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When plugged in, the Ford Focus Electric onboard charger converts AC power from the electric grid to DC power to charge the liquid-cooled/heated battery pack. (Ford Ford)
When plugged in, the Ford Focus Electric onboard charger converts AC power from the electric grid to DC power to charge the liquid-cooled/heated battery pack. (Ford Ford)

The Green Highway

Focus Electric buyers can opt for discount solar panels Add to ...

‘Here’s your new electric car. Would you like a solar panel with that?”

It’s like burgers and fries and at least one of the car companies has now figured that out.

Ford is about to start peddling a nice set of 11 rooftop solar panels, each one measuring four feet by two feet, along with your new Focus Electric. At least in California where the new all-electric gets rolled out first.

Ford has hooked up with SunPower Corp., Silicon Valley’s largest solar manufacturer, to get some deep discounts on the normal price. SunPower will provide a 2.5-kilowatt rooftop system, which should produce enough juice to power an electric car about 1,000 miles a month. The system, when bought along with the car, will cost a little less than 10 grand, down from the normal 18.

They’re calling it the “Drive Green for Life” program. but there is a catch. The solar panels are unlikely to power the cars directly; most electric-vehicles are expected to be charged overnight. So that means, where permitted, the solar power off the panels will be fed into the electrical grid to offset the cost of the electricity that’s pumped into the car when the sun’s not shining.

Ford’s marketing people focus-grouped this with potential buyers of its electric car. The early adopters are likely to be the affluent who like new technology and care about the environment. This gives them the chance to at least say they’re powering their new wheels with renewable energy.

By the way, the 2012 Ford Focus Electric is a five-seat, battery-powered sedan that is expected to have a range of at least 80 miles per charge. Ford will soon announce the price of the car and says it will begin selling it in California later this year.

Nissan is already selling the all-electric battery-powered Leaf and, while I haven’t noticed them selling solar panels along with the car in North America, Nissan does report that more than a third of their buyers have solar panels on their houses and that another 25 per cent say they plan to have them soon.

Nissan seems to be following a different strategy. In Japan, Nissan has come up with a system to supply power to homes through its electric cars. Its equipment takes electricity from the Leaf’s batteries and sends it into an ordinary household, using the car as a power storage device at times of power outages.

Called a Power Control System, this device is also used to supply electricity to charge the Leaf’s batteries. When it’s running the other way, and taking the juice out of the Leaf, Nissan says there will be enough – 24 kilowatt-hours of electricity – to power an average Japanese household for about two days.

According to Nissan, there has been a lot of interest shown in a system like this ever since the earthquake, tsunami and power outages of the March 11 disaster. A Nissan executive reported that there’s growing interest in using the energy stored in cars when they are parked. The system Nissan described uses the energy in a single house but in the future it may be able sell that power into the grid.

At present, electric grids are designed to push electricity out. Electric cars have the capacity to store low-cost, night-time electricity and feed it back into the system. That is if the system can take it. That’s what “smart grids” are all about and once they’re up and running it provides another reason to buy an electric car with or without the solar panels.

I hope these ideas get commercialized soon because there was another bit of news that demonstrates the need. Ward’s Automotive News recently reported that the world’s motor vehicle population is now over one billion and is growing fast.

According to its analysis of government-reported vehicle registrations, it says the world went over the billion mark some time last year thanks to the fast-growing market in China. Yes, about a quarter of the world’s cars and trucks are in the U.S.A. but the vehicle population there increased by less than 1 per cent last year. China has the second-largest vehicle population with 78 million vehicles, according to Ward’s, and last year its vehicle population grew by 27.5 per cent.

So bring on the smart electrics.

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