Ford Debuts Solar Energy Hybrid Vehicle at CES

Ford Go FurtherWhen we think of hybrid vehicles, what comes to mind is a car that uses both gas and electricity. Ford has come up with something new.

The Ford C-Max Solar Energi Concept is the first-of-its-kind sun-powered vehicle. It is a hybrid vehicle that does not depend on a connection to the electric grid for fuel.

The Ford C-Max Solar Energi Concept uses a special concentrator that acts like a magnifying glass. It directs rays from the sun onto solar panels that have been placed on the roof of the vehicle. As someone who lives in “sunny California”, I am very interested in Ford’s new idea.

Right now, the Ford C-Max Solar Energy Concept is a concept vehicle (as you may have guessed from the name). It takes a day’s worth of sunlight to deliver the same performance that one would get from Ford’s conventional C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid (which draws power from the electric grid). The C-MAX Solar Energi Concept uses renewable energy from the sun.

A quick look at the stats about the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid will give you a good idea of what the C-Max Solar Energy Concept is expected to be able to do. The C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid gets an EPA-estimated 108 MPGe city and 92 MPGe highway (which is a combined 100 MPGe).

The C-Max Solar Energi Concept is estimated to reduce the annual greenhouse gas emissions that a typical vehicle owner would produce by four metric tons. Ford has data that suggests that the sun could power up to 75% of all trips made by the average driver of a solar hybrid vehicle.

You can check out Ford’s C-Max Solar Energi Concept at the 2014 International CES. They will be at the Ford book (LVCC North Hall #2222).

Making Solar Pay

I have always been fascinated by the idea of generating my own electric power. Back in late 1998 I installed a solar power system that has sixteen 75 watt solar panels, along with a 4,000 watt power inverter/charger and a bank of expensive deep-cycle batteries.  Mention solar power, and most people think that all of these elements are necessary, including the expensive bank of batteries.

It turns out there is a much better way to think of home solar energy – use solar energy equipment strictly to push power back into the electric company utility grid. Batteries should never be considered to be part of a solar installation unless utility power just isn’t available, say in a remote location. Battery technology is an albatross when it comes to being able to store enough power to meet real-world needs.

If electric grid power is available, there are only two elements necessary – the arrays of solar panels, and what are called grid-tie inverters. In this battery-free scenario, the math of pushing power back to the utility to offset electrical use becomes much more interesting.

Power companies in the United States are required by law to “buy back” consumer-generated power. A grid-tie inverter takes the DC power being generated by the solar panels, inverts it into AC power, and then sends it back directly into the grid via a standard AC power plug plugged in to a regular 110 volt outlet. It is possible to have more than one grid-tie inverters, which also come in different sizes.

The relatively high-end inverter that I have is capable of producing 4,000 watts sustained output. So, if I wanted to push 4,000 watts back into the electric company utility grid, I would need at least two more arrays of solar panels feeding DC current into the inverter.

In my case, the batteries died within about the first three to four years. I simply turned the equipment off and my youngest brother sold the battery carcasses to a battery recycler. The equipment sat dormant until yesterday. A friend that does solar as a hobby helped me check the inverter and get it up and running again. I contacted my electric company and they sent a man out this afternoon to look over and approve my system, an absolutely necessary step. So the net effect is that now whenever there is daylight, the inverter is pushing power back into the grid. Obviously the maximum amount of power is generated when the solar panels are in direct sunlight.

The electric company performed a test of the inverter to make sure that if there is a grid power failure that the inverter automatically cuts off its own output. This is quite critical to the power company, because they want to be absolutely certain that in case of a grid power failure, no user-generated AC current is being fed back into the downed power lines.

I was able to verify that my inverter was pushing power back into the grid by turning off all internal breakers in my house so that no power was being used. At that point I looked at the power meter out on the utility pole and it was actually running backwards! Of course, in normal operation with different things consuming electricity in the house it is unlikely it will run backwards much, but it will be slowed somewhat.

My local electric company is a rural electric cooperative and they actually encourage customers to set up these types of “selling” consumer-generating power systems. It helps them reduce peak demand, thus reducing the need for more electrical generating capacity on the utility’s side. Solar panels are generating electricity at peak capacity when peak demand is likely to occur when air conditioning demands are at their highest.

Can a system like this ever pay for itself? It depends on the initial cost of the equipment, installation expenses, and how long of a payback period you are able to live with. If you can do most of the installation work yourself, then obviously the math works better. Eliminating the batteries really helps the cost come down.

An HQRP 1,000 watt grid-tie inverter sells for $287.95 on Amazon.Com. Aleko brand 75-watt solar panels sell for  $149 dollars each. Sixteen of these solar panels multiplies out to $2,384 dollars. With brackets, wiring and installation let’s estimate a total package price of $4,000, which may or may not be wildly off one way or the other. The 1,000 watt electrical output of the inverter would have to offset $4,000 dollars worth of electricity over a period of years before it would pay for itself, which is likely a long period of years. If the price of the equipment and installation can be brought down, then the payback period shortens.

My electric company will only allow this type of setup to function as an offset. So, let’s say that someone was putting more power back into the grid than they were actually consuming. My power company will never issue a check for the power, so it’s really just an offset for how much I consume. With enough equipment feeding power back into the grid, it would be possible to bring electrical grid usage down to zero.

Many local and state governments offer tax rebates for new solar equipment installations, which could also help mitigate the cost.

The beauty of a battery-free grid-tie solar user-generated power system feeding into the electrical grid is that once it is initially set up, everything happens automatically. Since I already have the equipment and it is long since paid for, I might as well be utilizing it to offset a portion of my power usage.

PowerSkin Charges Smartphones and Portable Gamers

At CES International 2012, PowerSkin has announced new portable power solutions for smartphones and other rechargeable devices. SolarCharge, Key Charge and Gaming Skins are all designed to keep the mobile user going for longer.

PowerSkins SolarChargeThe SolarCharge is a universal charger for all types of smartphone including iPhone, Android and Blackberry, and it comprises a 1000 mAh battery paired with a solar panel in a one-piece housing. The SolarCharge recharges smartphones (and other devices) via a supplied micro-USB connector and other connectors are available for non-standard devices. The battery in the SolarCharge itself is recharged via USB from a PC, via a micro-USB mains charger or from the sun through the solar panel, so there are plenty of options for the mobile user. The blue rubberised skin has embedded LEDs to show the battery’s charge level.

PowerSkins KeyChargeThe KeyCharge has a smaller capacity at 750 mAh and is intended for a quick boost rather than a full recharge. Small enough to fit on a keychain, the KeyCharge only comes with a micro-USB connector and consequently is not suitable for use with iPhones or iPods. Two variants are available to cater for the different positions of the micro-USB connector on smartphones, i.e. side or bottom. As with the SolarCharge, the KeyCharge is recharged via a micro-USB connector, either from a PC or from a mains adaptor.

Also on display at CES will be PowerSkin’s Gaming Skins for iOS and Nintendo 3DS, which were announced in December 2011, along with an array of battery-boosting smartphone skins for all the popular makes.


PowerSkin’s SolarCharge, $69.99, and KeyCharge, $24.99, will both be available beginning February on Visit PowerSkin’s booth at the Hilton Suites, Booth # 28-128.

B-Squares: Modular Solar Powered Electrics

I sometimes think that between KickStarter and Etsy anything that can be imagined, will become reality…

Today’s funding opportunity from KickStarter are B-Squares, a 3D modular solar powered energy system that connects up using magnetic and electrical contacts. There’s solar cell square, a rechargeable battery square, an Arduino square, an LED square and iPhone charger square. The more squares you have, the more you can do.

It’s a project by Jordan McRae and Shawn Frayne, and it’s already been fully funded after just 5 days. There’s various levels of funding that you can go for, from $15 for a single solar square through to 15 squares for $250. There’s further coverage over at cnet.

If you haven’t already appreciated how brilliant these are, just watch the video. Then you’ll get it.

Dexim: Charging Solutions for Your Iphone or Ipod

Dexim offers several quality charging solutions for the iPhone and iPod. The P-Flip Foldable Solar Power which is a solar battery and dock. It allows you to charge and sync your iPhone or iPod using solar power. It takes about 15 hours of direct sunlight to do a full charge. You can also charge through the mini-USB cable that is included. The battery output 5VDC and has an input power of 5V 1000mA.

They also offers a P-flip Foldable Power which charges through the USB cable only and is a little smaller. Both the P-Flip Foldable Solar Power and the P-flip Foldable Power can extend talk time up to 8 hours, music up to 60 hours, video up to 15 hours and gaming up to 15 hours.

The Super Juice Power Case acts both as a case and a charger. It is made for iPhone 4 only. It extends talk time up to 6 hours, 40 hours for music, 10 hours for video. It has a 2000mAH lithium polymer battery. There is a micro-USB cable included which allows you to charge your phone without removing the case.

There is a built-in kickstand and an on/off switch included. If you are looking to save some energy at home you may want to take a look at the Visible Green Charge. When you are charging your iPhone or iPod a blue light flows through the charging cable.  As the charge reaches 65 percent the flow starts slowing down. When the iPhone  reaches a full charge the light flow stops and the charger shuts down. This can save up to 85 percent of the standby power, when your device is not charging. This is a fast and easy way to know when your device has finished charging and save some money while you are at it.

Interview by Tom Newman from Fogview

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GoalZero Portable Solar Charging Solutions!

Green was another big theme again at CES 2011 and GoalZero had a full line of portable recharging products. I have often been skeptical of these types of devices but it is obvious that GoalZero know what they are doing and use a very logical approach to their entire product line. If you want something that will simply charge a phone, or something that will keep a light on all night or charge a laptop they have it and it will scale.

Combining battery storage with solar technology is a great combination and the prices are such that any outdoor person would consider picking up some of their solutions. This is the portable solar powered charging solution that I can endorse without reservation!

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Microlink FR160

The Microlink FR160, from Eton, may be a niche product, but it’s indispensable in the right situations.  Which situations would that be?  There are two big ones that spring to mind.  One is if you live in an area where power outages are common.  Two is if you are heading out into the wilderness where there is no reliable cellular connection.

I have been eying it for the latter reason.  My son and I are avid hikers and frequently spend time in areas where cell towers are uncommon, to say the least.  With a hope of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2012, we will need a way of getting, at the least, weather updates wherever we are.  We need something small and light, since everything will be carried on our backs.  We need something that can be charged via solar, since batteries are weight and chargers don’t plug in when you’re in the wilderness.  And lastly, I need a way to charge my cell phone so I can let my wife know we’re alive on those occasions when we are in range of a connection.

So here’s what you get with the DR160:

  • Solar Charger
  • Hand Crank
  • AM/FM/NOAA Weather Band
  • USB Phone Charger
  • Flashlight
  • 2.5″ x 1.75″ x 5.25″ dimensions
  • 0.85 pounds weight

The keys here, for me, are the NOAA Weather band, Solar/hand crank chargers, USB phone charger, size and weight.  That’s everything you need on a trail or during a hurricane.  The flashlight is a bonus, and having an extra never hurts.

The best part is the price – $29.95 on Amazon.  Not bad, considering all of the options you get here.  And, for those who care about such things, it even comes in colors – green, blue, red, and black.

Soon we will be heading into Shenandoah National Park for a hiking and camping trip.  I know from experience that I have no cell connection there.  So, I am hoping to pick one of these up beforehand to test it out.  I have heard good things, but you never know for sure until you get your hands on the product personally.  If it fits in the pack and does what it claims then I will be a happy hiker.

GNC-2010-07-23 #595 It’s a Hoax Mom!

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GNC-2010-06-04 #581 I Flat out Go Off on AT&T!

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Sharp Solar Powered Car at CES 2010

Sharp is doing it’s part in being a greener, cleaner company and part of their initiatives is sponsoring a solar powered car that participated in a race. The solar powered car is capable of reaching speeds up to 90 miles per hour.

Check out this extensive interview by Jeffrey Powers of the Geekazine Podcasts.

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