Over the last few years, people have asked me several times why electric car manufacturers aren’t putting solar panels on their cars to charge the battery. It sounds like a logical thing to do, isn’t it? I always argued there might be two good reasons for car builders to shy away from this idea. First of all the surface area for solar cells on a car is limited and their orientation not ideal, hence a low energy production could be expected. Secondly, solar panels are not cheap. Pardon me, they were not cheap. Nowadays they are. And hence… things have changed lately.
Elon Musk has been in the spotlight a number of times on my blog now, and once again he succeeded in creating a good portion of buzz in the cleantech world which I cannot let go unnoticed. Yesterday the Silicon Valley entrepreneur announced that Tesla is now taking online orders worldwide for their latest disruptive technology: the solar roof. Seen by Elon as the third leg of the stool of a sustainable energy future, next to Tesla’s Powerwall and electric car, first installations in the US follow later this year, while worldwide rollout begins in 2018.
Solar roof can be ordered for almost any country. Deployment this year in the US and overseas next year.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 10, 2017
The electric vehicle market is still struggling to kick-off. It’s a bit the chicken-and-egg problem. Consumers are held back because of the lack of charging points, companies are not eager to invest in the infrastructure when there is no guarentee it will be used extensively. So that’s the moment governments should help out and that’s exactly what is happening in the UK.
As part of a master plan to get more eletric vehicles (EV’s) on the road, the UK government is investing in a charging network on all major roadways with chargers every 20 miles (32 kilometers). Later this year, a pilot project in wireless charging of electric vehicles will conclude a feasibility study of the technology commissioned by Highways England. If the results are economically viable, the technology will be build out further.
How does this wireless charging work? It’s basically the same technology as used to charge your electric toothbrush or wireless phone charging. Thanks to magnetic induction, an electric current can be induced to charge the vehicle’s batteries when it drives over elektromagnetic plates build into the road. The vehicle can charge its batteries while driving, no need for charging stops anymore. The installation of the elektromagnetic infrastructure is easier than the electrification of a road via overhead cables such as for trams.
The application of induction charging for EV’s is not new. In Gomi in South-Korea for example, two wireless-charged buses ply the train station and Dong-In line. Similar projects exist in Utrecht (the Netherlands) and Torino (Italy). But if the UK decides to build out the technology over its roadway network, we’re talking about a much bigger scale. Exciting times for electric vehicles — and their drivers– ahead!
Header photo by Mark Turnauckas