Will New Electric Vehicles Reduce Grid Impact?

Ford and SunPower have introduced the first plug-in hybrid that doesn’t need the grid. Could this make the grid irrelevant?
Published: Mon 03 Mar 2014

Ford intends to build a new charging infrastructure for its plug-in hybrid vehicles based exclusively on off-grid solar. This could reduce grid charging of its C-MAX hybrid by up to 75%.

Ford's new concept plug-in hybrid model, called the C-MAX Solar Energi, will host an array of SunPower's X21 high-efficiency solar cells on its top. These cells alone are unable to provide sufficient electricity to recharge the car's battery. Therefore, Ford had researchers at Georgia Tech develop an acrylic Fresnel lens, integrated into a canopy structure, which will concentrate the sun onto the cells.

The aim is that a driver would park the car under the canopy and sensors along the car would engage autonomous driving. This would then move the vehicle beneath the canopy to track the sun. A six-hour charge can provide 21 miles of solar-based driving.

Concept model stage

Currently, the C-MAX Solar Energi is simply a concept model. This means that it could take a while for the vehicle to reach commercial production.

The vehicle-charging sector is still in the developmental stage as it has experienced a number of failures and rollout challenges among companies trying to build electric vehicle charging networks. A great deal of complexity exists in grid-based EV charging. The cost and logistics to get Level 2 chargers installed can be tough for developers. However, Ford’s C-MAX Solar Energi holds promise as it offers a free-standing solution, requiring no grid connectivity.

The convergence of technology is making it possible for Ford and other automakers to develop completely new service models for electric vehicles.

What the experts say

Anja van Niersen, General Manager, Alliander Mobility Services BV, points out that there are a number of pilots and proofs of the concept to test the canopy and the car in a mutual business case. She says that for now, both the car and the canopy are too expensive to be an alternative for the grid, and without the right storage to accompany the solution, it would only mean extra transportation on the grid, or when used off-grid, a lot of energy wasted when the car is not plugged in.

For now there is no reason to suggest that the grid is not able to supply the EV uptake for the next 10-15 years. The other point she makes is that many people who drive E-Cars are interested in solar energy as well, so the correlation between solar and EV is high. That means that a lot of companies and private people will invest in their own solar systems to load their cars.

“If this is accompanied with the appropriate storage capacity then this will help the grid companies. However, if all this solar energy is put on the grid at times that the car is not plugged in, this could become a bigger problem for the grid companies as greater fluctuation on the grid and demand-supply is harder to balance”.