Fisker's Photovoltaic Cars

If you had 100 square feet of photovoltaic panels (PV), at 10 watts per square foot (full sun only), then you would be able to save one kilowatt-hour per hour. For that matter, if you only had 50 square feet of PV, but your panels yielded 20 watts per square foot in full sun, you would also be able to store one kilowatt-hour per hour.

The reason all this matters is because there isn’t a lot of room on the outside of automobiles for PV, but Fisker Automotive in Irvine, California, intends to put a silicon skin on their new plug in hybrid. During a follow up interview after our initial report “Fisker’s Luxury Electric Car,” Henrik Fisker also disclosed today that the car will be a series hybrid. But returning to silicon PV skin on electric vehicles, the real question is how many miles will you get per kilowatt-hour of stored electricity? Fisker wouldn’t say, although from his remarks it appears they intend to exceed expectations.

The Tesla Roadster, with 52 kilowatt-hours of storage and a 245 mile range, gets 4.7 miles per kilowatt-hour. The Chevy Volt, at 12 kilowatt-hours of storage, and a 40 mile range, gets 3.3 miles per kilowatt-hour. These are the yields you can expect from a silicon PV skinned vehicle. It is reasonable to expect Fisker’s “ecochic” line of electric cars to store at least a mile or two of range per hour parked in the sun if they can allocate 15+ square feet of car roof for PV, possibly much more, depending on the efficiency of the photovoltaics, the amount of PV skin, and the actual kWh/mile performance. Also, as Fisker explained, the owner would be able to select how to allocate PV power in order to ensure climate control in the vehicle’s interior, and overall thermal management in addition to charging the batteries.

Fisker’s new car has an elongated wheelbase, although the length of the vehicle is standard. This is because the wheels are moved further towards the front and rear of the vehicle than normal. Doing this makes extremely efficient use of the chassis, allowing the vehicle to weigh less. From front to rear, there is a gasoline engine, an electric generator (turned by the gasoline engine, which is completely disconnected from the drive train), a lithium ion battery (not using cobalt technology), and two electric motor-generators.

There is much about this car we do not know, in spite of the fact they have already been testing prototypes. With crash testing getting underway, Fisker is working with Quantum Technologies (QWTT), who have extensive experience crash testing battery systems for major automakers and the U.S. military, to provide the battery systems and power electronics. Considering Henrik Fisker’s experience doing automotive design (including the chassis), this company is a real contender. It is likely they have taken the intrinsic advantages of serial hybrid design, and taken them all further. The efficient placement of components on the chassis, twin motor-generators directly engaging the rear axles, non-cobalt lithium battery chemistry, are all logical innovations that exemplify the emergence of serial hybrid technology as the platform of choice for the next generation smart green car.

There are already a lot of credible entrants to these new automotive sweepstakes. There will be an efflorescence of auto manufacturers reminiscent of the first golden age of the car, when it was clear the horse was an obsolete transportation innovation, and where for a time there were dozens of major automakers. Fisker, Aptera, Tesla, Phoenix, Think, Zenn, Zap, and others claim their cars will join this next wave, the great inaugural generation of smart, clean, green cars. Series hybrid plug-in technology is a big part of this next automotive revolution.

Along with photovoltaic skin, Fisker intends to sell an optional PV module that will go onto your property, presumably atop your house, sized to collect sufficent electricity to power your Fisker ecochic car through any prescribed duty cycle. You would drive off the grid. Your car would have no footprint (ref. Photovoltaic Cars). Eventually, Fisker Automotive hopes to offer cars in the more affordable $35,000 range, but even in these days of internet wonders, you can’t just create a major automaker out of thin air – it will take a few years if things go well. But it really appears the cat is out of the bag, the green car generation is upon us, and manufacturers are going to sell these cars as fast as they can make them for a long, long time.

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