence on the automobile by a majority of people for the most basic chores and commuting is not in any way a convenience or pleasure, and is enormously inefficient waste of peoples time and natural resources, compared to perfectly practical public transportation and urban design alternatives. In the US, this car-dependence had to be deliberately manufactured by the calculated dismantling of convenient and efficient public transportation that was, in fact, more convenient and often faster than the same trip today on the traffic-clogged streets today by car. They then set about building the sprawling, suburban infrastructure, and its deliberate inefficiencies that permanently cemented the dependence on the automobile. The "they" in his discussion is an association of big motor companies, big real estate developers, big-box retailers, and the corporate-owned politicians; usually ad-hoc, sometimes formal.

Until recently, I lived in a part of a city where such conditions - walkable and frequent public transit - were still in place and I found not needing a car, not spending money in gasoline and maintenance, not scraping and shoveling it out in winter, was incredibly liberating.

Perhaps this is the first time you ever heard the idea that consumer desired are manufactured and do not arise by some organic or democratic process. But, in accordance with the modern PR techniques of Edward Bernays (father of modern PR and advertising who coined the phrase "manufacturing consent") and Walter Lippman - who implemented the same methods in the political sphere, consumer desires and most political viewpoints are manufactured by wealthy and powerful interests, their PR specialists and news-media filtering of events. But in the case of the automobile, entire cities themselves were rebuilt to keep consumer desires-turned-to-dependency on this wildly profitable, but environmentally destructive track.

Some suggested reading/viewing:

Documentaries:

The End of Suburbia, Gregory Greene
Taken For a Ride, Jim Klein and Martha Olson
The Century of the Self, Adam Curtis BBC

Reading:

Anything by or about Edward Bernays
anything by or about Walter Lippman
Manufacturing Consent, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky

PJD
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Re: Electric cars running on solar power? Great ...

"Before looking for a conspiracy you all should understand that there are only about 100 Watts per square foot per HOUR in full sunshine. With a footprint of 6'x15' a small car can only collect 9,000-10,000 Watts per hour. That is not enough power to go 60-80 MPH even while the sun shines. We will need good batteries to make solar cars work."

There is a basic physics misunderstanding in this quote. The person was confusing units of power and energy. a watt is a unit of power - the rate of energy output in units of (force*distance)/time. A watt is a newton-meter per second. A horsepower is 550 foot-pounds per second - supposedly what a draft-horse can do for an extended period of time without tiring too much. Energy is force*distance, so you multiply power by time to get energy units - i.e "watt-hour" (which is really just the same as saying "3600 newton-meters"). There is no such thing as a "watt per hour". Solar energy reaching the ground on a reasonably clear day is about 800 watts per square meter, and the best solar panels are 13-14% efficient, so they can produce about 100 watts per square meter or 10 watts per square foot.

A reasonably aerodynamic car going a steady 60 mph on level ground uses only a few horsepower (7 to 10 hp or 9 to 13 kw) - but almost twice as much at 80 mph because power required increases as the cube of airspeed. Much more power is needed when accelerating and climbing hills. So, to meet the minimal energy requirements of a car cruising on level ground at 60 mph would require about 600 square feet of solar panels.

marcopolo
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Re: Electric cars running on solar power? Great ...

Actually, here in the USA anyway, and it seems Australia, the use and "love" of automobiles did not arise as some kind of democratic clamor.

Yes, it's true that GM, Firestone etc did buy up a number of already failing public transport trolleybus and street car companies in a limited number of cities. However, this did not happen in Australia. While all the other Australian cities abandoned as uneconomic the idea of tramway's, Melbourne still operates the largest tramway network in the world. (And the only network with cross city routes.In addition Melbourne has a substantial network of electrified commuter trains service a city of nearly 4 million. But, Melbourne still has one of the largest car ownership rates per capita in the world.

If people don't love cars, what explanation have you for the nearly 2 billion private auto's in existence? The millions of members of car clubs, thousands of motoring publications? Restorations, hot-rods, enthusiasts of all kinds? Cars replaced horses. But cars are much cheaper for the average man than the ownership of a horse was. The Auto-Industry is a huge employer. It provides transport for families, the disabled, elderly, and deliver a measure of personal freedom.

Our cities and suburbs are built around the use of cars, because the majority like it that way. Your fellow citizens are not stupid. Nor are they 'brainwashed'. They vote with their hard earned cash for a lifestyle they enjoy. Thats true democracy! No one is denying you the right to enjoy a car free existence. Just leave others to enjoy car ownership, without condemnation.

If you want to argue environmental concerns, the whole Auto-industry world-wide is still only a relatively small polluter. (Even more so, with the rise of the EV).

marcopolo

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Re: Electric cars running on solar power? Great ...

If people don't love cars, what explanation have you for the nearly 2 billion private auto's in existence? The millions of members of car clubs, thousands of motoring publications? Restorations, hot-rods, enthusiasts of all kinds? Cars replaced horses. But cars are much cheaper for the average man than the ownership of a horse was. The Auto-Industry is a huge employer. It provides transport for families, the disabled, elderly, and deliver a measure of personal freedom.

It's a combination of manufactured consent, the big corporations screwing with the game to tilt the odds in favor of cars, the economics of post-WWII America, and short sighted "I WANT IT NOW" type mentality.

There's a lot of studies showing walkable cities to be more desirable, have better land value, contribute to better health, etc, than car bound cities

- David Herron, The Long Tail Pipe, davidherron.com, 7gen.com, What is Reiki
- Electrified Electra To

marcopolo
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Re: Electric cars running on solar power? Great ...

It's a combination of manufactured consent, the big corporations screwing with the game to tilt the odds in favor of cars, the economics of post-WWII America, and short sighted "I WANT IT NOW" type mentality.

There's a lot of studies showing walkable cities to be more desirable, have better land value, contribute to better health, etc, than car bound cities

Well, while I wouldn't argue that the town planning concepts of L.A. are either desirable, or aesthetically pleasing, nevertheless I would contend that the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of car ownership. The simple truth is that no matter what excesses, may occur, cars are an integral part of modern society, and like all aspects of modern society, technology while in the main beneficial, always contains some downsides.

You/child/parent/sibling/wife/pet is seriously ill. Will you walk to the hospital? Break your leg,walk to the Doctor? Become elderly, disabled, walk to the hospital? Buy something large, or precious, bring it home on the train? Take your family out in inclement weather, carry your two year old? What about the joy of just driving?

As I say,cities should be planned with adequate green spaces and public transport facilities. But car ownership will still be demanded by the majority of citizens who don't want to ride a bicycle, or walk. Cities which provide a adequate mix of infrastructure, will always be preferable. (although, on the subject of health, the rise of the automobile did remove one of the greatest causes of infant mortality.)

Even if you concede your USA-centric view of the automobile experience, it doesn't explain all the other cities in the world who love their automobiles. Even in walk/bicycle suitable countries like Denmark and Switzerland, the automobile is still popular. In Australia,and many countries, the Auto is a rite of passage. Even in the Peoples Republic of China, car ownership is almost an obsession.

What's so hard to admit? It's obvious! Car ownership is not the result of Machiavellian 'big corporations' but the simply the majority of people love owning a car. Why should any elitist group try to deny the majority its legitimate aspirations? Isn't it better to promote the adoption of Ev's, rather than try forcing an unwilling majority to adopt a lifestyle that conforms to your particular philosophy

marcopolo

reikiman
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Re: Electric cars running on solar power? Great ...

Hey Marco,

I own two cars so I must have a bit of fondness for them myself. I'm hoping to get back down to owning one car once the Karmann Ghia is finished with its electric conversion. The Tracker (what you might know as a Suzuki Vitara) is just workable functional transportation, but the Karmann Ghia is a thing of beauty and people are always stopping in front of the house to take pictures and ogle. But it's a bit of a digression..

Your response is written as if I (and others) are arguing that we have move to zero cars or trucks where the only way to get around is walking or bicycling. I'm sure there are some extreme zealots who hold that point of view. But ..

I've been to Brussels, Edinborough, Glasgow, Prague, St. Petersburg, Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona in Europe, to Bangalore and Singapore in Asia, and in many U.S. cities. I can say that the cities I felt the most freedom in were the ones with great walkability and mass transit systems, and that the cities I felt the least freedom were the ones that were car centric because car centric places tend to have traffic and parking problems.

The European cities tended to be very walkable places, with lots of interesting things to do, experience and appreciate at the speed of a typical pedestrian. But it's not just European, I found Singapore to be very walkable, and in the U.S. enjoy San Francisco, Seattle and Portland as walkable places. Car centric places are boring for pedestrians because the geometry is designed for people whizzing by at 70 miles/hr on the highway.

Even in these walkable places there are lots of cars. St. Petersburg has tremendous traffic jams every day because the people there are loving their ginormous SUV's despite the fact that the increase in car use directly creates the horrid traffic jams they complain about. Prague, a beautiful city, extremely fun to walk around in, but lots of cars. The same with Barcelona, wonderful city, with world class walkability and support for bicycling and scooter riders, a bicycle sharing system, and since my visit last fall they're installing a charging system for electric scooters, but there are plenty of cars on their roads.

In other words it's not an either/or situation.

You can design a city such that it's great for pedestrians and bicyclists and cars and buses alike.

But the typical pattern in the U.S. is to focus on making things great for cars and degrading the experience of every other transportation mode. The result is to amplify the sedentary lifestyle, impact health, also increased pollution of all kinds, traffic density, land wasted upon extra large supersized highways. etc

- David Herron, The Long Tail Pipe, davidherron.com, 7gen.com, What is Reiki
- Electrified Electra To

marcopolo
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Re: Electric cars running on solar power? Great ...

In other words it's not an either/or situation.You can design a city such that it's great for pedestrians and bicyclists and cars and buses alike.

But the typical pattern in the U.S. is to focus on making things great for cars and degrading the experience of every other transportation mode. The result is to amplify the sedentary lifestyle, impact health, also increased pollution of all kinds, traffic density, land wasted upon extra large supersized highways.

Yes indeed, I absolutely concur. No one could approve of the insanity of the L.A. style of urban planning! It broke my heart to see the attractive old City of Auckland New Zealand, abandon the world largest trolley-bus system and destroy the inner city with ugly and ill-functioning freeways.

I spend most of my year in Melbourne, Australia. Melbourne's lucky in having been laid out with a network of large urban green spaces, wide streets and boulevards. Melbourne is also fortunate to retain the world's largest electric Tram network, and third largest suburban electrified train network. Although Melbourne has a high level of car ownership, you would find it a very pedestrian friendly city.

I'm also a UK residence and often curse the traffic snarls of London and even the Home Counties. Good Urban planning can create space for all forms of transport, especially with the growth of EV's.

marcopolo

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