An especially intriguing saga to watch unfold is the apparent convergence of electric vehicles and solar power, or as SolarChargedDriving.com puts it, EV + PV (for photovoltaic solar power). These two technologies offering an intriguing combo have a similar history going all the way back to their roots in the 1800’s. Now, they are both poised to be huge economic, environmental, and social factors in a fast-approaching post-petroleum age.
The 19th century was a golden age for electricity science and engineering. Though the effects of electricity were known (and felt) as far back as the 3rd century BC, little would be understood about its behavior and potential until much later. Through the works of folks like Englishman William Gilbert (credited with coining the term electricus) in the 1600’s, American Ben Franklin in the mid-1700’s, and Italian Luigi Galvani in the late 1700’s, the properties of electricity came to light. Armed with this information, many of the inventions we see converging today were developed during the 1800’s and it was truly a European-wide effort. In 1800, Italy’s Alessandro Volta developed the first battery (or voltaic pile) by alternating zinc and copper. In 1821, England’s Michael Faraday developed the first electric motor, a DC-powered homopolar motor. Hungary’s Ányos Jedlik developed the first electric vehicle in 1828;, a tiny model car powered by a motor of his own design. Then, in 1839, Frenchman Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel first observed the photovoltaic effect, which eventually leads to the first patent for a solar cell being issued to England’s Edward Weston in 1888. So there we have it, by the end of the 19th century, the stage was set for these fledgling technologies to coalesce into what today can be termed the EVPV convergence.
Unfortunately, throughout the 1900’s, these potentially conjoined transportation and energy technologies toiled in economic depravity as the use of fossil fuels became ubiquitous. Big Oil, Big Auto, Big Coal, and Big Utility came to dominate the scene soaking up much of the economic resources and squashing any potential threats. Due to a lack of government-backed focus, solar energy was deemed too expensive and insufficient (sound EVerily familiar?) to be a practical source of power. Electric vehicles had several starts only to experience sudden stops as they were purported to only have a cult following with no practical use in everyday transportation. However, through the continued efforts of a bold and enlightened few relying on relatively meager resources, these technologies advanced enough to be poised to capitalize on another convergence; the compelling forces of climate change and national security concerns.
As a result, here in the 2000’s, these technologies are now getting a preponderance of attention and resources as they prove to be not only viable but also economically practical as they come to scale. A recent article by CleanTechnica quotes NRG’s CEO as stating that by next year, residential solar energy will be cost-competitive with local utilities in half of the 50 US states. In addition, CitiBank just released its report entitled “Energy2020: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised as Disruptions Multiply” wherein it issued a very bullish statement on both solar and wind energy going forward. At the same time, the EV revolution led by Tesla is well chronicled as seeing vehicle prices coming down and driving range going up. So when will EVSE integrators meld electric vehicles and solar energy into complete EVPV solutions? I’ve stated on several occasions that the ideal automotive ecosystem is EVs charging with solar energy divorced from the grid. Some even view electric vehicles as having the potential to be the storage half of residential solar power and storage solutions. NRG’s eVgo would be a likely candidate to test that water but we’ll just have to watch that space. One thing is for sure, Leonardo Da Vinci’s 15th century prediction of solar industrialization appears on the verge of being realized.