Ford has unveiled a new hybrid car that can run on solar power alone. The C-MAX Solar Energi Concept, which made its first public appearance at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, features a bespoke solar panel on its roof. Ford claim the car offers the benefits of a plug-in hybrid without depending solely on the electric grid for fuel.
Other companies have designed solar powered cars in the past. However, these have tended to harness the sun’s rays for low-energy requirements such as air conditioning; the small surface area available on a car’s roof doesn’t allow for solar panels that can quickly charge a vehicle’s entire battery.
To solve this problem, Ford’s concept includes a stand-alone concentrator. It works like a giant magnifying glass, focussing the sun’s rays onto the solar panels and enabling them to harness eight times more energy. A day under the concentrator provides the same charge as four hours of mains connectivity. When parked, the car can even move backwards and forwards automatically to ensure the solar panels are well-positioned under the concentrating lens.
The C-Max Solar Energi has a maximum range of 620 miles – the same as the grid-charged C-MAX Energi model that the solar concept is based on – including up to 21 electric-only miles, which Ford claims should “power up to 75% of all trips made by an average driver in a solar hybrid vehicle.” Also, like its predecessor, the vehicle will sport a standard charging port, allowing drivers to top up the car’s batteries directly from the electric grid.
The annual reduction in greenhouse gas release through use of the solar-charging feature should equal around four metric tons, according to Ford, which is equivalent to the emissions produced by an average US household over four months. What is still unclear, however, is how practical the stand-alone charge unit will be, especially as it requires a parking footprint larger than the vehicle alone. Hopefully these questions will be addressed when Ford begins real-world testing of the prototype.
Thomas Bräunl, an electromobility expert from the University of Western Australia, also has reservations about the concept and remains sceptical about its potential, given the limited information available to date. “According to Ford, the car can only do 21 miles electrically in the first place…so this makes the car more of a mild hybrid than a real plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.” However, he adds, Ford’s claim to have developed an eight-fold improvement in solar panel efficiency would – if true – “revolutionise electric vehicles and the whole solar photovoltaic industry”. – Ian Randall
Photo credit: Ford C-MAX