For all the talk about renewable energy, a revolution is happening quietly that has the greatest potential for solving the problems of climate change. The idea is for the car and the house to obtain electricity from the sun rather than from the earth.
This path involves two crucial factors – the price of solar and that of a lighter, quicker to charge, and high-storage electric battery. For solar, the price has fallen dramatically over the last few years from $3.5 per watt in 2008 to $0.8 in 2013 (according to US Department of Energy). This has made solar competitive with oil, coal and natural gas. On the other hand, battery technology still has to catch up, and the price has yet to come down significantly.
Why is the battery so important? Right now, the electric car is handicapped by the limited driving range of 100 miles, and an expensive and heavy battery that takes several hours to charge. Its sales cannot take off unless the battery problem is solved.
What about the supply infrastructure? At present, electricity supply is based on a central generating source mainly burning fossil fuels. Solar is a standalone generator without the need for a supply network notably in remote areas. If the price of solar is low enough and financing is available for installation, the idea of a solar panel on every roof can be achieved like a personal computer in every home, or a cell phone for every adult.
Since an electric car must be charged while not in use, the following places are most convenient: home, public car park, factory, office, school, library, hotel, restaurant, and shopping center. They are the potential plug-in fuel sources for the electric car if solar panels are installed on the roof. Better, these are standalone sources for electricity generation. They represent an additional capacity independent of the existing electricity supply network.
At present, the network of chargers for the electric car cannot match the extensive network of retail stations for the gasoline car. Although desirable, the charger network does not have to match due to the additional capacity of convenient plug-in sources mentioned above. Car owners don’t have to find a charger to stop for fuel. They just stop at wherever is convenient, most likely home, workplace, or a public car park. Hence, building an expensive charger network can be circumvented.
If a cheaper and higher-storage battery is available, the house can also obtain its electricity from the sun rather than from the traditional supply network. The high-storage battery acts as a backup source to be filled during the day by the solar panels on the roof. At night, the battery will either charge the car or supply electricity to the house.
Hence the car, the house and the sun can be integrated as a demand-supply fuel system independent of the existing electricity infrastructure. The fuel generated will be free and unlimited. The key now rests with the commercialization of a cheaper, lighter, quicker-charging and higher-storage battery. Can the battery industry deliver? You can bet against anything but never technology advancement. I think the time is not far away.