Solar Panels, Electric Cars, Will Kill Gas Stations, Says Professor

The gas station’s days are numbered — and it’s going to be killed by rapid improvement in photovoltaic (PV) solar panel technology.

That’s the opinion of Keith Barnham, emeritus Professor of Physics at Imperial College, London, who says that solar panel technology is improving so quickly that society is on the brink of a solar panel revolution where motorists no-longer visit the gas station but plug their ultra-efficient electric cars into domestic solar panel installations instead. 

One day soon, we'll be able to do more than just this with solar panels.

One day soon, we’ll be able to do more than just this with solar panels.

Of course, combining solar panels and electric cars together isn’t exactly a new idea. Many thousands of electric car owners around the world already use electricity from solar panels mounted on the roof of their home to charge up their all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars. But Professor Barnham isn’t just talking about solar panels that you can put on the roof of your house: he’s talking about solar panels integrated into everyday items like windows and blinds.

Talking with The Telegraph at the Hay Festival, Professor Barnham detailed a new type of solar panel he and his team have been working on which is three times more efficient than current solar panel technology. As well as being more efficient, the solar technology being developed by the Imperial College team is far more flexible, meaning it could be embedded into practically any material.

Unlike traditional PV technology, the new solar panel material doesn’t require the perfect angle to operate at peak efficiency. As long as light hits it, the panels will convert light into electricity, which means the panels can be oriented in almost any direction.

Combine this with the ability to be woven into material, and Professor Barnham says one day we’ll just roll down the blinds to charge our car. And since the technology is also cheaper than current solar panels, getting solar panels on your home won’t be quite the massive investment it currently is.

We're still a away from solar panels on EVs, however.

We’re still a away from solar panels on EVs, however.

It’s worth noting however that while the latest solar panel technology from Imperial College is far more efficient than current technology, it still doesn’t mean we’ll be putting solar panels on our cars any time soon. Even at three times the energy density, solar panels are still not yet power dense enough to recharge a vehicle’s battery pack from empty to full in a reasonable amount of time.

The good news however is once Imperial College’s latest PV technology starts being commercialised, practically any home will be able to easily and cheaply generate the power they need to charge and operate an electric car. No gasoline necessary, predicts Professor Barnham.

“Free fuel for life from your rooftop. Even the most fervent opponents of electric cars like Jeremy Clarkson couldn’t argue with that,” he said.

While the ultra-thin, super-efficient panel technology isn’t mainstream yet — Barnham says the technology we already have is good enough to start the transition from gasoline to electric.

“We need to spread the word that we have got the technology already, we just need to use it,” he said.

We couldn’t agree more.

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