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.


Want to keep up with the latest EV news? Don’t forget to follow Transport Evolved on Twitter, like us on Facebook and G+, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.


Want to keep up with the latest news in evolving transport? Don’t forget to follow Transport Evolved on Twitter, like us on Facebook and G+, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

You can also support us directly as a monthly supporting member by visiting

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInDigg thisShare on RedditEmail this to someonePin on Pinterest

Related News

  • vdiv

    Unfortunately a very large number of people do not own the roof over their head, they rent or live in multi-dwelling buildings. These people will continue to rely on the utility companies that have been rather reluctant by-enlarge to develop large scale PV and wind parks and to promote home installations. Hopefully with increased performance and lower cost PV roofs will become a sought-after amenity for all homeowners.

  • Hubert Savelberg

    In Belgium the government wanted last year to start a yearly tax to solar-panel owners for using the grid to store their free electricity… if a governement sees that a lot of people are using a technique, they will “invent” a tax for it…

    • Surya

      Which is why you should install batteries at home so you don’t have to send your electricity to the grid :)nFirst they do away with the feed-in bonus (understandeable) and then they start taxing it? Belgium still hasn’t done a lot to encourage renewables or EVs. I’m ashamed to be living in a country so incapable of taking decisive action.

  • DdavidD

    This should be a “heads-up” to gas-station owners – they should start to anticipate this transition and begin to install EV charging stations/solar panels, so that when the tide turns from gas to electricity powered vehicles there will still jobs for gas-station owners/attendants, and there will be more places to charge-up all of the EVs.

    • Raphael Garcia

      yep agreed… being prepared ahead of time always great..i nwonder the cost… sounds like a good plan for future investments ?:)

  • EricT

    I can see this scenario play out in 30 possibly 40 years but the tech will almost have to be forced into the mainstream because I have already encountered scores of people where I live who are unsure what to make of my Nissan Leaf. “no gas engine at all?” is what I hear most of the time. Its looked at as a novelty not an actual 1:1 functional vehicle. Maybe in some of the more progressive places like California and Oregon they will start repealing gas stations and installing larger charge areas. Photovoltaics are almost unheard of here, so that will hopefully change as the price and technology get better, I would certainly like to charge my car during the day via my roof and use the grid at night because at least one perk of owning an EV, it helps me get a discount from the power co.

  • The panels may not (yet) be able to recharge a car but perhaps they could `top up’ the car while it’s out and about. It may be a great end to range anxiety.