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Tesla, sunshine and EV range

13 September 2018

Regular readers will recall that quite some time ago, not long after Tesla announced their intentions to build a giga-factor to make batteries, I warned of the risks.

Lithium-ion batteries are the current leader in packing the most watt-hours into the smallest space, at minimum weight and cost -- so those are the batteries that Tesla are planning to make and the ones they presently use in their cars.

Virtually every other serious EV maker is also aboard the Li-Ion train because it's the only one able to deliver the range and performance needed to make EVs a practical alternative to dino-juicers.

My warning to Tesla however, was that Li-Ion will eventually be superseded by new technologies that put it to shame.

Indeed, every few months I read about exciting new battery technologies that promise to change the shape of of the EV, smartphone and other industries which rely on compact, batteries with a high energy density

In fact, there was another such announcement just the other day.

Apparently, this technology is showing huge promise and has already attracted investment from a number of auto-makers who are preparing to get very serious about the EV market.

So what happens if Tesla invest billions in a giga-factory to make Li-Ion batteries just as they become "last generation" technology?

What if BMW, VW, Ford, Hyundai and a raft of others are already rolling out EVs with three times the range and significantly safer energy storage -- while Tesla is still trying to flog designs built using technology from 2012?

That's one of the risks you take when you live on the cutting edge... one small mistake and you'll bleed (money) to death.

However, what if the next big breakthrough in EVs isn't batteries?

What if it's something that will extend the range, reduce the need to find a charging station and provide a far greener, more self-contained form of transport?

How about this?

Yes, it appears as if scientists in Japan have come up with a cunning way to massively boost the efficiency and performance of solar cells, by throwing some gold nanoparticles into the mix.

To date, I don't know of any mainstream EV maker that has incorporated a photovoltaic array into the design of their EVs. The reason for that is simple... they simply can't provide a worthwhile amount of energy due to their abysmal efficiencies. But what if this technology works and we can turn 85% of that 1.4KW per square meter (best case) of energy that currently just fades your paint and makes your car uncomfortably hot in summer -- into electricity to recharge your battery?

Let's say the roof and bonnet of an average-sized EV was covered in these uber-efficient solar cells. At noon on a sunny summer's day, you could be chucking some 2.3KW per hour back into your EV's battery pack. Let's say you get to work at 8am and leave your car parked in full sunlight until 5pm, you could easily end up throwing 12KW/H back into that pack... possibly enough to match the energy used to commute to and from the office.

Even on that long drive to the summer beach-house, having a couple of KW coming directly from the sun to subsidise the draw on your EV's battery could meaningfully increase your effective range.

In winter? Ah well... it's back to the charger!

However, I have a feeling that in a decade or so's time, most EVs will have some form of high-efficiency solar recharging built in -- or available as an option.

How cool is that?

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