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This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

Electric cars have no tailpipe emissions, but that does not mean your trip on the electric vehicle resulted in no lifecycle emissions.

Making batteries (or electric vehicles) consume energy, which in turn result in CO2 emissions somewhere in the EV value chain.

More important, the electrons that go into your battery when it gets charged more often than not comes from a coal or natural gas power station, both of which emit considerable amounts of CO2 (though the latter emits only half that of the former for a kWh of energy produced).

The above are the reasons why charging the electric vehicle through the use of solar power starts making a difference.

Zero carbon power source

The key raison d’etre for electric vehicles it to cut down carbon emissions. So it beats the purpose if electric vehicles get charged with power generated in fossil fuel power plants. Solar is a great fit. Solar power generates a much lower amount of CO2 along its value chain (manufacturing of panels etc. included) compared to power generated from coal or natural gas.

Distributed power source

Not only can solar power fill the batteries with low carbon power, such solar power can be generated anywhere, including from right on top of the EV charging stations. This is one aspect where solar power differs significantly from other sources of renewable energy such as wind, biomass or geothermal power – its modularity lends itself to distributed generation.

Beam Global has developed off-grid solar powered charging stations with energy storage capability too. Its EV Arc is a portable structure with two fast chargers. The entire unit can fit in the parking slot of a vehicle and can power the vehicle independently without any utility bills, additional real estate and regulations/policy works.

Cars can generate power

Taking the distributed nature of solar power generation one step further, entrepreneurs are even putting solar panels right on top of the electric cars. While the cars have only a limited area on top and the power generated can only fulfil a part of the total electricity required for driving, it still is an excellent example of how solar can help in many different ways to go low carbon.

For instance, the innovative EV company Lightyear one has five square meters of integrated solar panels located on the hood and roof. These panels have a safety glass so strong that an adult can stand on them without causing damage. The solar panels can charge the car’s batteries the equivalent of 7.5 miles of additional range for every hour of charging. If a lightyear One is driven in Chennai for a year with an average of 1320kms in a month. 59 days of the year worth of travel would be powered by the sun alone.

  • The panels are equipped with something called the “conductive backsheet” . It enables all connections of the solar cells to be placed on the back of the panel. In this way, the entire front of the module can be used to capture sunlight. This reduces any electrical leakage between the cells and the module, providing 3% more power. Plus, it has the added advantage of making the solar roof look more stylish and attractive.

To extend the driving range of electrically powered vehicles, the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) has presented an innovative new technology in which solar panels can be invisibly integrated into the roof of electric cars. According to the institute’s press release, “the photovoltaic cells with a nominal power of about 210 W/m² provide sustainable electricity for a daily mileage of about 10 km with an average electric car on a sunny day. Calculated over one year, the driving range can be extended by about 10%”.

  • To create the solar panel, the team overlapped monocrystalline silicon solar cells with one another and electrically connected them using a conductive adhesive, resulting in a cohesive, electrically active surface with no gaps.
  • In addition, ISE reports lower resistance losses, the avoidance of shading due to cell connectors on top of the cells and particularly high tolerance to shading ensure up to 2% higher module efficiency than for conventional solar modules.

Solar for hydrogen production

An entirely different way by which solar power could help in electrifying transport is in its use to produce hydrogen, which in turn can be used in fuel cells. There is one school of thought that fuel cells, and not batteries, will be the energy storage medium in electric vehicles in the future. Whichever of the two prevails, solar power will be there to help either.

  • Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field (FH2R), a renewable energy-powered 10 MW-class hydrogen production unit. FH2R uses renewable energy, which is subject to large fluctuations. FH2R will adjust to supply and demand in the power grid in order to maximize utilization of this energy while establishing low-cost, green hydrogen production technology. FH2R will take power from an adjacent 20-MW solar power generation facility along with power from the grid to conduct electrolysis of water in a renewable energy-powered 10 MW-class hydrogen production unit. It has the capacity to produce, store, and supply up to 1,200 Nm3 of hydrogen per hour (rated power operation). Hydrogen produced at FH2R will also be used to power stationary hydrogen fuel cell systems and to provide for mobility devices, fuel cell cars and buses, and more. Hydrogen is produced and stored based on the hydrogen demand and supply forecasting system’s forecasts for hydrogen demand in the market. Adjustments to balance supply and demand in the power grid can be made by adjusting the hydrogen volume produced by the hydrogen production unit to meet the power grid adjustment needs of the power grid control system. The most important challenge in the current stage of testing is to use the hydrogen energy management system to achieve the optimal combination of production and storage of hydrogen and power grid supply-demand balancing adjustments, without the use of storage batteries.

Use EV batteries to store power for peak use

Use of batteries to use solar power that can be supplied to grid or time based on peak times. Solar power could also be used in an entirely different way in the context of electric vehicles. With peak electricity rates being very high in many countries, residents – and even businesses – could be tempted to store any solar power that is generated during off-peak times in batteries so that it can be used during peak rate periods.

  • The first charging station in Spain to use second-life electric bus batteries for energy storage is now online. The batteries come from Irizar electric buses. The charging stations are being produced and installed by Ibil. And the locations for the initial projects are Repsol service stations. They are 50 kW fast charger stations (rather than 150–350 kW ultra-fast charging stations), and in addition to the batteries, they are also reusing some power electronics from the Irizar electric buses. Storage-connected EV charging stations have been a growing trend in the past few years, and seemingly a very sensible one, And it also helps in dealing with the peak demand of the grid,  but adding in the reuse of batteries and power electronics from electric buses is an especially innovative and cool (and climate cooling) aspect of this project.

Cost savings

With the cost of solar power dropping dramatically in the past five years, green is only one of the reasons why users would like to use solar power for charging their batteries, the bigger reason could be the cost savings!

  • The Levelized Cost of energy generated by large-scale solar plants is around $0.068/kWh, compared to $0.378 ten years ago and the price fell 13.1% between 2018 and last year alone, according to figures released by the International Renewable Energy Agency. The figures were compiled from the costs and tariffs reported for 17,000 renewable energy project tenders last year which should eventually add up to 1.7 GW of clean power generation capacity. The cost reductions witnessed in the last decade were due to improved technology, economies of scale, supply chain competitiveness, and the growing experience of developers.
  • Between 2010 and 2019, the amount of global solar capacity rose from 40 GW to 580 GW a growth factor of 14. During the same period, module prices fell 90% and balance of system (BoS) costs also decreased. The current Levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for large scale solar is $0.068/kWh, compared to $0.378 in 2010 and the cost fell 13.1% between 2018 and last year alone, and it is expected to go down another 15% to 25% in the upcoming decade.
  • The advancement of several solar technologies like bifacial modules, which can generate 15% more output than mono facial counterparts, will make solar energy more affordable in the upcoming decade. Moreover, large solar modules will provide a bigger surface area to increase the gain in power output. Solar tracker technology will also help enhance solar projects’ power production by tracking the sun and changing solar panels’ alignment in line with it. The technological advancement will lead to a cost decline of solar modules from the current level of $0.35 – $0.40/W to $0.13/W by 2030. The price of turnkey systems will drop by up to 35% over the same period due to better solar trackers and inverters.

Solar power for EV production

Going one step further in the use of solar power, many EV OEMs are opting solar power to power some if not all of their facilities in a desire to turn sustainable.

  • Toyota looks set to install a £10m solar array to power operations at its Derbyshire plant, which will supply enough energy to build around 7,000 cars a year at the plant that produces Auris hybrid, Auris and Avensis cars.
  • Tesla too is powering its Nevada Gigafactory with renewable energy and is planning it to be completely net zero carbon emission by depending completely on solar power for the factory operations.

This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

Posts in the series

Tesla’s Valuation | EV’s in different countries | Purpose built EVs | Mainstream Fuel Cells | IT in Emobility | EVs versus ICEs | Advent of China in Emobility | Charging vs Swapping | Micromobility & EVs | Electric Aviation | Li-ion alternatives | Million Mile Battery | Battery Startups versus Giants | Sales & Financing Models | Ultrafast Charging a Norm | Heavy Electric Vehicles | Material Sciences in Emobility | Lithium Scarcity | Solar Power in EV Ecosystem | EV Manufacturing Paradigm | Innovations in Motors | EV Startups – a speciality Oil Companies’ Strategies | EV Adoption Paths | Covid-19 affect on the EV Industry |

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