Toyota Adds Solar Power To Hybrid

from the what's-wrong-with-wind-power? dept

Toyota, already considered a leader in producing hybrid gas-electric vehicles is apparently preparing to make that hybrid a bit more hybrid: it’s going to add solar panels to some models, using the solar energy to power air conditioning. It’s not much, but it’s a start. I’ve actually been fascinated with solar vehicles since the fifth grade (yikes) when I convinced some engineers at GM to send me some cheap solar panels to build a tiny solar-powered car (Chrysler ignored my letter, Ford sent a form letter in response). While GM had invested in some prototypes and took part in various solar powered car contests, the technology has never been good enough to do very much at a practical level. Now, how long will it be until Toyota figures out a way to use wind power as well?

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Comments on “Toyota Adds Solar Power To Hybrid”

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asymptote says:

PV on a hybrid

I’ve been wishing for exactly this for a long time. Imagine how cool it would be to get into the hybrid car at the end of the day, and instead of a solar oven, it’s cooled down because it’s had the A/C running, powered by the sun. Or, if you don’t care about A/C, the PV will charge the traction battery, maybe providing a good percentage of the power for the drive home. The charging algorithm will change soon, either when PV is added, or when plug-in capability is added. My guess was that Toyota would add something like a PV “sunroof” in conjunction with the plug-in capability they said they would bring to market in 2010.

GeneralEmergency (profile) says:

PhotoVoltaic is not the solution.

Clearly, the optimum power source for green vehicles of the future depends upon harnessing the virtually unlimited bloviating rhetoric on this subject being spewed by greenies everywhere. If we could just cork and divert 30% of this resource nationally, we could reduce oil imports a substantial amount.

I can see the little sticker on the rear of these cars now: “This car fueled by clean, but obnoxious environmentalist rhetoric.”

Rick says:

Prius Silly Solar Panel

This panel is being marketed as aiding the airconditioning. However it will provide only about 10% of the power the AC uses in optimal sun.

In fact there have been longstanding issues with the Prius starter battery drain problem (incidently the Hybrid Camry, which I own – has it’s own starter battery drain issues).

So this panel PROBABLY is intended to resolve a Toyota design problem by jacking the price further up (and adding yet another item with maintenance issues).

But hey in the religion of Man-Caused Global Warming (AGW) any bandaid can be sold. Just ask Al ‘Offset’ Gore!

Mark Murphy (profile) says:

Re: Prius Silly Solar Panel

One of these days, people will learn to include links when they make claims such as these.

A Google search on “Prius starter battery drain” turns up nothing — with the quotes, there are literally 0 matches; without the quotes, I’m not seeing any entries describing the problem, other than a handful of complaints typical of any consumer product.

Similarly, I see a few complaints about the starter battery on the Camry Hybrid, but nothing out of the ordinary.

In fact, the only comments I’ve ever heard about Priuses and the starter battery come from people asking about leaving the car sit for an extended period, in which case they’re recommended to turn off the keyless entry system, because that does put a drain on that specific battery.

If you have links to back up the claim of these “longstanding issues”, post them. I own a Prius and therefore have a vested interest in finding out about these things. But you can’t just hand-wave about issues, offer no links, and expect people to just take you at face value.

Bear Field (user link) says:

Re: Re: Prius Silly Solar Panel

I, for one, am on my second Prius. I gave the first one to my son after 5 years of driving it, which is the only reason I had to get a second one. In almost 6 years of Prius ownwership, I have never yet had a problem with either the “starter” battery or the traction battery. So much for the “Prius starter battery drain” problem!

Rick says:

Re: Re: Prius Silly Solar Panel

Humm I must have a better version of google, where ‘prius starter battery problem’ yields 18,000 hits and same thing with camry hybrid yields over 10,000.

Toyota Nation has multiple threads for each car which is what I tried to use to convince my service mgr that something was broken. No luck with him – he just recharges it and says ‘hope you have better luck.’

BTW he tells me that the Prius has a switch to disable the keyless entry – the Camry hybrid does not. One of my dead battery problems happened overnight (it was 10 months old that first time) – the other 3 months later after 5 days of non-use. Neither very satisfactory to me.

I’m sorry – I don’t have a url for either of my friends that have also had similar problems (one a Prius – the other a TCH).

Toyota tells me there’s no field note calling for a fix (though on ToyotaNation one user says his TCH problem went away when the starter computer module was replaced with a newer version). This didn’t impress my local service mgr.

I’m not trying to fix anyone’s hybrid problems here – and fix your own google – but the suggestion that this is a Toyota marketing joke was not mine but the technical editor of the power design column at Electronics Design News today.

I’m fond of my TCH & very happy with the gas mileage – just wish I could trust it to leave it at the airport while I’m gone on a week’s trip. 99%+ of the cars may be fine – doesn’t help me if I have one of the 1%’ers. But I’d say don’t worry about it if you don’t have the problem.

When I can put a wind generator prop on the back to replace the gas engine – that will be quite a boon. I’ll keep looking for that with Google too.

Ron (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Prius Silly Solar Panel

When I Google “Prius starter battery problem” here in Southern California, I get exactly one hit, and believe it or not, it is a link to this page containing your post. No other hits, period.

Like Mark Murphy, I own a Prius (2006 model), and have a vested interest in finding out if there’s really a problem. Personally, the only problem I’ve had is that my Prius seems to have a target painted on it, in some kind of color visible to everyone but me. It’s been hit three times, each time causing substantial damage. It runs great, though, and sure does get great mileage.

Actually, now that I think of it, I have had another problem: my kids and friends borrow the Prius so much, I hardly ever get to drive it!

Freedom says:

Solar Paint = Real Solution

Until they can make Solar Paint or embed solar into the fiberglass using nano techniques, we probably won’t get much if any real benefit from Solar Energy integrated with vehicles or houses for that matter.

From the articles I’ve read in Technology Review and various sources online, the two major obstacles right now is the conversion percentage which currently is somewhere around 20 to 30 percent although there may be some specialized forms that top out at 40 percent, and the cost. While the increasing oil costs help to justify the solar panel costs more each day, it’s still fairly steep on the energy cost versus return line.

Hopefully the “nano-geeks” will figure out a way to embed solar panels into roof tiles, fiberglass, paint, etc. Assuming the price was right, it could make a huge impact.

I live in Phoenix, Arizona area and the thought of having my home’s roof covered in solar tile and providing enough AC to power the HVAC and house during the day would be more than cool – it be COOL!!!!!


Jonathan says:

Great Start, Great Possibilities!

I am excited about the solar panels, despite the fact that they don’t do much yet! You have to start some where! It will just get better! The article mentioned wind power! That is what really interests me! I don’t know how feasible it is, but how awesome would it be if you had wind generators on your car? It wouldn’t be attractive sure, but as long as your moving, your constantly generating the electricity to propel your vehicle! The only limit to how far you can drive now depends on the capacity of your bladder! =)

KC says:

Help Charge Battery

The PV does not have to run the car or A/C at full power. If it just trickle charges the battery for the 90% of the time that most cars are parked, it would give you some extra juice until plug-in hybrid electrical outlets become common. Mainly, though, Toyota just knows the image of a PV car will help them out fox Detroit again.

Chris says:

define practical

“the technology has never been good enough to do very much at a practical level”

Says who?

The technology has been proven time and time again to be able to power several different kinds of vehicles, most notable perhaps, the HELIOS. As far as using it’s application for replacing the combustion engine, industry hasn’t had a demand for it. The combustion engine industry makes nearly just as much money as it does from selling new equipment, as they do in charging parts for maintenance. Once you go electric 60% of your profits go as well, so there’s really no initative to persue its uses until there’s no other option.

So I’m not sure really what point you’re trying to make by adding all that extra information other than to make GM look better than Ford and Chrysler. GM as you may recall actualy had a fully functioning electric car ready for market, but once they saw they required virtually zero maintenance and would have lost billions in service fees for new parts, they decided to recall and scrap every car along with anyone involved in the project.

The technology for a fully electric car has been around since the 1880’s, and shown to work countless times. The only reason we don’t have them currently is because there’s still trillions of revenue to be made from fossil fuels, and neitehr OPEC or the Automobile Industry are going to want to pass on every cent that can be squeezed out of the market.

The plain and simple truth is it’s a lot more convenient to go and chop down a tree and burn it for energy, than it is to harness the power of the sun. Humans take the easiest path they can to achieve their goals as quickly as they can. Coupled with competition in the open market, you’re not going to try and create the best product that can be made, you just do the bare minimum required to look better than the other guy, and try to do it first so you can get all the IP rights.

Because the American and European auto industries have shown they aren’t going to jump at the chance to develop groundbreaking electric and hybrid cars, the Japanese will. Just like they did 20 years ago when everyone wanted cleaner engines with higher gas mileage. American and European manufactures knew they could ignore public outcry, because at the time no one had a choice for an alternative. The Japanese saw an opportunity to make the superior product and have continually done so over the past several years, and this case is no different. If GM were smart and continued to push their EV line, they could have established themselves as the pioneers, but it looks like they’ll once again let the Japanese walk away with the title, and for our sakes I hope they do.

Domo Arigato says:

Re: define practical

The Japanese saw an opportunity to make the superior product and have continually done so over the past several years, and this case is no different.

Agreed! A related industry has also seen a good deal of growth. This weekend, a friend of mine decided to go Japanese. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting trend. At my recent year HS reunion, 25% of the people I knew in high school preferred the Japanese product to the comparable American product. One main selling point is that they spew 90% less obnoxious whiny words. I will possibly try Mail Order Japanese Bride myself.

Anything from Japan is good quality!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: define practical

Helios has almost no carry capacity…just like most of the entirely solar powered cars…that is the failing of those vehicles.

The US electrical grid is barely handling capacity as it is…how do you expect all electric plug cars to be powered by a grid that is taxed by the A/C in the average household?

I live in Columbus, OH, and there is a guy here who was murdered over a car that runs on tap water…The guy that has the prototype swears it. He lives right next to the guy with the authentic big foot print and a scale from the Loch Ness monster.

GE knew there was no future at the time for the electric car they had invented, it didn’t provide the benefit of gas – Long ranges and easy to refuel. 12 hours to recharge or 12 minutes to fuel, grab a bite to eat, and go to bathroom.

Nasch says:

Re: Re: Re: define practical

I would say it met the needs of 95% of drivers, but only 95% of the time. The last 5% is a deal breaker; I know it would be for me. I usually don’t need to drive more than a few miles at a time, but now and then I go 300-500 miles. People don’t want to have to rent a car for longer trips because their own car can’t go far enough.

There is no conspiracy. I assure you, if electric cars could compete with gas cars and hybrids in the marketplace, they would. Tesla (the company, not the man) has shown that it’s possible for a small startup to produce electric cars, so the argument that the big companies are keeping everyone out doesn’t hold water either. There’s way too much money to be made from an affordable electric with adequate range for someone not to start making them. Which means nobody knows how to make them yet.

Nasch says:

Re: Re: Re:3 define practical

Let’s see….

Charge/refuel time: gas – minutes, Zenn – overnight
Top speed: gas – typically 100+ mph, Zenn – 25 mph
Range: gas – typically 300+ miles, Zenn – 50 miles with upgraded battery
Legality: gas – anywhere, Zenn – roads up to 35 mph speed limit

The Zenn competes successfully in the overall car market in America. And you’re smoking what exactly? If this is the best option, then no, nobody has figured out how to make competitive electric cars. Tesla has come closest as far as I know, but they’re not competitive on price or practicality with mainstream cars.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: define practical

The point with Helios is how efficient of a system can be designed using solar energy. With the major technological advancements currently being made, like building solar “antennas” specifically tuned to the spectrum of light much like a radio wave, coupled with super conducting metals with zero electrical resistance, the efficiency rate at which solar energy can be collected will skyrocket. Doing this with nano-technology creates an even higher efficiency potential. The current 20% rates compared to the theoretic 85% rates would be a major chance in the way we think about electric power. Batteries are taking major strides as well, although it’s not reflected in the commercial products most are familiar with.

Drawing a direct current from solar cells isn’t the only way to harness the power of solar energy. Using mirrors to create a highly focused beam of light to instantly convert water into steam is another practical application. Considering the vast majority of generators employ the use of a turbine to generate all of their power, and are powered by steam, creating a structure with an extremely large mirror that could convert hundreds of gallons of water into steam instantaneously would generate tremendous amounts of power. Combine those turbines with a wind farm, and build a platform and send it out to sea, and you can extract mass quantities of hydrogen as well. Point being, once technology catches up to the point where we can design systems such as these, the need for any combustible fuel becomes useless.

Of course, if humans could just all get along nuclear power would be the definitive way to go.

Gelbstoff says:

Re: Re: define practical

-Helios was a prof-of-concept. This is how technology gets tested. Besides, nobody is trying to sell a mas-produced solar car.
-Most plug-ins will be charging at night when the loads on the grid are lower (because of lower temp). Moreover, the grid has to be improved anyway, so I do not see your point.
-GM is now producing an all electric car with an on-board gasoline generator. This is really a good old idea. Most ships and locomotives use electric motors with generators providing the power. The concept looks very good on paper and they hope to have it out in a few years. Ford is also working on electric cars, similar concept.
-At a global average >200 W/m^2 of solar irradiance, solar panels can be practical, particularly if one considers that cars are parked outside most of the time. Just because a technology is not optimal now, does not mean that one has to abandon it. Solar panels are becoming more efficient, and are powering many buildings. Solar-thermal systems are powering desalination plants, and cities. Wind power is already powering Islands and cities.
-I suspect that all this blah blah comes from global warming deniers. They just need to consider that reducing our oil consumption is a good idea regardless of ones opinion about global warming. See the comments of someone like T. Boone Pickens – an oil billionaire who thinks that we should stop using oil because it is a finite resource.
-So, my ill-informed friend- please explain to me what is so bad about trying alternative sources of energy?



The Irate Citizen says:

Sun Power

Hey everybody knows that oil is the only way to go. Get more of it. Burn more of it. Milk it out of the ground till the last drop is sold. Nothing like that nice choking feeling of hydrocarbon exhaust. Ahhhhh! Can’t ya smell that smell? Everybody that has a pocket open for oil is always gonna poo poo any alternative fuel source, especially the hardest to regulate of all, , , the sun. Nope, solar can’t work, can’t even help, still to much oil to burn. Watch what happens when the wells run dry. I’m betting the oil companies will be all over solar power, like hair on a gorilla. Remember, if a lie is repeated enough, people soon start to believe it!


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Great Start, Great Possibilities! by Jonathan

In Denmark, they are replacing all of the highways with conveyor belts that are directly connected to big windmills. The windmills are right next to the road every 2 kilometers.

The cars driving over it also make it move faster (like one of those unpowered treadmills.)

pawnblue says:

Re: Re: Great Start, Great Possibilities! by Jonathan

Arrrrrggg, I need a company with a magical energy solution that has zero chance of success. I could retire off of investment money. That fan car in the video cannot work. Here is why:

The fans generate drag. That’s right, to make them spin requires energy. You get that energy from the propulsion of the car.

So the car moves forward using X amount of energy. Add some fans. To move the car forward at the same speed, you now need X+Y amount of energy.

The fans cannot generate more energy than Y. That’s the maximum amount of energy that goes into making them spin. That’s all the energy you can possibly get out of the fans.

If the car were stationary and in neutral, would you expect wind to push the car up a hill? Of course not. Wind just doesn’t produce that much energy. Imagine a sailboat. How fast does it go? And it’s 90% sail and on a low friction surface. So why would capturing a small part of that energy in a battery power a car?

The Irate Citizen says:

Sun Power

Hey everybody knows that oil is the only way to go. Get more of it. Burn more of it. Milk it out of the ground till the last drop is sold. Nothing like that nice choking feeling of hydrocarbon exhaust. Ahhhhh! Can’t ya smell that smell? Everybody that has a pocket open for oil is always gonna poo poo any alternative fuel source, especially the hardest to regulate of all, , , the sun. Nope, solar can’t work, can’t even help, still to much oil to burn. Watch what happens when the wells run dry. I’m betting the oil companies will be all over solar power, like hair on a gorilla. Remember, if a lie is repeated enough, people soon start to believe it!


John (user link) says:

Re: Hmmmm

Hi, It doesn’t matter – it was worth saying twice!
As well as repeated lies getting believed, have you ever noticed how corporations etc give things names in order to make them legitimate. Such as ‘Stock Market Adjustment’.
The real meaning being ‘perpetuation of the profits for investors by keeping the markets moving and allowing profit removal’.
Anyway, the Toyota idea seems better than the GM advertising where a redneck says that he wants to grow his fuel, not drill for it.
Now, if we can just starve a global load of non-consumer people to death, there might be room for people who will be consumers.

Joe J. says:

Enery Calculation provide Reality Check

Solar panels cannot be the solution because the sun simply does not provide enough energy per sq meter to power the creature comforts we all love in modern cars.

Allow me to estimate:

1000W/sq meter * 10m^2 surface * 8 hours * 3600 sec/hour = 180MJoules.

These are all very very very favorable calculations estimating the energy POSSIBLE via solar panels on a Prius. Solar cells efficiency 100% efficient with the car parked for 8 hours… …on a cloudless day… …at the equator…. …at noon (which lasts for 8 hours!)… …with 10 square meters of solar panels.

And you get a whopping 180MJoules – possible.

For comparison purposes 1 gallon of gasoline has 130 MJoules.

Toyota is simply making a marketing statement. I am okay with that, but let’s not wet our pants about the idea.

Joe J.

Gelbstoff says:

Re: Enery Calculation provide Reality Check

Dear Joe J.
Check your numbers. I think that irradiance at the top of the atmosphere is about 1,370 W/m^2. At the surface, the global average is about 340 W/m^2, but lets call it ~200 W/m^2 to be on the pessimistic side. So, based on your calculation we get about 5.7E7 Joules. Now, lets use a more realistic 30% solar panel efficiency and we are down to 1.7E7 Joules. This case is worst than the one you presented. However, you cannot do an apples to apples comparison. As you probably know, you do not get a 100% transfer of energy to motion when you burn the fuel. I think that the theoretical limit for internal combustion engines is about 20%, so you are left with 26MJoules. From this you have to subtract the loses due to friction in the drive train, and then there is the drag, and do not forget the energy needed to move the fuel in the fuel tank. I am too lazy to do the numbers, but I suspect we are down in the 10’s of MJoules. On the other hand, the solar panel is not intended to run the car, it will just be happily charging the batteries of the Prius (with loses only due to transmission over very short distances) at no extra cost to the environment and the consumer. Nothing wrong with that, and my pant are definitely wet with anticipation.

Todd says:

BMW is doing this too

BMW has been offering several Efficient Dynamics (ED)options on some later models, and have a test car X5 outfitted with all their prototype ED options, INCLUDING Solar (PV) on the roof. This keeps the engine & transmission oil warm to avoid high-emission cold starts, and also helps power the stereo and other interior accessories while the vehicle is idling or in traffic.
Combined with other ED options, they have reduced this vehicle’s fuel consumption dramatically, and boosted mpg by a third or so (if I remember correctly).

Steven Easton says:

Gasoline – Electric – Solar hybrid

The car companies caused their own problems. They have been promoting power over economy in their advertisements. The American public bought into the concept and started driving SUV and Pickup trucks. These vehicles get 16 mph instead of 26 mph for economy cars. This caused a high demand for gasoline and low supplies and therefore higher prices for gasoline. The fuel shortage and the higher gasoline prices have woke up the public. Many car manufactures are 2 to 5 years behind on fuel economy cars. When the public goes to trade in their gas guzzler, they will buy a fuel efficient hybrid.

For hybrids, when you slow down or break, the energy is stored in a battery. And when you take off, the energy in the battery is used to get you back up to speed. It is like bouncing on a pogo stick (spring). Each time you bounce you loose a little of the energy but you get 90% of the height back. For cars, the stop and go traffic is where conventional cars use most of their fuel. Also up and down hills requires extra fuel. Regenerative breaking is not a new concept; elevators have been using it for 40+ years.

Adding solar to the gasoline – electric hybrid cars makes since. Hybrid cars already have the batteries, electric motors and computer controls. I calculate that the Honda Insight would get 17 more miles to the gallon by adding solar cells that could deliver 6 kilo watts per day assuming you drive 55 miles per day. That is what a hair drier would use in 6 hours. That’s the same amount of energy in 1 half of a gallon of gasoline. It is also what the MIT solar race car captured a few years ago. Gasoline fuel is 5 times more expensive then grid electricity, making solar cells easier to justify on cars than houses.

Photovoltaic cells produce energy continuously as long as the sun is shining. Battery types matter. Some have to be fully drained before recharging, similar to a cell phone. For this type of battery, the computer must control which battery can be charged. Solar cell voltage varies too based on the amount of sun light received. Capacitors must be used to build up the voltage before delivering it to the battery. One day of chargeable battery capacity reserved for the solar cells.

Mazda is using solar cells to drive a fan which keeps the car cool when parked. The price of solar cells is dropping and the amount of power per square foot is going up. SPR-220 panel produces 29 watts per square foot per hour. A 6 foot by 5 foot panel mounted on and SUV’s roof would provide 6000 watts of power on a peak day. That is 60 gallons per year if every day was peek. In Oklahoma there is a 75% annual solar rating. Photovoltaic cells are approaching 7 dollar per watt so 1000 watts would be $700. The payout at $3.00 per gallon of gasoline is 66 years. If the solar cell cost goes down to $1.00 per watt like computer prices have dropped, it will become a no brainer to make hybrid gas electric and solar energy cars. Solar panels can also be mounted on the roof, hood, sides and trunk and glued on like vinyl roofs. Transparent solar cells can be mounted on windows to tint the glass.

The Chevrolet Silverado has smaller batteries that are made of led acid. There are lots of solar battery chargers for 12 volt lead acid batteries. You could mount a 500w solar collector on a fiberglass bed cover for $4500 (plus the price of the bed cover). This could boost the fuel usage from 19 mpg to 19.5.

Cons: Hybrids that could plug into the electric grid would make it harder to justify.
7/6/2006 Steven Easton

Mark says:

Solar charging

I currently own a 2008 Civic Hybrid, and I too have interest in Solar. I was happy to hear Toyota is planning on making use of the sun shining down on a car all day! I recall over 20 years ago of solar power window vent fans! Why not make more use of solar such as cabin venting as well as trickle charging Hybrid battery packs. Biggest problems for hypermilers is not generating enough charge back power to restore the battery packs. But a solar charger could restore that power at no cost to the plugin grid. And allow even higher battery useage which would deplete batteries on long trips but shorter trip to work would give 6 to 8 hours of battery recovery time. We could affectively see EPA city numbers of 60+ MPG. Key reason is even on the Honda IMA system the motor reverts to generator when releasing the gas petal which hurts the natural coasting but if you shift to coast you will deplete the battery and then drive 100% gas plus the drawn of the generator to recover the battery charge. This type of change would really benifit Toyota & Ford models due to the electric only ability. Since it would enable greater use of electric and solar recover later, and even while driving charging. So even while stuck in traffic it could be charging batteries. But even in Honda’s IMA system it can reduce drag by generating and could be used to run AC like Toyota’s new electric AC system. So even on hot days no engine idling. Also congrates to Toyota for using exhaust heat to quickly raise engine temp so emissions and fuel efficency can be reach even in cold weather in less time. I myself am working on a way to use standard cabin fan to move air through cabin using only solar power and therefore reducing the AC cool down needed and keeping battery packs at a safe temp in the hot summers. Solar is free so why not use it!

manishfusion (profile) says:

nice post

This is my first comment but I feel like I should have been making loads of comments now because I always like your stuff. Maybe comments are for more hit and miss blogs than your own. When you maintain a consistent level of high quality output I reckon people are less inclined to comment because they have come to expect it from you. Just a theory.
Toyota Camry

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