Nissan has announced that it is looking to deploy high-voltage solar charging stations to power its 2011 Leaf EV.  (Source: AutoBlog Green)

It is partnering with Showa Shell, whose thin film solar panel cells are shown here rolling off the line.  (Source: Renewable Energy World)
If Nissan's plans succeed, its EV may have zero grid impact

Next year Nissan is set to go head to head with GM, bringing electric vehicles to the masses.  Next year GM will release its 2011 Chevy Volt, while Nissan will let lose the 2011 Leaf EV  The bragging war has already begin, with both companies claiming to have the industry's best gas mileage.  Nissan, the first Japanese automaker to push an EV, has a tough road ahead, as its hype engine arrived late on the scene (the Volt has been talked about for a couple of years now).

Now Nissan has unveiled an ambitious plan to differentiate itself from its competitor.  Nissan's EV is a fully electric vehicle,w ith no "extended range" gas generator like the Chevy Volt.  The vehicle does boast reportedly quicker charge times on its 480 V charge stations.  However, many fear that building public charging stations at such high voltage will put too much drain on the U.S. and Japanese grids.

So Nissan has partnered with Showa Shell to create solar-powered charging stations.  Raising the green bar higher than the Volt perhaps, the new charging stations use Showa's CIS, a thin-film panel composed of copper indium diselenide, which boasts higher performance than traditional polycrystalline silicon designs.  The stations also use Nissan's advanced lithium batteries to store power for nighttime recharges.

The pair, also apparently plans on taking the system to the energy market, writing in the press release, "In addition, a quick charging system using the next-generation CIS solar panels and lithium ion batteries is expected to be utilized in houses and large-scale solar power plants (mega solar plants)."

Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is commissioning trial deployments of the stations in Japan, which may be starting within a few months.  It is unknown if the five test markets for the Leaf in the U.S. will jump onboard the trial.

One major concern is cost.  Lithium batteries remain relatively expensive, as do thin film solar panels.  If the charging stations can break even in costs versus traditional coal-based electricity, that would be somewhat of a miracle.  Further if the charging stations became commonplace, they might put a strain on the lithium industry, which is already having to boost production to keep up with EV battery demand.  Lastly, the deployment window is also a concern.  Nissan has to decide whether to go with grid connected stations or solar stations -- and fast -- as its vehicle launches next year.

On the other hand, the technology is young and ambitious and has room to grow and improve.  Even if it can't beat coal power in costs, the solar charging stations may compare favorably to the cost of overhauling grids worldwide that are already struggling to meet the demands of a high-tech society.

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer

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