Solar power for electric cars

Here’s a breath of fresh air for the future of electric vehicles: Cities across the country have been given the green light to install more solar energy charging stations to energize the demand for electric vehiccles.

Hundreds of these solar power recharging stations have sprouted up across the nation, giving juice to the “green revolution” and building upon awareness that the sun is a versatile and efficient renewable energy resource — here today, here to stay.

The US federal government has already doled out several hundred million dollars to at least nine cities so that they can install free charging stations designed to keep electric vehicles on the road and influence tepid public purchasing attitudes.

Many of these recharging connections, which look something like streamlined gasoline pumps, have been deployed at highly concentrated areas including shopping malls, motels, and dozens of public places where cars might be parked long enough to get a jolt of needed power.

Private enterprise is also joining forces in collaborative efforts to converge smart technologies with solar energy to put these carports on the map where they might be least expected — from South Bend, IN to Portland, OR.

Automakers couldn’t be any happier. They see solar-powered EV charging stations as an avenue to make owners of conventional automobiles, who may have been reluctant to pay a heftier price for an EV, green with envy now that the potential exists to drive farther without getting stranded and eliminating the cost of gas at the pumps.

By the end of 2012, almost every major automaker, from General Motors to Honda, plans to have a least one electric car on its showroom floor; a far cry from when the highly successful Toyota Prius became the first hybrid — a car that runs on two distinctive sources of power — to penetrate the market in 2006.

As EVs enter the American mainstream in anticipated record numbers, corporate planners and municipalities must play an instrumental role in laying the groundwork to continue the trend toward clean technology within the nation’s transportation infrastructure. Careful consideration and understanding of the deployment and integration of public charging stations should be made with daily commuting and typical driving habits in mind.

Otherwise, “range anxiety” will remain the Achilles’ heel of electric cars. Batteries need to be charged by safe, practical, affordable and easy-to-access renewable energy sources that eliminate concerns related to extended travel.

Americans have further fuel for thought. Natural-gas-powered vehicles are another contender to replace the traditional gasoline-automobile option. Natural gas is an abundant resource that produces significantly lower pollutants than gasoline and it is available virtually everywhere.

Cars powered by natural gas and their electric counterparts both have the advantage of lower air-polluting emissions and reduced operating expenses.

The success of these vehicles comes down to a significant reduction in prices, and an improvement in battery technology for electric vehicles to enter the mainstream.

Viable technologies exist today for alternative-fueled vehicles to become more than a vision, but a reality. What remains to be seen is a conscientious effort on the part of all Americans to educate, legislate, and enthuse one another to energize the transportation infrastructure with clean technologies so that the nation can become independent on foreign oil — and take a big healthy breath of fresh air.

Michael Gorton, CEO and chairman of Principal Solar, is a founding CEO of TelaDoc, the nation’s leading telehealth company, where he pioneered a health care model in which members had access to telephonic physicians who could review medical records, treat, and prescribe medication that today supports the new paradigm in health care reform.