Suzuki once said, “Just as fossil fuels from conventional sources are finite and are becoming depleted, those from difficult sources will also run out. If we put all our energy and resources into continued fossil fuel extraction, we will have lost an opportunity to have invested in renewable energy.” Alternative energy source has changed greatly over time and so have the controversies regarding energy use. Cars, for example, use a variety sources of energy. Beginning 2014 Ford Motor presented a prototype solar hybrid car called the C-MAX Solar Energi. It features a gas engine as well as rooftop solar panels and a large concentrating lens to run on the power of the sun. According to Ford, the car is designed to park under a carport made of Fresnel lens that concentrates the sun’s rays onto the panel to efficiently generate electricity. Unfortunately the carport isn’t portable.
Companies like Toyota and Audi have used solar panels to power secondary equipment, but Ford is the first to advantageously borrow the power of the sun. Seven hours of sunlight is enough to put it in full charge. Ford is still working on reducing the charging time. The C-Max Solar Energi will go 21 electric-only miles.
“Essentially, they are electric vehicles, and then they turn into hybrids when you want to go further than 21 miles,” Tinskey explained.
Solar-powered cars are more convenient for communities without any access to an electrical grid. However, the price becomes an issue with this new feature. The solar panels on the roof for sure adds a significant amount to its original cost.
Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is another alternative energy powered car. With a battery that uses hydrogen stored in an 11lb tank and oxygen pouring in through the front grill, the car can get 300 miles by just emitting water and water vapor. One big problem for this type of car is finding hydrogen refueling stations nearby. Hydrogen power source is made possible using a chemical process involving natural gas. It is already being used in industrial processes like oil refining. With hydrogen prices expected to be about $6 to $10 per kilogram, savings aren’t tremendous for people used to getting hybrid vehicle mileage. However, it sure helps the environment significantly.
As of now, petroleum dominates the world of transportation. It’s the second-most intensive energy source in the US, right behind electric power. Last year petroleum made up 93 percent of the 26.6 quadrillion BTU energy consumed by US vehicles. Things might change as solar energy gets cheaper and more efficient. Like Brauer said, “Integrated solar panels could be another circumstance that in 10 or 20 years you’d wonder why anyone would build a car without solar panels on the roof.”
Written by: Wendy Long, class of 2016
Photo by: Photo from the 2009 Solar Challenge at the Texas Motor Speedway, 14 July 2009, Pspatry