Solar-powered cars will add a new era of sustainable transportation to the automobile industry. Much like solar-powered homes, they use the energy from the sun via solar panels, then transform that power into electricity to drive electric cars.
What is a solar-powered electric vehicle?
A solar-powered electric vehicle also known as a solar car or solar vehicle is an EV that is fully or partially driven by the use of solar energy. Solar cars have a built-in solar panel that converts sunlight into electricity that can be stored in batteries. This stored energy is then used to drive EVs through one or more electric motors.
What is the difference between an electric car and a solar-powered car?
Solar EVs and electric cars are very similar as they both use electric motors for propulsion. But the main difference between both of them is the way they are being charged.
An electric car is powered by electricity stored in a battery that can only be charged by plugging the car into an EV charger. An electric car can be charged by solar power, coming from locally fixed solar panels, attach for example on the roof of a house.
On the other hand, solar EVs have one or more electric motors that drive the vehicle. The solar panels convert solar energy into electrical energy that powers the electric motors which serve as the engine of a solar car. The generated electrical energy is also stored in the batteries that drive the solar car in the same way as electric vehicles do. They can be charged from EV chargers, but solar cars can also be charged from sunlight. Therefore, solar cars save the environment through the utilization of clean and green energy sources.
Working principle of a solar-powered EV
Solar cars have multiple components that work together to drive them. The working principle of major components and their combined function is explained below:
Solar electric vehicles have rooftop-mounted photovoltaic solar panels to receive the sun’s radiation. A single solar panel comprises multiple solar cells that are made from silicon and a combination alloy of gallium and indium. These elements have a unique property that enables them to absorb sunlight and generate an electric current through the process known as the photovoltaic effect.
The electrical energy is stored in a battery pack. The battery pack consists of multiple battery modules and each module contains hundreds of battery cells connected. The batteries of solar cars are usually made of lithium-ion (Li-ion) which has a higher energy density. Li-ion batteries are rechargeable and can be charged either through solar power or by a plugged-in charger.
An electric motor is the driving engine of a solar-powered EV. Each solar car has one or more electric motors that are powered by Li-ion batteries. Electric motors in a solar vehicle serve the same purpose as the gasoline engine in ICE vehicles, i.e. helps the vehicle move.
Benefits of Using Solar Vehicles
Solar-powered electric cars offer multiple advantages over conventional electric vehicles and some of them are briefly described below:
Unlike electric cars, solar-powered vehicles generate electricity from sunlight. Since this renewable energy is free, there will be fewer charging expenses than for a classic EV.
Electricity used to power EVs can come from different sources, including renewable sources such as solar and wind. But it can also come from options that are more harmful to the environment like coal and nuclear power. For this reason, we would consider solar cars a more eco-friendly option, as part of the charging process entirely relies on renewable energy.
Solar cars are powered by the sun which is freely available and provides endless energy sources. The mounted solar panels can harness this renewable energy at its full potential and store it in batteries for later use.
Solar Cars On The Market
Solar-powered electric vehicles are undergoing the research and development phase, and will soon hit the market in the upcoming days. Some new and old automobile manufacturers are trying to compete in a dynamic market with innovative solutions. Some of the top companies competing in the solar car market are mentioned below.
Germany-based company Sono Motors plans to introduce a solar electric vehicle to the market by mid-2023. Their flagship vehicle, Sion, is a self-charging solar car designed for everyday needs. The company marketed Sion as a family car that is affordable for every segment of society. With a price starting from $ 32,100, Sion will deliver 190 miles of range and is equipped with a powerful battery pack of 54 kWh.
An American startup company, Aptera Motors has designed a highly aerodynamic sleek solar vehicle named Aptera. Due to its highly energy-efficient design, the company claims that Aptera will deliver 1,000 miles of range. Aptera is a three-wheeled solar car with an elegant look and enough space for daily commuting. With a price starting from $ 25,900, Aptera will redefine the urban mobility concept.
Why Doesn’t Every Electric Car Have Solar Panels?
When thinking about solar-powered cars one could wonder, why does not every car use solar panels to charge itself?
Here are two major arguments against installing solar panels for every EV.
For a solar-powered car to recharge fully it takes a lot of time. The surface of a vehicle radiated by sunlight is pretty limited. The vehicle would have to be parked in broad daylight for some while until it is charged significantly.
Owners with a garage or a carport typically prefer to park the EV in those, which blocks the sun and therefore interrupts the charging process.
Solar panels for vehicles
The requirements for solar panels make on cars are a lot higher than the requirements for static installations such as roofs.
- Since the surface of cars is often curvy rather than straight, the solar panels need to be shaped similarly to the shape of the car.
- Solar panels for EVs need to fulfill the material requirements for crash tests.
- The solar panels need to be light, so they do not increase the weight of the car too much.
The higher requirements lead to higher prices for solar panels in cars. Therefore it is still cheaper to install solar panels on top of a carport or a roof and use the solar power to charge the EV.
Solar electric vehicles will transform the car electrification industry by adding a cleaner and greener means of traveling. Solar cars will help combat global warming and hopefully play a significant role in saving our planet for future generations.