The use of solar power has been around for a long time, most of us probably even own something that is solar powered. From a solar powered portable charger or watch to maybe even a solar powered fridge in our homes.
A thought that has always been floating around is the idea to use solar energy to power cars. Although solar energy has gone through much revolution in photovoltaic development, there is yet to be a mass-produced solar to to hit the market anywhere in the world.
But the questions still remains, what is a solar powered car? And how will it work?
What is a solar vehicle?
There are different classifications when we talk about solar vehicles.
The term “solar panel vehicle” is generally used to describe any vehicle that has a solar cell integrated into its design. Solar Electric Vehicles (sEVs) are a good example. Such vehicles are able to run smoothly at night or in the absence of sunlight as they use their panels to store solar energy in their batteries.
So how do solar panels work on cars?
In less technical terms, solar panels contain photovoltaic (PV) cells. These PV cells take light, or photons, and convert it to solar energy. When sunlight hits the solar panels, PV cells produce direct current (DC) electricity.
The electricity from this process is converted into the standard voltage be a controller, then stored in the battery.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of solar-powered cars?
– Lower electric battery charging costs
– No additional cost beside the eventual battery replacement
– No noise pollution or air pollution
– Great for drivers who travel short distance in sunny climates
– Can be charges with cloud cover and driven at night
– Research into solar materials innovation is robust and could result in lighter batteries and more efficient photovoltaic cells
– Solar panels convert sunlight at about 20-35% efficiency. Thus, you will need a lot of sunlight to get any real power
– Solar panels need to balance efficiency and weight. Lighter solar panel are better for cars but they may not be as effective
– Highly specialist cars, making hyper local servicing more challenging
– When operational in cloudy areas, they are only fully optimal in sunny environments
– Lack of real investments be most OEMs
How solar energy gets integrated into EVs?
Solar Car Roofs
Solar car roofs have been around for quite some time. They are available as optional extras for cars such as:
Sonata Hybrid: With 6 hours of daily charging, Hyundai claims the Sonata Hybrid solar panels can charge 30 to 60% of a car’s battery. This adds around an extra 1,300 km annually.
Toyota Prius: In Japan, the Toyota Prius Prime is available with a solar roof to add up to 6 km of driving range per day. However, this tech is unavailable in the US as the materials used do not pass US rollover tests.
Nissan Leaf: The company released its first solar roofed car in 2010. But most of the company’s focus has been on increasing the battery capabilities and creating solar for buildings, so any real innovation on the solar roof has been, at best, an afterthought.
Solar power tonneau
Additionally, there are solar-powered tonneau covers. An energy storage unit consists of a solar panel and a high-capacity battery pack. Stored energy is accessible via a built-in AC/DC inverter, extending the electric vehicle range as it drives.
Solar-powered race cars have been created by engineering students can travel for long distances in sunny spots of Australia and California, an example is the World Solar Challenge.
However, this has failed to turn into successful startups, as seen with other competitive innovations like the hyperloop
Startups like Lightyear, founded in 2016 in the Netherlands, raised $100 million in funding. They are currently working on a vehicles retailing at $175,000, in hopes for a price drop as they scale.
Sono Motors, a german company, is creating the Sion. the company was founded in 2016 and has raised over $126 million in funding. The company has over 15,000 reservation valued at $385 million. We can probably expect an IPO soon.
Overall, solar energy, although having been around for a long time, lack collective interest and investments to allow for it to grow. We’re not sure we will ever see solar-powered cars becoming a thing, in the end it has become just another missed opportunity to add to the list.
I’m sure the world will figure out other innovative ways to use the sun to power things and maybe even the world. We may not ever have solar powered cars, but i’m sure there’s much more to look forward to.
Source: The Next Web (TNW)