Solar Charged Electric Vehicles

Applied Solar Parking

Solar is powering more vehicles. American’s have reduced their use of petroleum 5 percent this year. So far, petroleum reduction is the result of fewer miles traveled solo as people cut travel to deal with high gas prices and a slowing economy. At the margin, however, solar power is replacing oil.

There are now 40,000 electric vehicles in use in the United States. They are primarily the 25 mile per hour light electric vehicles. Fleets are starting to use heavy electric vehicles, and plug-in hybrids, that formerly required copious gallons of diesel and gasoline. In 2010, consumers will start buying freeway speed electric vehicles.

The U.S. Marine Corp at Camp Pendleton, during my last visit, showed me an 8-station solar car port that they use to charge their 320 light-electric vehicles. Petroleum fuel is a multi-billion dollar part of the U.S. Defense budget. Once the solar panels are installed, however, the sunlight is free. Solar is increasingly also used by the Marines and Army for stationary power in the U.S. and Iraq, reducing the need for petroleum in the form of diesel and JP8 jet fuel for running gen sets to air condition tents and buildings.

Every 44 minutes, sufficient energy from the sun strikes the Earth to provide the entire world’s energy requirements for one year, including the energy needed to move vehicles. Solar power grows 40 percent per year, as we become increasingly efficient at turning sunlight into electricity and heat.

Most importantly, with continued innovation and larger scale manufacturing, the price of solar keeps dropping. There is enthusiasm for advancements in photovoltaics (PV) and for large-scale concentrating solar power (CSP). As I researched and wrote this article at the Solar Power 2008 Conference, last week, the evidence of growth was everywhere. 17,000 from 92 countries attended the conference in San Diego, California. 425 companies exhibited, with 450 more turned away due to lack of convention floor space.

200 GW of solar power are now installed globally. Deutsche Bank forecasts that the photovoltaic market will grow from $13 billion in 2006 to $30 billion in 2010. Polysilicon supply is expected to triple by 2010. New technology continues to delivers more electricity output with less silicon. These technologies include thin film, high efficiency PV, organic, concentrating PV and balance of system improvements.

For those interested in transportation, one notable area of growth is solar covered parking structures – a cool solution for a planet that is getting hotter.

When California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger opened the Solar Power International conference, he highlighted Applied Materials’ 2 MW solar power that also shades their parking lot. The vast solar shading is designed to efficiently capture energy using SunPower 19% efficient panels implemented horizontally with a system that rotates the panels to track the sunlight.

For the next 30 years, solar will pay for itself many times at Applied by reducing the purchase of grid-electricity. While visiting Applied Materials the Governor also viewed a working, SunFab™ thin film solar panel, the largest commercially-available solar panel in the world. Applied also showed how a gigawatt-scale SunFab factory with multiple production lines could produce 2 MW in one day, supporting the industry’s rapid growth.

Applied’s substantial parking structure stretches 14 feet high with support poles going over 20 feet into the ground. This would be too expensive for many organizations. Solar Integrated Technologies told me that the cost of their customer’s solar parking structures is less than adding solar to commercial rooftops because of the light weight of thin-film silicon PV.

Envision Solar specializes in solar parking structures. Designed by architects, Envision uses biomimicry to have parking structures that suggest groves of trees. NREL in Colorado uses an Envision solar carport with a charging station for two vehicles including its plug-in hybrid and EV. Other organizations have installed Envison solar parking structures with the support poles pre-engineered with wiring for future charging or integration of nighttime energy-efficient lighting. These organizations include the University of California San Diego and major solar panel maker Kyocera.

New Jersey Transit is preparing for a future where parked cars can be charged with sunlight while people use public transportation. Premier Power Renewable Energy recently completed the first of two 201kW solar canopies, on the rooftops of two large six-story parking garages at the new Trenton AMTRAK Transit center. Each project includes more than 600 solar panels. The solar systems will eliminate approximately 141 tons of CO2 emissions annually.

The New Jersey parking structures are also equipped with 110v charging stations for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) and Electric Vehicles (EVs). Participating in the October 14 ribbon cutting was the Mid-Atlantic Grid Interactive Cars (MAGIC) consortium, which includes the University of Delaware, Pepco Holdings, Inc., PJM Interconnect, Comverge, AC Propulsion and the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, created to further develop, test and demonstrate Vehicle-to-Grid technology.

At Google, part of their 1.6 MW solar PV installation is a solar carport structure that includes charging stations forGoogle’s plug-in hybrid converted Toyota Priuses and Ford Excapes.

The conference included many lively debates about whether the financial crisis would stop solar’s growth in 2009. Large projects usually require millions for project financing. Allowing customers to pay by the kilowatt with power purchase agreements requires long-term financing. Illiquidity will surely slow growth.

In most U.S. states, however, electric utilities are required by law to expand the percentage of power that is delivered with renewables. In California, for example, the renewable portfolio must be 20 percent by 2010. Pacific Gas and Electric is installing 800 MW of utility scale solar PV to meet part of that. Arizona Public Service has contracted with Abengoa to install 280 MW of concentrating solar thermal that includes molten salt towers to store six hours energy for delivery during peak hours.

Utilities have deep pockets and these volume projects are lowering costs. With illiquidity in other sectors, utilizes will increasingly drive centralized solar. In areas with positive regulatory environments and with robust grids, utilities will also encourage decentralized solar PV as part of their mix.

Solar power continues its rapid growth as costs drop. Dr. Richard Swanson, founder of SunPower explains that in 1975 solar modules cost $100 per watt. By 2002, the cost had fallen to $3 per watt. The industry learning curve of 30 years has been consistent – each time production doubles cost drops 81 percent. Dr. Swanson expects $1.40 per watt by 2013 and 65 cents per watt by 2023. Solar power has reached grid-parity pricing in locations such as Hawaii. At the Conference, Anton Milner CEO of Q-Cells forecasted that would soon reach grid-parity in Italy.

United States power utilities spend $70 billion annually for new power plants and transmission, plus added billions for coal, natural gas, and nuclear fuel. For $26 to $33 billion per year investment, ten percent of United States electricity can be from solar by 2025, details the Utility Solar Assessment Study, produced by clean-tech research firm Clean Edge.

By 2050 solar power could end U.S. dependence on foreign oil and slash greenhouse gas emissions. In their Scientific American article, Ken Zweibel, James Mason and Vasilis Fthenakis detail the scenario. A massive switch from coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power plants to solar power plants could supply 69 percent of the U.S.’s electricity by 2050. This quantity includes enough to supply all the electricity consumed by 344 million plug-in hybrid vehicles.

The price tag for the transition would be $400 billion, but this could be spread over a number of years. Should this seem too expensive, consider the alternatives. This is a fraction of what the U.S. has spent for the war in Iraq.

In the final keynote of the Solar Power International conference, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) explained that both Republicans and Democrats ultimately supported an 8-year extension of solar and other renewable investment tax credits in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. This bill also included $7,500 tax credits for the purchase of new plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. Senator Cantwell also strongly supports United States investment in a smart and robust grid, and in bringing high-voltage lines from major sources of renewable energy to major markets.

The transition to clean energy is increasingly recognized as an excellent investment. Due to rapid cost reduction, solar is a growing part of the solution that includes electric vehicles, energy efficiency, wind, bioenergy, geothermal, and other renewable sources. Compared to business as usual with oil and coal, renewable energy is downright cheap. The International Energy Agency estimates that by 2030, $5.4 trillion must be invested to increase global oil production.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. He has a modest stock holdings in Abengoa and Q-Cells.

Elastic Demand from Stretched Consumers

Elastic Demand from Stretched Consumers

LA METRO passengersFaced with record gas prices, American fuel use is at a five-year low. Americans drove 30 billion fewer miles since November than during the same period a year earlier.

Americans joined their employers’ flexwork and commute programs. Families and friends linked trips together and rarely drove solo. Everyday heroes kept their gas guzzler parked most of the time and put miles on their other car which gets forty miles per gallon.

Now that my wife and I have moved from suburbia to the city, we have discovered what urban dwellers have long known, public transportation works. Our cars stay parked much of the time, as we travel on buses, subway, and good old-fashioned walking.

Although public transportation is effective in a compact city, it is a challenge in suburban sprawl such as Southern California, home to nearly 24 million people stretched from Los Angeles to Orange County to San Diego to San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.

When I grew up in Pasadena, a suburb of Los Angeles that is famous for its Rose Parade, my father had one choice to reach his L.A. job; he crawled the stop-and-go freeways to work and came home exhausted from the stressful traffic. While attending recent conferences in Los Angeles, I was able to take a more pleasant journey from Pasadena. Each morning, I walked two blocks, waited an average of five minutes, and then boarded the Metro Rail Gold Line, a modern light-rail that took me to Union Station in the heart of L.A. From there, I took L.A.’s modern and efficient subway to the conference hotel, a half-block walk. All for $1.50 (and system-wide day passes are just $5.00).

Later in the week, I added one transfer to the Blue Line, and then walked two blocks to the L.A. Convention Center. Although a car trip would have been somewhat faster at 5 a.m., I got door to door faster than cars in rush hour gridlock. L.A.’s light-rail and subway form the backbone for effective intermodal travel.

The L.A. Union Station is also the connecting point to train service from all over the U.S., servicing Amtrak and efficient local trains such as Metrolink. L.A. Union Station also offers express bus service to L.A. Airport. In the past, I have used Metrolink to travel from Irvine and from Claremont. Metrolink is seeing a 15% increase in ridership this year. “It’s absolutely the sticker shock and awe at the gas prices,” said Denise Tyrrell, a spokeswoman for Metrolink. “This is the time of year that we normally have lower ridership, but it’s only going up.”

In a few years, L.A. Union Station may also be the hub for the type of high-speed rail now enjoyed in Europe and Japan. Southern California travel time will be cut in half. Travel from L.A. to San Francisco will be two hours and forty minutes. High-Speed Rail Report

1.7 million times per day, people travel on Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro). Although light-rail is at the heart of the system, 90% of the rides are on buses, not light-rail. Much of the bus riding is similar to light-rail, using pleasant stations, pre-paid tickets for fast boarding, electronic signs that announce when the next bus will arrive, buses that seat 84 to 100 people, and some dedicated busways. Metro is using bus rapid transit that once only succeeded in South America. The Secrets of Curitiba

Although Southern California is highly dependent on foreign oil, Metro is not. Its fleet of over 2,550 buses represent the largest alt-fuel public transit fleet in the nation. Over 2,500 buses run on CNG. The natural gas is pipeline delivered to 10 Metro locations.

Last year, when I met with Metro’s General Manager Richard Hunt, and he discussed ways that more people would be served with clean transportation. He shared how Metro will move more riders at 4-minute intervals at the busiest stations. Like other major operators, Metro is under a California ARB mandate to start making 15% of its replacement fleet zero emission buses (ZEB). Metro has evaluated all of these potentially zero-emission alternatives:

• Battery electric
• Underground-electrified trolley
• Hydrogen fuel cell
• Hydrogen-blended with CNG

Currently, the most promising path to meet the ZEB requirement will be battery-electric buses. Under consideration are lithium-ion batteries operating with an electric drive train. The configuration could be similar to the six 40-foot New Flyer ISE gasoline hybrids currently on order. Metro is working with CalStart, a non-profit leader in clean transportation, and a consortium of Southern California transit operators.

Diesel and CNG buses normally need a range of at least 300 miles to cover routes for 16-plus hours daily; battery electric buses would be better suited for six to 8 hours of daily use during peak service periods (morning and evening rush hours). Ranges of 100 to 150 miles daily would be appropriate for peak battery electric use. Theoretically, with a bigger investment in batteries, advanced drive system maker ISE could actually build electric buses that meet a full 300 mile range by putting a remarkable 600kW of lithium batteries on the roof of each bus.

Critics of electric vehicles claim that oil is merely being replaced with dirty coal power plants. This is not true. There is excess grid-electricity at night. Metro already uses several MW of solar roofing with plans to expand. Coal is less than 30% of California’s electric grid mix, with megawatts of wind and concentrated solar power being added to the grid. Vehicles with electric motors and regenerative braking have reported fuel economy figures that are 300% more efficient than diesel and CNG internal combustion engine alternatives.

Yes, even in the sprawling 1,400 square mile region that Metro must service, transit is growing in use while total emissions are declining. Riders are freed from their oil dependent cars, save money riding transit, and can now enjoy the ride and breathe the air. A dollar spent on public transportation is going farther than spending ten bucks on more oil.

Conventional wisdom has been that American’s demand for petroleum is inelastic in relation to price. We are told that we are addicted to oil. We are lectured that the only solution is to find more oil at any price or turn coal into oil at any environmental price. The U.S. Congress is criticized for not turning California’s pristine coastline and the Artic National Refuge into oil patches. It now looks like the best solution is Economics 101. Price goes up and demand goes down. In fact, Americans are eager for fuel efficient vehicles, corporate commute programs, and effective public transportation. Now that we are economically stretched, demand for gasoline is suddenly elastic.

Copyright © 2008 John Addison. Some of this content may appear in John’s upcoming book, Save Gas, Save the Planet.