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Solar electric cars are the future – and “that future is now”

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Arrow STF on day one of the Solar Challenge. Image: Bridgestone World Solar Challenge

The 2017 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge came to a close last Friday, but the race to build the world’s first commercial, road-registered, consumer friendly solar passenger vehicles is only just gearing up. And Australia is looking very competitive.

One company to watch is Brisbane-based outfit Clenergy TeamArrow. The team claimed third place in this year’s Cruiser Class contest with the Arrow STF – in fact, it was one of just three teams to complete that part of the Challenge, which is less a race and more a practical demonstration of solar cars that people might actually buy and drive one day.

But with the race out of the way for another year, TeamArrow has returned its focus to the big game: to make Australia’s first road registered solar electric vehicle that is highly desirable to the general population.

The team says it is currently at the stage of evaluating the level of interest in its prototype ‘commercial’ solar car that it plans to have completed and road registered by the end of this year and ready for commercial sale by the end of 2018.

The solar PV integrated two-seater sports coupe has a top speed of 150km per hour and can travel 1000km – at speeds between 50km/h and 70km/h – before needing to recharge. On the open road, it has a 300km range.

“These things are real cars that can do real highway speeds, and this is just the beginning,” said team president Rob Mair. “We don’t know where things will go, so we’re keen to simply make one and see where the technology goes.”

Of course, the commercial iteration of the Arrow STF will be quite different to the model that raced from Darwin to Adelaide over the past week. According to TeamArrow founder Cameron Tuesley, changes to an on-road model will include the switch to regular road tyres, a different motor, a boot, air conditioning, and radios.

“The version (used in the race) features a pared-back, race-configured cockpit suitable for long-range events like the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge,” said Tuesley. “For individual buyers we will build customised versions which have all the features you would expect in a luxury sports car, including air conditioning and infotainment.

“We’ll do that over the next six months or so and then the plan is basically to make the vehicle available for sale towards the end of next year which is something we’re really excited about.

“Every time we show someone our car the inevitable question is ‘can I have one?’ and now you’ll actually be able to.”

Indeed, ever since the Cruiser Class was first introduced into the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in 2013, the competition to design a car people would, and could, buy – rather than some space-aged vision from the far-flung future – has been getting closer to a reality.

“That future is now,” said Cruiser Class event director Chris Selwood.

“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,” he added.

“When your car is parked at home it can be charging and supplying energy back  to the grid.”

In keeping with the results of this year’s Challenge – the 30th anniversary of the event – the Dutch appear to have the jump on the pack, announcing plans to bring the world’s very first solar-powered family car to the market in July.

The Lightyear One – launched in the US this year – is a commercial model of the Dutch designed “family saloon” car that won the Cruiser Class contest in its first year, in 2013.

solar car

Capex to Opex: despite a high upfront cost of €119,000, the Lightyear One is theoretically free to run. Source: PV Magazine.

The car is made by team Eindhoven, the same Dutch university team that won all three categories of this year’s contest – efficiency, practicality and overall winner – with its Stella Vie solar car.

The Stella Vie, which in the race carried 3.4 people using only 46kWh of energy, was noted by judges for features including an app which recommends sunny parking spaces, an upholstered spacious interior, and the ability to install a rear-facing child’s car seat in the rear.

The PV integrated car the Eindohoven team is bringing to market has an 800km driving range, and the ability to travel 10,000km a year on Dutch sunshine – a distance that could double to more than 20,000km in sunnier countries, like Australia.

Like regular electric vehicles, it has a standard charging point, but the team behind it claim it can be operated completely without plug-in charging.

Naturally, however, all this does not come cheap: interested buyers are looking at a €119,000 price tag. But as at July this year, the Lightyear One team had five orders for their solar car, and are hoping to have booked as many as 200 orders by early 2018.

Back in Australia, another team that competed in this year’s Cruiser Class, the UNSW Sunswift team, also has its eye on delivering a commercially viable road registered vehicle.

And its sixth generation solar car, Sunswift Violet, has come a major step closer to meeting that challenge.

“Violet looks like a family sedan, but uses as much power as a four-slice toaster,” says Sunswift team founder Simba Kuestla.

“She’s got entertainment and air conditioning systems, including navigation, reverse camera parking sensors, and there’s even Wi-Fi aboard. And she’s got plenty of front and rear boot space.”

The car has a top speed of 130km/h and a range of 800km running on its 284x SunPower monochrystalline cells alone. It also has modular lithium-ion batteries which store the solar power and which can power the car on their own for a range of 400km.

Elsewhere in the world, Chinese thin film developer Hanergy launched plans for its solar powered car in July, although these plans should be viewed in the light of that company’s recent fall from grace.

And in Germany, Sono Motors is hoping to crowdfund the commercialisation of its six-seater Sion family car; that targets a range of 250km at a price tag of less than €16,000 (AU$18,000).  

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  • tonyk

    The only problem with EV’s is that the lifecycle CO2 emissions are a lot worse.

    see

    Cradle-to-gate greenhouse gas emissions of internal combustion engine and battery electric vehicles are compared. Greenhouse gas emissions of battery electric vehicles are 50% higher than internal combustion engine vehicles.

    from
    Applied Energy 204 (2017) 1399–1411
    Cradle-to-gate greenhouse gas emissions of battery electric and internal combustion engine vehicles in China

    Qinyu Qiao, Fuquan Zhao, Zongwei Liu, Shuhua Jiang, Han Hao ⇑

    • John Saint-Smith

      Since you don’t actually offer a link to this paper, perhaps you’d be good enough to confirm that the EV in this comparison was being re-charged from a coal-fired grid?

      • tonyk

        Link is on original post but here it is again below.
        Paper is about China but since this the world’s largest car
        market by a long way one can argue it matters more than what we do in OZ.

        Applied Energy 204 (2017) 1399–1411

        Cradle-to-gate greenhouse gas emissions of battery electric and internal combustion engine vehicles in China q

        Qinyu Qiao, Fuquan Zhao, Zongwei Liu, Shuhua Jiang, Han Hao ⇑ State Key Laboratory of Automotive Safety and Energy, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

      • trackdaze

        I wouldnt bother he is talking about cradle to gate emissions. Excludes fuel use after purchase.

    • Ian

      I wonder also how far emissions will fall in mining and minerals emissions for EVs…?
      I suspect quite a lot. See that Sun Metals are about to do minerals processing with solar which will reduce FF. This is just the start as remote area energy is now much cheaper with solar than diesel.

    • Brendan Lee

      This has been debunked time and time again. Please take your FUD and nick off.

      • tonyk

        Not sure it has.
        But I have an open mind.
        Please point me to the references that debunk the fact the BEVs have high greenhouse emissions during manufacturing, use more rare metals and when on operated on a coal biased grid like OZ or China don’t emit more Co2 on a per mile basis.

        • Michael Murray

          Of what relevance is the coal based grid ? The plan is to get rid of the coal based grid.

          • tonyk

            I get that the plan is to get rid of the coal based grid.

            The problem is the EV’s make it worse before everyone has a solar charged EV made from fully recycled material. Its hard to put out a fire by throwing petrol on it.
            China has 900,000 MW of coal fired power stations. Using them to recharge a BEV that uses 0.2 kwhrs / km whem the average emissions of the Chinese grid 900 g / kWh ,means you emit 180g/km
            This about as good as a Commodore on petrol.
            A Prius around 100g/km.

          • Richard

            You are talking absolute bull dust. Even if the power is 100% coal a battery EV is aprox 50% less greenhouse gas emissions across life of vehicle.
            And that is before considering a greening grid worldwide and clean air benefits on the street.

          • tonyk

            Not me who is saying this.
            Chinese researchers from the pre-eminent Chinese university
            specialist research group on transportation have added up all the current energy expenditures for EV’s made in China now. And they emit 50% more CO2 to make an EV than a conventional vehicle.

          • Richard

            To make an EV or over the life of the vehicle? Do some more research

          • tonyk

            The Chinese article I quoted is about manufacturing CO2 emissions.

            Lets agree that is more than a conventional vehicle even if not the 50% the Chinese calculate for them in China now.

            So if we take an EV at 5kwhr / 100 and the Chinese grid at

            834g / khwr (this number used in LCA calc in paper)

            then the EV causes approx 160 g/ km of emissions.

            So it all depends what your is EV to a Conventional vehicle.

            If you compare 5 door hatchbacks

            A Prius does 100g/ km

            A Ford Focus Electric is also 5kwhr/100km so also 160g/km

            A Ford Focus petrol is 110 g/km

            You don’t have to be too precise about this. EV’s emit more CO2 when made and more when driven on Chinese (and OZ) grid power.

            Sure EV’s they have less emissions when charged on solar panels and even less if made from recycled materials but that not what is happening in China now.

          • Richard

            Total BS

        • Brendan Lee
          • tonyk

            There is no doubt that an BEV using solar charging has very low emissions.
            Only the Chinese grid,where most of the world’s solar cars are recharged ,has average emissions about equal to Oz’s i.e. lousy.
            About 900g/kwhrs and a BEV in China that uses 0.2 kwhr / km will be about as bad in Co2 terms as a Commodore on petrol.

            Similarly the embodied energy to make the car and the vehicle is hugely dependent on where the material come from and how much is recycled.
            All this discussed at length in the Chinese paper I cited originally. They can be good, they can be bad. Depends entirely where the material come from.
            Most of the cobalt used in the Li-ion batteries in Chinese EVs mined by hand in the Congo.
            https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/business/batteries/congo-cobalt-mining-for-lithium-ion-battery/

          • Brendan Lee

            I’ll take cobalt from the Congo over crude oil from Saudi Arabia any day

          • tonyk

            You don’t need either if you use LiFePO 4 (lithium iron phosphate).
            Just get a little less range and many less battery fires. And if you make the EV’s smaller, (think Toyota Yaris rather than Telsa S) and keep them for 25 years they are better than conventional vehicles on embedded emissions. Not to mention smog.
            And if you decarbonise the Chinese grid the g/km will be less too.
            So all the Chinese authorities have to do is reverse the current trend in China to buy big SUV’s (just what you need on the streets of Shenzen) and install 400,000 MW of solar panels & windmills.

    • Ken Dyer

      Are you kidding or just being a troll? Try comparing cradle to grave instead!

      By 2030 95% of all vehicles will be EV’s and most will be autonomous or A-EV’s. What is more, A-EVs will reduce the national car fleets by 80% and the demand for oil by 30% by 2020.
      An ICE(internal combustion engine) car is 17-21% efficient
      An EV is 90-95% efficient and last up to 5 times longer
      Right now, 33 global companies are investing in the development of autonomous vehicles.
      Back to the cradle to grave question. By 2018, you will be asking the question, if I buy an ICE car I can expect to spend $10000 over 5 years to run it. If I buy an electric vehicle i can expect to pay $1000 over 5 years. What would you choose?

      • tonyk

        2018 is next year.
        Without subsidies BEVs etc will be $10 to 15,000 more expensive. Currently running at 1-2% global market share
        2030 is 12 years away. Ie the same number of years in the future since
        John Howard was PM.
        Do you honestly reckon in 12 years all but 5% of the world car fleet will be EV’s?
        Call me a skeptic but after 30 years of mobile phones they still haven’t replaced 96% of landlines.

        • Ken Dyer

          2017 Tesla US$35000 215 mile range
          Lidar (the AI technology for autonomous vehicles) The price dropped from $70K in 2012 to $1K in 2014, now $250.
          Cost of computing power today for 20 teraflops $100
          Uber is trialling driverless cars in the USA, except a bloody stupid humans failed to observe the road rules.

          You are about to experience a technology disruption. Think about Kodak, and perhaps even think that the iPhone is only ten years old, but now most would be lost without theirs.

          But don’t take my word for it. Here is a link to the most respected IT startegic planning group in the World, Gartner Group:

          https://www.move-forward.com/what-gartner-teaches-us-about-the-autonomous-vehicle/

        • trackdaze

          No one uses their landlines. Same will go with the fossil fuelled car fleet.

    • Peter

      I have downloaded the paper. One remark in the conclusions is: “For example, a Li-ion battery produced in the U.S. only creates one third of the GHG emissions of it produced in China.” Other remarks relate to making the manufacturing process more efficient, which would apply to both petrol and EV. The paper is about manufacturing and not about day to day running and charging.

    • Chris Ford

      Cradle to gate has very little to do with lifecycle. Coal fired power generation has quite low cradle to gate emissions per MW – virtually all of the (high) lifecycle emissions come in the usage phase, from burning the fuel. Wind turbines have much higher cradle to gate emissions, but near zero during the usage phase, and CO2e from manufacturing is recouped within a couple of months of use compared to coal-fired. Similarly with EVs vs ICVs, especially when the EV can recharge using renewably generated power. It’s a pointless comparison.

      • tonyk

        I am not disputing that an EV running on solar recharge has low CO2 emissions, Much better again if the EV made from fully recycled materials.
        Only they aren’t. And wont be anytime soon.

        What the Chinese paper says is that EVs made from the materials available today in China causes the manufacturing CO2 emissions to be 50% more than a conventional car made with present day materials.

        And a simple calculation shows a Chinese EV, recharged from the Chinese grid today, emits about as much CO2 as a Commodore on petrol.
        So I conclude from this that converting the world’s largest car fleet to EV recharged from the world’s largest coal fired grid isn’t going to help
        global CO2 emissions in the short or medium term.

        • Chris Ford

          Then why quote a cradle to gate article that has little to do with your actual argument, which is “lifecycle emissions are a lot worse”? Show your “simple calculation” backed up by some sources. My simple calculation says an EV can go roughly 5km/kWh so 100 km is about 20 kWh, 15 kg CO2e, while a Commodore uses about 10l/100km, which emits about 23.5 kg CO2e – so Commodore has more than 50% worse usage emissions than a grid-powered EV. Usage is considerably more than cradle to gate emissions. Estimates are from US EPA – https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator.

          Chinese power grid is mostly newer than the US’s so emissions shouldn’t be worse per MWh, but couldn’t find any quick references to back that up. Also, more new renewable capacity is going in than new coal, and coal utilisation is dropping regardless of installed capacity. Using today’s grid emissions to argue that EVs won’t help in the medium term isn’t realistic. 0.75t/MWh CO2e for power generation is certainly pessimistic with the economic track that renewables are on.

          • tonyk

            The Chinese article I quoted is about manufacturing CO2 emissions.
            from wiki …..Cradle-to-gate is an assessment of a partial product life cycle from resource extraction (cradle) to the factory gate (i.e., before it is transported to the consumer). The use phase and disposal phase of the product are omitted in this case……
            Lets agree that is more than a conventional vehicle even if not the 50% the Chinese calculate for them in China now.
            So if we take an EV at 5kwhr / 100 and the Chinese grid at
            834g / khwr (this number used in LCA calc in paper)
            then the EV causes approx 160 g/ km of emissions.

            So it all depends what your is EV to a Conventional vehicle.
            If you compare 5 door hatchbacks
            A Prius does 100g/ km
            A Ford Focus Electric is also 5kwhr/100km so also 160g/km
            A Ford Focus petrol is 110 g/km

            You don’t have to be too precise about this. EV’s emit more CO2 when made and more when driven on Chinese (and OZ) grid power.

            Sure EV’s they have less emissions when charged on solar panels and even less if made from recycled materials but that not what is happening in China now.

          • Chris Ford

            I can accept more emissions in EV manufacture but more when driven on grid power is rubbish.

            Firstly, the paper doesn’t mention a reference for the 835 g/kWh number – I suspect it’s at least a couple of years old. Chinese peak coal use was in 2014 so I’d expect their grid to already have improved.

            But more importantly, you start comparing to a Commodore on petrol and then magically switch to smaller more efficient cars when it doesn’t suit your argument. If you want to compare more efficient cars, look at the Renault Zoe which is more like 10km/kWhr, so down around 80g/km from your few years old coal fired grid, or 60g/km from the US grid which is still pretty bad. These numbers will come down considerably before the end of life of the EV as grids get cleaner, which is already happening regardless of political troglodytes.

            Also, 110g/km from a petrol Focus in the real world? Yeah, nah.

          • tonyk

            these guys put the Chinese grid average at 920 g/ kwhr
            see
            http://www.world-aluminium.org/media/filer_public/2017/06/29/lca_model_of_chinese_grid_power_and_application_to_aluminium_industry.pdf

            these guys have the Commodore at 150g/km highway and
            193g/km Combined

            https://www.greenvehicleguide.gov.au/Vehicle/QuickCompareVehicles

            Are the car makers lying re milage? Of course they are.
            But at least they are consistent as they also lie about the mileage of EV’s.
            A Tesla & a Nissan Leaf wont get you as far as they claim, it gets less again as the batteries age, and certainly nowhere near as far with the aircon or heater on.

            But that is not the key point.

            The grid has to get vastly better for any meaningful reduction in CO2 from EV vehicles.

          • Mike Westerman

            There is a strong incentive on EV makers and drivers to use RE rather than grid as part of the justification for having them (lower emissions, lower cost). Also EVs are at a very immature part of the manufacturing cycle, whereas ICE have had a 100y to improve: even the paper sees that. Just for starters, EVs will definitely require recycling of their batteries just to manage the waste, aluminium in China uses FF for production whereas in other parts of the world uses hydro (Canada for eg), copper production is FF except for some hydro in Chile. Contrast that with Tesla using solar for their Gigafactories and it’s not hard to see that 50% dropping to parity quickly. Then the 2x ICE:EV use phase emissions make an enormous difference.

          • Chris Ford

            Yeah they all lie (or the AS test is unrealistic) fuel lifecycle CO2 (g/km) is consistently lower for similar sized EVs, even without factoring in renewable %.
            eg Tesla S 164 v Commodore 240 – leaving aside that Tesla S performance is closer to HSV GTS (440)

            Chinese grid is obviously dirtier than ours though I wonder about their fuel too.

            Agree on your last sentence, though what constitutes “meaningful” for me is drastic reduction, not incremental gains. In my opinion incremental gains can be had right now with an EV compared to a similar sized ICV, and over the lifecycle comparison it’ll be way ahead as the grid improves – better than nothing. The main point is that an ICV, while being slightly ahead on manufacturing emissions, is locked in to its emissions for its useful life, whereas an EV can take advantage of a cleaner grid or a bigger rooftop solar system.

          • tonyk

            On automakers……and the case for ev’s irrespective of current CO2
            http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/how_toxic_is_your_car_exhaust

          • Chris Bayliss

            Hi Tony – just to say that that 920g average is the average of aluminium producing regions, which are around 90% coal-fired on a production weighted basis (http://www.world-aluminium.org/statistics/primary-aluminium-smelting-power-consumption/); Chinese grid as a whole is 70% coal so will be lower. Following might also be of interest: http://www.world-aluminium.org/media/filer_public/2017/05/02/ifeu_lightweighting_2016.pdf

          • tonyk

            Thanks Chris
            For me this article the real & compelling argument for EV’s
            Is a cracker. Tony
            http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/how_toxic_is_your_car_exhaust

          • Mike Westerman

            Great article Tony, thanks

  • Michael Murray

    So are these “solar-assisted” cars really ? I’ve seen people do the calculation of the amount of energy falling on a car from sunlight and even with 100% efficiency the argument is made that it is too low to power the car. Let alone the air-con and entertainment system. Is that calculation wrong for some reason ?

  • Ian

    A small car like a Ford Focus has a curb weight of about 1.2 to 1.4 tonnes. Most of these would carry a 70 kg slob from home to work and back again for a distance of 30km 5 days a week. The design brief should be reduce the weight of the vehicle whilst maintaining safety. Batteries can be placed very low to the ground, electric motors can be very light , modern non-Newtonian plastics such as D30 can provide impact resistance. All the elements of modern design and materials, safety gear could create a plastic electric vehicle with very low weight , very low centre of gravity and equivalent safety to the big chunks of glass, aluminium and steel that are ICE cars. Imagine a 300kg vehicle would have 1/4 the rolling resistance, inertia etc of a big 1.4 tonne vehicle. Keeping such a commuter vehicle’s top speed down to 100km/h and average speed of 60Km/h would keep wind resistance low. The use of aerodynamics such as aero foils could increase the vehicle’s stability at higher speeds, ie sucking it to the ground. Perhaps fitting a very low weight plastic vehicle (with all the safety gear) with solar panels may be viable.

    That’s the challenge then, very low weight plastic Electric vehicle with equivalent safety and aesthetic to current ICE vehicles.

  • trackdaze

    Solar would be best for displacing a certain amount of battery roughly equal to the daily charge enabled from the sun.

    Inversely probably best applied to a non plugin hybrid were it would allow for an uprated battery commensurate with its average daily charge. Typical mild hybrid battery is 1.5kwhr if it were to allow for a doubling of battery size then it would make mild hybrids competitive and finally better than the best of conventional drivetrain.