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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.


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