Navigant Research Blog

Can Solar Make an Impact on the Transportation Market? Part 2

— September 5, 2017

After a few conversations with Scott Shepard about PV systems in EVs, I began to come around to his view that solar is too expensive and the roof space too limited to make a solar-equipped EV work at the mass market scale. But then I read about another PV in transport project that made economic sense: Indian Railways’ newly launched solar diesel multiple unit (DEMU) trains. A total of 16 300W solar modules are installed on each coach on the train for ₹9 lakh ($13,950 or $2.9/W). The Indian Institute of Science estimates that the annual energy yield in a solar rail coach will be between 6,820 kWh and 7,452 kWh. This could displace 1,862 liters of diesel, saving around $1,650 per year at $0.88/liter diesel.

Lessons Learned

I see two key elements that make the project work. The first lesson from India is that solar in transport makes more sense when it is displacing liquid fuels rather than electrons. Going back to the Prius example from the first blog in this series, if the solar roof was available in Toyota’s non-plug-in version of the car, its economic effect would be significantly better. If a non-plug-in version of the Prius could run for 2,190 km per year on only solar, it could save about 150 liters per year, which would have a value of around $180 per year (using Japan’s gasoline price in July 2017). The investment in a solar roof could break even within the lifetime of the car, so the current cost of the add-on could be justified.

The second lesson is the use of off-the-shelf modules. In this way, the project benefits from the economies of scale that PV systems are famous for. It would be difficult to use off-the-shelf modules in cars, but if Toyota introduced the solar roof in all its Prius cars (for example), it could increase the production rate of solar roofs for the Prius from a couple of thousand per year to about 350,000 per year (global Prius sales in 2016). Modules with similar high efficiency cells in the wholesale market sell for about $0.50/W (i.e., $90 for the 180W used in the Prius).

Most of the costs arise from integrating the PV cells into the roof of the car. These costs could decline significantly due to economies of scale as well. If Toyota could cut costs to those of the train company ($540 for 180W already installed in the car, including inverters and other costs), the breakeven period would be about 2.5 years. Slashing costs would make a solar roof a no-brainer (especially for consumers like me who would be able to drive the car without ever using a charging point or stopping at a gas station).

Interesting Niche

This would open an interesting niche for solar companies. If all the EV and hybrid EV cars sold globally in 2017 (expected to be between 3 million and 4 million) had a 180W roof, an additional 840 MW (an extra 1%) could be added to global solar PV demand. But solar roofs need a champion to push them into the mass market in the same way Tesla pushed EVs away from the margins. My last blog discussed two startups that are exploring this niche. However, traditional manufacturers could do the same to differentiate their brand and cars from the competition. Toyota is an obvious choice given its brand association with hybrid cars, but other manufacturers could step in. For example, Volvo could be a great candidate since it is hybridizing all its models.

 

Can Solar Make an Impact on the Transportation Market? Part 1

— August 31, 2017

People have dreamed of solar-powered vehicles for decades. The first World Solar Challenge race occurred in 1987 and the first American Solar Challenge (then called Sunrayce) was held in 1990.

Thanks to improvements in solar costs and the EV value chain, the dream is closer to reality. Two startups (Sono Motors in Munich, Germany and Lightyear in Eindhoven, the Netherlands) have projects underway. Sono Motors successfully crowdfunded more than half a million dollars in September 2016 and revealed its first car on July 27, 2017: the Sion. According to Sono, the Sion will cost between $13,200 and $17,600 depending on the battery size and will run without refueling for around 30 km with a 1 kW solar system. It will be available in 2019.

Lightyear is an unofficial spinoff from Solar Team Eindhoven. This team built the Stella and Stella Lux solar racers—both winners of the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge Cruiser Class. The cruiser class replicates traditional cars, with seating space for four people. Lightyear has been taking preorders since June 29, 2017 for €119,000 ($138,000). The car is expected to offer a range between 400 km and 800 km and travel between 10,000 km and 20,000 km per year in low irradiation areas (e.g., United Kingdom and the Netherlands)—charging only with its PV system.

Today’s Solar-Powered Vehicle Option

A solar-powered vehicle option is available on the market today. Toyota’s latest Prius Prime Plug-in Hybrid offers an option in Japan to add a 180W solar roof that charges the main battery. Toyota claims that the roof will give the car a maximum solar rage of 6 km in Japan, which is a country with medium irradiance levels. The option to add the solar roof costs $2,500, which adds 5%-10% to the vehicle price. This seems expensive given the savings it provides compared to buying electricity from the grid that costs below $70 per year, even with the high electricity prices in Japan. From a convenience point of view, the system might make more sense for people without parking at home and short daily drives. My daily commute is around 4 km, which means that if I had the Prius Prime Plug-in Hybrid with the 180W solar roof add-on, I could drive mostly electric all year without visiting a charging point. It is still an expensive feature, however, which is why most mobility analysts—like my colleague Scott Shepard, who analyzes the EV market—have been skeptical about the idea of putting solar and EVs together. Yet, other automakers are exploring the PV-EV connection, as well. Audi has just announced it will unveil a prototype EV with solar panels on the roof to extend the vehicle range.

Despite the skepticism, one successful solar-powered vehicle project exists. Part 2 of this blog series will look into Indian Railways’ newly launched solar diesel multiple unit trains.

 

Volvo Adds Electrons Across the Board

— July 6, 2017

Volvo Cars isn’t the biggest player in the premium automotive landscape, but it seems to be one of the smartest in the years since being acquired by China’s Geely Group. Sweden’s sole surviving volume automaker has moved aggressively to reinforce its safety-oriented heritage with the development of automated vehicles. And the company just made the news, as CEO Hakan Samuelsson announced that the brand was going “all electric” from 2019.

Read Past the Headline

While this was an important announcement about Volvo’s environmentally friendly intentions, it also illustrates the importance of reading past the headline. Readers would be forgiven for thinking that Volvo wants to transform itself into the next Tesla. The reality is that between 2019 and 2021, all products from the Volvo Car Group will transition to having some degree of electric propulsion. That includes three new battery EVs (BEVs) from the main Volvo brand and two other BEVs from the high performance Polestar sub-brand.

But the internal combustion engine isn’t going anywhere just yet—it’s just getting an assist from electric motors and batteries. In 2015, Volvo introduced its Twin-Engine system, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) propulsion system, on its large XC90 SUV and has since expanded availability to the other 90 series models, including a sedan and station wagon. The new midsize 60 series that shares a platform architecture with the 90s will also get this system.

Based on an animation released by the automaker, Volvo’s baseline setup from 2019 will be a 48V mild-hybrid that will utilize a belted starter-generator configuration. Along with a likely lithium ion battery with a capacity in the 0.5 kWh range, this should boost fuel efficiency by about 10%-15%. Navigant Research’s Low Voltage Vehicle Electrification report projects nearly 9 million global sales annually of 48V systems by 2025.

Engineering Made Easy

For a company that only sold a bit over half a million cars globally in 2016, this might seem like a lot of complexity. But Volvo only has three model lines going forward with several body styles, the compact 40 series and the larger 60 and 90. The larger vehicles share the scalable platform architecture and the 40s will use a new smaller platform. Across this range, Volvo is only using one engine family that currently has gas and diesel four-cylinder engines with natural aspiration, turbocharging, and combined turbo and supercharging. With a single engine family, engineering 48V capability should be straightforward. Even the PHEVs utilize this same engine with a through-the-road hybrid architecture that uses the engine with a conventional automatic transmission at the front axle and electric drive for the rear axle.

With a limited component set on only two core platforms, this transition should be manageable for a company of Volvo’s size. Geely can also leverage the technologies developed by Volvo, just as prior owner Ford did for many years. Numerous Ford vehicles, including the Taurus, Flex, and Explorer, still utilize a platform originally designed by Volvo in the 1990s. Geely can take both the powertrain and automation technologies developed by Volvo for its domestic brands, including the new Lync & Co. EVs.

For Volvo, utilizing light and strong electrification across its premium vehicle lineup will help it to meet increasingly stringent efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions standards in Europe and China, where it has seen significant growth. All automakers are looking at varying degrees of electrification as a strategy to meet these standards in a cost-effective way, as noted in Navigant Research’s Automotive Fuel Efficiency Strategies report. The difference is mostly in degree and configuration. As a premium brand, Volvo’s customers are also more likely to absorb the added cost of these technologies.

 

Diversity of EVs to Power Sales Growth

— May 23, 2017

Plug-in EV (PEV) sales have climbed by more than one-third thus far in 2017, and the plethora of new models coming out will continue to drive sales even higher during the next decade. Despite gasoline selling for less than $2.50 per gallon in much of the United States, PEV sales increased by 39% during the first 4 months of the year, according to data from HybridCars.com.

PEVs have been available in only a limited number of segments and have appealed primarily to middle- to upper-income buyers, which has constrained sales volumes. However, by 2020, the number and variety of PEV models for sale will grow dramatically. As seen in the table below, more than 30 new or updated PEV models will be on offer within the next 4 years from both established and aspiring auto companies.

More battery EV (BEV) than plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) models are expected, as improvements in battery technology are prompting automakers to push all-electric driving. PEV sales in the United States are expected to surpass 2.1 million annually by 2030, according to Navigant Research’s Transportation Forecast: Light Duty Vehicles report.

Announced PEV Models

(Source: Navigant Research)

A Range of Options: Hyundai, Kia, and Honda

While most auto manufacturers are focusing on increasing the driving range of their BEVs, Hyundai, Kia, and Honda this year instead announced cars that focus on value and efficiency.

Hyundai and Kia each announced a trio of models based on the new IONIQ platform: a hybrid, PHEV, and BEV. The Hyundai IONIQ BEV is estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to go 124 miles on a charge, which is superior to many of today’s BEVs—except for the Tesla Model S and X and Chevrolet Bolt. Comparable to the Ford Focus Electric and Nissan LEAF, Hyundai’s BEV is priced competitively (under $30,000) while offering greater range, but well below the Bolt and other upcoming 200-mile BEVs. Kia is using the same platform and propulsion systems with a taller crossover body style called the Niro, which will be slightly less efficient but may be better suited to the current market trends.

Hyundai challenged its engineers 11 years ago to produce the most fuel efficient hybrid vehicle available, and the design was used for the six new variants from the two brands. According to fueleconomy.gov, the IONIQ BEV is the most efficient of all vehicles, earning a 136 combined mpg equivalent rating. The car also won the greenest vehicle award from the ACEEE.

During an extended test drive earlier this year, the IONIQ was a pleasure to steer through turns and had quick acceleration and a comfortable interior. It is a very competitive offering. The company is developing a longer range BEV, but the added battery mass means it won’t be as energy efficient, according to Hyundai.

Honda’s upcoming Clarity EV is expected to travel around 80 miles on a single charge, which is well below the standard of 110 miles or more for current BEVs. The company has taken some heat for announcing a car that is “uncompetitive” from the start in both range and price, as it is expected to list for more than the LEAF or Fusion and near the price of the longer range Bolt.

EVS Conference

The international EV community will be gathering in October at the 30th EVS Conference in Stuttgart, Germany. Billed as the largest trade fair and conference event for electric mobility, EVS features manufacturers of EVs, charging infrastructure, and mobility software and solutions, as well as researchers presenting papers on the latest innovations. Navigant Research will be discussing the latest EV innovations during a presentation at the conference.

 

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