Rooftop solar arrays are a common site across many advanced solar markets. In some parts of Australia – namely Queensland and South Australia – 30% of homes have solar panels on their rooftops. In the U.K., around 900,000 homes are rooftop solar-powered, while in the U.S., Germany and Italy they are a common sight.
But solar panels on cars? These have to date generally been the preserve of eccentric eco-warriors or innovative university students competing in some worthy around-the-world cause. Mass market production of solar-powered vehicles has been slow to leave the pits, save for a drip-drip of concept cars spinning turning slowly on platforms at motor shows the world over.
Now, solar-powered cars are no longer refined to the prototype, and this week perhaps the biggest name in hybrid vehicles – Toyota – unveiled its first solar-powered Prius. The rooftop solar panels recharge the 3.7-volt (24Ah) lithium-ion auxiliary battery while driving to raise hybrid fuel efficiency, but cannot charge the battery to full capacity.
The PV panels also supply power to the traction battery while the vehicle is parked, providing enough of a charge to drive up to a maximum of 6.1 kilometres per day, or an average of 2.9 kilometres, Toyota said in an online statement.
In addition, the solar panels provide electricity for the vehicle’s lights, power windows and air conditioning systems.
The PV-charging option has been in development since 2009, when Toyota enlisted Kyocera to provide 56W modules for its prototypes.
Toyota first announced plans last summer to offer the vehicles in the Japanese and European markets.
The Japanese automaker launched sales throughout Japan last week, with a monthly sales target of 2,500 vehicles Prices range from ¥3.3 million ($29,000) to ¥4.2 million.
How high can you go?
A couple of noteworthy cell efficiency records were achieved this week. Germany’s Fraunhofer ISE has reclaimed the hotly contested multicrystalline PV efficiency record, recording a performance of 21.9%, while over in Russia Hevel Solar hit 21.75% cell efficiency with heterojunction (HJT) technology.
Fraunhofer ISE claims that the result demonstrates how improvements in the multicrystalline material can deliver a boost in energy yield, resulting in the 21.9% multi cell efficiency record.
Fraunhofer ISE researchers have pointed to the Institute’s ability to control the crystalline silicon PV production process, from crystalline material – presumably ingot and wafer – through to cell, as enabling the efficiency record. The crystallization process was optimized alongside the cell design, resulting in the 21.9% multicrystalline cell.
“Our goal is to develop an advanced cell technology for the n-type multicrystalline wafer that really demonstrates its full potential,” said Fraunhofer ISE’s Jan Benick, in a statement. “The question is, how far can we get to closing the efficiency gap to monocrystalline material.”
The record-setting cell deploys Fraunhofer’s TOPCon cell technology. It deploys passivated backside contacts, which are applied to the rear surface of the cell without patterning. The researchers claim that this allows for a simplified manufacturing process alongside higher energy yield.
For Hevel, the “main part” of the output from the HJT line will be installed at its own projects. It claims to be developing a pipeline of some 500 MW. pv magazine understands that it is targeting installations totaling 70 MW in 2017. “The new [HJT] module is the result of our own R&D program that started about a year ago,” Hevel’s CEO Igor Shakhray told pv magazine.
Well oil be damned
Oil-wealthy Kingdom Saudi Arabia has been making all the right noises about embracing renewable energies for years, but has consistently failed to deliver anything approaching a tangible and concerted effort to promote solar power, despite its vast levels of irradiation. That is, until now.
The newly created Renewable Energy Project Development Office of Saudi Arabia has launched a tender for the development of 300 MW of solar and 400 MW of wind.
“This marks the starting point of a long and sustained program of renewable energy deployment in Saudi Arabia, that will not only diversify our power mix but also catalyze economic development and support long term prosperity,” stated Saudi Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources Khalid Al-Falih. “It is our goal to make the National Renewable Energy Program among the most attractive and well executed Government renewable energy investment programs in the world.”
A site has already been chosen for the 300 MW solar park: Sakaka, in the northern Al Jouf Province of the Kingdom. According to the Ministry of Energy, the site has already undergone pre-development work and the project will be backed by a 25-year PPA.
Tesla feels weight of SolarCity
Tesla’s quarterly results show more of the roller coaster that has been Tesla Motors, as it builds the world’s largest battery factory, re-invents solar and spearheads the mass-market adoption of electric vehicles (EVs).
But despite record EV sales, the acquisition of a financially troubled SolarCity appears to have left a mark on Tesla’s Q4 results. While revenues in the company’s Energy Generation and Storage division rose four-fold to $131 million, margins are much lower than at Tesla’s automotive business, with a 2.7% gross margin ensuring an operating loss for the division.
And while it is hard to tease out from the limited financial figures provided exactly how much of the company’s overall $121 million net loss during the quarter is related to SolarCity, Tesla did note $85 million in solar-related operating expenses.
These are measly figures versus the company’s $2.28 billion in quarterly revenues, Tesla appears to be working to make SolarCity profitable in the short run regardless. During the quarter Tesla/SolarCity more than doubled its portion of leases to 28%, and Tesla also noted in its Q4 shareholder letter that during the transition period of the acquisition, it will “prioritize cash preservation over growth of MW deployed”.