August 11, 2011

Ford Announces Solar Charging For Focus Vehicles

Ford Motor Co. announced a partnership with SunPower on Tuesday that will allow consumers who buy Ford electric vehicles the ability to charge their cars by using a solar-powered charging station.

The Ford-SunPower "Drive Green for Life" program offers a 2.5 kilowatt solar-powered charging station, complete with solar panels mounted on the roof of your house. The feature will cost $10,000 and be available for all Ford electric vehicles, including the new Ford Focus Electric.

The system, rated for 33,000 kWh per month, comes with federal rebates, but not state or local rebates. The $10,000 price tag could be lower with further rebates, according to the companies. The cost does not, however, include roof modifications or additional wiring.

The SunPower solar panels wouldn't actually directly charge the electric car's batteries. Rather, they would provide energy from the Sun to the house to offset about 1,000 miles of driving per month in the electric Focus.

"Under the "ËœDrive Green for Life' program, Focus Electric owners can reduce their total cost of ownership by generating enough energy from their high efficiency SunPower rooftop solar system to offset the electricity required to charge the vehicle at night," said Mike Tinskey, Ford director of Global Vehicle Electrification and Infrastructure. "It's an eco-friendly solution that perfectly complements our plug-in products and other green initiatives."

"In effect, you are driving a solar-powered car," says SunPower CEO Tom Werner. He told USA Today his customers are always commenting, "Wouldn't it be cool if I could power my car?"

To generate enough solar power for an electric-car offset, the system would have about 147 square feet of roof panels -- roughly 11 panels that measure 4 ft by 2 ft.

Customers who wish to take part in the Ford-SunPower program will be contacted by a SunPower dealer who will visit their home to begin the installation process. SunPower currently has more than 400 dealers nationwide and can support the initial Focus Electric roll out in all 19 markets.

The solar station can also be installed through Best Buy's Geek Squad, which already has a deal with Ford to install home chargers.

"By taking advantage of this program, Focus Electric customers can receive the added benefit of installing a SunPower solar system, the highest-efficiency, most reliable on the market today, generating the electricity needed to charge their vehicles," said Werner.

Set to go on sale in California and New York later this year, Ford hasn't announced the price tag on the new 2012 Focus Electric as of yet. The car will be rolled out nationwide gradually through next spring.

Having a solar power option could be a win-win for environmentalist buyers who have criticized electrical vehicles in the past because the electricity generated for power is often made by burning fossil fuels at power plants.

"To have a scenario where you know you are offsetting (the electricity) used in your car, that's pretty attractive," says Ron Cogan, publisher of the Green Car Journal.

The new partnership lets Ford buff its "green" image with the solar angle and gives SunPower, based in San Jose, Calif., a new batch of potential customers.

"It's pretty brilliant marketing," Cogan says. Not only does it help broaden electric car appeal, "it's going to introduce a whole new crowd of people to solar power who might not have gone there otherwise."

Along with the Focus Electric, SunPower solar panels will also work for the C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid EV Ford plans to roll out in 2012. The Focus Electric vehicle has a range of about 100 miles on a single charge.

The SunPower solar panel system will also be able to charge EV's from other carmakers as well due to standardization of the system, according to Tinskey.

SunPower's E18 panels are guaranteed to generate 80 percent of the rated power over a 25-year lifespan. The amount of power the panels will actually generate varies from city to city, so solar panels in Phoenix, for example, would probably generate more power than those in Portland, Oregon.


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