Solar Arrays Spreading to Hybrid Fueling Stations

LAS VEGAS — The Electrical Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee of Southern Nevada recently showcased a variety of combinations of energy-efficient technologies at the National Electrical Contractors Association’s annual convention at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas. Many of the emerging green technology pairings focused on providing clean and efficient sources of energy for plug-in electric vehicles.

Electric vehicles are more efficient than most other forms of motorized personal transportation and taking power from the grid contributes less overall greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere than using gasoline. Despite the benefits of green vehicles, many people are still concerned by the fact that the vast majority of drivers using electric cars are inherently drawing their fuel from unclean sources. Though wind and solar power are slowly expanding and accounting for more of the power coming into our homes and office buildings, the vast majority of energy still comes from coal and natural gas, which actually combine to provide more power in the U.S. than all other sources added together.

The next frontier in clean driving appears to be making a direct connection between plug-in vehicle refueling stations and clean sources of energy. Plug-in stations can accomplish this feat by placing small wind turbines and/or solar arrays on or around buildings and properties where drivers can recharge; or by wiring plug-in stations to much larger installations of turbines or arrays from a greater distance.

This combination of technologies has already been embraced by local Las Vegas government entities, which have installed photovoltaic solar cell arrays and electric vehicle fueling equipment at the Clark County Government Center parking lot, Las Vegas City Hall’s parking garage and the Stupak Community Center.

The trend is likely to spread to other local and state governments, as the cost of photovoltaic panels has taken a major dip in the last two years, with improvements in technology and increased competition from Chinese manufacturing driving cost down to about 84 cents per watt. Given that plug-in electric vehicles can travel about 3 to 4 miles per kilowatt-hour, the savings from installing solar cells can add up pretty quickly.

Using a solar array that would fit on the roof of an average house can provide a car with 12,000 miles of sun-driven power per year, meaning larger structures like public, commercial, and industrial operations could provide many cars with a very significant amount of solar-based fuel. Hooking these fueling stations up to the electrical grid can also result in energy savings for a company or government entity, as energy can be sold back to the electrical company during times when it is not being used by cars.

As time goes on, it appears that green energy solutions may grow exponentially, as many energy-efficient technologies can greatly benefit each other, creating a feedback loop where companies and government entities see more and more reasons to grow their individual green empires.