Many people might think that a plug in hybrid is one of the greenist options out there but it seems that this new concept from Ford could improve on that. Rather than having to always plug in to mains electricity, which let’s face it, is not made in the cleanest way, it has solar panels so that it can charge its battery using the clean energy from the sun. This new concept will be debuting at the 2014 Las Vegas Consumer Electronics show and a production car is being considered as well.
The Ford C-Max Solar Energy Concept car has a solar panel array on the roof and has all the C-Max Energi features as well. It has a lithium ion battery pack which is 7.6 kwh and the motor it powers is 118 hp. There is also a 2.0 litre petrol engine. The car can drive 21 miles on a fully charged battery alone as can the standard C-Max Energi.
The car is very similar to the standard Ford C-Max Energi apart from the solar panels. Although solar panels are not unique to cars, with the Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf having them to drive auxiliary systems, this is the first car where the solar panels are used for the engine power. There is a concentrator on the car which helps to channel the energy from the sun more effectively. When the car is parked there is an acrylic canopy which allows the concentrator to do it’s job. The concentrator is a Fresnel lens which is an old fashioned magnifying device found in old lighthouses and magnifying glasses. The ridged surface of the lens helps to draw in light from a wider angle on to the solar panels and so the direction and quantity of sun light is not so critical. This means that it can charge up a lot more quickly, therefore making much more efficient use of the light energy from the sun.
In order to develop the solar panels Ford worked together with Sunpower Corporation and the concentrator was developed with help from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Ford says that the lens allows the amount of light to be boosted by eight times which means that it is possible to drum up 8kw of energy in a daylong charging cycle. They say that it is the equivalent of a four hour battery. Without the concentrator the charge would be less but Ford have not said by how long the battery would last for without it. The also do not specify exactly how much a ‘day’s worth of sunlight’ is either and so it is not easy to judge exactly how efficient this is. The charging port is still on the concept car so it can be plugged in if required.
It is expected that this concept could be produced at an affordable price. Although solar panels can be expensive the booster allows for them to be very much more efficient and therefore better value for money. There is no mention from Ford as to whether the solar panels can charge the battery while the car is on the move or whether they only work when the concentrator is in place. This might be something that will have to be tested first which should happen over the next few months. Of course, an alternative option is to fit solar panels on your home to produce the electricity that you then plug your car in to.