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SunPower's new $10K USD solar panel system is specially geared towards offsetting the power requirements of Ford's upcoming 2012 Focus Electric. It offers enough juice for an average driving distance of 32 miles a day.  (Source: SunPower)

SunPower's advanced panel design is more efficient than standard panels, so it takes up less space. The design is the result of 26 years of market experience.  (Source: SunPower)

The 2012 Ford Focus Electric is Ford's first mass produced electric vehicle. A price has not been announced officially yet, but it's rumored to fall around $30K USD.  (Source: Ford Motor Company)
Electric car will essentially be self-sufficient for moderate drivers

Electric vehicles (EVs) are a promising step forward in energy usage, replacing expensive fossil fuel trips with cheap charges (mostly from coal power in the U.S.).  Of course the high cost of lithium and rare earth metals makes the cost equation more of a break-even than a windfall.  Still, the long-term potential to both shirk fossil fuel consumption and its high cost is great as battery costs dip.

I. Ford and SunPower -- a Veteran Team

Some carmakers have been exploring an even more ambitious concept for their EVs -- grid neutrality.  By combining home solar panels, they are able to remove the fossil fuel-based charge from the equation altogether.  Mazda Motor Corp. (TYO:7261toyed with the idea, deploying solar chargers for its small Japanese fleet of converted Mazda 2s. Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. (TYO:7201) took things a step further with its limited international rollout of the LEAF EV, actually offering a rooftop charging system commercially.

Now, Ford Motor Comp. (F) hopes to make an even bigger splash in the world of solar power, offering a special promotion to allow customers to offset their vehicle's power use and attain grid independence.  Ford has partnered with San Jose, California-based SunPower (SPWRASPWRB) to offer solar chargers to buyers of the 2012 Focus Electric, which is set to launch later this year.  SunPower is a company with vast experience in the solar business, having been in operation since 1985.  Ford calls the new program "Drive Green for Life."

We had the chance to catch up with SunPower's North American General Manager, Ken Fong, to learn more about the plans.  He tells us that the SunPower's solution is a completely in-house project.  He states, "SunPower designs, manufactures and delivers the highest efficiency solar cells and solar panels for use in the residential, commercial and utility scale markets."

II. Technical Details Aplenty

The solar chargers for the Focus Electric will use SunPower's proprietary E18 Series silicon based panel design, which is designed to minimized the rooftop space necessary for the charger.

"SunPower’s solar cells are made from multi crystalline polysilicon with an average efficiency of 22.4 percent.  Because of the high-efficiency of the SunPower solar panels, the system takes up less room than a conventional solar array. Each panel is approximately 4’ x 2’, and the total system, which consists of approximately 11 panels, works out to be about 147.3 sq. feet," comments Mr. Fong, "The all-back contact design eliminates the silver lines on the front of the cell, leaving an aesthetically pleasing all-black look to the cell."

Thus the panel system will take up on your roof about the flat space of a 12 ft. by 12 ft. room's floor.

The full system generates 2.5 kilowatts on a sunny day.  It is estimated that in a year it will yield 3,000-kilowatt hours of power, or roughly enough juice to drive your Focus Electric 12,000 miles.  That's roughly an allowance of 32 miles a day -- well within many drivers’ commuting distances.  Of course on cloudy days, you'll get less mileage, as the panels will generate less power, so those with mid-distance commutes may have to occasionally fall back on the traditional charger.

The system is set to retail for $10,000 USD after federal tax credits.  However, customers may be able to get an even lower price based on local and state tax credits.  And customers potentially may be able to sell excess power back to the grid, depending on the policy of your local utility.

Ford has not announced official pricing information on the Focus Electric, but its rumored to be priced at $30K USD, after $7,500 USD federal tax credit.

SunPower also says that customers will have the option to buy two connected systems for heavier driving, if they have the roof space (e.g. 2 systems would give you roughly 65 miles a day of drive distance).

III. Big Plans

SunPower says the system is exclusively targeted towards residential users.  However, they say they're also deploying EV charging solutions to businesses.  States Mr. Fong, "SunPower has many commercial customers who are already enjoying the benefits of a 'car port' solar system."

Mr. Fong is thrilled about the new partnership with Ford.  He states, "Ford is a great partner and we are in sync with our goals to offer customers a clean, renewable way to get from here to there."

The folks at SunPower aren't short on ambition.  Despite the Focus Electric launching in 19 separate U.S. markets at volume, SunPower says it should be able to keep up with everyone who wants one of the chargers.  States Mr. Fong, "SunPower will be able to deliver a solar system to all interested customers." 

In addition to the new solar power system, Ford is using a solar installation to power lighting at the plant that builds the Focus Electric, and is offering early purchasers free (traditional) fast-charging stations in a partnership with Coulomb Technologies, Inc.

Editors Note: DailyTech would like to thank SunPower's Ken Fong for taking time to share these details with us and Emily Rosen for arranging this interview.



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i must be missing something here...
By kattanna on 8/12/2011 12:44:21 PM , Rating: 3
most people work during the day. they are home at night and thats when it would recharge their car, yet solar doesnt work all that well without the sun ;>)

so.. just how is it supposed to charge their car then?

and if they are rich enough to be home during the day, then they dont need my tax dollars to pay for it either.




RE: i must be missing something here...
By sthayashi on 8/12/2011 12:56:07 PM , Rating: 1
Why can't the car be charged AT work? Unless you park in a covered lot or a garage, there's plenty of sun out there to charge the car AT work.

Most users would have a charger at home, but not necessarily one at work.


By rzrshrp on 8/12/2011 12:58:29 PM , Rating: 2
These are rooftop chargers. They don't travel with the car. Those are cool but produce such a pitiful amount of power that manufacturers don't seem to be entertaining them.


RE: i must be missing something here...
By Spuke on 8/12/2011 2:11:11 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Why can't the car be charged AT work? Unless you park in a covered lot or a garage, there's plenty of sun out there to charge the car AT work.
I guess you didn't read the article. Here I'll help you:

quote:
SunPower says the system is exclusively targeted towards residential users.
The OP makes a great point. The only way this works AS STATED is if you:

A. Use your electric car every other day.
B. Have the system charge a set of batteries which you can discharge into your electric car overnight.


RE: i must be missing something here...
By Solandri on 8/12/2011 3:01:39 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
B. Have the system charge a set of batteries which you can discharge into your electric car overnight.

You don't want to do that. Charging batteries is typically only about 80% efficient (though this would charge slowly enough it might be able to approach 90%).

It's far better to simply send the system sell electricity back to the grid during the day, then use electricity from the grid during the night to charge your car. Of course this means the grid still needs an alternate power source which will work when renewables don't, and nuclear is a much better option than coal.


RE: i must be missing something here...
By Spuke on 8/12/2011 3:26:46 PM , Rating: 2
Are you talking about charge efficiency? If so, the batteries used in this type of environment are usually in the 95-98% range.


RE: i must be missing something here...
By Solandri on 8/12/2011 4:34:55 PM , Rating: 2
I know you can get efficiencies that high with low-current chargers. But I don't think I've seen a battery which can achieve that efficiency while absorbing 2500 Watts. (I suppose you could put together a huge bank of 500 of them and charge each at 5 Watts. That's gonna be expensive though.)

The charger for the Nissan Leaf battery is about 75% efficient, so I went with a figure slightly better than that (to reflect having the entire day to charge, rather than about 5 hours overnight).


By Spuke on 8/12/2011 6:16:55 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I know you can get efficiencies that high with low-current chargers. But I don't think I've seen a battery which can achieve that efficiency while absorbing 2500 Watts.
Not an expert on this but it seems you have some knowledge in this area. Wouldn't "low current" depend on the capacity of the battery?


RE: i must be missing something here...
By rzrshrp on 8/12/2011 12:56:50 PM , Rating: 2
"Offset" is the name of the game. It probably won't be directly charging their car but it will be powering their air conditioner, freezer and vampire electronics. Thus, it will remove the same amount of energy from the user's bill that the car adds if factors are right. I'm not sure if I really needed to explain that or you're just trying to get a rise because I don't believe you didn't know that.


By Spuke on 8/12/2011 2:17:20 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
"Offset" is the name of the game. It probably won't be directly charging their car but it will be powering their air conditioner, freezer and vampire electronics.
Good point.


RE: i must be missing something here...
By Samus on 8/12/2011 12:57:50 PM , Rating: 2
You are forgetting about production buy-back. Your panels will generate electricity and put it back into the grid during the day whether you're plugged in or not. It's especially useful if you live in an area that has peak hours, where feeding electricity into the grid during the day while charging from the grid during the night will actually break you even on any losses of conversion (solar panels produce DC current, and converting it to AC is only 80-90% efficient.)

But, you are right that this isn't an ideal solution. To directly charge your car with this product without the grid or temporary storage (flywheel, capacitors, lead-acid batteries) would require it be done during the day, when the vehicle is probably in a carpark somewhere.

To say this product is specifically tailored to the Focus is a very misleading marketing strategy. You're better off using these panels to moderately heat/cool your house during the day while you're not home. My last electric bill was $186 bucks. Thats more than I spend on fuel in a month.


RE: i must be missing something here...
By kattanna on 8/12/2011 1:01:27 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
To say this product is specifically tailored to the Focus is a very misleading marketing strategy.


AYE.. thats the point i was trying to make


RE: i must be missing something here...
By Samus on 8/12/2011 1:06:40 PM , Rating: 3
Absolutely. I am becoming irritated with the government subsidizing 'toys' like this for people, and families, that clearly don't need any assistance. $30k+ compact car plus $10k+ solar installation, which already assumes you own property with some substantial roof surface area...to me indicates you don't need any help 'upgrading' your home.

If you want a high tech solar installation as a roof, thats awesome, I promote it. Just don't use non-existant federal funds to partially pay for it.


RE: i must be missing something here...
By knutjb on 8/12/2011 9:45:25 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
If you want a high tech solar installation as a roof, thats awesome, I promote it. Just don't use non-existant federal funds to partially pay for it.
Agree totally. It's great Ford is assembling a power package to go with the car for one stop shopping. I am bothered when government bureaucrats and legislators believe they know what's best for me and everyone. Unfortunately most don't care that I/we will end up paying for it either way. I do care and vote accordingly.


By Fritzr on 8/13/2011 10:19:34 AM , Rating: 2
This is a promotion for Residential Solar Power. They are advertising this as an electric car charger and then as an aside mention selling excess power to the utility.

The installation is a simply Residential Solar Electric. To get owners of electric cars to buy these units, the fact that they will produce enough power to run the car is hyped. Other markets will hype the buyback programs by calling it Free Electricity or will say that the you can run your computer off of the sun.

The Press Release is misleading. This unit does not charge the car. It supplies electricity to the home where the car is being charged.


Tax Credits For Some Not Good
By FredEx on 8/12/2011 11:52:24 PM , Rating: 2
Some people do not pay taxes. A tax credit is useless for them. My mother for example. She is over 70, all of her retirement income is not taxable. A tax credit for somebody paying no taxes is completely useless.

I'm now on permanent medical disability this year with a heart issue I was born with nearly taking me out, my tax liability is going to be zip now. Tax credits for me are useless now too. I'm just 56.

People like us are growing in numbers as baby boomers age. They need to offer other incentives. I'm sure as h*** not going to buy something I can only get at a decent price due to a tax incentive.




RE: Tax Credits For Some Not Good
By FITCamaro on 8/13/2011 10:51:59 AM , Rating: 2
That's the point of our tax system. Wealth redistribution.


By YashBudini on 8/13/2011 11:54:23 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
That's the point of our tax system. Wealth redistribution.

Yeah, thank God corporate subsidies don't work the same way.


RE: Tax Credits For Some Not Good
By tayb on 8/13/2011 2:12:33 PM , Rating: 2
If you are too injured to work you have no business spending $40,000 on cars and solar power anyways.


RE: Tax Credits For Some Not Good
By FredEx on 8/15/2011 12:23:59 PM , Rating: 2
That is the most bizarre statement I have ever heard. I can't work, therefore pay no payroll taxes. Any other taxes on interest income and similar income sources is more than offset by normal tax deductions, any additional tax credit for me is therefore useless. It does not mean I don't have any money put away to spend.


Making back $10,000 at $4 per day
By Tanclearas on 8/12/2011 2:24:45 PM , Rating: 3
So the panels gather enough power to offset a little over a gallon of gas a day, under ideal conditions.




By kdogg4536 on 8/12/2011 5:57:12 PM , Rating: 2
there is also the ~ $ 7,000 premium for a limited range focus.


Only in the desert Southwest
By Solandri on 8/12/2011 2:54:07 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
"SunPower’s solar cells are made from multi crystalline polysilicon with an average efficiency of 22.4 percent. [...] the total system [...] works out to be about 147.3 sq. feet," [...]

The full system generates 2.5 kilowatts on a sunny day. It is estimated that in a year it will yield 3,000-kilowatt hours of power, or roughly enough juice to drive your Focus Electric 12,000 miles. That's roughly an allowance of 32 miles a day

Once again, marketers are trying to spin best-case scenarios as typical.

147.3 sq ft = 13.7 sq meters.
3000 kWhr/yr = 8.2 kWhr/12 hour day = 0.683 kW on average.
0.683 kW / 13.7 m^2 = 50 W/m^2

@ 22.4% efficiency, that assumes an average solar radiation intensity of 50/0.224 = 223 W/m^2. You can see from the following map that only the desert Southwest U.S. meets that criteria.
http://web.me.com/uriarte/Earths_Climate/Appendix_...
http://web.me.com/uriarte/Earths_Climate/Appendix_...

The average for the U.S. is about 180 W/m^2, so a more realistic expectation of this system's performance for the country overall is:

2400 kWhr per year (not 3000)
9700 miles/yr (not 12,000)
26 miles/day (not 32)

Those in the desert Southwest would see the better-than-average figures stated in the article. Those in the Northeast would see considerably worse than this average.




RE: Only in the desert Southwest
By MrTeal on 8/12/2011 10:53:52 PM , Rating: 3
I think your numbers are incorrect.

1) You're off by a factor of two due to the length of the day.
quote:
Based on this solar constant, the mean flow per meter squared reaching the spherical outer surface of the atmosphere can be calculated by dividing this value by four, giving a value of 342 W/m2. In fact, the total amount of incoming solar energy continuously being intercepted by the planet Earth is equal to the value of the solar constant (1,368 W/m2) multiplied by the surface area of an imaginary circle whose radius (R) is equal to the radius of the Earth. Since the Earth is a sphere, the mean flow distributed throughout the whole of the sphere is four times smaller.

The numbers you use already average the solar energy only shines on one side of the Earth. So, you shouldn't be factoring in a 12 hour day.

2) The 180W/m2 average you quote accounts for the average incoming energy (342W/m2), subtracting the 77W/m2 that is reflected by the atmosphere (correct) as well as the 30W/m2 average reflected by the ground (incorrect). The losses due to ground reflection would already by taken into account by the efficiency of the panels, so you shouldn't count it twice.

3) Looking at the map you linked it looks like it assumes W/m2 normal to the surface, since it drops of substantially at higher latitudes. If that's the case, you can get higher energy production than you'd assume looking at that map by angling the panels to your latitude.

It's your link, so correct me if I'm reading it wrong, but the numbers linked seem reasonable. It averages out to 342W over a full year from an installed capacity of 2500W, which is a capacity factor of 0.14. That's typical of a solar installation in Massachusetts. Solar in Arizona can be 5 percentage points higher.


This makes me laugh
By FITCamaro on 8/12/2011 2:20:24 PM , Rating: 2
So $37-38,000 for the car + another $10,000 for the solar system? No thanks. The car won't last long enough to recoup your money on this.




RE: This makes me laugh
By Pirks on 8/12/2011 3:46:50 PM , Rating: 2
Who cares, electric cars are for the rich anyway


$10,000? Tough pill to swallow
By tayb on 8/13/2011 2:06:10 PM , Rating: 2
I don't know much about solar energy but I can imagine that these things become less efficient over time and are also susceptible to damage sitting out on the root or in an array in the back yard. With a $10,000 up front cost I wonder if it is ever possible to reach a break even point or even come close to it?

Right now I pay 8.2 cents per kWh which would equate to about $250 of savings if I was using this system. If my current electric rates were locked forever and the efficiency never dwindled (unrealistic) it would take me some 40 years just to break even on my initial investment. 40 years of inflation means I most definitely won't have actually broken even.

I guess I just can't see the value in this. If I used it for 10 years I'm only getting 30,000 kWh and I'm paying 30 cents a kWh up front for it.




By 225commander on 8/15/2011 9:56:25 AM , Rating: 2
You can do this yourself and get equal capacity for much less, there is no rule saying you have to by a 'system installed by X company' and in my research I have found that a considerable chunk of the cost is the install labor, making it much less economical. Panel prices have fallen a lot in last 2 years. Also one thing you mentioned, 8cent/kWh elec, don't count on that lasting too much longer, all indications is that the cost will be going up *substantially* real soon(coal plants being retired b/c of high 'carbon offset' cost, Nuclear being shunted, and Enviro restraints on Gas industry, etc.) SO, the 'payback time' on this will be quicker than you think. By the time the elec prices start to soar, the tax incentives will be long gone. Im kind of surprised they haven't been yanked yet actually.


Things to consider
By YashBudini on 8/13/2011 11:50:05 PM , Rating: 2
1. Utility companies may be required to buy your power, but not at the same price they sell you power, usually for substantially less.

2. Many utilities have a 2 rate option with a meter that reads peak and non-peak rates. Obviously charging your car overnight would be at the non-peak rate. Non peak rates typically are in effect all day Saturday and Sunday.




RE: Things to consider
By FredEx on 8/15/2011 12:29:25 PM , Rating: 2
Where I am they have to pay a fair price, they can't rip you off. Anybody I know with solar or wind power get a higher credit than what they pay for power at night off peak.


money has value
By DockScience on 8/15/2011 7:32:34 PM , Rating: 2
The charger will cost $30,000 (not to mention installation or maintenance). Forget subsidies stolen from others, the charger REALLY costs your children $30,000.

China is loaning the US money at 4.26% for 20 year bonds, roughly the lifespan of the charger's panels.

The INTEREST alone on that is $1300 per year, to pay both interest and principle by the time the charger dies requires $2300 per year to those nice banks.

If a Ford Focus gas model gets 44 miles/gallon and gas costs $5/gal, that's enough in interest to drive 19,500 miles per year, roughly 50% MORE driving than the electric charger will provide.

So if one invested in gasoline instead, you would save 30% over this solar charger.

At present, solar consumes wealth, it doesn't create it.




"So if you want to save the planet, feel free to drive your Hummer. Just avoid the drive thru line at McDonalds." -- Michael Asher














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