As the US moves ever so slowly to a transportation mix that includes plug-in electric vehicles (PEV), the lack of mileage range on PEVs has emerged as a critical concern going forward. Despite many PEVs such as the Leaf, Coda, and the BYD e6 that have made mileage claims of approximately 100 miles per charge, the general public remains extremely worried that these cars will not live up to this stated performance. Despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans drive far fewer than 100 miles per day, it is the freedom of untethered mobility that has become woven into the fabric of American life. There is nothing more terrifying to the American driver than the feeling of being stranded. This is even more magnified when driving a vehicle powered by a battery as oppoed to one simply running on a tank of liquid fuel.
There is no doubt that one of the fundamental obstacles toward widespread PEV adoption is the lack of a successful charging (“refueling”) infrastructure. At present in the US, there does not exist a distributed network of PEV charging stations. At best, companies such as Coulomb and Better Place have a smattering of stations across mainly California. One issue these companies have faced has been finding a location that would provide for a concentrated amount of charging stations to satisfy demand. In lieu of a highly developed gas station-esque car charging network, consumers will rely on their trusty garage outlet to provide their PEV with all the electrons it will need for a full days charge. While this could be seen as convenient since one could simply charge the car overnight (though it is not clear this method is suitable for urban residents), this still does not satiate the demands of people who want to refill on the go when they’re out and about.
Now that I’ve laid out the dilemma, I would like to make a rather modest, albeit not novel, proposal. It would entail massive, widespread deployment of distributed car charging stations. These would be rolled out en masse in parking lots across the country. This would have particular appeal in the suburbs as seemingly 99% of our suburban jungles are now paved over to accommodate strip malls or big box retailers. Coincidentally, it just so happens that parking lots generally provide high solar irradiation compared to rooftops or other structures. This is largely due to the lack of shadowing both from trees or high buildings. Several companies have proposed “solar canopies” and several firms are actually developing parking lots with 10-200kW of solar potential. Pairing the “solar canopy” concept with PEV battery charging stations could provide outstanding synergies. Firstly, solar is a peaking resource meaning it produces the majority of its electricity during the day when most people are doing the bulk of their driving. Secondly, with the implementation of the smart grid, this type of natural resource integration will reduce the strain on the local power utility.
Overall, the pairing of the solar parking lot canopy with PEV charging stations has the potential to become as ubiquitious as gas stations. This will surely rush along the adoption of PEVs. As for the cost of the solar canopy structure itself, or the battery charging station, I will discuss this in a later post.