Ford Motor Co. will debut a solar-powered plug-in hybrid at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week. The C-Max Solar Energi Concept has solar panels on its roof that can charge the vehicle's battery.
If the technology proves viable in testing this year, Ford thinks it is a way to free some rechargable vehicles from wall sockets.
But there's a catch. The solar panels on top of the C-Max can capture only enough energy to charge up the battery to about one-eighth full — good for maybe three miles of electric-powered driving — during the day.
"While solar panels have been making strides in terms of efficiency, even if we put them on the hood, you still couldn't recharge the battery enough," said Mike Tinskey, Ford's director of vehicle electrification and vehicle infrastructure.
To make the system more useful the automaker has developed a special concentrator that acts like a magnifying glass, directing intense rays to solar panels on the vehicle's roof, Tinskey said.
When parked under the concentrator canopy — which covers an area a little bigger than a typical parking space — the car will autonomously make adjustments to its position to capture the most sunlight.
"This eliminates the challenge of having to install a charging station in a parking lot," Tinskey said.
Ford sees potential for the system in workplace parking lots, areas where people leave their cars for the six to eight hours it will take to charge the battery. Tinskey said it also might work in homes and in developing countries where the grid is not quite as reliable and the generation of electricity is not as green as in industrial nations.
The automaker will begin testing of the C-Max, which has a range of about 21 miles on electricity before a gasoline engine kicks in and extends the range to 600 miles, and the canopy later this year. Ford has not released any estimates on how much the system would cost if it is commercialized.