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back to article Now THAT'S a sunroof: Solar-powered family car emerges from Ford labs

At the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week, the Ford Motor Company will display what it describes as a "first-of-its-kind sun-powered concept vehicle" that can charge its batteries using only solar power. Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept – view from above and facing the front The Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept …

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This is a welcome development. Well done, Ford. More of this, please.

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Stuffed using it where I live in the UK.

Someone mentioned sunshine?

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While I too do enjoy eco-friendly technologies, I do have to wonder if this will actually pan out. Given your average joe goes to work between 9-5 (the hours the sun is up), the solar concentrator would have to be at a place of business to be of any use other than on the weekend. I cant imagine what the interior of that car must be like or even the door handles, steering wheel after sitting for several hours. While the concentrator is certainly a way to improve the collection of energy, I have to wonder how long those panels will last at the higher operating temperature. All in all it's nice to see an automotive giant like ford producing eco-friendly vehicles, but it seems a bit half baked.

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@ noem

> All in all it's nice to see an automotive giant like ford producing eco-friendly vehicles, but it seems a bit half baked.

Or indeed over-baked, if what you're suggesting is true...

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Alert

Stuffed using it where I live in the UK.

Someone mentioned sunshine?

Just park it near that curved skyscraper in London.

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WTF?

Just park it near that curved skyscraper in London.

And pay more in parking fees than you'd have paid for petrol for your commute? Provided you can find a parking spot in the first place.

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A car with a range of 21 miles is "a welcome development?"

If the LAPD were equipped with these mean machines, then OJ Simpson would have got away.

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21 miles would get me to work and back every day. The petrol engine does for longer journeys. What's not to like?

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> If the LAPD were equipped with these mean machines, then OJ Simpson would have got away.

Well, that would have been a huge net saving in court costs and mind-numbing TV.

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Joke

OJ

He did get away (with it)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What's not to like?

The enormous expense of the solar panels and the lens system, to get the propulsion equivalent of £2 of petrol? (Assuming 60mpg). Presumably not on dark winter days either.

And even if you want to go electric, you could get the juice more quickly and cheaply from the mains - government renewable subsidies notwithstanding. And to get the subsidies, you need the solar panels on your house, not your car.

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Meh

"concept vehicle"

Yawn. Wake me when they drop the first word.

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WTF?

Re: "concept vehicle"

So they make, what at least I see as, significant progress towards making electric vehicles really viable and you respond with a yawn?

There really is no pleasing some people.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "concept vehicle"

But it's not significant progress; it's some ugly solar panels bolted onto a Ford that barely provide any power.

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Re: "concept vehicle"

Audi had a solar roof as an option in the early noughties, it would run the AC when you were away from the vehicle, so that it was always cool when you got back to the vehicle on a hot day.

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@Gerd

A car with a range of 21 miles is not "significant development", it's a joke. It does not solve any problem, it creates them. That's why everyone is laughing at Ford today.

All Ford has demonstrated is that Greens are the most gullible and easy-to-impress people on the planet, right up there with End Times evangelicals who insist they can see the face of Jesus in a donut. They'll applaud anything.

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Re: "concept vehicle"

Significant?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2y8Sx4B2Sk

This vehicle deserves four out of five yawns on the Yawner scale.

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Pint

Re: "concept vehicle"

"Audi had a solar roof as an option in the early noughties, it would run ((a small cooling fan)) when you were away from the vehicle..."

There, I fixed it for you.

Knowing just the order of magnitude of power requirements and solar capabilities makes this clear.

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So...8x magnified sunlight. Bet thats hell on the paintwork! Imagine the inside would be quite toasty too!

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So at last a usable hybrid for modern city living?

i.e. for the people who don't live on the ground floor and/or use on-street parking. I assume there's quite a lot of us, since so many of us fit into each building.

Fine, we also don't have anywhere to install the Fresnel lens and therefore can't charge it in a day but it's the only hybrid with an electric part that at least may sometimes be useful.

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Re: So at last a usable hybrid for modern city living?

Park in the right place and you won't need to install a Fresnel lens;

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-23930675

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Re: So at last a usable hybrid for modern city living?

If you live in the city, I expect you'll be taking the bus, cycling, walking... ?

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Re: So at last a usable hybrid for modern city living? (@Symon)

Not if you live in an American city other than New York, where public transport is anathema.

You'd be crazy to want to own a car in most of London.

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Concentrator? Why bother?

If you're going to go to all the trouble of building a shelter with lenses etc, why not just put PV panels on the shelter and then plug in the car? That way any leccy car can use it and when you're not charging cars you can feed the power generated back into the grid?

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Re: Concentrator? Why bother?

I imagine, for one thing, that would require larger and more expensive panels instead of employing physics to make do with less raw materials. Then again, perhaps take both ideas: put a large collector on the roof AND place a Fresnel concentrator on top. Nice thing is, since this is a fixed installation, you can make sure it's optimally oriented for a given location and allow one or both to track the sun through the day.

Having said that, has anyone got news of progress of handling the big problem of NIGHT operations?

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Unhappy

Re: Concentrator? Why bother?

"If you're going to go to all the trouble of building a shelter with lenses etc, why not just put PV panels on the shelter and then plug in the car? That way any leccy car can use it and when you're not charging cars you can feed the power generated back into the grid?"

Money.

Fresnel concentrators are embossed plastic.

They can be light and cheap.

Otherwise you need to buy a PV panel 8x bigger than the car.

Not light. Not cheap.

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Re: Concentrator? Why bother?

Er - no. You put the panels on the roof of your house. You put the lenses on the panels.

You run passive solar pipes under the panels to heat your water and keep your roof from catching fire.

If you're really adventurous, you pump the heat to a store in the ground under the house for winter.

You run the panels to the usual battery, which not only turbo-powers your house because your PVs are producing something 2-3X the usual W on average, but can also charge your car at night.

Putting fresnel PVs on just the garage for a car with a range of 21 miles makes no sense at all.

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Re: Concentrator? Why bother?

"You run the panels to the usual battery, which not only turbo-powers your house because your PVs are producing something 2-3X the usual W on average, but can also charge your car at night."

The problem with that is there is NO such thing as "the usual battery" when it comes to powering a whole house for say 16 hours at a time (dead of winter in northern latitudes = reduced sun hours, and those sun hours are oblique and weak by comparison). Current tech is either too risky (Lithium-based batteries run the risk of spontaneous combustion, lead-acid ones can distort and/or leak, and NiMHs suffer memory) or too bulky (again, the lead-acid situation). And since compact, safe, powerful solid-state storage has been in demand since the invention of the laptop computer, there's been no shortage of attempts to build a better battery: with only incremental steps to show for it when a giant leap is needed now to make powering a house without a generator practical.

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Vic
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Re: Concentrator? Why bother?

> Fresnel concentrators are embossed plastic.

My old XMs had plastic fresnel lenses in the headlamps to achieve the then-mandated beam cutoff.

They're absolutely excellent - for about 3 years, then the plastic becomes increasingly opaque.

At 10 years, they're essentially useless :-(

Vic.

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Paris Hilton

Re: Concentrator? Why bother?

It would make a good sunbed or maybe even slow cooker?

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Re: Concentrator? Why bother? @ Charles 9

But why are you evaluating the fitness for purpose based on the far end of the usage curve? Thats the ending point not the starting point. If you get to a solution that works reasonably in summer but only partially well in winter - providing the econimics stack up its still a win.

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Re: Concentrator? Why bother? @ Charles 9

Errr, because when it comes to a working car, thats exactly what you need to do. If its fine 90% of the year but doesn't do its job 10% of the time, thats a fail for car. It might not be for other things, but for a car it very much is.

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Re: Concentrator? Why bother? @ Charles 9

Not just a car, but a house, too. In such a scenario when the basic goal is 100% power coverage throughout the day (a fully self-powered house, IOW), the primary design philosophy would be, "Plan for the worst." In other words, plan conservative and base your situation on the worst-case scenario.

In that case, the worst case would be a blizzard on the winter solstice (shortest day of the year and most oblique sunlight which is in turn obscured by thick clouds and lots of snow, some of which is bound to cover the panels) plus one adjacent day. If the combination of solar collector and battery storage tech can handle that scenario, than any other scenario it encounters is likely to be easier, making the entire system viable long-term.

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Re: Concentrator? Why bother?

"The problem with that is there is NO such thing as "the usual battery" when it comes to powering a whole house for say 16 hours at a time" ... "Current tech is ... too bulky (again, the lead-acid situation). "

Lead-acid batteries have a long history of working with home solar and wind systems (and they're popular on sail boats, too). And while lead acid batteries heavy, they're not bulky for the kilowatt-hours they store. A battery box about the size of a standard server rack could easily store 30 to 40kWh of lead-acid batteries, and house the switching gear for a whole-home UPS / solar charging system. The following link is a typical selection of lead-acid batteries for solar systems. You can Google up plenty of other lead-acid batteries for renewable home power storage with searches like: solar lead acid; solar deep cycle battery; solar battery box; etc. There are lots of vendors out there.

http://www.sunwize.com/documents/sunwize_solarready-nomod_8-08.pdf

A 26kWh battery box, as offered by Sunwize, will deliver 1.625kW continuously over 16 hours. Homes are typically approximated as using 1kW on average, so that's enough to cover 16 hours of darkness. (Despite the name, I'm sure Sunwize's switch and charging system will work fine with home wind turbines, too, so you don't necessarily stop battery charging when it gets dark and stormy.) Just make sure your foundations are up to the task because the lead-acid rack will put nearly a ton on a small 58" x 15" footprint.

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Interesting idea of moving the car as needed to optimize the collection, but what if your driveway is oriented north/south, meaning the car can't move to keep up with the concentrator?

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Then it won't work. Many of us don't even have a driveway.

A solar car could with a few more advancements work well for me. I drive less than 60 miles a week on average, often consisting of trips less than 15 miles.

I don't get people that just point out it's flaws. Sure it won't work for everyone... or possibly hardly anyone in this country. In places like India/Spain italy however it might work for considerably more people...

Horses for courses?

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In Spain

The problems in Spain are: Very few people have access to parking that can see the sky. Normally you are all shoe-horned into a skyscraper with underground parking. There are some people living in villages that still have individual housing, but normally their disposable income prohibits buying cars like this.

If you do have above-ground parking, it has a shade, because otherwise the paint on the car doesn't last 5 years, and your hands melt on the steering wheel. You could possibly remove the sunshade for this car, but then you'd use a lot of your 8*300w of "free eleccy" running the aircon to cool-down the car. (Sunpower claim that their best panels are 21.5% efficient, so in Spain you are looking at 8kw*0.885 = 7kw of heating!! a fair amount of that will probably end up inside the car)

You pay through the nose to have an electrical supply to your dwelling that can push more than 3kW. If you actaully have more than 10kW available, you are effectively non-domestic and can't get a tarrif which is limited by the government, so the leccy companies can charge you whatever they want. Also you probably don't have any way of getting your electrical supply down to your parking space in the garage. I hope that the charger is intelligent to only consume as much power as you have available at any moment in time.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: In Spain

Check your numbers they can't possibly be right.

You are saying you need industrial power to run anything over a kettle and definitely can't run an electric shower

In UK - this house has 100A supply which means 23KW supply if at 230V (usually...)

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Pint

Re: In Spain

Canada: 200 amps @ 240 volts (2 @ 120 volts each of course) = 48 kilowatts.

It's to "supply the electric heat", which is actually only 10kw peak because the house is relatively energy efficient.

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21 miles from a full day's charging while having to put up with a fugly and pricey roof-full of PV and also having to build a car-sized lens in your garden? And this is progress how, exactly?

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Look at it this way, if you typically used this car only for short journeys - e.g. the school run, it could effectively be free to run. Pretty sure you can see the point of a car which doesn't require petrol?

Obviously, it's not going to work for everyone.

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But if solar is the answer, then surely the way to do that is centralised, large-scale, high-efficiency with distribution, allowing individual peaks and troughs in demand to be absorbed. If it charges within a day and you don't use it for 3 days then you've wasted 67% of the generation potential because you don't have the batteries to store the energy. (Perhaps you should go for a drive, just to justify it). If you're only using it for small distances then it seems unlikely it'll pay back vs. getting someone else to generate the energy efficiently for you.

I really can't see how this wins vs. a plug-in?

(oh and for the school run, the answer is walking)

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The problem is that distribution can itself be inefficient. Plus it introduces the points of failure and failure cascades that our current centralized system can bring. The idea behind solar-panel houses is to DEcentralize the grid and allow each unit to be capable of powering itself if need be, plus if any one unit fails, none of the others have to rely on that one, helping to prevent a failure cascade.

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It's clearly a concept developed without bothering to take practicality or cost into account. As said, why bother building a big heavy expensive shelter that can only charge that particular car? Putting more surface area of cheaper panels on the whole roof of the house and/or shelter is going to be much more efficient.

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Don't Audi have a more realistic use PV sunroof option?

The one that powers a small fan to keep the air circulating when parked up.

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Re: Don't Audi have a more realistic use PV sunroof option?

Yes, Audi have had solar panels in sunroofs (as options) for years, first used in 1999, this isn't new development by Ford, just what they use the power for.

Nothing to see here, move along....

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This car may not be for you

I know The Reg is based in the UK, but this is a Ford concept out of the USA, where there's no shortage of space (in most, but not all places) for parking & building concentrators at home or at work. There's also no shortage of sunlight for millions of potential buyers there.

Just because something might not work in central London doesn't mean it's a bad idea for everyone.

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Re: This car may not be for you

Please! I live in the US. The UK objections being raised are quite valid for at least 80% of the people living in the US. Living in one of the few areas where this might be marginally useful has obviously baked your brain the same way that car will get baked in the sun.

Mnay US residents, like many UK residents, live in heavily urbanized areas. In these areas most people can't street park their cars even assuming they've got sufficient sunlight vis-a-vie the weather. If you're not in an urbanized area the 21 mile range kills it. What you've got is a market for maybe 100,000 people all across the US, including greenies with too much money on their hands.

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Would like to see this tried on a train

One that runs at constant speed for long distances with little or no gradient, and plenty of sun of course.

Solar Ghan anyone?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Would like to see this tried on a train

> Would like to see this tried on a train

I am curious why you don't see the train technology in hybrid cars. There doesn't seem to be any 'proper' diesel electric cars; they are all encumbered by complex and heavy drive trains.

Hook a diesel engine running at optimum revs to a generator and a small battery. Wire this to wheel hub motors. You can ditch the whole transmission system and you get regenerative braking and a serious range of traction control options.

I suspect that someone has a patent somewhere that's buggering the whole thing up. Or I have missed something obvious...

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