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Solar Powered Gasoline and the Transition to Electric Vehicles

Posted on the 07 August 2011 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev

Solar Powered Gasoline and the Transition to Electric VehiclesThis may sound counter intuitive, but there’s a great opportunity for solar power to work with gasoline stations. Several months ago I wrote a piece titled “An Argument for Government Mandated Solar Power.” Not too long afterward, I noticed a photovoltaic array on top of the gas station covering at a nearby Conoco station. My point in the previous piece was that the vast expanses of flat roofing with an unobstructed (i.e. no buildings or trees to block sunlight) sight line offered a prime opportunity to install solar power.

Every time I drive by the Conoco station I try to sneak a peek at the array on top and the price of gas. Across the street (on the north side of the road) is another Conoco station, same flat roof, but without solar panels as far as I can tell. Whenever I catch the price of gas at the station on the east side of the road – the one with the solar panels – I quickly look over at the Conoco on the west side of the road. While there may be other factors in the price of gas between the two, the location, company, and product offers a number of constants in my little experiment. Different owners may have different pricing structure, but never in the 5 months since I noticed the array, has the Conoco with the panels had gas that is more expensive. As a corollary, the prices at the station with the photovoltaic array were 6 cents cheaper than their counterpart. Also, the marquee which displays the prices at the “solar powered” station is changed manually, whereas the adjacent station is electronic. Just a curious observation.

I cannot say with certainty that the panels subsidize the gas or allow the station to charge less than the Conoco on the west side of the road. However, here is a long, flat roof that is on the north side of a major street, which creates an unobstructed path for the sun, that is generating electricity for the station to use or sell back to the grid. After accounting for the upfront cost, the panels generate another source of income for the owners. This station is taking advantage of previous untapped resources, namely the expanse on top of the structure that covers cars as they fill up. Now imagine a situation where electric vehicles can charge up or swap out their battery for a fresh one at a traditional gas station that has generated its own electricity from a renewable resource. Herein lies the opportunity for a transition to renewable (and hopefully sustainable) fuels.

Currently, one of the major knocks on electric vehicles has nothing to do with the cars themselves. The issue has to do with the generation of electricity to power the car in the first place. With much of the country’s electricity coming from nonrenewable resources (and many of those generating pollutants and/or greenhouse gases), the argument goes that electric vehicles are not sustainable. This alleviates that part of the equation. The next step would be to build batteries that use non-toxic chemicals and eventually renewable materials.

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