The idea that cars can run entirely on solar power is gaining traction these days. Rethinking gasoline-based transport as a major source of air pollution and depletion of natural resources will help tackle the climate crisis. An alternative solution to this problem could be the creation of vehicles that convert the energy of the sun into electricity.
The first solar-powered car was shown on August 31, 1955, at the General Motors Powerama in Chicago. It was a small car, 15 inches (38 cm) long, which became the main attraction of the event, which laid the foundation for the future of solar-powered automobile production.
Operating principle of a solar vehicle
Although the Sun’s energy is not yet available to provide sufficient power to operate a vehicle, many automakers are trying to find the use of solar batteries as an alternative source.
The principle of a solar car is based on the conversion of solar energy into electrical energy, which is the power source for the solar-powered electric motor installed in the car. The principle of converting solar energy into electrical energy is based on “p-n conductivity” created in solar cells made of two layers of silicon with the addition of various substances.
An electric motor can be connected, ensuring normal operation in various operating modes as well as a number of batteries that are responsible for the supply of electrical power. Such a circuit can serve as a drive for mechanical transmission, including car movement.
Challenges of Solar-Powered Automotive
Many methods have been developed to convert solar energy in cars into electrical energy. In addition, the use of solar energy to power various objects is a popular research area around the world.
There are many ways and theories for converting solar energy, the most promising for the automotive industry are:
- the use of photocells in transport and stationary;
- the use of various heat engines for converting solar energy (Stirling engine, steam engines, various variations of external combustion engines, etc.);
- the use of solar power plants (hot air, ground-based various variations, etc.);
Currently, the most popular use of photovoltaic cells for the accumulation and conversion of solar energy, due to their reliability, ease of maintenance, and manufacturability, including for cars and other vehicles. Typically, photovoltaic solar cells are installed on open surfaces that are good for sunlight, such as the inside of a car roof.
The Development of Solar-Powered Vehicles
Giants of the automotive industry are engaged in the production of solar-powered prototypes. These are BMW, Toyota, Mercedes, French Venturi, and Swiss Green GT.
Due to the low power and high cost of converting solar energy, photocells have not yet found widespread use, however, the prospects for their use in the automotive industry are quite large.
Developments are going in 2 directions:
- creation of a mixed design of a car with solar panels, which in cloudy weather can be recharged from the electric network and work like a regular car.
- creation of a car in which solar energy is used for auxiliary needs, for example, for the operation of a navigation system or condensation.
Thus, the idea of a “clean” solar-powered car technology is not ready yet. Meanwhile, experimental models of such vehicles have already been tested for sale to wealthy buyers.
Next to read: Tesla Developments for Sustainable Transportation
Dutch company Lightyear announced the results of testing its latest prototype electric vehicle, Lightyear One, which is equipped with solar panels for additional power. In practical tests, the car covered a distance of 710 kilometers on a single charge of a 60 kWh battery. During testing in a full driving cycle, the car moved at a speed of 85 km / h. According to Lightyear, the One will be very energy efficient and will be able to generate about 12 kilometers per hour from its rooftop solar panels.
The company has announced that the exclusive 946 Lightyear One series will go into production in the first half of 2022. The company plans to enter the mass market in 2024. The cost of one will be about $ 165 thousand.
Lightyear was able to integrate photocells into the electric sunroof of the Tesla Model 3 and Volkswagen to dramatically increase its autonomous range. The integration into other vehicles is also possible.
American company Humble Motors plans to launch a solar-powered crossover. According to Inside EVs, the vehicle was named Humble One and will be able to carry four people. The main competitors of the novelty will be electric vehicles Tesla, Lucid, and Rivian.
The price of the car in the basic version is $ 109,000. At the moment, the acceptance of preliminary applications for the car has already begun. Serial production of new items will begin in 2024. The first cars will be delivered to customers in 2025.
So far, the car exists only as a virtual concept. The crossover will receive a roof consisting of solar panels, however, the main source of power is a rechargeable battery.
Aptera’s Paradigm and Paradigm Plus
Aptera Motors has introduced a no-charge electric vehicle and has begun accepting pre-orders for it. The Paradigm and Paradigm Plus models use a solar panel with an area of about 3 m2 and a power of 700 watts. It consists of several sections mounted on the bonnet, roof, and even on the dashboard. This solar battery charges the traction battery, which, in turn, powers the electric motor (there are two in the top version).
According to the developers, such a solar battery generates energy during the day, which is enough for 60 km of run. And if you “stretch” the solar battery on the trunk lid, then the daily mileage on free energy will increase by another 38.5 km. Of course, these are the limit values in sunny weather, in reality, most likely, you can count on 50 km of run.
Depending on the power plant, battery capacity, and additional options (individual color, improved audio system, etc.), the price varies from 25 to 46 thousand US dollars.
Despite the success in the field of electric vehicles, Tesla CEO Elon Musk in 2017 gave up the idea of placing solar panels on the roof of the Tesla Model 3 as inefficient. However, solar power technology has improved significantly and is making more sense.
Elon Musk recently said the Cybertruck could have solar panels as part of its features but a solar electric van would make “a little more sense”. “A van, because you’ve got a big flat area, that’s actually where solar could start to make a little more sense because you could have a lot of areas,” Musk said.
In contrast to Tesla, Toyota has installed solar panels on the roof of its new Prius Prime hybrid, which will increase the vehicle’s range from 20 to 30 km depending on the amount of sunlight and weather conditions.
Thus, transport in the future will definitely use alternative energy sources. At the current level of development of solar panel technology, they are often not able to fully provide movement. However, solar technology is developing rapidly, which is only a matter of time.