Opinion

Why VW could cost the auto industry and benefit solar


28 Oct. 2015 by Jason Deign, Solarplaza

The Volkswagen diesel scandal will accelerate the switch to electric vehicles, with multiple benefits for the solar industry.


VW


The growing scandal over diesel emissions could boost solar as the auto industry goes electric, according to analysts. This month it emerged that dozens of models from carmakers in addition to Volkswagen were failing European emissions standards.

Mark Barineau, a senior analyst at Lux Research, said increasing concern over the environmental dangers of diesel fuel could now help “accelerate the electrification in transportation in Europe, the US and elsewhere.”

He also believes that the additional demand for electricity from more electric vehicles will be positive for the solar industry. “Where there is a bigger uptake of electric vehicles, there will be a bigger uptake in solar,” he emphasised.

Since the scandal broke, USD$200 billion has been wiped off the market capitalization of publicly owned car companies around the globe. That’s the entire market value of Toyota. Volkswagen alone has announced it is recalling 8.5 million vehicles across Europe.

And Morgan Stanley says public and government distrust of auto companies will lead to greater and costlier regulation that will undermine diesel and gasoline models’ current advantage over electric vehicles.

In 2013, 53% of all newly registered cars were powered by diesel engines, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation’s European Vehicle Market Statistics Pocketbook 2014.

The share of diesel was also expected to rise in the US, fighting off competition from electric and hybrid vehicles to get 14% of the light duty vehicle market by 2030, according to a study by the Fuels Institute. Recent events cast doubt over this outlook.

Meanwhile, self-driving cars from Google, Tesla’s genius for innovation and public relations, a rumoured Apple car and ever-cheaper batteries are all adding to the trend towards electric vehicles.

Battery costs are predicted to hit $300 per kilowatt-hour by 2020, according to the International Energy Agency’s Global EV Outlook.

Reductions in the cost of batteries, and the cars they power, will also be an essential tool in achieving many countries’ CO2 targets, according to a 2015 paper, Enabling solar electricity with electric vehicles in future energy systems, by researcher Pedro Nunes.

“Model results show that CO2 emissions targets can only be achieved with high levels of photovoltaics and electric vehicles,” he said. “Environmental targets to reduce CO2 emissions can only be reached with at least 40% of electric vehicles market share.”


Solar Tree


Further impetus for solar-powered electric vehicles could come from all-in-one domestic offerings combining energy storage, energy efficiency, electric vehicle charging and rooftop solar.

Barineau said forming partnerships that will deliver such packages is “easier said than done”, although collaborations such as that between SolarCity and Tesla, the carmaker, are already offering complementary solar-plus-storage solutions.

At the same time, a number of companies are developing solar vehicle charging systems.

Powertree Services, for example, is installing solar panels on apartment building roofs and electric vehicle chargers in parking garages to allow apartment dwellers a route into solar combined with home charging.

Meanwhile Envision Solar is marketing what it describes as “solar trees” that can be installed in parking lots to shade cars from the sun while offering electric vehicle charging from solar panels.

An electric vehicle boom would not just be good for solar in general, but could also favour markets where growth is currently slowing.

At least for the mid-term, electric vehicles will be pricier than traditional models and so will see disproportionate sales in developed countries with maturing PV markets… hopefully giving the solar industry a shot in the arm just where it’s most needed.