North Carolina, United States: Four years ago, NASCAR legend Richard Childress added golf to his wide-ranging portfolio of business interests with the purchase of what is now called Sapona Ridge Country Club, where Childress has been a member since the 1990s.
In August 2012, the two-time Daytona 500 winner and long-time Chairman and CEO of Richard Childress Racing (RCR) purchased the former Sapona Country Club, nestled in Lexington’s gently rolling hills just off Highway 52.
RCR has a long-time relationship with Dow Solar, a division of Dow Energy and Water. As a club owner, Childress found himself impressed with one particular Dow Solar innovation: the company’s FlexsoLyt suite of products, which includes solar panels for golf cart rooftops.
The solar panels ultimately reduce the amount of electricity needed to charge cart batteries that are normally plugged into the wall.
“This technology really caught my attention,” Childress said. “I thought we should try (solar panels) on our golf carts at Sapona Ridge. Our electric bill is expensive.”
The use of solar panels on golf carts is a natural fit because the golf carts already have batteries installed for energy storage, spend most of the day outside in the sun and require recharging at night.
Others have applied solar panels to golf carts in the past, but low panel efficiency has limited the usefulness and payback. Dow Solar’s new product, which the company has been working on for more than three years, nearly doubles the energy output as their competitor’s panels previously used.
Childress also has a strong relationship with Textron and E-Z-GO Golf Carts, so he placed a call to his friends at both companies. The end result: Dow Solar recently equipped 21 of Sapona Ridge’s top-of-the-line fleet of E-Z-GO RXV golf carts with the FlexsoLyt panels.
In addition, two carts are equipped with wireless data collection, as are two carts not incorporating the solar technology.
Dow Solar is accessing the data remotely to compare the performance of the carts with solar to the carts without solar. Based on this data, they measure exactly how much energy the solar panels provide and how much electricity they offset. In time, they will better understand how the solar panels affect battery health and lifetime.
“(The solar technology) should extend battery life up to one or two years longer, plus using a lot less electricity,” said Childress. “It’s a green effort that we’re putting out there. I think you’re going to see a lot of golf carts using them in the future.”
Michael R. Parkhurst, Vice President, Golf for Textron Specialised Vehicles Inc, which designs and manufactures E-Z-GO golf carts, said: “E-Z-GO is always looking for new technologies that can benefit our customers and our industry, and so it’s exciting to partner with a company like Dow that is so well known for its legacy and culture of innovation.
“Being able to partner with Richard’s club is a bonus. We have a wonderful relationship with RCR and are very excited about the opportunity at Sapona Ridge.”
The lightweight solar panel is easy to install, attached to the golf cart roof using a double-sided adhesive. The panel collects energy from the sun and transfers that energy to an electronic device called a charge controller. The charge controller accepts the energy from the solar, converts it to the voltage that the golf cart batteries operate at and charges the existing batteries.
“The low profile, flexible nature of our photovoltaic CIGS cells and peel-and-stick method of installation create a great looking roof that installs quickly,” said John McKeen, Dow Solar’s Midland Research & Development Leader.
“We saw this as an opportunity to offset electricity usage required to recharge the golf carts, to increase battery lifetime, and to potentially provide additional features on the golf cart such as GPS, phone charging, etc, without negatively impacting the golf carts ability to complete rounds, as the added features all use energy from the battery, if solar was not installed.”
Dow is also testing solar panels at a golf course in the San Francisco Bay area. So far, everyone involved has been encouraged by the results.
“E-Z-GO is very impressed by the early results of field tests of the solar canopy, and we look forward to working with Dow and the team at Sapona Ridge to further refine the technology,” said Parkhurst.
“Right now all indications show it’s going to work great for electric carts,” said Childress. “All the data they’re seeing makes us think this can be really successful for E-Z-GO and the entire electric cart industry.”
E-Z-GO is an Executive Member of the Asian Golf Industry Federation.