This is one of the interesting topics that first drew my eye to the use of solar power in our everyday lives. The idea of being able to jump into your car and make a cross country trip without ever having to fork over money on gas would be appealing to anyone, especially with the high gas prices we are dealing with in today’s economy.
The concept of a solar powered car is the same as having solar panels on your home, in so much as, solar panels work by garnering power from the sun and holding it in a battery bank. The car will operate on the power from the battery bank, which gets constantly recharged by the sun during the day and then uses power exclusively from the battery bank when the sun goes down.
Solar energy offers a lot of advantages, not the least of which is the fact that it is eco-friendly, but how many products, including solar powered cars, are made using this type of power today? The answer may surprise you. If you are interested in learning more about solar power and its benefits, be sure to read our article on “What is Solar Energy?“
Are Solar Powered Cars a Thing?
If you are wondering if solar powered cars exist and are now on the market, the answer is both yes and no. As of early 2020, there are currently no commercially produced vehicles that operate solely on solar power. There are some prototypes that have been manufactured, but most are only used in events and races featuring solar technologies.
All is not lost because some companies such as Sono Motors and Lightyear One are in the process of working on cars that run on solar energy and nothing else. There are also some car companies that are using partial solar power in some of their vehicles. An example of this is the Toyota Prius hybrid.
That being said, there are a lot of potential problems with producing a car that is powered solely by the sun, which means that the idea of everyone owning a solar powered vehicle anytime soon is not going to happen.
Why Are Solar Powered Cars So Difficult to Use?
Solar powered vehicles need to have solar panels, usually called cells, installed on top of the vehicle, and of course, they need the full sun to get the power they need to run. The main problem is that right now, the solar cells on most of these cars convert the sunlight into usable energy at no more than 20% efficiency. So, even if a car manufacturer made a vehicle that is covered from bumper to bumper in these solar cells, it would still likely be able to power the car for only about 20 to 25 miles.
What’s worse is that this can only happen if the cells are in the perfect position to the sun and if you get a full day’s worth of sunlight, but any deviation from this would mean the cells would capture less energy and as a result, you’d be able to operate the car for even shorter periods of time.
This isn’t to say that we should just give up on the idea of everyone having solar powered cars one day. In fact, if you live in a really sunny area and you have a short commute to work each day, these cars would do very well and provide you with just what you need to get back and forth every day.
Will Everyone Own One?
The simple answer to this question is it will happen someday. While it may take some time for this to become a reality for everyone, all is not lost. In addition to the companies I mentioned above, Hyundai is another auto manufacturer working on a solar powered vehicle, but with most of these companies, the cars will only be available in certain regions or countries. For instance, the auto manufacturer Toyota currently offers its Prius Prime solar rooftop hybrid in Japan only.
Things are not completely hopeless, however. For all of you DIY enthusiasts, it has been proven that you can use regular solar panels on your vehicle, just like the ones used in your home and they’ll work just fine. But of course, the real goal for these car manufacturers is to produce an inexpensive, efficient vehicle that is powered completely by the sun and doesn’t need a drop of gas or diesel.
Things You Likely Didn’t Know About Solar Powered Cars
In case you wanted to know more about solar powered cars, here are some facts that you might find interesting:
- As of now, the goal for Lightyear One is to produce the first solar powered vehicle for consumers by the year 2021.
- Compared to other vehicles, they are considered as low-maintenance because there is a huge reduction in the number of parts needed to keep the vehicle running.
- Contrary to what many people believe, they can be driven at night because they store energy in a battery bank in the vehicle that is used when the sun goes down.
- The design of these cars is limited right now because of the solar cells that are installed in the vehicles.
- They currently weigh less than standard cars and the hope is that it remains this way for the commercially produced versions.
- You will more than likely still have the option to charge up using battery charging stations at home or on the go.
For people who are interested in reducing their carbon footprint, cars powered by the sun are something they can feel good about, and although the first solar powered vehicles are likely to be a bit pricey, they are not expected to be out-of-reach for the average consumer for long. Even now, the few solar powered vehicles out there have proven to be very efficient and cost-effective, and it is likely only going to get better from here.