Elevating the Reliability of Solar-Powered EV Charging

Johanna Halperin
August 31, 2023


Renewable, alternative solar energy

With global temperatures breaking records, the persistent reality of climate change is increasingly evident. Heatwaves prompt increased indoor cooling and car use, intensifying the challenge of transitioning to sustainable infrastructure. Particularly within electric vehicle (EV) charging, renewable energy faces a conundrum: while pivotal for reducing emissions, renewables struggle to support the evolving sustainable landscape amid extreme heat.   An IEA study on solar-powered EV charging states: “As PV electricity generation is strongly influenced by the weather, backup sources (i.e. stationary storage and/or public grid connection) are necessary. (Source: IEA Task 17 PV for Transport – Technical Report 2021) Meanwhile, the drive for renewable-based charging solutions continues to grow, especially as awareness rises and the impact of climate change increasingly becomes a part of our daily lives. According to the International Energy Agency, the global average stands at around 10 EVs per charger (2021), making alternative and hybrid charging methods pivotal in meeting this growing demand.

However, as we delve into how solar-powered EV charging fits into the larger EV charging landscape, an important question arises: Is solar power enough during the scorching summer months when temperatures soar to extreme levels? While solar energy remains a reliable source of power, including for EVs, the challenges posed by high temperatures on solar panel performance cannot be ignored and should be explored before pursuing investment in an alternative solar powered EV charging solution.

Understanding Solar Panels and Solar Cell Efficiency in High Temperatures

Solar panels, the heart of solar power generation, operate optimally under moderate temperature conditions. As the mercury rises, the efficiency and output of solar panels can suffer due to a phenomenon known as the “temperature coefficient.” This coefficient dictates the rate at which a solar panel’s efficiency declines as the temperature increases. Panels with higher temperature coefficients experience a more significant drop in output as temperatures soar, potentially impacting the overall capabilities of solar-powered infrastructure, including EV charging stations.

For instance, research conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) indicates that most crystalline silicon solar panels, widely used in the solar industry, exhibit a negative temperature coefficient. This means that as temperatures rise, panel efficiency declines. For every 1°C increase in temperature above the panel’s standard test conditions (usually around 25°C), the efficiency can drop by around 0.4% to 0.5%. This phenomenon underscores the importance of comprehending temperature dynamics in solar power systems.

In the context of solar-powered EV charging stations, the impact of the temperature coefficient can become particularly relevant during extreme heat events. As global temperatures surge, the ability of solar panels to generate sufficient energy for charging EVs might be compromised. Consequently, one of the sources that enables sustainable transportation could face limitations when it’s needed most. That’s why it’s important to mitigate potential efficiency losses by applying innovative hybrid techniques and solutions.

The Importance of Mitigating Efficiency Loss with Hybrid Charging Solutions

To address the efficiency loss of solar panels in extreme heat, various strategies and technologies have been developed. One such approach involves the integration of energy storage solutions. These systems allow excess energy generated during periods of high solar output to be stored for later use, ensuring a consistent power supply even when the solar panels are overheated or aren’t producing power at an adequate efficiency. While these solutions are effective in mitigating the impact of temperature on solar efficiency, they may not be sufficient in addressing the challenges posed by extreme heat alone.

Enter hybrid charging solutions, which combine the benefits of solar power with alternative energy sources to ensure consistent and reliable charging, even in the face of extreme weather conditions. The typical choice when it comes to readily available backup power is battery storage. Yet while the solar power and battery storage combination offer an excellent foundation for clean and sustainable EV charging, it may falter during prolonged periods of extreme heat. Batteries used in solar-powered EV charging stations are susceptible to reduced efficiency and performance degradation as temperatures climb. In fact, research from organizations such as the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) highlights that extremely high temperatures can accelerate battery aging and lead to capacity loss, potentially impacting their ability to store and release energy effectively. Thus, while batteries are effective under standard conditions, their vulnerability to extreme heat underscores the need for supplementary solutions that can deliver dependable power even in the harshest climate conditions.
Solar PV for EV

Acknowledging the Importance of Resilience

In situations where both solar panels and batteries struggle to maintain optimal performance, clean and sustainable fuel cells can step in as an “insurance policy” against power outages. The GenCell EVOX, for instance, provides a resilient backup power solution that can seamlessly take over during critical moments and during extreme heat and weather conditions. This unique approach serves as a complementary support system, ensuring that vital charging infrastructure remains operational when it matters most.

It’s important to emphasize that hybrid solutions such as the GenCell EVOX do not undermine the value of the solar power and batteries combination, rather add another layer of backup support where and when needed. Solar+batteries play an indispensable role in standard conditions and contribute significantly to reducing carbon emissions and enhancing energy independence. However, in the face of intensifying climate crises and extreme weather events, in addition to the lack of availability of EV charging infrastructure, the need for additional support to withstand these challenges, such as hybrid solutions, becomes evident.

In this environment, sustainable fuel cell solutions represent a source of reliability, offering a lifeline to the growing sector of solar-powered EV charging infrastructure during critical weather conditions. As temperatures rise and climate impacts become more pronounced, the “nice to have” aspect of backup power management solutions evolves into a “must-have.” The EVOX, for example, with its ability to weather extreme conditions, bridges the gap between the potential vulnerabilities of solar panels+batteries, ensuring uninterrupted power supply for essential charging operations.

Securing the Future of Solar Powered EV Charging with a Hybrid Solution

The future of solar-powered EV charging lies not only in the rays of the sun, but also in the innovative technologies that ensure reliability and availability under all circumstances. While solar energy remains an essential and sustainable energy source, its efficiency and output can be challenged during periods of extreme heat. Hybrid solutions are a good approach to improving the resilience of EV charging stations, an issue becoming more critical in today’s increasingly frequent and increasingly extreme climate conditions.

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