For decades, it’s been the dream of automakers and Al Gore to offer consumers a car that run on the rays of the sun.
While that might not seem so appealing if you live in gloomy Des Moines, for us here in the Sunshine State, it could essentially mean free motoring.
It puts a whole new meaning to offering a new model with a sunroof.
Mounted on the roof of Ford’s small hybrid crossover is a 16 square foot solar panel of photovoltaic cells. Park the car out in the open, head off to the office for the day and our lovely Florida sunshine should trickle charge the car’s battery bank with 300 to 350 watts of electricity.
Sadly, 350 watts of juice won’t get you very far. Six hours or so of charging will only get you three miles or less.
What Ford has devised however, is a kind of solar-charging carport – Ford calls it a concentrator canopy – that goes with the C-Max.
The really cool feature of this carport is that its acrylic roof features a development of a technology that dates back to the 1800s, called the Fresnel lens. They used to be used in lighthouses to concentrate the light beam.
What the lens does is act like a giant magnify glass, directing the sunlight to the car’s solar panel, boosting the impact of the sunlight by a factor of eight. With its ridged surface, the lens can pull in light from a wide array of sunlight angles and directions.
Boosting the juice this way means that in six hours, the car’s batteries would get enough charge to go around 21 miles – which is the normal electric-only range of the C-Max after it’s been plugged into a wall socket overnight.
Of course, the regular C-Max is designed to plug into a socket in the wall. But as Mr. Gore will tell you ad nauseum, at the end of the majority of electrical sockets is some nasty coal-fired power station.
This is all pretty much blue-sky thinking right now, so don’t expect a solar C-Max in the showroom anytime soon. Ford acknowledges that before it could go into production there’ll need to be an entire infrastructure of solar-charging carports.
But it could easily start with an office building simply re-equipping its roof-top parking lot with the canopies in the way many have already installed electric charging stations.
Certainly here in the Sunshine State, a solar-powered car would make a lot of sense. And obviously it would come with a ‘tan’ interior.