Automakers gearing up on solar EV charging

volt-under-solar-canopyTwo years ago, when we started SolarChargedDriving.Com, not a single major carmaker had a solar-powered EV charging station at a headquarters or at one of its manufacturing plants and solar electric car charging canopies were something decision makers at large auto makers most likely had never heard of before.

Now, we’re almost getting to the point where we have to ask: Who doesn’t have one of these things? And, if they still don’t, how long will it be before they get one, and, more broadly, before they get it, as in the fact that plugging into the solar + electric car equation is a complete no-brainer?

Six major automakers that we know of – Audi, Ford, GM, Honda, Mitsubishi and Nissan – have built solar-powered EV charging stations, or are in the process of building, one, or more, at a corporate office or at a manufacturing plant.

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That’s pretty damn cool, and it’s a sure sign that solar-charged driving is really starting to rev up.

This, along with the recent announcement by the Washington Redskins that they’re installing a series of solar canopies at FedExField which will house 8,000 solar panels and 10 EV charging stations. It’s difficult for us to think of a better way, or place, to sell solar-charged driving to the U.S. public than, quite literally, putting it in the faces of tens of thousands of football fans in front of a giant NFL stadium.

But more on that in a future entry. For now, a quick overview of what the five automakers we know of who have officially plugged into solar-charged driving have done so far.

At some point in the future, at its main plant in Ingolstadt, Germany, Audi e-tron models will have their batteries charged with electrical energy obtained directly from photovoltaic equipment on the plant site.

In March (2011), Ford launched a solar energy system to help generate electricity at its Michigan Assembly Plant. The automaker installed 10 electric vehicle-charging stations on site, which will be utilized by the electric switcher trucks that transport vehicle parts around the manufacturing site. Additionally, a portion of the renewable energy from the solar energy system will be used to help power the production of fuel-efficient car. Among them: An all-new battery-electric version of the Ford Focus, the C-MAX Hybrid, and the C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid.

GM installed an 18 kW, 12-station solar EV charging station at the Detroit Hamtramck assembly plant where it builds the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt late last year (2010), showing the world that yes, indeed, the Volt can be partially powered by the sun!

Honda is researching the effectiveness of solar power generation and other renewable energy sources along with the capability for advanced communications and telematics to improve the convenience and usability of electric vehicles for consumers.

Mitsubishi recently opened a solar-powered EV charging station at the MMNA headquarters in Cypress, Calif. This charging facility, which Mitsubishi says is the first of its kind in Cypress, is powered by 96, 175W photovoltaic modules from Mitsubishi Electric. This charging station will help support CHAdeMO compatible electric vehicles such as the Mitsubishi i, which will arrive in U.S. showrooms in November of this year.

Finally, last, but certainly not least, Nissan North America, Inc. is installing 30 solar-assisted charging stations at the Smyrna Vehicle Assembly Plant and the Nissan Americas headquarters in Franklin, Tenn. Additionally, Nissan recently announced that it has partnered with 4R Energy Corporation to develop a charging system for electric vehicles that combines a solar power generation system with high-capacity lithium-ion batteries. Testing of this new charging system began in mid-July at Nissan’s Global Headquarters in Yokohama.

nissan-solar-evWith the new charging system, electricity is generated through solar cells installed at Nissan’s Global Headquarters, and is stored in lithium-ion batteries which are equivalent to four units of Nissan LEAFs.

With seven charging stations (three quick charge, four normal charge) located in the headquarter grounds, the total electricity that can be generated and stored is the equivalent to fully charging approximately 1,800 Nissan LEAFs annually. By using the same lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles as stationary storage batteries, electricity can also be supplied to EVs regardless of the time of day or weather, enabling efficient use of renewable energy sources.

“These solar-assisted charging stations demonstrate our dedication to a zero-emissions society,” said Carlos Tavares, chairman, Nissan Americas.

Yes, indeed, Carlos.

We can only wonder – and hope – that Big Oil is taking note!

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