High tech metal-backed, lens-concentrated panels deliver 8 kw of daily charge to an Energi PHEV

(UPDATE: Since some are confused by the numbers Ford gave me, I'm adding additional text explaining them.)

At the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2014) in Las Vegas, Nevada Ford Motor Comp. (F) displayed various electrification and "green home" products and concepts at its booth on the show floor.

Among these was the "MyEnergi LifeStyle 2.0" project with Sharp Corp. (TYO:6753), Whirlpool Corp. (WHR) (owner of Whirlpool and Maytag appliance brands), Eaton Corp. PLC, and Infineon Technologies AG (ETR:IFX).  Also working with research partners at Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT), the goal of the project is to try to lower a household's carbon footprint by 55 percent and its power usage by 60 percent.

Part of the system includes a battery storage unit for smoother power output, and storage from renewable sources.  I was a little surprised to hear from a Ford representative that the grid storage unit used brand new cells from Sharp and not spent cells from Ford Focus EVs or other Ford electric vehicles.

Ford has already announced the two lucky families (the Berrys in Southern California and the Sattlers in Colorado) that were selected to participate in the project at no cost to them.  The currently installed tech is expected to save the families $1,200 USD in electricity a year, according to Ford.  Of course the new energy-efficient appliances and smart grid tech aren't exactly free, so had the families actually paid for the green home makeover that figure would likely only making a modest dent in the overall price tag.

Ford Fresnel Cell Energi Max port

An integral part of the campaign is a special variant of the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), which is blanketed in a solar panel bonnet.  These special panels incorporate two innovations, according to Ford.  The first is a thin film metal backlayer, which allows the cells on the roof to soak up roughly 50 percent more power. 

The second is an installable car port, which has rooftop concentrating solar cell optics.  The type of optical device used is called a Fresnel lens (think of an ant under a magnifying glass).  The lens ups the harvest over five-fold.  (This kind of lens is often used by wilderness adventurers and doomsday preppers alike to build solar ovens.)

Together Ford says these innovations can boost the roughly 1 kilowatts of theoretical capacity to around 8 kilowatts.  On an average day, Ford says the panels generate enough power to produce the equivalent of a 4 hour charge from a wall plug. 

That's enough to account for nearly 75 percent of an Energi driver's average daily power consumption, according to Ford.  Ford estimates drivers may save up to $300 USD per year in energy costs.



First, here's the direct text of the press release, which was repeated to me in teh above form, almost unchanged:

Researchers developed an off-vehicle solar concentrator that uses a special Fresnel lens to direct sunlight to the solar cells while boosting the impact of the sunlight by a factor of eight. Fresnel is a compact lens originally developed for use in lighthouses. Similar in concept to a magnifying glass, the patent-pending system tracks the sun as it moves from east to west, drawing enough power from the sun through the concentrator each day to equal a four-hour battery charge (8 kilowatts).

Ford has stated that the family in Calif. (the Berrys) should see $300 USD in yearly savings.  With average costs of electricity @ $0.215 USD/kWh last year [source], that indicates the system produces about 1400 kWh annually, or about 3.8 kWh per day.

An C-Max Energi has a 7.6 kWh stack and can drive about 21 miles on a charge.  Thus if accurate Ford's "75 percent" estimate, assumes the driver travels under 14 miles per day.  Ford does collect statistics on its PHEV users, via its smartphone apps, so it's possible this number is accurate.

As for the "4 hours worth of plug-charging time", an average household circuit can push 20 A @ 120 VAC.  After losing about a quarter of the power during the DC conversion (typical), you wind up with a maximum output of 1.8 kW.  So a full charge would take four hours -- I think the person I was speaking to may have goofed a bit on the numbers there, as it seems more like the equivalent of two hours of plug time, based on the daily power output numbers derived from Ford's cost saving estimates.

Alternatively the cost savings could be understated.

A standard (non-concentrated) 8 kW distribution [example: 1, 2] in Calif. -- who averages 5.5 hours of sunlight a day year-round-- produces about 25 kWh per day in the winter; 45 kWh per day in the summer.  Michigan, by contrast, averages 3.6 hours of sunlight per day (roughly) so expect about 16 kWh in the winter, 30 kWh in the summer.

Even in Michigan, a standard 8 kW system produces around 24 kWh/day on average, year round.  So if Ford's system is producing only 3.8 kWh it is only about the efficiency of a 1.25 kW system.  I'm guessing something has been lost in translation.

One final clue; Treehugger says the panels are ~1.5 sq. meters and have a 300 to 350 watt capacity.  At a factor of 8, this would indicate a ~2.5 kWh output.  If correct, that would indicate that Ford overstated the maximum theoretical capacity.  Plugging in 0.3-0.35 kW, there still must be some major losses, but we get a lot closer to Ford's cost savings estimates.


Ford Fresnel Lens

To give a quick estimate of the system costs: So you're probably looking at least $1,900 USD (minus labor) if you built the system with off-the-shelf parts.  That would indicate you'd need to use the structure for at least six years to break even -- which isn't that bad.  The system shows the benefits of concentrated solar and is actually more practical than you might expect based on past automotive solar projects, which appeared more like greenwashing due to their low power output.

Ford at CES

Ford says the system is not yet production ready, but that it is considering rolling the system out in upcoming model years as a charging option.

"We don't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs

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