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Solar Power in the Electric Vehicle Industry

he electric vehicle (EV) market is set for take-off, but unless renewable energy is used in the charging systems or within the vehicle design, owners are still using fossil fuels for transportation.

Photovoltaics (PV) are poised to play a vital role in the transport sector. Not only is PV being used to power EVs but some companies now produce PV modules that can be retrofitted to hybrid EVs such as the Toyota Prius to extend their range and economy. An example is Solar Electric Vehicles, which was founded in 2005 with the aim of enhancing the performance of HEVs through the use of solar energy. The roof-mounted modules on a Toyota Highlander hybrid (Figure 1) are based on mono-crystalline PV cells that are used in conjunction with an additional battery pack. The unit designed for the Prius generates 215 Watts and provides this vehicle with up to 30 miles per day in the battery solar mode. It also yields improved fuel economy of between 34 and 60%, depending on driving habits, speed, and road conditions. An interesting factory-fitted option on the Prius is solar-powered air conditioning. A solar panel is fitted in the optional glass sunroof and is used to power a fan to keep the vehicle ventilated. The air conditioning can be switched on remotely using the key fob, cooling the car for up to three minutes before you enter.

Figure 1: Roof-mounted solar panels fitted to a Toyota Highlander (Image courtesy of Solar Electrical Vehicles).

Solar car chargers

The greatest opportunity for PV is in solar HEV/EV charging stations and several companies have launched these in the last few years. In the US, SunPods, Inc. of San Jose, California has announced the first factory built solar charging station, the “EV Plug-N-Go,” which can be installed and commissioned in a matter of hours instead of weeks. It is made up of 12 solar panels comprising poly-crystalline or mono-crystalline PV modules mounted on a galvanized steel frame that can produce between 2.3 and 2.5 kW. Target markets include fleet operators, owners of parking lots and shopping malls.

The latest innovation from the company is the “Sun-Bus Power System,” which was developed to allow bus owners to meet new state mandated requirements for improving air quality and lowering fuel consumption by eliminating excessive stationary bus idling time. Thin-film (CIGS) PV panels are directly mounted on the roof of the bus and other system components such as the inverter, batteries, charge controllers and wiring are located under the floor deck. The system provides electricity to power WiFi, mobile devices and air conditioning units while the bus is parked and the engine turned off. The bus operators can now turn engines off without interrupting passenger services and still comply with diesel emission regulations and contribute to a greener environment.
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