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.

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive

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