Faced with choosing among battery electric vehicles, fuel cell electric vehicles and solar-powered vehicles, we will start with the latter for now. Here, we will look at the technology, the stage of development and what’s to come. In particular, we want to know whether solar cars could help boost the transition to a carbon-free transportation sector.
Before we can get started, let’s look at what a solar powered car is. By definition, it is a car that only runs on solar power. However, in most cases, they are powered on partially by the sun and have a complimentary battery under the hood to increase their reach. Ultimately, the term describes battery electric vehicles with solar panels on their roof to charge the battery on the go.
Let’s compare solar powered cars
The Lightyear One is a fully electric vehicle with solar panels attached to it. Consequently, it can drive a whopping 497 miles on a single charge, which is a lot more than most other electric cars. The average reach of BEVs is only 190 miles on a single charge.
Even Tesla’s high-end car, the ‘Model S’, cannot compete with that. Trumping the industry leader begs the question: where does the difference come from? You might have guessed correctly – it comes from the 54 square feet of solar panels covering the Lightyear One!
Diving into the details, we see that these 5 square meters of solar panels can increase the range by up to 7.5 miles each hour. The patented double-curved solar array achieves 215 Wp per square meter. It may not seem like much, but if you put these numbers in relation, we see that it is quite significant, at last.
(On a side note, the average U.S. driver drives 29 miles per day, taking 55 minutes, thus operating at an average speed of 32 miles per hour. If the solar car can charge 6.9 miles in those 55 minutes, it increases the range by more than 21 per cent, or one fifth!)
Of course, solar powered cars are left behind without enough solar irradiation. Hence, Lightyear One’s similarity to a BEV comes in handy. It is a battery-electric vehicle, and a bit more!
Car-giants are boarding the solar-car train too!
Startups and established carmakers like Hyundai Motors, use the earth’ most abundant renewable energy source to increase their cars’ range. The Sonata Hybrid Solar provides up to 60% of the car’s battery power, provided that the solar roof generates additional power for 6 hours a day. The Korean carmaker is developing a transparent solar roof for a second generation of solar powered cars. They want to give customers the option to add the roof to other models as well.
Toyota, a Japanese carmaker is never behind innovation, whether it is hydrogen-powered vehicles, battery electric vehicles or solar powered cars. With a solar cell efficiency level of 34%, their “Prius plug-in hybrid solar” prototype might soon be an infrastructure-independent car.
Solar cars are not as rare as one might think. Sono Motors, with their version of solar cars called “Sion” is available for preorder already at a purchase price of € 25.500. The vehicle is expected to enter production in 2022.
Autonomously charging and driving with sun’s help
Stella Era’s car will never park in the shade again, thanks to its ability to self-drive into a sunny parking spot. If you don’t believe it, then watch this video!
What about the outlook for solar powered cars?
Bidirectional charging is on its way to influencing the future of electric vehicles overall. So, too, for solar-powered cars! In 2017, Elon Musk said that the least efficient place to put up a solar panel is on a vehicle. But now their Cybertruck comes with a solar-roof option.
It is hard to predict the future, but more car manufacturers, startups, and tech firms are developing solar options for our four-wheeled companions. Inevitably, we will see some massive steps towards full electrification of the transport sector. We believe solar cars to be part of that movement, although the exact extent remains unclear.
What do you think of a car powered by the sun?