By John Addison (11/28/07)
Gene Coan does not worry about the price of gasoline, nor is he concerned with his gas and electric bill. Gene powers his home and car with solar photovoltaics (PV) and also uses solar hot water heating. With hisZenn electric-vehicle (EV) Gene rides on sunlight.
Gene is following his beliefs. He is a Senior Advisor to the Executive Director of the Sierra Club. From PV to EV, Gene is living zero-emissions from energy source to wheels.
The Zenn is a stylish three-door hatchback, which makes it handy for hauling stuff from stores. It is fully enclosed. It is a light electric vehicle with a curb weight of only 1,200 pounds because of its aluminum frame and ABS plastic body panels. It has a range of 35 miles and a legal speed limit of 25 miles per hour.
There are over 25,000 battery-electric vehicles on the road in California. Most are the $9,000 to $12,000 light electric vehicles (LEV) such as Gene’s Zenn. These electric vehicles are often referred to as neighborhood electric vehicles (NEV). LEVs are popular in university towns, such as Palo Alto, California, where Gene lives. There are over 100 in use at nearby Stanford University. Many silently zip around the campus carrying the people, goods, and equipment necessary to keep the university running.
New Year’s resolutions are easy to make, but often not kept, especially when the price tag is $45,000. In January 2002, Michael Mora convinced his wife that they should buy a Toyota RAV4 electric vehicle for $45,000. Michael had to practically beg the dealer to sell his last one. Today, Michael could sell his RAV4 EV as a used-vehicle for $20,000 more than he paid for it. After a showdown with the California Air Resources Board, all major auto makers including Toyota stopped selling their EVs. Freeway speed EVs are in hot demand. Now Michael could pocket a handsome twenty grand after driving the vehicle for almost six years.
Michael is not selling. His commute energy is provided by ‘free-range’ electrons from the solar power system installed on the roof of his employer, REGrid Power, a major California solar PV system integrator. The daily cost to drive the vehicle is zero. Because the RAV4 EV has NiMH batteries, he can achieve up to 100 mile range. Freeway speeds are a piece of cake.Hundreds of individuals are lining-up to order freeway-speed electric vehicles from Tesla, Miles Motors, AC Propulsion, and others. Price tags of up to $100,000 do not faze these electric vehicle enthusiasts.
Electric vehicles are equally popular with individuals and with fleets. The U.S. Marine Corps is vitally concerned about the nation’s energy security. At Camp Pendleton, in Oceanside, California, the Marines use 320 LEV’s for routine maintenance, goods hauling, and transportation on the vast base. The LEV’s 25-mile per hour speed matches the use. The vehicles are recharged at an eight-station solar carport. Just as two-car families may have one electric vehicle and a heavier vehicle for range, the Marines use different vehicles for different purposes. At Camp Pendleton, five million gallons of B20 biodiesel is used annually, powering heavy duty and long distance vehicles.
The City of Santa Monica is rapidly installing solar power on roofs throughout the city. It intends to be the nation’s first Net-Zero City. The city uses many electric vehicles including EVs: 24 RAV EVs, a GEM electric truck for the popular Third Street Promenade, a demo electric scooter, and even a Segway.
National Renewable Energy Labs turned to Envision Solar to cover part of its parking lot with solar shaded vehicle charging. Envision CEO Robert Noble is an award-winning LEED architect. His solar design follows the metaphor of trees and groves that convert ugly “heat island” parking lots into beautifully landscape. A pre-fab version for homeowners will be showcased as the vehicle charger of choice at the EVS conference. Envision is in partnership with Kyocera (KYO).
Through its China subsidiary, Honda is one of the leaders in selling electric scooters in China, where demand is reaching 20 million e-bikes and e-scooters annually. Honda has established a subsidiary, Honda Soltec, to manufacture CIGS thin film solar. Its initial production will power 9,000 Japanese homes. It currently has 80 distributor locations with plans for expansion and export.
Why not just cover a car with solar panels and skip the separate solar charging station? Each year teams build demonstration solar cars that do. This year, 38 vehicles covered with solar panels crossed 3,000 kilometers of Australia in the Panasonic Solar World Challenge. This year’s winner, Nuon Solar Team from the Netherlands, accomplished the feat in 33 hours and 17 minutes.
Big auto makers are demonstrating concept vehicles with integrated solar roofs. VW’s (VOW) “Space Up! Blue” includes 150W solar roofing to help charge the vehicle’s 12 lithium-ion batteries. This vehicle is designed to travel 65 miles in electric-only mode and only then use added electricity from an on-board fuel cell to achieve a 220 mile range.
The new Mitsubishi iMiEV Sport also includes solar roofing for the next major automaker commercially sold battery-electric vehicle. By 2010, we may be seeing these sleek freeway-speed electric vehicles being sold for well under $30,000 by Mitsubishi (7211:JP).
Over 40 million electric vehicles are in use globally, often silently whisking by without attracting our attention. Increasingly those driving will experience the added joy of riding on sunlight.