Solar energy might not be enough to power a usable electric vehicle on its own, but that doesn't mean it can't lend a helping hand. And that's what Ford has in store for the Consumer Electronics Show opening next week in Las Vegas.

Ford has essentially taken its C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid and fitted it with the latest in solar panel technology developed by SunPower, acting like a magnifying glass to capture as much of the sun's energy as possible. So you get the benefit of an electric vehicle, with the range assurance of a hybrid, without needing to draw from the grid.

Ford estimates that a day of charging in the sunshine will give the C-Max Solar Energi concept the same full charge as the production PHEV, with a total range of 620 miles – 21 of which can be run on electric power alone. Otherwise the vehicle – which remains a concept for the time being – is identical to the existing C-Max Energi. The top-selling model in Ford's growing hybrid and electric vehicle portfolio helps put Ford just behind Toyota among the top seller of hybrids in America. Scope out the images in the gallery above and the video clip and press release below for a closer look.
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Jan 2, 2014 | Dearborn, Mich.
Let the Sun In: Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept Goes Off the Grid, Gives Glimpse of Clean Vehicle Future

- Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is first-of-its-kind sun-powered vehicle with the potential to deliver the best of a plug-in hybrid without depending on the electric grid for fuel
- C-MAX Solar Energi Concept with a solar panel roof draws power from a special solar concentrator lens similar to a magnifying glass
- By using renewable power, Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is estimated to reduce the annual greenhouse gas emissions a typical owner would produce by four metric tons
- C-MAX Solar Energi Concept, which will be on display at the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas, Jan. 7-10, debuts as Ford's strong electrified vehicle lineup is expected to post a record 85,000-plus sales for 2013

Ford Motor Company announced today the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept, a first-of-its-kind sun-powered vehicle with the potential to deliver the best of what a plug-in hybrid offers – without depending on the electric grid for fuel.

Instead of powering its battery from an electrical outlet, Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept harnesses the power of the sun by using a special concentrator that acts like a magnifying glass, directing intense rays to solar panels on the vehicle roof.

The result is a concept vehicle that takes a day's worth of sunlight to deliver the same performance as the conventional C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid, which draws its power from the electric grid. Ford C-MAX Energi gets a combined best miles per gallon equivalent in its class, with EPA-estimated 108 MPGe city and 92 MPGe highway, for a combined 100 MPGe. By using renewable power, Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is estimated to reduce the annual greenhouse gas emissions a typical owner would produce by four metric tons.

"Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept shines a new light on electric transportation and renewable energy," said Mike Tinskey, Ford global director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure. "As an innovation leader, we want to further the public dialog about the art of the possible in moving the world toward a cleaner future."

C-MAX Solar Energi Concept, which will be shown at the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas, is a collaborative project of Ford, San Jose, Calif.-based SunPower Corp. and Atlanta-based Georgia Institute of Technology.

Strong electrified vehicle sales

The C-MAX Solar Energi Concept debuts as Ford caps a record year of electrified vehicle sales.

Ford expects to sell 85,000 hybrids, plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles for 2013 – the first full year its six new electrified vehicles were available in dealer showrooms.

C-MAX Energi is Ford's plug-in sales leader, with sales of more than 6,300 through November. Ford sold more plug-in vehicles in October and November than both Toyota and Tesla, and it outsold Toyota through the first 11 months of 2013. Plug-in hybrids continue to grow in sales as more customers discover the benefits of using electricity to extend their driving range.

C-MAX Hybrid over the last year has been a key driver in helping Ford sell more hybrids than any other automaker in the United States, second only to Toyota. C-MAX Hybrid continues to bring new customers to the Ford brand, with a conquest rate of 64 percent and drawing nearly half of its sales from import brands. Conquest rates are even higher in key hybrid growth markets like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Breakthrough clean technology

SunPower, which has been Ford's solar technology partner since 2011, is providing high-efficiency solar cells for the roof of Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept. Because of the extended time it takes to absorb enough energy to fully charge the vehicle, Ford turned to Georgia Institute of Technology for a way to amplify the sunlight in order to make a solar-powered hybrid feasible for daily use.

Researchers developed an off-vehicle solar concentrator that uses a special Fresnel lens to direct sunlight to the solar cells while boosting the impact of the sunlight by a factor of eight. Fresnel is a compact lens originally developed for use in lighthouses. Similar in concept to a magnifying glass, the patent-pending system tracks the sun as it moves from east to west, drawing enough power from the sun through the concentrator each day to equal a four-hour battery charge (8 kilowatts).

With a full charge, Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is estimated to have the same total range as a conventional C-MAX Energi of up to 620 miles, including up to 21 electric-only miles. Additionally, the vehicle still has a charge port, and can be charged by connecting to a charging station via cord and plug so that drivers retain the option to power up via the grid, if desired.

After C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is shown at CES, Ford and Georgia Tech will begin testing the vehicle in numerous real-world scenarios. The outcome of those tests will help to determine if the concept is feasible as a production car.

Off-the-grid car

By tapping renewable solar energy with a rooftop solar panel system, C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is not dependent on the traditional electric grid for its battery power. Internal Ford data suggest the sun could power up to 75 percent of all trips made by an average driver in a solar hybrid vehicle. This could be especially important in places where the electric grid is underdeveloped, unreliable or expensive to use.

The vehicle also reinforces MyEnergi Lifestyle, a concept revealed by Ford and several partners at 2013 CES. MyEnergi Lifestyle uses math, science and computer modeling to help homeowners understand how they can take advantage of energy-efficient home appliances, solar power systems and plug-in hybrid vehicles to significantly reduce monthly expenses while also reducing their overall carbon footprint.

The positive environmental impact from Ford C-MAX Solar Energi could be significant. It would reduce yearly CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions from the average U.S. car owner by as much as four metric tons – the equivalent of what a U.S. house produces in four months.

If all light-duty vehicles in the United States were to adopt Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept technology, annual greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by approximately 1 billion metric tons.

About Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles across six continents. With about 180,000 employees and 65 plants worldwide, the company's automotive brands include Ford and Lincoln. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford and its products worldwide, please visit corporate.ford.com.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 39 Comments
      Spec
      • 11 Months Ago
      Solar panels are relatively cheap these days such that it really makes sense to add them to EVs as a way to trickle charge and make sure the battery doesn't get bricked. I don't expect the solar PV on a car to provide substantive amounts of energy but they are great for ensuring that accessories don't drain the battery.
        Joeviocoe
        • 11 Months Ago
        @Spec
        Yes... there are parasitic drains on a battery when sitting in a parking lot. And even if solar panels don't add range... they can add to the life of the battery if solar energy can power battery climate systems. Phoenix temperatures have seriously hurt Leaf batteries, and if they had active thermal management... powered by a few solar panels... it could have changed that fate. Although the 1st gen Leaf needed to be cheap to succeed, subsequent generations could use this.
          Grendal
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          The Leaf has a solar panel on the spoiler. It comes with the SL version.
        Ele Truk
        • 11 Months Ago
        @Spec
        I am building a solar array to put on my tonneau cover for my Ford Ranger EV. Due to the selection of cells in order to fit an array that could generate the battery voltage, it won't quite cover the whole truck bed. Even so, I calculate the array will generate about 8 miles of range per 8 hours of sun. A more efficient car might get a few more miles, but would it have as much surface area as I have over the truck bed? Probably not. For me, that's about my typical round trip mileage, I live only a few miles from work.
      Anderlan
      • 11 Months Ago
      Or, you could, jus like, put more panels on the canopy and run a wire to the car with no panels on it. Either way, this points to the fact that a large amount of the population can do their normal commute using only solar power, even with a big heavy conventional car. I'll gladly take a look at all the facets of that informational gem to appreciate them and find the best one.
      MRay
      • 11 Months Ago
      For those of you who can't view the video (at work, etc.) explaining the carport portion of this concept, here's a more in depth article with illustrations: http://cleantechnica.com/2014/01/02/ford-c-max-solar-energi-concept-car-coming-ces-2014
      Ziv
      • 11 Months Ago
      Ok. So you have to have a big concentrater lens on the top of a car-port and the sunlight is directed through this solar concentrator lens and onto the roof of the C-Max, where the cars rooftop solar cells take the intensified light and power up the battery. Why not skip the Fresnel lens/concentrator entirely and add more relatively PV cells on the roof of the car port as Anderlan and Rotation pointed out. I understand that the elegance of intensifying the power of the light is kind of neat, but the relative complexity of the concentrator and the movement of the car over the course of the day seems to be pointless. Cool, but not really useful in the real world. And like everyone is pointing out, a small PV cell just powerful enough to cool the pack a bit during the hotter parts of the day would get you 90% of the benefit with 10% of the price.
        DarylMc
        • 11 Months Ago
        @Ziv
        I wouldn't fancy walking under that carport or parking a car under it on a hot day. But I still think they are progressing the technology. Lots of concept cars have crazier ideas.
          Grendal
          • 11 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          Combination carport and tanning salon.
        Cory Stansbury
        • 11 Months Ago
        @Ziv
        Some thoughts: If you take 10 m^2 of light on a collector and focus it down onto an appropriately spec'd PV cell (which I assume these are), you would get more output than 10 m^2 of PV cells. This is because PV cell efficiencies go up with the flux intensity. Now, this all assumes the collector is 100% efficient (which isn't going to be the case) but it could still be pretty equivalent if I had to take a swag at it. However, the point is that collectors are cheap and easy to build while PV cells are not. Additionally, the cells still will work without the intensifier and could provide benefits like others have pointed out. What would really be neat is if some sort of thin film lensing was developed (similar to those things you stick on the back of an RV so you can see) which folded into the car roof and then folded out when parked. If Ford did that, I would be very impressed.
          Rotation
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Cory Stansbury
          Actually, you'll likely get less, because when solar cells get hot, they are less efficient. Noticeably, like maybe 10% for a 15C change. I don't think this fresnel focuser and tracking system are cheaper than just putting PV cells on the top of the carport. Especially when you consider you need a shade system inside so it doesn't peel the paint off other cars that park under it. And it'll still likely peel the paint off (and superheat) the C-Max parked under it anyway. The only advantage I can see to this carport is it doesn't need to be wired up. You could put it over a parking spot without laying cable. But I think the downside of it not producing any power when there's no car there is too big a downside to make this work. The thin film lenses you speak of from RVs are the same as this system. Those are both fresnel lenses.
          Rotation
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Cory Stansbury
          Cory Stansburg: Again, I don't expect it to be higher. I didn't say anything about active cooling, but PV panels lose efficiency when they get hot. I can see it on my own array when the sun comes from behind a cloud for the first time of the say at noon the panels produce nearly 20% more energy than they would on noon on the day before or after but only until the panels heat up. These panels will get hotter and that will cut the efficiency. How do you expect this to have "proper design for passive cooling"? Car interiors can already break 60C in direct sunlight, if we had ways for cars to passively cool themselves in sunlight, we'd already have used them.
          Sean
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Cory Stansbury
          All of the highest efficiency cells are concentrated because as Cory said efficiencies go up with the flux intensity. It is theoretically impossible to get that high of an efficiency without concentrating the sunlight.
          Rotation
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Cory Stansbury
          Cory: Yes, liquid cooling is possible. Before you said it wasn't necessary, now you change your mind. Good to see you're seeing it my way. Air feeding through the pillars convectively would not be effective enough to do anything with the temperature. The Amonix panels you talk about are actually Boeing cells. And they are notorious for not being cost-effective. They are used primarily where no other power is reasonably available, mainly spacecraft. Also, any panels of that type are truly passively cooled with a back side which is exposed to ambient temperature air (as seen in their example pictures). Panels on the roof of a car would not be this way as the interior of the car will be very hot, well above ambient.
      Anderlan
      • 11 Months Ago
      Now if a major other OEM, that has a plug in hybrid that doesn't suck in MPG in hybrid mode, like Toyota, or Honda with it's excellent new Accord hybrid MPG, that would awesome. Maybe this idea will be copy catted. I hope so.
      Tweaker
      • 11 Months Ago
      It could make more like 6-700 watts. The Sunpower cells are impressive. EVTV is selling those cells on a flexible backing if you want a size comparison.
        Tweaker
        • 11 Months Ago
        @Tweaker
        Ok, that is a little optimistic... Nominal Capacity: 180watts Length: 1302 mm / 51.26 inches Width: 796 mm / 31.34 inches
      William
      • 11 Months Ago
      What percentage of a fully charged battery is lost per day if not used?
        Spec
        • 11 Months Ago
        @William
        The loss within the battery itself is pretty small. However, various electronics such as the alarm system, the lock system, etc. still use some power even when a car is not used. It would be nice to have a solar system around to provide some energy to cover that drain and trickle charge the battery a bit.
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