Buzzing about solar and electric cars

by Debra Vogler, senior technical editor, PV World

In addition to discussions about cooperating on clean energy efforts going forward, the daylong US-China Clean Energy Forum (Feb. 13) also showcased how solar technologies tie together in the real world — integrating a parking lot-based solar array, electric vehicles, smart grid technology, energy storage, and high-performance battery recharging systems.

Two of Pacific Gas & Electric’s electric powered vehicles were on site and hooked up to Applied’s solar power plant for recharging during the event along with demonstrations of smart metering technology (see photo below). One of the featured models was a Mitsubishi iMiEV, a pre-production version of the electric vehicle to be released in Japan this summer; PG&E is working with Mitsubishi Motors to do user acceptance testing and real-world drivability testing. The vehicles, which can accept direct DC fast charging as well as 120V AC, are being used to test out the utility’s smart charging program, according to Efrain Ornelas, environmental technical supervisor for clean air transportation at PG&E. Smart charging focuses on charging cars at night to minimize impact on the grid, as the utility has more wind-generated electricity available for use at that time (at least in some territories).


Applied Materials CTO Mark Pinto (right) and Han Wenke, director general of the Energy Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission (left), demonstrate an electric vehicle powered by solar energy. Inside the car: (left) Saul Zambrano, director of clean air transportation, and (right) Hal LaFlash, director of emerging clean technology policy, both from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (Photo courtesy of Applied Materials)

In addition to PG&E, companies featured at the event were conEdison, Gridpoint, Better Place, and AeroVironment. The Better Place business model is one in which consumers subscribe to transportation as a service, similar to a cell phone subscription model. In the Better Place model, the company effectively owns the batteries in electric vehicles, providing consumers with the ability to replace them with fully charged batteries at its network of recharging stations and battery swap stations — this is key to make owning an electric car affordable and convenient. The company has signed agreements to expand its electric car infrastructure in Israel, Denmark, California, Hawaii, Australia, and Canada.

Meanwhile, AeroVironment approaches the problem of “range anxiety” — i.e., people afraid to take electric vehicles on long trips because of the uncertainty of being able to recharge batteries in a timely manner — by offering a fast charging capability based on its PosiCharge technology. According to the company, a range of PosiCharge EV fast charge systems enable EV drivers to have access to a 10 minute battery charge when and where needed. – D.V.

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