Solar Power Charging Electric Cars

Tesla Solar Charging RabobankBy John Addison (10/3/11)

The movie Sideways added to the fame of the central coast of California with rolling hills covered with live oak, dramatic cliffs descending to the Pacific Ocean, and grapes harvested for premium wines.

For electric car drivers, the central coast has another reason for fame. Rabobank, a financial leader in 48 countries and headquartered in the Netherlands, has installed a network of electric car chargers that use the solar power installed on bank branch roofs. The charging network is a perfect match for early adopters of electric cars who prefer to charge with renewable energy.

The solar installations were done by Solar City, a leading solar power provider. Last week I was talking with Pete Rive, a Founder and COO of Solar City. Rabobank has 12 locations with 225kW of solar power that have Level 2 90A/240V chargers, which are publicly accessible from Highway 101. For many electric car drivers, this brings them closer to the dream of driving from Northern to Southern California, charging along the way. Pete Rive can make the drive now since he owns a Tesla Roadster with a 240-mile range between charges.

Solar City and Google

Google is one of the world’s leading employers to provide solar charging for its employees. Google GFleet Details

This year, SolarCity® and Google created a $280 million fund to finance residential solar projects. The fund is SolarCity’s largest project financing fund and the largest residential solar fund created in the U.S. SolarCity has now created 15 project funds with seven different partners to finance $1.28 billion in solar projects.

The SolarCity/Google fund will extend solar lease (SolarLease®) and power purchase agreement (SolarPPA™) options to customers who desire to have solar panels installed on their homes, but do not wish to make the larger upfront investment to purchase the systems. SolarCity serves Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas, and has more than 15,000 solar projects completed or underway. More than 12,000 of those customers have chosen SolarCity’s financing options, while 3,000 have purchased their systems.

Venture Capital Bets Big on Solar and on Electric Vehicles

I met Pete Rive at the GoingGreen Silicon Valley Conference.  Always On hosts conferences like these in various parts of the nation through the year to bring together leading technology firms and venture capitalists.

The Internet had made billionaires of a few people in the room. The Internet started as ARPANET, a government funded venture. Emerging companies such as Netscape turned to venture capitalists for help in recruiting top management, executing the right strategy, and needed funding. For every Google, venture capitalists have watched multiple investments fail.

As some members of Congress now try making the failure of Solyndra a reason to stop supporting cleantech, the hundreds of people at this conference move ahead, albeit with more difficult funding obstacles. Entrepreneurs see enormous opportunities in solar, vehicle electrification, energy efficiency, smart grid, grid storage, biotechnology, and many other areas. Investments will continue to be made. Most will fail. Some will change the world.

Steve JurvestsonA successful venture capitalist that I met at Going Green was Steve Jurvetson, Managing Director, Draper Fisher Jurvetson. His firm’s successes include China’s leading search engine Baidu, and Internet stars that are now part of Microsoft including Hotmail and Skype. Steve Jurvetson drives a Tesla and is on their Board of Directors. He states that all vehicles in the future will be electric, yet he has joined ExxonMobil in investing in Synthetic Genomics, a leader in biofuel from algae. I asked Steve to explain the seeming contradiction.

Synthetic Genomics (SGI), lead by Craig Venter, is developing disruptive technology in biofuel, bio-energy, petrochemical substitutes, and vaccines. Steve Jurvetson, as a Board member of Synthetic Genomics, is excited about transforming more products now plastic from petroleum. By contrast, ExxonMobil with $300 million invested in SGI is interested in algae biofuel feedstock made at breakthrough cost that can be blended at the refinery.

Yes, electric motors are at least four times the efficiency of diesel and gasoline engines, so electric cars have a huge future. Trucks and planes will need fuel for decades and we’re running out of low cost conventional oil. Both EVs and biofuels can successful.

As SGI pursues its multi-year efforts to progress from laboratory to large-scale commercialization, it is giving birth to multiple companies including one to take on some of the world’s most deadly diseases. Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI) and the not-for-profit research organization, the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) today announced the formation of a new company, Synthetic Genomics Vaccines Inc. (SGVI). The privately held company will focus on developing next generation vaccines using JCVI’s genomic sequencing and synthetic genomic research expertise, coupled with the intellectual property and expertise of SGI, to significantly advance and enhance vaccine development. SGVI is also announcing a three-year collaboration agreement with Novartis to apply synthetic genomics tools and technologies to accelerate the production of the influenza seed strains required for vaccine manufacturing.

Lithium Batteries – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Many at the conference see a big potential for electric vehicles charged with solar power and other renewables. For them it’s not just potential, its how they now travel.

What will happen to all these lithium batteries when they reach the end of their warranties, which are typically 100,000 miles or 8 years? At that point, a battery that once gave a LEAF driver like me 60 miles of freeway range may only delivery 50 miles. These batteries can be repurposed in solar power projects, storing electricity to be delivered during peak hours when the sun is no longer high in the sky.

Peter Rive, SolarCity COO, has projects for these repurposed batteries right now. He could see buying lithium batteries for $200 per kilowatt for wall-mounted storage.

We have an abundance of sunlight. We also have an abundance of brilliant scientists and engineers, innovative entrepreneurs, and investors who love to bet big on making the world better. Thanks to them, we will increasingly ride on sunlight.

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About Author: John Addison

Founder of the Clean Fleet Report, author of Save Gas, Save the Planet. John writes about electric cars, renewable energy, and sustainability.

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