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.
Tagged: solar power
Tesla’s solar roof: too good to be true?
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 rise of renewables in 4 graphs
Last week, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) released its 2017 statistics on renewable energy technologies. Should we be excited about a 60-page long document filled with numbers?! Ooooh yes, even if you are not a nerd. IRENA meticulously listed all renewable energy generation plants in the world, categorized them according to technology, and kept track of their total installed capacity over the last decade. The statistics show clearer than ever that renewable electricity generation is growing worldwide. Have a look at the graphs I made for you below.
Morocco unleashes the force of the sun
In case you didn’t notice it yet: solar power is booming. Last week saw another milestone, with Morocco opening its Ouarzazate [wa-za-zat] concentrated solar power utility. Being the largest utility of its kind in the world, the town Ouarzazate — known from movies and TV shows like Lawrence of Arabia and Game of Thrones— kicks off what could become a revolution in solar power. It’s the first step of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI’s dream to turn his country in a renewable energy hub.
In contrast with photovoltaic solar power technology, concentrated solar power (CSP) is less known. This is how it works. Big parabolic mirrors focus the sun’s rays onto tubes filled with a fluid that heats up and transports the heat towards a central hub where it creates steam to drive a turbine. That way the solar energy is used to generate electricity.
What is so particularly interesting about this technology is that it can be combined with temporary energy storage. During the day, part of the hot fluid is used to heat up molten salt stored in large tanks. Those stay warm hours after sunset to keep the turbine running during the evening. The technology is very promising for countries with a lot of sun hours — in fact so promising that the International Energy Agency estimates that by 2050 11% of world’s electricity will come from CSP.
The first phase that opened last Thursday provides 160 MegaWatts of what will become a total 580MW by 2018 when the construction will be finished. The 35 soccer fields big plant powers 650 thousand people and avoids 240 thousand tons of CO2 emissions every year, the equivalent of 80 000 cars.
It is the proof that Morocco takes its climate pledge in Paris in December last year very seriously. By 2020 it aims to get 42% of its electricity generation from renewables, by 2030 it wants to have its CO2 emissions 32% below the business-as-usual scenario. And of course they want to make a good impression, being the host of this year’s climate summit.
The project has its price tag of course. Nearly 4 billion US dollar has been invested, half of which comes from German investment bank KfW, the European Investment Bank and the World Bank. Climate Investment Funds (CIF) calculated that for every 1 GigaWatt additional solar power installed, electricity production costs could fall by 3%. “Morocco is showing real leadership and bringing the cost of the technology down in the process.” told a manager of CIF to the Guardian. Keep up the good work Morocco!
Photo of the week: Back to the Future with Elon Musk
Busy times for Tesla Motors’ CEO Elon Musk. Last week he presented Model X, the companies latest feat of engineering. With a range of 250 miles (around 400 kilometers), speeding up to 100 km/h in less than 4 seconds and falcon wing doors that give the car a Back to the Future allure, Musk fulfilled the boldest expectations of enthusiasts around the world. Being the safest SUV ever built — thanks to i.a. the batteries in the floor that lower the centre of mass and improve the balance — it even offers a bioweapon defense mode. Yes, you read that correct: a bioweapon defense mode. Just in case of a nuclear attack, you know.
There are many advantages of driving electric, but one that will probably attract dads and moms is the Model X’s large storage space and the easy access to the back seats. The electric motor takes up much less space than a classical combustion engine, making room for a trunk in the front of the car. And thanks to the falcon wings, it’s much easier to reach the back seats and install a child’s seat and reach the third row.
Yet, if Elon Musk really wants to target families with this SUV, he might be faced with disappointment. Price indicators predict a hole of 75 000$ (68 000 euro) in the family’s budget for the cheapest version of the car. Are families willing and able to put that amount of money on the table? Elon Musk founded Tesla Motors to make electric vehicles available for the large public. Nor the Model X, nor the Model S — a full-electric sedan starting from 71 000$ launched in 2012 — fulfill this promise.
But Elon Musk is fighting on many frontiers at the same time. His company SolarCity, which offers all-in-one solar energy solutions for residents and businesses, announced earlier this week that they developed the world’s most efficient rooftop panels in production. A third-party certification testing provider noted down an efficiency of 22.04%. The previous record holder was producer SunPower with an efficiency of 21.5%. SolarCities’ panels would also perform better in high temperatures than competitors. Overall, the company promises a price reduction of 20 eurocents per watt, making solar energy even more competitive than it already is.
Watch the Model X launch
Model X specifications
SolarCity press release
Photo of the week: first airport to go 100% solar
Last week Cochin International airport, the fourth busiest in India, inaugurated its 12 MegaWatt solar power plant near its cargo complex. This move makes them the first airport in the world to run fully on solar power. 46 150 panels spread over an area of around 26 football fields deliver enough energy to cover the airport’s energy demand. During the day surplus electricity is feeded in the national grid, at night the airport taps off what is needed — overall the production will be larger than consumption. The generated power would be enough to electrify around 10 000 households. When compared to a coal power plant, 300 000 metric tons of carbon dioxide will be saved during the next 25 years. That’s equivalent to planting 3 million trees or not driving 750 million miles.
The Airport Authority of India (AAI), which operates Cochin and 124 other airports in the country, is planning to build solar farms at about 30 of them. This would add up to 150 MegaWatt installed capacity when completed.
The airport may be the first to go 100% solar, it’s not the first one to go 100% renewable. For example, Baltra airport in the Galapagos Islands runs completely on solar and wind power and during the last rebuilding of the airport 80% of the previous infrastructure was recycled.
Cochin International Airport press release
Cover photo by Andrei Dimofte