Where are the solar cars? What you need to know
We talk a lot at SHIFT about product innovation, especially advances in battery chargers, size and range. Battery-powered electric cars are becoming mainstream with strong promises from OEMs to replace ICEs with electricity (and to a lesser extent hydrogen) power vehicles. But there is another type of energy that is even older - solar.
Although supply has undergone a relative shift in photovoltaic development, a full-fledged solar car has yet to hit the market anywhere in the world.
I wanted to find out why, so I decided to do some research.
What is a solar vehicle?
First of all, when we talk about solar vehicles, it is crucial to get the classification right.
They can run smoothly at night or without direct light as they can use their panels to store solar energy in their batteries.
Erm, so how do solar panels on cars work?
Let's make it easy.
Solar panels contain photovoltaic (PV) cells. These PV cells emit light, or photons, and convert it into solar electricity. When sunlight hits the solar panel, PV cells produce direct conventional electricity (DC).
The electricity from this process is converted to normal voltage by a regulator, then stored in the battery.
What are the benefits of solar powered cars?
- Lower electric battery charge charges
- There are no additional costs of last battery replacement
- No noise or air pollution
- Great for drivers traveling short distances in sunny climates
- Can be charged with cloud cover and directed at night
- Research on solar photovoltaic innovation is strong and could lead to lighter batteries and more efficient photovoltaic cells.
Very well, tell me the bad news
- Solar panels convert sunlight at around 20-35% efficiency. So you need a hell of a lot to get any real power.
- Solar panels need to balance efficiency and weight - lighter solar panels are better for cars but may not be as efficient.
- Highly specialized cars, which make hyperlocal servicing more challenging.
- While they can work in cloudy areas, they are only fully useful in sunny environments.
- Lack of real investment by most OEMs who have added so nice to be at the expense of sustainable innovation.
How is solar energy integrated into sEVan?
Solar car roofs
Solar car roofs have been around for a while. They are available as optional car options such as:
Hybrid Sonata: According to Hyundai, the Sonata Hybrid solar panels can generate enough electricity to charge 30 to 60% of a car's battery with 6 hours of daily charge. This adds up to an additional 1,300 km per year.
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 not available in the US because the materials used do not pass US rolling tests.
Nissan Leaf: The company released its first car with a solar roof in 2010 - well ahead of the package. But most of the company's focus is on increasing battery capacity and creating supply for buildings, so any real innovation on the solar roof has been, at best, in the west. -conception.
Solar powered tonneau
There are also solar powered tonneau. Solar panels collect the sun’s rays and store them in a full-capacity battery pack. Stored energy is obtained through a built-in AC / DC inverter, expanding the range of an electric vehicle as it drives.
While a handful of solar-powered race cars are created by engineering students who travel long distances in the sunny places of Australia and California, the Global Solar Challenge.
Unfortunately, this failed to translate into the initial stages of action, as we have seen with other competing tactics such as hyperloop.
Then there are the startups. And their efforts are making OEMs look piss-weak.
Lightyear was founded in 2022 and is based in the Netherlands. It has raised $ 100 million in funding.
They are currently working on a car selling for $ 175,000, hoping to fall in price as they scale.
The German company Sono Motors is creating the Zion. The company was founded in 2022 and has raised over $ 126 million in funding.
An old idea with many missed opportunities
Overall, supply is the area that suffers from a lack of combined investment that we have seen in electric and hydrogen batteries recently. It's almost as if companies began to get excited about supply in the early 2010s - but then they suddenly turned to the much more profitable electric batteries.
It's easy to feel jaded about solar powered cars. There is not enough general interest in providing the same level of investment - financially or technically - as other EV solutions. And I'm not sure we'll ever see it. Missed opportunity is nothing short of missed.
But, don't worry, I think the startups might save us. Keep an eye out for an article detailing these two companies in more detail. They are shaking up the automotive industry in a way that we have never seen before.