LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - The car of the future took a spin in front of the state capitol with Gov. Asa Hutchinson behind the wheel, but the future of solar energy for cars and power grids is a little cloudy.
The special solar-powered car comes from a team at Lisa Academy North and will be entered in a competition. After going about a block on a bright morning, he found out it couldn’t go in reverse, which is something of a metaphor for the future of solar power itself.
The STEM students from the Sherwood charter school will have to pilot the aluminum-and-steel framed one-seater from Texas to California during the competition, though it’s not a race.
“It's not who goes the fastest,” said Jorge Galvan, the captain of the SolAR Team. “It's who travels the longest distance to make sure that the team is able to conserve the energy of the solar panels.”
That’s another metaphor for solar power in the state. The state's not in a hurry to implement solar energy, but not standing in the way either.
“We encourage the innovation and the development of it,” said Gov. Hutchinson. “We’ve got to continue to improve the innovation, but it’s already in the mix in terms of energy and power.”
A case in point arrived Tuesday when Entergy Arkansas flipped the switch on 350,000 solar panels in Stuttgart, capable of powering more than 13,000 homes.
That's good news for the utility and eventually for electric rates, but it’s less than ideal for home solar system installers.
“I tell people that in 20 years every house that gets built is going to have solar on it,” said Chad Collins, owner of Sun City Solar in Little Rock. “It just makes sense. The costs are going down low enough that it just makes sense to put it on your home.”
Those lower costs arrive just as incentives that drove the solar market fade. A federal tax credit has been extended until the end of 2019. Coastal states also added other rebates and inducements. Arkansas’ government has never offered up things like that, and the governor reiterated that after his spin.
And an important piece of the equation needs to be solved.
“The issue is batteries,” Collins said. “Solar is produced during the day. When the sun's out you have great energy production. At night or when it's raining, there's no good way to store that energy.”
But those lower costs will help, and our brightest minds are already working on it.
“I think this is very important because I have little cousins here as well as my brothers and sisters,” said Galvan. “Seeing this, this is an important thing for the world. Solar energy? I think it will be the future.”