Update to Solar-Augmented EVs? Is this a Thing?

By Paul Gipe

I took a fair amount of flak for my article Solar-Augmented EVs? Is this a Thing? This was surprising as I was skeptical about the performance claims of three new manufacturers of solar-augmented EVs. My critics took issue with my conclusion that solar cells embedded on the skin of an EV have merit despite any hype by the erstwhile manufacturers.

Note the article mentioned here was extracted from an article debunking wind-augmented EVs: Wind Turbines on EVs and Why That’s a Bad Idea, But Solar Yes That’s a Winner.

I brought the topic up to Erik Way at Fully Charged Live in San Diego this past week. Erik “1%” Way is a YouTube “personality” with his own channel he’s dubbed News Coulomb. He drives a Chevy Bolt—and he drives it hard. On his many drives up and down the spine of California he often takes his Bolt down to 1% state-of-charge. He thinks nothing of it. (I am much more timid and would pee my pants if I got our Bolt down that low.) Suffice it to say, Way knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the Bolt. In my experience—I follow his channel—he also knows a hell of a lot about EVs and technology in general.

Way also occasionally posts at www.chevybolt.org and has written for online news services such as Torque News.

Solar cells embedded in the skin of the Aptera on display at Fully Charged Live in San Diego, 10-11 September 2022.

He mentioned that he’d dealt with this topic of solar-augmented EVs three years ago. His article at Torque News, Solar Panels on the Chevy Bolt EV, came to much the same conclusion as mine: the idea has promise and should be explored.

 If you read through Way’s article note that he makes an approximation of solar yield that is too optimistic based on my experience. He says that as a “general rule of thumb 1 kW of installed PV solar panels will produce about 200 kWh per month.” I work with annual estimates, not monthly, and in sunny Bakersfield, California solar should generate about 1,500 kWh per year per kW of installed DC capacity–not 2,400 kWh.

This is a minor quibble. The rest of Way’s analysis is spot on. In fact his closing paragraph is prescient, considering the situation in California today.

“California is facing widespread power outages due to wildfires and wildfire prevention. These panels would give owners piece of mind that they could continue to commute to and from work, even if their home power was shut off for days at a time. Additionally, with a car-based inverter, people could power appliances and lights from their EV’s battery knowing that the energy would be replenished the next day. For those reasons alone, I would push back against anyone who suggests that these systems are simply a novelty.”