Solar cars, electric vehicles that recharge with sunlight

Solar cars, electric vehicles that recharge with sunlight

Although solar cars are nothing new, it is true that in the last 3 years this idea has returned with more force by the different brands determined to carry out their own version. The big car houses are clear that this is a great market niche to be exploited .

However, a priori it seems an unrealizable company in the short and medium term , since there are many complications in its development. In fact, in practice, solar panels are unlikely to provide the energy needed to travel short distances on sunny days.

Despite the difficulties, companies do not shy away from making promises and taking this challenge personally. But what are these types of vehicles about and what projects are on the way? In the next special, we will resolve these and other questions about the uncertain business of solar cars.

solar car

What is a solar car and how does it work?

Solar cars are those vehicles with an electric motor whose source of energy comes from a series of solar panels that are installed in the upper part of the body . Basically, we are talking about electric vehicles, as far as operation is concerned, since the propulsion system is similar to that of the conventional electric car model . The only thing that changes, in this case, is the source of the energy.

Perhaps many confuse them with solar charging cars, but nothing further, since the latter use renewable electricity from outside the vehicle . Solar cells installed in the body of a solar car convert solar radiation into electricity that can be stored in so-called solar batteries . This electrical charge will later be released to power the vehicle's own engine.

Thus, if we look at its real application, it is currently not feasible for these solar panels to provide enough energy to travel long distances . Not even when conditions are optimal on completely sunny days.

Are they commercially viable?

If we take into account only those prototypes that are studied in the R&D departments of private companies or in universities themselves, we have to say that there are no signs that this type of vehicle is minimally profitable .

At the moment, brands are more focused on launching cars capable of alleviating part of their energy consumption. In other words, using photovoltaic systems as a supplementary energy source to supply other functions of the vehicle itself, such as the climate control, lights or the GPS system, among others.

Not for nothing, solar cars are famous for having a very reduced range . Among others, the problem of reducing aerodynamic resistance, as well as the need to improve the efficiency of the plates, seriously hampers their development. In addition, the few models that are currently in development phases have to resort to very light materials to optimize the vehicle's energy efficiency to the maximum.

What models currently exist?

This solar car is nothing new precisely. And if not, ask the Toyota Prius, the first to launch solar technology in the automotive sector. A first attempt that dates back to 2010, and that only served to cool the cabin of the vehicle when the car was parked in the sun. What is clear is that its 56 W of power did not serve to charge the battery .

After a first attempt, somewhat "disappointing", it must be said, this idea was taken up again in recent years and several brands have launched into the arena with their own designs, such as the Lightyear One or the Sono Sion , which have given a lot to talk about.

The Lightyear One is still a simple prototype, although with a launch forecast for 2021. However, its price does not make it available to everyone. No less than  119,000 euros for each of the 1,000 units that they plan to manufacture.

Those responsible for this beast, the Dutch company Lightyear, have developed a model that is completely (or almost) covered by solar panels. No less than five square meters of photovoltaic cells distributed between the roof and the hood that offer 20% higher performance than traditional ones. They have also ensured that it has a spectacular autonomy of 725 km (according to the WLTP cycle).

For its part, the German Sono Motors, unlike its Dutch competitor, promises a series production of its brand new Sono Sion. This model offers up to 250 km of autonomy (WLTP) with a price starting at 25,000 euros .

The technology developed for Sono Motors allows it to store clean energy in its batteries and they can generate up to  34 kilometers of additional autonomy per day on a sunny day. Best of all, this  compact minivan with a minimalist design is perfect for urban environments given its small size.

In addition, it includes a natural moss-based filter located inside the dashboard that improves the quality of the passenger compartment air and reduces particulate pollution. Something, on the other hand, that seems to us a real hoot. Even more so when it appears to be real moss, from what can be seen in the photos.

Without a doubt, the idea of ​​a car powered exclusively by solar energy is really fantastic for all that it implies in the interests of sustainability and protection of the environment. However, a horizon is still far away where we see this type of vehicle as a viable alternative to an ecological car , beyond a handful of prototypes as there are currently.

For the moment, we will have to settle for solar energy serving as a complement to other energy sources applied to cars . Hopefully this special has brought you a little closer to the world of solar cars, or, at least, to know what is moving in this sector.