The Solar Powered Car – Is It For Real?
Electric cars are finally starting to get the interest that they deserve. To be fair to consumers this is largely because the prices are now competitive with combustion engine only and the performance we demand is getting better with every model. Maybe what we need to be demanding is a solar powered car?
The performance that I am talking about is not only the acceleration as this is a bonus of electric drive that many consumers did not see coming. When I say performance I mean the range of the electric drive, the charge time of the battery, the lifetime of the battery, cost of the battery and little things like how does it perform in the northern climates in the winter? What happens in an accident?
Being able to have a range of over 300 miles and a charge time of less than 20 minutes is so important when we compare electric vehicles to combustion engine. What would be perfect is if we could charge the battery to the car while we are driving or sitting in our driveway. I mean from the sun! This would be perfect right?
A First Step Towards A Functional Solar Powered Car – The Solar Parking Canopy.
Solar parking canopies are starting be very popular both for residential and commercial parking lotA s. If you have an electric car it would be great to park it at work, under a solar pv parking canopy and charge your car for free.
Even better would be if the car body itself was a solar pv material and charging was automatic during the daylight hours.
Toyota is stepping up their efforts to try to lead the pack of automotive companies offering electric vehicles and plugin hybrids. For the new Prius PHV ( plug-in hybrid vehicle ), they are using Panasonic lithium batteries and now a Panasonic designed solar phot0-voltaic roof panel that looks nice and is capable of adding some charge and therefore range to the vehicle when using electric drive. This is the beginning of a solar powered car being for sale in the near future.
If the car could recharge from the sun in this way, the issue of whether we have reduced overall emissions from the power plants is solved. Electric cars can be charged from electricity made from the combustion of coal or natural gas or from electricity generated from wind turbines or solar cells.
If the car charges itself from the sun, there is no chance to use anything but clean solar electricity.
So far solar powered electric vehicles have been limited to research projects and challenges between university student teams. The cars are super light using carbon fiber materials and made to carry only one person for long distances while driving in intense sunlight in areas like Australia or the desert.
If commercial vehicles are ever going to be able to use their surface areas to generate solar electricity, there needs to be a very big break through in solar cell efficiency.
Panasonic and the solar powered car.
Panasonic Corporation has worked on the development of new applications of solar cells through the effective use of high performance and high reliability technologies and know-how that have been accumulated through the development, manufacture, and sales of solar photo-voltaic modules for residential, public and industrial use.
Panasonic’s solar cells have a unique structure that combines a crystalline silicon substrate and an amorphous silicon film, and feature high conversion efficiency and excellent temperature characteristics. Conventional automotive solar cells can output up to several tens of watts and have been used only for the auxiliary charging of 12 V batteries and ventilation power sources for parked cars;
however, the use of the features of Panasonic’s solar cells allow a high output (approx.180 W) in a limited area on a car’s roof, enabling the charging of the drive lithium-ion batteries as well as 12 V batteries, resulting in a possible extension of an EV’s travel distance and increased in fuel economy.
Furthermore, Panasonic has developed technologies to laminate three-dimensional curved glass to match the new Prius PHV’s elegant body design, achieving the installation of modules on the roof without impairing the advanced design. This will eventually contribute to the improvement of the vehicle’s environmental performance.
Towards the solar powered car.
Panasonic says they will make efforts to expand the use of the “HIT™ Photovoltaic Module for Automobile” and contribute to the achievement of an environmentally friendly society in the automotive as well as the housing and industrial fields.
After thought. The solar powered car is inevitable just as is the off grid solar powered home and business. We have been working to perfect the combustion engine car for over 100 years and today’s models are light years ahead of the Model T. The same thing will happen for electric cars and solar electricity. These two things are meant to be together and in the end, the solar powered car will be known as the car.
Of course the question is will it be in time? It was just reported last week that for the first time, the largest source of emissions is coming from transportation. This is very preventable using today’s technology and just as wind and solar pv arrays have changed the electricity market so too will the vehicle market be changing. Personally I can hardly wait for a truly solar powered car that it affordable and takes more than one person.
Gordon's expertise in the area of industrial energy efficiency and alternative energy. He is an experienced electrical engineer with a Masters degree in Alternative Energy technology. He is the co-founder of several renewable energy media sites including Solar Thermal Magazine.