The Electron Bank


Still confused? Did you expect solar panels on the truck? Well you're not alone. The following example may help:

Strictly speaking, if a vehicle can power itself from the sun directly using power generated by panels located on the vehicle; we would call this a solar car.  These are the toy like vehicles that Universities use to race.  Of course, this is not a practical solution for us commuters and soccer moms who have to drive real vehicles in the rain and at night.   

What we are talking about is a solar powered car.  A solar powered car uses electrons generated by the sun by panels not located on the car, but at a stationary position on a roof or on the ground.  Our 1998 Ford Ranger EV test truck uses power generated by 30 solar panels on top of the garage.  That power finds its way to the grid.  Then, the truck uses an equivalent (or less) amount of power to charge.  As long as the number of kWh generated = kWh used, the truck is solar powered.

To make this clearer, let’s use an example of a bank savings account. To keep this simple, let’s say you deal only in cash – one dollar bills to be exact. You make deposits and withdrawals in dollar bills. However the actual dollar bills you hand over to the teller when you make a deposit are seldom, if ever, the same exact dollar bills she hands you back when you make a withdrawal.  However, they are YOUR dollars and you can spend them any way you like. Dollars are dollars regardless of the serial number on the bill. They are fungible. When you deposit as much as you withdraw - or better yet more than you withdraw - you are not dependent on any other source of dollars.

Now substitute electrons for dollars as they too are fungible.  Just like the dollar bills the teller hands you, the actual electrons we generate with our panels my not ever reach the truck. However, the electrons are ours and we can choose to "spend" them in any way we choose. We choose to use a lot of them charging our truck. Since we generate (deposit) more electrons then we consume (spend), we are not dependent on any other source of electrons.

Here’s what’s not happening. The solar panels do not produce power fast enough for the truck to charge on just the solar panels alone. The truck consumes power too fast for that. Instead the solar panels are producing power over time and selling that power to the grid – making deposits in the electron bank if you will. Then, when the truck charges at our charger or somewhere else, it buys power back from the grid – it withdraws the electrons from the bank. However, it never withdraws as much as the solar plant has produced.

Here’s what else is not happening. There are no panels on the truck. Nowhere near enough solar energy falls on an area the size of a pickup to drive it down the road. Solar panels are best in a stationary and stable mount that is facing the sun or is designed to follow the sun, not on the back of a moving vehicle where they can cause glare or be a hazard in an accident.