At 40 kilowatts, it's hardly the largest solar installation in the world.

But the Solar Frontier PV panel installation announced today sits on the lower-level rooftop of Nissan’s global headquarters in Yokohama, Japan, and it will be used mainly to power rapid charging systems for electric vehicles in the building.

And that combination of low-cost solar panels, lithium-ion batteries, and all-electric vehicles starts to bring zero-emission transportation to life. The power from the system can charge around 1,800 Nissan Leaf electric vehicles per year, according to Solar Frontier.

In 2010, there were 73 million cars built globally. Only 20,000 were electric vehicles (EVs).

In 2020, 85 million cars will be sold and 10 percent or 8.5 million will be electric, according to Nissan-Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn. Nissan shipped 1,500 EVs to the U.S. in June.

The installation is the result of successful trials for an EV rapid charging system that combines CIS thin-film solar cells and lithium-ion batteries, jointly conducted by Nissan Motors and Showa Shell Sekiyu as part of a project sponsored by Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.  Any excess electricity left over from daytime consumption can be stored using lithium-ion batteries.

Solar Frontier claims that their panels provide a faster energy payback time, with ecological priority in every process: from requiring fewer raw materials to using reusable, environmentally friendly packaging.

Solar Frontier began research into CIGS thin-film solar in 1993. 

The company shipped 46 megawatts in 2009 and more than 100 megawatts in 2010.

The relatively quiet (until now, that is) firm has had product in the field since 2003 and with the backing of Shell, Showa and other big-money sources, has a sizable balance sheet and has already shown its willingness to invest billions of dollars into capacity. 

If Solar Frontier can meet the efficiency claims and time frames they are targeting, they are a company to watch very carefully.

Installation Overview

Solar Modules: CIS thin-film solar cells with maximum output of 40 kilowatts (Solar Frontier)
Power Conditioner: Rated output of 40kW (10kW×4 units) (Sanyo Denki Co)
Storage Battery Capacity: 96 kilowatt-hours (Lithium-ion batteries for four Nissan Leaf vehicles)
Grid Control Device: Rated output of 200 kilowatts  (Sanyo Denki)
EV Charger: 3 Rapid Chargers (50 kilowatts × 3 units), 4 normal chargers (3.3 kilowatts ×14 units)