solar electric vehicles – Solar Tribune https://solartribune.com Solar Energy News, Analysis, Education Tue, 14 Sep 2021 16:08:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.1.10 The Solar Year in Review https://solartribune.com/the-solar-year-in-review/ Mon, 28 Dec 2020 14:29:47 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=68821 2020 is a year that most of us will soon want to forget. The pandemic-induced global recession that dominated the year will be felt for some years to come. Like most industries, the solar industry felt its share of turmoil in 2020, but industry successes were still achieved and optimism for a bright 2021 is […]

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2020 is a year that most of us will soon want to forget. The pandemic-induced global recession that dominated the year will be felt for some years to come. Like most industries, the solar industry felt its share of turmoil in 2020, but industry successes were still achieved and optimism for a bright 2021 is very much warranted.

Solar Industry Feels the Pandemic Pinch

It won’t be until early 2021 when we can get a more complete picture of the job losses the solar industry suffered in 2020, but the numbers are sure to be pretty grim. Earlier this year, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) predicted that 38% fewer people would be employed in the industry through June than what their earlier pre-COVID projections called for, effectively wiping out 5 years of solar job growth.

Photo Source: SEIA

Records Still Get Broken

Despite the unprecedented challenges that 2020 presented, the solar industry was still able to reach impressive new heights.

Solar accounted for 43 percent of all electricity-generating capacity added in the U.S. in 2020, according to the Q4 Solar Market Insight report, jointly released earlier this month by Wood Mackenzie and the SEIA. The report also notes that 2020 is likely to surpass 2016 as a record year for solar deployment with 19 GW of new solar capacity expected to be installed by the time the year is over. The likely record-breaking year is owed in large part to the stability that the utility PV segment has provided in an otherwise unpredictable year. Utility-scale solar accounted for 70% of the total 3.8GW of solar capacity installed during Q3.

It was the residential and commercial sectors that bore the brunt of the pandemic-induced turmoil from earlier this year as statewide shutdowns disrupted a business model that relies heavily on door-to-door sales. In a somewhat miraculous turnaround, the residential solar sector is still poised for a record-breaking year. Bloomberg NEF is forecasting that a record 3 GW of residential solar will be installed on U.S. homes in 2020.

If the projection comes to pass it will only underscore the broader industry’s adaptability and staying power in the face of unprecedented challenges. By embracing digital sales amid statewide lockdowns limiting person-to-person interactions, residential solar installers were able to broaden their customer pool in a way that can bear fruit even when a return to “normal” is achieved. By Q3, most state lockdowns were lifted and homeowners stuck spending more time at home embraced the opportunity to make energy efficiency upgrades to their homes. With work from home arrangements likely being the new norm at least through the first half of next year, residential solar may continue to ride its positive momentum to another record-breaking 2021, as Bloomberg NEF predicts.

Tesla’s Big Year

Aside from biopharma companies who led the way in creating a COVID-19 vaccine, it’s hard to find a major company who had a bigger year than Tesla.

At the start of the year, Tesla’s stock price was near $85/share. The company’s stock will end up finishing the year above $700/share. To put Tesla’s stratospheric 2020 rise in perspective, the company’s market cap of over $700B is greater than the five top-selling global vehicle making groups combined! The startup company that naysayers once wrote off as just another flash in the pan is now trading on the S&P 500, one of the world’s most recognizable stock market indices.

Tesla’s rise up the ranks of the world’s most valuable companies coincides with a growing realization in the auto industry, and on Wall Street, that the days of internal combustion engine (ICE) dominance in the auto industry are clearly numbered.

A perfect storm of sorts occurred in 2020 to bring the electric vehicle industry to this point. Stricter global regulations on vehicle emissions and ever-growing support among consumers for electric vehicles continue to make the economics of gas-powered vehicle production less and less favorable for auto makers. General Motors, who has dominated the gas guzzling pick-up truck space for decades, recently committed to spending $27B on electric vehicles. These expenditures will, for the first time, exceed the company’s planned investments in gas-powered vehicles.

Bloomberg projects that electric vehicle sales may be headed for a record in Q4. From their analysis:

“The current quarter may well be the first ever in which automakers sell 1 million fully electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles worldwide. It took the industry until 2015 to get its first million on the road. The global fleet is now about to cross the 10 million mark.”

Technological advancements have also contributed mightily to the electric vehicle industry’s brightening prospects. Tesla, of course, has been the industry leader on this front, and they unveiled even more technological breakthroughs in 2020. Namely in the form of new lithium-ion battery innovations that Elon Musk promises will allow Tesla to bring a brand new autonomous electric vehicle at a price point of $25,000 to the auto market within the next 3 years.

Photo Source: Tesmanian.com

Changes in Washington Fuel Industry Optimism

In some rare good news for the solar industry out of Washington, the omnibus spending bill and COVID relief package passed by Congress and signed by the President in December included an extension of the solar investment tax credit (ITC). The ITC was scheduled to drop from 26% to 22% in 2021, but will now stay at 26% for two more years. This important solar incentive has worked wonders in recent years to encourage more homeowners to embrace solar. Its extension is a big deal and one of the few successes the industry achieved on Capitol Hill this year.

Efforts by the Trump Administration to stymie growth in the renewables sector over the past 4 years have been well-documented. On the whole, Trump’s efforts have been futile as the solar industry reached all manner of solar capacity and generation milestones during his term. There is still no doubt, however, that the solar tariffs levied by the Administration injected unnecessary uncertainty in an otherwise stable industry, hurting solar workers and company balance sheets in the process.

The impending inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States couldn’t come at a more crucial time for the solar industry and for climate change advocates. Solar industry players aren’t looking to the Biden Administration for an industry-saving life preserver so much as they are just looking for the federal government to take their foot off the industry’s neck.

Photo Source: CNBC

The Biden-Harris Administration will assume office as the most pro-renewables presidential administration – by far – in U.S. history. Biden has called for investing $2 trillion over 4 years in clean energy in an effort to meaningfully reverse the harmful effects of climate change. By comparison, the Obama-Biden Administration set aside $90 billion for clean energy investments in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in 2009. The nearly 2,000 times increase in the former figure shows just how rapidly the politics of climate change have changed in just over a decade. Biden’s clean energy plan also calls for achieving 100% clean electricity nationwide by 2035. Such an ambitious goal would likely require installing and bringing online hundreds of millions of solar panels nationwide.

Much of what can be achieved on the renewables and climate change front in Biden’s initial term will hinge on the composition of the Congress. Another round of economic stimulus and an infrastructure bill are likely to be early term priorities in 2021 for the Biden Administration, both of which could be ripe for bi-partisan support and include significant investments in clean energy. Regardless, the solar industry will rejoice in having a friend, not foe, in the White House for the first time in 4 years and the industry’s job creation potential will likely take off starting in 2021.

With the extension of the ITC now enshrined in law, a new pro-solar Administration soon assuming office, and plans for historic clean energy investments by the federal government, this may be the time to bet big on the solar industry. We look forward to chronicling what is shaping up to be a prosperous 2021.

 

Cover Photo Source: Orange County Register

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Tesla Innovations Bring New Promise to Electric Vehicle Industry https://solartribune.com/tesla-innovations-bring-new-promise-to-electric-vehicle-industry/ Tue, 29 Sep 2020 18:56:58 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=68378 The electric vehicle industry is on the cusp of a watershed moment as companies like Tesla redouble their efforts to perfect battery technology and ramp up production capabilities of more affordable vehicles. Tesla Lays out Vision at ‘Battery Day’ Tesla held their much anticipated “Battery Day” on September 22, following the company’s quarterly shareholders’ meeting. […]

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The electric vehicle industry is on the cusp of a watershed moment as companies like Tesla redouble their efforts to perfect battery technology and ramp up production capabilities of more affordable vehicles.

Tesla Lays out Vision at ‘Battery Day’

Tesla held their much anticipated “Battery Day” on September 22, following the company’s quarterly shareholders’ meeting. At the event, Elon Musk laid out the company’s plans to usher in a new generation of electric vehicle batteries that will be more powerful, longer lasting, and lead to significant overall cost savings for future buyers of Tesla vehicles.

One of the biggest takeaways from Tesla’s Battery Day is that the company is totally overhauling the design of the lithium-ion battery. The newly designed cylindrical batteries will be 6 times more powerful than present-day batteries, store 5 times more energy, and increase driving range by 16%.

Photo Source: The Drive

The interior of the newly designed batteries resembles a fruit roll-up of sorts, as the traditional “tab” lithium-ion battery design is replaced in favor of a tightly packed jellyroll containing both the positive and negative electrodes of the battery. The rolled-up design cuts down on the distance that the electrons have to travel, helping to achieve improved efficiencies. The new tabless batteries are dubbed the “4680 battery,” a reference to its larger dimensions (46 mm diameter and 80 mm height) that allow for the aforementioned increase in energy storage and power gains.

Photo Source: Popular Mechanics

In addition to the battery re-design, Musk and his team are aggressively going after battery cost reductions by eliminating one of the most expensive components of the battery – cobalt – in favor of nickel cathodes. The cost reductions achieved by virtually eliminating the need for cobalt also come with ancillary benefits of improved sustainability. For example, while new nickel material will be required in initial production, Tesla will eventually focus on recycling nickel from existing batteries thereby reducing the need to mine for precious metals. Cobalt is also toxic, and the fewer toxic materials being mined and processed around the world the better for all of us.

Cheaper Batteries = Cheaper Cars

The ultimate end game to revamping lithium-ion battery technology and cutting battery costs is of course to pass on these cost savings to the consumer in the form of a much more affordable vehicle. Tesla’s battery redesign allows the company to optimize the basic structure of a vehicle’s frame, leading to a lighter vehicle that relies on far fewer moving parts.

Photo Source: Tech Crunch

The combined redesign of both the new battery and the new structural elements of the vehicle will slash Tesla’s production cost per kWh by 56%. This monumental achievement opens up the door to a whole new generation of low-cost electric vehicle that can be brought to the market, and that’s exactly what Elon Musk has in mind.

Photo Source: Forbes

Musk frequently highlights the connectedness between Tesla’s ‘trifecta’ of sustainability-focused business lines. Using mass produced cheaper batteries to drive down electric vehicle costs is the next frontier in global sustainability. As Musk stated at Battery Day:

“The three parts of a sustainable energy future are sustainable energy generation, storage, and electric vehicles…we intend to play a significant role in all three. So to accelerate the transition to sustainable energy, we must produce more EVs that need to be affordable and a lot more energy storage, while building factories faster and with far less investment.”

The new battery technologies that Tesla is pursuing will allow for the company to roll out a $25,000 fully autonomous electric vehicle to the market in just 3 years’ time. Musk later confirmed on Twitter that Tesla will be producing a brand-new line of vehicle at the $25,000 price point rather than offering the option for one of their existing vehicles.

Tesla’s plan would obviously turn the automobile industry on its head. Up to this point, Tesla has been firmly entrenched as a luxury car maker that produces a product outside the reach of your average American consumer. A more affordable vehicle would be good for Tesla’s bottom line as it opens the door to tens of millions of new prospective customers based on price alone, but more importantly, this is just the type of groundbreaking development that would meaningfully accelerate the global transition to sustainable energy.

The Bigger Picture

Tesla’s new battery technology and affordable car production goals underscore a growing inevitability that is apparent to even casual observers of the automobile industry – the days of the internal combustion engine are numbered.

Even before Tesla held its Battery Day and unveiled its 3-year benchmark for rolling out a more affordable vehicle, industry analysts were already throwing out a similar timeline for electric vehicles to surpass their gas guzzling peers when it comes to economic feasibility. As Aakash Arora of the Boston Consulting Group put it in early September:

“Three years from now, there will be no debate that buying a gasoline car is an economically worse decision than buying an electric car.”

Far from a pie-in-the-sky vision, this projection actually jives with other electric vehicle industry forecasts made years ago. An analysis by Morgan Stanley and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (NEF) in 2017 projected that “EVs will be cheaper to buy than internal combustion engine (ICE) cars in most countries by 2025-29.”

Lithium-ion battery prices have plummeted in recent years from about $1,100/kWh in 2010 to about $150/kWh in 2019 – a drop of over 85%. A price of $100/kWh has long been viewed as the “holy grail” for the industry and the potential inflection point at which electric vehicles would roughly be at price parity with gas-powered ones.

It is worth noting that the topline price comparisons between electric vehicles and gas-powered vehicles fails to account for the immense lifetime savings that electric vehicles afford to their owners. According to the AAA, a large gas-powered sedan will have an all-in operating cost (fuel, maintenance, repairs) of 22.26 cents per mile, which works out to about $3,400 annually for a car driven 15,000 miles. The economics of lifetime car ownership are a no-brainer when compared to a Tesla that requires no fuel and has a fraction of the internal moving parts that are the source of most car repairs.

The phasing out of the gasoline-powered personal vehicle represents arguably the most impactful – and achievable – change to human behavior that can meaningfully address the effects of climate change.

A study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University that was released just last month shows just how dramatic the economic, social, environmental, and health benefits would be in a world populated by more electric vehicles and less gas-powered ones. According to the report, if just 25% of combustion-engine vehicles in the U.S. were replaced by electric vehicles, then the U.S. would save almost $17B annually in reduced damages from climate change and air pollution. Using 2014 emissions data and the same year’s energy generation infrastructure, the researchers found that a 25% adoption rate of electric vehicles in the U.S. would have reduced carbon emissions by 250 million tons. There are over 1 billion passenger vehicles in operation around the world, yet less than 5 million of them are electric, so the room for growth is immense.

The battery innovations that Tesla is pursuing and the promise of a new $25,000 electric vehicle in the next 3 years are significant developments in what is still a nascent industry. While the U.S. government has dragged its feet in combating the effects of climate change in recent years, Tesla and other private companies have stepped into the void. Not only are Tesla’s innovations exciting to follow, but they may quite literally be the key to reversing the effects of climate change in the shortest amount of time. We should all be thankful for their unwavering commitment to sustainability.

 

Cover Photo Source: Mercury News

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Tesla Staying the Course https://solartribune.com/tesla-staying-the-course/ Fri, 31 Jul 2020 13:32:04 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=67969 Tesla is dealing with the same headwinds that have roiled the broader solar industry, and they are sure to take some lumps in 2020. However, the company’s enviable diversification and revamped approach to selling solar panels has them well-positioned to not just adapt, but thrive as we all adjust to the “new normal.” Panel Prices […]

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Tesla is dealing with the same headwinds that have roiled the broader solar industry, and they are sure to take some lumps in 2020. However, the company’s enviable diversification and revamped approach to selling solar panels has them well-positioned to not just adapt, but thrive as we all adjust to the “new normal.”

Panel Prices Slashed

Tesla got into the rooftop solar installation business in earnest back in 2016 through its acquisition of SolarCity, and today, Tesla ranks 3rd among national residential solar installers. However, the #1 ranked residential solar installer, Sunrun, recently announced plans to acquire the industry’s #2 ranked residential installer, Vivint. The move will effectively make the combined company and Tesla the top two residential solar installers in the country. The latest move in the solar arms race is likely to spur more competitive pricing for the average consumer as the two companies jockey for market share.

Even before the Sunrun-Vivint news broke, Tesla was making headway on reducing pricing for its solar panels. In a blog post from last month, Tesla announced their plans to cut the price of their solar panels so that they will be lower than the average industry price by about one-third. This comes on the heels of Tesla improving the efficiency of their solar panels by 10%, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Tesla’s reduced solar offerings are categorized by system size with the smallest 4.1 kW system running at just $7,400 after accounting for federal tax incentives.

Photo Source: Tesla

Tesla credits its solar panel price cut to a revamped ordering approach that shifts the process entirely to an online shopping format. This significantly reduces sales and marketing costs for the company and greatly eases the buying process for the consumer – a win-win for everyone. Tesla explains on their blog post:

“Our new pricing is made possible by several simple improvements to a decades-old industry. We made ordering and installing solar easy by moving to fixed sizes that customers can order with a single click online — no more need to spend hours in consultations reviewing old utility bills. More than 80% of our customers move forward with the standard size recommended by our website, and the move to a digital experience helped cut our sales and marketing costs by 64%.”

Photo Source: Tesla (screenshot of homepage)

Tesla also announced this month that their solar referral program will be getting more lucrative for the consumer. Improving the solar referral program seems to be something of a 2020 priority for Tesla. In January, the solar referral was improved to $250 for both the referrer and the new buyer, after previously being a $100 benefit. This month, Tesla announced that customers will receive $400 for each solar referral, and receive one Powerwall battery after successfully referring at least 10 new solar customers.

Solar Sales Slump Amid Pandemic

It is hard to know if Tesla’s recent push to revamp their solar pricing model and provide other inducements for customers is part of a long-planned strategy or an effort to get ahead of the pandemic-related downturn (I suspect the latter). Regardless, the company’s recent Q2 earnings report underscores just how tough 2020 is likely going to be for Tesla and other solar installers.

Tesla reported that rooftop solar installations declined by 7% year-over-year in Q2 2020. This is a somewhat significant drop in business given the fact that the Q2 2019 solar deployment figure of 29 MW was previously the company’s lowest quarter on record.

Image Source: Generated by Solar Tribune using Tesla Q2 earnings report data

The dip in solar deployment is obviously due to restrictions brought on by pandemic-induced shutdown orders from earlier this year. A noteworthy silver lining to the dip in residential solar deployment for Tesla is the fact that installations of Tesla’s niche Solar Roof product tripled from Q1 to Q2 in 2020. This growth is both a byproduct of increased consumer demand – thanks to a more optimized and affordable product – and the company’s increased production capacity. The New York Gigafactory where Solar Roof product is produced hit the pivotal 1,000 unit per week production mark back in March.

In many respects, Tesla is probably the best positioned company in the solar industry to adapt to an environment where traditional in-person solar sales are going by the wayside. While most other solar installers are scrambling to embrace an online-focused sales model, Tesla has been operating that way for some time now. It is possible that Tesla’s Q2 2020 showing – while its worst ever – will pale in comparison to what other major solar installers report for the quarter. Earnings for Sunrun and Vivint – to be revealed in coming weeks – will surely be watched closely.

Vehicle Sales Weather the Storm

On the vehicle front, the storyline was quite different. Tesla reported on their Q2 earnings report that they were able to see positive year-over-year growth in vehicle deliveries (Jan-May), all while the industry as a whole was down 30%. Tesla was the outlier in the industry, as the world’s other major automotive companies saw steep declines in vehicle production since the beginning of the year.

Photo Source: Tesla

Tesla’s ability to deliver over 90,000 vehicles in Q2 2020 is somewhat miraculous given that the company’s main facility in Fremont, CA was closed for nearly half of the quarter. The company is still committed to its pre-pandemic promise of delivering 500,000 electric vehicles to customers this year. To-date, they’ve delivered just under 180,000.

Company CEO, Elon Musk, is bullish on all things Tesla, so delivering 300,000 electric vehicles in just over 5 months is a tall order that he is happen to take on. In another sign of not letting current economic headwinds derail long-term goals, Musk and Tesla unveiled one of its most pivotal facility investments to-date when they recently announced plans to build a new Gigafactory near Austin, Texas. The new facility will span 4-5 million square feet and be tasked with producing the Cybertruck, as well as the Model 3 and Model Y for eastern U.S. deliveries.

The planned Austin facility joins a growing portfolio of auto parts facilities in the U.S., Europe, and China that are steadily enabling Tesla to achieve the economies of scale required for more efficient delivery of electric vehicles to all corners of the world.

Solar Storage Shows Promise

Musk’s dream for Tesla is and always has been to grow the company into a clean energy behemoth that is appropriately diversified across the electric vehicle, solar panel, and solar storage sectors. Even in the midst of an unprecedented global economic slowdown, the realization of that vision continues to show signs of progress. The positive momentum that Tesla is building with energy storage is perhaps the clearest indicator.

In their Q2 2020 earnings report, Tesla reported that total battery storage deployed in the quarter totaled 419 MWh, a 1% year-over-year increase and a significant 61.2% from the first quarter of the year.

Image Source: Generated by Solar Tribune using Tesla Q2 earnings report data

Of particular note is the fact that Tesla’s largest energy storage solution, Megapack, turned a quarterly profit for the first time after just being launched to market last year. The Megapack is capable of storing up to 3 MWh of electricity and is designed to be used by utility companies to supply the grid during periods of peak demand.

Photo Source: Tesla

Construction began just this month on a massive Tesla Megapack installation project in Monterey County, California for the state’s most prominent utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). The Moss Landing project consists of a total of 256 Megapack battery units that will collectively comprise a 182.5 MW/730 MWh energy storage system. PG&E and Tesla also have a contract in place for a subsequent 300 MW system to be built at a later date at the same location.

Once the Moss Landing Megapack project is completed, Tesla will lay claim to having the two largest lithium-ion storage projects in the world using their batteries, with the highly-acclaimed Hornsdale Power Reserve in Southern Australia finished earlier this year being the other.

Tesla’s naysayers like to discredit the company by referring to the company as “just” an automotive company. Musk has made it clear, however, that he is not content on building a global electric vehicle giant that just dabbles in solar panels and batteries. He is thoroughly committed to all three pillars that will stand up a more sustainable future for the world – electric vehicles, solar panels, and solar storage. On the Q2 earnings call, Musk reiterated this commitment stating that Tesla Energy will one day be just as big as the Tesla Auto division. When you consider that the Tesla Energy division currently has about one-tenth the of the revenues of its sister division, you begin to see the immense growth potential in company valuation and in global influence as Tesla helps to fuel a more rapid adoption of sustainable energy practices.

In sum, Tesla’s performance as a company through one of the most tumultuous economic periods in modern history is just another reminder that those who bet against Tesla do so at their own peril.

 

Cover Photo Source: Fortune.com

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Solar-Powered Cars: The Future of Personal Transportation? https://solartribune.com/solar-powered-cars-the-future-of-personal-transportation/ Fri, 29 Nov 2019 15:14:25 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=67083 The widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles into our daily lives seems like an inevitability that is just around the corner. A recent flurry of activity in the auto industry around solar-powered cars, however, has momentarily supplanted autonomous technology as the most talked about innovation in the industry, as the once fanciful idea starts to enter […]

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The widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles into our daily lives seems like an inevitability that is just around the corner. A recent flurry of activity in the auto industry around solar-powered cars, however, has momentarily supplanted autonomous technology as the most talked about innovation in the industry, as the once fanciful idea starts to enter the mainstream.

A Brief History of Solar Cars

Despite their futuristic reputation, solar-powered cars have been around in some form or fashion for several decades. William G. Cobb of General Motors is credited with creating the first solar car back in 1955. Cobb’s invention – dubbed the “Sunmobile” was not a passenger car by any conventional measure as it was just a tiny 15-inch model car made of balsa wood and equipped with 12 selenium PV cells and a small electric motor.

Source: Wikipedia

The first functional solar-powered car built to-scale is thought to have been built in 1980 by a team of researchers at Tel Aviv University. Although weighing in at over 1,320 pounds, the clunky vehicle was neither functional nor visually appealing.

Source: ResearchGate.net

In this century, solar cars have mainly been associated with record-breaking speed pursuits and higher educational purposes.

The Innovators Educational Foundation (IEF) is a non-profit that has organized collegiate level solar car racing in North America since 1980. The IEF hosts two premier events annually, the American Solar Challenge and the Formula Sun Grand Prix, where teams of college students compete against each other to see who has the fastest solar-powered vehicle. The solar vehicles resemble bobsleds more than passenger cars, but they are marvels of modern engineering having the ability of reaching speeds of over 50 mph while using less power than a hair dryer.

The World Solar Challenge is a similar competition held biennially in Australia that welcomes 50+ international teams of competitors representing dozens of countries. The Ashiya University Sky Ace TIGA is the current Guinness World record holder for fastest solar-powered vehicle, achieving a top speed of 56.75 mph in Japan in 2014.

Musk Goes from Skeptic to Believer

Elon Musk once again captivated the attention of the global auto market recently in a way that only he can. No, he wasn’t launching another Tesla-made vehicle into outer space again (it’s still up there, by the way). He instead unveiled the much-anticipated Tesla Cybertruck – an all-electric battery-powered vehicle that represents Tesla’s first foray into the pickup truck market. As expected, the new-age Cybertruck comes with a number of outside-the-box features, including; an ultra-durable 30X cold-rolled stainless-steel body, armored glass windows, on-board power inverter, fully autonomous capabilities, and much more.

One of the more surprising pronouncements about the Cybertruck’s specs and capabilities came the day after the unveil when Musk revealed the following on Twitter:

Musk’s embrace of solar panels on cars represents a 180 of sorts from his previous stance on the topic. He has long been skeptical about the efficacy of generating power from solar panels affixed to the roof of a car, citing surface area limitations and the amount of time that cars spend in garages and in shaded areas as primary reasons to not embrace the technology. Musk most prominently shot down the idea during the Q and A portion of his appearance at the 2017 National Governors Association summer meeting in Rhode Island:

In responding to a question from Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont, Musk stated, in part:

“Putting solar panels on the car itself…not that helpful…The least efficient place to put solar is on the car…It’s way better to put it on a roof.”

Musk also mentioned that just a year earlier he flirted with the idea of offering a solar roof as an option on the Model 3 in the form of a “retractable” deployable solar shield in order to provide the surface area necessary to generate meaningful amounts of solar energy. He asked Tesla engineers to look into it, but they ultimately came to the same conclusion – putting solar panels on vehicles wasn’t a worthwhile pursuit.

So, what changed to make Musk do an about-face on the topic? For one, solar cells continue to get more and more efficient, as we’ve noted before. Technological advancements with malleable, thin film multi-junction cells in particular have significantly advanced the reality of equipping vehicles with solar cells. Industry-leading thin film solar cells can achieve solar efficiency scores above 30%, thanks to companies like Alta Devices that have broken new ground in the quest for making thinner, lighter, more flexible solar cells that remain highly efficient.

Secondly, Musk’s embrace of solar panels on personal vehicles is likely also a response to the evolving competitive landscape. Some of the world’s biggest automobile companies are developing hybrid electric vehicles equipped with solar capabilities. A direct competitor of Tesla’s in the pickup truck sub-market – Ford – plans to release a hybrid electric version of its famed F-150 as early as next year. By equipping the Tesla Cybertruck with solar energy capturing capabilities at such an early stage, Musk is establishing a key differentiator with what is likely to be their biggest competitor before that competitor’s product has even hit the market.

Solar-Powered Cars and the Consumer Market

Rest assured that Tesla isn’t the only company planning to bring solar-powered vehicles to market. In just recent years, the consumer market for solar-powered vehicles has taken shape as iconic global brands and little-known startups alike race to perfect the technology that will bring solar-powered cars into the mainstream.

In Japan, Toyota is experimenting with a version of its Prius Prime, equipped with 860 watts worth of high efficiency thin film solar cells on the car’s hood, roof, and rear hatch. Toyota claims that the solar panels affixed to the car have an efficiency rating of 34%, providing the car with enough energy to travel 35 miles on a sunny day.

Source: GreenCarReports.com

While Toyota’s Prius Prime is still undergoing testing and not quite ready for the consumer market, Hyundai released a solar-powered version of their Sonata Hybrid in August of this year. Hyundai claims that 30-60% of the car’s battery can be charged solely by solar energy, and with about six hours of charge per day from solar energy, the car can increase travel distance by about 807 miles per year.

The solar-equipped version of Hyundai’s Sonata Hybrid is available in South Korea, and the company eventually plans to enter the North American market in early 2020.

Source: CNBC

Auto giants like Toyota and Hyundai aren’t the only ones diving into the solar-powered vehicle space; the start up community is also getting in on the action.

Co-CEOs Laurin Hahn and Jona Christians founded Sono Motors in 2016 with the sole purpose of bringing a solar-powered electric vehicle to the market. That dream has been realized in the form of the Sion, the company’s lone vehicle offering that is scheduled to be introduced into the European market next year.

Unlike the aforementioned vehicles, the Sion is virtually covered in solar panels. A total of 248 solar panels cover every plausible part of the car’s body, including doors and side panels. This unique design was created so that the car could capture solar energy regardless of the sun’s angle in the sky. The company claims that the Sion can add an estimated 3,600 miles per year in driving distance from solar energy. When driven short distances – like by urban commuters – the car is completely self-sufficient.

The general lack of garages in European households and the car’s small, compact build and ridesharing capabilities make it perfectly equipped for the European lifestyle. The company is solely focused on the European market at this time for the Sion (priced at approx. $27,500) and has no current plans to introduce the car elsewhere.

If the budget-friendly Sion is the equivalent of a basic Honda Civic, then its counterpart – Lightyear One – may as well be the renewable energy version of a Rolls Royce. With an expected retail price of about $170,000, the Lightyear One is by far the most luxurious solar-powered car to soon be made available to consumers. The prototype of the vehicle was unveiled earlier this year and production is planned for 2021.

Lightyear the company is the brainchild of former University of Eindhoven (The Netherlands) engineering students who competed in the World Solar Challenge race and won in 2013, 2015, and 2017.

The sleek Lightyear One is outfitted with 54 square feet of solar panels covering its roof and hood that are able to charge the car’s battery at a rate of nearly 7.5 miles of charge per hour. The Lightyear One is equipped with batteries that will hold enough energy for up to 450 miles of driving, an impressive feat that eclipses the electric vehicle market-leading 370 miles range afforded by the Tesla Model S.

There are few industries in the world that are innovating as rapidly as the automobile and renewable energy industries. While there is reason to be skeptical about the unproven technology, solar-powered cars have the potential to make progress in combating climate change in ways that could have only been imagined decades ago. It will be interesting to see if solar-powered cars take off now that several models of solar-powered vehicles are soon to be made available on the consumer market. Regardless, the ongoing popularization of electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles, and solar-assisted vehicles in lieu of the gas guzzling automobiles of yesteryear is a development worth celebrating.

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LO3 Energy and eMotorWerks Combine EVs with Renewable Microgrids https://solartribune.com/lo3-energy-and-emotorwerks-combine-evs-with-renewable-microgrids/ Mon, 21 Jan 2019 02:51:39 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=14455 LO3 Energy and eMotorWerks are joining forces on a new project that would allow electric vehicles (EVs) to connect to energy microgrids and utilities to use EVs as a collective energy resource during times of peak energy demand. This partnership comes at a time when utilities are increasingly wondering how they can use EVs as […]

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LO3 Energy and eMotorWerks are joining forces on a new project that would allow electric vehicles (EVs) to connect to energy microgrids and utilities to use EVs as a collective energy resource during times of peak energy demand. This partnership comes at a time when utilities are increasingly wondering how they can use EVs as a new resource to meet energy needs.

Both LO3 Energy and eMotorWerks are already working with utilities and consumers in their respective fields. LO3 Energy is a Brooklyn-based startup that uses smart meters and blockchains to create energy microgrids in which homeowners and businesses can buy and sell locally-produced clean energy directly from neighbors.

LO3 uses smart meters to measure the energy production and blockchains, an online decentralized ledger originally designed for Bitcoin that uses private computers to verify transactions, to facilitate the transactions. Finally, all actual electricity is transmitted through the existing utility infrastructure.

LO3 Energy says their transaction platform, which it calls Exergy, can be used for peer-to-peer transactions, purchasing unused EV storage, and as a tool for system operators to help match electricity use and demand.

eMotorWerks is an EV charging infrastructure company that manufactures both charging equipment for EV owners as well as Juicenet, a virtual platform that allows EV owners to remotely monitor and schedule their charging at lowest-price times (at night, for example) and utilities to manage EV charging demand, if the EV owner is enrolled in a utility program.

By combining forces, the program allows EV owners to trade stored energy with a local microgrid. The companies see the project as one piece of a larger portfolio for utilities that allows customers to choose when and what type of energy they want to consume. By tapping into EV energy storage during peak demand or shifting EV charging to non-peak times, it also allows utilities to leverage participating EVs as resources to better meet energy needs.

As Lawrence Orsini, CEO of LO3 Energy, put it:

“EV charging adds another option to efficiently match local energy supply and demand, and such project’s results could open the door to more transactions among other microgrid participants and EV drivers.”

EVs Are Already an Energy Resource

As mentioned, utilities are already trying to figure out how to most intelligently incorporate EV charging into their list of resources.

While EVs now are a small drop in the large automotive bucket, experts expect that to change quickly. In their 2018 Electric Vehicle Outlook, Bloomberg estimates that as prices continue to drop, EVs will jump from just 1.1 million in 2017 to 30 million in 2030, and 60 million by 2040 – equivalent to 55% of all new car sales and 33% of all existing vehicles.

Photo source: Graph from Solar Tribune, Data from Bloomberg

With utilities providing the fuel for all these vehicles, they’re planning for this future now. Across the U.S., utilities are testing different incentive programs and rate structures that offer EV drivers lower rates for charging at off-peak times. These rates ensure that EVs are as cost-effective as possible for customers, but also folded into utilities’ energy mix intelligently.

In August 2018, for example, two large Michigan utilities, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, proposed a joint $20.5 million investment in EV infrastructure and a pilot program that offers incentives for EV owners who charge at night during off-peak hours, between 11PM and 6AM. It’s not just a one-way street though. Utilities are also seeing EVs as a demand response resource, wherein they can remotely or automatically turn off or delay charging during times of peak demand. Consumers Energy predicts a give-and-take relationship between EVs and utilities. As spokesperson Katelyn Carey noted:

“In addition to a lower daily rate, electric and autonomous vehicles can be equipped to choose to be interrupted during charging and save even more on the days when energy use is expected to be extremely high thereby allowing customers to receive a bill credit.”

eMotorWerks is already in the market of EVs as a demand response resource. In September 2018, it actually collected a group of 10,000 connected EVs, representing 30 megawatts of capacity, and is now participating in California’s day-ahead energy markets. In other words, eMotorWerks has created a ‘virtual’ power plant, but instead of selling electricity to utilities, eMotorWerks is actually paid when they shed demand, by remotely delaying charging for a certain number of participating EVs.

It’s all part of California’s proxy demand resource market, wherein companies are compensated for decreasing electricity demand. EV drivers are compensated based on their own flexibility and can opt out of any demand response event if they choose.

In September, Xcel Energy also chose eMotorWerks for their own EV demand response program. eMotorWerks will provide their JuiceBox Pro 40 chargers to 100 participating EV drivers as part of a two-year pilot program in Minnesota.

Xcel will own the chargers and monitor and control them with eMotorWerk’s Juicenet platform. The chargers will automatically respond to grid conditions, shedding demand during peak times.

LO3 Energy Already Working on Solar Microgrid in Brooklyn

While eMotorWerks is working with utilities to incorporate EVs as grid resources, LO3 Energy is working on peer-to-peer microgrids, wherein a homeowner can buy local, renewable energy from a neighbor next door.

LO3’s pilot project, Brooklyn Microgrid, began in 2017 and revolves around their Exergy platform and an online marketplace to allow residential consumers, businesses, energy companies, and community solar to both produce and consume locally-sourced, clean energy. LO3 Energy plans to launch a ‘simulated’ program in early 2019, before launching the real-world version.

While we use the term microgrid, in reality LO3 Energy’s marketplace is a ‘virtual’ microgrid. All electricity is still transmitted via the local utility’s existing grid and participants must still pay the utility for upkeep of the grid.

While both companies have created and are using vastly different platforms, with one focused on EV chargers and the other on microgrids transactions, they’re actually working towards similar goals. Both see a near-future in which electricity generation and storage is distributed across households and businesses, and an energy industry where we can intelligently use EVs and renewable energy to meet our energy needs.

Image Source: CC license via Flickr

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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Is Transportation the Next Frontier for Solar? https://solartribune.com/planes-trains-automobiles-transportation-next-frontier-solar/ Mon, 16 Oct 2017 05:06:04 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11852 Solar Impulse, DEMU, and the World Solar Challenge are all cutting-edge examples of how solar is finding it’s place in the future of transportation. With the advent of cheaper large-scale lithium-ion battery technology, integrated solar technology is beginning to be a more feasible addition to nearly every form of human transportation. From the sublime around […]

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Solar Impulse, DEMU, and the World Solar Challenge are all cutting-edge examples of how solar is finding it’s place in the future of transportation.

With the advent of cheaper large-scale lithium-ion battery technology, integrated solar technology is beginning to be a more feasible addition to nearly every form of human transportation. From the sublime around the world flight in a solar-powered plane by two Swiss adventurers to the mundane practicality of India’s solar-augmented passenger trains, solar transportation isn’t just for space stations anymore.

World Solar Challenge

At the time of this writing, solar cars are crossing the finish line in Australia at the World Solar Challenge. The solar-powered car race first took place in 1987 and has served as a showcase of the latest cutting-edge uses of solar in the automotive setting. The race is a 3,000-kilometer endurance adventure that occurs once every two years.

What began as a race of esoteric-looking single-seater rolling solar arrays now features a “Cruiser Class” of two and four-seater cars that are beginning to look like practical alternatives to petrol-powered vehicles. Event Director Chris Selwood said the Cruiser Class first aimed to deliver a practical demonstration of how the future of automotive technology might look.

“That future is now. These incredible solar cars have been designed with the commercial market in mind and have all the features you’d expect in a family, luxury or sporting car. ‘It’s about so much more than speed. As this part of the judging, based on criteria such as passenger kilometers and energy efficiency draws to a close, we now turn our attention to the most relevant issue of all – do these cars have what it takes to appeal to the consumer?”

In 1987, The General Motors Sunraycer finished the race in just over 45 hours, averaging a speed of 41.5 miles per hour. This year, Team Nuon from the Netherlands won its third straight race, finishing in 38 hours at 56 miles per hour average speed. In the new Cruiser Class, the winner in 2015 was Team Eindhoven’s Stella Lux from the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands with an average speed of 47.68 mph. As of this post, Team Eindhoven is once again dominating the Cruiser Class in 2017. Selwood said;

“Team Eindhoven are to be congratulated on their achievement to date – clearly the most energy efficient solar car in the field, capable of generating more power than they consume. This is the future of solar electric vehicles. When your car is parked at home it can be charging and supplying energy back to the grid.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for truly solar-powered cars to arrive at the local dealership, though. Dr. Tom Lombardo at engineering.com points out that:

While Toyota engineers are offering a solar option that extends the Prius’ range by about four miles, European engineering students built an EV whose solar panels can add up to 220 miles to the car’s range, proving that although a solar powered car isn’t feasible, a practical, solar assisted EV is, even with current technology.

To Dr. Lombardo’s credit, he does agree that a solar-charged EV could be considered a “solar-powered car,” but he is correct that a commercially produced car with an integrated, self-contained solar power plant and onboard storage like the Stella Lux is still a long way from hitting the dealerships.

Solar Trains: Solar-Assisted DEMU

Diesel Electric Multiple Units (DEMU) are passenger railroad cars that feature a self-contained propulsion system, eliminating the need for a locomotive. DEMUs are different from other self-propelled diesel railcars as the diesel engines power electric drive units rather than directly propelling the carriage. Now, the Indian Railways Organization of Alternative Fuel (IROAF) program is fitting twenty-four coaches with solar panels to alleviate the reliance on the diesel generators and reduce air pollution in India’s congested urban areas.

In keeping with the Indian Railways (IR) ‘Solar Mission’ to reduce dependency on fossil fuels, IR launched its first 1600 HP solar-powered DEMU (Diesel Electric Multiple Unit) train from Safdarjung railway station in July 2017. The train has six trailer coaches, with 16 solar panels fitted in each of them. The solar panels will power all the electrical appliances inside. Presenting the Railway Budget for 2016-17, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu announced plans to generate 1000 MW solar power in the next five years. According to the India Express, IR is hoping to reduce 239 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions by saving approximately 90,800 liters of diesel per train. Indian Railways estimates that just one train with six solar-panel equipped cars will save around $20,000 per year.

Retrofitting Historic Trains with Solar

Meanwhile, in the Australian beachside town of Byron Bay in New South Wales, two vintage 1949 passenger train carriages have been retrofitted with solar and battery storage to create what the Byron Bay Railroad Company claims is the world’s first 100% solar passenger train. The refurbished two-carriage 600 series train will soon be ferrying passengers along about two miles of restored track between the Byron Bay town center and the North Beach neighborhood – home to Byron Arts Estate, Sunrise Beach and Elements of Byron resort.

The train has a capacity of 100 seated passengers plus standing room, and it will operate an hourly shuttle service between stations for $3AUD for a one-way trip.

The project – restoring the train, repairing the track and bridge, and constructing two platforms – has been entirely funded by Byron Bay Railroad Company, a not-for-profit organization founded by mining millionaires Brian and Peggy Flannery, who also own the five-star Elements resort. The projects development director Jeremy Holmes explained;

“Internally the trains have been restored to as close to their original condition as possible. Some people will be attracted to the heritage nature of the train and service; others will be fascinated by the world’s first solar-powered train.”

Solar Air Travel: Beyond Impulse

Flight may be the most problematic form of transportation to power with solar. However, on July 26th, 2016, the world’s first entirely solar-powered aircraft touched down in Abu Dhabi, completing an epic 505-day odyssey around the globe. Piloted by two Swiss adventurers, Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse 2 proved that solar photovoltaic generation of electricity could not only power our homes but also power our dreams.

Solar Impulse 2 was not the first around the world flight to rely on solar power, however. The Breitling Orbiter 3 was the first hot-air balloon to circumnavigate the globe, piloted by Brian Jones and… none other than Bertrand Piccard. Piccard’s first successful trip around the globe in 1999 used solar panels suspended below the gondola to power critical systems.

Chances are, a totally solar-powered airliner is probably never going to happen, according to Aatish Bhatia of Princeton Univerity. In a Wired article entitled “Solar Planes are Cool, but They’re Not the Future of Flight” he wrote;

“Sadly, we still have a long way to go in building a viable, greener alternative to conventional flight… I’ve argued that it isn’t even possible – commercial airplanes are about as energy efficient as they’re ever going to get. The Solar Impulse is certainly an impressive technical feat, and it gets us to think more clearly about what really matters when it comes to building a better airplane.”

Professor Bhatia may be correct, but his back-of-the-envelope calculations using current technologies has not stopped the development of prototype electric planes by NASA, France’s Airbus and others. According to NASA’s Tom Neuman;

“While the range of electric aircraft has been growing, limited flight time remains their main weakness. The reason is that batteries are heavy relative to the propulsive energy they provide—by a factor of 10 or more compared with that of gasoline-powered internal combustion. For ground vehicles, designers can compensate somewhat for this shortcoming by adding more or bigger batteries. But aircraft are extremely sensitive to extra weight: Just about every component of a plane’s structure must grow in size for each added kilogram. The requirement for beefier components, in turn, leads to a heavier aircraft, one that requires still more energy and therefore larger batteries to fly. This vicious circle means that for electric-plane design, adding batteries to boost range isn’t a viable strategy.”

For Now, Solar Assisted Transportation

For now, fully solar-powered transportation is still in the future. However, integrating solar generation into current transportation, from cargo ships to city buses is a completely viable option and can reduce fuel consumption in nearly any system that is currently relying on robbing power from the main engine to generate electricity. Air conditioning, lighting, and any other electrical needs could be handled by lithium batteries and solar, or at the very least augmented. In the words of Solar Impulse’s Bertrand Piccard;

“If an aircraft can fly day and night without fuel, propelled only by solar energy, let no one claim that it is impossible to do the same thing for motor vehicles, heating and air-conditioning systems, and computers. This project voices our conviction that a pioneering spirit with political vision can together change society and bring about an end to fossil fuel dependency.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Solar in Space: Powering the International Space Station https://solartribune.com/solar-space-powering-international-space-station/ Mon, 07 Aug 2017 05:20:29 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11636 Since the earliest days of the space program, solar panels have been powering satellites, spacecraft and space stations. Today, the International Space Station relies on one of the most advanced solar arrays ever built to support life and to power research that will take humans to new heights. The International Space Station, or ISS, is […]

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Since the earliest days of the space program, solar panels have been powering satellites, spacecraft and space stations. Today, the International Space Station relies on one of the most advanced solar arrays ever built to support life and to power research that will take humans to new heights.

The International Space Station, or ISS, is the largest human-made orbital satellite in history, with components manufactured and maintained by U.S., Russian, Japanese and European space agencies. It is a modular structure with pressurized and unpressurized sections designed for habitat and life support, research and engineering. The first module was launched into orbit in 1998, and new modules continue to be added to the space station. In the nearly 20 years of continuous use, the ISS has relied on state-of-the-art solar equipment for 100% of its energy needs. No application could demand more reliability than survival in outer space, and solar photovoltaics (PV) is the energy generation technology provides that level of reliability.

A Brief History of Solar in Space

In an August 2015 article here at Solar Tribune entitled Solar in Space: Powering Earth and Beyond, I discussed some of the historical examples of solar usage in the early days of space exploration, as well as possible future applications.

Vanguard 1, launching into orbit in 1958, was the first satellite to use solar panels to power its instruments. The tiny, 3.25 lbs research satellite is not much larger than a grapefruit, but it provided ground-breaking geographical for six years before going dark. Both solar and spacecraft technology have come a long way since Vanguard 1, but solar continues to be the go-to source for reliable, renewable power in space.

The Russian Soyuz spacecraft have always used solar panels, since their introduction in the early 1960s. The Chinese Shenzhou transport vehicles also use solar panels. Readers may be surprised to discover that no NASA transport vehicles have ever utilized solar during their flights. Not Mercury, Apollo, or even the Space Shuttle. The Dragon capsules launched by Space-X (Elon Musk’s privately-owned rocket company) are the first American transport vehicles with integrated solar.

Skylab. Photo:History.com

America has used solar in space on many occasions, despite the exclusion from use on transport vehicles. For many older Americans, the first American space station, Skylab, may have been their first exposure to solar photovoltaic (PV). Launched in 1973, Skylab sported 10 kWs of solar generation, along with hydrogen fuel cells. Many of the space probes launched by NASA to explore other parts of our solar system were also powered by solar panels. The Hubble space telescope, the Mars Observer, and the Rosetta probe all used solar. Juno, which flew to Jupiter, utilized 280 sq. ft. of solar panels. This is the farthest away from the sun that solar panels have been used- beyond Jupiter, current PV technology is no longer effective.

The ISS Solar Array: System Profile

Interestingly, all of the sections of the International Space Station do not share a common electrical generating system. The Russian and American segments of the station actually have separate, and quite different electrical equipment. The Russian portion of the station, comprised of the Pirs (Pier) docking module, the Poisk and Rassvet research modules, the Zarya cargo module and the Zvesda service module are all powered by 28V DC, similar to the power systems used in launch, transport and service vehicles like Soyuz, the Space Shuttle and Dragon X. Each of the sections has its own series of solar arrays; four large pairs on the US side and four small sets on the Russian side. The two “neighborhoods” of the station are not isolated from one another, though. They share power through a series of power converters.

Photo: NASA

The Electrical Power System (EPS) consists of several hardware components called Orbital Replacement Units (ORU). The ORUs are designed to be replaced robotically or by spacewalking astronauts working outside the station.

According to NASA’s website, the eight ISS arrays contain a total of 262,400 solar cells and cover an area of about 27,000 square feet — more than half the area of a football field. Each of the US solar array’s have a wingspan of 240 feet, and the space station’s electrical power system is connected by eight miles of wire.

The Panels

photo:NASA

The long series of linked modules that make up the central fuselage of the ISS is the American part of the station. The shorter Russian section tees off from the center of the American portion with another series of modules.The giant double rows of solar panels that make up the largest portion of the ISS generation system are mounted perpendicular to the American portion, while each of the Russian modules is equipped with their own smaller, independent solar arrays. This illustrates the difference in system design philosophies- the Russian modules are designed to run independently, while the American section runs off of a series of large, centralized solar power plants.

The panels used on the station are quite different from the standard PV panels used here on Earth. They are bifacial- that is, they are two-sided, allowing the arrays to collect sunlight from a wide variety of angles as the station orbits the planet every 90 minutes.

Traveling at 17,500 miles per hour as it orbits 220 miles above the globe in the Earth’s thermosphere,  the station experiences 35 minutes of darkness each rotation. Not only that, the station itself shades portions of the array as it moves in and out of the sun. For this reason, 60% of the station’s generating capacity is dedicated to charging batteries at any given time. The four sets of arrays generate anywhere from 84 to 120 kilowatts of electricity — enough to provide power to more than 40 homes.

Even in space, heat is an issue for solar panels. The ISS system uses a series of baffles called “radiators” that run along the base of the arrays and dissipate the heat away from the station and out into space.

 

Photo:NASA

The Racks

Each array is mounted on an accordion-folded racking system designed to be transported into orbit compressed and then unfolded to its full length when deployed. These fold-out racks of panels are referred to as “blankets.” The station began its life with just one set of blankets, and now has four sets, the latest having been installed in 2009.

Because of the constant and rapid changing position of the station in its elliptical orbit, the racks include gimbals that continually rotate the panels to face the sun. Similar to a dual-axis tracker used here on Earth to track the sun at both time of day and time of year, The ISS system uses an “alpha” gimbal to track the position of the sun while the “beta” gimbal adjusts to compensate for the elliptical orbit.

Photo:community.topcoder.com

One fascinating aspect of the ISS rack design is the way it compensates for the drag that the giant solar “wings” cause in the thin, residual atmosphere in the thermosphere. Left unchecked, the drag would cause the station’s orbit to decay. To counteract the effect, when the station goes into darkness, the arrays go into “night glider” mode. The panels rotate into a low angle to reduce drag by 30%. When the station re-enters sunlight, they return to their tracking position.

 

The Batteries

The heart of the ISS electrical system is its bank of rechargeable nickel-hydrogen batteries. These batteries are vital to life-support and ongoing work at the station during the sixteen half-hour long “nights” that the station experiences during every 24-hour terrestrial day.

Photo: NASA

The batteries have a life expectancy of 6.5 years and are changed intermittently as part of the systems maintenance schedule. Starting in 2017, the older nickel-hydrogen batteries will be replaced with smaller, more efficient lithium-ion batteries. These batteries are expected to last much longer than the older, larger batteries, and most likely will be the last set of batteries the station will need.

 

Boeing: The Contractor Behind the ISS

Since the beginning, Boeing has been the primary contractor for the construction and maintenance of the International Space Station, including the solar equipment. The ISS batteries and the battery charge/discharge units (BCDUs), are manufactured by Space Systems/Loral (SS/L), under contract to Boeing. Spectrolab, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Boeing, is the world’s leading producer of state-of-the-art space solar cells and panels. Founded in 1956, Spectrolab has developed high-efficiency solar cells for space missions, including the Apollo 11 mission to the moon and the Juno probe.

On 30 September 2015, Boeing’s contract with NASA as prime contractor for the ISS was extended to 30 September 2020. Part of Boeing’s services under the contract will relate to extending the station’s primary structural hardware past 2020 to the end of 2028.

 

International Space Station Links:

NASA official site: About the Space Station Solar Arrays

Solarpedia: ISS Batteries

Boeing: ISS Page

ISS Flyover Alerts: Sign up

Google Street View: Aboard the ISS 

 

 

 

 

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SolarStratos: The Next Step in Solar Flight https://solartribune.com/solarstratos-next-step-solar-flight/ Mon, 12 Dec 2016 06:34:05 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10362 Solar Impulse 2 took us on an around the world solar flight. Now, SolarStratos is taking humans to the edge of the space with the power of the sun. There is a flurry of activity in the field of solar-powered aeronautics since the success of Solar Impulse 2. “In nine years and eight months, you’ll […]

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Solar Impulse 2 took us on an around the world solar flight. Now, SolarStratos is taking humans to the edge of the space with the power of the sun.

There is a flurry of activity in the field of solar-powered aeronautics since the success of Solar Impulse 2. “In nine years and eight months, you’ll have 50 people traveling short-haul on electric planes,” co-founder Bertrand Piccard recently told members of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) airlines association. “Why nine years and eight months? Because since four months I’ve been saying it will be ten years. It will happen.” Hot on the heels of Piccard and his co-pilot André Borschberg is Raphael Domjan and the SolarStratos team.

“Our goal is to demonstrate that current technology offers us the possibility to achieve above and beyond what fossil fuels offer. Electric and solar vehicles are amongst the major challenges of the 21st century. Our aircraft can fly at an altitude of 25,000 metres and this opens the door to the possibility of electric and solar commercial aviation, close to space,” said Raphael Domjan, is the the initiator and pilot of the SolarStratos project, unveiled last week.

The ambitious project is looking to  make clean solar and electric aviation possible for the equivalent environmental footprint of an electric car. In the past, reaching the stratosphere has required massive rockets or large helium balloons.

SolarStratos Specs:

SolarStratos is an 8.5-meter-long space plane has a wingspan of 24.8 meters, weighs 450 kilos and is covered with 22 square  meters of solar panels of solar panels, according to the project’s website. If all goes as planned, Solarstratos will be the first manned solar-powered aeroplane to penetrate the stratosphere. Unlike the Solar Impulse 2 aircraft, this SolarStratos is a tandem two-seater, but similarly to Solar Impulse it will have an unpressurized cabin to keep the weight down. This means Domjan and his co-pilot will have to wear pressurized space suits when they embarks on mission. The spacesuits are also powered by solar energy, which will mark another major innovation and world first. The flight will entail a two hour ascent into space, 15 minutes beyond the stratosphere, and a three hour descent. SolarStratos is scheduled to begin test flights next February, while medium altitude flights are planned for next summer, and the first stratospheric flights should take place in 2018.

“We are extremely pleased with the positive feedback and encouragement that we have received,” said Roland Loos, CEO of SolarXplorers S.A., the organisation in charge of the development of the SolarStratos project. “Our project… opens the door to new scientific knowledge – at an affordable price, exploration and the peaceful use of our stratosphere.”

Raphael Domjan

SolarStratos has assembled an impressive team, including:

Raphael Domjan: The 43 year old pilot is not a novice in the solar transportation game. Domjan was the creator of MS Tûranor PlanetSolar, the first solar-powered boat to circumnavigate the globe in 2012. PlanetSolar is the world’s largest solar boat.

Roland Loos: Loos, in addition to his role as CEO of SolarXplorers S.A., comes from the telecommunications field, and his company, ITC provided the satellite communications for the Solar Impulse 2.

Calin Gologan: Gologan is the creator and designer of the aircraft which will be used for the SolarStratos Mission. An aeronautical engineer with over 35 years of experience, Gologan is the founder and CEO of PC-Aéro GmbH, a company that works on the scope, conception aircraft, certifications and creation of prototypes. Gologan has collaborated with Solar Impulse and calculated static loads for gliders (wings, fuselage, tail, landing gear).

Michael Lopez-Alegria: A four-time space shuttle pilot and former commander of the International Space Station, Lopez-Alegria Alegria is also a member of the Administration Council of the Association of Space Explorers and a member of the Experimental Test Pilot’s Society and of the Aero-Naval Association.

Sponsors of the project include Ciel électricité, a major French electrical equipment company and Zvezda, a Russian manufacturer of pilot life support systems along with the Swiss Cantons of Vaud and Neuchâtel, famous for long traditions of watchmaking and microtechnology. Other sponsors include several Swiss research companies and solar suppliers.

SolarXplorers S.A. tells Inverse it expects to launch its first flights for commercial passengers in two to three years, but at a pretty steep price; each mission will cost $10 million.

Typically, commercial planes tend to fly in the lower region of the stratosphere, staying at altitudes between 6 and 12 miles. The SolarStratos plane reaches an altitude of 15 miles above Earth. As a comparison, the International Space Station is 220 miles above Earth.

 

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Musk, Tesla and SolarCity: A Bridge Too Far? https://solartribune.com/musk-tesla-solarcity-bridge-far/ Thu, 23 Jun 2016 22:03:16 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10124 Elon Musk has people freaking out…again. This summer, he is rolling out “bold visions” quicker than a political speech writer.Fans love to hear his very believable plans for colonizing the planet Mars, but meanwhile here on earth, investors are apparently less excited to follow Musk’s relentless technological push forward into the future. Is Musk finally […]

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Elon Musk has people freaking out…again. This summer, he is rolling out “bold visions” quicker than a political speech writer.Fans love to hear his very believable plans for colonizing the planet Mars, but meanwhile here on earth, investors are apparently less excited to follow Musk’s relentless technological push forward into the future. Is Musk finally facing his Waterloo, or will he continue to beat the odds?

It comes as no surprise to some that Musk wants to close the solar/electric vehicle loop by cutting a deal in which his Tesla Motors would be buying one of his other companies, SolarCity, for between $2.59 billion and $2.78 billion worth of its stock. But Musk is the man that some investors love to hate, and Tesla stock dropped by almost 13% following the announcement. CNBC announced that “Tesla shares crater as Wall Street reacts to bid for SolarCity.” RBC Capital Markets analyst Joseph Spak told CNBC that while Tesla sees a number of synergies from the transaction, it will not be well received by shareholders. “We suspect the market will be more skeptical of the strategic rational (sic) and the financial/cash flow strain this could add to the TSLA story. By owning the asset, we believe TSLA may be trying the investing partner approach they have taken with shareholders and asking them to stick with them for something they potentially didn’t sign-up for,” Spak said.

Meanwhile, electrek.co points out that “Tesla’s SolarCity offer is primarily getting hate from people who don’t own the stock – and not only from people who don’t own the stock, but from people who are shorting the stock. People who benefit from the share price falling and people who will not vote on the planned merger.

Famed short seller Jim Chanos went on CNBC to call the deal a “brazen Tesla bailout of SolarCity”. Chanos has been shorting both stocks and he will not get to vote on deal. While he is entitled to his opinion and can try to influence shareholders, it will not have much impact at the end.”
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RBC’s Spak may in one sense be right… investing in Tesla or one of Musk’s other ventures requires an act of faith greater than that required by investments in more conventional auto manufacturers or utility companies. Musk is asking investors to partner in a vision of future tech that makes Steve Jobs look like a slouch. That can be impossible pill for some to swallow, particularly those in the financial sector who don’t care to see a nerd beating them at their own game. But for others, it’s all about disrupting the status quo, and so far, Musk is disruptor in chief.

From the Tesla announcement: “It’s now time to complete the picture. Tesla customers can drive clean cars and they can use our battery packs to help consume energy more efficiently, but they still need access to the most sustainable energy source that’s available: the sun… We would be the world’s only vertically integrated energy company offering end-to-end clean energy products to our customers. This would start with the car that you drive and the energy that you use to charge it, and would extend to how everything else in your home or business is powered. With your Model S, Model X, or Model 3, your solar panel system, and your Powerwall all in place, you would be able to deploy and consume energy in the most efficient and sustainable way possible, lowering your costs and minimizing your dependence on fossil fuels and the grid.”

That is a vision so sexy, so intoxicating and so RIGHT that for some, gripes from Wall Street stuffed-shirts like Jim Chanos fall on deaf ears. This is about THE FUTURE, not about squeezing out a few bucks by the cynicism of short-selling. Some of Tesla’s biggest investors are ignoring players like Chanos. “It’s a natural evolution of their (Tesla’s) mission to transform transportation into a sustainable business,”Joe Dennison told Reuters. Dennison is a portfolio manager of Zevenbergen Capital Investments, which has about 600,000 Tesla shares, or about 0.4 percent of shares outstanding. It is still early in the process, he said, but “We expect it to go through and believe that most investors who actually own the stock understand management’s long-term vision for the company.”

The bottom line on the merger is, that it is a referendum on Musk himself. If investors say no, and a lot of investors are saying no, there will be no merger. That could be just the thing Musk needs to reign in his blue-sky approach and focus on delivering product. Or, it could be the first card to fall in the collapse of a house of cards.

Regardless of the outcome, expect Musk to do the unexpected. Fans and critics alike are holding their breath, awaiting his next move.

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Electric Vehicles Provide Expanding Solar Market https://solartribune.com/electric-vehicles-provide-expanding-solar-market/ Thu, 24 Sep 2015 13:35:02 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=9401 Tesla isn’t alone in the electric car business anymore. Every major auto manufacturer as well as tech giants Google and Apple are all getting into the game. That’s good news for solar. While the auto industry is being rocked by news of a gigantic scandal surrounding Volkswagen’s “clean” diesel technology, the electric vehicle (EV) market […]

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Tesla isn’t alone in the electric car business anymore. Every major auto manufacturer as well as tech giants Google and Apple are all getting into the game. That’s good news for solar.

While the auto industry is being rocked by news of a gigantic scandal surrounding Volkswagen’s “clean” diesel technology, the electric vehicle (EV) market is looking more and more like the only way forward for environmentally friendly passenger vehicles. At nearly the same time that the VW story was breaking, another major player is making serious moves toward the development of an electric car.  The Wall Street Journal is reporting that “Apple Inc. is accelerating efforts to build an electric car, designating it internally as a “committed project” and setting a target ship date for 2019, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Nissan E-NV200

Nissan E-NV200


As of this writing, BMW, Chevrolet, Fiat, Ford, Kia, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Smart, Tesla and VW all have pure electric vehicles in production. Apple and Google are still in the R&D phase. What will all of these new EVs mean for the solar industry in the decades to come?

Obviously, from an environmental perspective, electric car charging has to use a renewable source of electric generation in order to make sense. Simply trading consumption of petroleum for electricity from a conventional, coal-fired power plant is swapping one dirty fuel for another. From the standpoint of national energy independence, using domestic fuel sources may be preferable, but when we team electric cars with on-site solar generation, the multiple layers of economic and environmental benefits start to kick in. The price per mile for an electric vehicle is already about one half the price for a gas vehicle. As solar begins to reach grid parity with coal, solar-charged electric vehicles will become the least expensive passenger vehicles to operate, in terms of fuel consumption.

Homes and businesses that already utilize solar can use their existing systems to charge vehicles by simply adding an EV charging station, available for as little as $500 at Home Depot, your local electrical supply house or from EV specialty houses like EV Solutions. Meanwhile, stand-alone solar powered electric charging stations are popping up across the country.  Three free solar electric chargers were rolled out in San Francisco earlier this year as part of the “Charge Across Town” demonstration project. In addition, PlugShare and Sungevity teamed up to offer a free Level 2 residential charging station to all rooftop solar panel customers who drive an EV. Eligible customers will receive a 7.2-kW GE WattStation charging station—and free installation—when they opt to add rooftop solar to their homes. The deal yields an average savings up to $2,100. Details about the program are available at the PlugShare website. From the Nashville Airport to a Vermont B&B, solar EV charging stations are making the news.

According to their website, Envision Solar’s patented EV ARC™ (Electric Vehicle Autonomous Renewable Charger) is the world’s only transportable, solar powered EV charging station. A major selling point for the EV ARC™ is that it requires no permits, no civil engineering or planning, no foundations, trenching or electrical connections, making it a turn-key product.  Each station will deliver up to 150 e miles every day, while charging up to three electric cars at a time. In addition, the Envision system can be used as backup power storage in the event of a blackout.  This type of pre-packaged stand alone system may prove to be a huge new sector for the solar industry.

The concept art for the EVX Immortus

The concept art for the EVX Immortus


Is there a chance that we will see on-board solar charging for vehicles in the future? Right now, onboard solar is limited to highly experimental vehicles. Shell Global holds an Eco-Marathon solar car competition in which student teams compete, but in the realm of passenger vehicles, there are very few companies looking at on-board solar. One exception is an Australian company, EVX, which plans to have a road-legal prototype of its IMMORTUS self-powered sportster by the end of 2016.

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