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Here Comes the Sun: Ford Looks to the Future of Renewable Energy With a One-of-a-Kind Solar-Powered Concept Car

Article created for My Ford Magazine by: Seth Putnam

Illustration by Bryan Christie

Beyond the Electric Grid

Reliance on the electric grid is one of the biggest challenges to the mass adoption of electric vehicles. That’s why Ford is exploring the potential of solar power as the next frontier for alternative forms of vehicle energy—and it is making progress.

Dawn of the Sun-Powered Hybrid

Ford, which teamed up with the Georgia Institute of Technology and SunPower, has developed a revolutionary vehicle called the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept. It’s essentially a sun-powered hybrid; the concept uses solar panels on the roof and is projected to have the same 21 miles of all-electric* commuting the base plug-in offers, all while saving an estimated four metric tons of yearly emissions.

Harnessing Renewable Power

“It’s about harnessing the power of renewables in a smart way to save in CO2 emissions and monthly bills,” says Mike Tinskey, Ford’s director of global vehicle electrification and infrastructure.

Part of the reason the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept has succeeded where others have failed is its use of a Fresnel lens, which tracks the sun’s rays from dawn until dusk and focuses them on the car parked below. “It’s basically a magnifying glass,” says Bert Bras, professor of mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech. “Every square meter of sunlight is about one kilowatt of power. If you take 20 square meters of sunlight and concentrate it on the same area, you can get more power.”

Challenging Convention

This wouldn’t be possible without technology from SunPower, whose high-efficiency cells feature a metal backing for structural support, allowing a thin layer of silicon to bend to the roof, unlike conventional solar cells. “This really is an innovative step Ford has taken,” explains Zach Campeau, a product manager for SunPower. “Ford isn’t solving for the present; they’re solving for the future.”

*EPA estimated. Actual range varies with conditions such as external elements, driving behaviors, vehicle maintenance and lithium-ion battery age.