This article was originally written as a press release for Quantum Power UK in January 2015 to promote a breakthrough in solar power technology.
It looks like a normal Ford Model T – but one modified version of this classic vehicle hides a new innovation that could revolutionise the way all of us get around. Jessica Law talks to the team planning to drive from John O’Groats to Land’s End in a solar-powered vintage car.
The eminent university city of Oxford is no stranger to scientific discovery, but technology start-up Quantum Power UK have created something that sounds more like Science Fiction than reality. The Maxcelerator Solar Power Doubler is a small black box capable of more than doubling the energy output of any solar panel. In other words, when wired to this device, a 20-watt solar panel can be made to yield 42.4 watts of power – and in terms of global energy, that’s a pretty big deal. QPUK spokesperson Darren Taylor puts it this way: “If we were in medical science, it would be the equivalent of discovering penicillin.”
Most solar panels are woefully inefficient. Even the best commercial designs can only use 20% of the energy they absorb from the sun. The Maxcelerator works by doubling their efficiency, allowing twice as much energy to be extracted from the solar panel cells and transferred to a battery. But when seen in action for the first time, it can look like magic. Darren recalls the reaction of the scientists who conducted the Maxcelerator’s Proof of Concept, a rigorous laboratory test to verify the technology’s authenticity: “They simply couldn’t believe their eyes – they insisted on testing it twice before they could believe what they were seeing was real.”
And what better way to showcase an incredible breakthrough than with an incredible journey? On a chilly Tuesday afternoon, Darren drives me to the site where QPUK’s flagship vehicle is being assembled. As soon as I set eyes on it, the design of the iconic Ford Model T is instantly familiar. And that’s intentional. “For decades, miniatures of the Model T have been used to advertise everything from petrol to custard,” says Darren. “We’re using the real thing to raise awareness of our breakthrough in a way everyone can recognise.”
This April QPUK will be putting their solar-powered electric modified Ford Model T to the test in true Wacky Races style, as part of the World Solar Challenge. The objective: to get from John O’Groats to Land’s End in a car fuelled entirely by sunlight. The QPUK team plan to lovingly convert their vintage Ford using recycled materials and three 250-watt solar panels (the same variety found on the roofs of many homes). “Needless to say, we’re hoping the rain holds off,” says Darren. But with the Maxcelerator squeezing twice as much power from every ray of pathetic British sunlight than any of their competitors, my bet is they’ll be more than capable of outstripping Dick Dastardly.
In the light of climate change and rising fuel prices, QPUK aren’t the first to combine Ford vehicles with green, emissions-free power. Ford Motor Company themselves have recently unveiled their plans for an entirely solar-powered electric Ford C-MAX. But how do you squeeze solar panels large enough to power a whole vehicle onto a measly 3m² car roof? Ford plan to bypass this problem by developing a canopy that concentrates the sun’s rays onto the car parked beneath it. But the Maxcelerator could double the power gained from the surface area of the car roof alone – a godsend when space is limited.
Imagine being able to commute to and from work every day without spending a penny on fuel. Ford Motor Company calculated that the average Brit commutes 21 miles a day. QPUK calculated that, in reasonable sunlight, the Maxcelerator can double a car solar panel’s power from 750 watts per hour to over 1.5 kilowatts: enough to complete your entire daily commute on sunlight alone. Then you’re free to blow all the money you saved on champagne and Faberge eggs.
But that’s only the beginning. In the future, QPUK envisions creating bespoke solar panel systems tailored for a whole variety of jobs. Scale the Maxcelerator up or down, and there’s no end to what’s possible. How about a pocket-sized, fold-out solar powered mobile phone charger that revives your phone at a record rate? Or how about a car cover with flexible, thin-film solar panels sewn into the fabric, that charges a battery while your car sits parked outside your place of work? Fold it into the boot, drive home, and you’ve got 5 kilowatts of free electricity to plug into your home grid. “That might not sound like much to you or I,” says Darren, “But in hot places like India and Africa, that’s enough energy for a whole household to live on. This technology really could change lives for the better. It could change the world.”
As the fine-tuning process continues, the Maxcelerator is becoming more efficient by the day. And if applied alternative energies, it could soon be set to completely revolutionise global energy use.
Merton Solar Farm in Oxfordshire is a field of 8,500 panels that generates around 21.2 megawatts of power an hour, and tens of million pounds a year. To encourage green energy, the UK government pays alternative energy farms a “feed in tariff” for every kilowatt/hour produced. It’s a strong incentive, but the only way solar farms can currently increase their output is to buy more panels. In a country where space is at a premium, this is often unfeasible. An army of Maxcelerators, however, could double a solar farm’s output in one fell swoop – not to mention their revenue.
But to make it all happen, QPUK needs supporters. The start-up are looking to raise £25,000 to complete their challenge and launch their research program. You can help by going to their website and pledging £10 in exchange for your very own Ford Model T solar powered nightlight, containing aspects of Maxcelerator technology. This is a chance to play a part in making history, and I, for one, won’t be passing it by.