Solar On Your CyberTruck?

Swarnav S Pujari

Founder at TouchLight Innovations

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Hey Everybody! This is Swarnav S Pujari and Welcome to Episode Two of Off-The-Grid where we talk about all things Energy & Sustainability.

Thank you so much for tuning in because today is a special episode for those of you who love cutting edge technology and love to see how technology can be leveraged to make a real impact in this industry.

On today’s show we are going to going to be addressing a now popular technology fad that is starting to creep into the mainstream due the overall trend of distributed energy. We are going to be talking all things solar and at what point is putting solar panels on everything a bit overkill and why the idea of putting panels on cars, drones, and even roads is gaining traction and why it actually isn’t the smartest approach to improving energy efficiency.

We dive deeper into this idea of “solar on everything” isn’t “free electricity” as marketing documentation always states…because everything comes at a cost.

And finally, we will be analyzing why this idea of building a distributed ecosystem is in fact a great trend and why these temporary fads of discovering the best way for everything to produce energy is valuable towards our end goal of building a clean and resilient future.

All today on Off-The-Grid.

When Elon Musk comes out on twitter and says his new CyberTruck is going to have the option of having solar on the truck to improve the overall range of the vehicle you know it has become a time to start talking and educating the population on this concept and what the pros and cons of it really are from a technical and financial standpoint.

However, rarely do I see people making decisions purely on specs – even I a self-proclaimed tech enthusiast make decisions based on emotion and having the ability to say I have the best specs on the market for any device. So, in order to give this fad of solar on everything we need to evaluate it from two blanket perspectives…

The technical and financial end – does it make sense from a numbers and performance gain end?

And

The emotional end of giving us a level of energy security – meaning even in the middle of nowhere you still can get your battery recharged without needing a portable charging area.

Also, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Tesla isn’t the first to really explore this concept of solar on cars and how different permutations of this “build different form factors of solar” has been impacting different applications where energy resilience is required and important to discuss. As an added caveat solar in general has gotten to a point where companies are exploring putting panels on everything, drones, phones, roads and much more. And most of these applications are still lab or pilot level meaning they aren’t much to consider today as much as solar powered cars are right now.

So, to get back on topic – let’s begin by diving into solar on cars and how it looks from a numbers perspective and things to consider when looking at why car manufacturers are even considering this strategy & approach.

Beginning with the other companies doing this.

Lightyear One – sounds like a pretty cool concept car name – well that is what Lightyear one is releasing to the market. A well hyped up Electric Vehicle that can recharge itself and go for 500 Miles on a single charge. Of course, the privilege of having a car that runs on solar panels and gets 500 miles on a full charge is only for those who have $170 thousand to throw at this company. This car company has been highly funded – $27.2 M Pounds based on Crunchbase – and is focusing on developing and building a robust platform for cars that would incorporate solar panels to extend range of the vehicle. The Lightyear One is a sedan that demonstrates an impressive range while also enabling this idea of being off the grid.

Breaking free of this idea of range anxiety while also deploying this platform of solar powered cars to the mass market is a brilliant approach and may have legs to it. We already see major car manufacturers and Tesla beginning to evaluate offering this into the market on their higher end electric vehicle models. Toyota being one of the more interesting ones to me due to their amazing 34% efficient cells that they claim to have on their solar cars. Up from their original Prius/Solar hybrid upgrade of $2000 for 22% efficient cells back in 2016.

But let’s look at this from a cost benefit perspective and for whom this technology really applies to.

Naturally we would think, based on how media portrays it, this solar powered car fad is for the daily commuter and making sure they never have to charge their car again. From a first principle standpoint it sounds great! However, the value gained is so nominal for people who have a daily driven electric vehicle that the additional cost to put solar on their car isn’t worth the financial investment. With the cost to charge an electric vehicle for most EV owners being so ridiculously cheap in the sub $15 per charge range – not factoring for the free charging stations offered these days. Meaning to the average consumer all these solar powered car options are more of a gimmick than an added value to the vehicle experience. Not to mention the amount of engineering that must go into weight, looks and efficiency of the car doesn’t provide you as a consumer much flexibility on looks if you are looking for range.

So, it begs the question WHY IS THERE MONEY FLOWING INTO THIS!!

And here is why the emotional perspective plays a huge role in this analysis and it also shows who the real customer for a solar powered vehicle is.

For the same reason an airline can charge you nearly double for a water bottle during a flight and the same reason gas prices vary based on where in the world you are…the value of electricity shifts drastically depending on the style of driving and use your vehicle will have.

Imagine you require long range and the ability to be away from charging stations and electric infrastructure for an elongated period. Either because you are an adventurer or because your work requires it. Having the ability to recharge your vehicle regardless of location is such a huge value add, $2000 may be nothing to have that feature. Which is why it makes sense on trucks and vehicles which are being designed for those who need the ability to not consider range as a limiting factor to their work. So, why is this on sedans and cars that may not see a real gain from having solar on their daily driver for commutes?

Economies of scale & customer funded development.

Just like I had mentioned there is a huge market of tech enthusiasts who see this as a piece of tech that just sounds cool to have and experience. No matter all the functional drawbacks of such a vehicle the idea of being among the first to adopt a solar powered, street legal vehicle is a fun status thing to brag about and make you feel innovative to have in your driveway.

So, I wouldn’t be shocked if we do end up seeing Trucks, Taxis and other “I can’t afford to worry about range & charging stations” type of vehicles incorporating solar into their roofs.

And this holds true for all types of devices which can’t afford to be recharged all the time. Things like scooters, drones and other pieces of technology that don’t have easy access to a charging station will see the benefit of integrated solar as an option.

Will everyone have it?

Likely not, unless cost comes down to a point where it becomes a cheap commodity to include. The beautiful thing about all of this is that it does in fact provide us an opportunity to really build a robust electric grid and enable a very fluid & mobile ecosystem.

But how? What do solar powered cars and what other solar powered devices have to do with a better electric grid?

One of the most misleading concepts I hear in the market today is solar energy is free. While true in a way it doesn’t justify the application of put solar on everything, so everything remains self-powered. Fundamentally, everything could produce its own energy requirements, but there are technical limitations and drawbacks to this approach. Meaning it will limit our growth and progress when it comes to developing newer and higher performance devices that can make life all the better for all of us.

So, it is out of the question to say everything should have solar cells on it, but there is merit to a few different applications which indeed could yield a valuable result in energy efficiency.

If you heard the last segment, we ended it with a question on how solar powered cars and solar powered devices are going to enable us to have a more fluid, resilient and mobile ecosystem. And that is what we are going to work on answer in this part.

But in order to do so we need to first understand a few of the more popular and up and coming applications that help us explain why this is so important to companies that are operating and building a modern day electric grid that adapts to our growing and changing energy needs.

The three systems we will address are solar roadways, solar on cars & other smaller electronics and small amounts of solar on homes and apartments. And I hope to demonstrate why these technologies all play into what the future of the grid holds for us all.

Let’s begin by diving into the fun one – solar roadways.

If you have watched the energy specific blogs and news articles you may have heard of companies like named SOLAR ROADWAYS that made the viral crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo Solar Freakin Roadways and other major construction companies overseas in the European region developing and prototyping solar roads & biking lanes.

This was quite popular a few years ago in the 2014 to 2016 era and has slowly died down in hype as companies explore its applications. In fact, the R&D team at TouchLight has experimented with deploying solar on roadways – meaning there is a lot that I can share today about what really is going on with this space having seen it firsthand in many permutations across different companies.

To really dive into and understand this we need to make sure we are taking this from a perspective of how these technologies help us build a more robust and fluid grid system. For all the technologies we discuss here today. Because then the value will make more sense.

So solar roadways – right off the bat what are the drawbacks and the benefits of such a solution and why is it worth investing in?

Well when it boils down to hard facts it is a hard engineering problem. In fact, the maintenance, soiling issues, rapid performance degradation are just the surface of the challenges in converting highways into solar roads. What do we do when the panels get dirty? How expensive are the replacements and does it justify the cost of deploying these panels where cars and trucks are going to batter it daily at high speeds?

From a high level it makes this immediately a nonstarter – unless we begin to evaluate where this becomes an extremely important technology.

The application for this technology is in running local self-powered non-critical devices. Things like streetlights, sensors, cameras and more. Applying these in walkways and parking lots opens an opportunity to reduce the energy burden on the grid and enable properties to reduce their overall energy consumption. Is the form factor ideal?

In many cases, no. But there are niches where it does play a good role.

The value from a fluid grid standpoint is that the energy produced from a solar roadway can be utilized to run local devices from lighting to EV chargers. Enabling us to extract that additional lost energy to create a more circular grid.

Which leads me to the second technology solar powered cars and the utilization of EV chargers to not only charge electric vehicles but use electric vehicles to charge houses and buildings. Meaning we can extract the power from an EV to run a home or building – Effectively enabling a form of a mobile battery that is going from place to place.

Sounds a bit counter intuitive…especially since we just analyzed how people have range anxiety when it comes to Electric Vehicles and how adding solar to your car’s roof may help solve that issue.

However, there are niche applications when we consider Vehicle to Building EV chargers to enable a robust and fluid electric grid. Especially from a standpoint of providing on demand energy to properties during power failures or during a peak energy demand end. Being able to capitalize on the energy stored within your car could be a way to monetize a sitting asset in your driveway and help others with high energy needs at the same time. Which could justify the value of putting solar on your cars roof. The energy was free, but the cost of deploying such a high-end feature is going to hit your wallet hard and end up as a significant chunk of your total car cost. However, if deployed with Vehicle to Building Chargers you could theoretically create a network style grid which pulls energy from your car when needed and shares it with neighboring buildings which helps you pay off your investment into that vehicle.

Which could really enable all of us to stand behind the claim of solar is free!!

And that leads us to our last point on technology and this claim of free energy from the sun, so everyone should get solar. How to leverage these small electronics with solar both within a home and how to leverage small solar systems on homes and apartments. The pitch has always been energy savings, but, if we look at it from a standpoint of a fluid electric grid it shows us new opportunities within a peer to peer transactive electric grid.

Sound complex? Well from a technical execution standpoint it is, but all it really boils down to is being able to take your roof space and sell it to your neighbors and others within the electric grid when they desperately need it. Think of it as a net metering program on steroids which helps you return your investment into putting solar – even a small one on your roof.

Overall, it means we are headed in the right direction. Even though most of these ideas/solutions to this overall trend of distributed and resilient energy grid will fall through and never see mass market adoption.

But that begs the question of why waste time on solutions that may not fully make sense today to solve a problem much larger than what that piece of technology can address?

The value of knowing what is wrong can be argued to be more valuable than knowing what is right. This is because the teachings, skills and experience of knowing what is wrong helps us make sure we discover what is right every time.

Billions of dollars flow within the energy industry from grants to high profile venture investments and for the most part it ends up never returning any of the money, but, yet we continue to adopt and try these new applications in the hopes of stumbling upon that one which does make it all worth it.

Sometimes it boils down to execution and sometimes the idea just won’t work with what we currently have in terms of technology. Whatever the problem may be seeking out and trying new technologies enables us to rapidly test to find that one winner which does in fact help solve this overall challenge the market has placed on the various scientists and capitalists that may even be listening in today.

It can be tough to look at the amount of money that flows with no return, but what it does do is open the next level of building on top of those learnings. Many of the Vehicle to Building charging companies will fold and a lot of the applications of “solar on everything” will never be more than a temporary fad, and surprisingly there is a lot that we as individuals can do to dictate that.

As consumers we all control the playing field of who wins and who doesn’t – which is why it is so important to be educated on all the options in the market before deciding which brand to pick. The business that has customers for its permutation of a solution always wins – given they can deliver.

However, as an individual that runs a business which could benefit from V2B charging stations or as a consumer buying a solar powered drone it comes down to your perspective and priorities.

What do you want the future to hold?

How does that look for you?

Is it cost effective & long flight time with a drawback in size & looks when evaluating drones? 

Is it being able to leverage V2B charging stations to help pay off your investment into a solar powered car that delivers 500 miles in range?

Every single product in the energy space has multiple angles to it and it requires you as a consumer to evaluate all of them and for the companies manufacturing these solutions to help walk you through the information required to make an educated decision for yourself.

What can be said for sure is that the future of the electric grid is indeed trending towards a more fluid and community style form factor and that has been enabled by you making collective consumer decisions to purchase certain products that backup this trend.

If you aren’t happy with that future – change your purchasing habits.

If you want more options for whom you buy electricity from…deploy more solar + storage

And if you would love ways to monetize your electric vehicles in more ways than one to help pay off your car…purchase more electric vehicles or push for policy changes in your community to support V2B chargers.

You play a critical role in the future of our electric grid and will always be the center of focus of the companies that will succeed. So own that and make sure to evaluate all options available to you as information is king when it comes to making the decisions that build the future you wish to have.

Today was a tech packed one and I can’t thank you enough for joining me on this episode. Me and the whole team putting this together are grateful for you listening in.

We hit on technologies from solar on cars to solar roadways and how you as a consumer are impacting the future of the grid when it comes to which technologies and solutions are making it into the mass market.  

On this show we aim to talk all things energy & sustainability and provide you with the information you need to make an impact and contribute to a cleaner and more resilient world. Off The Grid is for you the community and we would love to hear what topics and questions you have for future episodes and other’s perspectives you would like to hear.

With much love, this is Swarnav S Pujari signing off for this episode of Off The Grid brought to you by TouchLight.  

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Swarnav S Pujari

Founder at TouchLight Innovations

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